Monday, February 27, 2006

Free Market, Pro-Growth, and Pro-Business: These Aren't the Same Thing

One thing that the Crunchy Con debate has reminded me is that supporting a completely free market and supporting economic growth are not the same thing, and neither is the same as being pro-business. They're related, sure, but not the same.

Rod Dreher's Crunchy Con manifesto has the following article:

"3. We affirm the superiority of the free market as an economic organizing principle, but believe the economy must be made to serve humanity's best interests, not the other way around. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government."

Now reviews I've seen have taken this as a mere concession to the "free-market Right", what you've got to say to remain still a conservative. But I don't think that's necessarily the case, and that's clear if you go back in American history to look at the conflict between the Jeffersonians (and their belligerent half-brothers the Jacksonians) and the which of the party of Hamilton and Lincoln.

Which one of these was the party of big business? The Whigs, most definitely. Which one was the party of the free-market, no deficits, and keeping government out of the economy? The Jeffersonians, actually. The Whig program was based on the idea that in order to get growth, and the kind of mobile, thriving, commercial, urban society that was their ideal, one needed the government to prime the pump, by building canals and railways, by chartering a national bank, by giving away federal land to homesteaders and corporations on favorable terms, and using federal power, and federal courts, to kick the doors open that localities might want to keep closed.

As Allen Guelzo's brilliant biography shows (excerpt here), Lincoln himself was a corporate lawyer, whose main business was forcing railroads on unwilling towns: the sort of lawyer who today files suit to bully city councils into dropping their ordinances against Walmart. He had grown up in southern Indiana on the farm of a real crunchy con, a Hard-Shell Baptist who deployed his family as farm hands to grow everything he needed at home and barely participated in the cash economy. When Lincoln later came face to face with slavery, he thought it looked familiar: bondage, without any process of betterment or freedom from a hard-fisted patriarchal tyrant. The battle against black slavery for him was one with the battle to open up isolated towns and hamlets to the progress brought by industry and commerce, and both should be supported by the government. To him, banks -- the prime thing philosophical Jeffersonians and rabid Jacksonians were alike in hating -- were good, not bad, or at least as good as any other human instrument of progress.

And the Rooseveltian progressives shared that love of the national market as part of progress. Unlike Lincoln and the Whigs, however, they didn't and don't like the idea of the government giving advantages to business and then letting the businesses reap the profits. No, the government should take a big share of the direction, investment, and the profits that accrue from growth. Build roads and canals and railways and dams? The Whigs and the Rooseveltian progressives say, yeah! But they differ on how to fund and control them.

Today, American business is much more developed. Tariffs -- long the speciality of the Whig-Republican program -- are no longer needed to keep out foreign goods, since capital is global. In many spheres, America's highly competitive businesses just want to be let alone. So the Whigs in the Republican party today find free-market, laissez-faire rhetoric to be mostly in their interest. But make no doubt about it: the country's Chambers of Commerce are not interested in free-market principles or small government, they are interested first and foremost in growth. If anyone is interested in small government as a principle, it's the Jeffersonians.

In southern Indiana we have a prime illustration of this: the long-planned highway I-69. Originally I-69 had the support of Indiana's business and labor communities, in other words, the Whigs and the Rooseveltians. The labor-supported Democratic governor Frank O'Bannon was a big supporter, as were the rock-ribbed Republican mayors and city councils in towns like Evansville and Martinsville. Only the Bloomington City Council, solidly in anti-growth Social Democrat hands, was negative. Yet everywhere a scattering of local conservatives were worried both about the massive spending needed and the tearing up of more agricultural land and the use of eminent domain to take over rural homesteads and farms: classic Jeffersonian concerns. The Christian conservative Eric Miller opposed I-69 for exactly these reasons.

But he was defeated in the primary in 2004 by "My Man" Mitch Daniels, fresh from the Bush cabinet and a classic Whig or "mainstream conservative." Now in office, he has reached back into the old Hamiltonian-Lincolnian bag of tricks and come up with his "Major Moves" plan: leasing the already existing northern branch of I-69 to Spanish-Australian consortium, in exchange for $3.85 billion to fund road construction, including the southern branch of I-69. It's a classic Whig public-private deal to generate growth and profits, supported by all the usual Whig suspects: the realtors, the chambers of commerce, and of course the Republican legislators. But the idea of leasing the road (along with the need to oppose the Republican governor -- partisanship operates independently of ideology) has thrown the Rooseveltian big-government progressives in the unions (with the exception of the always pragmatic Teamsters) and the Democratic party back into alliance with the Social Democratic anti-growthers and the scattered Jeffersonian agrarian conservatives. The Democrats all voted against the "Major Moves," but Mitch Daniels' Whig Republicans had the votes and pushed it through on a party line vote.

Who was "free market" in all this? If "free market" means the government seeing it as a matter of indifference whether new roads get built or not and whether the economy grows or not, then it was the opponents of I-69 who were the real free marketeers. Who were the "conservatives" in this? It depends on how you define it. I think we can agree that the Bloomington city council's plan of following Richard Florida's ideas to replace industrial jobs with creative singles, gay-friendly businesses, and bohemian progressives who are attracted to a hip college-town environment is not conservative. But this unconservative program is the only one that has a fighting chance to get Wendell Barry-style Jeffersonians the anti-growth policies they need to survive.

When it comes to Jefferson vs. Hamilton, both are so in-bred into the American genome, that saying this or that is "really" conservative is pointless. I-69 is an example of the kind of debate that Americans have been engaged in right from the beginning.

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Crunchy Con Debate Translated into Americanese

A sad result of Americans' intellectual dependency on Europe is that we don't really understand ourselves. In school we learn about terms and ideas like socialism, communism, fascism, monarchy, aristocracy -- all concepts that have little or no relevance to American life. In college smart students study Aquinas, Aristotle, Hobbes, and Rousseau: again all thinkers who have very little relevance to how American life works. I think I see this dynamic at work in the Crunchy Con debate where irrelevant lecture room terms and doctrines like "Catholic social teaching," "traditionalism," "nominalism," "communitarianism," "libertarianism," etc., get thrown around as if they have some connection to American life. Like Eastern Orthodox theologians thinking in Western, Latin categories, we are most of us victims of pseudomorphosis (false categories), trying to argue out positions and experiences shaped by our everyday experience in categories alien to us.

Kudos then to Caleb Stegall, who finally cites a writer (Bill Kaufmann) with a sense of the American background of his thought.

I am an American patriot. A Jeffersonian decentralist. A fanatical localist. And I am an anarchist. Not a sallow garret-rat translating Proudhon by pirated kilowatt, nor a militiaman catechized by the Classic Comics version of The Turner Diaries; rather, I am the love child of Henry Thoreau and Dorothy Day, conceived amidst the asters and goldenrod of an Upstate New York autumn.

This is getting us somewhere. It makes a lot of sense to see the Crunchy Con movement as the revival of the old Jeffersonian tradition, going back through the Agrarians and Calhoun, through Jefferson to the Anti-Federalists and the old Revolutionaries of 1776. They are anti-growth and anti-profits, contemptuous of all morals legislation (blue laws, prohibition, drug laws, what have you) and think families can get by just fine without government-style "family policy". And as for Uncle Sam's enemies, foreign and domestic, Jeffersonians tend to feel they often have a point, and think that the feds should go easy on them. This link between Crunchy Cons and Jefferson is deep, and I don't think it's an accident that Rod Dreher's new foreign policy (about which he is hinting) seems to combine rhetorical attacks on "Islamofascism" with a distaste for foreign intervention or military buildup. Jefferson's own foreign policy was similar, verbally and diplomatically attacking the crowned heads of Europe, while eschewing any military activity. It turned out to be a disaster, but that's a different story . . .

So it would also be nice if the Jeffersonianisms would give up their old habit (again going back to Jefferson) of seeing all disagreement with themselves as the result of some recent corruption of money. There is quite another tradition of American thought, that goes back through the current mainstream conservatism through Lincoln to the Whigs, and then Hamilton, Washington, and the Founding Fathers. This stream is and always has been pro-growth and pro-profits. It sees America as composed of nuclear families who are free moral agents; the law should protect them from slavery (literal and figurative, as to drink, drugs, or dissipation) by morals legislation, but not "coddle" them with special tax benefits or payments. Finally, it is nationalistic, always ready to tackle Uncle Sam's foreign and domestic enemies head on in both word and deed. You may not much like this stream, but it is not the result of some recent corporate buyout of Jeffersonian conservatism. The two have been debating this since Jefferson and Hamilton.

Translated this way, we can ask, who are the real conservatives in America? The party of Jefferson or the party of Hamilton and Lincoln?
Of course before we answer that we have to find out who are the liberals.
The old liberals were a peculiarly American form of progressivism: the Rooseveltians (both Teddy and FDR), or roughly "big-government conservatism": pro-growth, but anti-profits, skeptical of morals legislation, but supporting the traditional nuclear family through special tax and pension policies, and quite as nationalistic against all of Uncle Sam's enemies, domestic and foreign, as the Lincolnians.

By 1972, this stream too had been overshadowed by both the resurgence of Hamiltonian-Lincolnian conservatism and the rise of the American subsidiary of the international Social Democratic movement: anti-profit enough to be actually anti-growth; not just skeptical of morals legislation but demanding "immorals" legislation, and using tax and spending policies not to support but to replace the nuclear family, and finally deeply sympathetic with any one burning an American flag. The success of the Roosevelt stream had already alienated many Jeffersonians from their natural home in the Democratic Party, and as the Social Democrats took over the Democrats, Rooseveltians like Zell Miller have been dropping out. But can they stomach the Republican Party, in which the Hamiltonian stream has long been dominant?

