Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Place of Reason in Apologetics

Becker, p. 168-176, quoting:

After having heard Luther's scornful and vehement denunciation of the use of reason in the defense of Scripture, it is a little surprising to hear him insist, as he did at Worms, that he would bow to the dictates of sound reason.  It is still more surprising to find that he repeatedly castigates his opponents as irrational and senseless fools.

...While Luther believed that it was ridiculous and downright blasphemous to presume to defend Scripture with rational argumentation, yet he also believed that it was perfectly proper to point out the logical weakness in the attacks made on Scripture whenever the opportunity to do so presented itself.  In his controversies with his adversaries he says a number of times,  "This reason itself is forced to admit."  It is evident that Luther did not place a great deal of confidence in such a procedure, but there is scarcely an opponent against whom he did not use this approach.

In the same way he often pointed out logical weaknesses in the arguments of the Anabaptists.  Some of the Anabaptists had insisted that the children who were brought to the Lord Jesus for his blessing were not children age-wise, but "children in respect to their faith."  In regard to this interpretation Luther says,

But whoever has a little reason will see that the devil has possessed the Anabaptist completely, for they, in the name of all hangmen, characterize the children as being without reason, but they themselves are not only without reason, but they are completely insane and foolish, since they do not want to let those who are "carried in the arms" be children, as the text clearly says.

...At the end of the treatise Against the Heavenly Prophets Luther has a chapter entitled,  "Concerning Mistress Hulda, Dr. Carlstadt's clever Reason, in this sacrament."  In this chapter he endeavors to show that the arguments of Carlstadt are not logically sound, and that they become ridiculous if applied in analogous situation...  It must be noted throughout that Luther is not seeking to establish the truth by reason, but to show that the arguments of Carlstadt are weak.  If they are consistently followed to their logical conclusion they will always end in nonsense.

The papists are to be attacked in the same way as the Mohammedans.  Commenting on the pope's prohibition of marriage on the part of priests and his claim to be above Scripture, Luther once said,

That senseless, asinine pope has dealt so crudely that it would have been possible to lay hold of him with the judgment of reason even if we did not have Scripture.

Toward the end of 1519 the faculty of Louvain issued a condemnation of the Ninety-Five theses and of some other works by Luther.  In reply, Luther says that the learned faculty at Louvain argues like a bunch of old women, who say,  "It is so!  It is not so!  Yes! No!  You are wrong!  I am not wrong!"  He complains that they use neither reason nor Scripture against him, but only the feelings of their own hearts and their own opinions.   They answer him simply by reasserting the very things which he attacks is as untrue, and therefore they are guilty of begging the question.  Here again Luther uses an argument which he does not allow anyone to use against the Scriptures.  And then, having pointed out the logical fallacy in the university's chain of reasoning,  Luther adds what was for them the crowning insult, that this is "forbidden even by Aristotle."

...It is clear that Luther did not believe that the Christian church had a monopoly on folly and irrationalism, and he knew that unbelievers could be just as foolish and irrational in their arguments as Christians.  While he would never have written a book on the reasonableness of Christianity, he might conceivably have been the author of one with the title "The Irrationalism of Unbelief".  Philosophy will fulfill its proper role in the church when it serves to destroy the "pretensions of speculative reason."

As we have said,  Luther was certainly not averse to the use of reason in debate with unbelievers.  He warns against the use of reason in the doctrine of justification, in matters of conscience, and in regard to satisfaction, remission of sins, reconciliation and eternal salvation.  But

at other times, whenever you must, outside of this doctrine of justification, debate with Jews, Turks, and sectarians about the wisdom, or the power, or the attributes of God, then use all your skill, and be a subtle and sharp a debater as you can be, for then you are in a different kind of argument.

Such disputations with Jews, Mohammedans and sectarians are possible because many things are clear in the light of natural reason.  Not every point of doctrine could be argued on this ground, for there are many things that are not clear in the light of nature.  Many of these, however, are clarified in the light of grace.  But even in the light of grace not every problem is answered.  For a solution to the problems that remain unilluminated by the light of grace we must wait for the light of glory in heaven.


From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern Publishing House (www.nph.net). All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Scripture The Defense of Scripture

Becker, quotes, p. 162-168

If God has said it, it will surely come to pass.  Of that I have no doubt.  For there stands his Word.  That cannot lie.  Besides, God is almighty.  Therefore, whatever he says cannot fail.  It must come to pass.  but, as has been said, the only thing that is lacking is that men do not believe that God is almighty, that he can do it, and that he has said he wants to do it.

