“Is” vs. “Should”

Tom Gilson observes the shift that has taken place among those who reject the exclusive claims of the Christian faith:

The world has a big problem with Christian exclusivism—the belief that there is one God uniquely revealed in Jesus Christ, who is the one way, truth, and life for all people at all times. Theologians and apologists have defended exclusivism’s truth since time out of mind, but never so much as in these pluralistic and relativistic times. Recently I’ve come to wonder, though, whether we’re addressing the wrong question; for I am hearing less and less that exclusivism is false, and much more often that it is immoral. The difference is crucial.

I would never dispute the importance of the truth side of the question. I am convinced that Christ is indeed the one way to God. I am equally sure that the truth of this exclusive claim can be defended, and that when someone questions its truth, that’s exactly what we ought to focus on.

It’s just that this is not always the question; in fact in my (limited) experience, it’s no longer frontmost on many people’s minds. It used to be they said, “You believe that Jesus is the one way, but that’s not true.” Now more often they say, “You believe that Jesus is the one way, and there’s something wrong about you—evil, even—for thinking that.”

Or to put it another way: nowadays when people ask themselves, “Should I believe in Christianity?” it’s no longer primarily, “should I believe it on account of evidence or reasons that may support it?” (an epistemic should). Instead it is an ethical “should,” as in, “wouldn’t it be morally irresponsible for me to accept this belief?”

via The Morality of Christian Exclusivism (Part One) » Evangel | A First Things Blog.

Mr. Gilson promises to make a case for the morality of Christian exclusivism, which I hope to follow.

In the meantime, how would you answer those–including virtually all of the “new atheists”–who oppose Christianity on these moral grounds?  Doesn’t–or shouldn’t– “is” trump “should”?   Or is the alleged immorality of Christianity beside the point anyway, given  the theology of the Cross?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Pete

    Complaints about Christian “exclusivity” have always puzzled me. The sense of the word “world” in John 3:16 is “cosmos” which is about as inclusive as it gets.

  • Pete

    Complaints about Christian “exclusivity” have always puzzled me. The sense of the word “world” in John 3:16 is “cosmos” which is about as inclusive as it gets.

  • Pete

    One other thought – the alleged “immorality” of Christianity is puzzling in light of the history of the Church confronting and often eliminating (locally) various forms of obvious immorality such as the “gendercide” of Dr. Veith’s previous post.

  • Pete

    One other thought – the alleged “immorality” of Christianity is puzzling in light of the history of the Church confronting and often eliminating (locally) various forms of obvious immorality such as the “gendercide” of Dr. Veith’s previous post.

  • larry

    You know he’s right. And it spans much more than just atheist/other religion versus Christianity; i.e. “Now more often they say, “You believe that Jesus is the one way, and there’s something wrong about you—evil, even—for thinking that.”, rather than “I don’t agree with your single claim to truth”. We see it in the heterodoxy versus orthodoxy and the singularly true doctrines of the faith – arguments as well. The base disagreement, more often than not, is not so much rooted in “you cannot claim singular truth about the revelation” (whether it be that God is, Christ is alone the truth, the way and the life, the Trinity, the sacraments, etc…) but that “you are immoral and hurtful for doing so”. I think the thought that it is “immoral” is rooted in the disunity singular truth creates among the mingling of “what you believe about X is good for you, and what I believe about it is good for me”. I.e. rooted in the upset it makes of an idolatry or false faith called “faith”. In other words it becomes, “it’s immoral of you to say what I believe is wrong and false.” It’s really a defensive move.

    Ultimately, the theology of the Cross IS the thing they are saying that is the immoral thing in many ways and forms (e.g. above). E.g. “its immoral to say Jesus alone is the way, truth and life”, “its immoral to say this is alone the way grace is dispensed”, “its immoral to say this alone is the revelation of God”, etc… That’s why the cry is always some form of “you are being unloving” which is simply another way to express “You believe that Jesus is the one way, and there’s something wrong about you—evil, even—for thinking that.”

    And that’s where many Christians feel the false sting of false accusation, “maybe I am being immoral for insisting upon “You believe that Jesus is the one way, etc…””.

  • larry

    You know he’s right. And it spans much more than just atheist/other religion versus Christianity; i.e. “Now more often they say, “You believe that Jesus is the one way, and there’s something wrong about you—evil, even—for thinking that.”, rather than “I don’t agree with your single claim to truth”. We see it in the heterodoxy versus orthodoxy and the singularly true doctrines of the faith – arguments as well. The base disagreement, more often than not, is not so much rooted in “you cannot claim singular truth about the revelation” (whether it be that God is, Christ is alone the truth, the way and the life, the Trinity, the sacraments, etc…) but that “you are immoral and hurtful for doing so”. I think the thought that it is “immoral” is rooted in the disunity singular truth creates among the mingling of “what you believe about X is good for you, and what I believe about it is good for me”. I.e. rooted in the upset it makes of an idolatry or false faith called “faith”. In other words it becomes, “it’s immoral of you to say what I believe is wrong and false.” It’s really a defensive move.

    Ultimately, the theology of the Cross IS the thing they are saying that is the immoral thing in many ways and forms (e.g. above). E.g. “its immoral to say Jesus alone is the way, truth and life”, “its immoral to say this is alone the way grace is dispensed”, “its immoral to say this alone is the revelation of God”, etc… That’s why the cry is always some form of “you are being unloving” which is simply another way to express “You believe that Jesus is the one way, and there’s something wrong about you—evil, even—for thinking that.”

    And that’s where many Christians feel the false sting of false accusation, “maybe I am being immoral for insisting upon “You believe that Jesus is the one way, etc…””.

  • http://www.matthewcochran.net/blog Matt Cochran

    People are morally offended specifically by religious exclusivity. Most will acknowledge that people are entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts. They just put religion in the category of “opinion” because the law written on their heart tells them that true religion consists of doing good rather than having the right beliefs. They know that all other things being equal, people of different metaphysical creeds have no advantage over one another in this. They think Christians are saying that our particular arbitrary speculation about God overrides righteousness in God’s sight–something that the natural law tells them is wrong.

    In response, I would first identify some common ground by showing them that Paul acknowledges what the natural law tells them. In Romans 2 he writes, “God will repay each person according to what they have done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.” I would then do what Paul proceeds to do in Romans and show that this is in no way good news–they have royally failed at persistently doing good. Then I tell them about Christ and His work in a way that makes His factual nature clear: He really lived, died, and rose again 2000 years ago in Palestine; and we really know what He taught about what all that means. That is Christianity–a religion based on fact rather than natural law + speculation.

  • http://www.matthewcochran.net/blog Matt Cochran

    People are morally offended specifically by religious exclusivity. Most will acknowledge that people are entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts. They just put religion in the category of “opinion” because the law written on their heart tells them that true religion consists of doing good rather than having the right beliefs. They know that all other things being equal, people of different metaphysical creeds have no advantage over one another in this. They think Christians are saying that our particular arbitrary speculation about God overrides righteousness in God’s sight–something that the natural law tells them is wrong.

    In response, I would first identify some common ground by showing them that Paul acknowledges what the natural law tells them. In Romans 2 he writes, “God will repay each person according to what they have done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.” I would then do what Paul proceeds to do in Romans and show that this is in no way good news–they have royally failed at persistently doing good. Then I tell them about Christ and His work in a way that makes His factual nature clear: He really lived, died, and rose again 2000 years ago in Palestine; and we really know what He taught about what all that means. That is Christianity–a religion based on fact rather than natural law + speculation.

  • Jeremy

    This post implies that only the morality claim of Christian exclusivism is being challenged, and not the truth claim. It’s as if people feel that the idea that all but a tiny fraction of humanity is going to burn in hell for all eternity is a perfectly rational, but just hard to accept.

  • Jeremy

    This post implies that only the morality claim of Christian exclusivism is being challenged, and not the truth claim. It’s as if people feel that the idea that all but a tiny fraction of humanity is going to burn in hell for all eternity is a perfectly rational, but just hard to accept.

  • Tom Hering

    For Christianity’s exclusive claim to be immoral, you must show that it does more than offend others. You must show that it actually harms others, and that it does so as a rule, not as an exception (the Crusades, forced conversions, etc.).

  • Tom Hering

    For Christianity’s exclusive claim to be immoral, you must show that it does more than offend others. You must show that it actually harms others, and that it does so as a rule, not as an exception (the Crusades, forced conversions, etc.).

  • Stephen

    “Blessed (happy!) are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all manner of evil against you falsely” (my rendering)

    That popped into my head. I think Dr. Veith is right. The offense of the cross is really nothing new. It assaults Reason and those who cling to outward morality as a sign that one has truth – things which will pass away. Scratch the surface and one will ALWAYS find this to be so, even churches. We look for truth to be confirmed in ourselves rather than in that which is outside of us – God Himself given to us in the Gospel. So it becomes “my truth” which is really a set of assumptions about the world that more or less are in concert with one’s experience. But what we all share is the limits of those two things – Reason and morality – and this confronts us daily.

    I’m not much for apologetics. To me, it reduces the Gospel to a good idea. The biblical answer to any of this is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. I think, however, we Christians somehow think this isn’t good enough in itself. I suffer from this, and find myself grasping for Reason or morality to make the case for Christianity. Rather, I probably ought to be looking for are the places where those two things open up into a large chasm of doubt and brokeness, expressed most concretely in the reality of death itself, and there claim Christ alone, alone, alone, apart from works.

    Maybe we can be happy at this accusation of “evil” as it may mean that the truth of the cross is actually working. It is, after all, a narrow gate. Jesus never said his gospel would be popular. Perhaps we just have to live with that and let ourselves be humbled, rejoice and give thanks that Christ has called us to faith in him out of a dark world. That to me seems the only adequate reflection of grace. Christ has reconciled the world to himself (Pete’s point I think). If we seek to have the Gospel recognized on other terms, one’s that comport with Reason and morality, are we really being faithful? I wonder.

