Luther on Aristotle: Sola Scriptura, Metaphysics, and Nominalism

Last month I stumbled upon this:

Such were the various educational institutions in operation at the opening of the sixteenth century. Naturally sharing in the prevailing rudeness of the time, they were exceedingly defective in studies, methods, and discipline. The pupils were passive under instruction. The teachers lectured, dictated, interpreted, and the learners listened and memorized. The principle of authority prevailed. It was decided, for example, that there were no spots in the sun, because Aristotle had nowhere made mention of the fact. What seemed to be spots were therefore regarded as defects in the observer’s glasses. There was but little intellectual freedom; the teachers were bound by the authority of Aristotle and the Church, and the pupils by the authority of the teacher. Education did not aim at a development of all the faculties, but at a storing of the memory with certain facts of more or less importance in relation to the Church or practical life. In the universities, obscure and often trifling questions in philosophy and theology engaged the attention.

F.V.N. Painter, “Luther on Education.” St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1889. 83.

Yikes. This is the state of education that Martin Luther addresses with his belief in compulsory schooling of all children. More than that, the bit about Aristotle is fascinating.

Aristotle had been mostly forgotten between 500 and 1000 AD. At some point, and I would have to do some historical digging to find out when, various schools of medieval thought began to resurrect Aristotle and ground Christian theology in his metaphysics. This led to the doctrine of transubstantiation and the soul/spirit divide, among others. Most notably of all such theologians is Thomas Aquinas whose project was to baptize Aristotle by synthesizing his philosophy with New Testament theology. After St. Thomas, medieval theology would remain distinctly Aristotelian until roughly the late renaissance/Reformation.

Luther hated this. From the same book as above:

[Luther speaking] “The universities also require a good, sound reformation. The fact is that whatever the Papacy has ordered or instituted is only designed for the propagation of sin and error. What are the universities, as at present ordered, but as the Book of Maccabees says, ‘schools of Greek fashion and heathenish manners,’ full of dissolute living, where very little is taught of the Holy Scriptures and of the Christian faith, and the blind heathen teacher, Aristotle, rules even further than Christ. Now my advice would be that the books of Aristotle, the ‘Physics,’ the ‘Metaphysics,’ ‘Of the Soul,’ and ‘Ethics,’ which have hitherto been considered the best, be altogether abolished, with all others that profess to treat of nature, though nothing can be learned from them, either of natural or spiritual things. Besides, no one has been able to understand his meaning, and much time has been wasted, and many vexed with much useless labor, study, and expense.” (144).


His [Luther’s] mind was not metaphysical, but practical; he has no taste for fine-spun and fruitless theories. At the university, like Lord Bacon a century later, he acquired a strong dislike for Aristotle and the schoolmen. He could not endure their fallacious subtleties. He was made, not for speculation, but for action; he constantly deals with the concrete — not with theories, but with conditions and facts. His style abounds in particular rather than in general terms. (102).

This, by the way, is why Luther rejected the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation but then still believed that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. In his analysis, the Catholic teaching could only be maintained if you accept Aristotle’s distinction between substance and essence; the substance stays bread, but the ghostly essence becomes the body, so you are eating the essence of Christ’s body. Luther rejects this and claims instead that you are eating the essence and the substance of Christ’s body, which is just to say, the substance, because they are one.

A critical takeaway from Luther is his insistence on the Bible as the complete content of the faith. He rejected any metaphysical system that could not be proved by scripture (so, any metaphysical system) and instead sought to terminate his systematic theology just before entering into metaphysical groundwork claims. In his commitment to the Word, he rejected even the slightest hint of eisegesis by philosophy external to the text. I wonder if he would balk at the natural theology of 20th century fundamentalist apologists, if alive today.

But that is not entirely true, because, try as he did, it is really difficult to escape using any philosophy external to the text of the scriptures. Carl Trueman points this out in his recent biography of Luther (which I recommend):

Does the word dog mean something because it refers to something real, a universal “dogginess” in which all dogs participate such that the word legitimately applies to them? Does each dog have something objectively in common with all other dogs that makes the application of the word dog to each of them appropriate? Or does the word simply refer to lots and lots of individual things we choose to bracket together — Fido, Rover, Tico, Butch — under the term dog, with no ideal “dogginess” out there in which they all participate? Taken to its extreme, this latter view became what philosophers call an antiessentialist ontology, which effectively made words, and not underlying essences or substances, the determiners of reality. We might put the matter this way: is dogginess something real and independent of any individual example of a dog, or is it merely a linguistic construct, created by the person or the community that uses the word? Those who denied the existence of universal forms such as “dogginess” represented what is known as late medieval nominalism. This was the linguistic school in which Luther was trained and whose basic assumptions remained with him throughout his career. (83).

Carl Trueman, “Luther on the Christian Life.” Wheaton: Crossway, 2015.

This matters for Luther because if words are what define reality, and if God uses words to communicate, then God’s words literally define all reality. We also happen to have a big book called the Word of God which contains God’s words. So then, the preacher has ultimate creation-ary authority if and only if he preaches from the words of God — the text of scripture. Anything else included in a sermon is fluff, and “created” nothing unless by accident or coincidence. This is why Luther was so insistent on Sola Scriptura. It was not because he needed a norma normans nata normana, a Norming Norm that can Not be Normed, although that certainly was helpful.

The nominalism of Luther came originally from William of Ockham, who wanted to “shave off” any excess bit of metaphysical existence from language. This antiessentialism is where the term “Ockham’s razor” originates. As in, Luther took Ockham’s razor to the communion elements.

So then, in great irony, his insistence on removing Aristotelian metaphysics and other philosophy from theology was under the auspices of an equally metaphysical scheme.

Will Fidget Spinners give you Obesity?

fidget spinners

Will they? Is that really a live option that we should be worried about? After all, the Obesity Epidemic seems to be a big enough problem anyways.

The answer is no. A fidget spinner will not “give you” obesity any more than a person with totally normal Leptin levels will “get obesity” from eating twenty deep fried Oreo’s at the summer fair. Obesity isn’t something you “get,” it is something you have and then get, and anybody who thinks otherwise should read this article before continuing to think that way.

Scott’s summary-of-a-summary is way to intense to summarize here (nor would I chase the folly of attempting a meta-meta-meta-summary of the literature). But there is one interesting anecdote in the piece that is worth mentioning.

Scott lifts this text directly from Guyenet:

Genes explain that friend of yours who seems to eat a lot of food, never exercises, and yet remains lean. Claude Bouchard, a genetics researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has shown that some people are intrinsically resistant to gaining weight even when they overeat, and that this trait is genetically influenced. Bouchard’s team recruited twelve pairs of identical twins and overfed each person by 1,000 calories per day above his caloric needs, for one hundred days. In other words, each person overate the same food by the same amount, under controlled conditions, for the duration of the study.

If overeating affects everyone the same, then they should all have gained the same amount of weight. Yet Bouchard observed that weight gain ranged from nine to twenty-nine pounds! Identical twins tended to gain the same amount of weight and fat as each other, while unrelated subjects had more divergent responses…Not only do some people have more of a tendency to overeat than others, but some people are intrinsically more resistant to gaining fat even if they do overeat.

The research of James Levine, an endocrinologist who works with the Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University, explains this puzzling phenomenon. In a carefully controlled overfeeding study, his team showed that the primary reason some people readily burn off excess calories is that they ramp up a form of calorie-burning called “non-exercise activity thermogenesis” (NEAT). NEAT is basically a fancy term for fidgeting. When certain people overeat, their brains boost calorie expenditure by making them fidget, change posture frequently, and make other small movements throughout the day. It’s an involuntary process, and Levine’s data show that it can incinerate nearly 700 calories per day. The “most gifted” of Levine’s subjects gained less than a pound of body fat from eating 1,000 extra calories per day for eight weeks. Yet the strength of the response was highly variable, and the “least gifted” of Levine’s subjects didn’t increase NEAT at all, shunting all the excess calories into fat tissue and gaining over nine pounds of body fat…

Together, these studies offer indisputable evidence that genetics plays a central role in obesity and dispatch the idea that obesity is primarily due to acquired psychological traits.

I found the Levine (2012) study here but that is paywalled and I couldn’t find a pdf floating around on google in the 20 seconds I bothered to search.

The implication is fairly straightforward that fidgeting burns calories to ward off excess weight gain, which means that fidgeting is a natural, healthy, regular thing to do. 

Fidget spinners are an annoying toy designed to prevent children from fidgeting in class, but it seems to my inductive mind that anything that decreases NEAT will decrease the physiological effects of NEAT, which is calorie burning, and so then the person will not burn as many calories as their body attempted to burn.

I can draw several conclusions about the irony of fidget spinners in that they seek to help kids focus (instead of fidget) in the most distracting way humanly possible. A shiny thing, and it is moving, and it moves faster than the eye can distinguish, and — what was that, teacher? The absolute value bars do what?

(But that implication is only hypothetical, as is my less-than-hypothetically-confident narrative about ADHD diagnosis in children and the degree to which the educational environment treats young children (especially boys) like 18 years olds, and then gets mad then they underperform those unreachable standards. Again, that is even less sure.)

But this concept of NEAT calorie burning is both insightful, straightforward, and probably the only thing that has stopped this sedentary 19 year old from reaching the Freshman 15 so far. A Fidget Spinner will not give you obesity. But it could undermine a process designed to prevent weight gain.


We huddled like men about to die.