It is only opposition to Social Democracy that could get "movement" conservatives (the party of Lincoln), Crunchy Cons (the party of Jefferson), and even "big-government conservatives" (the party of the Roosevelts) coming together in unity -- but is this unity more than just a theoretical possibility?

And if the party of Lincoln remains the biggest component of that alliance (as I don't think anyone looking at the political scene can doubt it does), how many compromises should it make with the Jeffersonians and the Rooseveltians to buy their support?

Or should the party of Jefferson go it alone?

Or even make common cause with the Social Democrats against growth and foreign adventures?

Translated into Americanese, this is what the Crunchy Con debate is about.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Who Cares What's "Really" Conservative?

What is conservatism? Ask this question and you get a hundred different answers. Does conservative politics have anything to do with conservative dressing, or the conservative temperament, or conservative investing? That such questions even have to be asked points up the problems in the word "conservative." Perhaps deliberately, this nineteenth century choice for a term to replace the outmoded "Tory" party label, from the beginning carried with it so many extraneous associations, that everyone can see in it what they personally love and call that "real" conservatism.

I was planning a big post on this issue. I was going to hang it on Jeffrey Hart's widely discussed article in the Wall Street Journal in which he argues that true conservatism means reverence for the beauty of the environment, ritual and metaphysical religion, a willingness to live with the social reality of abortion, a rejection of democracy promotion abroad, and a social base in the well-educated sectors of the populace, especially in the Northeast and university towns. True conservatives, he argues, oppose the Republican party. (A bit counter-intuitive, that.) The other person I was going to hang it on is Edward Feser's response, arguing that Jeffrey Hart's positions merely reflects the philosophical incoherence in American conservatism in general. Following Richard Weaver, he argued that real conservatism must be based in Platonic metaphysics, in the idea that universals are real things existing apart from human thought, not just concepts we invent, or still less mystifications that hide reality. Only by a metaphysical theory of the person, for example, can we assert that abortion is wrong even if society favors it. (Of course Plato himself in his Republic supported the infanticide of unfit children, while envisioning a Sparta-style society with a few androgynous group-marriage guardians ruling by means of state-supported lies. Well, that's a detail, don't let it distract you.) Now we have the Crunchy Cons debate, which is getting me, like Jonah Goldberg, "vexed and perturbed."

But most of what I have to say was already said by Willmoore Kendall in his response to Richard Weaver and Russel Kirk's attempt to define conservatism. In his classic, The Conservative Affirmation in America (find it here), Willmore Kendall pictured an opponent saying to those enthusiastic about Weaver and Kirk:

"Sir, your procedure appears to be the following: you start out from the fact that you feel yourself a Conservative; your Conservatives are merely the people you find saying or writing things in response to which your own heart goes pit-a-pat; your Conservative creed is merely your creed; your Conservatives are, so to speak, a club, in which you admit or blackball members according as they can or cannot reproduce your pronunciation of 'shibboleth.'" (pp. xxiii-xxiv).

By contrast Willmoore Kendall approached "What is a Conservative" as an observer of facts:

I begin my search for Conservatives where my greatest teachers have taught me a political inquiry ought to begin, namely down in the political marketplace -- where Americans are disputing the issues that they deem decisive as regards the future character and destiny of our political society. My Conservatives are, I like to think, "given" to me by the realities of American politics; my own agreement or disagreement with them is not in point. If I do happen to agree with them, that is because of a choice I have made among alternatives that I am not myself in a position to affect. To put it otherwise, I assume in this book that rightful ownership of the label "Conservative" has been, and will continue to be, decided in another place and independently of any mere book writer's personal preferences (and -- dare I add? -- idiosyncrasies and unbought graces of life). In a pinch, indeed, I'll just give up on the word "Conservative," and say to some of my friends, "You can have it to fight over as you like." But the realities of American politics will remain just what they were before that gesture of humility and renunciation on my part. . . .

My Conservatives are men who have taken a
stand, on issues that are a) important and b) relevant -- that is "up." Indeed, not the least of my quarrels with those other books I have in mind is that they are so preoccupied with what writing-men have written that they overlook, or give wide berth to, the issues that are "up" -- are in the process of actually being decided in a way that will affect events -- and tacitly suggest that Conservatism does or conceivably could do otherwise. (p. xxiv)
. . .

in any given time and place Conservatives are those who are defending an established order against those who seek to undermine or transform it. . .

I make no sense, that is to say, of calling "Conservative" the man who takes a dim view of his country's established institutions, feels something less than at home with its way of life as it actually lives it, finds it difficult to identify himself with the political and moral principles on which it has acted through its history, dislikes or views with contempt the generality of the kind of people his society produces, and -- above all perhaps -- dissociates himself from its founders, or at least holds them at arms' length. Such a man may be the better or nobler or wiser for all this dim-viewing and the yearning-away-from; he may be right as rain. But I fail to see where you can get by calling him a Conservative (or where he gets by calling himself one)
(p. xxv).

Sometimes Willmoore Kendall didn't take his own advice ("dim-viewing" and "yearning-away-from" the rather settled results of Civil War, for example), but the principle remains, to my mind, right as rain.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Real Wers Don't Eat Quiche!

As the proud inventor of "Augsburg Evangelical," I've been thinking of the terminological problem of "man" "woman" etc. As Josh points out here, modern day English is simply has only two words "man" and "woman" for a singular H. sapiens, but no sex-neutral word. Latin and Greek and German have three, but English (and French) have only two. This is a problem

Now, if you own an American Heritage Dictionary, in the classic 1980 edition edited by William Morris with the Indo-European roots appendix by Calvert Watkins (accept no substitutes!), you will know that ancestral Indo-European (back around 4,000 BC in Ukraine-S. Russia) had in fact three terms: *wiros (for male H. sapiens), *gwena (for female H. sapiens), and *manu (H. sapiens in general). (The asterisk indicates reconstructed forms.)

Now *manu is the ancestor of modern-day man. Thus the original meaning of "man" is not "male," but "human." Let's hold on to that. Barbarisms like "humankind" (taking Latin human and attaching to it Germanic kind) must be resisted. Not only that, but, for example, by making "man" to be "male," but leaving "and was made man" in the Creed, we subtly alter the actual emphasis which is not male as a opposed to female, but human as opposed to God. So we have a problem.

*Gwena (which is the origin of English queen and Greek gyne) was eventually replaced by "woman" (female H. sapiens).

What about male H. sapiens? Well, *wiros (from which comes Latin vir and hence "virile," etc.) did have a cognate in Old English, a word we find used in the modern compounds "werewolf" (man-wolf) and "wergild" (man-gold, i.e. payment for killing a man).

I therefore propose that for male H. sapiens we revive the term "wer" (rhymes with "hair"). So man means human as opposed to animal, but wer would mean male as opposed to female. So for example, "manhood" would be "werhood," "manly" would be "werly," etc. The "Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood" would be renamed the "Council on Biblical Werhood and Womanhood." We could say the Bayly brothers lay great stress on the werliness of the Gospel.

Wherever the Bible was specifies a male H. sapiens we would use wer. Here's some Biblical passages:

"Now I want you to realize that the head of every wer is Christ, and the head of the woman is wer, and the head of Christ is God. Every wer who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head" (1 Cor 11).

"Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the wers who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us" (Acts 1:21).

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise wer who built his house on the rock" (Mat. 7:24).

And in proverbs and expressions:

Are you wer enough to handle this?

Time to separate the wers from the boys!

Real wers don't eat quiche!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Crunchy Con Anthem

There's a big debate on Rod Dreher's new book Crunchy Cons. Jeremy's reading it and I hope we'll get some choice excerpts. I used to consider myself pretty crunchy in my personal life, but reading some of these accounts I realize I'm a sold-out, gone commercial, corporate zombie (I mean, my kids go to public school and had their full set of vaccinations, for crying out loud!) Some of the comments in the debate I've found very interesting:

A short footnote (and guys, we need to start keeping these short, as Our Dear KLo instructed us), on the apparent problem of needing $$ to lead a Crunchy life: My suggestion is to search out and buy whatever you can secondhand. It really solves two problems at once — maybe three. First, since there's such a cultural premium on newness rather than quality, you get a steep discount merely for buying something that's not wrapped in plastic. Second, you get a corresponding rise in value; goods are cheaper than at Walmart, yet often nicer in quality. And third, in many cases, your purchase helps a charity (eg, buying furniture at a thrift shop).

That resonated, since pretty much all my pants and shirts come from Opportunity House or the Salvation Army. Then there's this, about the general decline in cooking:

For example, it was hard for me to figure out why my mom never was much for cooking, and why she tended to think that food out of a can or from a restaurant was somehow cleaner and better than food made at home (even though we had our own garden, and for a short while raised chickens). I thought it was just her, but then I came to discover as an adult that many of my friends had the same experience with their moms. Julie, my wife, somehow came across a trove of women’s magazine articles from the 1950s, when our moms grew up, and the propaganda the food industry hit postwar homemakers with was simply incredible. Stories and advertisements taught a whole generation of women to distrust cooking at home, and to have faith in giant food processing companies. Suddenly, things started to make a lot more sense to me. The perfectly good food, and food traditions, of my rural hometown were diminished and devalued.

The promotion of bottle feeding is another example of this I can think of.

