Saturday, July 29, 2017

Antinomianism and Legalism: Three Streams of Confessional Lutherans

Three streams.

There are three streams that have flowed into current confessional Lutheranism. (There are more, but for present purposes, these three are sufficient to consider.)

Stream One.

Those born, baptized, raised, confirmed, and still living in confessional Lutheranism.

Stream Two.

Those born, baptized, raised, and confirmed in Lutheran synods that went antinomian. Examples would be the ALC, the LCA, and the ELCA. In those synods, there have been teachings like Joseph Fletcher’s Situation Ethics and 1622 other forms of antinomianism.

Stream Three.

Those born, dedicated, raised, rededicated, rededicated, and rededicated until their rededicators broke in the Evangelical denominations. In those denominations, there have been teachings like Keswick Theology and 1622 other forms of legalism.

Now the pool of confessional Lutherans are having trouble understanding each other. Those who have come out of Evangelicalism have difficulty understanding why other Lutherans would want to let legalism take over their current confessional synods. Why would they want the LCMS, WELS, ELS, TAALC, and other confessional synods to become Evangelical? It is an existential threat, because the Law was killing them in Evangelical churches, and if the Law destroys confessional Lutheranism, there will be nowhere to go.

Those who have come out of apostate Lutheranism have difficulty understanding why other Lutherans would want to let antinomianism take over their current confessional synods. Why would they want the LCMS, ELC, TAALC, and other confessional synods to become like the ELCA? It is an existential threat because, under Situation Ethics and the like, doing away with the Law also did away with the Gospel, and if the antinomianism destroys confessional Lutheranism, there will be nowhere to go.

Much of the debate takes the form of pin-balling between the bumpers of personal experiences. Those in Stream Three form their current theology partly from the corpus of Lutheran doctrinal literature, and partly from reaction to Evangelicalism. Too large of a dose of the new mixture is simply reactionary against Evangelicalism, which takes the form of reacting against the Law.

Those in Stream Two form their current theology from their Lutheran homes, confirmation studies, lives as life-long Lutherans, and their reaction against Situation Ethics and the other forms of antinomianism that destroyed their childhood synods.

Each of those streams has gone through a destruction. The former ALC-like types have gone through the destruction of their childhood synods and have had to leave their families for the faith. The former Evangelicals have gone through the destruction of their inner lives as they tried and failed to reach the mirage of the deeper spiritual life.

It is hard for former Evangelicals to understand that to have experienced the destruction of one’s synod is as devastating as to experience the destruction of one’s inner life. But, because the Lutheran faith is extra nos, when you take that destruction on its own terms, it is every bit as devastating.

I am in both Stream Two and Stream Three. I was born and baptized in the Danish Lutheran Synod. I was confirmed in the American Lutheran Church. My confirmation pastor, Rev. Dr. Casper B. Nervig, was the last confessional pastor of my childhood congregation. Immediately following my confirmation and his retirement from the ministry, Joseph Fletcher, Situation Ethics, Paul Tillich, and 1622 other forms of antinomianism took over, and today my baptismal and confirmation congregations are in the ELCA. While in post graduate studies, I finally departed my beloved and destroyed synod and went looking for Christianity that affirmed the doctrine of Scripture, since the denial of that doctrine is what lay at the root of the antinomian destruction. After bopping around in several denominations, I found a high view of Scripture in the Christian and Missionary Alliance. There I found a beautiful spiritual home for a period of decades. The Alliance and its people have been so good to my family and me that I am in no mood to say anything against the Alliance. It is not a monolith, but Keswick Theology is present in parts of the denomination.

One day, someone invited me to a Confessional Reading Group. Soon I was attending a weekly group Tuesday at noon, and a monthly group on a Wednesday evening. Aside from my Dad’s and Mom’s instruction in the home and the church’s instruction in Sunday school and confirmation, this was the most evangelistic thing anyone ever did for me. By a series of steps from there, I am back in a confessional Lutheran congregation and synod.