Nothing about this activity felt right, but that did not matter. To witness to strangers about the message of the Gospel raises more questions than it answers, breaks more social norms than a person should be allowed to break in a day. As our group gathered, ready to leave for an afternoon at the mall, we prayed like men about to die.


The Scene

Gurnee Mills Mall unfurls across a square kilometer of capitalism. Shoppers bounce into and out of each store, avoiding the center aisle venders. Some occasionally realize they walk too slow, and apologize to me for impeding my business. The greatest aspect of this mall (the food court, as in any mall) produces and distributes to the mall’s lesser aspects a cacophonous blend of smells, just wretched enough to repulse me, just wicked enough to attract me.  


The Precursors

But in the two preceding paragraphs, as in the time thus spent at the mall, I have meandered around my point without taking the action necessary to execute it. In such a bind Brennan, the group leader, gives me an ultimatum: he will go to the restroom, and I must be in an evangelistic conversation with the Watch Repair vendor when he returns. He does not specify the consequences for disobedience.

And I circled and I circled and I circled without the gusto to act, but eventually I realized my time was likely passing, and I walked up to the booth to start the conversation. It was awkward, he didn’t know enough about American culture to understand my movie-themed conversation starter, and it ended rather abruptly as well.

Nearing 10 minutes later Brennan and I approached a high school student named Jose who loved Jesus and loved the things of this world. (The unexamined life is not worth living). That conversation almost worked, with an incoming comparison between his wrestling tournament that week and Jacob who WRESTLED with God but his girlfriend finally came and they scampered away into glory.


The Encirclement

So I found a man eating a pulled-chicken sandwich across the food court and decided he was next. That decision is always easy, but what followed was more difficult.

And I circled and I circled and I circled without the gusto to act, but eventually I realized my time was likely passing, and I walked up to his table to start the conversation.

I’m here for a school project, and I’m required to strike up conversations with strangers about their views on religion. I’m wondering if you’d like to chat for a few minutes?



The Conversation

Ali is a Muslim man in his late 20’s who moved from Pakistan to the U.S. several years ago. As a discussion partner he is cordial and tended to compliment, even when asserting his position. His views are well-informed, and yet he still cautioned that it takes years of study to understand a religion, to get the facts straight, to understand which facts are significant on balance, and to see the cultural and historical impact on and from that religion. So while he knows about Christianity, he can’t speak definitively.

Oh really? What if I could, in less than a few minutes, give the entire narrative arc of the Christian faith? What if I could do that, and then give you permission to speak as definitively or indefinitely as you like?


Here comes the gospel. Over a few minutes I explained the bits of the gospel message. That God created us to be with him, but Our sin separates us from him. Moreover, the scriptures tell us that Sin cannot be removed by good deeds. Thankfully for us, Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again, so that Everyone who trusts in him and him alone can have eternal life. This eternal Life with Jesus starts now, and lasts for an eternity. G. O. S. P. E. L.

It was much more conversation than that. He was constantly nodding and agreeing with the points, or at least, agreeing with the articulation that those points are, in fact, what Christians do think. He even agreed that that was an insight summary that successfully left aside the minor issues to just focus on the big picture. My approach included stopping after each two points to ask clarifying questions and check for comprehension, and to speak as smoothly and fluidly and not I-learned-this-script-at-an-Evangelism-conference-when-I-was-fourteen as possible.

But there was one issue, he said.


The Issue

Why would God’s love motivate him to construct that system? Isn’t the more straightforward system of God rewarding us for deeds done more just?

His point is well taken. The doctrine of substitutionary atonement is unjust. If we define justice as everyone getting as they deserve — no one guilty getting set free, and no one innocent getting punished — then, yes, it is inescapable that God is not doing that definition of justice through the atonement. The proper theological response is that God does punish people for their deeds through eternal torment in Hell. He agreed with that, but says that his objection is more specific than that.

Say that a person, by faith, believes in God and trusts him with their life. They are saved! What then is the justice of God? His objection pits eternal security against God’s justice, not simply the whole system of the atonement. What is to stop me, as a Christian, from doing some extremely evil thing? Sure, there may be temporary punishment, like going to jail. But in the long run, we’re all dead and I’m in heaven celebrating with the Angels, seeing and experiencing the radiant glory of eternal life.

I have no answer to this. I had no answer then and I have no answer now. We both understand exactly what he is talking about, so there is no ask clarifying questions or fill the air with my voice. Anything off-topic or distracting that I say will only embolden his confidence in this critique.

He has pitted the logic of the Greeks against the stumbling block of the Cross and reduced the disagreement to a subjective preference. Which system do I like better, the system that operates logically or the system that inverts logic?


The Suggestions

He was gracious and after a few moments released the tension. He mentioned that he had to go back to work, and I had seen Brennan walk behind Ali a few minutes before and give me a wrap it up gesture. We both agreed, peacefully, to leave, each with more knowledge about the other’s beliefs and an understanding of our differences.

He mentioned the name of an Islamic scholar who publishes in English about some of these things. Zakir Naik, his name is, and it would greatly benefit me to look into his work.

I tentatively agree, but on one condition. Ali must go read some of the writings of a scholar of my choice. William Lane Craig, his name is, and it would greatly benefit him to look into his work.

I mentioned in particular Craig’s article on the Trinity.

I reached out to shake his hand, he twisted it sideways and allowed me to shake his limp wrist (which all happened too fast for me to recall that some Muslims cannot shake hands with non-Muslims in most contexts, as a matter of social procedure).


The Debriefing

My group reassembled near the eastern medicine shop, headed through the wacky mirror hallway, piled into Brennan’s slightly broken-down car, and began to discuss each conversation. Matt Phelps and Joe McHugh had talked with a group of high school atheists for almost an hour. Brennan and I went over our conversations. The car was pindrop silent as I explained that I agreed with Ali that there isn’t a satisfactory logical answer to his dilemma. Or, it would have been pindrop silent, had the carburetor not squealed every few moments.

As we left, everything about the past few hours felt right. We had casted aside the social norms that so easily entangled, we gladly raised more questions than we answered, and we prayed like men truly living.

Campus now came into sight, and we started praying for the people we encountered.

We got out of the car and left.

We left like men prepared to live.

Why chairs are a poor metaphor for faith


Every so often in discussions of faith and reason, the metaphor comes up that I exercise faith by having confidence to sit down in a chair.

What if the chair were to break? Bet you didn’t consider that one.

As the idea stands, it depends upon a simple claim that faith and confidence are one in the same.

Does the certainty we have in chairs demonstrate that we have faith in general, and thus undermine by ad hominem the atheist’s claim that faith is irrational?

No, because it ignores an important distinction in the objects of faith in each scenario. In the first scenario, the reason I exercise such confidence in chairs is that I have observed in the past that they hold strong. My mind quickly estimates the probably of a chair breaking as the same as the number of times it has happened to me before divided by the number of chairs I’ve enjoyed. In this case, my faith depends upon the law of cause and effect.

In the case of God or more generally the supernatural, the faith exercised depends upon that which by definition exists external to the five senses. While you have observed the chair many times, you have not observed the supernatural many times. In fact, you have never observed the supernatural, because any interaction between the supernatural and natural is, from our perspective, natural. We don’t see the supernatural hand of God in rearranging human circumstances, we only see the circumstances themselves.

Notice that faith is the evidence of things not seen, per Hebrews 11.

But more generally than this ignored distinction, the real problem is in the equation of faith with confidence. Faith does not equal confidence. For far too long the concept of faith has been hijacked by fundamentalist streams of anti-modern Evangelical thought originating in the 1920’s which wholly posit the Christian experience as an intellectual one.

Yet the scriptures are absurdly clear that faith is not belief. James writes that “even the demons believe, and they shudder,” meaning that being convinced of an idea is not equivalent to faith in it. Supernatural beings like the demons are, I assume, explicitly aware of the existence of God. They are explicitly aware of his power and the metaphysical imperative to submit to his authority. Why do they not follow him?

Faith is a composite term for three distinct convictions. First, that a person believes that something is true. Then, that a person believes that thing is morally good and therefore worth acting towards, rather than against. Finally, that a person acts towards it.

The final step of action is what distinguishes faith from belief. A way to formulate this would be to say that Belief + Desire + Action = Faith. So to say that faith is confidence is to ignore the second and third steps.

Stop using this metaphor. It reduces faith.


Noahpinion on race, homogeneity, assimilation and diversity

Today a blogger posted the best essay I’ve seen in rejection of the idea that diversity is inferior to homogeneity, or put more charitably, that the alt-right’s message of “diversity + proximity = war” is not sound.

View the post here.

This ties together everything I’ve been saying about immigration politics the past year or so. You can see bits and pieces of my thought process in this post and this post, but I never got around to an outright refutation. That would have been against the rules I set forth in this post.

It’s not worth trying to summarize his points because 1. Finals week is coming up and 2. he already said everything better than I can.



bad frap


Don’t do it!

This is not worth your money. Do not buy it. Every fiber in your Millenial being wants to be hip and trendy — DON’T!

This drink is, without question, the worst thing I have consumed in the past six weeks.

(Don’t ask.)

Mango? Who would have thought! That the PINK and PURPLE and BLUE drink would almost entirely be made of Mango??

This drink is worse than Ed Sheeran’s most recent album — and if that doesn’t make my point, nothing else will.


I don’t even want to type the name because I fear that someone has not yet heard about it, and by not telling them the name, they will be spared the pain of DRINKING 59 GRAMS OF SUGAR THRU A STRAW.