  • Stephen

    “Blessed (happy!) are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all manner of evil against you falsely” (my rendering)

    That popped into my head. I think Dr. Veith is right. The offense of the cross is really nothing new. It assaults Reason and those who cling to outward morality as a sign that one has truth – things which will pass away. Scratch the surface and one will ALWAYS find this to be so, even churches. We look for truth to be confirmed in ourselves rather than in that which is outside of us – God Himself given to us in the Gospel. So it becomes “my truth” which is really a set of assumptions about the world that more or less are in concert with one’s experience. But what we all share is the limits of those two things – Reason and morality – and this confronts us daily.

    I’m not much for apologetics. To me, it reduces the Gospel to a good idea. The biblical answer to any of this is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. I think, however, we Christians somehow think this isn’t good enough in itself. I suffer from this, and find myself grasping for Reason or morality to make the case for Christianity. Rather, I probably ought to be looking for are the places where those two things open up into a large chasm of doubt and brokeness, expressed most concretely in the reality of death itself, and there claim Christ alone, alone, alone, apart from works.

    Maybe we can be happy at this accusation of “evil” as it may mean that the truth of the cross is actually working. It is, after all, a narrow gate. Jesus never said his gospel would be popular. Perhaps we just have to live with that and let ourselves be humbled, rejoice and give thanks that Christ has called us to faith in him out of a dark world. That to me seems the only adequate reflection of grace. Christ has reconciled the world to himself (Pete’s point I think). If we seek to have the Gospel recognized on other terms, one’s that comport with Reason and morality, are we really being faithful? I wonder.

  • larry

    I think what Matt said really links it up nicely. And similarly, I’ve seen this, “right beliefs” is linked to and considered “a work” in and of itself.

    How many times have you heard, “You are not saved by your right doctrine and answering the questions of the test rightly/correctly.”. True enough, “doing this rightly”, answering accurately, as a work doesn’t save. BUT, only the right and true way does indeed actually save. I.e. answering “Jesus is the way, truth and life”, the accurate answer does not save one, but ONLY DOES Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, actually and alone save.

    It’s like assuming that the act of Noah building and getting on the boat saved himself, his doing the “right thing”. Rather than realizing that God SAID, “HERE and ALONE IS salvation”, one’s “going to it” is immaterial as to meriting the salvation. In fact the salvation came in Word to you and you didn’t in reality “go to it” and thus work.

    Many see the articles of faith, wrongly, this way (e.g. baptism). Just because I submit to baptism does not save me, my part of submitting to it, but it does save because God says “here is forgiveness of sins for real for you”.

    Thus, some see a truth claim as a kind of “work” that merits. So they put the work of a truth claim in measure against the work of say saving a person’s life or doing a ton of good for the poor (for example) and assess the former as immoral when the later should be done if one is to merit eternal life.

    The theology of the Cross obliterates all these theologies of glory which by design further and ultimately offends as the Cross will do which is in light of law righteousness is MORE immoral than the immorality of a singular truth claim.

  • larry

    I think what Matt said really links it up nicely. And similarly, I’ve seen this, “right beliefs” is linked to and considered “a work” in and of itself.

    How many times have you heard, “You are not saved by your right doctrine and answering the questions of the test rightly/correctly.”. True enough, “doing this rightly”, answering accurately, as a work doesn’t save. BUT, only the right and true way does indeed actually save. I.e. answering “Jesus is the way, truth and life”, the accurate answer does not save one, but ONLY DOES Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, actually and alone save.

    It’s like assuming that the act of Noah building and getting on the boat saved himself, his doing the “right thing”. Rather than realizing that God SAID, “HERE and ALONE IS salvation”, one’s “going to it” is immaterial as to meriting the salvation. In fact the salvation came in Word to you and you didn’t in reality “go to it” and thus work.

    Many see the articles of faith, wrongly, this way (e.g. baptism). Just because I submit to baptism does not save me, my part of submitting to it, but it does save because God says “here is forgiveness of sins for real for you”.

    Thus, some see a truth claim as a kind of “work” that merits. So they put the work of a truth claim in measure against the work of say saving a person’s life or doing a ton of good for the poor (for example) and assess the former as immoral when the later should be done if one is to merit eternal life.

    The theology of the Cross obliterates all these theologies of glory which by design further and ultimately offends as the Cross will do which is in light of law righteousness is MORE immoral than the immorality of a singular truth claim.

  • Dennis Peskey

    “The alleged immorality of Christianity” is the banner which leads the “new atheist” movement and much of liberal Christianity today. This is a fundamental assertion of Christopher Hitchens, his hammer against God.

    The reasoning is simple – embrace the second table of the Law (murder, lying, stealing, sometimes adultery and an occasional covet) and apply these against God’s Word. I’ve yet to listen to a Hitchens’ debate where he did not reference God’s command to the Israelites to utterly destroy all inhabitants they encounter upon entering the promised land. Or, for a change of pace, there’s that whole Noah account of complete destruction of the entire planet save Noah, his three sons and their wives. Even the animals outside the Ark are not to be spared this destruction.

    What is conveniently absent in this reasoning is the first table of the Law; is God really God, creator of heaven and earth and is He allowed to be just (and subsequently, the justifier of all men). It’s the first commandment they attack, albeit not with a direct confrontation. Liberal theologians fail to recognize the danger of questioning actions of the Old Testament God; Christ clearly states all scripture testifies of Him.

    When we embrace the question, “Did God truly say?” we deny ourselves the foundation of Scripture to defend against immoral claims for the flood or Sodom & Gomorrah or Israel’s entry into the promised land. Hitchens will directly state if this is your God – he (Hitchens) can do better. He declares God anathema!

    This argument fails to acknowledge God as creator and ourselves as failed sinners opposed to Him. In the Garden, we declared war on God but we can’t accept the cost of battle – our lives. For God to be truth, He must be just in all His Law. If He had not cursed us with death for our disobedience in the Garden, we would forever be estranged from Him. This world is His creation, made through His will in accordance with His Laws, moral and physical. The question should not be “does God have the right to wipe us out” but “why does He not destroy us”. As a people, we are lousy at being God (but we readily damn our undesirable neighbors). Second Timothy warns us that when we deny God, He will deny us also, but even though we are unfaithful, God remains faithful for He cannot deny Himself.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Dennis Peskey

    “The alleged immorality of Christianity” is the banner which leads the “new atheist” movement and much of liberal Christianity today. This is a fundamental assertion of Christopher Hitchens, his hammer against God.

    The reasoning is simple – embrace the second table of the Law (murder, lying, stealing, sometimes adultery and an occasional covet) and apply these against God’s Word. I’ve yet to listen to a Hitchens’ debate where he did not reference God’s command to the Israelites to utterly destroy all inhabitants they encounter upon entering the promised land. Or, for a change of pace, there’s that whole Noah account of complete destruction of the entire planet save Noah, his three sons and their wives. Even the animals outside the Ark are not to be spared this destruction.

    What is conveniently absent in this reasoning is the first table of the Law; is God really God, creator of heaven and earth and is He allowed to be just (and subsequently, the justifier of all men). It’s the first commandment they attack, albeit not with a direct confrontation. Liberal theologians fail to recognize the danger of questioning actions of the Old Testament God; Christ clearly states all scripture testifies of Him.

    When we embrace the question, “Did God truly say?” we deny ourselves the foundation of Scripture to defend against immoral claims for the flood or Sodom & Gomorrah or Israel’s entry into the promised land. Hitchens will directly state if this is your God – he (Hitchens) can do better. He declares God anathema!

    This argument fails to acknowledge God as creator and ourselves as failed sinners opposed to Him. In the Garden, we declared war on God but we can’t accept the cost of battle – our lives. For God to be truth, He must be just in all His Law. If He had not cursed us with death for our disobedience in the Garden, we would forever be estranged from Him. This world is His creation, made through His will in accordance with His Laws, moral and physical. The question should not be “does God have the right to wipe us out” but “why does He not destroy us”. As a people, we are lousy at being God (but we readily damn our undesirable neighbors). Second Timothy warns us that when we deny God, He will deny us also, but even though we are unfaithful, God remains faithful for He cannot deny Himself.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Louis

    The new atheists are pretty exclusive themselves: All other options are demented, according to them. They just tend to say it with more force and violence (semantic and emotional, not physical). Their compalint is thus pretty lame…

    And anyway, any complaint about exclusivity is a statement for a different version of exclusivity – not your opinion, mine!

  • Louis

    The new atheists are pretty exclusive themselves: All other options are demented, according to them. They just tend to say it with more force and violence (semantic and emotional, not physical). Their compalint is thus pretty lame…

    And anyway, any complaint about exclusivity is a statement for a different version of exclusivity – not your opinion, mine!

  • DonS

    The interesting thing is that those about whom the posted article speaks, namely those who reject the exclusivity claim of Christianity, prioritize an absolute morality over absolute truth. That absolute morality, of course, is relativism or “tolerance”.

    If the author is correct in his supposition, that people are not even interested in the truth claim because it would be immoral to believe it, even if true, then the logical fallacy is immense — convincing evidence of the truth of Scripture in Romans 1:22 (“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools”). They have willingly substituted a moral code devised by the created for the moral code imposed by the Creator of the Universe, and, in the process, become absolutists about their relativism.

  • DonS

    The interesting thing is that those about whom the posted article speaks, namely those who reject the exclusivity claim of Christianity, prioritize an absolute morality over absolute truth. That absolute morality, of course, is relativism or “tolerance”.

    If the author is correct in his supposition, that people are not even interested in the truth claim because it would be immoral to believe it, even if true, then the logical fallacy is immense — convincing evidence of the truth of Scripture in Romans 1:22 (“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools”). They have willingly substituted a moral code devised by the created for the moral code imposed by the Creator of the Universe, and, in the process, become absolutists about their relativism.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Having read through the comments, I realize that much of what I wanted to say in reply has already been said by others. So, to … reinforce …?