But some things draw my suspicion. When people start talking about fourteenth century nominalism as being where we went wrong or new monasticism, I've got the sinking feeling that this is just one more attempt to argue the absurd proposition that Catholicism is essential to a really robust conservatism (more on nominalism here). And as a political movement, I'm kind of ambivalent about whether a new set of hyphenated cons is a good thing.

But in any case, I've always been surprised that this country hit never became a cross-over favorite with the anti-Walmart forces:

Little Man

I remember walk'in round the court square sidewalk
Lookin' in windows at things I couldn't want
There's johnson's hardware and morgans jewelry
And the ol' Lee king's apothecary
They ware the little man
The little man

I go back now and the stores are all empty
Except for an old coke sign from 1950
Boarded up like they never existed
Or renovated and called historic districts
There goes the little man
There goes the little man

Now the court square's just a set of streets
That the people go round but they seldom think
Bout the little man that built this town
Before the big money shut em down
And killed the little man
Oh the little man

He pumped your gas and he cleaned your glass
And one cold rainy night he fixed your flat
The new stores came where you do it yourself
You buy a lotto ticket and food off the shelf
Forget about the little man
Forget about that little man

He hung on there for a few more years
But he couldn't sell slurpees
And he wouldn't sell beer
Now the bank rents the station
To a down the road
And sell velvet Elvis and
Second-hand clothes
There goes little man
There goes another little man

Now the are lined up in a concrete strip
You can buy the world with just one trip
And save a penny cause it's jumbo size
They don't even realize
They'er killin' the little man
Oh the little man

It wasn't long when I was a child
An old black man came with his plow
He broke the ground where we grew our garden
Back before we'd all forgot about the little man
The little man
Long live the little man
God bless the little man

(Scroll down to "Little Man" to listen and watch the video here).


Iraq and the Cartoons

What do Ralph Peters, Hugh Hewitt, Jim Geraghty at TKS, and our own Lutheran blogger Bob Waters have in common? Support for the Iraq war and strong criticism of the Danish newspaper Jyllends-Posten's publication of the Muhammad cartoons? Unlike most of those on the right, they have not given a full throated roar of support for the publication of the cartoons. Likewise they are all on record as saying good things about many moderate Muslims. Is it a coincidence that they have all been staunch in their ongoing support of the war in Iraq? I don't think so.

Jim Geraghty and David Pipes have both noted with alarm that the cartoon controversy seems to have pushed Islamic and Western civilizations closer to a "clash of civilizations." Ironically, it is us supporters of the Iraq war in the West who seem to be the last holdouts for the idea that the West and the Islamic world can find common ground on opposition to terrorism. Other one time supporters of the war seem to have defected either to a "bomb them back to the stone age" mentality, or else dropped out of political solutions entirely and adopted a "evangelism is the only solution" slogan.

It seems paradoxical that supporters of a war in the Middle East are the main people insisting that we can work with Middle Easterners as they are, without necessarily having to convert them to our religion first, it's not. The war in Iraq cannot succeed if Muslims and Arabs by nature can never be allies of Americans and Christians. Of course, paleocons interested in cultural purity might see this as just so much "blowback." America's wars in Asia have played a big role in the "Asianization" of our cultural life (from Zen to karaoke to martial arts) and for those hostile to foreign cultural influences, this is bad news. Foreign adventures have always mixed cultures, and ours won't be an exception

One movie I use in class, "The Cowboy in Mongolia" starts off with Dennis Sheehy going to Vietnam, and then coming back injured, but hoping to find a way to interact with Asia more positively. Eventually he learns Chinese and as a rancher gets a degree in rangeland management, before working in Inner Mongolia with the Mongols there on how to preserve the Inner Mongolian grasslands. Even if America eventually withdraws from Iraq in defeat (which I really doubt, although I expect our victory will be less than fully satisfying), the soldiers there will, I predict, play a significant role in generating an interest in the Arab world that goes beyond simple hostility. Whether that's a good thing or not will continue to be debated.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Pastor Olle Bengtsson on the Clerical Collar

"You really ought to put on your clerical collar when you go out to preach," he said.

Torvik blushed. Was there to be more criticism?

"It's not laziness or indifference. It's a matter of principle."

"That doesn't make it any better. Would you respect an officer who as a matter of principle appeared at maneuvers in mufti? Or a Salvation Army soldier who doffed his uniform when his corps was assembled in the market square?"

Torvik was becoming irritated. "You must certainly understand that I want to come as an ordinary human being." But the rector continued his argument.

"Then you are sailing under false colors. You are no ordinary person. You have been ordained by the Church as a servant of the Word. You have been elected and called by the Christian congregation at Ödesjö to be its pastor. You get support from the fields which godly forbears donated for the pastor's upkeep. It is pure dishonesty to take the money, if you want to be just an ordinary person."

"You are bound to misinterpret everything, Olle. You know very well that I don't want to make myself great through my office. I only want to remind myself and others that what a pastor is comes, not because of his office, but because of what he is in himself."

Bengtsson straightened up and laughed.

"You are the proudest man I ever met, Gösta. What are you in yourself? A sinner. Do you really enter the pulpit because you think it is because of your piety, your faith, and your prayers that you are called to be the leader for the Christians in Ödesjö? Then you might as well stay home. If you expect to continue to preach, you had better do it because you have been appointed by God to do so and have his Word to hold fast to. And that Word remains just as holy a Word, though a poor sinner with many shortcomings proclaims it."

Torvik smiled.

"If I did not know you so well, Olle, I would conclude that you are just looking for an excuse for laziness and comfort for a pastor's unregenerate heart."

Pastor Bengtsson suddenly became very stern, stern as a father who is rebuking a wayward son.

"Tell me one thing, Gösta. Are you a poor and weak servant, or are you not?"

Now Torvik, too, became serious.

"I am a poor and unworthy servant," he said.

"Then you had better put on your clerical coat, Brother. Do not come any longer as the remarkable Gösta Torvik, but come instead as the humble servant of God's Word at Ödesjö."

Torvik still wanted to contradict. But . . . .

From Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God, pp. 254-55.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Really Awful Defense of Cloning

The New York Times has a "defense" of human cloning which I'd like to think will leave anyone even slightly sympathetic to the pro-life cause gasping in astonishment. The author, Michael Gazzaniga, is the director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Dartmouth and is a member of the President's Council on Bioethics.

He begins on the wrong foot, huffing and puffing that President Bush is trying to mislead the public when he said cloning "an egregious abuse of medical research." Because the President doesn't separate out reproductive cloning from biomedical research cloning the same way Dr. Gazzaniga does, he is somehow trying to the pull the wool over the public's eyes.

Then here comes his big point:

The president's view is consistent with the reductive idea that there is an equivalence between a bunch of molecules in a lab and a beautifully nurtured and loved human who has been shaped by a lifetime of experiences and discovery.

OK, so what if you are not "beautifully nurtured and loved" and you have not been "shaped by a lifetime of experiences and discovery"? Are you expendable? What if you grew up in an orphanage, if nobody loves you, if you've been shaped by deprivation and want -- and what if you're no better than you could expect to be with all of that baggage? Are you expendable?

In his closing peroration, he asks

What is at issue, rather, is how we are to define 'human life.' Look around you. Look at your loved ones. Do you see a hunk of cells or do you see something else?

You know, I'm not worried about the humans who have someone to love them. They'll never be sacrificed on the altar of medical science. I'm worried about the people who don't have someone looking at them with love. What protection do they have? Are they fully human. If it's the "journey" we make in human life, not the "car" (our bodies) that gives us value, what do we do with those whose journey has been painful and short -- I mean, besides making it shorter for the profit of those with "a lifetime of experiences and discovery" under their belt?

It is only to be expected that he also denounces any morally-based limits on medical research as "political games."

And [the pursuit of alternatives to experiments on embryos] represents a perversion of the scientific process: instead of science proceeding in the best way it knows, it is being used in the service of political goals.

Thanks for warning us that anytime any scientist is told "You can't do that type of research because it is morally wrong" that that's unreasonable "political goals."

But it's all worth it for the interesting little bit of information shared in the middle (obviously Dr. Gazzaniga knows he's among friends):

In the scientific community there have obviously been strains. When the sad and pathetic story of the fraud in South Korea came to light, I couldn't help but wonder if the entire process — from the overly ambitious laboratory scientist to the overly eager editors of scientific journals — was compromised by a conscious or unconscious sense that something must keep stem cell research alive in the face of the American administration's unwavering opposition.

There have been whispered accusations in the research world that scientists and editors have become too eager to prove that stem cell research is moving ahead in other countries while America was being left behind. I think such accusations are unfounded, but I do recognize the news of the scandal has probably hurt the stem cell cause.

Yes, that is exactly the case. And your lachrymose self-pity, your clear restriction of human sympathy to the fortunate few whose lives can light up glossy advertising copy -- all that won't help the "stem cell cause" either.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Things I Just Thought I'd Say

I just felt like enunciating certain opinions:

1) I greatly admire C.F.W. Walther as a pastor and theologian.

2) I believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary. When people argue against it, their arguments always seem, well, sort of vulgar, which makes me think they're probably wrong.

3) I have through personal contact and writings known a number of people in Renewal in Missouri and Jesus First whom I greatly respect (haven't yet found any such in Daystar, though)

4) I feel a much greater sense of urgency about unity within our Evangelical confession (LCMS, WELS, ELS, etc.) than about similar unity with those outside our Confession.

5) The doctrinal differences on which the various confessional Lutheran churches separate themselves are both so subtle and so intimately related to the contemporary church's position in the USA that it seems to beggar imagination that one could actually draw a convincing Biblical argument to settle them.

