Monday, July 29, 2013

post-Modern Christianity + post-Modern Culture = Christian Capitulation

The following audio is a recent Telegraph interview with the former (Anglican) Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, and with Damian Thompson (a former religious affairs correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, and a current director of the Catholic Herald), following analysis of the 2011 British Census showing a 15 percent decline in Church attendance over the previous decade, and the growth of Islam among young Britons to 1 in 10. Nazir-Ali has much to say regarding Christianity's numeric decline, centered mostly on the Church's capitulation to a worldly secularist culture:
    “The churches have been complicit in what has been going on in culture since the 1960's...”

    “Secularization... has removed the need in people to ask spiritual questions about themselves, about the world in which they live. This has to do with education... Science has made huge progress in identifying What things are... but what has not been emphasized in education is the Why? of things... and the What for?... We are wired, inately, to ask the questions of meaning and significance... If you don't have the Christian answer, you manufacture an answer... or you go into depression... or you trend toward extremism...”

    “[Regarding] the assumption that there is some kind of ‘secular neutrality’ which can then replace Christianity; well, there is no such thing as secular neutrality. Secularism has its own set of presuppositions... it is its own Worldview. One of the things we have to set aside is this lie... that secularity is some kind of tabula rasa...

    “How [Christians] excuse this is by saying, ‘this is about engagement, so we must understand the language of secularity in order to make the Christian faith intelligible...’ but, what can then happen is that the language of secularity takes over, so instead of engagement, you have capitulation. This is constantly happening now in the Christian churches: the Christian Worldview is simply capitulating to a secular Worldview... The churches have generally capitulated to secular culture and therefore cannot bring a distinctive voice to public debate.”
Likewise his fellow interviewee, journalist and author Damian Thompson, who comments most notably on the growth of Islam in Briton, to the effect that it offers youth a “legitimate” outlet for anger. Why do youth seem to find this factor compelling? What is missing in their education that would prompt them to a simplistic religion (as Thompson characterizes it) that offers them an outlet for anger?
    “I'm interested in comparing Christianity... to Islam. Christianity is really rather a complex system of belief, the relationship between Jesus and God the Father is hard to explain, the question of how you're saved is the source of continuing dispute. Islam, particularly in its more puritanical well-founded expressions, is in many ways, simpler [appears to be simpler, as Nazir-Ali emphasizes later]. It has this relatively pure concept of God, and it offers salvation through detailed and easy-to-grasp, if not easy-to-follow, rules... But also... it offers an outlet for anger. Since the fastest growing expressions of Islam stigmatize non-believers in a way that is not fashionable in Christianity anymore... religious anger in response to political grievances, which is an enormous amount, is sanctified...”

    “What also strikes me is the lack of intellectual self-confidence among Christian leaders... a tremendous lack of the sort of leadership at the top of Christianity that you would find at the top of every other area of human activity.”

British Christianity dies while Islam thrives. Why?


This podcast is taken from the May 30, 2013 edition of Telegram Religion Editorial: British Christianity dies while Islam thrives. Why?
(Right-click here to save MP3)

We unmistakably see the capitulation of which Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali speaks, as especially true among mainline liberal protestantism, but equally so within the Evangelical Movement, which, seeking to “grow the church” and foster unity among Christians through ecumenical and evangelical dialogue, has increasingly prescribed the adoption of worldly philosophies and methods as a panacea for the challenges of the visible church in the face of rising secularism: “If culture in its growing secularism is becoming more irreligious, well then, for the Church is to remain relevant to culture, it must speak to it in a more irreligious tone, as well.” In my opinion, the Evangelical Movement isn't really evangelical at all, anymore. It is now, thanks especially to the Church Growth Movement (CGM), just a species of liberal protestantism.

The funny thing is, “secularism,” or the idea of a complete separation of religion from society, was only ever a sociological hypothesis – one that has long been disproven, even rejected by the Austrian-born sociologist who initially posited it in 1971. Nevertheless, the idea continues to not just “hang around,” but to be a driving force – and militantly so – in politics, education and society. In a 2010 lecture I attended in Strasbourg, France, entitled “Biblical Authority of Scripture,” Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher explained:
    “Interestingly, there was a new social theory expressed in 1971, by [Lutheran] sociologist Peter Berger, that as nations become more technologically advanced they become more secular, and need to rely less on the mysticism of religion. In 1971, there was every evidence that this was true, but it had nothing to do with technological achievement – it was political. Either a nation sided with NATO or with Warsaw, and to do so required secularization. Berger renounced his own theory in 1983, as by then the data showed that his theory was false, but this theory is still repeated in the media ad nauseum. Within twelve years, the rise of evangelicalism worldwide (700,000,000 today), and the rise of Islam had proven him wrong. Peter Berger wrote in a recent article that the reason the perception exists, that the world is becoming less religious rather than the reality that it is becoming dramatically more religious, is that the ‘Three most influential groups in the world are essentially atheists: media, academics, and politicians’”

    Schirrmacher, T. (July 13, 2010). Lecture Eleven: International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism and Human Rights. Strasbourg, FR.
(NOTE: The reader should look closely at the profile for Dr. Peter L. Berger, linked above, and notice the prominent and recurring theme in connection with his research: Knowledge and Reality as a Social Construction. We have warned of this concept with great frequency on the pages of Intrepid Lutherans, in connection to post-Modernism and its relationship to linguistics and translation ideology (see, for example, The NIV 2011 and the Importance of Translation Ideology, but mostly in the context of pedagogics: The Epistemological Learning Theory of Social Constructivism. The fact is, as a result of my studies in Education, I recognized Berger's name when Dr. Schirrmacher mentioned him in this lecture, having in the past been acquainted with Berger's book, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise on the Sociology of Knowledge. As a result, I carefully copied down Dr. Schirrmacher's words, as Dr. Berger has not been uninfluential. So, the conscientious Christian should ask: Why is it that strict secularism is the political-preference of today's quietistic Christians? How does this idea serve an irreligious secular-social Worldview? Why is it that Lutherans and other Christians have adopted this Worldview as a basis of their Evangelism and Education? Where do these ideas really come from? Why do Lutheran laymen today continue to be force-fed these ideas by Church leadership?)

One of the more notable consequences of this “Christian Capitulation” to worldly culture, according to Nazir-Ali, is a severe pedagogical imbalance which, in the name of strict secularism, completely disregards that part of the whole person which yearns for completion. Berger and other post-Modernists, try to discover and define that completion in the context of humanity itself, by inflating the impact of man's social existence to ontological and epistemological authority. Such approaches, however, do not take the whole person seriously. As with all alluring falsehoods, the compelling deception they offer rests on the fact that they are partly true. Humans were designed and created by God for a social existence: for communion with Him and with one another on account of Him. The unregenerate person – the person outside of Christ, who is spiritually dead – is incomplete without this communion. And such a person inherently knows he is incomplete – thus his search for “fulfillment” to a degree that, as the sheer volume of data demonstrates, literally explodes the secularist hypothesis: man cannot and does not exist independently of a very real yearning for communion with his Creator, for an “otherness” that his naked social, physical and intellectual existence simply cannot satisfy. In the face of an advancing secularism that is foisted on Western Society by elites in the media, politics and the universities, the people nevertheless innately reject the myth of “secular neutrality,” and continue to desperately grope about in a thickening fog for a meaning and significance that transcends the realities of their human existence. Yet, with a Western Christianity that has capitulated to secular culture and has joined it in self-loathing, what many folks find in their blind groping is simply more of the same emptiness, and with nothing to grasp, lay hold of that which conjures within man the most compelling experiences he can muster within himself as evidence of true religion: those experiences of love and hatred, of joy and anger.

The WELS is in Convention this week. The link to the online proceedings is here. In many ways, and by all visible accounts, our Synod is suffering terminal illness. Financial mismanagement of previous administrations which sacrificed Lutheran distinctiveness in exchange for the conspicuous sectarianism of the Evangelical Movement, has done more than change our practice and left us penniless: by dramatically changing how we are willing to express our doctrine, it has begun to change the very terms, and invariably with them the relationships between the terms, in which we think about our doctrine and practice. It has led to an endorsement of post-Modernism as our ideology of education and as fundamental to our understanding of language – which impacts our understanding of what it means for the Scriptures to be inerrant, infallible and perspicuous, and consequently what it means to aspire to accuracy and precision in a translation of the Bible. There are many WELS Lutherans who are – either rightly or wrongly – concerned about one doctrinal perversion or another that seems to be manifest among us. Without discounting the seriousness of those concerns, in my honest opinion, WELS is facing a much more significant and overarching concern: that of the Word of God, itself. That is to say, like the Missouri Synod faced, from the late 1930's through the mid-1970's, we in WELS are now facing our own Crisis of the Word. Why is this overarching? Simply put: No Bible, no doctrine. No reliable Bible, no reliable doctrine. Whatever other doctrinal concerns there may be, with a perverted views of Plenary Inspiration and the Perspicuity of the Scriptures, which are necessitated by a perverted post-Modern understanding of the nature of language, there is no possible way to maintain any doctrine with any clarity or fidelity whatsoever. Yet, most WELS Lutherans continue to regard matters of “Bible Translation” which issue from conflicting “philosophies of language” to be non-essential and inconsequential matters.