If we could convince a Mohammedan of these two premises, namely, that God has said such things and that God is almighty, he would surely also believe all the other articles of faith.  But of this only the Holy Ghost can convince men, as we have seen.  We, on our part, have enough to do if we will only set out to repeat all that the Scriptures have said.  We do that poorly enough, and our repetition of the scriptural truth is done in a stammering way.  But to fail with God's Word is better than to succeed without it.

We shall, therefore, be well equipped to defend the articles of faith against all the temptations of the devil if we are well grounded in God's Word and cling to it firmly when the devil seeks to overthrow our faith with clever fables, which are brought forth out of human understanding and reason.

... Against Erasmus he wrote that the principles of the Lutheran Reformation can be defended by clear Scripture, and he went onto say that whatever cannot be so defended has no place in the Christian religion.

...There is no better advice on how to stand against the deception of the devil than to hold fast to the bare, clear word of the scriptures, and think no farther nor speculate.  Rather, we ought to close our eyes and say,  "What Christ says, that must and should be true, even if I or any other man cannot understand or comprehend it or know how it can be true.  Christ knows well what he is, and what or how he should speak of himself."  Whoever does not regard this, he will stumble and err and fall.  For it is not possible to comprehend even the most insignificant article of faith with human reason or human senses.

If therefore the Christian believer wants to be well prepared to defend his faith, he should know the texts of Holy Scripture on which the articles of faith are based and from which they are drawn.  In divine things we are not to argue, but only to listen.  We are not to engage in subtle disputation in an attempt to prove the possibility of what God has said.

...let this be the primary concern of a theologian, that he knows the texts well, as they say.  And let him hold this as his first principle, that in holy things one must not dispute nor philosophize.

...The devil must be conquered with Scripture and not with reason.  In fact, to defend God's Word with reason is like trying to defend one's helmet and sword with a bare arm and bare head.

Interesting in this connection is Luther's comment on Peter's admonition to be ready at all times to give an answer to anyone who asks a "reason for the hope" that is in us  (1 Peer 3:15).  This text is often used today as a call for a rational apologetic in defense of Christianity.  It also was understood in this way by scholastic theology  Luther, however, commented,

The scholastics have twisted this text to the effect that one should overcome heretics with reason and out of the natural light of Aristotle, because it says here in the Latin, "rationem reddere,"  as though Peter meant that we should do it with human reason.  Therefore they say that the Scriptures are far to weak to overcome heretics.  It must be done with reason and must come out of the brain.  From  that source one must prove that the faith is right.  And yet our faith is above all reason and produced only by the power of God.  Therefore, if people do not want to believe, you should remain silent, for you are under no obligation to compel them to accept the Scriptures as God's Book, or God's Word.  It is enough to show that your view is based on Scripture.  

...the gospel stands in need of proclamation, not defense.

Whoever believes nothing and denies everything that we say of God and of God's Word, with him we have nothing to do, as it is also taught in the schools, 'One must not debate with him who denies the first principles.'

Luther understood the dialectical implications of this approach very well.  He himself points to the apparent weakness of this point of view.  (more about that p. 167-168).

From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern
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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Attempts to make the Gospel Reasonable/ Sacramentarians

Becker, p. 153-161, quotes

Since we have ourselves not become believers as a consequence of rational argument or by means of a rational decision on our part, we should not expect to persuade other men by lengthy and learned disputations.  In 1541 in connection with the controversies over the Lord's supper Luther remarked,

It is not necessary that we should dispute sharply on this matter, since it is seldom that a man can be sufficiently instructed and satisfied by long disputations, even if we meet once or twice.  It requires a good long time to remove such erring opinions and delusions from the heart.  For this we require good, friendly discussions and polite, sensible people.

As we would expect from a man who took such a position, Luther resisted all attempts at making the gospel reasonable.  Christian theologians are often tempted to do this, and questions like "Isn't it reasonable?"  are sometimes asked in an attempt to persuade others of the truths of the christian religion.  Luther considered such efforts to be not only a waste of time, but even positively dangerous and destructive of the Christian faith.

... Faith has to do with unseen things.  This is a commonly repeated emphasis in Luther's lectures and sermons. He asks, "What kind of faith is this to which reason can attain?"  There would be no need of faith, he says in the Table Talk, if the truths were rational.  Of the doctrine of the person of Christ he says that if it could be understood by reason, there would be no faith involved in its acceptance.  The sacramentarians, who denied the real  presence of Christ's body and blood in the Lord's Supper, argued that since Christ was now sitting at the right hand of God, he could not be present in the sacrament.  But Luther says that we know (and do not need to believe) that in the sacrament there is bread and wine.  We can recognize it for what it is when we see it with our eyes.  But by faith alone we furthermore insist that Christ is both at the right hand of God and also truly present in the sacrament.  This does not make sense to us.  But we must remember that if our Lord God had given us articles of faith which our understanding could grasp, none of us would be saved.  