The onset of diabetes is determined by two separate things: first, the person must already have the necessary genes; second, something must physiologically activate the expression of those genes. The gun must have a bullet in the chamber, and then the trigger must be pulled. For some onset cases, the patient had consumed a dramatic amount of sugar — enough to overload the pancreas’s (vastly reduced by genes) ability to break down blood glucose. The pancreas stops functioning momentarily, or for a period of time, and the trigger has been pulled.

This drink may have the potential to do something along these general lines that may or may not reflect actual medical science about diabetes for which I am no qualified specialist to give you advice. But it’s probably still safe to take caution?

Not to mention that it tastes like glitter and Ugg boots blended with an expired mango and a plastic phone case manufactured by wage slaves in Shenzhen, Guangdong province.

By the way, speaking of terrible conditions in other countries, I should mention that for $4.35 you can cover the cost to purchase and distribute one malaria net in Malawi via the Against Malaria Foundation.

This drink costs $4.95 before tax.

The Scales

[Originally delivered as a sermon to Grace on Campus, the Christian club at Hononegah High School, on April 13, 2017.]

scales from eyes

I’m thinking about the way one of my college professors uses a particular expression.

Whenever a student has a sudden moment of realization in class — they hadn’t understood something but then all at once they get it — my professor comments that “it’s like the scales have fallen from their eyes.”

I’m not sure exactly where he got this expression from, (though I harbor some suspicions), or why he uses this metaphor instead of the numerous others that relate understanding and wisdom with eyes and sight.

Somehow, some way, scientists can know how different animals see. Humans, obviously, because the scientists themselves are human. Dogs, because they can dissect the canine eyes and count the cones and rods, or something. The particular animal of this metaphor is the snake, which has a thick scale over each eye which prevents it from really seeing. It can see that things are there, like if you closed your eyes and tried look forward. You would have just the vaguest impression of light and dark, but no thing in particular. So it is with snakes. This is also why snakes flick their tongue out. Not just to taste the air. They are smelling the air. It replaces their mostly-useless eyes.

Needless to say, my professor is not the first to compare sight and understanding. The scriptures also use this concept, and I’d like to bring to your attention several distinct places the Bible talks about blindness as a spiritual and mental, rather than merely physical, process.

First let’s dig through Paul. Some important sections come to mind.

From 1st Corinthians:

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called,both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

And then later on, into the next chapter:

12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness,and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

Let’s take stock of a few things before continuing. First, Paul is talking to an audience of Greek believers who face a variety of issues. Some were practical, like marriage, lawsuits, and people disrupting the church service. But before Paul gets into any of that, he talks about this. Human understanding and reasoning. This audience is living in ancient Greece, keep in mind, the hub of all kinds of different philosophies. He wants to make sure they get this down first.

Second, the problem with Jews and Greeks. To the Jews, it is ridiculous to say that Christ’s death achieved anything. Why would his death have any impact on me? Shouldn’t my own death, or maybe the death of my property (rams, bulls, cows, etc.) have an impact? Why would someone else’s property dying, or their death, alter my account? Not to mention, how could God die? If Jesus died, then he isn’t God. The problem is that the teachings of Jesus upended their religious system of sacrifice and atonement. Jesus’s death is like asking your calculator to find 2+-*/2. Syntax Error.

The Greeks had similar opinions of Jesus, but for them, it was because they were wiser than that. The solution proposed by Christ would be simple, too simple; stupid, a question for fools, they think. Like answering the question “how do you solve the world’s problems?” with “a good deal of hard work.” That’s not enough of an answer. There is clearly something more sophisticated than that.

So both end up rejecting him. A stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks.

Last, lets look closely at the final statement in these verses: the unbeliever “cannot understand [the things of the Spirit] because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” So, they are blind — not that the unbeliever can see things but refuses to follow them.

They cannot see at all.

They have scales covering their eyes.

Flip 10 or so pages forward in your Bible and find 2nd Corinthians, chapter 3. This is a follow-up letter to the same group of people, in more or less the same situation. Not much has changed since the first letter (which infuriated Paul, I’d imagine). Here is the passage:

12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

And then continuing on into the next chapter a few verses…

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

As straightforward as ever, Paul is again arguing in this passage that people are blinded to the message of Christ.

This comparison between Moses with his veil and the Israelites with their spiritual blindness is a bit confused, in my opinion, because it’s compares general themes, instead of a 1 to 1 comparison, and we hear 1 to 1 comparisons more often. But here is what he means: just as nobody could see Moses’s face because the veil prevented them, so could the unbelieving Jews today [c. AD 54] not see what is really going on.

His language is explicit: people who have not “turned to the Lord” have something blocking their ability to understand the truths of God, and they “cannot see the light”. Here Satan gets the credit, but at other times God does, because in some way everything is at least partially is attributable to God. Yet when that person is reoriented towards Christ, their barrier is removed and they understand.

They can see the light of the gospel.

The scales fall off their eyes.

To make my point crystal clear: belief and unbelief are not as straightforward as being convinced that something is true.

If it WERE so straightforward, then I would only have to point them to this next argument and they would convert on the spot.


__________ BEGAN TO EXIST
__________ HAS A CAUSE.


The force of this argument should be felt immediately. If the two premises are true, then the conclusion must follow. And if that conclusion follows — that matter, time, space, energy, the universe, or any other way you try to slice and dice everything that “is,” are caused — then they must have a cause which is not themselves. So, there must be an immaterial cause for matter. There must be an intemporal cause for time (i.e. never changes). There must be an inspatial cause for space. There must be something not made of energy that caused energy. (Though this is irrelevant because Einstein proved the unity of energy and matter with his equation e=mc^2). Put generally, there must be something outside of the universe which is not the universe itself nor is made of what the universe is made of, that caused the universe to be.

This argument leads all the others in most circles of Christian apologetics. William Lane Craig wrote his PhD. dissertation on this topic and has since written numerous books and articles about it. The Kalam brings us to the same point that Aristotle did with his “unmoved first mover” concept. There exists something with properties x y and z. Now, we are left with the legwork of connecting that thing with those properties to the Person we describe as God, and sure enough, the argument holds there as well. These traits do match the descriptions given in the scriptures and are precariously similar to Anselm’s or Paul Tillich’s description of God.

But this isn’t how things work. It doesn’t matter how logically structured the argument. The gap between unbelief and belief is not persuasion.

There is something blocking their understanding.

Their face has a veil.

Their eyes have scales.

I really hate to introduce another passage of scripture because too many can be overwhelming, or seem like I’m pulling things out of context. But this one is too good to resist.

At the very end of Luke two men are walking along a path and see a third one nearby. So they start a conversation, not realizing that the third man is Jesus himself. Now, I’ve undersold it already: they didn’t just “not realize” it. Instead, as verse 16 describes, “they were kept from recognizing him.” So that little verb, those two words “were kept,” means that this blindness is imposed upon them. It isn’t coming from themselves. It’s an outside force. Keep that in mind.

Jesus has just been crucified that weekend, and raised from the dead that day (or maybe the day before). So these two travelers start telling the third man, unbeknownst to them Jesus, all about who Jesus is and how he had died and rose again. And Jesus replies, picking up in verse 25:

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

And notice again, let me read it one more time, verse 31: “Their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” This, just like “were kept,” means that some outside force was in the way, not just themselves.

So what exactly happened here? Did these men have some crazy backstory of hating and persecuting Jesus? Later on Saul would be a good example of this, and another angle emerges there when you consider his blindness. But were these men ridiculous sinners, criminals, and such? No, it seems like these are people that had been tracking with Jesus for quite a while. These are the ones in close proximity to him. We don’t know who they are, but the text sort of implies that they are among the 12, minus Judas, so the 11. Yet these men did not understand. In their description of Jesus they called him “a prophet, powerful in word and deed.” But is that all? Is Jesus just a powerful prophet? Jesus corrects them and says “the Messiah.” The chosen one.

And their hearts, burning within them! The teaching of scripture lit a fire within their spirit. The passage records that Jesus went through the Old Testament and pointed out all the places that testified to him — that’s all he did — and inside them grew an intense passion.

Meanwhile, they gain vision.

They can see.

The scales are removed.

My own testimony happened in something of a similar process. And by process I mean all at once, in a single moment, without any duration or length of time at all.

Sitting on a couch in the youth room at Hope EFC in Roscoe, (and I can still point you to the exact spot), a few things came together at once. The group was studying the book “Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World” by C.J. Mahaney. Doug Juhlin was leading my small group and was asking us questions. The first chapter after the introduction provided a very pointed scenario:

Imagine that someone could obtain a transcript of every word you said this week, the lyrics of every song you listened to, a complete browser history of your internet activity, and a print-out of every thought that nobody else but you could know. This observer also gets to have the same documentation from a random, non-Christian person. If they looked over the documents, would they notice a difference between the two of you? Would there be anything indicative of a changed life?

You must change your life. This religious system holds to certain premises, and from those premises follow conclusions that must logically follow. You agree to the premises, Ross. God exists. You have offended him. You are sinner in the hand of an angry God. You must obey his commands. But will I follow those to their end?

What a profoundly Biblical concept. Union with Christ means that I must fully surrender, that ALL of me must be united with Him.

And so it happened that all in one moment I felt this impact. The whole gospel message finally clicked. Why did Jesus have to die? What does it mean for “Jesus to live in your heart”? What is the significance of faith in the life of a Christian? What is a Christian, as opposed to a non-Christian, if not beliefs?

I moved from being a James 2:19 follower of Christ to being a James 2:22 follower of Christ.

My aloofness was taken all in one moment.

I could see.