Will those who think otherwise make an actual show of it at this year's Synod Convention? Will they continue to nurse what by all external appearances is a terminal disease? Or will they capitulate, with little or no substantive debate, regarding the adoption of the NIV 2011 – a translation of the Bible built on a philosophy that is ultimately hostile to the fundamentals of Christianity – and in so doing announce to the rest of us in this final coup de grâce that all reasonable hope is lost, and that it is simply time to move on with a different group of Lutherans? We'll see.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ahead of Convention: “Issues Facing Confessional Lutheranism Today”

The following podcast is a July 12, 2013, Issues, Etc. interview of Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) President Rev. Dr. Matt Harrison, ahead of the 2013 Triennial LCMS Convention (July 20-25, 2013). Heading into our own WELS Convention next week, SP Harrison's remarks are a good reminder of the issues underlying the challenges we face, as well.


This podcast is taken from the July 12, 2013 edition of Issues, Etc.
(Right-click here to save MP3)

Listen to this podcast to hear how SP Harrison characterizes the Issues listed below:
    Worldwide Issues...
    • Human Sexuality
    • Ordination of Women
    • Gay Marriage
    • Natural Law
    • Culture Wars
    • Gospel Reductionism
    • Historical Critical Method
    • Death of Systematic Theology
    • Biblical Inerrancy
    • Confessional Integrity
    • Unionism
    • Open Heterodoxy

    Issues within LCMS (and maybe WELS, too?)
    • Too many pastors languishing in CRM status
    • Two tier pastorate (“called & ordained” -vs- “staff minister”)
    • Roles of Men & Women
    • Church Growth Movement
Are there Synodical or other fundamental issues that were not directly addressed by SP Harrison in this interview, that confessional Lutherans in America ought to concern ourselves with? Yes, of course. A couple that come to mind – which seem to currently be on prominent display on the LCMS website – are:
  • National Rural and Small Town Mission Conference: The plight of the small rural congregation is a serious concern. In some corners of LCMS, there seems to be a concerted effort to strengthen rural congregations, to keep them serving Lutherans into the future instead of abandoning them and forcing rural Lutherans to travel inordinate distances each week to attend suburban mega-churches. I know of two rural LCMS congregations nearby that are languishing (one of which is hanging on by its fingernails, with basically only a couple large dedicated families remaining), and another in a nearby small town (a “small town” that is actually the largest town in the county) that can't get a pastor and is very near giving up – and will be giving up a nice masonry gothic structure on main street, as well. The local pentecostals will thank them for the building. Far too many rural WELS congregations are being counciled to close up shop, and sell their property, as well (and again, it's usually the renegade pentecostals that gobble up that property). I know of two in my own vicinity that have been so counciled, and continue to refuse – but finding pastors to serve them seems to be getting more and more difficult. I know of another nearby rural congregation that left WELS for a more accommodating Lutheran church body, after being pressured to merge with a larger WELS congregation.

  • How can we as Lutherans live in but not succumb to the culture?: Too many Lutherans are under the mistaken impression that “being in the world but not of it” really means “look like you're of the world in every possible way, but deny it when asked and act offended when a fellow Christian mistakes you for being worldly.” Perhaps there was a time when Christianity was of such positive and overwhelming influence in society, that it was hard to distinguish being “of the world” from merely “being in it.” Not anymore. Society has progressed so far beyond what Christian liberty can justify, that there can now be no possible way of maintaining fidelity to our faith while also adopting the World Views and Worldly Ways of unregenerate society. We are called out by God from among them, such that now there can be no mistaking, “being in the world but not of it” means that, as we continue to live in all Christian propriety, we actually appear differently to our unregenerate neighbors. Much like the early Christians in pagan culture were noticeably different – yes, even weird, though in a curious and endearing way – as they helped those around them in their various forms of need.
What other fundamental issues can you identify?


Monday, July 22, 2013

Post-Modern Language Games: Effecting more than just the Perversion of Bible Translations and the Corruption of Christian Theology

Intrepid Lutherans has dedicated several blog posts to the topic of post-Modernism over the past few years, mostly with reference to Dynamic Equivalence and Bible translation, and to the impact of radical feminism on the growth of unScriptural egalitarian doctrines regarding the roles of men and women. In fact, as we highlighted in our most previous blog post, Intrepid Lutherans: Gaining in Popularity?, our most popular article has post-Modernism as its main theme: How does one interpret language in a post-Modern Age? What about the language of the Bible?. Another important article we published that addresses post-Modernism is Post-Modernism, Pop-culture, Transcendence, and the Church Militant.

Today, we dedicate yet another article to this theme. However, much like our (sub-)article, Nietzsche, Marx, Darwin and America Today: A Very Brief Look at the Tip of the Iceberg, post-Modernism is not addressed in what follows from the standpoint of its impact on Bible translation, nor its relation to radical feminism and the growth of egalitarian teaching among Lutherans (although, those issues do come up briefly here and there). Rather, we take a brief look at the purveyors of post-Modernism and the specific philosophical positions they have held; briefly examine the impact of post-Modernism on the field of science; and list works written by Christians, philosophers and scientists against post-Modernism and its corrosive effects.

If one is looking to hear directly from post-Modern philosophers, some of the names worth investigating include the following:
    Roland Gérard Barthes – a French post-structuralist whose 1967 essay, Death of the Author, argues that the origin of a text is unimportant and that only its destination, the reader, is important. This notion isn't limited to him. In fact, one can hear what seems to be more than faint echoes of this philosophy in the ideas of Eugene Nida, the man responsible for the “Dynamic Equivalence” theory of Bible translation, according to which a majority of translators today readily dismiss the importance of the specific grammatical form and content of the Biblical texts (i.e., that which the Scriptures specifically say was given by inspiration of God), that is, consider the source unimportant from the standpoint of what is reproduced in the target language, and instead exalt the reader above the importance of the inspired source by insisting that it is only important to reproduce what is perceived as the meaning of the text.

    Paul-Michel Foucault – a French post-structuralist / post-Modernist who helped develop and defend the notion that it is impossible for words to correspond precisely enough to physical reality (“correspondence theory” of Truth) to be meaningful, that words only correspond to other words, that because it cannot, a text therefore does not correspond to any supposed reality, but only simulates a reality in a way that is unique to the cultural perspective of those most familiar with the type of text in use. Thus, reality is not something which objectively exists, but which is created by language, and changes with language according to cultural context in which it is used (we hear echoes of this philosophy in Eugene Nida's “Dynamic Equivalence” theories, as well).

    Jean Baudrillard – probably among the most important post-Modern French philosophers of the 20th Century, in 1991 he took the consequences of post-Modernism to their extreme – that reality does not really exist, but is merely a construction of language – claiming that the First Gulf War was not real, but a simulation, given that our knowledge of it comes only from the language reporting the event. Such nonsense rendered serious damage to the integrity of post-Modernism.

    Jean-François Lyotard – is the notorious post-Modern French philosopher who, in 1979, was the first to coin the term “post-Modernism” in his work, The Postmodern Condition. While the philosophies underlying “post-Modernism” were being developed for decades prior to this, it emerged under a single heading only in 1979. It took a decade for Christians to grow aware and concerned by it, which is why we didn't start seeing Christian responses and polemic against post-Modernism until the 1990's. Lyotard was an ardent opponent of “meta-narrative,” or the idea of overarching or universal and objective truth. The only truth to be found was relative to the language employed in local social constructs.

    Jaques Derridda – another important post-Modern French philosopher, and close associate of Lyotard (International College of Philosophy), who developed the post-Modern method of “deconstruction,” a technique of literary analysis by which the reader discovers the multiple layers of hidden meaning in a text. This process, of course, vaunts the subjectivity of the reader, eliminates the author's control of his own text's meaning, and makes it impossible to develop or hold any sort of didactic perspective on a text.

    Richard Rorty – the most celebrated post-Modern American philosopher, he popularized a brand of pragmatism that extended “Truth” no further than the circle within the individual's sphere of influence. Truth is what can be justified within his limited social context, is self-referential, relative to the normalizing social experiences he encounters, and has no more substantive content than what is dictated by the pragmatic need requiring its justification. What Rorty does most effectively in the area of Pedagogics is establish a connection between the pragmatic Progressivism of John Dewey and the post-Modern objectives of education today (i.e, Social Constructivism).