6) Tongues, prophecy and other charismatic gifts were rife in the Apostles' church and the Biblical arguments made for the cessation of these particular spiritual gifts (tongues, prophecy, etc.) are an insult to the intelligence of humanity. (But the Bible never said that every church all the time will have these gifts.)

7) There is no salvation outside the Church, and hence wherever you acknowledges the regular provision of salvation, there you are, whether you like it or not, acknowledging the presence of the Church there.

8) One of the great things about being a confessional Evangelical is that you don't have to care what people in megachurches or "emerging" churches do with their worship services. Confessional evangelicals who do care get the worst of both worlds: denominational when it comes to helping and loving, and ecumenical when it comes to disciplining and attacking.

9) Justification by faith apart from any works of the law, baptismal regeneration, the Real Presence, the Bible as God's infallible word, the bondage to sin of the will of fallen and unregenerate man, the duty of men (as pastors and heads of family) to provide leadership in the church family: these don't seem to me like "doubtful" or "nit-picky" points. But when you affirm them all, all you've got left is confessional Lutheranism.



Saturday, February 11, 2006

Pastor Fridfeldt on Infant Baptism and Faith

Without getting up from his chair, Fridfeldt made reply.

"I am surely betraying no secret when I tell you, my friends, that the conversations we have had hitherto have only brought me closer to the baptism of adults. I have learned to understand those who permit themselves to be re-baptized. This morning I prayed to God in great anguish for direction in this matter. I am convinced that God has answered my prayer."

No one dared breathe. Ahlberg bowed his head in his hand as though he scarcely dared look at the pastor for fear that the tension might be too much for him.

"The answer which I believe I have received from God" continued the pastor [Fridfeldt], "really lies in a question which God forced me to fact this morning through a special providential experience. This question I want to now want to bring to the attention of all of you here."

Everyone, Ahlberg included, looked intently at him.

"Can a little child be saved? And, if so, on what grounds?"

The answer came from many directions. "Yes 'for of such is the kingdom of God.'" "Yes, for Jesus said, 'Suffer the little children to come unto me.'"

"On that, then, we are agreed," said the pastor with a nod. "But on what ground?"

They looked at him questioningly.

"I mean, are children prepared to enter the kingdom of God just as they are, or must they too, be made partakers of the salvation of Christ?"

"They must be saved by Jesus, " said one of the farmers from Sörbygden, "Is it not written, 'That which is born of flesh is flesh, ' and 'Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God?"

"That is, without doubt, what is written," said Fridfeldt, "and without doubt the Scripture means that all mankind from Adam on is under the rule of sin and death. There is none righteous, and all are included under the judgment. But all can be redeemed in Christ. It had not until today occurred to me that this included the children. The sinful corruption about which we were talking a while ago is the natural state also of the children. That was what I was led to see this morning. And I think all of you must have seen the same thing."

"Yes, everyone must surely know that," said a peasant woman from the big woods country. "I have raised nine children. Some were gentler and some more stubborn in disposition, but long before they were able to talk plain, they could show envy, fight, and try grab another's syrup sandwich. That is inborn."

A smile stole through the congregation. Mother Ahlberg opened a window toward the yard. It was very warm.

"Yes, that is inborn," said Fridfeldt. "We carry our corrupt sinful nature with us from the cradle. From life's first day we belong to the race that is under judgment and in need of salvation."

Ahlberg began to detect in what direction the discussion was leading. Thoughtfully, he remarked, "But is it not written that the little children do belong to the kingdom of God?"

"No, the passage states that 'of such' is the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God belongs to the children and the childlike. That is the very opposite. The children needed to come to Jesus to become partakers in the kingdom of God, just as much as publicans and all other sinners. That is why they must not be turned away. Jesus did not say, 'Let them play in peace. They are already blessed.' Instead, he said, 'Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not.' Then he laid his hands upon them and blessed them, and received them into his kingdom."

"But he did not baptize them!"

"Neither did he baptize anyone else. He took people directly into his kingdom. But to his church he has given baptism, that through this gateway we might be brought into the kingdom of God. He has given us no other way of entrance. 'Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.'"

"But children cannot believe," said Ahlberg, whose eagerness was increasing. The others listened in complete silence. "'He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.' Thus faith is necessary for baptism."

"No, not for baptism, but for salvation. Jesus does not in that passage say what is necessary in order to be baptized, but what is necessary in order to be saved. Faith and baptism are two that belong to salvation. Don't you see, Ahlberg, how dreadful it would be if children could not believe? In that case they could not be saved, either."

Fridfeldt was himself startled by this thought, which just now came to him. Was this just juggling with words? But then he remembered Frans, the dying old man, and his grandchild, and he felt there was a deep and edifying connection.

"If may well be that we have drawn wrong conclusions regarding faith," he continued. "Faith does not dwell in the brain or in our thoughts. Faith is not a work which we accomplish; it is not a gift we give to God. Being made righteous by faith does not imply that faith is some kind of payment that will serve as well as our almsgiving and good works. Is it not written that the kingdom of God belongs to those who are poor in spirit? Faith is, then, a poverty of spirit, a hunger and thirst a poor, empty heart opening toward God so that He can put His grace into it. When God bestows His grace upon us, we are born anew and become partakers of the new life."

The farmers from Sörbygden nodded assent. Those who followed the leadership of Ahlberg had a questioning look. Ahlberg himself looked intently at Fridfeldt. It was evident that this was new to him, but also that he was honestly trying to understand it.

"But must not a man nevertheless open his heart himself?" he asked.

"Of course -- if he has himself closed it. But I am wondering if it is not so with the little children, that their hearts are not really closed to God. Why do little children more easily enter the kingdom of God than we grown-ups? Why do we read that unless we received the kingdom as little children we shall not at all enter it? Why do we as adults have to become like little children in order to enter the kingdom? Is it not because a child's heart is open so that God can fill it with his grace, shed his Spirit upon it, and regenerate it? When we grow older it becomes more difficult, for then resistance begins; we are stubborn and evasive and shut up our heart by intentional sins. Not until the heart is open in conversion have we become as little children -- and then we can enter again into the kingdom."

He became silent, utterly surprised at his flow of words. But he had caught a vision, had glimpsed a solution to his search. In order not to lose it, he began to speak again. . . .

From Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God, pp. 182-85.

Why We Shouldn't Attack Iran Over Her Nuclear Program

Since everyone, including Hillary Clinton, is beating the drums for war with Iran, I guess I need to express my thoughts on why this would be a very wrong and bad move. I agree that the Iranian government is seeking nuclear weaponry and unless stopped is likely to built a handful or so of them in the coming decade. My disagreement comes in 1) the assessment of the danger, in 2) the assessment of the situation in Iran, and in 3) the assessment of the legitimacy of the casus belli (justification for war).

1) Assessment of the danger.

The claim that an Iranian nuclear bomb would be an intolerable threat to the US and her allies is plausible, but, I think, not really justified. This claim has two parts: 1) that the current Iranian government, under President Ahmadinejad, is unsusceptible to rational calculations of interest and hence cannot be deterred, and 2) that the delivery of nuclear weaponry by terrorists is an easy way for rogue states to escape responsibility and use nuclear weapons without being subject to retaliation.

Ahmadinejad's statements about the Holocaust and envisioning a world without Isreal or America certainly sound "nutty" to us, but in fact are not "nutty" at all. Acute observers have made pointed out that Iran feels under pressure from al-Qaeda to maintain its reputation for extremism and rejectionism, part of its claim for leadership of the Islamic world. Amir Taheri has pointed out that stoking the Danish cartoon controversy was very helpful for Iran, because Denmark will occupy the rotating seat of the UN Security Council precisely when Iran's nuclear ambitions will come up.

Now, while all of these calculations are part of a reprehensible world view, they are eminently rational, that is, they involve the calculation of means to achieve their ends. Indeed I see no evidence that Iran is acting as a nutty country, but rather as a country that is rationally seeking to establish itself as the leader of the Islamic world and as such to bully and intimidate the West into making vast geopolitical concessions. What this means is, if we make it clear we are not going to be bullied and intimidated, then the Iranians will back down. The Iranian regime seems strange and bloodthirsty certainly, but is it stranger and more bloodthirsty than that of Mao or Stalin? Both of them retreated when confronted by determined opposition. In fact, compared to Saddam or the Taliban, the striking thing about Iran is the careful, calculated way in which it has gone about pursuing its aims without provoking massive retaliation. In the long run it makes Iran more dangerous (after all the mullahs are still in power, unlike them), but it also means that they respond to deterrence. Note too that one of the reasons for the regime's relative stability is that it is not a one-man affair; Ahmadinejad is not the dictator and not even the ultimate authority (that would be Ayatollah Khamanei). The collective nature of the regime gives it a "slow and steady" approach in pursuing domination in the Middle East.

But what about suitcase nukes? Iran could smuggle a bomb into New York and set it off and no one would know who did it. A regime with connections to terrorists is thus particularly dangerous, it is argued. I thought this argument was very powerful too until I read the comments of Wretchard at Belmont Club on this topic (here). In brief he argues that 1) only a very large number of nukes (100 or more) would cripple the US or Europe; and 2) smuggling that vast number of nukes is impossible; and 3) that if you could, the nukes would be out of your hands and could end up being used in totally different ways than you expect (the command and control problem). Let's say you supply it to a Hizbullah cell for use against New York. But Hizbullah decides they'd prefer to nuke Tel Aviv. But getting into Tel Aviv from Lebanon for a Hizbullah agent with a massive radioactive suitcase is not as easy as it sounds. Meanwhile another cell supposed to smuggle their suitcase into Washington gets detected. Result: US unharmed by a detected nuclear strike and then does what is necessary to wipe the Islamic Republic off the face of the earth. While this is not inevitable, it is a possibility Iranian decision makers can't ignore.