The veil was gone.

The scales had fallen.

This happened in late September or early October of 2010 and for the remainder of 7th grade I was on fire for Christ. My heart burned within me. Everything that I could think about or talk about reflected Him. I exclusively listened to Christian music, consumed Christian radio and podcasts, read books about Christianity (from a very fundamentalist slant) and got more and more involved at church. My attitudes in school changed; no longer the sarcastic, arrogant prick who was smart enough to goof around and still get an A+. (The classes were still easy enough to do that, but my attitude changed). Suddenly I was engaged in classes, I became an extrovert with social skills on the rise, instead of hating everyone and playing with my Lego blocks in the corner. I began to desire the things that God desires. My favorite book was a two-way tie between Romans and Romans. In short, I became the most Christian person I knew.

The rest of my story is long and complicated. Everything changed after 7th grade, and I’ve swung up and down and sideways, and slantways, and longways, and backways, and squareways, and front ways, and any other ways that you can think of.

In 8th grade I became depressed from a confluence of different circumstances that all seemed to pile on at once with no solution in sight. Everything being miserable and all, the pure joy of the previous year fell away.

In 9th grade I became worldly after the depression wore off, because now I was neither depressed nor joyful — just hollow, and I let that hollowness be filled in by influence of the wrong people.

In 10th grade I became build up again after I left those friends in the dust and headed for the hills. My accidentally joining the Cross Country team led me to therefore (and really, this did 100% follow from being on Cross Country) become part of the Christian Club. A set of upperclassmen together fixed their eyes on Christ and caught my gaze in the process. Winston, Shannon, Liz, Hannah, and the list goes on. Real discipleship.

In 11th grade I became busy, filling my schedule to meet every demand. My study of the scriptures became less important. My study of statistics, now that’s where my time went. Along with my other half a dozen AP classes, all of my clubs, my church hyper-involvement, and on and on and on and on.

In 12th grade I began to doubt. Over the previous year I had begun to listen to some passionate atheists online because I agreed with their politics, but I ended up gathering from them more than opinions about government. I downloaded their thought process, the way that they found truth strictly through reason and evidence. In my mental computer I followed the startlingly new chain of Start > Control Panel > Command Prompt > Run > Secularism.exe. Rationalism! Intelligence! Profundity! Reason! Dozens of objections to the faith soon followed and it all quickly spiraled out of control.

Do you remember the presentation in January of 2016, last year, during Outreach Week when we had Mickey Klink come speak with a topic like “Arguments that a God Exists”? Do you remember the buzz around the school that day, what everyone was talking about? They were all annoyed that he didn’t actually give arguments that a God exists. Instead he spent almost the whole hour talking about the legitimacy of doubt in the life of a believer. “That’s not an argument for the existence of God,” they said. He also talked a lot about presuppositions and the foundations for secular thought, and why those are unsatisfactory. But that flew right over everyone’s heads. “That’s not an argument for the existence of God,” they said.

In retrospect, and I didn’t understand this until at least 8 months later, I realize that he wasn’t talking to them. He was talking to me. Every single word that he spoke was directed by the Holy Spirit to console, of all people, the one who organized the event. Me. I booked him as the speaker, I gave him the topic and prepped him on what not to say, I met him in the lobby, had a bottle of water for him, introduced him to the audience and everything. I had a great leadership team to help with the entire week, but this particular even was solely mine. Yet I was the one receiving the message, not them. Unbelievable.

In 13th grade, this year, I became passionate again. It’s the year of Jubilee! Seven years later and the slaves are all set free. Since I arrived at Trinity I have had those doubts repackaged and reoriented in a way that makes most of them irrelevant. A whole lot has changed and I wish that I could describe it all to you, but put shortly: in one moment, at probably 2 or 3 am in my dorm, I was reading the textbook assignment for the next day. The selection was about the difference between recognizing pluralism and abandoning absolute truth.

And it hit me.

I was set free once more.

The scales that had regrown over my eyes were gone once more.

You see, something strange happens in a public school environment that doesn’t happen in private religious schools. I brought this entire book with me to read a passage from it, but it doesn’t look like I’ll have time for that.


But essentially, here is what happened: I didn’t need to be a Christian to do Calculus. Alex Hartz could hand the same calculus problem to a hardened atheist and a selfless follower of Christ, and the only determinant on who gets the problem right or wrong is who did the homework — not — who believed in God. The same was true of English class, or Economics class, or worst yet, my classes at Beloit College that year. It did not matter whether I believed in God or not. And since school had consumed roughly 1000% of my life, I just began to live my life as if He wasn’t there.

(This effect is something described in depth by Craig Groeschel in his book “The Christian Atheist.” I haven’t read it yet, but I will soon.)

Here’s the mistake I was making. I mixed up two different concepts: that we all coexist together in this school regardless of our religion, and that religion does not matter. When really, we can coexist in the same school regardless of religion and I can still fiercely disagree with you. I can look you in the eyes and say “you’re wrong” and still do my math homework. 

Before time runs out, I want to offer some applications from all of this.

First. Let’s remember that sight is God’s supernatural work. We cannot save people, and we cannot even present the arguments in a way that makes sense. Because to them, it won’t. They disagree not because of anything purely rational — though they may frame the conversation in those terms — but because Satan and/or God is standing in the way. Instead, ask God to remove the veil. Only he can do that.

Second. Your peers worship one of four things. The God of Christianity. The God or deities of some different religion. Themselves. Or their college admissions counselor.

Most people that talk about high school students overlook this. They think that if a student isn’t religious, they are obviously a crazy party goer, slamming shots as if alcohol isn’t kryptonyte to the liver. Doing a different drug every day, cheating their way through tests and girls like their consequences will never catch up with them. Their social media doubles as an online MTV-if-ied 16 and Pregant of their horrendous moral choices. They look up to the cast of Jersey Shore.

This only tells half the story. In fact, an entire group of students– at my school, somewhere between 70 and 150 people, or 1/3 of the grade — are more religious than the most Christian student in the school. They could deny themselves and take up their cross all day long, but they weren’t following Christ. They would worship at the door of the office of their college admissions counselor. Complete and total self-sacrifice in exchange for the approval of this one person! That’s as religious as it gets! They would sacrifice four years of their life, all their passions and goals, and press through sheer hell. All day long, every day, every week, every month, for four years.

Puritans of all Puritans!

It’s funny, because on the first day of school, freshman orientation in 2012, my admissions counselor told everyone at a presentation that they should join clubs. Okay. Sure. Joining clubs sounds like a good idea. But she said that joining clubs was a good idea for one particular reason: because it looks good on college apps. That phrase, to my surprise and eventual frustration, would be repeated by students as a justification for doing anything that had the slightest chance of getting into that one school they’ve always dreamed of attending. It’s funny because when I applied to schools, and this is true for nearly all schools, especially the good ones, the application limited me to listing my top 5 extra-curricular activities. Only 5.

I didn’t even mention Student Council. I was the president.

This is outright sinful and I regret not only participating in it, but dragging others deeper and deeper into the system. This is outright treason against God and as such it is sending people to Hell. We must stop it.

This is the gutwrenching reality of what it means to be a human being: you will worship something. If God is removed from that equation, you will still worship, it is only the object of that worship that will change. God. A different God. Yourself. Your college admission counselor. Pick one.

Third. The Christian’s task is to beam the light of the gospel into the eyes of snakes. Your job, to continue this already crude metaphor, is not to anesthetize the snake, grab a scalpel, and cut into the eye-scales. Instead, take out the flashlight. Spread the true message of the gospel anyways. It works. God will change lives through your proclamation of the simple truth. We don’t need to “distort the word of God,” per Paul in the 2nd Corinthians passage. Nothing about the purity of the message needs to be improved. “On the contrary, we set forth the truth plainly.”

And by “light” I do not mean the Kalam Cosmological argument. This “light” is not the mere existence of God. It is not warm and fuzzy morality. It is not “family values.” It is the message of redemption, that you don’t got God because you ain’t good but God got good at gettin’ you and so propitiated the wrath destined for your account, switching your place with Christ’s, and accepting you into the kingdom. This is the gospel message. This is what we spread.

Because with it, God transforms lives.

Because through it, God reveals the truth to those without understanding.

Because in it, scales fall from the eyes of men.




*[The book is How (Not) to Be Secular by James K. A. Smith and the passage I was going to read is this:

What [Charles] Taylor describes a ‘secular” — a situation of fundamental contestability when it comes to belief, a sense that rival stories are always at the door offering a very different account of the world — is the engine that drove Flannery O’Connor’s fiction. As she attested in a letter about her first novel:

“I don’t think you should write something as long as a novel around anything that is not of the gravest concern to you and everybody else, and for me this is always the conflict between an attraction for the Holy and the disbelief in it that we breathe in with the air of our times. It’s hard to believe always but more so in the world we live in now. There are some of us who have to pay for our faith every step of the way and who have to work out dramatically what it would be like without it and if being without it would be ultimately possible or not.”

Even a faith that wants to testify and evangelize — as certainly O’Connor did — has to do so from this place…. [Paul] Elie… well summarizes that effect:

“We are all skeptics now, believer and unbeliever alike. There is no one true faith, evident at all times and places. Every religion is one among many. The clear lines of any orthodoxy are made crooked by out experience, are complicated by out lives. Believer and unbeliever are in the same predicament, thrown back onto themselves in complex circumstances, looking for a sign. As ever, religious belief makes its claim somewhere between revelation and projection, between holiness and human frailty; but the burden of proof, indeed the burden of belief, for so long upheld by society, is now back on the believer, where it belongs.”