    Interestingly, in response to the question, “What is Truth?,” Rorty famously replied, “Whatever my peers are letting me get away with, today.” The answer to the corresponding question, “What is falsehood?”, is thus implied, “Whatever I push my peers to let me get away with, tomorrow.” And this is how change is effected in contemporary society on a daily basis – according to distinctly Hegelian strategies. Today's “Truth” (thesis) meets a contrived challenge (anti-thesis), the result of which is a new, superior Truth (synthesis) that leaves behind the old as inferior and irrelevant and breeds a disastrous disregard for history. This is the very real and potent purpose behind many of the manufactured social crises of our day – to change what people regard as True in favor of a particular political objective, by using Hegelian philosophy to manipulate the masses. A post-Modern Worldview across culture makes such strategies very effective.
If one has done much research in this area, he is probably very familiar with these names, though these philosophers are all dead now – Rorty was the last one to die, in June of 2007. I am unaware of any philosophers of note that have since taken the flag of post-Modernism and advanced it. Like most philosophies, it seems to continue to be hanging around in academia (and probably will for some time) though without much further development. This is in contrast to its impact in popular culture. With two generations infected with a post-Modern Worldview, it remains something with which to fiercely contend.

There are many books from Christian sources that discuss and warn against post-Modernism. Here are a few that I can recommend: But Christians aren't the only ones who are writing against post-Modernism. Scientists, to name one group, have done their best to pummel post-Modernism into the dirt – far too late, as the mostly successful effort to bring post-Modernism into American education has practically ruined the current and next generation of American scientists. No one is signing up for degrees in hard science as a result of post-Modern pedagogics. Most philosophers, believe it or not, have not capitulated to post-Modernism, however, as post-Modern rejection of the objective is the suicide of philosophy itself. And cultural polemicists have had a field-day with post-Modernism. David Stove, for example – an Australian philosopher-turned-polemicist – wrote an excellent history and searing commentary entitled, Scientific Irrationalism: Origins of a Postmodern Cult, which traces the emergence of post-Modern ideas through Kuhn and Popper all the way to Sir David Hume's irrational philosophy of science, which holds that a scientific theory cannot be generalized from the observational evidence suggesting it (inductive skepticism). Stove is a good read in order to find information for further independent investigation, but, being a polemicist, he isn't really quotable – not because the polemics are too harsh, but simply because he is known as a cultural critic and polemicist, not a philosopher. Professional philosophers, on the other hand, have made mincemeat of post-Modernism. Here are three highly recommended philosophical works against post-Modernism: Finally, scientists, who operate from Modernist Enlightenment positions of inductive optimism and materialistic rationalism, have been vigorously fighting against post-Modernism. For as much as we Christians may despise Richard Dawkins, he has been a very effective opponent of post-Modernism as well. Probably one of the most notable events in the struggle of Modernist scientists against post-Modernism, however, was an essay written by physicist Alan Sokal in 1996 on the subject of “quantum gravity,” which was published by the post-Modern journal Social Text. The title of the essay was, Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutic of Quantum Gravity. In this essay he begins by stating
    “Deep conceptual shifts within twentieth-century science have undermined Cartesian-Newtonian metaphysics; revisionist studies in the history and philosophy of science have cast further doubt on its credibility; and, most recently, feminist and post-structuralist critiques have demystified the substantive content of mainstream Western scientific practice, revealing the ideology of domination concealed behind the facade of ‘objectivity.’ It has become increasingly apparent that physical ‘reality,’ no less than social ‘reality,’ is at bottom a social and linguistic construct; that scientific ‘knowledge,’ far from being objective, reflects and encodes the dominant ideologies and power relations of the culture that produced it; that the truth claims of science are inherently theory-laden and self-referential; and consequently, that the discourse of the scientific community, for all its undeniable value, cannot assert a privileged epistemological status with respect to counterhegemonic narratives emanating from dissident or marginalized communities. These themes can be traced... in Aronowitz's analysis of the cultural fabric that produced quantum mechanics; in Ross's discussion of oppositional discourses in post-quantum science; in Irigaray's and Hayles's exegeses of gender encoding in fluid mechanics; and in Harding's comprehensive critique of the gender ideology underlying the natural sciences in general and physics in particular”
and proceeds to persuasively argue that gravity is a fiction merely agreed upon by consensus in scientific community, and, in the final section entitled “Toward a Liberatory Science,” that science needs to be liberated from the boundaries of such consensus. (In light of our recent essay, Nietzsche, Marx, Darwin and America Today: A Very Brief Look at the Tip of the Iceberg, one should find the emergence of feminism and gender ideology as central themes in the post-Modern critique of science to be far more than mere coincidence. It lies at the heart of the negative post-Modern critique of Scripture, dominating contemporary translation ideology to the point of dictating egalitarian principles as a stricture on its translation. And it serves as the foundation of withering cultural assaults on the pillars of Western Civilization.)

The article was widely read and well-received within the post-Modern Academy. Shortly thereafter, however, Sokal revealed that his essay was a hoax, setting off a raging debate. The whole sordid affair can be read in the book, The Sokal Hoax: The Sham that Shook the Academy, which is a collection of primary source documents beginning with Sokal's ridiculously satirical essay, and the firestorm of essays, counter essays, and commentary that followed. Two years later, Sokal co-authored a blistering critique of post-Modern scientific theories, entitled Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectual's Abuse of Science. Both of these are worth reading.

One final work worth reading that I'll mention, authored by scientists fed up with the intrusion of post-Modern nonsense into the sciences, is Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and its Quarrels with Science, by Paul Gross and Norman Levitt.

But these only represent post-Modernism and its relationship to Christianity, philosophy and science. None of these discuss post-Modernism from the standpoint of historical method (the post-Modern historical method, as I've discussed it with history students and professors, is a complete disaster), legal theory (Deconstructionism), psychology and counseling, or education. In the latter case, the impact is Social Constructivism, and due to the power of the NEA and its ability to destroy careers, there is very little that is published against it. The only works I know about are some books written by Allen Quist and some essays by George Will. To give the reader some idea of the impact post-Modernism has had in math education, when in the early 1990's the National Council of the Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) released its new Constructivist standards, which de-emphasized skills mastery in favor of “concept attainment,” “problem solving processes” and “positive affective outcomes” (i.e., positive self-esteem), all of the professional mathematicians associated with the organization left in protest. And the impact of post-Modern linguistics theories on the teaching of grammar has been ruinous (see The War Against Grammar, by David Mulroy).

These sources represent alot of reading. Alot of heavy reading. Quite honestly, for the reader's benefit, if one wants to make a study of post-Modernism on his own, the best place to start is the first book listed, above: The Death of Truth, by Dennis McCallum (Ed.) It covers all of the pertinent aspects, including the post-Modern historical method, legal theory, medicine, and education. The next book on his list absolutely needs to be David Mulroy's The War Against Grammar; and from there, wherever his interest and concern with post-Modernism may take him.

Post-Modernism is a mightily corrosive force in our society. It is perverting language and human thought, and along with it, our Bibles, our Theology, and the pillars of our Civilization. It is sad that so many Christians uncritically devour the wisdom of the world, thinking that they are clever to “Despoil the Egyptians;” instead, they are ingesting only intellectual maggot larvae, which in turn feeds on them and rots their faith and thinking as it matures. The good Christian must not only be vigilant, but prepared to act against this great evil – which means that at minimum, he must at least have some idea what it is, and take its danger seriously enough to oppose it when and where he can. It is hard work – of the sort to which most Christians, in our relatively affluent society, are averse: “I don't want to think about it, I just want to be comfortable and happy with my friends.” Such attitudes, standing themselves at the root of cultural decline, are reflected in appalling Christian apathy in the face of it. But it is the hard work of dedicated and orthodox Christians that is needed – now as much as ever – the benefit of which the World sorely needs. For, as stated in our final post covering the 2013 ELDoNA Colloquium and Synod, “It is these very challenges which have driven Christians to the heights of academic and cultural achievement through the ages.

We Christians ought to study harder and act more boldly.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Intrepid Lutherans: Gaining in Popularity?

Last December, as Intrepid Lutherans progressed beyond two-and-a-half years of age and one-half-million page reads, we posted a list of the top twenty most-visited posts since our inception, Memorial Day weekend 2010, in our post Having Accumulated One-Half Million, We Continue On. Since that list of most-visited posts has changed, somewhat dramatically, since last December, I had planned to post an update following my series on the 2013 ELDoNA Colloquium and Synod. Of course, I had intended to have that series finished and posted in time to post that list for our Three Year Anniversary, this past Memorial Day. Even though Memorial Day Weekend is almost two month in the past, however, the changes in the list of most-visited posts are significant enough that I though it would be interesting to post them anyway.

At the time of that previous blog post, last December, we had posted 355 articles and were seeing an average of 900 page reads per day. Since then, according to Google Analytics, we've accumulated an additional 252,000 page reads (with some of the highest page reads per month we've ever had, approaching 50,000, occurring in February and March 2013), we've added another 65 articles, and our average visitor rate has grown to almost 1100 page reads per day – though that has tapered off considerably since May, probably due to a lower publishing rate that month, and also the lack of variety through June and July, in addition to seasonal decline in readership (historically, page reads decline over the Summer months anyway). The disparity between the figure for page-reads reported by Google Analytics and the Flag Counter is indicative of another dramatic change in readership behaviour: our bounce rate has declined significantly, meaning readers are spending more time on our blog, and are taking in more of our articles (Flag Counter only counts initial page-reads of a visitor who has not accessed a page over an extended period of time). Up until last December, Flag Counter and Google Analytics were running about the same count, in terms of page-reads. Not anymore.