    I do think that it’s not so much a shift from “exclusivism is false” to “exclusivism is immoral”, but rather that the belief that it is immoral has been added to the belief that it is false. This, then, is more a question of tactics on their part.

    And understandably so. If millenia of debate have taught us anything, it’s that a debate about spiritual truths will almost certainly end with people saying, “Well, that’s what you believe, and this is what I believe, and that’s that.” (Not that such a conclusion precludes one party from taking that opportunity to murder the other, but that is the logical end of most discussions of spiritual truth.)

    Ah, but if we instead make it a question of “morals”, then we can dispense with questions of true and false, logic and reason, and just amass enough of the population to assert, more or less by fiat, that you are immoral to believe what you do. Or something like that.

    Of course, there is a very implicit (often quite explicit, as well) exclusive claim on the part of the relativists. We all know this. And, when presented with this fact, most relativists will either dodge (“But you are the immoral one! Let’s talk about that!”) or simply claim that, yes, that is true, but the Truth of the Lack of Exclusive Truth cannot be denied! And cognitive dissonance wins again.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Having read through the comments, I realize that much of what I wanted to say in reply has already been said by others. So, to … reinforce …?

    I do think that it’s not so much a shift from “exclusivism is false” to “exclusivism is immoral”, but rather that the belief that it is immoral has been added to the belief that it is false. This, then, is more a question of tactics on their part.

    And understandably so. If millenia of debate have taught us anything, it’s that a debate about spiritual truths will almost certainly end with people saying, “Well, that’s what you believe, and this is what I believe, and that’s that.” (Not that such a conclusion precludes one party from taking that opportunity to murder the other, but that is the logical end of most discussions of spiritual truth.)

    Ah, but if we instead make it a question of “morals”, then we can dispense with questions of true and false, logic and reason, and just amass enough of the population to assert, more or less by fiat, that you are immoral to believe what you do. Or something like that.

    Of course, there is a very implicit (often quite explicit, as well) exclusive claim on the part of the relativists. We all know this. And, when presented with this fact, most relativists will either dodge (“But you are the immoral one! Let’s talk about that!”) or simply claim that, yes, that is true, but the Truth of the Lack of Exclusive Truth cannot be denied! And cognitive dissonance wins again.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Jeremy said (@5):

    This post implies that only the morality claim of Christian exclusivism is being challenged, and not the truth claim. It’s as if people feel that the idea that all but a tiny fraction of humanity is going to burn in hell for all eternity is a perfectly rational, but just hard to accept.

    Jeremy, I’m interested in how you reconcile those two sentences. I’ve already (@12) agreed with you that your modern atheist/relativist challenges — or at least disagrees with — both the “is” and the “should” of Christianity.

    But then you bring up the existence of hell, and its destination for the bulk of humanity. And, most curiously, you appear to reject this idea not because it is false, but because it is immoral. Thus confirming the article’s main point, and belying your previous sentence.

    Just out of curiosity, what maximal percentage of humanity would have to be destined for hell for you to accept it as moral, and therefore true?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Jeremy said (@5):

    This post implies that only the morality claim of Christian exclusivism is being challenged, and not the truth claim. It’s as if people feel that the idea that all but a tiny fraction of humanity is going to burn in hell for all eternity is a perfectly rational, but just hard to accept.

    Jeremy, I’m interested in how you reconcile those two sentences. I’ve already (@12) agreed with you that your modern atheist/relativist challenges — or at least disagrees with — both the “is” and the “should” of Christianity.

    But then you bring up the existence of hell, and its destination for the bulk of humanity. And, most curiously, you appear to reject this idea not because it is false, but because it is immoral. Thus confirming the article’s main point, and belying your previous sentence.

    Just out of curiosity, what maximal percentage of humanity would have to be destined for hell for you to accept it as moral, and therefore true?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    And, as Larry noted (@3), this approach is, quite sadly, prevalent among far more than just atheists and secular humanists. I’ve seen it used by very religious Mormons, Calvinists, and Baptists. Much of today’s would-be “conservative” religious culture is riddled with relativism.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    And, as Larry noted (@3), this approach is, quite sadly, prevalent among far more than just atheists and secular humanists. I’ve seen it used by very religious Mormons, Calvinists, and Baptists. Much of today’s would-be “conservative” religious culture is riddled with relativism.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    tODD @112, That is a brilliant observation and one that solves a problem I have been wrestling with! Relativists used to say, “that’s fine for you to believe, though it’s not true for me.” That at least was tolerant of all other positions. But now, I have noticed that the tolerant part of relativism is diminishing, that relativists are now angry and indignant at any one who believes in any kind of absolute truth. It has seemed to me that postmodernism has metastasized into something different than it had been, a more aggressive and intolerant version of its former self. Now you have explained it: Moral offenses DO involve other people and the need to restrict the behavior. If belief in an absolute truth is intellectually wrong, well, that doesn’t really matter to any one else. But if belief in an absolute truth is EVIL, then it needs to be stamped out. (Nevermind that a consistent relativism would be morally relativistic too, but no one can consistently be that way. Those who claim to be moral relativists still get all indignant and judgmental when it comes to, I don’t know, George Bush, bad treatment of gays, etc. Which disproves more than anything else the philosophy they claim to believe in. But you have explained at least their psychology.)

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    tODD @112, That is a brilliant observation and one that solves a problem I have been wrestling with! Relativists used to say, “that’s fine for you to believe, though it’s not true for me.” That at least was tolerant of all other positions. But now, I have noticed that the tolerant part of relativism is diminishing, that relativists are now angry and indignant at any one who believes in any kind of absolute truth. It has seemed to me that postmodernism has metastasized into something different than it had been, a more aggressive and intolerant version of its former self. Now you have explained it: Moral offenses DO involve other people and the need to restrict the behavior. If belief in an absolute truth is intellectually wrong, well, that doesn’t really matter to any one else. But if belief in an absolute truth is EVIL, then it needs to be stamped out. (Nevermind that a consistent relativism would be morally relativistic too, but no one can consistently be that way. Those who claim to be moral relativists still get all indignant and judgmental when it comes to, I don’t know, George Bush, bad treatment of gays, etc. Which disproves more than anything else the philosophy they claim to believe in. But you have explained at least their psychology.)

  • larry

    “…that the tolerant part of relativism is diminishing” That’s a good point. Wasn’t it a Lutheran, Kolb or somebody, that once argued how falsehood works its way into truth in three stages: my paraphrase from memory (1) it demands tolerance, then after establishing that (2) it demands equal time, then after that (3) it demands its own exclusivity.

    Thus, it would seem its in our day and age moving from #2 now into #3 and the “immorality” defense is its beginnings to establish itself as exclusive as opposed to previously equal time.

  • larry

    “…that the tolerant part of relativism is diminishing” That’s a good point. Wasn’t it a Lutheran, Kolb or somebody, that once argued how falsehood works its way into truth in three stages: my paraphrase from memory (1) it demands tolerance, then after establishing that (2) it demands equal time, then after that (3) it demands its own exclusivity.

    Thus, it would seem its in our day and age moving from #2 now into #3 and the “immorality” defense is its beginnings to establish itself as exclusive as opposed to previously equal time.

  • Dennis Peskey

    Dr. Veith – I would not credit relativists with toleration, particulary when discussing truth claims (spiritual or temporal). The very nature of relativism is self-defeating; a state of denial regarding every truth claim. Denial, that is, of every truth claim other than their proposition of relative truth – which in their view is not relative but absolute. To wit, their claim of relativism fails even its most basic assertion.

    To shift the focus away from the logical errancy inherent in relativism, they now claim moral justification under the banner of tolerance. But as you noted, morality is anything but tolerant; its’ very basis is predicated on judgment and denouncement. A true relativist can embrace neither good nor evil toward their neighbor for this would require both a moral absolute and an absolute truth applicable to all people at all times.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Dennis Peskey

    Dr. Veith – I would not credit relativists with toleration, particulary when discussing truth claims (spiritual or temporal). The very nature of relativism is self-defeating; a state of denial regarding every truth claim. Denial, that is, of every truth claim other than their proposition of relative truth – which in their view is not relative but absolute. To wit, their claim of relativism fails even its most basic assertion.

    To shift the focus away from the logical errancy inherent in relativism, they now claim moral justification under the banner of tolerance. But as you noted, morality is anything but tolerant; its’ very basis is predicated on judgment and denouncement. A true relativist can embrace neither good nor evil toward their neighbor for this would require both a moral absolute and an absolute truth applicable to all people at all times.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Jeremy

    @Todd

    “And, most curiously, you appear to reject this idea not because it is false, but because it is immoral.”

    Todd, I reread what I wrote twice, and I don’t know where you got the impression that I believe hell is false because I believe hell is immoral. Just because something is immoral doesn’t mean it’s false. I completely agree with you there, and I completely reject the idea of “relative truth”. But there are very good reasons people give for not believing in a hell, and this article implied that those reasons don’t exist, and people instead just resort to talking about how immoral hell is without real reasons why it doesn’t exist. My main reason for not believing in hell is the same reason I don’t believe in Mordor. There’s not one shred of evidence for it. And that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

    Nevertheless, hell does strike most thinking people as morally repugnant and I think that’s where people’s minds go first, even if that doesn’t affect the truth claim of hell. The idea of the Anne Frank and the rest of the Jews and other non-Christians in the Holocaust suffering even more now in hell is unsettling. However, you’re right that moral disgust doesn’t make a statement false.

  • Jeremy

    @Todd

    “And, most curiously, you appear to reject this idea not because it is false, but because it is immoral.”