Ours is a “secular” age, according to Taylor, not because of any index of religious participation (or lack thereof), but because of these sorts of manifestations of contested meaning. It’s as if the cathedrals are still standing, but their footings have been eroded. Conversely, the Nietzschean dream is alive and well, and the heirs of Bertrand Russell and Auguste Comte continue to beat their drums, and yet Oprah and Elizabeth Gilbert still make it to the best seller lists and the magic of Tolkein still captivates wide audiences. (p 10-11).]

Reflections from The Gospel Coalition National Conference 2017

[An assignment for CH 6000: Pastoral Ministry in the Protestant Reformation, a class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, in which I wrote a distilled reflection on each plenary session and workshop at the conference. These focus not on summarizing the argument of each session, but on applications for theology of ministry and pastoral practice.]


tgc image



John Piper, Galatians 1

This chapter began with a strong warning – there is no other gospel than that which Christ delivered to the apostles, and anyone teaching otherwise is accursed, anathema, damned. Piper noted that this should cause an unparalleled seriousness about life and worship. Pastors should thus take the pulpit for what it is worth: the means by which God can and regularly does bring sinners into salvation. Jokes are tolerable, but only sparingly, not in the middle of the serious content, and never in a way to trivializes either the weight of the content or the longstanding significance of the pulpit (i.e., do not condition congregants to expect a weekly comedy show). Piper said, “Woe to the Pastor and Worship Leader who create an atmosphere where these truths [the gospel] are impossible to feel.”

To unscramble this passage’s zig-zagged logical path, Piper introduced a homiletical device that I have never seen before. Suppose someone said “I can’t talk now, I’m late, I have to hurry, or I’ll miss my train.” This is not stated in a logically sequential order, but because there are only four steps, our brains sort them out automatically. Not so with Paul’s writing! Piper broke down the chapter into eight distinct claims, and preached through them in logical order rather than through the text in written order. This simple tool can clarify the text when I lead a devotional, Bible study, or preach a sermon.

Paul was able to say hard things because he was not, in Piper’s words, “a man-pleaser.” This is one of the marks of having authority that comes from beyond mankind. As long as I lead with one eye on man’s opinions, on their approval, I “will not be a faithful minister. I will be a coward.” Thus, the pastor who depends on God’s authority (through the Word) does not feel the need to seek man’s authorization.

A serious ministry, a logically-traced message, an authority not from man.


Sandy Wilson, Galatians 2

Peter had not defended the apostolic understanding of justification when certain people arrived. Intimidated, he shirked back and fell into the path of least resistance. If justification by faith alone is true, then those Judaizers are wrong, and Peter should stand up to their imposing presence. From this Wilson asserts that justification (or any important bit of theology) must be demonstrated and defended. JBFA is not “just an intellectual idea; it is something we commit to body and soul and live by in our entire being.” Thus, the minister should defend the legitimacy of the concept and then demonstrate practically that he believes it.

A bold witness.


Stephen Nichols, Martin Luther

Martin Luther has been cast in this presentation as a profoundly honest man: keeping his promise to St. Anne from the storm; trembling before the Eucharist at his first mass as priest; spending hours in the confessional lamenting his sin. Here we find a man concerned with his own standing with God before concerning himself with the particulars of life or the sins of his congregants. The pastor, like Luther, should himself be internally and wholly devoted to Christ before anything else. The Christian Leader must be led by Christ before they can lead others in the Kingdom.

Nichols described Luther as “a one-note theologian,” whose one note was justification by faith alone. He didn’t feel a need to emphasize other doctrines. I am sure that Luther had particular opinions on all the debates of his day, and that if he were living in the 21st century he would as well. But it seems that he chose to sit on one refrain. It can be tempting to make a single issue a “pet issue” on which I specialize, to which I quickly turn in a vacuum of other content. What other issue could be more important? The pastor should hold the gospel message as the most important talking-point of their theology and personal identity.

Near the end of his address Nichols gave an anecdotal story from the National Religious Broadcasters Association conference that year. Having a thirty-minute presentation slot, R.C. Sproul gave a seminary lecture on sola scriptura, focusing on the biblical and traditional support for the doctrine and the effect is has on systematic theology. Immediately thereafter a pastor – who led the largest congregation in the country ­– spoke about “the four pillars of his ministry” which each came from direct revelation from God. He also made sure to throw in the claim that “Jesus did his work for salvation, so no you also have to do yours!”. The clear takeaway here is the comparison between Sproul and Luther, both as men dedicated to the authority of scripture before anything else.

An honest contrition, a one-note theologian, a dedication to scripture.


Kevin DeYoung, John Calvin

The main interpretation of Calvin given in this presentation is this: his lasting significance comes not because he himself did any particularly relevant thing to his day, but because he rooted the ministry activity of Geneva in the scriptures. The scriptures last, not the particular relevancies of the ages, and so his legacy lasts. A ministry’s foundation is not particular relevancies. We can still use them ad hoc, but the real substance, the real foundation should be the scriptures.

For example, consider Calvin’s return to Geneva three years after banishment. He said nothing, walked into the church, stepped into the pulpit, and preached on the very next text after where he left. The pure dedication to the Word in his preaching ministry is obvious.

Another reflection: Calvin worked himself to death. He preached 10 sermons every two weeks, wrote large volumes on theology, had dozens of pastoral consultations per week (or weeks), and worked probably 16 or 17 hour days, for 25 years. DeYoung noted that Calvin did not eat well or sleep enough. These are both an encouragement and a cautionary tale: the pastor should work hard, spending himself and pouring himself out for the mission; yet he also should follow the sabbath principle of rest-taking, being careful to avoid burnout that threatens the mission.

DeYoung also pointed out that Calvin requested to be buried in an unmarked grave so that future generations could not idolize him in death. This, in addition to his original desire to live a quiet and retired life in the countryside, implies that he did not desire a platform or stage. So too should all pastors be content with little, though God occasionally gives much to some.

A scriptural foundation, a hard worker, an over-worker, a man content without power.


Peter Adam, Galatians 3

The Galatians, like so many others, have bought the narrative that they have “moved on to maturity,” in Adam’s words, by leaving behind what they once had. Pragmatism, Legalism, “Civic Religion,” Agnosticism, and such are almost always cast in terms of having progressed from Christianity to the newfound, superior ideology. Yet Paul would disagree; they have moved from Christ to foolishness. The narrative ought to be cast not like Christians are just holding down the fort, (because this empowers these other narratives), but that Christians are the ones who have left what is behind to press forward.

Many have “just enough religion to make them hate,” Adam says, because they fail to understand the law-grace dynamic in Galatians 3. This passage, and the concept of justification by faith alone, ought to be a great equalizer, because salvation does not hinge on anything contained within the person himself. So then, whether a pastor or not, the Christian must treat equally all other believers in Christ, not showing favoritism. We also ought not divide the body along ethnic lines like the Judaizers in this chapter.

A wise narrative, a leveled body.


D.A. Carson, Galatians 4

In this sermon, Dr. Carson asserts that slavery should be a framing metaphor in theology. Now, in the 21st century, freedom is a self-chosen and constructed identity for authentic living. Carson is not talking about this. Instead, freedom in Christ is slavery to Christ. It follows that pastors should use this in their preaching rhetoric, and that they should not discuss freedom in Christ in a way that implies licentiousness or antinomianism.

An enslaved freeman.


Andy Davis, John Yates, Steven Um, Ligon Duncan, The Pastor-Scholar in the Reformation

A heightened need for specialization in the Church has created a rift between theologian and pastor. While at one point the two were conjoined: think of Luther, himself a university professor, or Calvin, a prolific writer, or Cranmer, a seminary professor; they each served the dual roles of pastor-scholar. So, the main takeaway of this panel is that pastors can and should engage in lifelong learning, even scholarship.

Andy Davis mentioned that Calvin followed a teaching principle called “Lucid Brevity,” which implies that his audience has little time and no specialist vocabulary. Other panelists concurred, saying that the Reformers were all involved with the local church very actively. Um commented that pastors need to write without footnotes, so to speak, meaning that they avoid scholarly distractions and minutia when giving the main point to congregants.

Near the end of the panel, Um and Duncan volleyed on Scott Manetsch’s book “Calvin’s Company of Pastors” and mentioned some particular ways to meet today’s need for ongoing in-service training and continuing education for pastors. Duncan mentioned that early Presbyterians has a sermon exchange with 5 or 6 young pastors, organized by the Presbyter within his jurisdiction. (This would only necessarily apply to PCA pastors who were in attendance, but conceivably could also be organized similarly by congregationalist bodies).

A lifelong learner, a quick and clear exposition, a sermon exchange.


D.A. Carson, Evangelicalism and the Evangel

[This talk, while rich in sociological and theoretical implications, gave little in terms of pastoral ministry. I selected it before the title had changed. It originally read “Evangelism and the Evangel,” and the -ism was added latter. I had thought Carson would be speaking on methods of outreach to nonbelievers. Instead, it focused on the definition of Evangelical and how to construct that definition objectively.]


[But, Erwin Lutzer did sit next to me. So there’s that.]


Tim Keller, Calvin’s Company of Pastors Today

One of the reigning themes of the conference, along with the need for modern catechesis and pastoring in a post-Christian context, was Scott Manetsch’s book “Calvin’s Company of Pastors.” Keller presented the main concept of that book in this talk: Calvin convened a group of pastors to preach, scrutinize each other’s preaching, advise each other personally, correct, rebuke, etc., every week, for well over a decade. There is no analogue in modern pastoral ministry. We need to develop a modern analogue.