Also, the article with the all-time highest page-reads was written in the time since December – an article of fairly critical importance, covering a topic that has seen recurring treatment on the pages of Intrepid Lutherans since the WELS TEC announced, at the 2011 WELS Synod Convention, their full and unreserved endorsement of the feministic NIV 2011 and emphatic recommendation to adopt it as the Synod's standard translation for all of its publishing efforts. Until the next revision of the NIV, at least. The name of that blog article is, How does one interpret language in a post-Modern Age? What about the language of the Bible?. It was published December 11, 2012, currently stands at 7267 page reads, and continues to see over 100 page reads per week.

There have been many other changes in the top twenty, as well. Some have been bumped from the list since last December, other, new articles have appeared on the top twenty, and others have moved up or down the list. I list them in the table, below, from currently most popular to twentieth. For those articles remaining in the top twenty, I (mostly) retain the summary written in December. I hope you find the list interesting, and I hope you take some time to revisit the articles featured in it.

 Page TitlePage ViewsDateAuthorCommentsObservations
1.How does one interpret language in a post-Modern Age? What about the language of the Bible?726712/11/2012Mr. Douglas Lindee17I am not certain as to the precise reason for the popularity of this post – those who link to it, link to it directly, so it must have been passed around via email. However, this article was unique from all the others addressing translation issues, as it makes a doctrinal case for Formal Equivalence (FE). If we say that Scripture doctrine is built from “direct positive statements of Scripture, only” then this is a grammatical definition of doctrine, which requires a faithful grammar in a translation if those who use that translation are expected to rely on it as a source of True doctrine (laymen, for instance). Just as important, in the discussion that follows, the case for Dynamic Equivalence (DE) is destroyed. In supporting DE, one commenter insisted that “the most important issue in translation is not reproducing grammar but reproducing meaning” – an assertion with which I vehemently disagreed, stating, instead, that such a position “is tantamount to establishing levels of importance within God's Revelation, and ultimately defining the source of Scripture's meaning – that which was directly inspired by God – as outside the relevant scope of what God revealed to mankind.” The Scriptures very clearly state that words and grammar are what was inspired by God, that “meaning” is only that which emerges from what God directly inspired. A translation that attempts to reproduce so-called “meaning,” while dismissing the inspired grammatical form and vocabulary from which that meaning emerges, intrusively places man between God's Inspired Revelation and the reader of Scripture, making man – the translator, in particular – the “arbiter of Scripture's meaning.” And we've covered the consequences of this “Magisterial Use of Reason” on Intrepid Lutherans, as well. No thank you. I'll take what post-Modern advocates of Dynamic Equivalence refer to as a “clunky” FE Bible – something that the rest of the world still recognizes as an avowed “Masterpiece of the English Language” like the KJV, for instance – any day of the week, because it was translated according to a far more Scripturally faithful ideology of translation.
2.Dear Pastors Jeske and Ski: You are clearly in the wrong606902/15/11Intrepid Lutherans13Juicy controversy – everybody was interested, relatively few had the courage to comment.
3.Fraternal Dialogue on the Topic of “Objective Justification”592009/26/11Mr. Douglas Lindee54Rev. Webber (ELS) recommended “Fraternal Dialogue” on the topic, so we opened it with a position and a series of questions to debate, and attempted to keep the ensuing “dialogue” civil and centered on Scripture and the Confessions.
4.The NNIV, the WELS Translation Evaluation Committee, and the Perspicuity of the Scriptures402907/28/11Mr. Douglas Lindee71The catch-phrase, “There is no perfect translation,” ultimately devolves into a denial of Scripture's clarity and an affirmation of the Roman position that the literate Christian still needs a “Priest” to explain it to him. The sufficiency and authority of Scripture being one of the planks of the Protestant Reformation, this will never happen among Protestant Christians. Not directly. Translators now take on this role in the Protestant world, under the translation ideology of Dynamic Equivalence.
5.Thoughts on Gender-Neutral Language in the NIV 2011397809/15/11Intrepid Lutherans9Intrepid Lutherans aren't the only ones in WELS concerned that whitewashing gender differences in the Bible, by way of imposing a feminist ideology of translation over the entire text, will lead not only to doctrinal error, but to a culture of thought among supposedly “conservative” Christians that is at war against the Nature of God itself and incompatible with His message to Man. And let's be clear, Feminism, Abortion, Gay Marriage and Communism are all intimately linked, as exposed in the following Intrepid Lutherans (sub)-article, Nietzsche, Marx, Darwin and America Today: A Very Brief Look at the Tip of the Iceberg
6.Why I No Longer Attend My [WELS] Church392602/06/11Intrepid Lutherans26Cross-post from Mr. Ric Techlin's blog, Light from Light, publicly revealing difficulties he was having in his congregation, namely, the refusal of his congregation to address his concerns regarding error in doctrine and practice that was being promoted in his congregation. A handful of local pastors volunteered to work with Mr. Techlin, his congregation and district to resolve these difficulties...
7.Luther's translation of 2 Cor. 5:19381602/01/2013Rev. Paul Rydecki137In this article, Rev. Rydecki warns of corrupted editions of Luther's Unrevidierte Ausgabe von 1545, that are used to defend Universal Objective Justification and the notion that Luther believed, taught and confessed this doctrine – a potent defense indeed, except that those corrupted editions change the tense of certain verbs in this passage in a way that is not insignificant to the Doctrine of Justification. The verbs in uncorrupted editions of Luther's Unrevidierte Ausgabe do not support UOJ at all.
8.The Witch Hunt Has (Officially) Begun371101/15/2013Rev. Paul Rydecki32This post was issued in response to an item that appeared on the immediately previous quarterly CoP meeting, addressing not only Intrepid Lutherans, but those who have lent us their names in support of our endeavors to raise issues of doctrine and practice – even if the are uncomfortable issues – that need to be addressed. The agenda item indicated a need to begin a asserted effort to follow up with those who have lent us their names. This, of course, wasn't the only agenda item of interest to, and significant consequence on, Intrepid Lutherans, as we indicated a month later in the slightly less popular post, What on Earth could the CoP possibly have meant by THIS?. With only 2162 page reads, we nevertheless heard directly from “Certain Personages” on that one...
9.Suspended from the WELS – Why?351810/09/12Rev. Paul Rydecki0More “juicy controversy...”
10.Differences between Reformed and Lutheran Doctrines346604/13/11Mr. Douglas Lindee9The majority of hits on this post are from Reformed and Evangelical sources, as it has been passed around and discussed in a number of different forums, and continues to be frequently read. People still comment occasionally, as well.
11.Change or Die – Update342402/24/11Intrepid Lutherans13The “juicy controversy” continues, as does both interest in the controversy and reluctance to become involved.
12.What's Missing in Groeschel's Sermons? – A brief review of Craig Groeschel, Part 2331609/07/2010Rev. Paul Lidtke22This one has been simmering for sometime, but has finally come to a boil. Most of the page reads we receive on this article are the result of people searching not just on “Craig Groeschel,” but on “problems with,” “errors of” and “information about” the man and his ministry.
13.The WEB: A viable English Bible translation?305209/18/11Rev. Paul Rydecki94Discussion over an unsuitable version of the Bible degenerates into a melee over Universalism, and this version's mistranslation of certain sections which support it.
14.The whole flock won't survive 'jumping the shark'291202/02/12Mr. Brian Heyer42Thoughtless and ridiculous last-ditch efforts to “save the congregation” by abusing the term evangelism are transparently pathetic acts of desperation, make the congregation a laughing stock in the community and bring shame upon the name of Christ. The methods of the Church Growth Movement are not methods, they are antics, and kill the church by trivializing Scriptures' teachings. Shame on Lutheran congregations who do such things! Another similar and more recent, though less popular, post on Intrepid Lutherans, exposing the same pop-church shenanigans was entitled, Real? Relational?? Relevant??? O THE HORROR OF IT ALL!!! – equally worth the reader's time to revisit.
15.Emmaus Conference – Recap275605/10/11Rev. Paul Rydecki17Were some people excitedly thinking that perhaps this event represented the reunion of Missouri and Wisconsin? Most new page-reads are probably looking for updates on more recent conferences...
16.NNIV – the new standard for WELS?272307/15/11Mr. Douglas Lindee62Yup, it sure looks that way...
17.Intrepid to the Last: Rev. Paul Rydecki has been Suspended from WELS264010/06/2012Intrepid Lutherans0More juicy controversy, lots of people interested, but no one with the courage to comment. Intrepid Lutherans remains and continues.
18.Pietism and Ministry in the WELS: A brief review of Craig Groeschel, Part 1259608/30/2010Mr. Douglas Lindee
Rev. Steven Spencer
6This is Part One of the slightly more read Part Two, listed above, in which Rev. Lidtke compares the Law & Gospel Lutheran preaching common WELS to that of Craig Groeschel. In Part One, we address corrosive effects of Pietism which clearly lies at the foundation of Groeschel's ministry. 'Tis too bd that many confessional Lutherans look to Groeschel as the oracle of post-Modern ministry necessity. This includes WELS Lutherans, as the following recent post illucidates: Do any Lutherans want to be Dresden Lutherans? Meanwhile, the Groeschelites continue their agenda...
19.Ambivalent256806/27/12Rev. Steven Spencer47Does no one care about the threat of doctrinal error and sectarian practice? One might pardon the laity for not being informed, but what do we make of the silence and inaction of Lutheran clergy?
20.The Silence Is Broken: An Appleton Update254005/08/11Rev. Paul Lidtke29An update on Mr. Techlin's difficulties, from one of the pastors personally involved in his defense. After formally objecting to what he was concerned were unscriptural practices and teachings in his congregation – and asking to be corrected where he might be in errorMr. Techlin was simply removed from fellowship: no discussion with him over the issues he raised was entertained, no brotherly attempt was made to work with him through these issues, no example of Christian humility was displayed by his “brothers” which might have suggested they were themselves open to correction. Instead, without Mr. Techlin's or his family's knowledge, the congregation scheduled a meeting, and without even offering him the opportunity to defend himself, voted to remove him and members of his family from fellowship. To his surprise, he received a “Certified Letter” in the mail informing him of the congregation's action against him. Not so much as a phone call from a “concerned brother” or even from his pastor. Just certified mail. Furthermore, this letter made no mention of any doctrinal error to which he obstinately clung, regarding which the congregation collectively determined “further admonition would be of no avail.” To this day, Mr. Techlin has no idea what his error may have been, as no admonition has ever been attempted, certainly none by a “genuine brother” who was himself open to correction. Moreover, this congregation's action was openly defended by their Bishop, and formally approved by a committee he personally appointed to review Mr. Techlin's appeal, which found that “[his] congregation had Scriptural reasons for removing [him] from membership,” without, of course actually enumerating them for the benefit of Mr. Techlin and all other lay members of WELS congregations who may have an interest in knowing what their actual rights as laymen really are, “and, in doing so, acted in the spirit of Christian love.” Mr. Techlin's is not the only recent example of similar processes used to remove “undesirables” from WELS, but his is very well-documented and betrays what seems to not only be acceptable practice but one which Christian congregations are apparently not above employing. The same “We-won't-have-a-conversation-with-you-on-this-topic” approach was used in the case of Joe Krohn, and, as recounted in one of the articles above, was also adhered to in the case of Rev. Rydecki's suspension.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Impressions from My Visit with ELDoNA at their 2013 Colloquium and Synod – PART V.5 (FINAL)

