Friday, March 14, 2014

Predestination and the Chrysippus Cylinder

HT:  Pastor Cooper on Election

The Lutheran view of election is consistent with some philosophical views of destiny that would have been already established in Greek culture during the apostolic age.

If you look at traditional Calvinism views as a “fatalistic” school where fate is determined by an outside agency (typically “the gods”) that cannot be changed no matter what we do, you can see that alive and well in the Greek thought of Paul’s day.  The best example would be Oedipus who was doomed from birth to a tragic fate and all his attempts to avoid it only lead to the very outcome that could not be avoided.

You can also see the Arminian view in the “free will” schools of indeterminism where causality was removed from fate in varying degrees among the teachings of Aristotle and the Epicureans.

But rising out of the stoic schools in the centuries leading up to the time of Christ you see a “third way” that one could reasonably assume that the original readers of the epistles would be exposed to.  This “causal determinism” is a moderating view between the two that sought to resolve the inconsistencies found in both extremes by describing fate in time based on actual causes instead of alien divine decrees or internal self-determination.

In particular you have Chrysippus of Soli (200 BC) and his famous cylinder example.  Chyrsippus explains that, if a cylinder is on a hill it rolls down that hill because of logical causes that could be considered both external and internal.  If you kick the cylinder, it would roll because of your external activity up on it but also because of its internal quality (namely its “roundness”).  So nature and external action are the causes of fate.  If the cylinder is sufficiently round and you kick it, it will roll down the hill and it can’t not roll down the hill unless other causes present a different outcome.  The cylinder was not “doomed” to roll down the hill in a fatalistic sense nor did it roll down the hill on its own accord because its fate is determined in time and is based on logical causality.

Of these three opinions of “destiny”, you see Paul’s line of thinking communicating what is more in line with a causal determinism in which Christ and His redemptive work are simultaneously the internal and external causes of salvation.  To borrow Chrysippus’ cylinder as a metaphor for conversion, Christ both “kicks” the Christian to salvation by His external saving act and (through the work of the Holy Spirit) determines the roundness of the Christian’s nature through sanctification and the sacraments.  The elect are the elect because they are kicked and they are made round… and roll down the hill because of temporal causes that were foreknown beforehand.  The elect could be known to be elect from eternity because God’s work as both internal and external cause is perfect and irresistible.

But this does not upset Paul’s teachings of the falling away of some Christians nor does it make his exhortation to remain steadfast in the faith a waste of time.  The Lutheran denial of double predestination can also be upheld in light of Chrysippus… because a cylinder that ceased to be round would no longer roll down the hill in the stoic understanding of causality... or to put it another way, what happens when salt loses its saltiness? The Lutheran understanding of the predestination paradox and irresistable grace that can be resisted would not be anachronistic to ancient Greece if understood this way.

I think that an ancient Greek mind would understand this causal nature of Paul’s description of our divine election in ways that westerners did not really grasp thousands of years after these philosophical debates took place. I don’t think that the original readers would hear Paul’s description of causal election in time and think Oedipus-style fatalism or Aristotelian free will.  They had access to a popular philosophical background that would agree with Pastor Cooper’s analysis of the text… that all election is centered in God as both the external and internal causes of man’s election as found in the work of Christ.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Fasting and Self Control

We live in a world that is defined by "have to" and "can't".

It is a clever word game that we all play in how we think and what we say to explain our behavior.  You hear it all the time...

"I have to do something about this."

"Well, I had to say that.  She was asking for it."

"It's just business.  We have to do this in order to compete."

"I'm a guy.  I have to do this once in a while."

"I can't let them get away with what they've done to me."

"...we have to live together for now.  God will understand."

"I have got to leave her... It's not like I really have a choice at this point."

"I'm sorry, pastor, I just can't seem to get up on time these days."

"I must have that."

"Well, he gave me no choice when he did that to me... so I punched him."

"After a day like that, I need to get drunk tonight."

This is a very effective way of shifting blame for our actions from ourselves over to the circumstances.  It allows us to employ situational ethics where we are mere victims of our situation and are forced to act in only one way.  It is a form of self justification that frees us of the responsibility for our actions.

...but the truth is that these are purposeful choices.  The vast majority of times, we are not forced do the things that we decide to do.  We are not mere victims on our circumstances or pawns of the conditions in which we find ourselves.