...More than this, faith cannot be maintained even in a Christian by arguments from reason.  All the articles of the true faith are so difficult and so far beyond our reach that no man can hold fast to them without the grace of the Holy Spirit.

...Luther held that it is only man's damnable pride that keeps him from seeing that the way out of this conflict between reason and the Word is not to be sought in a modification of the Scriptures but in a change in reason.  Since scripture cannot be broken, it is reason that must break.  It is not difficult, according to Luther, for men to change the truths of Scripture to make them reasonable.  It takes no great skill to philosophize about these things.  When unbelievers point out that there are difficulties in Christian doctrines, they ought not to imagine that these same thoughts have not occurred to believing children of God.  But if a Christian apologete reacts to this accusation by trying to make the message more consistent with the dictates of reason, he is courting disaster.

...He said that if we would insist on comprehending the articles of faith with our reason, we would very quickly lose baptism, the sacrament of the altar, the Word, grace, original sin, and all things, for not one of these is understood by reason.  Of the arguments which the sacramentarians used against the real presence of the body and blood of the Savior in the Lord's Supper, Luther said that they want to measure and master this whole matter with their sophistic reason and clever subtleties, and he predicted that eventually it would come to this that they would also deny that Christ is God, for the same arguments which overthrow the first (the real presence), also cast doubt on the second (the personal union in Christ).  Luther's prophecy in this matter has been fulfilled in modern Protestantism, where the denial of the real presence has borne this fruit.

From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Faith and the Processes of Reason

Becker  pp. 148-152.

Whenever and wherever the Word of God has spoken, then and there we are not to ask for additional proof or to demand a rational explanation of what has been clearly revealed by God in the Holy Scriptures.

In the theology of Martin Luther faith is never and in no way an achievement of men.  It is always in its totality a gift of God's grace.  The conviction and the confidence which is the essence of the Christian faith is not an intellectual and emotional position which a man chooses for himself and by his own powers.  It comes about not by a free decision of man's will, but according to the working of the almighty power of God.

Luther warns earnestly against faith which is a work of man.  That he calls a "manufactured faith" or a "fictional faith."  The true faith, he says,  "is a complete trust of the heart in Christ.  Such faith is kindled alone by Christ.  Whoever has it is blessed.  Whoever does not have it is damned.  Such faith also does not come out of our own preparation, but when God's Word is preached openly and clearly, then such faith and hope, such a firm confidence in Christ begins to spring up."

Luther believed that man is totally impotent in conversion and that faith is worked in man by an act of God's gracious omnipotence, without any cooperation whatever on the part of man.  It is a "divine miracle."

...In the explanation of the third article in the Small catechism he confesses,  "I believe that I cannot, by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him;  but the Holy Ghost has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith."

...Unbelief is therefore not due to the weakness of the intellectual capacities of the unbeliever.  Indeed, nothing is more fit to understand the words of God than a weak intellect.  ... And if we did not want to be saved until we had grasped God's promises with our reason, we would be a long, long time at this business.

...There is no greater danger in all the world than a highly gifted reason which seeks to deal with spiritual matters.  It would be easier to teach a donkey to read than to set reason right;  and while a poorly gifted man needs one teacher, a highly gifted one needs ten, as the German says "die Gelehrten die Verkehrten" (The greater the education, the greater the delusion).

...Luther's views on this matter are brought into the sharpest focus by his doctrine of the faith of infants.... Infant baptism without confidence that these infants can believe he calls blasphemy.  For his part Luther asserts emphatically that babies can have faith.  In answer to the argument that it is impossible for them to believe because they have not yet come to the age of reason he says, "Friend what does reason contribute to faith and God's Word?  It is not reason that opposes faith and God's Word in the highest degree..."

... He goes on to say that children are much better qualified for faith than adults just on this account that in them reason is still weak and not yet fully developed.  the "big head" of adults will not go through the narrow gate.

...The gospel is to lead obstinate and blind reason away from its own light into the true light, which is perceived only by faith.  Faith therefore is not the result of a rational decision on man's part.  Natural reason does not have the ability to see God, but it is the Spirit of God alone who enlightens the minds of men through the Word.