    Todd, I reread what I wrote twice, and I don’t know where you got the impression that I believe hell is false because I believe hell is immoral. Just because something is immoral doesn’t mean it’s false. I completely agree with you there, and I completely reject the idea of “relative truth”. But there are very good reasons people give for not believing in a hell, and this article implied that those reasons don’t exist, and people instead just resort to talking about how immoral hell is without real reasons why it doesn’t exist. My main reason for not believing in hell is the same reason I don’t believe in Mordor. There’s not one shred of evidence for it. And that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

    Nevertheless, hell does strike most thinking people as morally repugnant and I think that’s where people’s minds go first, even if that doesn’t affect the truth claim of hell. The idea of the Anne Frank and the rest of the Jews and other non-Christians in the Holocaust suffering even more now in hell is unsettling. However, you’re right that moral disgust doesn’t make a statement false.

  • Stephen

    Postmodernism, relativism – what is it people say around here? Meh. Those are just terms to describe the ever-increasing awareness that we all disagree in some sense about everything. We play fast and loose not only with truth, but the terms we use to define it and speak about it. EVERYONE does it. The loss of shared meaning means that truth backs all the way up into each individual as sole arbiter and authority of truth. Even Christians suffer from this. With the bible in my lap “you can’t tell me what it says!”

    What is it that they say in AA – “MY higher power.” Not meaning to knock AA. As a technique it seems to work quite well. But it is still law. Our Confessions (you know, the “corporate” witness to truth we supposedly share – “Concord”) remind us “nothing can be added to Aristotle.” When will we get this very thing through our thick, self-righteous heads – it’s not about proving something by our righteousness i.e. our superior truth. The point really is that Jesus Christ IS the way, the truth, and the life, and is everything else is the way of death – everything.

    Romans 2:1Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (ESV)

    I add this text because I agree with Larry that Matt was onto something. We all fail to do earthly righteousness, even though that is exactly what people expect of Christians. Why bother even going there. We are, at that point, being the judges that that St. Paul warns about and it is a conversation no one can win.

    But what Dennis points to and AA tries to do without naming God is that we actually ALL worship false gods – money, recognition, politics, even love, from the smallest little idea about life that we hold dear to the most elaborate philosophical reflection (like nothing is true) – these are all idols in which we seek life. It is all temporal, fleeting, and ultimately ends in defeat. Buddha actually did a nice job at pointing this out, though his solution is basically to give up. And that is where a lot of people find themselves, and possibly why Buddhism is popular. It’s okay if I give up on truth and simply accept the cognitive dissonance. In fact, I am “right” in doing so. It is like badge of honor to be able to manage knowing it is all a huge mess. Anyone else who doesn’t do so must be nuts. It’s obvious isn’t it?

    Dissonance. Nothing sounds right. Nothing sounds right. Nothing sounds right.

    But that is ultimately dissatisfying for the conscience, and so people again stumble about to “be good” or they embrace their “badness.” No one really lives like that as Todd and Dr. Veith say. No one lives as if there isn’t something to hold on to. But on the descriptive level, doing good or embracing bad and seeking to define life on those terms alone really is the same thing – a lot of chasing after wind. Anxiety abounds. “Am I good enough? Is the life I lead of any real value?” The pious and the criminal have a lot in common. Deep down, I suspect, we all feel that anyone who presumes to be good is lying. Why? Because we all feel judged. The law always accuses. We all know it is a struggle. I sure suspect of anyone who presumes as much. So there is a basic humility to this, and all the bluster in the world cannot deny it. I think Matt’s initial observation is about this.

    So the thing is that the “postmodern” view actually tells us something kind of correct – “no one is righteous, not one” as St. Paul puts it. The answer, however, is not a set of “better” propositions even if they come straight out of the bible. That is a law answer. Our age is not any different than it ever was. Perhaps it is only more acute because each individual is now an isolated kingdom unto themselves.

    I agree with Matt in that he locates the truth where it actually is – in God himself given over for our sakes in the life, death and resurrection of Christ – the Word made flesh. But I struggle with the word “fact” if only because it then invokes Reason once again. Is it to encourage some particular view of history itself and accept it? If you spend any time on the Internet pursuing the “historicity” of Jesus of Nazareth it will likely kill faith in the “facts.” That is our postmodern dilemma. Establishing facts themselves is up for grabs.

    I think we have to do something even more bold and simply state the Gospel. When asked “Do you believe in God?” how many of us, rather than searching around for the right set of propositions, immediately recite the Apostle’s Creed or speak the words of Philipians 2:5-11? In a conversation about truth, how many times have we asked our interlocutor if they are baptized?

    I’m guessing we all struggle to be accepted on some level. We don’t want to be seen as a nut who believes kooky things. I struggle with this a lot – attempting to distinguish myself from the TV evangelist (and yes, the gay hater) that has become the symbol of what Christians really are is like a part-time job. I want to be liked and respected so I run to Reason in order to make my case. It is a defensive move and not such a faithful one. I’m not sure how helpful it is to others except that they see first that I can be reasonable. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is not a bad strategy I suppose in order to get things going. But when it comes to the “moment of truth,” what do shall I look for? Acceptance? Viability? Agreement on the facts? “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

    I think we have to use the law on our old Adam’s pride and do what is commanded – preach – that is, proclaim the Gospel, that Jesus died for the sin of the world. In that, all those truth claims that cannot be reconciled between us are reconciled in him. That is the promise, and it is in a promise that we trust, not what we can do or not do. And I suppose at that point, unless you are completely blown off and never spoken to again, well then, keep the conversation going. There is always hope, and hope does not disappoint. The Spirit helps us in our weakness. And by all means, ask them if they are baptized. If they are, the work is already done, you are just stirring up what has gone dormant. All Christian truth is located there, in the washing of regeneration. The kingdom comes in a way that cannot be seen. It is the Word which is Christ alone. And then you can always invite them to church!

    Isaiah 55:11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
    but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

  • Stephen

    Postmodernism, relativism – what is it people say around here? Meh. Those are just terms to describe the ever-increasing awareness that we all disagree in some sense about everything. We play fast and loose not only with truth, but the terms we use to define it and speak about it. EVERYONE does it. The loss of shared meaning means that truth backs all the way up into each individual as sole arbiter and authority of truth. Even Christians suffer from this. With the bible in my lap “you can’t tell me what it says!”

    What is it that they say in AA – “MY higher power.” Not meaning to knock AA. As a technique it seems to work quite well. But it is still law. Our Confessions (you know, the “corporate” witness to truth we supposedly share – “Concord”) remind us “nothing can be added to Aristotle.” When will we get this very thing through our thick, self-righteous heads – it’s not about proving something by our righteousness i.e. our superior truth. The point really is that Jesus Christ IS the way, the truth, and the life, and is everything else is the way of death – everything.

    Romans 2:1Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (ESV)

    I add this text because I agree with Larry that Matt was onto something. We all fail to do earthly righteousness, even though that is exactly what people expect of Christians. Why bother even going there. We are, at that point, being the judges that that St. Paul warns about and it is a conversation no one can win.

    But what Dennis points to and AA tries to do without naming God is that we actually ALL worship false gods – money, recognition, politics, even love, from the smallest little idea about life that we hold dear to the most elaborate philosophical reflection (like nothing is true) – these are all idols in which we seek life. It is all temporal, fleeting, and ultimately ends in defeat. Buddha actually did a nice job at pointing this out, though his solution is basically to give up. And that is where a lot of people find themselves, and possibly why Buddhism is popular. It’s okay if I give up on truth and simply accept the cognitive dissonance. In fact, I am “right” in doing so. It is like badge of honor to be able to manage knowing it is all a huge mess. Anyone else who doesn’t do so must be nuts. It’s obvious isn’t it?

    Dissonance. Nothing sounds right. Nothing sounds right. Nothing sounds right.

    But that is ultimately dissatisfying for the conscience, and so people again stumble about to “be good” or they embrace their “badness.” No one really lives like that as Todd and Dr. Veith say. No one lives as if there isn’t something to hold on to. But on the descriptive level, doing good or embracing bad and seeking to define life on those terms alone really is the same thing – a lot of chasing after wind. Anxiety abounds. “Am I good enough? Is the life I lead of any real value?” The pious and the criminal have a lot in common. Deep down, I suspect, we all feel that anyone who presumes to be good is lying. Why? Because we all feel judged. The law always accuses. We all know it is a struggle. I sure suspect of anyone who presumes as much. So there is a basic humility to this, and all the bluster in the world cannot deny it. I think Matt’s initial observation is about this.

    So the thing is that the “postmodern” view actually tells us something kind of correct – “no one is righteous, not one” as St. Paul puts it. The answer, however, is not a set of “better” propositions even if they come straight out of the bible. That is a law answer. Our age is not any different than it ever was. Perhaps it is only more acute because each individual is now an isolated kingdom unto themselves.

    I agree with Matt in that he locates the truth where it actually is – in God himself given over for our sakes in the life, death and resurrection of Christ – the Word made flesh. But I struggle with the word “fact” if only because it then invokes Reason once again. Is it to encourage some particular view of history itself and accept it? If you spend any time on the Internet pursuing the “historicity” of Jesus of Nazareth it will likely kill faith in the “facts.” That is our postmodern dilemma. Establishing facts themselves is up for grabs.

    I think we have to do something even more bold and simply state the Gospel. When asked “Do you believe in God?” how many of us, rather than searching around for the right set of propositions, immediately recite the Apostle’s Creed or speak the words of Philipians 2:5-11? In a conversation about truth, how many times have we asked our interlocutor if they are baptized?

    I’m guessing we all struggle to be accepted on some level. We don’t want to be seen as a nut who believes kooky things. I struggle with this a lot – attempting to distinguish myself from the TV evangelist (and yes, the gay hater) that has become the symbol of what Christians really are is like a part-time job. I want to be liked and respected so I run to Reason in order to make my case. It is a defensive move and not such a faithful one. I’m not sure how helpful it is to others except that they see first that I can be reasonable. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is not a bad strategy I suppose in order to get things going. But when it comes to the “moment of truth,” what do shall I look for? Acceptance? Viability? Agreement on the facts? “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

    I think we have to use the law on our old Adam’s pride and do what is commanded – preach – that is, proclaim the Gospel, that Jesus died for the sin of the world. In that, all those truth claims that cannot be reconciled between us are reconciled in him. That is the promise, and it is in a promise that we trust, not what we can do or not do. And I suppose at that point, unless you are completely blown off and never spoken to again, well then, keep the conversation going. There is always hope, and hope does not disappoint. The Spirit helps us in our weakness. And by all means, ask them if they are baptized. If they are, the work is already done, you are just stirring up what has gone dormant. All Christian truth is located there, in the washing of regeneration. The kingdom comes in a way that cannot be seen. It is the Word which is Christ alone. And then you can always invite them to church!