It is a very hard thing to accept responsibility for our choices.  It is very easy to talk about "turning the other cheek" right up to the point where someone actually slaps you across the literal face... then... well, I can't be blamed for what happened next.  He slapped. me. in. the face!  What did he think was going to happen.  It is very easy to talk about giving to the poor... right up until someone in need presents you with the opportunity to part with what is yours...

Human exceptionalism, a gift from God, grants us with the power to rise above the stimuli that trigger our sinful instincts and act according to our moral choices.  When we speak in terms of what we "have to do" we not only attempt to justify ourselves but we enslave ourselves to our sin.  We make it the master of our decisions... and that--in itself--is yet another one of our choices.

Fasting is an excellent means to help break this habit of self-justification and excuse making.  Your body tells you "I must eat" this very moment... and you tell it, "No... I do not.  I can wait.  I decide when we eat."  By training the body and the mind to understand its role in making decisions, we better understand our direct role in our actions and inactions.  We make choices... and we use those choices to decide to sin.  Walking around on autopilot will not be an acceptable excuse before the Throne of Judgment.

This understanding of our participation in our sin intensifies our confession.  We are more keenly aware that we are not mere victims of circumstance.  The situation that we are in does not mitigate or remove God's holy law.  We now understand that, just like the impulse to satisfy our hunger, we are not forced to satisfy every impulse that our sinful flesh gives us.  We decide to satisfy it.

But Christ was not a victim of circumstance either.  He decided to come to earth and be born of a virgin.  He decided to live a perfect, sinless life on our behalf.  It was by His perfect, merciful will that He determined to enter Jerusalem into the hands of a hateful humanity.  The Son let Himself be mocked.  He allowed himself to be whipped.  He permitted Himself to stand under the judgment of Pilate.  He willingly picked up His cross... carried it to the hill... and was nailed to it.  He gave up His life as a ransom for all.

Where we choose only evil according to our sinful nature.  He chooses to forgive.  He chooses to save and grant faith to His sheep.  He grabs us against our will and snatches us from the jaws of hell and death.  He makes us new in the waters of holy baptism.  He sends His spirit into us and imparts living faith.

...and empowered by that faith and walking in the newness of life, we can finally choose to live as His chosen people.  By faith, we willingly take up our crosses and follow Him.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Fasting and the Gospel

In fasting, we hear the words of Christ when He says,

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied."
Matthew 5:6
The man who has never truly hungered in his body cannot fully appreciate these words.

Fast.  Experience hunger in your body.  Deny yourself so that you truly know hunger and understand it.  Know what it is to be driven by want and lack.  Feel how your whole being aches and groans to be filled.  See how time slows and drags as every thought turns to the one thing that you lack and how everything in you longs to be filled.  See how empty everything else is because of hunger.  Feel how important this seemingly insignificant thing is to you.  Get to know this poverty first hand in your flesh.

Then, when you cannot endure the burden any longer, look to your pitiful spiritual condition.  Is not life more than food?  See how poor your soul is. You have far less righteousness in you than food in your belly during fasting.  In yourself you lack the life giving spiritual quality that you so desperately need in order to live.  Your soul aches for want of righteousness and you do not notice.

See how weak your conscience is.  How sad it is that we sinners can so easly ignore these pangs of great emptiness!  Skipping even one or two meals is unthinkable... but God's righteouness?  That can be easily skipped without so much as a glimmer of discomfort.  And yet all the while we are spiritually starving to eternal death.

"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh...... Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.”
John 6:44-51, 53-58
When you break the fast, feel the satisfaction of finally being filled.  Know that Christ, the Bread of Life, gives us his righteousness in abundance as a free gift.  Rejoice that the time of want has ended. Christ saves us from our spiritual starvation by giving us what we truly need.  This righteousness... this thing that we lack and must receive externally like the body must receive food or die... is given freely on account of Christ through faith.

Fasting is not just an internal discipline that turns us inward.  It is an externally pointing one.  It serves as an example of what it is to hunger.  It reminds us of what it means to be truly in need.  It points us to Christ... the only thing that we must have in order to live.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Ahistorical Fallacy: American Evangelicalism, Baptist Successionism, And Lutheranism

There is a minority theory (largely discredited these days) in Baptist circles known as "Baptist Successionism".  Very generally speaking, this view holds that the first Christians all the way back to the apostles held to a theology we could define as "Baptist" in modern terms that that there has been an unbroken line of tiny, oppressed Baptists from the time of the apostles to the present day.