From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern
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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Luther's Apologetic cont. / Luther and Analogies

Becker, p. 145

"In perfect agreement with this denial of man's right to ask why God deals with men as he does, Luther rejects every attempt to explain the counsels of God and to make them palatable to human beings.  He also rejects all attempts to probe into the mind of God or to prove divine truth by use of analogy.  Luther did not, it is true discountenance every use of analogy."

Luther sometimes delighted in comparing his relationship with his children to the relationship with the heavenly Father.

He often used analogy to illustrate the doctrine of the resurrection.

But "He raises the question of whether such analogies are dialectical or rhetorical arguments.  While he does not give a categorical answer to his own question, he does imply that they would be rhetorical in nature.  In other words, they are intended to illustrate rather than to serve as logical proof.  They may therefore be used most effectively after the matter itself has first been clearly established by Scripture.  Such analogies are related to allegories, which also proceed from human to divine matters.  It is well known that Luther gradually drifted away from the allegorical method of biblical interpretation until, in the end he almost completely abandoned and rejected it. " p. (146)

For example:  "Thus the Turks say that in one house there should be no more than one master or one host.  Using this as an analogy, they are led to reject the doctrine of the Holy Trinity." (p. 147)

Thus far Becker.

The use of analogies and Christ's use of parables.  The other day I had a brief, private discussion with a hugely qualified and  very confessional Lutheran pastor about the parables.  Since the pericope has been working through Matthew lately, we were in Matthew 13, where it says:

 "Why do you speak to the people in parables?"  He replied, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.  Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance.  Whoever does not have, even what he was will be taken from him.  This is why I speak to them in parables:  'Though seeing, they do not see;  though hearing, they do not hear or understand.'  In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:  "' You will be ever hearing but never understanding;  you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.  For this people's heart has become calloused;  they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.  Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.'"
But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.  For I tell you the truth, many prophets are righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it."  (Matthew 13: 10-17)

The point was made that Jesus spoke in parables as a kind of judgement, things were going to remain hidden for those who won't hear, not to make things more understandable for the simple.  They were not nice illustrations to help people learn better.

Having taught Sunday Schools for decades and acted out many parables with children, it did not sit right with me that they were not meant as a teaching device for the children.  Also, I did not like the fact that Jesus who is the revealed God proclaiming the kingdom, is sitting here hiding things.  Certainly, more than one thing can be going on at the same time.  This is perhaps similar to the law, it instructs us, accuses us and drives us to Christ all at the same time and in various measures at various times.  So a parable can maybe instruct, illustrate, hide and illuminate at the same time?

I quoted from Reu, which James Swan had sent over kindly some time ago.

p. 74.

"For the people are greatly delighted with allegories and similitudes, and therefore Christ Himself oftentimes uses them. For they are, as it were , certain pictures which set forth things as if they were painted before the eyes of the simple, and therefore he stireth especially the simple and ignorant." 

The answer I received was in line with what Becker says above, that Luther grew increasingly cold to the validity of the use of analogies and allegories.

Still, I am not really happy with this, for it is Luther's analogies about the resurrection and fatherhood which have really stuck in my mind for years and years.  Also, Luther, as a pedagogue and catechist always tried to make things palatable and memorable for children and the simple.

To summarize, perhaps, analogies, allegories and parables do not convince in an apologetic sense.  They will not "prove" anything to "reason" and they should not.  Those who already have faith in God' revelation will be built up by an appropriate use, but for those who will not believe the illustrations only further distance them.


From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern
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Monday, August 22, 2011

Luther's Apologetic

Becker, p.141, 142.

Luther saw reason as an enemy of faith and would have been horrified at the thought of reason coming to the defense of the Christian religion.

Luther did believe in the study of logic and philosophy for the student of theology.

He said about himself:  "I had to learn scholastic theology just as Daniel had to learn to speak Chaldean and Joseph had to learn Egyptian."  

He did not believe that philosophy had any positive contribution to make to theology and should be limited in its use and application.

Philosophy must be limited to its own sphere.

He becomes an advocate "of a philosophical scepticism which aims at clearing the lumber of metaphysics from the mind, in order to make room for the complete and unqualified acceptance of the revelation of God in Christ." (Casserley)

Becker, p. 142.