(Continued from PART V.4)

This is the final installment of my Impressions from My Visit with ELDoNA at their 2013 Colloquium and Synod. It requires a bit of an auto-biographical preamble before getting to the two remaining reviews.

Born and raised in a Christian home, with what I would say was an essentially sound Christian training, including six years of Christian day-school, I finally graduated from a public high-school, and was released to the world (many readers may be interested to know, as I was happy to learn nearly twenty years after the fact, that my high-school principal was a WELS man. Principal John Wyatt. He left a couple years after I graduated to become either a Principal or Superintendent of another school, in the La Crosse, WI, area, I think. It may have been a private school, but I don't remember knowing for sure).

After graduation, my mother wanted me to go to a Lutheran Bible school before going to college, and to set my sights on becoming a paster. There are many missionaries and pastors on her side of the family, and she had worked for Lutheran Bible Institute (LBI) in Golden Valley, MN, before it had converted to a Junior College in the late 1960's. The only Lutheran Bible school left in the country when I graduated high-school (and today, I believe), was the Association Free Lutheran Bible School (AFLBS), in Medicine Lake, MN. I wanted to go, too. I knew that, before going into the world (“before being returned to the parish to assist in the ministry of the congregation,” as Augsburg Seminary Professors Sverdrup and Oftedahl put it in their congregation-centric theory of Christian Education – yes, there were lots of other Lutherans in America during the 19th Century, other than General Synod, Norwegian Synod, and various German Lutherans), two years of studying only the Bible would be an invaluable capstone to my secondary education experience. But I was also interested in science. And philosophy. And law. I thought about it, and gave serious consideration to my mother's advice and wishes. But decided to go to University, instead. I was not prepared.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Impressions from My Visit with ELDoNA at their 2013 Colloquium and Synod – PART V.4

(Continued from PART V.3, yesterday)


Rev. Michael Henson:
That God Would Probe the Mind of Man

This is, quite possibly, one of the most concise developments of the Lutheran teaching and preaching rubric of Law and Gospel I've ever heard. Written as a series of twelve simply stated theses, it begins with God's omniscient searching of Man's heart and mind, in which He finds sinfulness beyond man's capacity to measure. God, far from being blind to it, sees man's sin, and reveals man's sin to himself through His Law – revealing through it also His righteous anger, causing man to cry out either in rebellion against God or in anguish and a desire to be free from the effects of sin. This is the point where the Gospel has application: instead of a cry of hopeless complaint, the Gospel gives man a basis for crying out to this same God for mercy and deliverance from His wrath – which He freely and faithfully accomplishes through faith in His promises. The grateful Christian, receiving grace and mercy through faith, and thus free from God's wrath and no longer finding God's perfect Law to be a curse, still desires that God would probe his mind, would test and prove him. At peace with God, he is contented.

That is a summary of the twelve theses, each thesis being supported by Scripture, of course, and the whole being amplified by Luther's commentary on Psalm 90,vv7&8. It was a genuinely well-received paper, and I found it to be a marvelously fresh and concise presentation of Law and Gospel that emerged directly from the Scriptures – without being over-burdened with the use of elements from human psychology (“the sinner ought to feel this particular way about his sin, or else the Gospel has no application... then the Gospel will make him feel a different way,” etc...). Though nothing that Rev. Henson said was new to me, this was the first time I had heard all of these elements put together in this way. I found myself quite grateful for having been able to have received his presentation.

Rev. Paul Rydecki:
The Forensic Appeal to the Throne of Grace in the Theology of the Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy: A Reflection on the Atonement and Its Relationship to Justification

This paper more than met the high standards of scholarship and fidelity to the sources that readers of Intrepid Lutherans have come to expect from Rev. Rydecki, and which I was expecting from the papers of the Colloquium, and more than met the “post-Synodical-Conference” character of ELDoNA, for whom, as I stated above, neither Lutheran history nor the “Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy” began in 1848 – although, Rev. Rydecki (in his first footnote) redefines that latter term for the purposes of his paper: “For our purposes, the age of Lutheran orthodoxy will be defined as the period beginning with Martin Luther and ending with Johann Gerhard, c. AD 1515-1637” (typically, I think the “Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy” is defined as something like AD 1580-1730 – clearly as a reference to the growth and impact of Lutheran Scholasticism). In my opinion, this paper constitutes a vitally important and academically honest contribution to the current – and growing – debate over the proper and orthodox way to articulate the Lutheran Doctrine of Justification.

As the title of this paper – along with the first footnote – makes abundantly clear, it is concerned with establishing for the modern Lutheran an understanding of the Doctrine of Justification and its relationship to the Atonement, as they were taught during the first two generations of Lutheran theologians, based on what they stated directly concerning these doctrines, rather than how their statements “can be properly understood” according to various recent formulations of them. What this means is that neither the extended “Election Debates” of latter 19th Century America, nor the American Lutheran figures from that period, are in view – although the claims of some contemporary commentators regarding the doctrine of the Reformers, and of orthodox Lutherans in the immediate post-Reformation period, are addressed, since many such claims do not rely on the words of those early theologians as they spoke them, but instead pass those words through the prism of hardened positions taken by confessional Lutherans involved in the 19th Century “Election Debates,” and since such claims tend to frame the current and growing debate concerning the Doctrine of Justification.

Subsequent to delivering it at the ELDoNA Colloquium, Rev. Rydecki published his paper both on his own blog, Faith Alone Justifies, and on Intrepid Lutherans. The reader is invited to read the paper at either of these two sources; links to various sections of his paper will be included as it is reviewed, below.

Rev. Rydecki starts precisely where he ought, with the “Common Outline of Forensic Justification” that is articulated in the Formula of Concord (FC:SD:III:24-25) and cited by nearly every competent author who involves himself in this debate. The four components of that Outline are reiterated by Rev. Rydecki, as follows:
  1. “God's grace”
  2. “Christ's merit”
  3. “faith, through which the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner, and”
  4. “the promise of the Gospel, since faith is only kindled in the heart by the Holy Spirit working through the Word.”
He then immediately identifies the genre of terminology to which the term “justification” belongs as juridical, and emphasizes that:
    “The role of each one of these components is described by all of the principal writers in the age of orthodoxy in ‘forensic,’ that is, ‘judicial’ or ‘courtroom’ terminology, as they unfold the Biblical concept of ‘justification’.”
That is, all of the components of the Common Outline, are treated by orthodox Lutheran writers, from Luther to Gerhard, as juridical, just as the term justification is itself juridical. Thus, while justification was recognized as a juridical term, it was not viewed as being comprised of both juridical and non-juridical components. ALL components were regarded as juridical – as occurring before a judge in a courtroom setting.