This ahistorical fallacy allows the Baptists who hold to it to just "skip over" thousands of years of Christian history as aberrant and ignore theological developments and debates as part of the aberrant majority.  In practice, what this does (in my view) is disconnect modern Baptists from the larger part of Christian history.

You see the ahistorical fallacy again in generic American Evangelicalism.  Not only are many modern Christian protestants in America ignorant of ancient church history, they also do not truly know or appreciate their Puritan roots, the influence of the Enlightenment, the First and Second Great Awakenings, and the "new measures" introduced by Charles Fenny.

I grew up under both of these impressions and was completely ignorant of how the beliefs that I held so dear actually came about.  I did not understand that the overwhelming majority of Christians living and dead disagreed with what I believed and did not even know that I owed more to people like Finney, Wesley, and the Deists of the 1700s than the historic church.  This meant that I was unexposed to differing views and did not truly understand Christian theologies that disagreed with my own.  The lack of historical knowledge lead me to a kind of xenophobic proof texting that did not help me or the people that I encountered.

There are many ways in which theology is studied and expressed.  You have exegetical approaches, systematic approaches, historical approaches just to name a few.  I am not against emphasis, but I think that a well-rounded approach is best no matter your level of knowledge and anyone who tries to tackle theological questions and disputes from only one direction really cheats themselves.

To a much lesser extent, large parts of American Lutheranism suffers from the ahistorical fallacy and rely on the two legs of systematics and exegesis to support their beliefs.  I think this is probably not the best approach and become more and more convinced as I grow and encounter more Lutherans of various flavors and opinions.

Many Lutherans that I encounter have a 150+ year gap in their historical memory.  Their knowledge of the history of the church effectively begins and ends one generation from Luther himself.  If they have any historical knowledge beyond the Book of Concord, it is spotty at best.  It is a rare thing to hear anything about Lutheranism between the 1580s and the 1970s, it doesn't pick up until almost after the American Civil War with Lutheran and Reformed influences like Krauth, Walther, Sasse, Barth, Moltmann, etc.  By then, many significant differences and debates had already occurred.

There are large gaps in Lutheran history that are largely unknown on the popular level because Lutheran historical books are too academic to be accessible and Historical Theologians among the Lutherans are so few and far between.

Three added challenges make the Lutheran task more difficult.  Unlike many in the Reformed and Puritan traditions, large parts of the source material for Lutheran history exist in foreign languages (German, Sweedish, Finnish, etc) that fewer and fewer American Lutherans can just pick up and read.  This makes English translations time consuming and expensive to produce.  Add to the small number of Lutheran historians.  Add to those problems the fact that Lutheran History is often a very politically difficult challenge to approach impartially as these divisions and debates are the foundational differences that effect the various Lutheran synods and denominations today.

This ahistorical gap that exists in Lutheranism effects Lutheran understandings in the same way that the other two examples I have sited effect general American Protestantism to a greater degree.  This causes the same thing in my view: xenophobic proof-texting between various Lutheran circles that hampers dialogue and keeps various Lutherans from understanding each other.

This handicaps our understanding of how the various contemporary Lutheran beliefs (of which there are many) came to be.  Rather than protecting sound doctrine, I believe that this lack of context insulates others from its spread and undermines the foundations of it.  Why are the conservative churches and the liberal churches so different?  Why does a book by someone like Carl Braaten teach such a significantly different "Lutheranism" from Robert Preus?

Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it... and I think that skipping the history of the Lutheran church and relying on our dogmatics to do the heavy lifting has made our confessional movement weaker.

No doubt this makes me a "moderate" or an "ecumenical nut" in the mind of some.  But I think that there is no more danger in knowing about the unbiased history of a Lutheran branch that we disagree with and trying to at least understand their point of view than learning about the views of anyone else with which we disagree.

Perhaps what I am driving at is that there is not "one right approach" to theology.  I am of the opinion that sound theology is a holistic discipline that is simultaneously exegetical, systematic, historical, pastoral, and practical.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Battle Fatigue, Part 1.3: Honor Culture and the Church

As more military veterans return home and reconnect with their churches, they bring with them a great deal of baggage from the events they experienced and the honor culture that they adopted while serving our country.  I outlined this honor culture in my previous post (here.)