I am tempted to form my theology as reaction to Situation Ethics and antinomianism. I am tempted to form my theology as reaction to Keswick Theology and Evangelicalism. The thing I must remember, and that I wish we all could remember, is that neither reaction is Lutheran, and neither is Christian, because neither is sola scriptura. We are not letting Scripture form our theology. Experience is forming it. We are so far down into the weeds of our personal experiences that we cannot see we are living reactionary lives.

We cannot hear what others say. We hear our experiences instead. When some Lutheran says we should teach or exhort the Law and tell people the Gospel does not make us free to hate our neighbors by breaking the commandments of the Second Table, we hear Evangelicalism, Keswick Theology, and 1622 other forms of legalism, even though no one said keeping the Law is necessary for justification. We then go on to refute something they never said, and the conversation, like ships passing in the night, never makes contact.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

How did he become the person to tell the whole community what to name their children?

It all started with that one editorial in the local newspaper. The editor wrote about the current fad in naming children. He probably was right that over half the popular names started with the letter J (Jason, Jared, Jennifer, and so on). I only read to the end because I figured he was bound to ridicule me too. My children’s names are Leif Eric, Cedric Arthur, and Haans Jorgen. Common Italian names that don’t stand out. The editor was not married and had no children.
How did he become the person to tell the whole community what to name our children?
Starting from there, I began to notice that in many different contexts and applications, this same social phenomenon recurs. There are people who ridicule and judge others in an area that, after you have been ridiculed long enough, one day you wake up and say, “Hey, who is he to be telling everyone?”
Lutherans have gotten to be as good at this as anyone. We have many pastors now who put down others for being mean or unloving or not very good at getting along with others. After you hang around and watch some good people take a beating from these folks for quite awhile, all of a sudden one day you wake up and say, “Hey, why are so many divorced pastors telling others how bad they are at relationships?”
And if you ask, the answers you get sound almost like they are saying, we are qualified because of our divorces. We have learned from them, and now we know what grace really is and how your marriage can be as great as our new marriages. As if our 40 and 50 year happy marriages were graceless chopped liver. As if staying taught us less than their leaving did.
Yeah, I am just not too sure that everything called grace really is.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Shack: Rejection of the Chief Article of the Christian Faith

This article condenses a series of articles previously published on Brothers of John the Steadfast. That series has been transformed into a free book. Information about the free book is available in the post titled, “Multiple Distributors and Formats for The Shack: A Journey from Pain to Truth to Error."

The novel, The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity, has come out as a movie. It is time again to have discernment about its message.

Many worthy critiques address a catalogue of problems and are worth reading. This article focuses on the chief article of faith upon which the church stands or falls, which is justification and the redemption we have in Jesus.[1]

The theology and the story of The Shack arise from two pressures:
  • Pain, tragedy, loss, trauma, and suffering.
  • Perceived inadequacy of traditional American Protestantism to heal pain.
The author, Wm. Paul Young, had a severely abusive childhood. It is a painful story. Mackenzie (Mack) Phillips, the main character in The Shack, had a severely abusive upbringing by his hypocritical Christian father. It is a painful story that Young tells very well. Traditional Protestantism could not heal Young’s pain, he says, and in The Shack, it cannot heal Mack’s pain. Mack’s seminary training and standard Christianity do him no good.

The pain of Young’s upbringing cause him to enter what he calls “the Great Sadness.” Parallel to his great sadness, in the 1980s and 1990s there was a “renaissance of Trinitarian theology.”[2] This happened around the world, across denominational lines, and across disciplines and fields of study. A piece of this renaissance provided Young with his healing and healing for Mack in The Shack.

As it relates to The Shack, the British setting of this renaissance is significant. In Britain, the revival of interest in the Trinity was much influenced by the Study Commission of the British Council of Churches on “Trinitarian Doctrine Today.” This commission met between November 1983 and May 1988. John Zizioulas presented the seminal paper to the commission. His paper delineated the commission’s task and defined its agenda. He agreed with Karl Barth and Karl Rahner that the doctrine of the Trinity has become marginalized in the church. This had happened in both the East and the West. It had happened not only in matters of doctrine, but also with regard to the devotional life of Christians.

The commission published its report titled The Forgotten Trinity. With the report, the commission published a selection of papers and a study guide for local churches. The study guide related the Trinity to worship, Scripture, tradition, our relationship with God, human relationships, and society.