Overall, I am convinced that there is a very good reason why countries like Israel, Pakistan, or India, which have secret nukes and very bitter enemies, have never tried to use suitcase nukes on their opponenst -- it's just too risky. I wouldn't necessarily put it past figures with a history of reckless action, such as Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, or Kim Il-sung. But such recklessness is over all not characteristic of the Iran regime, which always prefers to kick defenseless people (like Jews in a Buenos Aires synagogue) not people who can fight back.

Moreover, I think the American government and public would in fact attribute any nuclear explosion that clearly damages anti-Iranian countries to Iran and treat it as an Iranian attack regardless of whether formal proof was forthcoming or not. Think of it this way: if we're willing to consider attacking Iran now, when it's not sure even that she yet has any nukes, could any Iranian leader be confident that an untraced nuclear explosion in Tel Aviv or London or Washington would not lead to massive retaliation, even if Iran's tracks were successfully covered?

2) assessment of the situation in Iran

Anyone who thinks an invasion of Iran would be as easy as the invasion of Iraq is seriously deluding themselves. The simple differences in scale are formidable enough:

Iraq: 26 million people; 170,000 square miles
Iran: 68 million people; 630,000 square miles

Add to this the fact that in Iraq there was a minority regime, that at the beginning of the war had already lost 1/3 of its territory (Kurdistan) , and couldn't fly in the southern third. Saddam had to suppress massive rebellions against his rule in the wake of the 1st Gulf War, leaving a massive legacy of bitterness and a majority convinced that the regime was based on hostility to themselves; by contrast Iran's Islamic Republic has never faced any significant armed rebellion and is based in the Farsi-speaking Shi'ite Muslim majority. It has a history of nationalism and independence going back millennia.

One might wish it were not so, but it is generally the fact that telling someone, 'You can't have this job because you're from X ethnic or religious group', raises much more intense and politically effective opposition than killing someone's uncle because they opposed the regime or censoring newspapers. Saddam did all three on a massive scale, but in Iran they only do the latter two, and that far less pervasively. The unpopularity of the Saddam regime was due to its minority-rule nature as much or more than it was due to its purely dictatorial nature. In Iran we will not have that benefit except in outlying areas (possibly Khuzistan and Azerbaijan), and not certainly even there.

What about the Iranian opposition? I would argue that this opposition is strong and powerful in peace time, but basically useless to us in war. The Islamic republic claims to be both Islamic in an ideological sense and also for that reason more populist and less corrupt than other governments. From the death of Ayatollah Khomeini until Ahmadinejad, however, it was economically pursuing a corrupt form of crony capitalism. Opposition to the regime thus developed along two lines: 1) a smaller, most urban and educated core of people who oppose the whole system of Islamic governance, and 2) a larger, less educated or wealthy group who might like the system in the abstract, but hate crony capitalism and the corruption that goes with it. Ahmadinejad has temporarily won over the second group with his populist rhetoric and attacks on corruption.

The first group has been cowed, and are perhaps still hoping for external deliverance. But it is, due to its social position, totally incapable of raising or helping any military force against the Iranian regime. (Think: this first group are sociologically similar to liberals in the US -- secular, urban, educated, skeptical of great crusades or jihads -- could such liberals in the US raise any real rebellion?) Like liberals in the US, they are strong when the country feels secure and respected but weak when the country feels threatened. In the long run they will eat away at the intellectual foundations of the regime. But faced with an invasion, many of them will swallow hard and support the government, and the rest will simply retreat further into their shell of alienation and purely verbal opposition. The second group (the "Reagan Democrats" of Iran) will rally to the regime, and their rallying will be much more important in time of war when calloused hands and cannon fodder are much more important than the desire for pop music and free speech.

As in the Soviet Union, we can overthrow the regime only by exerting economic pressure (especially dropping the price of oil), pointing out the failures of the ideology, and refraining from exercising a direct military threat. Remember what we are looking for in the Middle East is the emergence of people who don't feel that politicized religion, or politicized ethnicity with the attendent us vs. them attacks on the outside world are the way to create a good society with honest leaders. The idea that war is the best model for beneficial social action is precisely the idea of human motivation which Islamism, like most agricultural ideologies, prefers. People come to reject it only when they try it in practice and see it betray its original ideals -- the result then is not another armed revolution but the kind of collapse, like that of Puritan England in 1660 or of the Soviet Union in 1991, that marks the real demise of the whole politics-by-civil war style of government.

Finally, what about air strikes? The military opinion I've seen in the papers is that the whole nuclear network of Iran is far too dispersed to be taken out by any conceivable air strike. So if we do it, we will 1) justify the regime's acquisition of nuclear weapons in the eyes of most of the world; 2) create a further incentive for the Iranians to hurry up their production; 3) discredit the opposition, and generate a nationalist climate of opinion that will play to the strength of ideological populists like Ahmadinejad; and 4) not stop the nuclear preparations.

If it could be done, it might be worth it, but I very much doubt whether air strikes would be anything more than a useless provocation.

3) Assessment of the casus belli

Can the United States invade a country simply because it is acquiring nuclear weapons? In the old laws of war (which I much prefer), such a claim would have been laughed at. In the new laws (based on the UN Security Council), anyone who thinks the UN will authorize war is dreaming. The reality is we have no legitimate casus belli to invade Iran -- a sign that the regime there has been far too cautious to give us one (the embassy seizure might have been a good one, but we let it slide).

So what should we do?

Basically, wait and wage long-term economic and ideological warfare on the regime. While Islam has far, far greater staying power than Marxism, the Iranian Islamic republic's ideological system is no more durable than Soviet-style Communism. In the long run, the mix of private property and free trade with ultimate control by a shadowy network of mullas leads to corruption, abuse of power, and hypocrisy that reveals the religious and ideological pretensions of the regime as the hollow facade they are. Ahmadinejad's bully-the-rich populism can rescue the regime temporarily, but in the long run it will work as well Hugo Chavez's or Robert Mugabe's similar style: that is, only as long as oil prices remain high. Without oil money, the booty for the militia thugs will dry up, capital flight will destroy investment and the fire-breather radicals will settle into office, like the previous wave of radicals before them, as kleptocratic paper-pushers scrambling for larger slices of the shrinking pie.

Somehow bringing down the world price of oil would really help, just as it helped destroy the Soviet economy. In the 1980s Saudi Arabia cooperated in destroying Communism by flooding the world with oil, and so slashing the price of the Soviet Union's main export. Will Saudi Arabia help this time?

Sanctions? I suppose they might have some effect, but not nearly the effect of simply getting oil prices down. And that method will hit the regime where it hurts in a way that doesn't leave any visible US gov't fingerprints for rabble-rousers to exploit.

Continued vocal support for dissidents of all sorts in Iran is of course both good policy and good morals, but we should make it clear we are rooting not for a violent overthrow of the mullahs (which isn't going to happen anyway) but a peaceful transition to pluralism and real democracy, and that not in our time, but in their time. In other words, the dissidents are our long term hope and ally, but they must not be treated simply as tools for our short term security policy.

Ideologically, the US needs to make a two things clear publicly:

1) The problem is not "Iran with nukes," but "the mullahs with nukes." Democratic, post-Islamicist Iranians need to know that if and when popular disbelief brings down the regime, we will no more isolate Iran for holding onto nukes than we isolate India for holding onto hers. It might not be our optimal scenario, but a democratic country with nukes is not a threat to us or our interests.

2) We will treat any "suitcase nuke" explosion anywhere in the West (and that includes Israel) as a direct attack on us by the mullahs and will be followed by the annihilation of the regime. If the mullahs don't want to be overthrown, they'd better make sure no one brings a suitcase nuke into Israel or the US or Europe. (My comments about the difficulty of invading Iran are based on a US public feeling as it does now. A public after a nuclear explosion will be willing to do whatever it takes to eliminate the danger.)

Will this absolutely, positively eliminate the danger of any nuclear attack on the United States? No. But the proponents of a military strike or invasion have to recognize that their program of action won't either and will involve much more certain destruction to the US in the form of an unwinnable and unjustified war. Absolute security is impossible in this world, but if do the right thing and trust on God, we will be as secure as we need to be.

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Friday, February 10, 2006

A Page for the Reformed

As a young Christian I joined a conservative Presbyterian church (PCA). In it, I received many gifts, particularly the gift of examining everything by Scripture, and also a gift of valuing church history. In the end these two things led me away from Reformed ("Calvinist") Christianity to the Evangelical ("Lutheran") Church. Like many converts from one church to another, I still retain the background, thoughts, and library of my old confession. One of my big themes in this blog has been to define how Evangelical Christianity differs from Reformed Christianity, to sort out what is simply a misunderstanding and what is real disagreement. Of course, I will also argue why I believe the Augsburg Evangelicals are right, but often my aim is to identify areas in which Evangelicals in their desire to be "different" have over-emphasized our differences.

I hope that Reformed readers might read this and be stimulated to reconsider Luther's theology and reject some of their mistaken ideas about what Luther's Evangelical theology really is about, and at the very least, understand Augsburg Evangelical theology better.