The Christian faith rightly taught (and by extension Christ's church) provides unique and effective means to help these service members... particularly in dealing with the area of guilt and personal weakness.  I have already established that the honor culture does not provide a proper outlet for guilt and shame in some circumstances.  We return to my honor chart:

The problem with the way the honor culture determines guilt and shame is that it has no room for objective reality.  The truth of a situation does not matter.  What matters is how the collective views it.  It should be said that a secular guilt culture does not deal with these issues correctly either.  It is the same problem in reverse where the individual's evaluation of the situation is what determines the effective reality.  While this is equally wrong, it is at least less outwardly destructive.

Where the church comes in and corrects these errors lies in its proclamation of God's Law and the Gospel of Christ.  The transcendent objective truth of right and wrong pulls the sinner out of this subjective conflict of how the self relates with the cultural collective.  This is a total paradigm shift where both the self and the collective take a subordinate roll in the face of what God declares to be objectively true.  While personal and interpersonal relationships still play a roll, the final arbiter is what God says and the Law and Gospel provide the "ways of escape" from the impossible situations that both the guilt and honor cultures place a person in.

If we were to look at the Christian world view we would see it this way:

Here we see that the personal-culture dynamic is subordinated to the will of God and how He remedies sin.  Instead of a "me versus them" situation, we see a traditional Law and Gospel approach applied to each situation.  Regardless of the outcome in terms of how people relate to each other, every situation drives us to the cross where hurt and offense is remedied by faith.

This approach is sadly lacking in the emotional and spiritual treatment of military personnel.  The ball dropped here can be picked up by the church.

Where the church does the most good for hurting soldiers is where it always does the most good: by proclaiming repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

In a way, this is not any different than how any sinner is handled, but I think that particular focus should be placed in actively addressing the honor culture apologetically.  Where the honor culture is holding sway over a person's world view, the errors of that world view must be demonstrated to be false and the divine alternative must be presented.  Where the honor culture has calcified the heart of the person into defining guilt and shame by what people think, the church should present the objective truth and teach that the very weakness that the honor culture despises is prized by God and valued by His church... because Christ is here to save and redeem sinners: poor, weak, guilty, despised, and damaged.

The honor culture structurally traps people in shame and does not provide a remedy for guilt.  It trains its members to not deal with the truth as it really is.  Christ's church, and His church alone, holds this remedy:  the holy Law and the sweet Gospel.

This is where the modern attempts by the church to ape the culture fall down.  Self help and life tips do not address the fundamental problem that is being faced by someone who is chained to their honor culture.  In fact, the works righteousness of legalism makes things worse because the honor culture approaches the church the same way as it did before:  hiding shame and presenting a false face that either leads to false self-justification or private torment.

Actually, the legalism that infects the church is, in itself, a kind of honor culture that places outward adherence to the law over the true reality of the Christian life.  It is no remedy, but is trading one slavery for another... and it does not save.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

What Can Happen to Humility in the Hands of a Sinner?

Sometimes, the most insidious form of pride comes when Christian humility is perverted.

The unending trouble with man in his fallen state is that he takes everything that is good and right and turns it to suit himself.  True humility is good.  It is a right and true virtue which is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  True humility is an external thing which God brings to us by grace through faith.  It comes to us from the preaching of His Word.  Conversely, false humility, that perverse facsimile which man produces within himself, is little more than an endless circle of self loathing.  Sinners are idolaters even on their best days and there is no limit to their creative ability to fabricate whatever they touch to make everything about them and about what they are doing.

And make no mistake, humility can become one of the most clever idols of them all.  It is fabricated with our own hands using self deception and erected with our best of intentions.  One must be careful.  All by itself and without the Law's proper goal in view, simply hating one's sin does not justify and it offers no boon to sanctification.  It is dangerous.

Because it is can be very selfish... and selfishness is sin.  It is an all-consuming exercise in vanity.  It does not lead to life and hope, but rather to despair.  That is a dead end street deep within our own sinful hearts.

At the end of the day, the very introspective self-evaluation that creates true humility is an act that requires someone to stop looking outward and turn in on oneself.  In the hands of sinful man, with his penchant for navel-gazing narcissism, this good work of the Holy Spirit can be warped until it wraps around and becomes eerily close to pride.  We focus and prize the things that we love.  If we are honest, we do not love the things of God.  We love only ourselves.  We dwell on our own obsessions.  Our idols consume us.  When we focus and prize our own depravity as a sign of our piety, we have started to look in the wrong place and become consumed by the wrong thing.  We have taken the good tool of the Law which is there to drive us to the cross and turned it into a flail that we like to flagellate ourselves with to prove our keen awareness of our condition.