    Isaiah 55:11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
    but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

  • http://nbfzman.blogspot.com nbfzman

    The argument that the exclusivity of Christianity is immoral is, like all moral relativism, logically self-defeating. The moment they exclude Christianity for being exclusive, they become the very thing which they condemn.

  • http://nbfzman.blogspot.com nbfzman

    The argument that the exclusivity of Christianity is immoral is, like all moral relativism, logically self-defeating. The moment they exclude Christianity for being exclusive, they become the very thing which they condemn.

  • Cincinnatus

    Stephen@19: Good comment. A few of your observations render some of my proposed observations redundant.

    I might also add this, at the risk of being misunderstood. In the academy, there is a good reason for maintaining a kind of relativism: it is the job of the academy to pursue truth, not to proclaim a monopolistic grasp of the truth. I, for instance, believe that there is truth, but that human finitude precludes a complete and eternal grasp of this truth, even in the absence of a world perpetually in flux. The job of the academy–and indeed of the human race–will never be complete in this respect. Socratic wisdom: the only wise man is the one who knows that he does not know. In other words, it is always dangerous and quite likely deluded to convince oneself that one is in possession of the Truth.

    That said, in the same academy which I have above ennobled, too often this salutary epistemological humility devolves into self-righteous indignation: “You’re othering–and that’s wrong!” Who says? The root of this faux “humility” is ideological dogmatism, false certainty, not humble openness to the truth wherever and however it might be found.

  • Cincinnatus

    Stephen@19: Good comment. A few of your observations render some of my proposed observations redundant.

    I might also add this, at the risk of being misunderstood. In the academy, there is a good reason for maintaining a kind of relativism: it is the job of the academy to pursue truth, not to proclaim a monopolistic grasp of the truth. I, for instance, believe that there is truth, but that human finitude precludes a complete and eternal grasp of this truth, even in the absence of a world perpetually in flux. The job of the academy–and indeed of the human race–will never be complete in this respect. Socratic wisdom: the only wise man is the one who knows that he does not know. In other words, it is always dangerous and quite likely deluded to convince oneself that one is in possession of the Truth.

    That said, in the same academy which I have above ennobled, too often this salutary epistemological humility devolves into self-righteous indignation: “You’re othering–and that’s wrong!” Who says? The root of this faux “humility” is ideological dogmatism, false certainty, not humble openness to the truth wherever and however it might be found.

  • Stephen

    Wow, thanks Cinncinatus. I experienced what you describe, and it was at seminary!!! All that dogmatism boils down to fear. Real humilty and openess takes guts.

    I’m feeling a bit like I should/could sum up what I wrote. If I could say it in a sentence or two it would be something like: It is what it is. Rather than disparaging, resenting or judging people for embracing relativism, they may actually be in about the best position possible to hear the naked proclamation of the Gospel of truth.

  • Stephen

    Wow, thanks Cinncinatus. I experienced what you describe, and it was at seminary!!! All that dogmatism boils down to fear. Real humilty and openess takes guts.

    I’m feeling a bit like I should/could sum up what I wrote. If I could say it in a sentence or two it would be something like: It is what it is. Rather than disparaging, resenting or judging people for embracing relativism, they may actually be in about the best position possible to hear the naked proclamation of the Gospel of truth.

  • Dennis Peskey

    Cincinnatus – The problem inherent in Socratic wisdom is knowing what you do not know. [Caution: if you abhor logic, avoid the following migraine] Our knowledge of the unknown is limited by the extent of our “known”. When we approach the boundaries of our known, we can no longer fathom the length nor depth of that which lies beyond. Yet I am sure there is truth both inside our known and beyond the limits of our knowledge – truths yet to be discovered. So I concur with Dr. Luther when we begin to question the validity of the Scriptures, we should defer to the abilities of the Holy Spirit and confess He is more knowledgeable than we.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Dennis Peskey

    Cincinnatus – The problem inherent in Socratic wisdom is knowing what you do not know. [Caution: if you abhor logic, avoid the following migraine] Our knowledge of the unknown is limited by the extent of our “known”. When we approach the boundaries of our known, we can no longer fathom the length nor depth of that which lies beyond. Yet I am sure there is truth both inside our known and beyond the limits of our knowledge – truths yet to be discovered. So I concur with Dr. Luther when we begin to question the validity of the Scriptures, we should defer to the abilities of the Holy Spirit and confess He is more knowledgeable than we.
    Pax,
    Dennis

  • Tom Hering

    I wonder if I haven’t surrendered too much ground. When I hear it said that atheists and those of other religions are just as moral as Christians, if not more moral sometimes, I nod my head and say, “Sure, that’s true – at least as far as earthly righteousness goes.” But the earthly isn’t the only realm in which both good and harm can be done to others. The person who says there is no God, or there is another god than the One revealed in Jesus Christ, does eternal, immeasurable harm to his neighbor. How then is he more moral than the Christian? And the Christian who confesses Jesus Christ to his neighbor does him a potentially eternal, immeasurable good. He at least has done the most loving thing possible by telling him about the only One who saves. How then is the Christian EVER less moral than the atheist or the follower of another god? One tiny instance of confessing Christ – even an extremely weak confession of Christ – is a greater good than all the earthly righteousness in the world put together.

  • Tom Hering

    I wonder if I haven’t surrendered too much ground. When I hear it said that atheists and those of other religions are just as moral as Christians, if not more moral sometimes, I nod my head and say, “Sure, that’s true – at least as far as earthly righteousness goes.” But the earthly isn’t the only realm in which both good and harm can be done to others. The person who says there is no God, or there is another god than the One revealed in Jesus Christ, does eternal, immeasurable harm to his neighbor. How then is he more moral than the Christian? And the Christian who confesses Jesus Christ to his neighbor does him a potentially eternal, immeasurable good. He at least has done the most loving thing possible by telling him about the only One who saves. How then is the Christian EVER less moral than the atheist or the follower of another god? One tiny instance of confessing Christ – even an extremely weak confession of Christ – is a greater good than all the earthly righteousness in the world put together.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Jeremy said (@18):

    Todd, I reread what I wrote twice, and I don’t know where you got the impression that I believe hell is false because I believe hell is immoral.

    Well, I just reread what you wrote (@5) again, and you completely failed to offer any reasons for why you thought hell didn’t exist, but you did offer up the apparent objection that a large “fraction of humanity is going to burn in hell for all eternity” as some sort of evidence for something. It sure sounds like your objection to hell was based in it being unfair and/or immoral.

    And in your subsequent reply (@18), you more or less prove my point (@12). You’re not content to leave it at this:

    My main reason for not believing in hell is the same reason I don’t believe in Mordor. There’s not one shred of evidence for it.

    No, you feel compelled to, once again, raise moral objections to a concept you consider the equivalent of Super Unicorn Land:

    Hell does strike most thinking people as morally repugnant.

    You know, if they’re half as “thinking” as you claim they are, they probably shouldn’t spend any time at all thinking about how “morally repugnant” it is. I mean, how many “thinking people” do you know who not only find Super Unicorn Land “morally repugnant”, but spend their time arguing against its existence, largely on moral grounds, on internet message boards?

    Again, you’re raising moral objections to a concept you consider wholly fictional. And you want me to group you with “most thinking people”? Really?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Jeremy said (@18):

    Todd, I reread what I wrote twice, and I don’t know where you got the impression that I believe hell is false because I believe hell is immoral.

    Well, I just reread what you wrote (@5) again, and you completely failed to offer any reasons for why you thought hell didn’t exist, but you did offer up the apparent objection that a large “fraction of humanity is going to burn in hell for all eternity” as some sort of evidence for something. It sure sounds like your objection to hell was based in it being unfair and/or immoral.

    And in your subsequent reply (@18), you more or less prove my point (@12). You’re not content to leave it at this:

    My main reason for not believing in hell is the same reason I don’t believe in Mordor. There’s not one shred of evidence for it.

    No, you feel compelled to, once again, raise moral objections to a concept you consider the equivalent of Super Unicorn Land:

    Hell does strike most thinking people as morally repugnant.

    You know, if they’re half as “thinking” as you claim they are, they probably shouldn’t spend any time at all thinking about how “morally repugnant” it is. I mean, how many “thinking people” do you know who not only find Super Unicorn Land “morally repugnant”, but spend their time arguing against its existence, largely on moral grounds, on internet message boards?

    Again, you’re raising moral objections to a concept you consider wholly fictional. And you want me to group you with “most thinking people”? Really?

  • Tom Hering

    Hell isn’t real? Where’s all the spillover here on Earth coming from then? Are Satan and his demons eternal nomads? Where’s the biblical evidence for that? Or don’t they exist either?

  • Tom Hering

    Hell isn’t real? Where’s all the spillover here on Earth coming from then? Are Satan and his demons eternal nomads? Where’s the biblical evidence for that? Or don’t they exist either?

  • Pete

    Stephen @19

    Wow!

  • Pete

    Stephen @19

    Wow!

  • fws

    tom @ 24

    Goodness and mercy dont work quite like that Tom.

    Love IS Love, and Goodness and Mercy are objectively that no matter who does them or for what reason. That is how it works.

    The first commandment deals with movements of the heart and nothing that we can do with our thoughts, words or deeds. It demands nothing less than faith alone in Christ alone. Only the Holy Gospel can create the New Heart Movements that are able to keep this Law of God,.

    why? the Law ALWAYS accuses.
    The Law ALWAYS accuses.
    Rom 2:25 says that this Law is written in the Reason of all men.
    It does not there that the Law is written in the heart does it?