Here I am listing the various posts I have written on this topic, in subheadings arranged in chronological order:

The Doctrinal Distinctives

Lutheranism Between Calvinism and Arminianism: defines the Lutheran position on the so-called "TULIP" issues or "Five-Point Calvinism," that is the Calvinist/Reformed definition of why some are saved and others not.

"Perseverance of the Saints": We're Right, They're Wrong: Compares Luther's Smalcald Articles and the C.F.W. Walther with the Westminster Standards on the issue of whether those truly converted can fall away, and the resulting differences in the understanding of faith.

Tulip and God's Salvific Will -- Again: This reconsiders the whole set of "TULIP issues" and sets out Luther's position on these questions.

Luther Did Not Believe in Limited Atonement: Argues that the universal atonement is central to Luther's promise theology, which is completely incoherent without it.

Against Shane Rosenthal's Attack on the Lutheran Teaching about Holy Communion: A response to a Reformed article saying our view of the Real Presence is incoherent and harmful.

Series on Luther's Babylonian Captivity of the Church: Introduction, Standing on the Promises, and The Promise, Ex Opere Operato, and "Performative Word" in Luther's Thought are particular relevant to Reformed vs. Evangelical concerns. In this series, I argue that the supposed opposition between justification by faith alone and the efficacy of the sacraments is the root of the Reformed and revivalist rejection of Luther's Evangelical theology, and introduces the Babylonian Captivity of the Church as the great work showing the compatability of these two teachings.

Pastor Fridfeldt on Infant Baptism and Faith: A passage from Swedish bishop and contender for the confessional faith Bo Giertz on why and how infants can have faith and hence be saved.

Reformed and Roman Catholic Doctrine as Compromise Platforms: I argue here that just as Calvin's doctrine of the Lord's Supper is an attempt to approach Lutheran doctrine while still preserving fellowship with Zwinglians, so the traditional Tridentine doctrine of faith is an attempt to allow Reformation style fiduciary faith while still preserving the hope for salvation of those with a purely historical faith.

An Outsider's Thoughts on the Federal Vision Thing: I argue here that the Federal Vision theology is an attempt to gain some of the "benefits" of Augsburg Evangelicalism while still adhering to TULIP.

The Reformation

Why the Law/Gospel Hermeneutic: Explains the origin of Luther's Evangelical hermeneutic and how it differs from both Catholic views and Reformed and Anabaptist hermeneutics.

What Must Always Be Remembered in Studying, Discussing, and Applying the History of the New Testament and Early Church Ages: Cites Hermann Sasse on how the Lutheran Reformation differed from all other plans of Reformation.

Luther Between East and West: Explains the Eastern Orthodox elements in Luther's thought, elements that are implicit in the Evangelical disagreement with Reformed thought.

McGrath's Intellectual Origins (intro), Part I, Part II: Summarizes Alistair McGrath's study of the Intellectual Origins of the Reformation. His main theme is that the Lutheran and the Zwinglian-Calvinist reformations were fundamentally different from the beginning.


Charles Porterfield Krauth on Christian Ecumenism: cites the words of a famous Augsburg Evangelical theologian on the "genuine glory of Puritanism."

A Darker Shade of Red: Discusses Allen C. Guelzo's viewpoint that the colonial Reformed churches in America were incapable of sustaining Christian life over the long run.

Confucian Puritans: Parallels between the great strength of Puritan morality with that of Confucianism.

Puritanism vs. Fundamentalism: Two Types of Religious Movements: Discusses "Puritanism" not as a doctrine, but as an attitude toward the world.

Moral Issues, Moral Reform, and Revival

Moses, Luther, and Natural Law: argues that while "theonomy" is definitely un-Lutheran, the differences here with the Reformed are smaller than is generally believed.

That's What I Love About Sunday (continued in More on Sunday): A Biblical and patristic argument against Reformed (or Catholic)-style Sabbatarianism.

Lutheran Hymn-Mutilators Censor Evangelical Theology!: Argues against the over-zealous alterations made to Reformed hymns in modern Lutheran hymnals.

Revival: An Augsburg Evangelical View: Presents the importance of real Spirit-empowered revival in the theology of Swedish Evangelical bishop, Bo Giertz.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Mother Lotta on Testimonies and Women Preaching

"And now that I have come here to contend in all friendliness with you, Pastor, I must say that I could never understand that you, who make so much of obedience, can permit women to speak God's Word at meetings. That is clearly forbidden in the Bible."

"But Mother Lotta, you are now talking like a real minister yourself."

"Yes, the Lord be merciful to my sinful soul! I know full well that I shall have to give an account on the last day for every idle word I talk as I sit here. And if there were no atoning blood, I should not have dared to come. But, Pastor, no woman has ever been permitted to speak among us at our meetings. Then the old preachers read God's Word. God help me! Rather than let them see Mother Lotta standing in the pulpit, I would lay my old head on the railroad track. It has been more than enough that God has given me five children whom I have tried to nurture by the Word of God. And if a troubled soul has come, I have of course tried to comfort and help with the truths of Scripture. But to be a teacher in God's church and shepherd for the flock that is another matter. Only an ungodly self-security would make one believe oneself capable of that, when one was not called and ordained."

The pastor did not lift his forehead from his hand. A year ago he would have contradicted at every point. The revival was then at its peak. Since he had won Schenstedt and his sister as friends and allies, and the sister had been reunited with her husband, they had all been animated by an active and contagious Christianity. And when some friends from Stockholm had come to help, and when Mrs. Jonsson at Glanstrop and the Arvidssons at the freehold had been won, it almost looked as if an avalanche of revival had come over the congregation. He remembered the great crowds on the church hill the Sunday Schenstedt had preached, and he sould still see the throngs at the schoolhouse during the week of the parish mission when all those who had been won stood up and bore witness.

The woman must have been thinking of the same events, for she touched upon them as she continued to speak.

"You should not let so many of the newly awakened preach the Word to us, Pastor. It is certainly good to hear that they have come part of the way, but beyond that they have little to tell. No one is ever saved by his conversion, but only by the death and resurrection of Christ. But of that they never speak. Do not the Scriptures say that he who would lead a congregation ought not to be a novice, a beginner in the faith, 'lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil?"

From Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God, pp. 241-43.

Social Democrats Have Made Bo Giertz's Church "Functionally Atheistic"

One of the voices of orthodoxy in the Church of Sweden fighting for the legacy of Bo Giertz is Rev. Yngve Kalin (his homepage full of information on the issues facing confessional pastors is here, and the homepage of The Church Coalition for Bible and Confession is here). It was Pastor Kalin who took the initiative in sponsoring the Priests’ Declaration against blessing of same-sex partnerships, gathering 867 names. Pastor Kalin has published an article on the state of the Church of Sweden in the Svenska dagbladet, of which Bill Tighe has kindly forwarded me a translation by Dr. Christopher Barnekov and Birgitta Peterson, with a note encouraging circulation. It begins by stating that the church of Karl Gustav Hammar, the outgoing archbishop of the Church of Sweden has collapsed. Incidentally, the archbishop's statement of the aims of his tenure here reminds me powerfully of the existentialist Christianity of Gunnar Schenstedt, a character in Hammer of God. Gunnar repents; while the rulers of the Church of Sweden do the same?

Hammar’s Church has collapsed

The Swedish church has been transformed into a unique church organization, functionally atheistic, adjusted to the contemporary culture and contextual in the sense that it mirrors the society and the dominant ideologies of the day.

This is the result of a consistently applied strategy with a Social-Democratic signature. That party has obscured the catholic feature of the church to such an extent that the Swedish church now stands increasingly isolated in the ecumenical context.

Theology has been turned into an ideology with a new rallying cry: "open, democratic and nationwide" instead of "holy, catholic and apostolic." K G Hammar leaves a church in chaos, in retreat, with a considerable drop in membership, with consolidation of congregations and in many places with a church life that has collapsed.

Arthur Engberg and Harald Hallén, both influential Social-Democrats in the earlier part of last century, had different plans for how the church should be used in the building of a Social-Democratic society. Finally they agreed upon a united political platform for the church that now has been realized in essential parts. Now the academic research is being published. With astute analyses, Urban Claesson at the Dalarna Institute (dissertation:
Folkhemmets kyrka) and soon Daniel Alvunger at Lund University have exposed the Social-Democratic party's deliberate execution of its political platform concerning the church. And there are more papers pointing in the same direction.

There has also been opposition, persons who have put brakes on this development and delayed the collapse, for instance Gunnar Rosendal, Yngve Brilioth, Bo Giertz and others. They made it possible for the traditional spiritual movements within the church to continue their authentic Christian life within the framework of the Swedish church. The question is for how long.

The foremost tactic in remolding the church has been the transformation of her decision making bodies. By doing this, one can secure control of the church. In addition, the politicians have formed an unholy alliance with modernistic theologians who have made a career in the church by adapting themselves to the new terms. At disestablishment in year 2000 the church became free from the state but instead got caught in a secular ideology.

The church was restructured to follow the model of secular governments. Previously every priest was held responsible for the stewardship of his priesthood through the oversight of his bishop and diocesan chapter. Now this oversight for priests has been transferred to the local church councils* by making them the employers of the priests. The dioceses were also restructured to become like county governments. The same restructuring happened on the national level. The new Church Assembly was organized entirely according to models outside the church itself. In that assembly the ordained clergy have very little voice.

Today the democratically elected Church Assembly is sovereign. Whenever it wishes, it can decide doctrinal questions by a two-thirds majority. The worshiping communities are not the base of these decisions. It is rather the so called “nomination groups,” most often the political parties.