"Philosophy has been called the attempt to explain the whys and the wherefores of the Christian faith in order to 'justify the ways of God to men,'  as John Milton proposed.  All such efforts Luther condemned as arrogant and presumptuous blasphemy."
...Luther:  "The mouth which asks God, 'Why did you do this?" belongs on the gallows.  And if you ask me, then go ahead and ask in the name of all devils, and I will tell you where you can stick your snout."
This "why?"  addressed to God is suggested by the devil, who wishes to search out the hidden secrets of God.  Even a human being does not tolerate it if another man seeks to pry into his secrets in this way, and the Lord surely will not permit it.  He is Lord alone.  and because he is Lord,he has authority to do what he wills, and no one has a right to ask him what he is doing or why he is doing it.  God has his own reasons for doing whatever he does.  if he had to answer all the questions that men put to him, he would be the poorest kind of God (der ermste Gott).  When someone asks why God deals as he does with men it is really an attempt on the part of reason to tutor God...  "But one cannot persuade reason of this.  Much less can one convince it to forget this profitless, damned grubbing and investigating in such high and incomprehensible things, for it always says, "Cur? Quare?"  "Why?  Tell me why!"
When we are tempted to let our reason ask this, we should bear in mind that God is not accountable to us for his works.

 From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern
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Sunday, August 21, 2011

...quoting Christ against Scripture

Becker deals with one more paradox, the paradox of law and gospel, which are both God's word and true and at work in the believers heart.  From here we go to the simul justus et peccator.

I will quote here, because this is a quote we discussed with Steve  not that long ago.

p. 138.

It is in the light of this distinction between law and gospel that we must understand Luther's often quoted ad almost-as-often misunderstood and misused statement, "If our adversaries quote the Scriputres against Christ, we will quote Christ against Scripture."    Those words were written in a series of theses for a disputation Romans 3:28, in which Luther tried to show that justification is by faith alone without the deeds of the law.  The adversaries had quoted the passages of Scripture in which it is stated that a man will be saved if he keeps the law.  Luther believed this too but the "if" involved here was, he knew, an impossible condition, and so he said in the Galatians commentary that if we teach the law in the hope that by it men might be justified, we have already exceeded the limits of the law.  By such a course we confuse active and passive righteousness and become "poor dialecticians," who do not rightly divide God's word.  The law passages are used correctly only when they show the need of Christ.  When they are used in such a way that they make Christ and his atoning work unnecessary, as though it is possible to be justified without his unmerited grace, then they are used against Christ.

p. 139.
...it is impossible that the Bible should contradict itself, except in the minds of senseless and hardened hypocrites.  Among the pious and the intelligent it produces testimony for its Lord.  If you contend that Scripture contradicts itself, go manufacture your own reconciliation.  I will stay with the author of Scripture.

So the idea of "quoting Christ against Scripture" is applied within the context of a proper distinction between law and gospel, and also within the paradox of living within this simultaneously, none if which negates justification by faith in Christ alone, and is not at all saying anything to the effect that parts of scripture are contradictory or false.  Rather the paradox is upheld and scripture is never wrong.  Faith is above reason.  Scripture is true.  Justification by faith alone is true.

What is not being said by this saying is that the Bible is wrong or contradicts itself.


From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern
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Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Paradox in Conversion

Becker, p. 127-134.  Quote.

The whole matter of conversion of man presents us with a series of doctrines which cannot be harmonized in a rational way.

...Man is a captive slave either to the will of God or to the will of the devil.  Thus man sins by the necessity of his nature.  This doctrine, Luther held, must stand firm against every attempt to make total depravity in any way less than total...  Thus we are all "necessarily damnable."

However, Luther is careful to point out that the necessity under which the will of man acts is not the necessity of compulsion.  Man is not forced to do evil in the same way that a murderer is forced to go to the gallows.  He acts freely.  He does what he wants to do, and he does it gladly.  But it is the will itself and the desire to do evil that he cannot control or lay aside.  A truly "free" will should be ascribed only to God.

...Why does God blame man for rejecting his grace when man is born with this attitude of rejection and cannot do otherwise?  We are not permitted to ask.  If we impertinently embark anyway on a search for the solution, it will only be a waste of time and we will never be able to find the answer.

...Contrary to Erasmus, Luther specifically rejects any solution which sees even the slightest natural difference in attitude between those who are saved and those who are lost.  We may not say that the one tried and the other did not try.  Rather, we must say that there is the same will in all.

Above all, here again we must take care not to judge God according to our reason.  We must believe that he is just, even when he appears to us to be unjust.