The object of something (what the thing is about and is directed towards) is important to consider.  Who is the object of self loathing?  The same as it's source:  The self.

Self loathing is not faith.  Who is the object of living faith?  Christ.
Self loathing is not the Gospel.  Who is the object of the Gospel?  The work of Christ for us.
Self loathing is not loving God.  Who is the object of loving God?  God, of course.
Self loathing is not loving your neighbor.  To whom is that directed?  Everyone but you.
Self loathing is not a vocation.  Who is the object of vocation?  Whatever you are called to do.

At its worst, self loathing drives us to take our eyes off of Christ and our neighbor and plants our focus firmly where we all secretly want our focus to be:  just us and nothing else.  It constantly whispers, "What is happening to me?  How do I feel about me?  How am I different (read: better) than others?"  The inevitable answer to those questions ends with "Wow...I am really humble."

Sometimes we Christians suffer from "paralysis by analysis".  When everything is about me there is nothing left for anything else.  Self evaluation is well and good when used properly, but one must ask:  "Do I even care what is happening to my neighbor?"  Often the self loathing man can only honestly answer that question:  "No, I don't have time for that because my true focus is me... I must focus on me."

This is where we see the false humility as it comes full circle.  When it becomes the benchmark of our Christian life it becomes a negative version of pride and self-righteousness.  This is especially true when we judge our neighbors on their articulation of their own self loathing verses the depth of our self loathing.  We find that we even make the act of humility a holiness contest... one that we are obviously winning when we compare ourselves to others.  We find that we cannot understand why others do not appear as humble as we are.  They are not as crushed by the Law as we are.  God hates our sin.  I hate my sin.  We finally God and I agree on something.  This is the place where we feel closest to the mind of God and that comforts us a little.

But if we look at our feelings honestly we must ask ourselves, "Why am I humble?"  Well, I believe the right doctrines about myself.  I am more in tune with God's Law because I understand its purpose more than others do.  I know more scripture than those who aren't humble.  I am steeped in the best dogmatics.  I am so much more pious.  I may not have any good works, but at least I know that I can't do good works (unlike those other people... who are self-righteous and mired in error.)  I have a deep spiritual connection and most closely resemble the humility of St. Paul and Luther... even Christ Himself.  If we are honest, we find ourselves admitting that we ambitiously pursue our own loathing.  We come to love it and trust in it.

Then we see it clearly.  This humility has actually turned into idolatrous pride and we've dressed it up as a fruit of faith.  "Why aren't others as humble as me?"  We don't want to admit that we have concluded that they obviously lack those things that we have in abundance.  Hate of the self has become our greatest achievement.  It is the only good work that we put any stock in.

After all, there is not all that great a difference between an overemphasis on what good we can do and an overemphasis what good we can't do.  There is no great difference between being obsessed with the evil that we manage to avoid and thinking only of what evil we cannot stop committing at the expense of everything else around us.  The object and source of these two opposites is the same:  we care only for what is going on subjectively inside of us.  We are curved in on ourselves.  By itself, there is no room for God when we are the thing that encompasses our every interest.  There is no room for true repentance.  There is no room for faith.

Self loathing is distinguished from true repentance in that the former drives the sinner deeper into himself while the later drives the sinner out of himself to the objective reality of Christ's redemptive work that culminated with His sacrificial atonement on the cross.  Self loathing is distinguished from true holiness in that the former is a self-inflicted misunderstanding that paralyzes the Christian in introspection and grief while the later is a gift of the Spirit that empowers the Christian to live for something other than himself.

The remedy is to stop looking inward by counting yourself as the most significant thing in your universe and start looking instead to Christ in faith.  "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." [Philippians 2:3-8]

This mind of Christ, this true humility, is a free gift given to us by the Holy Spirit.  This true humility is not ours through proper discipline and right thinking.  It is not a thing that we can achieve no matter how harshly we push.  It is a work of God within us which is the fruit of living faith.

Christ came to save sinners which includes those trapped in the grip of despair.  When confronted with your own unrighteousness, know that Christ is righteous on your behalf.  He has paid the debt of your sin, given you the gift of faith, and sent the Holy Spirit to comfort you and guide you into all truth.  It is this same Spirit that brings forth fruit in every believer.  These are often good works that we do not see and do not value.  Our ignorance of the Spirit's work does not negate His power nor does it invalidate the good works that God has established for us to do.