While Keller was light on specifics (intentionally cutting short to allow for a 30 minute Question and Answer), he did emphasize that a recent trend has been an increase in burnout among pastors, and that the Company of Pastors idea could potentially deter or reverse that trend.

Keller also mentioned that we currently elevate the pulpit among all other ministries, while the Reformers conceived of Ministries of the Word. Other scripturally based ministries are important too. He listed extensive Bible exposition, catechesis, immersion in the Psalms, the Lord’s Supper, Daily Office, and accountability as ministries of the Word used by Calvin that we currently minimize but should not.

A sharpening group, an exhaustion preventative, a variety of Ministries of the Word.


Ligon Duncan, The Reformation After Calvin

Cultural Engagement divided the Reformers just as it divides Evangelicals today. It is important, Duncan asserts in his portrait of Zwingli, to be careful on issues of church-state-society theory, and to treat them like adiaphora, as they deserve. Pastors should seek to persuade, have cordial disagreements, and present a compelling argument, without becoming divisive on the topic.

Similarly, Henry Bullinger had a deep concern for unity in the church. Duncan observes that we think that doctrine must be protected, but we don’t think unity must be – though both are commanded in scripture countless times. The solution is to triage debates into levels of significance, prioritizing doctrine on higher debates and unity on lower debates.

A prioritized unity.


Thabiti Anyabwile, Galatians 5

A pastor should always point people to grace, not to legalism. Congregants will see legalism and think they are climbing their way to God, instead of realizing that they are falling from grace. The apostasy in congregations will not be an outright denial of justification by faith alone. Instead, it will be a subtle change in actions that subtly undermines this doctrine. Pointing them not to law-keeping by grace will blunt this effect.

An emphasis on grace.


Tim Keller, Galatians 6

The “boasting in the Cross” in this chapter does come at the mutual exclusivity of anything else. Keller instructs “not to boast in your endnotes and footnotes, or how much you know.” The example given of Billy Graham preaching at Cambridge is a fantastic contrast between the preacher whose words stir hearts and the preacher whose thoughts numb ears. Pastors should not hold a mindset to impress their audience into buying their book (though nobody is so honest as to admit this) but to preach the Cross until they repent.

This Cross is offensive because it undermines a person’s achieved good works. Keller quotes a hypothetical person asking the preacher, “you mean after all the work I did to stay out of the gutter, I’m still in the gutter?” The pastor should nonetheless preach the doctrine of the Cross and hope that eventually the listeners who would adopt this same hypothetical mindset would repent and trust in Christ.

A boast only in the Cross, a Cross that offends.

Flagged Paragraphs on Globalization

A few months ago I decided to start a giant project on Globalization over the semester break. It was going to be Very Thorough, and I was going to finish it Super Fast because my productivity would be Excellent.

So anyways, I only read one of the books, it took forever, I gave up on the project because the new semester started and suddenly I had /actual/ work to do, and the library books were due. The mission is thus passively euthanized, and I have signed the DNR with the best handwriting I could manage.

The one book I dependently sludged through was Malcolm Waters, “Globalization,” Melbourne: Routledge, 1995. Insightful commentary I write not, but mega quotepost you here will find.




7-8 – Globalization is traced through three arenas of social life that have come to be recognized as fundamental in many theoretical analyses. They are:

  1. The economy: social arrangements for the production, exchange, distribution and consumption of goods and tangible services.
  2. The polity: social arrangements for the concentration and application of power, especially insofar as it involves the organized exchange of coercion and surveillance (military, police ), as well as such institutionalized transformations of these practices as authority and diplomacy, that can establish control over populations and territory.
  3. Culture: social arrangement for the production, exchange and expression of symbols that represent facts, affects, meanings, beliefs, preferences, tastes and values.


13 – Industrialization carries with it more general societal ramification. It induces the pattern of differentiation to other areas of social life as these areas increasingly become functionally articulated with the industrial core – families specialize in consumption, schools teach differentiated skills to the labor force, specialized units of government provide economic infrastructure, the mass media sell appropriate symbolizations, churches promulgate supporting values, and so on. These structural changes induce value shifts in the direction of individualization, universalism, secularity and rationalization. This general complex of transformations is called “modernization”. As industrialization spreads across the globe, it carries modernization with it, transforming societies in a unitary direction. Imitating societies may even adopt modern institutions before effectively industrializing.


27-29 – the snooker table as being overlain by a cobweb of relatively fragile connection between the balls – when the balls move gently (diplomacy) they are guided by the strands, when they move violently (war) they disrupt them. The networks that Burton identifies are patterns based on such factors as trade, language, religious identification, ethnicity, ideology, strategic alliance, communication links, and legal and communications conventions. In a formulation that clearly prefigures true globalization theory he argues that we should replace a simplistic geographical notion of distances by one based on what he calls ‘effective distance’ (1972: 47). Here the more dense the systemic linkages between locations, effectively the closer they are. If we were to take Burton’s argument to its extreme we would indeed have a genuine globalization theory – if the entire world is linked together by networks that are as dense as the ones which are available in local contexts, then locality and geography will disappear altogether, the world will genuinely be one place and the nation-state will be redundant. However, for Burton, as for many other political scientists, this position remains much too radical because it denies the saliency of the state as a prime organizing principle of social life. He wants to insist that the world is dualistic, integrated at the substate level but still organized as segmented nation-states. Burton is not alone – dualism remains the bottom line for political science and International Relations versions of globalization. Bull (1977), for example, insists on the continuing saliency of what he calls the states system, a pattern of international relations in which there is a plurality of interacting sovereign states that accept a common set of rules and institutions. Bull identifies the clearest threat to the states system that he values so highly as the emergence of what he calls a ‘new medievalism’, a system of overlapping or segmented authority systems that undermines the sovereignty of states. He analyses this threat as four components that are generally consistent with the argument being offered in this book. They are:

  • A tendency for states to amalgamate on a regional basis (e.g. the EU);
  • The disintegration of states into constituent nationalities;
  • The emergence of international terrorism;
  • Global technological unification

However, Bull asserts that there is no evidence for the emergence of a world society that displaces the states system but his criterion for the emergence of a world society is too severe by most standards embracing: ‘not merely a degree of interaction linking all parks of the human community to one another but a sense of common interest and common values, on the basis of what common rules and institutions may be built” (1977: 279). No self-respecting globalization theorist would subscribe to such a straw-person condition … It does allow Bull happily to conclude, in the face of a great deal of evidence that he adduces to the contrary, that: ‘the world political system of whose existence we have taken note in no way implies the demise of the states system’.”


29 —  Rosenau’s analysis of emerging global interdependence is another example of what might be called a dualistic approach to the current transformation. [note 10]. Rosenau’s early work (1980) concentrates on what he calls ‘transnationalization’. This is a process by which inter-governmental relations at an international level are supplemented by relations between non-governmental individuals and groups. Here Rosenau is a technological determinist much in the fashion of Kerr and his colleagues or Bell:

Dynamic change, initiated by technological innovation and sustained by continuing advances in communications and transportation, has brought new associations and organizations into the political arena, and the efforts of these new entities to obtain external resources or otherwise interact with counterparts abroad have extended the range and intensified the dynamics of world affairs. (1980: 1-2)

So the proper study for a political science of world affairs is no longer simply ‘international relations but ‘transnational relations’ involving complex extra-societal relationships between governments, governmental and non-governmental entities. Non-governmental interaction rebounds onto states to produce an increasing level of interdependence between them and a disintegrative effect as it promotes intra-societal groups to the world stage. This involves: ‘a transformation, even a breakdown of the nation-state system as it has existed throughout the last four centuries’ (Rosenau 1980: 2).


41 – he [Robertson] no longer speaks of an international system of states but of globalization at the cultural level. He begins by giving a two-part definition of the concept:

Globalization as a concept refers both to the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole … both concrete global interdependence and consciousness of the global whole in the twentieth century. (Robertson 1992:8).


45 – he [Robertson] claims that globalization, for example, is neither necessarily a good nor a bad thing – its moral character will be accomplished by the inhabitants of the planet.


46 – Not all theorists accept Robertson’s view that the cultural cleavages that might prevent globalization have now been closed. Kavolis (1988), for example, would argue that such a view represents a peculiarly Western version of culture in which religion is conceived to be an increasingly subordinate subset of it. Rather, under Islam, for example, culture is enclosed by and is subordinate to religion. To the extent, then, that religions offer differential moral codes we can identify separated civilizational structures that constrain individual action. World culture is, for Kavolis, divided into at least seven such incommensurable civilizational systems: Christian, Chinese (Confucian-Taoist-Buddhist), Islamic, Hindu, Japanese (Shinto-Buddhist-Confucian), Latin American syncretist, and non-Islamic African (Kavolis 1988: 210-12).


47 – The burgeoning development of international organizations during the twentieth century does not, Giddens insists, imply a loss of sovereignty for the nation-state but rather the securitization and institutionalization of that sovereignty. The reflexive system of international relations affirms the territorial and ethnic integrity of individual nation-states. Indeed, it provides a secure environment in which new states, however small and weak, can emerge and to some extent prosper.