...Luther was correct when in the closing paragraphs of On the Bondage of the Will he said to Erasmus, that of all his enemies only Erasmus had really understood his position.  It has sometimes been said that since Erasmus was under pressure to write something against Luther he looked for some obscure point of theology in which he would not be forced to compromise his own views concerning the need for reformation in the church.  But the defense of the freedom of the will by Erasmus was much more than that.  His Diatribe struck at the very heart of Luther's theology.  Of Erasmus' attack in the Diatribe, Luther said, "You have struck at my jugular vein."  The bondage of the will, man's lack of freedom, which bore the brunt of Erasmus' attack, is a corollary of the doctrine of salvation by grace alone.  Everyone who desires to vindicate his view of God at the bar of reason must deny either man's total depravity or the universality of divine grace.  But Luther held firmly to both doctrines.  Reformed theologians often say that a man must be either a Calvinist or an Arminian--that is, he must find the answer to why some ar converted while others are not converted either in a difference  in God or in a difference in man.  A true Lutheran con only say, "A plague on both your houses!"

...But had Luther been involved in a debate with Calvin rather than with Erasmus, his argument would have taken  a completely different path, one which would have made his position even less tenable from a rational point of view...  He says that we must be on our guard against the notion that the promises of God are only for the disciples.  He died for all and eared salvation for all.  He loves all men with the highest kind of love.  Luther believed also that it is the earnest will of God to convert all men.  He said, "He wants all men to be saved, in whatever condition they may be.  Let each one therefore see how he may find himself in that all."  God comes to all men with the word of salvation.

...Luther wrote a letter of comfort to a man... who was troubled about his salvation because he was convinced that God had already elected those who are saved and that he was not one of the elect.  In his letter, Luther said that the first of these statements if perfectly true and that all things must happen according to the will of God;  but beyond that, he told him to forget all about damnation and to remember that it is God's sincere desire and intention and command that all men should be saved and made partakers of eternal joy.  Since God wants the sinners who live everywhere in the whole world to be saved, we ought to find our comfort in this doctrine and not permit foolish thoughts to separate us from his love.  When God says that we want all to come to him, no one is left out, not even the very worst, not even harlots and rascals.

Luther recognized very well that we are faced with an insoluble mystery when these doctrines are placed side by side.

... Here we are beginning to deal with the hidden God whom no one can ever know.

From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern
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The Valley still Echoes with his Laughter

In Canmore along the creek bed there is a bench dedicated to a boy who lived only to be five years old.  It gives his dates and finishes with:  "The valley still echoes with his laughter."

I sat on it for a while and let the dog sniff around the bushes, admiring the majestic mountains, the creek bed with its huge boulders and the town below.

"He's got the whole world in his hands."  The simple song came to my mind.  If we believe--we know that he has the whole world in his hand and he even knows my thoughts now.  One can cradle oneself in this song.

But there are our dead.

There is this little boy, sorely missed with his memorial bench here.
It made me think that I might want to set up some kind of memorial somewhere also for myself.
Stefan has been gone for two and a half years.

There there is the family in Canmore who lost two children when a tree fell on them, killing them both.
There is the girl run over by a train when she walked on the tracks with her i-pod going.
There is someones grandson, who killed himself.  The parents are pregnant again with twins at a late age.
There is another boy who killed himself.  My niece dances with the sister.

I know some things about this town below.

He has got the whole world in his hands and he has also all our dead in his hands.

Will I ever be able to think about anything else?
Do I have to?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Paradox cont.

Becker, p. 123-126

When Martin Luther said that Jesus Christ was man, he went out of his way to make it clear he believed him to be a man in every sense of the term--conceived, born, weak, helpless, dependent, subject to all the limitations of space and time, as all other men.  On the other hand, when he said that Jesus Christ was God, he pointed out again and again that he meant to be understood as saying that Jesus was God in every sense of that term--eternal, without beginning, omnipotent, omnipresent, the Lord of all creation.  Luther insisted on taking this view with all earnestness, without resolution, without regard for the logical consequences.  He believed that here we have one indivisible person, who is both God and man at the same time.  Nor was it blind, thoughtless faith on his part to hold such a position.  He was fully conscious of what such a view entailed.  He saw no way to make such a paradox rationally defensible.  He said,  "I can follow the idea, but I just do not understand what it means."  No one who is "rational" will say that this can be made to fit into the category of what DeWolf calls rationally meaningful paradox.

This was the doctrine, as we have already seen in another connection, that Luther was sure was at stake in the controversy concerning the Lord's Supper.  The denial of the real presence by Zwingli was in reality, so he held, a denial fo the full unity of the Person of Christ and of the communication of attributes.  Zwingli held that when the Scriptures ascribe divine attributes to Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary, or when they ascribe human attributes to the eternal son of God, this is a figure of speech, which he called alloeosis.  Luther, however, insisted that this was not a figure of speech.  He called the alloeosis a "mask of the devil."  Luther believed that God, who is immortal, died.  And with the Council of Chalcedon he held that Mary is "the mother of God."