The joint chairs of the Commission were Costa Carras and James B. Torrance. James, his brother Thomas Torrance, Zizioulas, and theologians like them became prime influences on Young. That influence led to the core of the message in The Shack.

A second book, The Shack Revisited, by F. Baxter Kruger, is a more or less authorized commentary on the theology of The Shack. Young himself writes the foreword for The Shack Revisited, saying, “If you want to understand better the perspectives and theology that frame The Shack, this book is for you.”  He describes Kruger as “A Mississippi theologian who cut his intellectual teeth in Aberdeen, Scotland with the Torrance brothers.”

This school of thought, this type of Trinitarian Theology, is not easy to summarize briefly. It draws from many sources in church history including the Cappadocian Fathers, Irenaeus, Athanasius, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Robert Farrar Cappon, George MacDonald, James Torrance, Thomas Torrance, Kallistos Ware, Richard Rohr, and John Zizioulas, to name a few.

For our purposes here, we can summarize Trinitarian Theology this way:
  • First, we begin with a concept called perichoresis as the essence of the Trinity.
  • Second, perichoresis expands to become a theory-of-everything.
Young and Kruger really do mean everything. Confining ourselves to theology, however, for the sake of this article, perichoresis conditions all other doctrines. It becomes a hermeneutical principle that governs how Scripture is interpreted. What we are to believe about creation, law, fall, sin, wrath, promise, faith, repentance, conversion, justification, atonement, sanctification, adoption, testament, new covenant, reconciliation, eschatology, holiness, and more is subject to what fits with the perichoretic Trinity.

As Roderick T. Leupp says, “If today's devotees of trinitarian theology learn only one technical term, perichoresis should be it.”[3] Kruger describes perichoresis this way:

The sharing between the Father and Son in the Spirit is so deep and genuine, the intimacy so real and personal, that our minds are forced to move even beyond the rich notion of face-to-face fellowship into the world of mutual indwelling and union. The relationship of the Son and the Father in the Spirit is a living and unobstructed fellowship of love of the deepest order. They know one another fully. They live a fellowship of unqualified personal interchange and communion in the Spirit, which is so flawless, so rich and thorough and true, that there is literal mutual indwelling. The Persons pass into one another and contain one another without losing themselves. When one weeps, the other tastes salt, yet they never get so entangled or enmeshed that they lose themselves and become one another. The beautiful word perichoresis (peri-co-ray-sis), my favorite theological word, says both things at once.(6) Perichoresis means mutual indwelling, or interpenetration, without loss of individuality: “The doctrine of the perichoresis links together in a brilliant way the threeness and the unity, without reducing the threeness to the unity, or dissolving the unity in the threeness.”(7)[4]

There is much good in the renaissance of Trinitarian theology. Pain brought Young to it, and that was a journey from pain to truth.

Tragically, however, the specific vein adopted by Young in real life and Mack in the novel gets carried away and falls into error. Based on perichoretic speculations, The Shack teaches that God never had wrath on sin. The perichoretic nature of love forbids it. God is not allowed the complexity or mystery of simultaneous wrath and love. For as lofty and dazzling as it sounds, Trinitarian Theology really flattens God to a cardboard cutout of humanly manageable proportions.

The Shack expressly and purposely contradicts the historic Christian understanding of this compact confession of the Gospel:

How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:14)

This verse shows the actions of each person of the Trinity. Christ offers himself as a blood sacrifice. He offers himself through the Spirit. God receives and accepts Christ’s sacrifice.

By these actions, the Triune God worked for us “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood.” (Romans 3:24-25) In his Incarnation and state of humiliation, Christ was “made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:17) “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” (1 John 2:2) “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

The Shack teaches that none of that work of God to save us was necessary. We just got psyched out by the fall into sin and projected a notion of wrath onto God. That was just in our insane minds. Jesus went to the cross not to actually bear the wrath of God on sin, but to clear up our distorted perception of God, showing that because of perichoretic love, this whole wrath deal with just a big boogeyman man of our own making.

And there it goes, the chief article upon which the church stands or falls. The doctrine of justification and the redemption we have in Jesus is tossed out. Instead of putting our confidence before God in the blood of Jesus, The Shack teaches us to trust that perichoresis means there never was any wrath.