53 – The contemporary order, Lash and Urry argue, is therefore: ‘a structure of flows, a de-centered set of economies of signs in space’. Insofar as these flows of symbols are undermining nation-state societies we can identify a process of globalization. This involves (1994: 280-1):

  • The development of transnational practices (see Chapter 2 on Rosenau);
  • The development of localized sites, ‘global cities’ that originate transnational practices (see King 1990b);
  • A decreasing effectivity of state policy instruments (see Chapter 5)
  • An increasing number of inter-state connections (see Chapter 5);
  • The embryonic development of global bureaucracies (see Chapter 5);
  • The emergence of new socio-spatial political entities (see Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 on ethnic nationalism);
  • An overall decline in the sovereignty of the state. [note 2]


54 – Giddens is notable within the current upsurge of interest in general social change for his insistence that current transformations constitute a continuation of rather than a break with modernity. While such postmodernists as Lyotard (1984) would point to current uncertainties as the consequence of the collapse of foundationalist meta-narratives that previously attempted to provide comprehensive answer to questions of human existence, Giddens argues that there is nothing new in this. Modernity has always created uncertainty and as the juggernaut gathers speed the incapacity of knowledge systems to tell what to do becomes chronic. Giddens characterizes the contemporary period as a high or radicalized modernity in which concerted action on a global scale is increasingly probable, although linked to processes of dispersal and localization. Postmodernity is for him a utopian condition in which human beings have resolved their problems within each of the four organizational clusters of modernity. A postmodern society would incorporate: a post-scarcity economy; multilevel political participation, especially at the local level; the humanization of technology; and global demilitarization (Giddens 1990: 164).


55 – We might argue that if people in Tokyo can experience the same thing at the same as others in Helsinki, say a business transaction or a media event, then they in effect live in the same place, space has been annihilated by time compression.



Taken together, the above arguments represent a new sociology of globalization that has emerged over the past five to ten years. In summary, it proposes the following:

  1. Globalization is at least contemporary with modernization and has therefore been proceeding since the sixteenth century. It involves processes of economic systematization, global culture or consciousness. The process has accelerated through time and is currently in the most rapid phase of its development.
  2. Globalization involves the systematic interrelationship of all the individua social ties that are established on the planet. In a fully globalized context, no given relationship or set of relationships can remain isolated or bounded. Each is linked to all the others and is systematically affected by them. This is especially true in a territorial sense (i.e. geographical boundaries in particular are unsustainable in the face of globalization). Globalization increases the inclusiveness and the unification of human society.
  3. Globalization involves a phenomenology of contraction. Although commentators often speak of the shrinking of the planet rather than a literal truth, that is, the world appears to shrink but (pretty obviously) does not materially do so. The particular phenomenological registers that alter the scalar appearance of the world are time and space. Because space tends to be measured in time [note 4], to the extent that the time between geographical points shortens so space appears to shrink. Insofar as the connection between physically distant points is instantaneous, space ‘disappears’ altogether [note 5]. A more recent phenomenon is that localizations of time disappear – if, for example, a Korean house-spouse can watch with an America FA-18 pilot as she bombs a chemical factory in a Middle East war, their time frames become synchronized. Globalization implies the phenomenological elimination of space and the generalization of time.
  4. The phenomenology of globalization is reflexive. The inhabitants of the planet self-consciously orient themselves to the world as a whole – firms explore global markets, countercultures move from an ‘alternative community’ to a ‘social movement’ action configuration, and governments try to keep each other honest in terms of human rights and dash to commit military assistance to the maintenance of world order.
  5. Globalization involves a collapse of universalism and particularism. The earlier phase of unaccelerated globalization had been characterized by a differentiation between arenas in which general and rational standards could apply and others in which the particularities of relationships and the qualities of individual persons were paramount. This differentiation is registered in the well known sociological distinctions between life chances and lifestyles, gesellschaft and gemeinshaft, public and private spheres, work and home, and system and lifeworld. The separation was largely accomplished by boundaries in time and space but because globalization annihilates time and space the distinctions can no longer apply. Each person in any relationship is simultaneously an individual and a member of the human species – they can say ‘I am myself’ and ‘I have rights’.
  6. Globalization involves a Janus-faced mix of risk and trust. In previous eras one trusted the immediate the knowable, the present and the material. To go beyond these was to run the risk of injury or exploitation. Under globalization individuals extend trust to unknown persons, to impersonal forces and norms (the ‘market’, or ‘human rights’) and to patterns of symbolic exchange that appear to be beyond the control of any concrete individual or group of individuals. In so doing they place themselves in the hands of the entire set of their fellow human beings. The fiduciary commitment of all the participants is necessary for the well-being of each individual member. A fiduciary panic (e.g. the ‘Black Monday’ stock market crash of October 1987) creates the risk of global systematic collapse.


66 – the original and continuing fundamental of economic globalization is trade. Trade can link together geographically distant producers and consumers, often establishing a relationship of identification as well as interdependence between them… Under current circumstances, wearing Armani fashions or grilling food on a Hibachi barbecue (itself a polyglot phrase) provides an opportunity for commonality of lifestyle across the globe… Overall in the period since industrialization, world trade, understood as the exchange of commodities and services between nation-states, has expanded very rapidly. One indicator is the positive ration of growth rates in trade to growth rates in production throughout the nineteenth century and second half of the twentieth. Only during global conflict and associated economic depression that marked the first half of the twentieth century did that ration turn negative. Even then global trade continued to grow except in the twenty years following the Great Depression (Gordeon 1988: 43).


68 – the inter-war period saw a return to protectionism as national governments strived to restore their shattered economies by curtailing imports and subsidizing exports. However, the emergence of the USA as the post-Second World War political, military and economic hegemon game it an opportunity to establish a trade system that suited its interests. Insofar as much of the rest of the industrialized world had been exhausted or devastated by war, the USA was well placed to take advantage of a liberalized trade regime.


76 – Until recently it was also possible to offer the more moderate critique of MNEs that they had grown so large and powerful that they undermined the legitimate and often democratically established sovereign authority of the nation-state but in the current context of the delegitimation of the state the debate has become polarized.


79-80 – We consider in an earlier section the liberalization of world trade. Emmott (1993: 8) argues that in a completely liberalized trade environment and where the marginal costs of transportation are low, MNEs would cease to exist. This is because firms would obtain the best cost advantage by producing in one place so as the maximize the economies of scale and licensing offshore production where such economics failed to offset transportation costs. In a truly globalized economic context then, the MNE would disappear in favor of local producers marketing globally.


82 – More importantly there has been a process of global cultural transmission to which the Japanese version of the best way has been carried around the world as a system of ideas. This transmission occurs in three arenas: in the popular mass media Japanese production systems are represented as a highly generalized but somewhat ambivalent ideal, discussed in terms of both fear and admiration; in universities, business school academics and organization theorists conduct comparative research on the Japanese advantage and these results are both published and incorporated into organizational design courses for potential managers; and third they are written up as easily digestible popular books that can be peddled to managers as manuals for organizational transformation.


86-87 – In the post-Second World War period, the key treaty in the so called Bretton Woods Agreement of 1944 established the IMF. The IMF’s brief was to maintain stability in rates of currency exchange by providing temporary loans to carry states through periodic balance-of-payment deficits without massive structural readjustment. For some 25 years the IMF thus effectively returned American balance-of-payment surpluses to countries in deficit, although in chronic instances it did demand readjustment, and in many cases states simply went ahead and devalued. An important stabilizing factor was the linking of the dollar to a specific price of gold… the key event that signaled the collapse of the Bretton Woods system was the withdrawal of the US dollar from the gold standard, because the relationship could no longer be maintained in the face of dollar inflation. Already the IMF had supplemented gold by so-called Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), the rights to borrow from the IMF as necessary, as the fiduciary support for the dollar and other currencies. Now SDRs have replaced gold, sterling and the US dollar as the global standard of accounting and are constituted as a weighted mix of five currencies ($US, £Stg, DM, FFr, ¥). However, the SDR has not become global currency.


101 – the excuses of politicians for their failures have taken on a global hue: our economy is failing because of the recession in the USA or Europe or Japan or somewhere else; our currency is declining because of the activities of unidentified international speculators; our air is dirty because someone else has had a nuclear meltdown; we cannot solve the problem of urban crime because it is fed by international drug syndicates; or, we cannot feed our people because the level of international aid is not adequate. Insofar as politicians deflect blame on to the global arena, collective political actors will focus their attention on that arena and the nation-state will progressively become an irrelevance.


111 – The redefinition of social problems as global problems undermines the sovereignty of the state in three ways:

  • It redirects individual political preferences;
  • It delegitimizes the nation-state as a problem-solver;
  • It sets up new international organizations to which some elements of state sovereignty are progressively surrendered [note 4]


111 – to speak of a globalized polity can invoke the image of a world government, a single unitary and centralized state similar to contemporary nation-states or even a world empire. This need not be the case. A globalized polity can have the characteristics of a network of power centers, including nation-states, coordinated by means other than command. In principle such power centres might be coordinated because their controllers shared common norms and common interests and sought to move towards consensus on such issues. Such a view is not as romantically optimistic as it may appear. Regional groupings of states, such as the EU, and a wide range of specialized interest associations already coordinate their activities on just such a basis. However, such an outcome is less likely than a polity organized as a market, or more precisely as multiple markets. Here process of allocation (e.g. of welfare, economic development, peace and security, pollution, cultural performances) would be governed by competition between power centres much in the same way that global flows of finance or of information are the consequences of multiple complex decisions.


113 – [NGOs] constitute a complex and ungovernable web of relationships that extends beyond the nation-state.


117-118 – Certainly, such developments indicate that in many instances national interests are becoming merged into global ones.