    And God cannot be an object of love as long as the Law is always accusing us.

    So the Law can no longer accuse us how? It is when we see that the Law demands our entire heart. Then everything we can do terrifies us. It is only then that we use the works of Christ, alone, to offer up to God as a way to please God rather than what we can do.

  • fws

    tom @ 24

    Goodness and mercy dont work quite like that Tom.

    Love IS Love, and Goodness and Mercy are objectively that no matter who does them or for what reason. That is how it works.

    The first commandment deals with movements of the heart and nothing that we can do with our thoughts, words or deeds. It demands nothing less than faith alone in Christ alone. Only the Holy Gospel can create the New Heart Movements that are able to keep this Law of God,.

    why? the Law ALWAYS accuses.
    The Law ALWAYS accuses.
    Rom 2:25 says that this Law is written in the Reason of all men.
    It does not there that the Law is written in the heart does it?

    And God cannot be an object of love as long as the Law is always accusing us.

    So the Law can no longer accuse us how? It is when we see that the Law demands our entire heart. Then everything we can do terrifies us. It is only then that we use the works of Christ, alone, to offer up to God as a way to please God rather than what we can do.

  • Stephen

    Tom,

    Rational it isn’t.

    The person who says there is no God, or there is another god than the One revealed in Jesus Christ, does eternal, immeasurable harm to his neighbor.

    This is really interesting. I hadn’t quite thought of it like that. I’m going to say that perhaps there is a false assumption going on. The Holy Spirit works in,with, and under everything – that is EVERTHING. But then there is this:

    1 Corinthians 12:3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

    Saying either of these is faith, one in what is false and one in the truth that is Christ. The former is bereft of faith in Christ and the second is the epitome of the Gospel itself. It’s an amazing contrast between idolatry (covetousness/concupiscence – faith in ANYTHING but Christ alone as Frank is always saying) and faith in the one, true living God who is Lord of all. And yet, the announcement that “Jesus is Lord” itself affirms what I said about the Holy Spirit working in, with and under everything. He is King and Lord of ALL. Our most perfect example of this is the theology of the cross – Christ and him crucified, foolishness that is the greatest wisdom revealed. We preach the cross, that even hidden in the greatest act of unbelief ever perpetrated, the crucifixion of Christ, is the very power of God manifest and revealed for us in its most perfect way.

    So could it be that in, with and under what you describe the Holy Spirit may still work through the Law rather than the Gospel that is missing? The Law is written on the hearts of everyone. It always accuses. It doesn’t stop even upon the hearts and minds of the unbeliever – Judas without the “pro me” of the Gospel. We pray:

    Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

    What does this mean?–Answer.

    The good and gracious will of God is done indeed without our prayer; but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.

    How is this done?–Answer.

    When God breaks and hinders every evil counsel and will which would not let us hallow the name of God nor let His kingdom come, such as the will of the devil, the world, and our flesh; but strengthens and keeps us steadfast in His Word and in faith unto our end. This is His gracious and good will.

    In Luther’s explanation I hear that God will do what he will do. That is the promise we trust in. That is not to say that unbelief is not sin, but rather to say that in, with and under God fulfills his promises in spite of us.

    Thou shalt have no other gods.

    What does this mean?–Answer.

    We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

    We cannot do this. We require the righteousness of Christ given to us as a free gift in baptism for our salvation apart from works. Faith alone in Christ alone. So there is a sense that we too, as Old Adams, do the very thing we judge in others (see my Romans quote), even and including encouraging unbelief by what we do and say or fail to do and say. Yet God is faithful and just, not us as Old Adam. He will do what he desires – bring good gifts to his creation out of his steadfast love, even for all the wicked.

    We do what is commanded. We preach, teach, baptize, eat and drink – all law activities that we do that deliver in words and actions the Word himself in, with and under what we do. Those things do deliver the immeasurable benefits you describe. In faith we trust that this is so. We do them as new creations kept in our baptism, or through the goading of the law on our Old Adam conscience where we deliberate things like “Now, what’s the best way to tell this person about Jesus.” They are not our works, it is the Holy Spirit doing them through us.

    So we are not more moral, not in any way that we are “doing” something of our own volition apart from the Law which is the Holy Spirit at work. And neither are pagans, driven by a conscience to seek life in dead things – doing good, even when they imagine it is good to blaspheme God. God alone is holy. He will not be mocked. He has overcome the world. “Every knew shall/will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess (agree!) that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

    Can I get an Amen?

  • Stephen

    Tom,

    Rational it isn’t.

    The person who says there is no God, or there is another god than the One revealed in Jesus Christ, does eternal, immeasurable harm to his neighbor.

    This is really interesting. I hadn’t quite thought of it like that. I’m going to say that perhaps there is a false assumption going on. The Holy Spirit works in,with, and under everything – that is EVERTHING. But then there is this:

    1 Corinthians 12:3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

    Saying either of these is faith, one in what is false and one in the truth that is Christ. The former is bereft of faith in Christ and the second is the epitome of the Gospel itself. It’s an amazing contrast between idolatry (covetousness/concupiscence – faith in ANYTHING but Christ alone as Frank is always saying) and faith in the one, true living God who is Lord of all. And yet, the announcement that “Jesus is Lord” itself affirms what I said about the Holy Spirit working in, with and under everything. He is King and Lord of ALL. Our most perfect example of this is the theology of the cross – Christ and him crucified, foolishness that is the greatest wisdom revealed. We preach the cross, that even hidden in the greatest act of unbelief ever perpetrated, the crucifixion of Christ, is the very power of God manifest and revealed for us in its most perfect way.

    So could it be that in, with and under what you describe the Holy Spirit may still work through the Law rather than the Gospel that is missing? The Law is written on the hearts of everyone. It always accuses. It doesn’t stop even upon the hearts and minds of the unbeliever – Judas without the “pro me” of the Gospel. We pray:

    Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

    What does this mean?–Answer.

    The good and gracious will of God is done indeed without our prayer; but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.

    How is this done?–Answer.

    When God breaks and hinders every evil counsel and will which would not let us hallow the name of God nor let His kingdom come, such as the will of the devil, the world, and our flesh; but strengthens and keeps us steadfast in His Word and in faith unto our end. This is His gracious and good will.

    In Luther’s explanation I hear that God will do what he will do. That is the promise we trust in. That is not to say that unbelief is not sin, but rather to say that in, with and under God fulfills his promises in spite of us.

    Thou shalt have no other gods.

    What does this mean?–Answer.

    We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

    We cannot do this. We require the righteousness of Christ given to us as a free gift in baptism for our salvation apart from works. Faith alone in Christ alone. So there is a sense that we too, as Old Adams, do the very thing we judge in others (see my Romans quote), even and including encouraging unbelief by what we do and say or fail to do and say. Yet God is faithful and just, not us as Old Adam. He will do what he desires – bring good gifts to his creation out of his steadfast love, even for all the wicked.

    We do what is commanded. We preach, teach, baptize, eat and drink – all law activities that we do that deliver in words and actions the Word himself in, with and under what we do. Those things do deliver the immeasurable benefits you describe. In faith we trust that this is so. We do them as new creations kept in our baptism, or through the goading of the law on our Old Adam conscience where we deliberate things like “Now, what’s the best way to tell this person about Jesus.” They are not our works, it is the Holy Spirit doing them through us.

    So we are not more moral, not in any way that we are “doing” something of our own volition apart from the Law which is the Holy Spirit at work. And neither are pagans, driven by a conscience to seek life in dead things – doing good, even when they imagine it is good to blaspheme God. God alone is holy. He will not be mocked. He has overcome the world. “Every knew shall/will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess (agree!) that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

    Can I get an Amen?

  • Stephen

    That’s “knee” but I think you “knew” what I meant.

  • Stephen

    That’s “knee” but I think you “knew” what I meant.

  • fws

    let me put it this way.

    lutherans believe in progressive mortification. progressive death of old adam leading to entire death. at our physical death.

    this progressive death happens to everyone, pagan and christian alike ,

    so what is the diff betwen christian and pagan?

    alone faith.

    faith alone can accept this death that is God’s judgement for sin and not flee it. And why is that? we have our Life in Christ.

    and we welcome this death because it is the death of sin, and because it results in blessings for our neighbor.

    Luther: life is Mortification. Life is death.

    there is only one Death of Life itself that leads to Eternal Life.

  • fws

    let me put it this way.

    lutherans believe in progressive mortification. progressive death of old adam leading to entire death. at our physical death.

    this progressive death happens to everyone, pagan and christian alike ,

    so what is the diff betwen christian and pagan?

    alone faith.

    faith alone can accept this death that is God’s judgement for sin and not flee it. And why is that? we have our Life in Christ.

    and we welcome this death because it is the death of sin, and because it results in blessings for our neighbor.

    Luther: life is Mortification. Life is death.

    there is only one Death of Life itself that leads to Eternal Life.

  • larry

    The reason people reject hell gets back around to why they reject as immoral the truth claim of Christ alone which gets back around to, I think, what Matt was alluding to as man’s inherent fallen religion of works righteousness and merit (explicitly or implicitly by the doctrine of any given group). Jeremy is even alluding to it when he brings forth the suffering of Anne Frank, et. ali. because suffering is viewed as a kind of merit too. We will find at length that the difference on why hell has a population is not only the difference between Christian (in the broadest sence) and pagan (again, in the broadest sense), but the difference between Luther and Lutheranism and even other heterodoxies, primarily Rome and the Reformed.

    People don’t mind a hell in which the unjust, however one formulates that as a group or personally, go to it. So the idea that Hitler is in hell doesn’t bother many and in corollary that Anne Frank should not be. So a hell that primarily punishes sin is a nice quid pro quo religion’s hell and VERY acceptable. That kind of hell is very very very palatable to man’s fallen quid pro quo religion(s) in all their various forms and degrees.