Despondency and feelings of powerlessness combined with disappointment are spreading among the ranks of the believers. Many do not recognize their own church any more. But the question is whether the transformation has gone too far? The church organization shows obvious signs of implosion. Who wants a church that is a mirror image of the political powers of the present day?

Yngve Kalin
Hyssna, Sweden

*These 'church councils' are elected in secular elections, by voters who may never attend worship, and are dominated by the political parties who nominate most of the candidates!-- CB

Revival: An Augsburg Evangelical View

It didn't help that Jeremy Abel had said a friend of in Indianapolis had said, "I can't believe you recommended this to me!" or that the blurbs were all written by professors of theology, or that the first page of the introduction talked about the book's "many mind-boggling and heart-wrenching dialogues" (cliche alert!)

All of which is to say, I approached Hammer of God with considerable trepidation, worrying that it was simply theology in dialogue with a few cardboard characters set up to enunciate the standard Augsburg Evangelical theological points. But I was pleasantly surprised by what is, if not really a masterpiece on the level of Crime and Punishment (as the introduction says one critic claimed), or Harriet Beecher Stowe (to mention my personal favorite church-life novelist) at least one in the same league as the novels of C.S. Lewis or G.K. Chesterton. The novelistic format is really related organically to the pastoral-theological insights and errors expressed by the characters. Hammer of God, by Bo Giertz who later became Sweden's foremost confessional Evangelical bishop, traces three revivals in the Ödesjö region of Sweden, from 1810 to 1940 and how their experiences in these revivals forced three pastors to acknowledge the wisdom and truth of Luther's Evangelical theology.

Martin Lloyd-Jones in his valuable pamphlet What Is an Evangelical? wrote that only "evangelicals" (by which he meant mostly revivalistic Christians) are interested in revival. If this is so, then Bo Giertz, despite or because of his sacramental theology, is indeed an evangelical. Revival, and the pietist sense of a life lived methodically in God's presence (that's the origin of the word "methodist," by the way) is one of his great desires. Yet he sees such revival as menaced always by the dangers of legalism and separatism. Revival brings on a great sense of God's holiness, which is an essential starting point in the Christian life. But it is only the starting point, and if made the whole of the Christian life, will lead either to Phariseeism or burn-out.

Thus the pastor Torvik, as he wrestles at night with the disaster brought on by Schenstedt's existential antinomianism, wonders if his whole previous revival work was useless, one in which he had stressed "the four absolutes" and surrrendering his life to Jesus. Mulling over the importance of remaining within the apostolic and confessional channels, he wakes up and puts on his clerical collar:

"Man, what are you intending to do?" she asked.

"Only begin a new life," he answered and laughed. He went toward the door. She sat up.

"Be careful, then" she said, "that you do not deny Jesus!"

He turned in the doorway, and looked at her, wonderingly.

"I mean the work Jesus has been doing in what He has already let you experience thus far in Ödesjö."

"No danger!" he said with a smile as he left the room. On the stairs he stoped short and remained standing with his hand on the bannister. Yes, there was perhaps a danger. There was need for sober thought. There was really no reason for renouncing that which had been. Where would he have been now if this wind of the Spirit had not blown through his parish? He would very likely be sitting in Upsala, a disillusioned former parish minister. And here in Ödesjö, the holy Table of the Lord would have stood as empty as at first, the spiritual inertia would have been unbroken, the many old disputes anbd offences would be still unsettled. Jonsson would have remained the same inwardly unhappy gambler at cards, and Arvidsson the same respected community leader but, in that case, without the slightest glimpse of the eternal hope he now possessed. No, this work of God was really nothing nothing to pass by with a smile (p. 280).

He concludes his meditations:

Nothing of the old was obsolete: the confessions remained just as firm, and the answers the church had given through the centuries were just as conclusive against the many enticements of the modern enthusiasts. But through all this that was old and settled blew the Spirit of life and awakening, sweeping away the dust of dead routine and making the miracle of conversion repeatedly as great and new as when it first took place in the early church. The Spirit of revival also belonged to the holy heritage of the Church. If now he would reconsecrate himself to the service of the Church, he would not be untrue to that heritage (p. 281).

He then begins to pray for the first time according to the canonical hours with a set order of intercession, including for "revival, for a salutary unrest among sleeping souls, for real need that arouse the indifferent." Pietists and revivalists are good for starting the work of revival with a preaching of the law, but if they are left to finish it, the fermentation will curdle and go sour.

One can also see from this book why Bishop Giertz was unwilling and unable to depart from the Church of Sweden, even when ordination of women, about which already had some tart things to say in 1941, became a reality. Throughout the novel runs the parallel of the established-ness of the state church with the objectivity of Evangelical theology. The spire, the vestments, the tithes, the whole formal structure of the old established church expressed in material form the Confessions' opposition to all forms of harmful subjectivity and arrogant individualism into which revival constantly threatened to turn. No wonder that in the end he was unable to break with the established church even though by 1960 it was controlled by a laity that was largely non-Christian, and that could not help but wish to destroy real Christianity.

Another theme that may be surprising is the prominence of militant patriotism as the mark of true Augsburg Evangelical piety. In 1810 the Swedes are battling the Russians for Finland, and in 1940, the Swedes again are leaving as volunteers to help a now-independent Finland battle a Soviet invasion. In both cases, the pastors' support for the front is seen as one of the healthy sprouts that battles the teetotalling, separationist urges unleashed by revivalistic zeal, and eventually returns the protagonists to the Lutheran confessions. And in the 1880 scenes, the new liberal curate at first despises the old confessional rector because of his enthusiasm for soldiers and military scenes. It is interesting that the original translation omitted the last, crucial chapter precisely because in it, the curate expresses his fear of a Bolshevik invasion and his obsessive mulling over of the names of the battles in Finland against the Soviet armies. The translator presumably thought that the American public would not be in sympathy with a pastor who in 1940 worried more about rampaging Communism than rampaging Nazism. And even this revised edition which has added a translation of this vital chapter, omits the long conversation between the pastors in 1810 about the politics and trends in Napoleonic Europe.

I often wonder if what stunted post-war European piety was not the contamination in people's minds with the evils of the Nazi era of this generous and nostalgic patriotism among Europe, that gloried in the Christian character of their nations and their readiness to defend that Christian character with the sword and bayonet. Can European Christianity revive before Europeans unlearn their shame at their traditional heritage of Christian nationality and martial patriotism?

Not that such Christian patriotism will be pro-American. The Christian nation of Sweden envisioned by Bishop Giertz in Hammer of God at its best is not a land of individualism, but one of paternalism and a manor house that works in tandem with the established church's parsonage. America appears in Hammer of God several times as a place to where irresponsible individualists run off. I don't think it is an accident that the one American character mentioned by name, a businessman who seduces a Swedish Christian woman, is called Rothmann, which is close to "Red Man"; although I can't decide whether that is "red" as in the sense of "pagan Red Indian savagery" or Red as in "purveyor of a revolutionary red, anti-Christian materialistic ideology" -- probably both. Hard as it may be for Americans to accept, Christian Europe's patriotism has always defined itself in opposition both to America and to the enemy to the East (whether Islam or Communism). As a Christian American who hopes for revival in Europe, I pray for the day when Europeans once again despise my country (in ignorance, I believe), not for being "fundamentalist," but for being a land of anarchic materialism and egalitarianism that unreasonably separates the confessionally Christian church and the paternally benevolent Christian state.

More from Hammer of God:

Mother Lotta on Testimonies and Women Preaching
Pastor Fridfeldt on Infant Baptism and Faith
Pastor Olle Bengtsson on the Clerical Collar

Saturday, February 04, 2006

More Grist for the "Even in Islam, Women Are More Religious" Idea

Hamas's victory was propelled by strong support from women (see here -- HT: verbum ipsum --, here, and here). Interestingly, in Iran, women have a much higher public role than in many non-revolutionary Islamic societies. All of which is grist for my "Women Have Always Been More Religious" idea. When religion stops being a way of simply expressing national-ethnic identity and becomes something that calls for deep individual commitment -- then women will be, if not out in front, then behind as the main force. Whether that's a good thing or not depends on the particular religion . . .

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Prayer Breakfast Officially Ecumenical

As Mollie Ziegler reports, non-denominational now means not really Christian.

Wouldn't it be nice, if a president was elected who would respectfully decline to attend this "National Prayer Breakfast" saying, that 1) he believed in God only because he believed in Jesus, and hence did not know how to pray to God except in the name of His Son, that 2) he personally found praying in public at a gathering only of the wealthy to be too close to what Jesus condemned in the Sermon on the Mount, and that 3) while his own moral beliefs were of course founded on his Christian confession, he valued the votes and opinions of his non-religious constituents equally as much as those of one or another faith and saw no reason to discuss public affairs with a crowd in which they and only they were unwelcome?

And how amusing that this Prayer Breakfast was organized by a man who thought the existing churches were useless because they were full of compromisers. (See also the comments of Andy Crouch in the comment box on Mollie Ziegler's article.)