...In fact, he says, this is an offense to reason.  No reason can ever make things like this agree.  Our faith is a wondrous thing.  We believe that this man is God and yet crucified.  Ad we believe that this is God who was crucified.  Unless his death is Gods' death we are not redeemed.  On the other hand he is man, and yet he has been given almighty power.

In line with this thinking, Luther was afraid that if the sacramentarians would be permitted to separate the body of Christ from his deity by denying it the capacity of being present in the Lord's Supper, they would eventually on this same ground deny the personal union of the two natures in Christ.  In a sermon preached in 1526 he said,  

"I am afraid the time will come when our unruly spirits with their reason will want to destroy Christ completely and not let him be the eternal and true God.  For they neglect the Word and operate with their reason.  They confuse themselves in their thoughts, so that they do not know what they are about...  That is not the case with the Holy Ghost.  He is brave, without fear in the truth, sure of his ground, etc.  But how this can be that Christ is everywhere--you should commend to God and believe to the glory of God, even if you cannot explain it with your reason."

Zwingli and Oecolampadius and Erasmus could only shake their heads over such "riddles and paradoxes" for Zwingli held to the philosophical dictum that the finite cannot contain the infinite.  But as we have already seen, Luther believed that in Christ the finite and the infinite are perfectly joined without either being destroyed.  The law of contradiction simply does not operate here.

...For faith, he insists, is not limited by nor subject to the rules and words of philosophy, but it is free.

From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern
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The paradoxical nature of Luther's thought

Becker, p. 119-121

It is a well-known fact that Luther's writings abound in paradoxical expressions.  This has helped to create the impression that Luther had no regard for the laws of logic or the regular processes of reason.

...Because of this, some have claimed to have discovered a spiritual kinship between Luther and Kierkegaard.  But to read these two men side by side is to detect a fundamental difference in spirit.  Luther never quite delights in paradox in the same way that Kierkegaard does.  It is difficult at times, when reading Kierkegaard, to escape the conviction that the Danish philosopher was quite proud of his cleverness in having discovered the paradox.  Furthermore, Kierkegaard makes human reason the judge of revelation.  He says, for example, "In a sense Paul too had a revelation, only that in addition he had an unusually good head."  This is just the thing that Luther condemns.  It is not man's good head that enables him to receive God's revelation, to say nothing about accepting it.  This comes about only by the grace of God.  It was Kierkegaard's
"good head" that undoubtedly misled him into what is basically a legalistic theology.

The evangelical Luther, on the other hand, is not proud of his recognition of the paradox.  He makes it clear that he had learned this art from the Apostle Paul.  He says that in Paul we regularly find such expressions as "I live,"  "I don't live,"  "I am dead,"  "I am not dead,"  "I am a sinner...

...The work of Christ exhibits this same characteristic.  When Christ began his great work of salvation, he became the most despised of all men, so far as outward appearance goes.

...When Christ set out to win a kingdom for himself, he went about it  "in such a way that all reason and sense must be offended by it.  Even the apostles could not understand it..."

The very same thing holds true in the life of the believer in Christ.  When God speaks in anger and punishes us, when he hands us over to our enemies, when he sends pestilence to us and hunger and persecution and other plagues, this is a sure sign that he desires our good and that he is well-disposed toward us.  But when he says to us, "I will no more punish you, I will say no more.  I swill take my zeal from you and let you continue in your opinion and do what you please,"  then this is a sure sign that he has forsaken us.

From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern
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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The tendency of reason to judge on the basis of inadequate evidence

 Becker, p. 101-103.

Faith humbles itself before God and clings to his Word as the source of wisdom and truth.  Reason, on the other hand, in its corruption and pride, always makes the mistake of exalting its very limited experience and equating it with omniscience.  When Luther says that reason judges by the "isolated instances and beginnings" of evil, he points to a basic weakness of the Aristotelian and scholastic approach to truth.  It is the very nature of inductive reasoning that most of its universals are theoretical constructions.  Reason is not able to acquire universal truth just because man is not god.  the experience of man is always limited to isolated moments (puncta et pricipia) in the vast expanse of time and space.  Even at their highest reaches the senses can acquire knowledge that is merely fragmentary.  Self-evident as this is, men in practice tend to forget it. 