This “courtroom setting” is the centerpiece of an analogy used by the early orthodox writers of the Lutheran Confession to explain the Lutheran Doctrine of Justification. It is not the analogy of a “bank account” nor of a “water tower” – which are frequently repeated in contemporary times, even though they are totally contrary in nature to that of justification, which is, again, juridical in nature, not financialin nature, nor having the nature of public utilities. Rather, Rev. Rydecki emphasizes, the early orthodox Lutherans actually used a juridical analogy of a courtroom to explain justification according to its Common Outline – an analogy in which there are at least three distinct features:
  1. A real human being as a whole person – not a pre-incarnate person, not God's foreknowledge of a person, but a real live person
  2. A Righteous Judge who examines the merits of that person's works, Who, finding none, justly condemns that person
  3. Another Authority to which that real human being can appeal for Mercy and Pardon (much like a condemned prisoner in our day will appeal to the Office of the Presidency for official pardon, saying “Yes, I'm guilty. Yet I beg of you, please have mercy on me.”).
In support of the observation that orthodox Lutherans from Luther to Gerhard relied on this analogy, Rev. Rydecki marshals lengthy quotes from Luther, Melanchthon and Chemnitz, both from Confessional documents and from other writings, like commentaries on books of the Bible or doctrinal treatises, and also from Gerhard and Hunnius – who states, significantly:
    “In a human judgment, they are said ‘to be justified’ who are pronounced free from the guilt of the crimes of which they were accused... In the same way, understanding the word in the same forensic usage, they are said to be justified before God who, fleeing to the Throne of Grace2, are absolved from the guilt of sin and from damnation, and are reckoned as righteous by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, which consists in His obedience” (Articulus de iustificatione hominis peccatoris gratuita)
Likewise states Chemnitz as he negates the false teaching of the Roman church in his Examination of the Council of Trent. In its Decree of the Sixth Session, Article II – entitled “Concerning the Term ‘Justification’,” the Roman Catholic Church rejected the Lutheran position of Justification by Faith Alone, instead requiring within its definition of the term “justify” a righteousness that is infused in man by faith, rather than imputed to him, and which thus serves as a basis on which God would adjudge him “righteous”. Chemnitz responds, saying in part:
    The meaning of the word ‘justify’... is judicial, namely, that the sinner, accused by the Law of God, convicted, and subjected to the sentence of eternal damnations, fleeing in faith to the throne of grace, is absolved for Christ's sake, reckoned and declared righteous, received into grace, and accepted to eternal life.” (Examination, Vol. 1, 474)
Here Chemnitz makes clear, the sinner BEFORE GOD already stands convicted and condemned on account of his sin – that is, God is not blind to his sin!. Because this is true, the convicted sinner flees in faith to where he will find Mercy: the Throne of Grace.

Lest one be tempted to regard this Analogy as having been understood by the early Lutherans as anything other than a single event, however, he should take note, first, of the lengthy quote offered by Rev. Rydecki from the Loci Theologici of Martin Chemnitz:
    Thus, the use of the legal term “justification” refutes the ideas of the Epicureans. For it shows that the justification of the sinner is not some insignificant or perfunctory thing, but that the whole human being stands before the judgment of God and is examined both with respect to his nature as well as his works, and this according to the norm of the divine law. But because after the entrance of sin a human being in this life does not have true and perfect conformity with the law of God, nothing is found in this examination, whether in the person’s nature or in his works, that he can use to justify himself before God; rather the Law pronounces the sentence of condemnation, written by the very finger of God Himself.

    ...Therefore, because God does not justify out of frivolity, unconcern, error, or iniquity, nor because He finds anything in man whereby he might be justified before God; and yet the just requirement of the Law must be fulfilled in those who are to be justified... therefore a foreign righteousness must intervene – the kind of righteousness which not only with payment of penalties but also with perfect obedience to the divine law made satisfaction in such a way that it could be a propitiation for the sins of the whole world.

    To this the terrified sinner, condemned by the voice of the Law, flees in true faith. This he desires, begs for, lays hold of; to this he submits himself; this he uses as his defense before the judgment seat of God and against the accusation of the Law. By regard for this and by its imputation he is justified, that is, he is absolved from the comprehensive sentence of condemnation and receives the promise of eternal life.
In this quote, we clearly see that, according to Chemnitz
  1. the sinner involved is a whole human being – not a pre-incarnate person, not the idea or foreknowledge of that person in God's mind from the moment of Christ's death or resurrection, long before that person came into existence, but a real, live whole person.
  2. the sinner – as a living breathing human being, not a pre-incarnate person, not the idea or foreknowledge of that person in God's mind – actually stands before the judgment seat of God (also referred to by Chemnitz as the Throne of Justice, in his Enchiridion, Q.146), in the nakedness of his own sins, to which the Righteous Judge does not turn a blind eye, but on account of which He justly convicts and condemns the wretched man
  3. the sinner – again, as a whole human being – terrified by this sentence which he justly deserves and cannot escape on his own, flees in faith to the Throne of Grace and appropriates to himself the promises freely extended to him there
  4. the sinner – again as a living breathing human being – pleads his case before the Throne of Justice with the promises of the Gospel as his defense against the accusations of the Law, and thus is granted absolution from the sentence he deserves, and is justified.
This is Justification according to the Common Analogy, explicated above by Chemnitz, and expressed in various similar ways by the likes of Luther, Melanchthon, Gerhard and Hunnius through the “Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy” (as it is defined by Rev. Rydecki in footnote one). There are no pre-incarnate humans involved at any stage of anyone's Justification; rather the whole, living human being is involved from start to finish. At no point does any aspect of this whole, living person's Justification occur without his presence in God's divine court.

The second point one should note, lest he be tempted to regard this Analogy as having been understood by the early Lutherans as anything other than a single event, is amplified by Rev. Rydecki as he notes several aspects from Chemnitz' lengthy recitation of the Analogy with respect to the Common Outline of Justification that the Analogy was intended to explain:
  1. ALL components of the Outline are necessary, not just some, and
  2. ALL components occur simultaneously.
Rev. Rydecki states:
    “[J]ustification occurs in the divine courtroom, not without the accused fleeing in faith to the Throne of Grace, not before the accused flees in faith to the Throne of Grace, but simultaneously with this ‘fleeing’ or this ‘forensic appeal.’” ...Chemnitz’ analogy illustrates that the concept of forensic justification, as described by the Lutheran Fathers, is not a piecemeal justification that already ‘happened’ for all sinners, whether or not they appeal to the foreign righteousness of Christ, and then later ‘happens’ again through the Word and faith. Instead, it is the culmination of the four ‘causes’ that comprise the article of justification, each of which is a sine qua non in forensic justification. There can be no forensic justification of the sinner without God’s grace, or without the merit of Christ, or without the sinner being clothed by faith in the foreign righteousness of Christ, or without the promise of the Gospel that kindles faith.
These observations can leave little doubt that the early orthodox Lutherans did NOT view the entirety of Justification as anything other than occurring in a single point in time.

But what of this “Throne of Grace”? What is it and where does it come from? Surely, all Lutherans understand the picture of the “Throne of Justice” – this is, of course, where the Righteous Judge sits. But what is the Throne of Grace in this old Lutheran analogy of Justification? It is the seat of mercy, or the “Mercy Seat,” Who is Jesus Christ Himself, who in mercy freely confers NOT the sinner's own “pre-incarnate Justification” (since all aspects of Justification occur simultaneously within the confines of the Divine courtroom-setting, in which the whole person is present for the duration), but the benefit of His own Atoning or Reconciling work. Rev. Rydecki states:
    “On account of the satisfaction Christ made to the divine law, there exists, objectively, a Throne of Grace to which all sinners are invited (in the Gospel) to flee, an alternate place of judgment opened up as a result of God’s grace and the obedience, suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is ‘another tribunal,’ apart from the Law, where God is propitious, where absolution is pronounced, justification is declared, and eternal life is bestowed for the sake of Christ. The ‘atonement’ made by Christ has opened up this Throne of Grace, which is actually Christ Himself, the ‘atonement cover’ or ‘Mercy Seat,’ sprinkled with His own blood6, the ‘Atoner’ or ‘Reconciler.’”