    But a hell that is hell so that just because one rejected Christ alone and is in there for that primarily and alone is the “immoral” hell (rather, stumbling stone and offence of the Cross) that men reject as “immoral”. Luther makes the point that hell is the only just thing for those that reject the reality of Christ’s actual salvation, redemption, etc…for them. This is a direction that not even the Reformed will go and find repugnant (i.e. moral). In fact Calvinist baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon stated that explicitly that a hell populated by those for whom Christ actually died (though they rejected Him who was FOR them) was utterly repugnant to him. Yet, Luther said this is precisely the right place for those that reject Christ who actually redeemed them not just “sufficiently” but “effectively” and actually.

    This hell is primarily the abode of the rejecters of Christ Who was actually to and for them in reality and only secondarily as a consequence “due to their sin”. This gets back around to the unforgiveable sin what it actually is. This is the hell that is morally repugnant to men and why it is immoral to those in which the idea of people like Anne Frank, etc… other non-Christians must go. Because underneath even the suffering of many pagans there is this kind of suffering = merit going on, not just good works = merit, thus they like a quid pro quo hell but not a hell for the rejecter of the actually redeemed by Christ. In this example Spurgeon’s “repugnance” toward the idea of a hell populated with those for whom Christ died yet they rejected is exactly the same “immoral” cry of a hell populated with good and/or suffering unbelievers. On the flip side Spurgeon and the like along with the pagans favor a hell in which hell is a quid pro quo hell that deals “just with sin”.

    There have been a few outside of Luther post-reformation that have seen this. A good example was Baptist theologian/pastor Andrew Fuller who said (paraphrase from a decreasing memory), “…the hell of hell will be that those within it will realize that they have rejected the only true good for them…”. He was at least aiming in the direction Luther was without going all the way and saying for whom Christ actually died (lest he not retain his mingled-calvinism).

  • larry

    The reason people reject hell gets back around to why they reject as immoral the truth claim of Christ alone which gets back around to, I think, what Matt was alluding to as man’s inherent fallen religion of works righteousness and merit (explicitly or implicitly by the doctrine of any given group). Jeremy is even alluding to it when he brings forth the suffering of Anne Frank, et. ali. because suffering is viewed as a kind of merit too. We will find at length that the difference on why hell has a population is not only the difference between Christian (in the broadest sence) and pagan (again, in the broadest sense), but the difference between Luther and Lutheranism and even other heterodoxies, primarily Rome and the Reformed.

    People don’t mind a hell in which the unjust, however one formulates that as a group or personally, go to it. So the idea that Hitler is in hell doesn’t bother many and in corollary that Anne Frank should not be. So a hell that primarily punishes sin is a nice quid pro quo religion’s hell and VERY acceptable. That kind of hell is very very very palatable to man’s fallen quid pro quo religion(s) in all their various forms and degrees.

    But a hell that is hell so that just because one rejected Christ alone and is in there for that primarily and alone is the “immoral” hell (rather, stumbling stone and offence of the Cross) that men reject as “immoral”. Luther makes the point that hell is the only just thing for those that reject the reality of Christ’s actual salvation, redemption, etc…for them. This is a direction that not even the Reformed will go and find repugnant (i.e. moral). In fact Calvinist baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon stated that explicitly that a hell populated by those for whom Christ actually died (though they rejected Him who was FOR them) was utterly repugnant to him. Yet, Luther said this is precisely the right place for those that reject Christ who actually redeemed them not just “sufficiently” but “effectively” and actually.

    This hell is primarily the abode of the rejecters of Christ Who was actually to and for them in reality and only secondarily as a consequence “due to their sin”. This gets back around to the unforgiveable sin what it actually is. This is the hell that is morally repugnant to men and why it is immoral to those in which the idea of people like Anne Frank, etc… other non-Christians must go. Because underneath even the suffering of many pagans there is this kind of suffering = merit going on, not just good works = merit, thus they like a quid pro quo hell but not a hell for the rejecter of the actually redeemed by Christ. In this example Spurgeon’s “repugnance” toward the idea of a hell populated with those for whom Christ died yet they rejected is exactly the same “immoral” cry of a hell populated with good and/or suffering unbelievers. On the flip side Spurgeon and the like along with the pagans favor a hell in which hell is a quid pro quo hell that deals “just with sin”.

    There have been a few outside of Luther post-reformation that have seen this. A good example was Baptist theologian/pastor Andrew Fuller who said (paraphrase from a decreasing memory), “…the hell of hell will be that those within it will realize that they have rejected the only true good for them…”. He was at least aiming in the direction Luther was without going all the way and saying for whom Christ actually died (lest he not retain his mingled-calvinism).

  • http://www.matthewcochran.net/blog Matt Cochran

    Stephen @ 19,

    No need to be uncomfortable with facts. If you aren’t proclaiming facts, you are proclaiming something other than the Gospel, for Christ actually died for our actual sins. As Paul tells us, if the Resurrection isn’t a fact, then there is no Gospel to proclaim. If it is a fact, then in order so that people linguistically understand what we’re proclaiming, we should treat it as such–a treatment which does involve reason. We need only remember that reason’s involvement does not consist in leading us to believe in Christ Jesus our Lord or to come to him. It’s involvement is on the other end: the Holy Spirit has given faith to reasonable creatures, and inasmuch as they possess reason, their faith will spontaneously express itself through that reason.

  • http://www.matthewcochran.net/blog Matt Cochran

    Stephen @ 19,

    No need to be uncomfortable with facts. If you aren’t proclaiming facts, you are proclaiming something other than the Gospel, for Christ actually died for our actual sins. As Paul tells us, if the Resurrection isn’t a fact, then there is no Gospel to proclaim. If it is a fact, then in order so that people linguistically understand what we’re proclaiming, we should treat it as such–a treatment which does involve reason. We need only remember that reason’s involvement does not consist in leading us to believe in Christ Jesus our Lord or to come to him. It’s involvement is on the other end: the Holy Spirit has given faith to reasonable creatures, and inasmuch as they possess reason, their faith will spontaneously express itself through that reason.

  • Stephen

    Matt,

    Good point. I am not uncomfortable with the reality of the Jesus in history. I believe it to be a fact. It’s the word “fact” that bothers me. I’m not sure that “facts” alone are what we actually are talking about. But maybe it’s a semantic thing. And you are right that it really isn’t about me but the working of the Holy Spirit, rather than what I think, so maybe I’m caught up in reasoning wrongly. I may be victim of too much education in that case.

    However, from my experience, when one makes the claim that Jesus did what he did “in history” (fact) without the claim “I believe it” the conversation quickly devolves into an argument about what can be proven about a historical figure. We start down the road of deconstructing things. Soon we are dissecting something and the conversation is dead because what we are talking about has been killed off. Our reason buries Christ.

    What I was trying to get at in my post was along the lines of the “value” inherent in that fact – that Jesus died for the sins of the world. Lots of religious people were crucified in the 1st c. Where we find Jesus who is THE truth is in the faith claim itself, something which asserts the value of that fact. It is doxological in nature, like the Creed. It is the real presence in the words “given and shed for you.” In other words, it is the preaching of the truth of that event – what I heard someone call the “Jesus moment” – is where Christ presents himself in the Word (as our words).

    Now, if that made any sense, I also think that any conversation about Jesus is a good one. His is the name above all names. I guess I want to get at the “I believe” aspect, which takes it further than simply “I know” which then becomes a conversation about what can be known or proven by a set of verifiable facts. This latter project is what the Jesus Seminar is all about, and as such, it seems devoid of actual faith.

  • Stephen

    Matt,

    Good point. I am not uncomfortable with the reality of the Jesus in history. I believe it to be a fact. It’s the word “fact” that bothers me. I’m not sure that “facts” alone are what we actually are talking about. But maybe it’s a semantic thing. And you are right that it really isn’t about me but the working of the Holy Spirit, rather than what I think, so maybe I’m caught up in reasoning wrongly. I may be victim of too much education in that case.

    However, from my experience, when one makes the claim that Jesus did what he did “in history” (fact) without the claim “I believe it” the conversation quickly devolves into an argument about what can be proven about a historical figure. We start down the road of deconstructing things. Soon we are dissecting something and the conversation is dead because what we are talking about has been killed off. Our reason buries Christ.

    What I was trying to get at in my post was along the lines of the “value” inherent in that fact – that Jesus died for the sins of the world. Lots of religious people were crucified in the 1st c. Where we find Jesus who is THE truth is in the faith claim itself, something which asserts the value of that fact. It is doxological in nature, like the Creed. It is the real presence in the words “given and shed for you.” In other words, it is the preaching of the truth of that event – what I heard someone call the “Jesus moment” – is where Christ presents himself in the Word (as our words).

    Now, if that made any sense, I also think that any conversation about Jesus is a good one. His is the name above all names. I guess I want to get at the “I believe” aspect, which takes it further than simply “I know” which then becomes a conversation about what can be known or proven by a set of verifiable facts. This latter project is what the Jesus Seminar is all about, and as such, it seems devoid of actual faith.

  • http://www.matthewcochran.net/blog Matt Cochran

    I think I see where you’re coming from, Stephen. Certainly, a conversation about “this happened in history” without a hint of “I believe it” is just a conversation about trivia–it can be helpful, but often is not. If you get too rationalistic or scientific, it’s just data and calculations about minutia safely insulated from what it actually means to the people conversing. Not exactly what we should be looking for.

    On the other hand, what I see most often in my own experience are conversations about “I believe it” without a hint of “this happened in history.” You’ll notice that when this happens, the subject of the conversation suddenly changes from “this” to “I.” The Christian ends up telling someone about himself rather than about Christ and what He has done.

    An authentic conversation captures and balances both.

    Oh, and just for the record, I would not consider the Jesus Seminar to be in any way representative of rational conversations about the facts of history. Despite their pretense, the facts are the least of their concerns.

