Would proof of God eliminate Christianity?

Joe Carter takes on an intriguing argument:

Would evidence for God mean the end of atheism and Christianity? Yes, says Matt J. Rossano, a professor and department head of psychology at Southeastern Louisiana University. In a peculiar article at The Huffington Post, Rossano argues that scientific evidence for the existence of God is fatal to both the faith of the atheist and the believer.

via Would Evidence for God Mean the End of Atheism and Christianity? » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

Rossano reasons that indisputable proof of God would violate free will, which is necessary to Christianity.  Joe shows, on behalf of Reformation theologians everywhere, that this notion of free will is NOT essential to Christianity.  Rossano would do better to argue that scientific certainty would eliminate faith, which IS essential to Christianity.

Joe does anticipate that line of thought.  He argues that faith is NOT believing without evidence, that, in fact, there is an abundance of evidence for God’s existence.  It is true that for Christians and even non-Christians in the past, the question of God’s existence was not even an issue. Even doubt was not about whether God exists, but whether God is gracious to me and whether I can trust Him to keep His promises.

But given that faith is not just “belief in whether something exists,” does faith still require the hiddenness of God (to use a Reformation concept)?  Would knowing God as we know other scientifically verified facts involve walking by sight and not by faith?  If faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen, that would connote a kind of certainty, but would faith be undermined if everything were seen?

The Huguenot Cross

I learned that in France, Protestants–particularly Protestant women–can be identified by their wearing the Huguenot Cross. The Huguenots (the origins of the name are uncertain) were French followers of the Reformation. Sometimes they thrived, but other times they endured horrible persecution. In the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (August 24-October 3, 1572), as many as 25,000 were slaughtered. At any rate, this legacy has given them a certain defiant attitude. In Strasbourg, which has a strong Protestant heritage to this day, both Reformed and Lutheran, I noticed waitresses in cafes and others wearing this cross:

Huguenot Cross

As it was explained to me, the cross is Trinitarian.  The circle represents the Father; the cross represents the Son; and the dove is the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son.  It exists in different versions, with the French fleur de lis, as here, hearts, etc.  The cross itself is a Maltese Cross, which is the sign of the order of the Hospitillers, the Knights of Malta written about by Bo Giertz in the novel “The Knights of Rhodes” translated by our Bror Erickson.  (He’s got a new edition coming out!  More on that later!)  The reason is that the original patron of the Hugeuenots, King Henry IV, had a connection to that order.  I was told that it points to not just the crusading of that order but of their opening hospitals, and so it symbolizes works of mercy.  Actual Huguenots followed the theology of their fellow Frenchman Jean Calvin, but I saw Lutherans also wearing this cross.

At any rate, it’s a cool piece of jewelry.  I got my wife one.

Martin Luther’s Body

I was browsing through the library, when imagine my surprise when I saw the latest issue of the American Historical Review with a big picture of Luther and Melanchthon on the cover.  The lead article is entitled “Martin Luther’s Body,” focusing on how fat he was (contrasting to the skinniness of the medieval saints) and on how his language, thinking, acting, and theology were all so physical.

The article is alternatively humorous (as when the author discusses and defends Luther’s scatalogical language), absurd (discussing the social construction of the body), and insightful (relating Luther’s physicality to that of Lutheran spirituality, with its insistence–against both Catholicism and other Protestantism–that Christ’s presence in the Sacrament is physical and in physical bread).  She also notes Lutheranism’s embrace of the physical realm, in its relatively positive views of sex, food and drink, the body, and earthly life (what we would call “vocation”).  The thing is, the scholar seems to get Luther and Lutheranism!

Like most scholarly journals, this one is only available online with a subscription, but here is a description from the journal’s press release:

Lyndal Roper takes a fresh look at Martin Luther in the April 2010 issue of the American Historical Review, focusing on the way depictions emphasizing Luther's “monumentality” and his own relationship to his body informed the theology of Lutheranism.