So far is covered the Common Outline of Justification, articulated in the Confessions, and cited as the starting point by everyone who has involved themselves in the current and growing debate on the Doctrine of Justification, and a Common Analogy used by orthodox Lutherans from the time of Luther to that of Gerhard – exhausting fully six pages of text (though referring to additional supporting material in the Appendices). The Common Analogy used by these early Lutherans says a great deal about how they understood the Doctrine of Justification and its relationship to the Atonement – but it is still just an analogy, not the Doctrine of Justification proper. For this reason, it was not, nor should any mere analogy be, used as a binding Confession – such are used only to assist in explaining what a given Confession is. For this reason Rev. Rydecki continued for an additional eleven pages to voluminously adduce evidence from the Lutheran Confessions and the doctrinal treatises and Scripture commentaries of these early Lutherans in an attempt to show that the Common Analogy they used to explain the Doctrine of Justification was in perfect harmony with the Doctrine they Confessed and explicated, and was consistent with their explanation and use of Scripture concerning that Doctrine. This evidence was broken down according to the four components of the Common Outline, and the reader can take in that evidence directly at the following links:In closing this paper, Rev. Rydecki does highlight a Wittenberg theologian from the period between 1515-1637, who neither accepted the Common Analogy nor maintained the Common Outline. He was a Swiss theologian who distinguished himself in his attacks against the Calvinists in favor of Universal Atonement, and who wrote a book against them totaling 1185 theses, entitled, That Christ Jesus died for the sins of all men. Impressed, in 1592 the Wittenberg theologians invited him to join the faculty, thinking he would make a strong ally in their own fight against Calvinism in Germany. That Swiss theologian was Samuel Huber. Rev. Rydecki continues:
    “But within three years, the Wittenberg faculty noticed that Huber was straying from the ‘common (and Scriptural) outline’ of justification. He was teaching a justification that ‘happened’ for all men apart from the Word and apart from faith. It was a ‘general justification,’ a ‘universal justification’ that was supposedly pronounced at some time on all men. As they dug back into his book of 1185 theses, the Wittenberg theologians found that he had already been teaching this false doctrine there... It can easily be determined, both from Huber’s writings (especially his Tübingen Theses) and from Hunnius’ writings against him, that Huber was by no means a ‘Universalist’ in the modern sense of the word; he did not teach that all people go to heaven. Nor did Hunnius ever bring that accusation against him... What Huber did teach was that, although God had justified the whole world, people could reject this general justification and fall back under God’s condemnation. But he taught that baptismal regeneration was necessary for salvation. He also taught that justification by faith was necessary for a person to be eternally saved.

    Huber’s problem was not that he was a Universalist. It was that he strayed from proper Biblical exegesis of certain passages, including Romans 5:12-20... It was that he strayed from the common outline of forensic justification that requires the imputation, by faith, of Christ’s righteousness in order for any sinner to be justified. It was that he strayed from the confessional Lutheran teaching that ‘restricts justification to believers only, as prescribed by all prophetic and apostolic Scriptures’ (Hunnius, Theses Opposed to Huberianism, Thesis 20 Concerning Justification).”
Samuel Huber was dismissed from the Wittenberg faculty in 1595. That he was dismissed, and, in particular, the foundation on which that dismissal was justified, i.e., “denying that justification is restricted to believers,” is further evidence offered by Rev. Rydecki of what the early orthodox Lutherans both confessed, and also what they rejected.

Finally, filling out the forty pages Rev. Rydecki submitted to the Colloquium, he included four appendices to his paper, offering still further evidence from the direct statements of orthodox Lutherans from Luther to Gerhard concerning the Doctrine of Justification as to what they in fact believed, taught and confessed. As was stated at the head of this review, the title of this paper – along with the first footnote – makes abundantly clear, that it is concerned with establishing for the modern Lutheran an understanding of the Doctrine of Justification and its relationship to the Atonement, as these were taught during the first two generations of Lutheran theologians, based on what they stated directly concerning these doctrines, rather than how their statements “can be properly understood” according to various recent formulations.

In this reviewer's opinion, Rev. Rydecki did a thorough and convincing job of establishing such an understanding. It seems clear that, based on the volume of material he marshals from the early orthodox Lutherans, the number of different authors cited and their recognized stature as respected theologians, and the unity of these citations across the two generations from which they are drawn, it is therefore reasonable to conclude, based strictly on their own statements, that Lutherans from the time of Luther to Gerhard taught that
  1. Justification consists of the following four components: (1) the Grace of God; (2) the Merit of Christ; (3) Faith, through which the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner; and, (4) the promise of the Gospel, since faith is only kindled in the heart by the Holy Spirit working through the Word.
  2. ALL components are necessary to Justification, not just some components
  3. ALL components are regarded as juridical – as occurring before a judge in a courtroom setting.
  4. ALL components occur simultaneously
  5. the sinner involved is a whole human being – not a pre-incarnate person, not the idea or foreknowledge of that person in God's mind
  6. the sinner involved is not “already Justified,” but is already condemned on account of his sin, and is in very real need of Mercy
  7. “they are said to be Justified BEFORE GOD who, fleeing to the Throne of Grace [in faith], are absolved from the guilt of sin and from damnation, and are reckoned as righteous by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ”
Others may dispute these obvious conclusions to be drawn from Rev. Rydecki's research regarding the teaching of the early orthodox Lutherans. Fine. But it is not enough now for them to merely disagree, especially if such disagreement serves as any basis for their continued and malicious public malignment of his character. Rev. Rydecki has, with this paper, quite clearly laid down the gauntlet. The onus is now on those who disagree that this was the teaching of the early orthodox Lutherans to adduce with equal volume and unity, from a similar number of orthodox Lutheran theologians, having similar stature, from the same era treated by Rev. Rydecki, direct statements indicating the contrary. Short of this, the onus is on them to simply be honest, and admit that, in disagreeing with these obvious conclusions, though they stand in agreement with one another, they nevertheless stand in disagreement with the teaching of the Lutheran Fathers regarding the central article of the Christian faith.

Click here to Continue to PART V.5

Monday, July 8, 2013

Impressions from My Visit with ELDoNA at their 2013 Colloquium and Synod – PART V.3

(Continued from PART V.2, yesterday)

ELDoNA and a Return to Balanced confessional Lutheran Scholarship
My comparison of WELS and LCMS scholarship cultures, in the previous post in this series, is meant to express my general impressions based on my observations, as I have been exposed to WELS and LCMS scholarship, not as a characterization of every single author, nor as an absolute or “objective” conclusion regarding their character. I know for a fact that there are many individuals in both WELS and LCMS who are very capable, well-balanced, orthodox scholars. Nor is it meant to say that it is necessary for every single author in the ministerium to be a “top scholar;” there are many simple parish pastors – good, faithful pastors – who, though perhaps called upon to deliver a paper, do so making no pretenses. But on the whole, based on my exposure to them, my subjective appraisal is as a I had expressed it, which, when compared to the traditional reputation of confessional Lutheranism – that of “having the most learning” (as I had indicated at the beginning of PART V) – seems to exhibit a general character not quite living up to our reputation or our confession.

What I observed while at the 2013 Colloquium and Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America (ELDoNA) confirmed for me that many of what I consider to be the best characteristics of both LCMS and WELS cultures of scholarship are present within the Diocese, and for me, form my impression of its own culture of scholarship.
  1. They're small (and in my experience, from the standpoint of maintaining unity and fostering collegiality, smaller is better), but the individuals are unrelated to one another, and seem to be mostly unknown to one another outside of their “professional association” – so it is their status as fellow-confessors, as fellow-students of the Word and as fellow-workers in the Ministry, and their history together as fellow-collaborators, that seem to serve as the primary factors in their credibility with one another, rather than, say, family reputation, long personal or family history, or gossip.
  2. There is a statistically significant percentage of doctoral degree attainment among ELDoNA clergy, along with other, additional academic pursuit – so there is strong academic experience to drive and maintain the high standards they have set for themselves.
  3. While centered on the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, their academic investigation also includes areas of study which impact the Church and her teaching from outside these two norms – areas of study like philosophy, history or sociology. Such investigation, however, does not appear to be the product of a discontentedness with the strictures of a static text and a fixed theology, or motivated out of a desire to “discover” additional meaning and room for broader or alternate application, but to preserve pure doctrine and conserve catholic and evangelical practice.
  4. Their research displays an exceptional cultural awareness.
That last point may be surprising to some, but, quite honestly, I was expecting it, and was delighted to have had my expectations met. But that may not be an obvious expectation for many – after all, they are a post-Synodical-Conference church body known for confessing and practicing a Lutheran Confession that fastidiously conserves a fidelity to the past (a “past” where Lutheran history begins at least a few hundred years before 1848), and not only that, the publishing house that is associated with them is actually named “Repristination Press!” Most contemporary-minded folks would more than likely think that they are far from culturally aware, but that instead, they are just a bunch of repristinationalist luddites, stuck in a romanticized past!

A conclusion like this is not necessarily unfounded, if one is under the impression that the study of history has as its purpose merely the cataloging of stale trivia. But this is not its purpose, and the scholarship that I was exposed to during the Colloquium, and that I have taken in from their books, and papers on the internet, testify to the fact that they understand very well the purpose for studying history: to understand the present. Many folks forget this fact. The reality is, our “present” is merely a position on a continuum of events, which extend to the present from the past and lead to our next, future position. That is to say, if we want to understand the present, and have an idea of where the future leads, we must understand our position on the arc of history – must have some understanding of the forces that have brought us to the place and time that we occupy. And knowing position and arc, it is thus also possible to have some reasonable idea of our trajectory (this is, incidentally, a “Conservative” view of history – a topic that has come up frequently on this blog, including our recent post Confessional Lutheran Evangelism: Confessing Scripture's Message about Advent & Christmas). Such a perspective cannot help but be eminently more culturally aware and relevant than that which advocates of the Church Growth Movement boast as “Real, Relational and Relevant,” to the exclusion of anything historical: a narrow and shallow perspective which descends from a studious fixation on the microcosm of the present. Such perspectives say nothing about our true position, dismiss any “arc of history,” and can thus give no indication of where we might be going.