...But again we must call attention to the corruption and depravity of fallen reason.  Instead of viewing the data of experience as precious gifts of God, who has given us all things richly to enjoy, men exalt their limited experience to the point where they consider themselves competent to sit in judgment over God.

...Having done this, it proceeds to permit its fabricated universals to sit in judgment on God and his Word.  

From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern
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Reason as the judge of biblical truth

Becker, p. 97. 

By faith we see just the opposite of what we experience with our senses. In death the Christian sees life. In God's wrath and judgment we see righteousness. In the bad conscience we see peace and salvation...

So also God lets all his works stand in contradiction to reason, so that reason judges that nothing can come of them and that his words and promises are nothing at all. But God acts as he does because he wants to put proud reason to shame and to accustom is saints to trust in him alone.  This is an important and very practical lesson, for when evil days come to the child of God, he must learn that God always hides his "Yes" under a "No.

From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern
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The marshy flats on the east side of the North Saskatchewan river which is just beyond the ridge.  Nice place to walk and bike, except for the mosquitos.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

True knowledge of God can only be found in God's revelation

p. 67

In his whole treatment of natural theology, Luther is always intent upon this one thing:  men must learn that sure and true knowledge of God can be found only in God's revelation.  And God's certain revelation is to be found only in Scriptures.  Because of man's total depravity and blindness, he can never read the revelation of God in nature fully nor draw conclusions correctly and with certainty.  God must come to our aid.  Yet, because of man's weakness and sinfulness, the majesty of God must hide behind masks in order to reveal itself.  Men should take care lest in sinful pride and presumption they are offended by the lowliness of the masks and by the simplicity of the Scriptures.  It is the crib in which we find the Lord Jesus Christ.  And only as we find him there, and God in him, can we know all creation correctly.

"Therefore,"  Luther says, "let us teach that true knowledge is found in Holy Scripture, in the Word of God.  For it instructs us not only about matter, not only about the form of the whole creation, but also about the efficient and final cause and the beginning and end of all things, who has created it, and to what end he made it.  Without knowledge of these two causes our wisdom differs little from that of beasts, who also use their eyes and ears, but clearly know nothing of a beginning or an end."

From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern
Publishing House (www.nph.net). All rights reserved. Reprinted with

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Reason's Incompetence For the Study of Causes

Back to the Becker, finishing chapter 2 on Natural Theology in Luther, p. 64,65.

Reason's Incompetence For the Study of Causes

Luther approaches this whole problem of the knowledge of our present visible world also from another point of view.  He says that the wisest of men do not know final and efficient causes.  In the modern scientific world final causes are usually not considered at all.  Hutchison quotes the remarks of Francis Bacon, who said that final causes are like vestal virgins, dedicated to the gods but unproductive, and, he continues, "The Aristotelian classification that comes closest to modern scientific views of cause is the efficient cause."
Just at this point Luther would have raised violent protest.  If modern science agrees in Hutchison's estimate of its philosophy, it is deceiving itself.  Luther would have said that just this is the basic error of modern science--it professes to know more than it knows.  In reality it can find only material and formal, or instrumental, causes, but in its ignorance it imagines that it has found efficient and final causes.  It is this attitude which is behind the "scientific" assertion that diseases cannot be caused by devils because they are caused by germs, or that God cannot answer prayers for rain because rain is the result of the interaction of complicated meteorological factors.  Man, with his reason, can only deal with phenomena, and he ought to be conscious of the limitations which this places on all his investigations.
...Since reason cannot truly know God, and since God is the only true efficient cause, and God's will is the only true final cause, therefore reason can never go beyond material and instrumental causes.  Consequently reason can never know anything correctly.

I feel incompetent to unpack this properly, however, the question seems to center around whether final causes matter or not.  Francis Bacon's analogy of the vestal virgins may be elegant, but is false.  If we do not know the ultimate cause or the answers to ultimate questions we don't really know much that matters.

I have previously said this, too.  Science is great but in the end it does not answer the questions that really matter the most to us.

[For one thing it does not explain how so many can be one body.  :)  (See previous post.)]

From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern
Publishing House (www.nph.net). All rights reserved. Reprinted with

Brothers and Sisters

I went up north with a team and it was the most wonderful experience.  There were a number of us and we barely knew each other and we were supposed to gel in no time flat and coordinate a weeks worth of activities for a town.

There were Lutherans from more than one synod, and Lutherans from the same synod with different spiritual temperaments.

We were people with varied gifts but not different outlooks.  We were instantly welded together by God's grace.    We complemented each other and bore each other.  We are all floored by this.  Thanks be to God.