“This was a man whose body was fundamental to his personality,” writes Roper, a fellow and tutor in history at Balliol College, University of Oxford. Unlike saints and other pious figures, whose thinness illustrated their aversion or indifference to the temptations of the flesh, Luther’s stoutness was an unmistakable feature of his iconographic representations, she notes. . . .

In “Martin Luther’s Body: The ‘Stout Doctor’ and His Biographers,” Roper explores the way Luther constantly referred to the body — and specifically his body — in his writings and pronouncements, especially in the famous Table Talk.

Rather than seeing his preoccupation with the body as a character defect or neurosis, she proposes that Luther “offered a religious worldview that did not separate soul and body but incorporated a robust, redoubtable, and often mucky physicality.” Luther’s physicality — “his bulk, his digestion, his anality” — was intrinsic to his theology, including his views of the devil, she writes. Portraits of “the stout doctor” during and shortly after his life helped establish the emerging identity of Lutheranism.

via AHR for April: Luther’s body, suicide in Africa, the state in South Asia: IU News Room: Indiana University.

The Spirit of Antichrist

The Swedish dissident pastor Fredrik Sidenvall’s paper on “Confessing the Faith in an Anti-Christian Culture,” which was delivered on his behalf at the recent Congress on the Lutheran Confessions in Minneapolis offered a fascinating Biblical and Confessional study of what is meant by “Antichrist.”

In Lutheran usage, it is not some political figure who seizes power before the last days, such as End Times enthusiasts are always trying to identify. Though the last days will indeed involve the reign of an antichrist, there are actually many of them throughout history, as the Epistle of John indicates, and they arise WITHIN the Church.

They also have different marks. An antichrist will be a “man of lawlessness”; he will be a “destroyer of truth”; and he will offer a “new gospel.”

With these criteria and others, the Reformation identified the papacy as antichrist. Sidenvall argues that today, those who best fit those criteria are LIBERAL THEOLOGIANS.

I would add that St. John says that the antichrist will deny that Jesus has come in the flesh. To my knowledge, popes have not done that. But liberal theologians–the neo-gnostics, those who distinguish between the “Christ event” and the historical Jesus, and the rationalists who reject the Incarnation–do make that very denial.

God’s alien work and His proper work

In our Sunday morning Bible class, we are studying Luther’s Commentary on Genesis. That work is an example of Luther at his best. His expositions of Scripture are stunning in their depth and insight. And here we find explanations of some of his key theological ideas, including the three estates (household, church, and state) and his doctrine of vocation.

Sunday we learned about God’s blessing of Noah after the flood and this distinction: God’s “proper work,” because it best expresses His nature, is to give life, grace, and love. He does indeed punish sin, but this is his “alien” work.

This distinction, related to that between Law and Gospel, is a recurring theme in Luther’s theology. He refers to this text from Isaiah:

For the Lord will rise up as on Mount Perazim; as in the Valley of Gibeon he will be roused; to do his deed–strange is his deed! and to work his work–alien is his work! (Isaiah 28:21)

From The Heidelberg Disputation:

And that it is which Isa. 28:21 calls the »alien work« of God »that he may do his work« (that is, he humbles us thoroughly, making us despair, so that he may exalt us in his mercy, giving us hope).

I think it’s important to realize this about God–something probably only knowable through His revelation in the Incarnate Son–that His deepest nature is life-giving, expressed in the Gospel, and that His wrath, while very real, being a function of His holiness, is somehow alien to His nature, though something He uses to bring us to Himself. I think some people have the opposite idea, that God is intrinsically wrathful, though He makes exceptions to some.

What evangelicals need from Lutheranism (and vice versa?)