There are three possible theoretical interpretations of these developments. The first suggests the emergence of a ‘new world order’, a liberal construct that implies the disappearance of the superpowers and the emergence of a highly differentiated yet relatively consensual family of nations that punishes the deviant and protects the defenseless. This is clearly an ideological conception that seeks to obscure very real differences of interest and military power. The second is the suggestion that the USA won the cold war and that the world is dominated by an unchallenged hegemon. Curiously this view appears to be the property both of leftist critics and rightist triumphalists. If fails in the light of American impotence in Vietnam, Iran and Somalia. The USA succeeded in Kuwait but only with allied military support, UN legitimacy, tacit Russian acceptance, and European, Japanese and Arab financial assistance. This suggests that a third interpretation, that of the emergence of a multipolar world, has much to offer as a realistic assessment. The domination of the superpowers has disappeared to be replaced by a fluid and highly differentiated pattern of international relations that exhibits much of the chaos and uncertainty that is also found, for example, in financial markets.


121-122 – A shift is under way towards a culture described by Inglehart (1990) as the rise of post-materialist values. The traditional focus of politics in liberal democracies was material values, issues to do with the distribution and redistribution of goods and services. The typical division in this politics was between a ‘right’ or conservative side that stressed the preservation of property ownership and freedom of contract in markets, often coupled with a paternalistic welfareism, and a ‘left’ or social democratic side that stressed the redistribution of property and income on a more egalitarian basis, a state-interventionist welfare system and the regulation of markets. Post-materialist values emphasize community, self-expression and the quality of life. Here a political value division emerges between a ‘new right’ which stresses individual autonomy, the right to consume and governmental minimalism and a ‘new left’ that stresses the empowerment of minorities and a mutuality of interests among human beings and between them and their environments. Inglehart estimates that by 1970 post-materialists outnumbered materialists in the core group of liberal democracies in Western Europe, North America and Japan.

The question now arises as to why this value shift should be regarded as a globalizing trend. The answer is that it contributes to many of the developments discussed above. In materialist value-conflicts the key issue is the role of the state and the way in which it represents the interests of one class or another. Here the state is the focus of political attention and its structures will be extended insofar as political parties can enhance their support by so doing. In post-materialist politics the state is problematic: the new right regard it as a transgressor on individual freedoms, and a distorter of markets; the new left views it as an agency of rampant materialism and a means for the juridificational control of populations and their minorities. More importantly post-materialism focuses political attention on trans-societal issues, the planetary problems discussed above. It indicates such phenomenologically globalizing items as ‘the individual’, ‘life’, ‘humanity’, and ‘the earth’ that indicate the universality of the condition of the planet rather than the specific conditions of their struggle with an opposing class about the ownership of property or the distribution of rewards.


125 – the current accelerated phase of globalization does not refer to the triumph and sovereign domination of any one of these ‘metanarratives’ (Lyotard 1984) but rather to their dissipation. A globalized culture is chaotic rather than orderly – it is integrated and connected so that the meanings of its components are ‘relativized’ to one another, but it is not unified or centralized.


136 – globalization does not necessarily imply homogenization or integration. It merely implies greater connectedness and de-territorialization.


144-145 – It might be argued that consumer culture is the source of the increased cultural effectivity that is often argued to accompany globalization and postmodernization. Insofar as we have a consumer culture the individual is expected to exercise choice. Under such a culture, political issues and work can equally become items of consumption. A liberal-democratic political system might be the only possible political system where there is a culture of consumption precisely because it offers the possibility of election. But even a liberal democracy will tend to be McDonaldized, that is leaders will become the mass mediated images of photo-opportunities and juicy one-liners, and issues will be drawn in starkly simplistic packages. Equally work can no longer be expected to be a duty or a calling or even a means of creative self-expression. Choice of occupation, indeed choice of whether to work at all, can be expected increasingly to become a matter of status affiliation rather than of material advantage.


170 – Fordism was indeed paradigmatic and idealized rather than generalized. It never accounted for more than 10 percent of manufacturing labor, even in the US (Crook, et all. 1992: 172).


171 – Although Soros has been mentioned widely in academic circles as an example of a capitalist who can move governments, he did so because he speculated against their currencies and not because he ruled or controlled them. Soros cannot be regarded as a traditional industrial capitalist located in a class struggle with a proletariat. He is simply a market speculator on a grand scale.

— end book —

God Loves You, and other statements that are roughly 35% accurate

Later this week I’ll be posting a complete list of reflections on pastoral theology and ministry practice from my time at TGC17, the national conference for The Gospel Coalition. Focused on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the conference was a series of biographical presentations on Luther, Calvin, etc., an extended exposition of Galatians and sola fide, and some workshops.

Here is a thought that I’ve been considering since I’ve returned to school.

Stephen Nichols gave a biographical presentation on Luther that included this line:

The love of God does not find, but creates that which is lovely.

Now, this is actually a misquotation of the statement from the Heidelberg Disputation, and it looks like it came through Carl Trueman. (I just finished Trueman’s biography of Luther and would recommend). The original line ends with “creates that which is pleasing to it.” But I like this one much more, and it changes nothing, and the original is not in English but Middle German, so it doesn’t matter.

Here is a good graphic I found of the quote:


(Here is a terrible graphic that I found:


The Lutheran discovery of justification by grace alone through faith (or, justification by faith alone, or sometimes abbreviated by quick note-takers at conferences as JBFA) came through Luther’s understanding of Romans 1, Romans 4 and Galatians (the entire book), not to mention his distaste for indulgences.

How can I be saved, get into heaven, avoid hell, be reconciled to God, etc.? The medieval church had an entire system of quantified sin and righteousness, according to Nichols. Good works need to outweigh bad works. If the balance tips towards goodness, eternal life awaits. If not, then not. Confession and acts of penance could reduce the quantity of bad works. But if I die with outstanding sin, those too can be worked off through suffering in Purgatory. It’s also a good thing that Saints and Monks and Priests don’t sin very much, because when they die, the extra righteousness they earned is put into the Treasury of Merit, which is a heavenly storehouse of free grace. The Pope or his designates can give grace to you from this storehouse for a small fee of whatever price they ask for. This last part was called indulgences.

None of this is true. (It is all historically true, in the sense that people did actually believe it. But it isn’t true in the sense that it accurately describes what the Bible teaches.) When Luther’s research of Lombard led him to Augustine, and of Augustine led him to Paul, it was a forgone conclusion that he would stumble upon this problem. Paul is loud and clear: in the gospel the righteousness of God begins and ends with faith, because as it was written, “the just shall live by faith.” Or perhaps an even better example is in Galatians: the scriptures foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced in advance to Abraham, “all nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed like Abraham, who was the very man of faith himself.

There are more passages than that. Romans 4 is another great example. And there are slight hints at this throughout the scriptures that, while not occupying whole paragraphs or chapters, can only be understood if this is true. It is very clear that Paul believes I can only be saved — I can only stand justified before God when that day of judgement comes — based on faith, not on good deeds.

(That this is Paul’s opinion is so obvious that the debate quickly changed from “what is Paul’s opinion” to the more general question, “does Paul’s opinion matter or can we add church tradition”).

I therefore receive by faith the reward that Christ himself deserved, whereas by that same faith I have instructed God to inflict upon Christ the curse that I deserved. (Sort of: I was born in 1997 and Jesus was crucified in 27). My right standing before God thus depends upon the imputed righteousness of Christ unto me. I can be declared right, because the rightness of Christ is just thrust upon me regardless of my own rightness.

So that quote. What does it mean?

The first idea is that the love of God does not find that which is lovely. God didn’t seek me out because he saw some great thing I could become. He didn’t look into the future and think, gee wiz, Ross is going to amount to something, and I need him on my team. Quite the contrary. The sin-plagued man has nothing to do with the righteousness that God demands. He even actively works against it.

Often we think in these terms: Jesus loves me; Christ died for me; God wants me to be his child. These are all true, but they risk giving the impression that it’s because of you. Really, what we mean is: Jesus loves me because I’m me; Christ died because he thought I deserved it; God wants me to be his child because he takes special interest in me. The opposite is asserted by Martin Luther’s (and Paul’s) doctrine of justification by faith alone: Jesus loves me in spite of me; Christ died for me in spite of me; God wants me to be his child even though he has met me. The love of God does not find that which is lovely.

Instead, the love of God creates that which is lovely. The beautiful thing about justification and imputed righteousness is that regardless of how ugly or impure we actually are, God chooses to view us not as such. Instead, in the same way that we swapped sin and righteousness with Christ by our faith, we have also swapped the ugliness of sin and beauty of righteousness with Christ by out faith. So, the person who stands justified before God does not have anything lovely of themselves. Anything worthwhile within them comes only from this swap.

A few days ago I filmed a voiceover for an ice cream shop in my hometown. While we were working on the script and trial running some recordings, the guy creating the project and I talked about all kinds of things for a few hours. One of the things I brought up was that we have a mutual friend who I just absolutely love. He asked, why, Ross, do you absolutely love him. My answer was that there isn’t really any particular part of him that deserves it, and instead I just feel it towards him because I myself am a somewhat love-expressing person. (In a sense, I was contorting my explanation to fit the gospel model on purpose). He sure thought that was strange. Why would someone receive love that they didn’t deserve?

It’s a question I wonder a lot too. The answer I gave — that the giver is just himself a love-expressing person — holds part of the answer. Another part is in this quote from Luther. The love of God does not find, but creates that which is lovely. God just is a love-expressing being, and directs his love into anything that he can create into worthiness.

The rest is a mystery.