Happy Reformation Day [Insane Guilt]

If chapter four of the Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul was about how God’s holiness unsettles people, then this chapter explored that theme through the lens of Martin Luther’s life. I enjoyed Sproul’s retelling of key moments in the life of Martin Luther exploring the events and personality that shaped the man who sparked the Protestant Reformation. If you are looking for a good intro to Luther this chapter is excellent. I am a church history buff and have added a new book – Here I Stand – to my ever growing Wish List too.

The thing that struck me (maybe because I can relate to some degree) was Luther’s obsession with his guilt resulting in his compulsions to go to confessions daily often for hours to be cleansed. He seemed to struggle mightily with trying to figure out how to be right before a Holy God. What brought him to a point where he could barely function…

Luther examined the Great Commandment, ” `Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, `Love your neighbor as yourself”‘ (Luke 10:27). Then he asked himself, “What is the Great Transgression?” Some answer this question by saying that the great sin is murder, adultery, blasphemy, or unbelief. Luther disagreed. He concluded that if the Great Commandment was to love God with all the heart, then the Great Transgression was to fail to love God with all the heart. He saw a balance between great obligations and great sins.

Sproul describes most people when they realize the great demands of a Holy God:

The test is too great, too demanding; it is not fair. God will have to judge us all on a curve.  … Lesser minds went merrily along their way, enjoying the bliss of ignorance. They were satisfied to think that God  compromise his own excellence and let them into heaven.


Luther didn’t see it that way. He realized that if God graded on a curve, He would have to compromise His own holiness. To count on God doing so is supreme arrogance and supreme foolishness as well. God does not lower His own standards to accommodate us. He remains altogether holy, altogether righteous, and altogether just.

This chapter brought home the fact that we really have a poor idea of what holiness is whereas Luther really understood this concept and it impacted his life mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Sproul quotes from Bainton’s Here I Stand  the following passage where Luther describes the insane guilt and how the truth set him free:

I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “the justice of God,” because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the “justice of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate of heaven….

I have seen this or portions of this quotation before and wondered from which of Luther’s works was it taken. I figured a quick Internet search would clear this up and I could then read the quote in context along with the rest of the work. While I found many hits that includes portions of this quotation it took awhile before I finally found the work of Luther from which this was taken. It appears in the Preface to The Complete Edition of Luther’s Latin Works, which was published in 1545. However even this link is only an excerpt from the preface.

Since Romans 1:17 was such a crucial passage in Luther’s understanding the gospel and coming to Jesus I wanted to let readers know of a series that was done recently  last year where scholars explore how to translate that passage.

[originally posted on blogger on November 11, 2010]

Undesigned Coincidences: Feeding the 5000

What are undesigned coincidences?

An undesigned coincidence occurs when one account of an event leaves out a bit of information that doesn’t affect the overall picture, but a different account indirectly supplies the missing detail, usually answering some natural question raised by the first.

Ronald Knox wrote ‘Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes’ in which he satirically recorded his study of the stories about the famous detective. In this piece, treating the stories as if they are real, he examines whether the stories were all written by Dr. Watson (vs. a deutero-Watson) and whether they are all genuine.

If there is anything pleasant in criticism, it is finding out what we aren’t meant to find out.  It is the method by which we treat as significant what the author did not mean to be significant, by which we single out as essential what the author regarded as incidental.  …

There is, however, a special fascination in applying this method to Sherlock Holmes, because it is, in a sense, Holmes’s own method.  ‘It has long been an axiom of mine,’ he says, ‘that the little things are infinitely the most important.’

He uses methods similar to the undesigned coincidences (even mentioning them) and ends up deciding that Watson wrote them all, but fabricated some of the stories later in life based on the various inconsistencies in “the little things”.