The late Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, who just passed away, was ecstatic about the new resources for theology and spirituality recently published by Concordia Publishing House: the Concordia (the reader’s edition of the Book of Concord), the Treasure of Daily Prayer, and now the Lutheran Study Bible. In the course of his rave review of the latter, he expressed his frustration with Lutheranism, which tends to keep to itself even though its emphases are exactly what the broader Christian and evangelical world needs right now. From Some Thoughts on Lutheranism and Evangelicalism + A Brief Review of the Lutheran Study Bible :

Which goes to the heart of a growing frustration I have Lutheranism: With the dominance of the reformed camp in the Christian blogosphere and much of conservative evangelicalism public voice, there has never been a time the Gospel-centric, church-formed-around-the-Gospel/Sacraments, focused, classical, catholic, reformational, law and Gospel voice of Lutheranism was needed more.

The imbalances of the current versions of resurgent Calvinism are more and more obvious all the time. The beating heart of our life and message is Jesus and justification, not sovereignty and election. It is the free offer to all, not the efficient offer to the elect, that needs to be clearly heard now. It is all of scripture as law and Gospel that needs to be filling the church. Reformed Baptists are ascending at just the time that Lutheranism’s view of the Christian life is most needed. If you do not know the difference, then make that a project.

How many Calvinists cite Bondage of the Will as virtually a Calvinist text, having no idea that Luther rejected the rest of the TULIP?

Lutheranism is attracting more and more evangelical converts who do not struggle with issues of Lutheran ethnic identity or denominational purity. (If I hear one more prideful Lutheran denominationalist say they alone have “the pure Gospel,” I’m going to break things.) When an evangelical hears Rod Rosenbladt or Craig Parton or the God Whisperers they realize they are hearing something substantial, but those same evangelicals are by and large convinced that the “Lutheran” label means an insurmountable accumulation of the very things most evangelicals want to avoid or leave behind.

I am not talking about evangelicals who want Lutherans to go ablaze with megachurch tactics. No, I am talking evangelicals who…
1) Need and want to be taught the significance of liturgy.
2) Are not attracted to denominationalism as a primary label. (Secondary is another matter.) Show me your Nicene Creed first please.
3) Want their attraction to the eucharist to be met with an affirmation of their own Christian profession, not a denouncement of their evangelical journey and ignorance. In other words, while someone is on the way, be kind.
4) Want to have worship with intentional depth and seriousness in worship, not just something old and familiar to the regular residents. They like what they see, maybe more than some Lutherans (and Anglicans, etc) like it themselves.
5) Want leaders committed to missional outreach and evangelical, Gospel-centered ecumenism. Evangelicals aren’t attracted to your tradition to become less interested in evangelism and missions.

So whether you are talking about incredibly useful books or the entire tradition, there is a point at which Lutherans have to say, “We want to get this out to evangelicals. We want to build the bridge. We want to say we have something worthy reading and looking into…and we are willing to go the extra mile to get it to you.”

His praise is tempered by his frustration, and I think he has a point. (As Paul McCain says in his response at Cyberbrethren, it isn’t that CPH doesn’t reach beyond the Lutheran market.) Lutherans often tend to condemn those with different theologies before reaching out to them.

I’ve got to hand it our Calvinist brethren. The Calvinist influence in evangelicalism far exceeds the number of actual confessional Calvinists. Lutheran theology would seem to resolve a number of issues that evangelicals are strugging with: how you can believe salvation is by grace alone while also insisting that Christ died for all; how to resolve the conflict between Christianity and culture; how to affirm the heritage of catholic Christianity while also affirming the best of Protestantism; etc., etc.

It is true that the Lutheran understanding of fellowship keeps us from ecumenical ventures and the sharing of the Sacrament with those with whom we are not in full doctrinal agreement. But Lutherans can still interact with and share ideas with non-Lutherans more than we do, don’t you think?

I try to do that, and this blog has been a good forum for some profitable exchanges with people from a wide variety of confessions and no-confessions. At any rate, Matthew Harrison–who just received the highest number of nominations for the presidency of the LCMS–has been saying that, if we only knew it, this is the Lutheran moment. Thanks to Michael Spencer of blessed memory for showing how this is true.


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