  • http://www.matthewcochran.net/blog Matt Cochran

    I think I see where you’re coming from, Stephen. Certainly, a conversation about “this happened in history” without a hint of “I believe it” is just a conversation about trivia–it can be helpful, but often is not. If you get too rationalistic or scientific, it’s just data and calculations about minutia safely insulated from what it actually means to the people conversing. Not exactly what we should be looking for.

    On the other hand, what I see most often in my own experience are conversations about “I believe it” without a hint of “this happened in history.” You’ll notice that when this happens, the subject of the conversation suddenly changes from “this” to “I.” The Christian ends up telling someone about himself rather than about Christ and what He has done.

    An authentic conversation captures and balances both.

    Oh, and just for the record, I would not consider the Jesus Seminar to be in any way representative of rational conversations about the facts of history. Despite their pretense, the facts are the least of their concerns.

  • larry

    One thing to keep in mind is that men are not ultimately convinced by reason but the Word which begets faith which operates over reason (like a rider on a horse). The devil, the quintessential unbeliever, rationally believes the fact of the crucifixion and yet trembles, in fact he precipitated it. So did Judas. Yet neither trust in it (faith).

    Luther makes the point that all men already know they are guilty via the Law and all the verbal fencing via argumentation ultimately boils down to what Paul already says. This is not just Luther but Paul, that law is already written upon the hearts of men. Why? How do we know? Because our consciences are either accusing or excusing us. Now today we focus too much on our lamentation that not many feel the “accusing” and thus know they are condemned and in need, and yet very quickly over look Paul’s second part of that. What is that? “…or else excusing…”, this too is a sign of the Law written on the heart. An overt sinner may harden enough to temporarily keep the accusing at bay by ignoring it or calling it “human nature” or “nobody is perfect”, YET, what is THAT but shifting over to the “excusing” side of the conscience via the Law that Paul is stating of everyman. Luther brings this out that it is an utter false reality that men don’t know their status before God because Scripture says the “Law is written on every heart”.

    And, the Law is needed so that the Gospel may be seen! This is the danger of reducing the Law down to something less than its theological use. But the Law not only always accuses, this it truly does, but the conscience also uses it constantly to EXCUSE the self, which is simply another sign of the sinful nature manifesting itself; it either accuses or excuses, but either way it shows forth the fallen creature’s reality and existence of being under the Law and condemned thereby.

    When the Law is doing this work in the conscience, then, the resurrection is taken more seriously and one begins to recognize all arguments against its historical fact are merely fallen self defense mechanisms. The conscience can be hardened but not wiped out, if shown “you are the man” as to accusation or excuse via the Law, then suddenly the Cross looks like something I need rather than fended off.

  • larry

    One thing to keep in mind is that men are not ultimately convinced by reason but the Word which begets faith which operates over reason (like a rider on a horse). The devil, the quintessential unbeliever, rationally believes the fact of the crucifixion and yet trembles, in fact he precipitated it. So did Judas. Yet neither trust in it (faith).

    Luther makes the point that all men already know they are guilty via the Law and all the verbal fencing via argumentation ultimately boils down to what Paul already says. This is not just Luther but Paul, that law is already written upon the hearts of men. Why? How do we know? Because our consciences are either accusing or excusing us. Now today we focus too much on our lamentation that not many feel the “accusing” and thus know they are condemned and in need, and yet very quickly over look Paul’s second part of that. What is that? “…or else excusing…”, this too is a sign of the Law written on the heart. An overt sinner may harden enough to temporarily keep the accusing at bay by ignoring it or calling it “human nature” or “nobody is perfect”, YET, what is THAT but shifting over to the “excusing” side of the conscience via the Law that Paul is stating of everyman. Luther brings this out that it is an utter false reality that men don’t know their status before God because Scripture says the “Law is written on every heart”.

    And, the Law is needed so that the Gospel may be seen! This is the danger of reducing the Law down to something less than its theological use. But the Law not only always accuses, this it truly does, but the conscience also uses it constantly to EXCUSE the self, which is simply another sign of the sinful nature manifesting itself; it either accuses or excuses, but either way it shows forth the fallen creature’s reality and existence of being under the Law and condemned thereby.

    When the Law is doing this work in the conscience, then, the resurrection is taken more seriously and one begins to recognize all arguments against its historical fact are merely fallen self defense mechanisms. The conscience can be hardened but not wiped out, if shown “you are the man” as to accusation or excuse via the Law, then suddenly the Cross looks like something I need rather than fended off.

  • Stephen

    Larry, you are the man!

    I have been in a room with people having these kinds of conversations and you can just feel the accusing law and everyone trying to excuse themselves. “Nobody’s perfect” is it!

    I think you are right Matt. I think what you say about it also potentially devolving into a conversation about me, myself and I is also a danger. So, we can’t shy away from making a historical claim any more than we can shy away from the “it is true and I believe it” one. That is what I find the Creed capable of that I am not.

    It is interesting also in light of the conversation about Hell. We can have rational arguments about the justice of it – bad people ought to be punished – and try to take measure on those terms. But then it would seem that some ought to get let out after a certain amount of punishment is completed. The idea that punishment is “why” there is Hell is where this goes, and why all that Dante imagery confuses what is actually at stake. But the reality is that Hell, as Larry to precisely lays out, is about unbelief, 1st commandment stuff. It is about separation from God, and some might say that this is happening now through the law of sin and death that accuses us to the grave as well as the “punishment” of unceasing separation beyond death.

    This is really helpful to me. I think in my mind I look for some bright line – this is proclamation and this really isn’t – when that project is also a lack of faith in what God is doing in, with and under. I think it is the fear of appearing foolish battling my desire that others have the promise of Christ. And yet, foolishness is exactly how the Gospel appears to Reason. Maybe we need the slogan “Just say it” and then trust that the Spirit will “lead us into all truth.”

  • Stephen

    Larry, you are the man!

    I have been in a room with people having these kinds of conversations and you can just feel the accusing law and everyone trying to excuse themselves. “Nobody’s perfect” is it!

    I think you are right Matt. I think what you say about it also potentially devolving into a conversation about me, myself and I is also a danger. So, we can’t shy away from making a historical claim any more than we can shy away from the “it is true and I believe it” one. That is what I find the Creed capable of that I am not.

    It is interesting also in light of the conversation about Hell. We can have rational arguments about the justice of it – bad people ought to be punished – and try to take measure on those terms. But then it would seem that some ought to get let out after a certain amount of punishment is completed. The idea that punishment is “why” there is Hell is where this goes, and why all that Dante imagery confuses what is actually at stake. But the reality is that Hell, as Larry to precisely lays out, is about unbelief, 1st commandment stuff. It is about separation from God, and some might say that this is happening now through the law of sin and death that accuses us to the grave as well as the “punishment” of unceasing separation beyond death.

    This is really helpful to me. I think in my mind I look for some bright line – this is proclamation and this really isn’t – when that project is also a lack of faith in what God is doing in, with and under. I think it is the fear of appearing foolish battling my desire that others have the promise of Christ. And yet, foolishness is exactly how the Gospel appears to Reason. Maybe we need the slogan “Just say it” and then trust that the Spirit will “lead us into all truth.”

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Larry, what a helpful post! Not only “accusing” but also “excusing” is a sign of the Law. I had never thought to apply that passage from Romans to our propensity to always be excusing ourselves–rationalizing, explaining, justifying our bad behavior–though it seems utterly clear now that you’ve pointed it out.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Larry, what a helpful post! Not only “accusing” but also “excusing” is a sign of the Law. I had never thought to apply that passage from Romans to our propensity to always be excusing ourselves–rationalizing, explaining, justifying our bad behavior–though it seems utterly clear now that you’ve pointed it out.

  • larry

    Thanks. It kind of clicked for me a few months ago rummaging through that passage and pondering that Luther held strongly to the fact of the Law affecting everyone without exception. He didn’t buy into to the idea that the Word doesn’t do the work and people need more or less an additional intellectual persuasion. It hit me, in that passage, how one can read that a thousand times (as I myself have done) and miss that second part because, to be honest, today we gravitate to the “accuse” part so hard we practically miss the “excuse” part. And in general the larger Christian discussion we all know too well is always the lament of a lack of the law accusing the conscience (true as it is), there’s also that second part, the excusing. It’s either one or the other or both but never neither.

    Or as we say in the south, “if it had been a snake it would have bit me”.

  • larry

    Thanks. It kind of clicked for me a few months ago rummaging through that passage and pondering that Luther held strongly to the fact of the Law affecting everyone without exception. He didn’t buy into to the idea that the Word doesn’t do the work and people need more or less an additional intellectual persuasion. It hit me, in that passage, how one can read that a thousand times (as I myself have done) and miss that second part because, to be honest, today we gravitate to the “accuse” part so hard we practically miss the “excuse” part. And in general the larger Christian discussion we all know too well is always the lament of a lack of the law accusing the conscience (true as it is), there’s also that second part, the excusing. It’s either one or the other or both but never neither.

    Or as we say in the south, “if it had been a snake it would have bit me”.

  • Louis

    Not to upset the apple cart but:

    I’m not a Luther expert. However, I am not convinced that the way we use the term “Reason” is the same way that Luther used it. I don’t have a reference handy, but to me it seems that Luther uses it in a way that could be described as a mixture of the words reason , emotion, need… something like that. As in “I feel I need to earn my salvation”. It seems that when Luther uses the word reason, it encorporates the sense/meaning imparted by the word “feel” in the above sentence.

    Comments?

  • Louis

    Not to upset the apple cart but:

    I’m not a Luther expert. However, I am not convinced that the way we use the term “Reason” is the same way that Luther used it. I don’t have a reference handy, but to me it seems that Luther uses it in a way that could be described as a mixture of the words reason , emotion, need… something like that. As in “I feel I need to earn my salvation”. It seems that when Luther uses the word reason, it encorporates the sense/meaning imparted by the word “feel” in the above sentence.

    Comments?


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