In The Shack, the shack comes to symbolize the mess inside ourselves. Supposedly, the perichoretic theory is going to heal that mess. The problem historic Christianity thought sees with The Shack is that it fails to deal with the shack – the shack of actual sin, wrath, and forsakenness, which Christ bears in the place that was mine, the cross. The Shack leaves us in our sins. It leaves us in the shack.

Besides the catalog of problems noted in other critiques, a central error of The Shack is its rejection of atonement and justification. This is not a small problem. This pretty much eliminates the point of the Christian religion. To believe The Shack is to disbelieve Christ.
[1] Luther called this doctrine the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae (‘article of the standing and falling of the church’): ‘…if this article stands, the Church stands; if it falls, the Church falls.’  In XV Psalmos graduum 1532-33; WA 40/III.352.3. In the Smalcald Articles, he said:

The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24-25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23-25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us ... Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls [Mark 13:31].
Smalcald Articles, The Second Part, Article I, The Chief Article, ¶¶ 1-5, in McCain, Paul Timothy, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 2nd ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006).p. 263.
[2]  Christopher Schwöbel, ‘The Renaissance of Trinitarian Theology: Reasons, Problems and Tasks,’ in idem, ed., Trinitarian Theology Today: Essays on Divine Being and Act (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995), pp. 1-30.
[3] Roderick T. Leupp, Renewal of Trinitarian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), pp. 71-72, quoted in James D. Gifford, Jr., Perichoretic Salvation: The Believer's Union with Christ as a Third Type of Perichoresis, (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011), p. 15.
[4] Kruger, C. Baxter, The Shack Revisited: There Is More Going On Here than You Ever Dared to Dream FaithWords. Kindle Edition., pp. 112-113, (citing at n. 6, Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God, pp. 168ff, and quoting at n. 7, Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God (London: SCM Press, 1981), p. 175. Perichoresis is to dance or flow around, mutual movement, mutual indwelling.  Each of the divine persons centers upon the others. None demands that the others revolve around him. Each voluntarily circles the other two, pouring love, delight, and adoration into them. Each person of the Trinity loves, adores, defers to, and rejoices in the others. That creates a dynamic, pulsating dance of joy and love. See Tim Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, (New York: Penguin Group, 208) p. 215.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Multiple Distributors and Formats for The Shack: A Journey from Pain to Truth to Error

The Shack: A Journey from Pain to Truth to Error, offers a new kind of critique of the novel and movie, The Shack, and it is being distributed by multiple distributors in multiple formats.

While the many Reformed and Arminian critiques are worth reading, this book offers a confessional Lutheran critique that focuses on the chief article of faith upon which the church stands or falls. The chief article is justification and the redemption we have in Jesus.

Looking for healing for his Great Sadness, the author of The Shack missed the consolation provided by Christian faith and ministry. Instead, he hit upon a particular strain of thought from the renaissance of Trinitarian theology that happened worldwide in the 1980s and 1990s. This theology has much to be commended. Tragically, however, it departs from the teaching of Scripture about the atoning sacrifice of Jesus for us on the cross. It denies the wrath of God on sin, and denies that Jesus bore that wrath for us. The Shack teaches a different theory of the cross that springs from perichoretic speculations about the Trinity.

The Shack: A Journey from Pain to Truth to Error is available in free eReader or PDF editions on Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes, Scribd, Smashwords, Shakespir, Brothers of John the Steadfast, and here on Twin Stone Warden. The mobi-formatted edition on Smashwords works on Amazon Kindle, and the epub-formatted edition works on most other eReaders.

Amazon usually will not distribute a free Kindle edition, but as of this writing, it is distributing this book for free. (Previously it was $0.99). Amazon also distributes a paperback edition for $3.59.

Here are the links to where it is distributed (with more distributors coming in the next weeks):

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

What's the Deal on Imposition of Ashes?

The following is an excerpt from a set of Frequently Asked Questions published by the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.