The Promise, Ex Opere Operato, and "Performative Word" in Luther's Thought

The central image of Martin Luther's Babylonian Captivity of the Church is the idea of the church being despoiled of her birthright and brought into slavery. Interestingly, he introduces this picture just when he comes to the idea of the mass as being efficacious ex opere operato, "by the work performed." In this view point, performance of the Mass not only nourishes the faith of the recipients, but as a propitiatory sacrifice also generates merit which may be applied to those absent or dead in purgatory. This merit is made by the simple performance of the Mass and may applied to whomever the Mass is dedicated to. The original use of the term was emphasize that the goodness or evil of the priest did not derogate from the sacrament's validity -- a point Augsburg Evangelicals have not problem with. But it was also associated with the belief that the Mass propitiatied God and could be performed for the benefit of those absent (especially in purgatory). It was Luther's conviction throughout his life that this was the worst blasphemy of the Mass:

Hence we see how angry God is with us, in that he has permitted godless teachers to conceal the words of this testament [Christ's words of institution] from us, and thereby, as much as in them lay, to extinguish faith. And the inevitable result of this extinguishing of faith is even now plainly to be seen, namely, the most godless supersitition of works. For when faith dies and the word of faith is silent, works and the traditions of works immediately crowd into their place. [Emphasis added; I think this sentence ought to be as well known as "the law always accuses" or "Law and Gospel" as a succint summary of Evangelical teaching.] By them we have been carried away out of our own land, as in a Babylonian captivity, and despoiled of all our precious possessions. This has been the fate of the mass; it has been converted by the teaching of godless men into a good work, which they themselves call an opus operatum [a work performed] and by which they presumptuously imagine themselves all-powerful with God. Thereupon they proceeded to the very height of madness, and having invented the lie that the mass works ex opere operato [ simply by virtue of being performed], they asserted further that it is none the less profitable to others, even if it be harmful to the wicked priest celebrating it. On such a foundation of sand they base their applications, participations, sodalities, anniversaries, and numberless other money-making schemes (pp. 156-57).

Luther then returns to his constant theme, that the mass, like all of God's gracious dealings with man is a promise and thus shares the character of a promise. This character clearly excludes any sense of merit being made by the recipient of the promise:

We have seen that the mass is nothing else than the divine promise or testament of Christ, sealed with the sacrament of His body and blood. If that is true, you will understand that it cannot possibly be both a work, and that there is nothing to do in it, nor can it be dealt with in any other way than by faith alone. And faith is not a work, but the mistress and life of all works. [Emphasis added; another little known Luther gem.] Where in all the world is there a man so foolish as to regard a promise made to him, or a testament [i.e. will or bequest] given to him, as a good work which by his acceptanc of it he renders to the testator? What heir will imagine he is doing his departed father a kindness by accepting the terms of the will and the inheritance bequeathed to him? What godless audacity is it, therefore, when we who are to receive the testament of God come as those who would perform a good work for Him! This ignorance of the testament, this captivity of the sacrament -- are they not too sad for tears? When we ought to be grateful for benefits receive, we come in our pride to give that which we ought to take, mocking with unheard-of perversity the mercy of the Giver, by giving as a work the thing we receive as a gift; so that the testator, instead of being the dispenser of His own goods, becomes the recipient of ours. Out upon such godless doings! (p. 157).

Luther then makes a comparison with baptism. As he will later explain, he regards baptism as the only sacramental action of the church which had not being taken into such Babylonian captivity, and which had preserved its original meaning as a promise to be received, not a meritorious work to be done.

Who has ever been so mad as to regard baptism as a good work, or to believe that by being baptized he was performing a work which he might offer to God for himself and communicate to others? [Today's credo-baptist Christians, that's who, and all the other people who see baptismal regeneration as somehow compromising justification by faith alone.] If, therefore, there is no good work that can be communicated to others in this one sacrament or testament, neither will there be any in the mass, since it too is nothing else than a testament and sacrament. Hence it is a manifest and wicked error to offer or apply masses for sins, for satisfactions, for the dead, of for any necessity whatsoever of one's own or others (pp. 157-58).

Luther then enunciates it as a principle, that the promise of God must be received in faith by each individual for himself. No one can believe for another:

Therefore let this irrefutable truth stand fast. Where there is a divine promise everyone must stand upon his own feet, everyone's personal faith is demanded, everyone will give an account for himself and will bear his own burden, as it is said in the last chapter of Mark: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." Even so everyone may derive a blessing from the mass for himself alone and only by his own faith, and no one can commune for any other; just as the priest cannot administer the sacrament to anyone in another's stead, but administers the same sacrament to each individual by himself (pp. 158-59).

Who can receive or apply, in behalf of another, the promise of God, which demands the personal faith of every individual? Can I give to another what God has promised, even if he does not believe? Can I believe for another what God has promised, even if he does not believe? Can I believe for another, or cause another to believe? But this is what I must do if I am able to apply and communicate the mass to others; for there are but two things in the mass -- the promise of God, and the faith of man which takes that which the promise offers (p. 158).

In any conversation between Augsburg Evangelicals and Reformed and revivalistic Christians, these passages must be always kept in view. Despite the impression sometimes given (by opponents and even by some well-meaning defenders of the Lutheran position), Luther's belief in the objectivity of grace is not bought at the price of making faith unnecessary. Far from it, as we see here. Justification by faith apart from any works, and the objectivity of the promise of forgiveness in baptism and Holy Communion are both asserted clearly and compatably at one and the same time. The key to understanding how this can be is that for Luther, sacramental grace is objective because Christ's universal atonement means that He has mercy on all, desires the salvation of all and gives the promise to all. While rarely if ever mentioned by Luther, this is the taken-for-granted foundation of his thought.

In Pontifications, the Pontificator has recently summarized a very fine article by Philip Cary, on the differing syllogisms that the Reformed and Augsburg Evangelicals use in reaching assurance of salvation:

Reformed syllogism:
Major Premise: Whoever believes in Christ is saved.
Minor Premise: I believe in Christ.
Conclusion: I am saved.

Major Premise: Christ promises absolution of sins to those who believe in him.
Minor Premise: I believe in Christ.
Conclusion: I am absolved of my sins.

Evangelical syllogism
Major Premise: Christ told me, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
Minor Premise: Christ never lies but only tells the truth.
Conclusion: I am baptized (i.e., I have new life in Christ).

Major Premise: Christ says to me, “I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
Minor Premise: Christ never lies but only tells the truth.
Conclusion: I am absolved of my sins.

But Cary (and the Pontificator) also brought in the concept of the performative word as Luther's modification of ex opere operato. The Pontificator's post wrote “But Luther reconstrues the ex opere operato as performative word: The sacraments do not work impersonally but work precisely because they speak God’s promise. They are an embodied form of first- and second-person discourse. Because they are external to the hearer, they are objectively present for faith.” As I noted in the comment box, I believe that seeing baptism and absolution as "performative word" (a word that effects what it states, as when one with the proper authority says "I now declare you husband and wife," he is not describing a fact, but bringing a new state into existence) distorts Luther’s thought in a subtle but significant way.

Of course baptism and the Lord’s Supper objectively speak grace. But Luther’s view of them, as I have emphasized all along, is that they are both simply species of the genus “promise.” Preaching the Gospel (in the Lutheran sense, of Christ’s unconditional promise of pardon and peace) is a promise, and baptism is the same thing, only with a visible sign (water) attached to it. Like any promise, however, if I do not believe I need it, I will not pay any attention to it (i.e. those who believe they are already in God’s favor simply for being who they are, pay no attention to His promise of pardon and peace). In this connection I really don’t see what the concept of “performative word” or any “ex opere operato” however modified, actually adds to the concept of promise.

Indeed, such a broadcast promise as baptism and Gospel preaching is can have reality only if every individual on both sides (the preacher and the preached to) can be utterly sure that Jesus really meant this promise to apply to this particular person. But to deal with this problem, Luther’s theology does indeed have a syllogism:

Major Premise: Jesus promise to every single child of Adam His pardon and favor
Minor Premise: Christopher Atwood is a child of Adam
Conclusion: Therefore Jesus promises to me, Christopher Atwood, his pardon and favor.

Since the Reformed do not believe the major premise, this syllogism cannot work for them.

Cary is of course correct that the intent of Lutheran preaching is to prevent the need for such syllogisms. The point about first and second person discourse is great. But certainly from the point of view of Luther’s own theological structure, and (I think) from the point of view of the Bible and evangelical theological, it is this syllogism, not a kind of combination of ex opere operato with performative word that undergirds the confidence a Lutheran pastor can have that when he baptizes a baby he cannot possibly be acting beyond his powers. It is not that the pastor has a power derived from Christ to address the promise of Christ to this child of Adam and not to that one, a promise which then “performatively” transforms the recipient, it is that this promise is to be given indiscriminately to all who want it; what then transforms the recipient is faith in the promise and the rebirth through the Holy Spirit, who always goes with this proclamation. The contrast with marriage (the prime example of "performative word") is striking: justices of the peace or pastors do not go around indiscriminately declaring men and women to be husband and wife, and then seeing who believes it and lives accordingly. No, they must first see if the couple fit the criteria, and then selecting those two people out of all the crowd, and make them married. Although both the wedding service and baptism make use of the personal name, they do so in very different ways.

This "indiscriminateness" of the promise becomes particularly clear in absolution, where the Lutheran pastor is under an obligation to proclaim Christ’s pardon to whoever needs it, and has no power to extend or withhold forgiveness based on his perception of the degree or sincerity of contrition. Jesus’s universal atonement covers every sin, but unbelief, and the Lutheran pastor can never make an error in announcing it to any sinner — all he can do is try to address it to those who need it and will believe it.

This is why any discussion of Luther’s theology of predestination that does not underline universal atonement fundamentally misunderstands the whole foundation of Luther’s theology.

The next issue to discuss is how Luther thought the then traditional notions of sacrifice and the prayer of the mass were to be understood, and a final consideration of the significance of the body and blood of Christ in the mass.

Previous post in this series here.