As to actual inconsistencies.  In the mystery of the ‘Solitary Cyclist’ a marriage is performed with no one present except the happy couple and the officiating clergyman.  In the ‘Scandal in Bohemia’ Holmes, disguised as a loafer, is deliberately called in to give away an unknown bride on the ground that the marriage will not be valid without a witness.  In the ‘Final Problem’, the police secure ‘the whole gang with the exception of Moriarty.’  In the ‘Story of the Empty House’ we hear that they failed to incriminate Colonel Moran.  Professor Moriarty, in the Return is called Professor James Moriarty whereas [we] know from the ‘Final Problem’ that James was really the name of his military brother, who survived him.

Doyle responded to Knox’s study with the following:

I cannot help writing to you to tell you of the amusement- and also the amazement- with which I read your article on Sherlock Holmes. That anyone should spend such pains on such material was what surprised me. Certainly you know a great deal more about it than I do, for the stories have been written in a disconnected (and careless) way without referring back to what had gone before. I am only pleased that you have not found more discrepancies, especially as to dates. Of course, as you seem to have observed, Holmes changed entirely as the stories went on.

This video explores the work of Dr. Tim McGrew  who does a similar study. He explores how each gospel author records otherwise insignificant facts in their account of the feeding of the 5000 that when taken together, unlike in the Holmes study, end up providing good evidence that the gospels contain accurate accounts of the event.

In a comment on a blog post, Dr. McGrew says:

The undesigned coincidences among the gospels provide a cumulative case that at numerous points the authors of the gospels were faithfully and independently reporting actual events rather than merely copying one another or engaging in mythic elaborations.

In the same post he writes:

the interesting thing about this argument is that it is completely independent of the ordering of the synoptics. It matters not one whit whether you take the position of Streeter or of Griesbach or of Wenham or of Lindsey and Bivin. The undesigned coincidences provide evidence for the authenticity of these documents and the veracity of their contents no matter who came first.

You know my methods, Watson: apply them. McGrew certainly applies them here.

Mouw, Mohler, and Mormonism (or is the gospel polytheistic)

It all started at the Value Voter Summit when Rev. Robert Jeffress, a senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas, called Mormonism a cult.

Since then two seminary presidents have weighed in on this. Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary and Dr. Al Mohler Jr, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  In reading through these responses and engaging in discussion over at the Jesus Creed blog here and here I see that three distinct questions that have been raised. The first is are Mormons Christians, the second is are there individuals who profess to be Mormons who are Christians, and lastly should evangelicals support a Mormon candidate for President.

While this issue has been raised primarily in the context of the 2012 GOP Presidential Primary, I don’t want to focus on that particular aspect. I will simply say that I agree with both Mouw and Mohler that each voter must evaluate the candidates and take responsibility for their own vote.

Mitt Romney deserves what every politician running for office deserves: a careful examination of his views on policy and his philosophy of government. – Mouw

The stewardship of our vote demands that we support those candidates who most clearly and consistently share our worldview and combine these commitments with the competence to serve both faithfully and well.  – Mohler

Enough said there.

Here is Richard Mouw’s answer to the question: Are Mormons Christians?

So are Mormons Christians? For me, that’s a complicated question.

My Mormon friends and I disagree on enough subjects that I am not prepared to say that their theology falls within the scope of historic Christian teaching. But the important thing is that we continue to talk about these things, and with increasing candor and mutual openness to correction.

And here is Dr. Mohler’s answer to the same question:

Is Mormonism just a distinctive denomination of Christianity? The answer to that question is definitive. Mormonism does not claim to be just another denomination of Christianity. … It is neither slander nor condescension to state clearly that Mormonism is not Christianity. Taking Mormonism on its own terms, one finds a comprehensive set of teachings and doctrines that are self-consciously set against historic Christianity.

Is this an issue of generous orthodoxy vs. stingy orthodoxy? Is this issue so complex that a seminary president can’t determine whether Mormon teaching falls within the scope of historic Christian teaching?