There were nine papers delivered at the Colloquium. I will conclude this series of posts, by briefly reviewing five of them.

Bishop James Heiser:
An Overview of the Distinction of Grades of Sin in the Book of Concord and the Early Lutheran Fathers

Grades of Sin... I've always wondered about this, since my Bible distinguishes between certain kinds of sins and others, and certain kinds of sinners and others. My Bible teaches me that God is not blind to sin, and that on account of their sin, He turns His gracious countenance from certain kinds of sinners, instead turning them over to the lusts of their own flesh. My Bible even has a special word for these types of sinners: My Bible identifies them as Reprobates (you’ll strain your eyes and waste your time looking for this perfectly good, and desperately needed, word in your NIV – they expunged it, along with a whole host of other important, though older, ecclesiastical terms). Reprobates are different from apostates, who are guilty of a positive denial of evangelical doctrine. Apostates are also known as, “those who are guilty of the sin against the Holy Spirit.” Reprobates, however, do not deny but know and profess the doctrine of Christ, yet act in utter disregard for it.
    18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; 19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: 21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, 23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. 24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: 25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. 26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: 27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. 28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. Romans 1:18-32

    5 Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? 2 Cor. 13:5
As the bolded sections indicate, reprobates are those who “hold the truth in unrighteousness,” who are therefore “given up by God,” and who are thus outside salvation regardless of whatever truth they hold. Indeed, in the 2 Corinthians reference above, St. Paul even warns fellow-believers to examine themselves, not only as to what they believe, but also what they personally do: “Jesus Christ is in you, unless you are a reprobate sinner.”

Inquiring of Lutheran pastors over the years, I've received only dismissive and totally inadequate responses: “All sin separates mankind from God. God has atoned for all sin. All sin is forgiven through Jesus Christ. It is a pointless exercise to divide sin into grades. Focus on the forgiveness.”

Bishop Heiser, in his brief essay, however, makes clear that neither Chemnitz, nor Melanchthon, nor Luther, nor first-generation Wittenberg theologians, like Professor Leonard Hutter, thought that observing “grades of sin” in the teaching of Scripture, such as what I have just pointed out, was a pointless exercise. Indeed, they seem to have agreed with C.F.W. Walther, who Bishop Heiser quoted as saying:
    “We have already seen that a distinction must be made between mortal and venial sins. A person failing to make this distinction does not rightly divide Law and Gospel” (The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, pg. 325.).
After reminding the Lutheran reader of the fundamental divisions of sin which are still commonly taught among confessional Lutherans – Original Sin and Actual Sin – Bishop Heiser then proceeds, with the help of Professor Leonard Hutter, to define Venial Sin and Mortal Sin as the two primary divisions of Actual Sin. Quoting Melanchthon, Chemnitz and the book of Romans, he writes regarding Venial Sin:
    In the case of venial sin, one is dealing with actual sins, where the sinner is not deliberately acting against conscience. ‘At this point if you fight against sin so that you do not give way against your conscience, you shall retain grace and the Holy Spirit’ (Melanchthon, Loci Communes, 127). In this context, Melanchthon directs his readers to St. Paul's words in Romans 7: ‘But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.’ In such a person, sin is not being willfully tolerated; rather, its unwelcome presence torments the Christian. As Chemnitz explained, ‘Therefore there is sin dwelling in us which tries to keep us in captivity... But if they fight against it and are in Christ Jesus, even though sin is still in their members, yet for them there is no condemnation’ (Chemnitz, Loci Theologici, 672).”
Likewise Hutter:
    “A venial sin, therefore, is a fall or action of the regenerate, which conflicts with the law of God, but does not cause the loss of grace, the Holy Ghost, and faith; for those who have been born again, in their spirit strive that they may not be led astray contrary to conscience, and they grieve over their corruption, and believe that for the sake of their Mediator, God regards them with favor, and gratuitously forgives them all their sins, through and on account of Christ” (Compend of Lutheran Theology, 70.).
Mortal Sin, on the other hand, Bishop Heiser distinguishes as follows:
    “The point at issue in the distinction between venial and mortal sins is that there are some sins which are so grievous that they can cause a person to lose their salvation. ...[T]he distinction between venial and mortal sins is found in the cooperation of the will in the commission of the sin.
He then proceeds to marshal Luther, Melanchthon and Chemnitz, via the Book of Concord, and Hutter from the generation immediately following that of the Confessors, to support this statement:
    Luther: “It is, accordingly, necessary to know and to teach that when holy men, still having and feeling original sin, also daily repenting of and striving with it, happen to fall into manifest sins, as David into adultery, murder, and blasphemy, that then faith and the Holy Ghost has departed from them. For the Holy Ghost does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so as to be accomplished, but represses and restrains it so that it must not do what it wishes. But if it does what it wishes, the Holy Ghost and faith are certainly not present” (S3:III:43-44).

    Melanchthon: “Nor, indeed, is this faith an idle knowledge, neither can it coexist with mortal sin, but it is a work of the Holy Ghost, whereby we are freed from death, and terrified minds are encouraged and quickened” (AP:IV:115).

    Chemnitz: “We believe, teach, and confess that, although the contrition that precedes, and the good works that follow, do not belong to the article of justification before God, yet one is not to imagine a faith of such a kind as can exist and abide with, and alongside of, a wicked intention to sin and to act against the conscience” (FC:EP:III:11

    Hutter (borrowing from Melanchthon's Loci):“In those who have not been born again, every sin is mortal, whether it be original or actual, internal or external. But in those who have been born again, a mortal sin is either a fundamental error, or an internal action, contrary to the law of God, committed against conscience, and depriving its subject of the grace of God, faith and the Holy ghost.” (Compend of Lutheran Theology, 69).
God is not blind to sin. This fact underlies the confession of the Lutheran Church in regard to Mortal and Venial sins, as adduced in Bishop Heiser's paper. The distinction is not just a pointless exercise, as the gravity of Mortal Sin in a Believer is one of eternal impact. Bishop Heiser concludes:
    “The most important thing for us to remember as Christians is that the door of repentance remains open for all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ as their Saviour. David's adultery and murder offer a striking example of mortal sin, but his restoration shows us that even those who fall away in mortal sin can be restored. As we are promised in 1 John 1: ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (v.9)... The Christian can, however, by the grace of God avoid mortal sin. All sin needs to be repented of, and there is a particularly pressing need in the case of a lapse into mortal sin that we repent and believe again the promises of the Gospel.”

PERSONAL THOUGHTS: Up to this point, I had been under the uneasy suspicion that contemporary Lutheran preachers have divested their preaching of God's Law. After taking in this paper, I have become convinced that this is increasingly the case. “In such a person [a Christian, conscious of his dual nature and the war his old man wages against the new man], sin is not being willfully tolerated; rather, its unwelcome presence torments the Christian.” That is, because sin inheres in the fleshly nature, because sin is always with the Christian, he ought to be tormented by it and earnestly desire to be rid of it! Yet, evidence of such a conviction is almost entirely absent from Lutheran preaching these days, where many are loathe to mention the Law in a way that might even make people feel just a bit “uncomfortable.” One of the most egregious examples of this that I have personally witnessed, occurred in 2009, when a WELS Circuit Pastor preached a sermon in which he stated, sheepishly, “and we all commit sins,” and immediately fell over himself making sure no one was offended by that statement, “but that's okay, it's okay, shh shhh shhhhhh, don't worry, don't worry, we are all forgiven...” Yes. He actually shushed the congregation as if people were convicted mortally terrified by his statement that “we all commit sins.” That statement was the only Law in the sermon. I was infuriated not only with his condescension but the man's clear misunderstanding of real human sin and complete non-application of the Law. I remember it because this sermon was the straw that broke this camel's back, and left me completely disillusioned with the WELS ministerium. Up to that point, noticing the obvious encroachments of evangelical sectarianism into the preaching and practice of WELS congregations, I had been making note of it as an exception (though growing in frequency), rather than the rule. Not after this. As a result of hearing this man's wretched sermon (and there were many other things wrong with it, too), I have since regarded the opposite as true, and finally acknowledging the opposite as the rule, have discovered it increasingly difficult to find exceptions to it.

Absent a genuine torment over Venial Sin, and an earnest desire to repent and be rid of it, Christians fall into Mortal Sin – into the habit of sinning against what their better judgment tells them is wrong, and excusing such actions: “It's really okay – I am already forgiven. I'll just focus on the forgiveness and be happy.” This attitude strikes me as imbalanced, approaching an Antinomian regard for sin and grace, and threatening to lead people into excusing and becoming comfortable with a lifestyle of manifest habitual sin.

Click here to Continue to PART V.4

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