What is the significance of Ash Wednesday and ashes on the forehead?
Q: Would you please explain the significance of Ash Wednesday. I've seen some people in the past with black ash crosses on their foreheads.
A: Lutheran Worship: History and Practice, a commentary on Lutheran Worship, one of our Synod's hymnals, says this about ashes on Ash Wednesday: "Other customs may be used, particularly the imposition of ashes on those who wish it. This ancient act is a gesture of repentance and a powerful reminder about the meaning of the day. Ashes can symbolize dust-to-dustness and remind worshipers of the need for cleansing, scrubbing and purifying. If they are applied during an act of kneeling, the very posture of defeat and submission expresses humility before God."
The use of ashes on Ash Wednesday is a more recent custom among most LCMS congregations, although some have done it for decades. The ashes are usually derived from the burned palms from the previous Palm Sunday. Experience will show, however, that in obtaining ashes this way, it doesn't take many ashes to "ash" a whole congregation. Like sin, they are very dirty and go a long way. One palm leaf will produce enough ashes for several years.
Usually the pastor takes the ashes on the end of his thumb and makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of each worshiper, saying these words: "Remember: you are dust, and to dust you shall return." This follows most effectively prior (or as part of) the Service Corporate Confession and Absolution on pp. 290-291 of Lutheran Service Book.
For more information, read the Frequently Asked Question about Lent (see page 10).
Usage: We urge you to contact an LCMS pastor in your area for more in-depth discussion.
Published by: LCMS Church Information Center
©The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
1333 S. Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122-7295
888-843-5267 • •

Sunday, February 12, 2017

46.5% Off Arch Books to Engage Young Children in Lent and Easter

The Arch® Book series tells popular Bible stories through fun-to-read rhymes and bright illustrations, published by Concordia Publishing House. This well-loved series captures the attention of children, telling scripturally sound stories that are enjoyable and easy to remember.
In time for the coming season of Lent and Easter, Concordia Publishing House is offering a sale on a nice collection of six favorite Arch Books. Share the stories of Easter with the Best-Loved Easter Stories Arch Book, a 50th anniversary edition that includes six complete Arch Book favorites:
  • Jesus Enters Jerusalem
    This book retells the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on what has become Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-38, and John 12:12-19).
  • The Week That Led to Easter
    This book retells the events of Palm Sunday through Easter day (Matthew 21:1—28:10; Mark 11:1—16-8; Luke 19:29—24:12; John 12:12—20:10).
  •  Good Friday
    This book tells the events of Holy Week until Jesus' body was placed in the tomb (Matthew 21:1—27:61, Mark 11:1—15:47, Luke 19:28—23:56, and John 12:12—19:42).
  •  Barabbas Goes Free
    This book retells the story of Barabbas, his life and his release by Pilate during Jesus' trial (Matthew 27:15-26, Mark 15:6-15, Luke 23:13-25, and John 18:20).
  •  The Resurrection
    A favorite for more than four decades, Arch Books captivate children with colorful pictures and creative poems. Each book presents a complete Bible story in a fun-to-read way children ages 5-9 will understand and remember.
  •  My Happy Easter
    This book retells the story of Jesus' burial through the encounter with Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Jesus after his resurrection (Matthew 27:57—28:10).
Let’s take a look at the savings. The regular price for one Arch Book is $2.49. For the impact these books have, that is a good price. If we were to buy one set of these six books individually at regular prices, that would be $14.94. The regular price for this six book collection, however, is $9.99. And, right now, this collection is on sale for $7.99. That is 46.5% off the individual book pricing! Even compared to the usual quantity discount pricing offered by CPH, that is a better deal for quantities in scale for small to medium congregations to give the collection to all their children.
One last thing. While I am not big on knickknack stuff, what CPH is offering with this on orders of $79 or more is actually something spiritually useful, Martin Luther’s Morning Prayer Canvas Print. Check the Free Gift Offer link for information about the item and how to claim it.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Objective & Subjective Justification -- Pastors Todd Wilken & Rolf Preus

Have you heard the terms "objective justification" and "subjective justification"? Have you had questions about them? Have you been confounded by them?

Be of good cheer!

Pastor Todd Wilken interviews Pastor Rolf Preus on Issues, Etc., on "Objective & Subjective Justification." Listen to this clarifying and faith-strengthening broadcast on demand.