I admit I don’t know all that the Mormon/LDS church claims to believe or reject. However, I do know that Mormon teaching is unequivocally polytheistic. Don’t take my word for it, let’s see what Joseph Smith had to say on this issue. In a sermon entitled “Plurality of Gods”:

I will preach on the plurality of Gods. I have selected this text for that express purpose. I wish to declare I have always and in all congregations when I have preached on the subject of the Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods. It has been preached by the Elders for fifteen years. I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods. If this is in accordance with the New Testament, lo and behold! we have three Gods anyhow, and they are plural: and who can contradict it!

…  Many men say there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are only one God! I say that is a strange God anyhow—three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization.

and in the King Follet Sermon found in two parts here and here:

In the beginning, the head of the Gods called a council of the Gods; and they came together and concocted [prepared] a plan to create the world and people it. When we begin to learn this way, we begin to learn the only true God, and what kind of a being we have got to worship.

and that God was not always god but a man who was exalted and became so:

In order to understand the subject of the dead, for consolation of those who mourn for the loss of their friends, it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how He came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see.

If Mormonism teaches polytheism and that God was not always God, then the question becomes – has Christianity ever taught these things?

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:2-3)

Hear, O Israel:The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (Deut 6:4)

Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. (Isaiah 43:10 b)

Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel andhis Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. (Isaiah 44:6)

I am the LORD, and there is no other,  besides me there is no God; (Isaiah 45:5 a)

And this is eternal life,that they know youthe onlytrue God, andJesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

I can applaud Mouw for dialoging with individuals and for separating Romney the Mormon from Romney the candidate. But he has failed in his role as a leader of an evangelical seminary to not make it clear that the tenets of Mormonism are well beyond the boundaries of historic Christian teaching (orthodoxy). No matter how “generous” one wants to be there is nothing that would support the claim that polytheism was ever considered orthodox. I applaud Mohler for coming out and explaining that there is a difference.

The last question raised is can an individual claiming to be Mormon and worshiping in the Mormon church be a genuine follower of Jesus? The heart of that question goes beyond Mormonism.

Is the gospel polytheistic?

This is a different question then is Mormonism within the scope of historic Christian teaching. This question touches on what does it mean to have saving faith? What must we actually be placing our trust in?

Some in the Jesus Creed discussion were uncomfortable with monotheism being  a key doctrine or “requirement” to saving faith. Interestingly some attenders in a Sunday school class I taught recently were as well. In that class we were reviewing ideas on orthodoxy and discussing what the basics of the gospel entailed.

One objection to monotheism being part of the gospel is that God is too hard too understand and He wouldn’t make it that difficult for people to be saved. There is much truth in part of this statement. Finite and fallen beings cannot fully grasp God, for we still see as in a mirror and dimly. However, that does not mean that nothing about God can be comprehended. One God, eternal and without cause who created all things is something we can understand. This is a major theme of the Bible and all other truths flow from this one truth – there is only one God. Consider what God told Moses when He gave the Law:

12 Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. 13You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim 14(for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), 15 lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, 16and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods. (Exodus 34:12-16 ESV)

The problem the inhabitants of the land had was that they were without God in the world. They had gods but they did not have the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The only true God. The command – “you shall worship no other god” is just as true now as it was then (Eph 2:11-16).

Another objection is that we are adding something to the gospel. Isn’t the gospel only about trusting in Jesus – His death, burial, and resurrection? The gospel message is that spiritually lost people are being reconciled to God and provided an entrance into the kingdom of God.  The Gentiles and the Jews are both reconciled to God through the cross of Jesus (Rom 5:10-11; Eph 2:11-16). But if reconciliation with God and becoming part of His kingdom is the good news – then should we also know what God we are being reconciled too – not just how or through Whom?

Didn’t Jesus say:

Truly, truly, I say to you,whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24 ESV) emphasis added

Doesn’t Paul teach that those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of Jesus are those that will face eternal destruction (2 Thes 1:5-12)? Can you have faith in Jesus and believe what ever you want about the one who sent Him? Can one really say they know God and are trusting the promises of God when they reject such clear testimony that He is One and there is no other?

Does a proper response to the gospel (saving faith) require monotheism? What do you think?