We stand redeemed on account of Christ.  We stand set free from the chains of sin.  The curse of death and the threat of divine judgment were placed upon Christ in our stead.  In Christ, Satan is defeated and we are made righteous.  That sweet redemption does not necessitate a life of despair but sets us free of our burdens and lifts us up into a life of hope and peace.  It is a life defined by God's trustworthy promises and not by our manifold failings.  It is an eternal life of grace where we will see an end to all of our wretchedness and suffering on the Last Day.  That glorious day when Christ's chosen sheep will be rescued from their long night of sin.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Third Use of the Law is Not and Must Never Be Backdoor Legalism

The law of God has three uses:

The first use:  The curb given to man to inhibit sinful behavior and keep sin in check.

The second use:  The mirror which exposes our sin and drives us to repentance and faith in the gospel on account of the atonement of our sins by Christ on the cross.

The third use:  The guide which is for the Christian alone and instructs us on right living as we grow in holiness by faith.

The Christian, in his state of simul justus et peccator ("simultaneously justified and sinner"), always hears both the second and third use of the law when God's word is delivered to him... and both uses require the gospel. The second use works towards the gospel as it drives the sinner to repentance and faith in salvation on account of Christ where the third use works FROM the gospel where the Christian is freed from the threat of death by Christ's atonement and grows in love and holiness according to the Father's will by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In his sinful condition according to the flesh, all law slays man and convicts him because from the law comes the knowledge of sin (second use).

...but to stop there is to present an incomplete picture of sanctification that is not in accord with Scripture or Lutheran doctrine. From the gospel, the law is where the Holy Spirit works in the new creation by faith to create truly God-pleasing good works... the fruit of living faith (third use). These are the works that God created for his people to do by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is not a backdoor legalism but harmonizes the teachings of Romans and Galatians with that of James.

It is from the third use alone, that the new man can say what the Psalmist recorded by faith:

"Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts." the danger is not how the Holy Spirit chooses to use the law (second or third) in the heart of the Christian because both are necessary and good.  Both the mirror and the guide are God's righteous and gracious work in us. The danger is in man's application of the law for any reason that is delivered or received apart from the life-giving gospel.  That is not any proper application of the law, but a misapplication. That is what the error of legalism is... not the law's particular use per se, but any quest by man for righteousness apart from faith.

And so teaching the law for right living apart from the gospel and calling it "third use" is not correct.  The second use must drive us into the gospel and the third use must flow out of the gospel... every. single. time.  To ignore this is not any proper use of the law at all, but is a misuse of the law entirely.  Where the law is preached, taught, and received, the gospel must be always close at hand and the two must never be separated or confused.  The apostles did not separate or confuse them and neither should we.

The law that kills the old man according the flesh and the law that guides the new man according to the Spirit must be handled in the shadow of the cross with the work of the Spirit by faith in full and explicit view.  It is the greatest and most delicate task that any Christian will face and a skill that only the wisdom granted by the Holy Spirit can teach.  When this is not done, Christian consciences are seared and unrepentant sinners are confirmed in unrighteousness to their eternal peril.  This is not a fault or failure of God's law because the law in itself is a good and holy gift.  Instead the error is in our handling of God's gift to us... our sinful twisting and misuse of what God gives us for our own good that we pervert through carelessness or rebellion.

The solution is not to disregard the law entirely or ignore the biblical teachings regarding the law's role in our sanctification.  One does not take a gift of God and reject it simply because it is abused in the hands of sinful men and ignorant teachers.

The solution is to receive this good gift and meditate upon it daily as we handle God's word soberly and rightly so that Christ's disciples observe all that God has given to His church without confusion or error.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Unique Nature of Christian Suffering is Healed by Christ and His Church

What follows is based on my part of a private conversation about Christian suffering.  I thought that it would be good to share:


Years ago, I once asked "What deepens, sharpens, and improves prayer?"
Pr Paul McCain replied with a one word answer: "affliction." (Note:  This actually happened on this blog.  Here is the post.)  I have  probably never received an answer as true, deep, and simple as that. Here, at the end of this dark road of mine, I have grown to understand the stanza of "A Mighty Fortress" much better where Luther writes:

And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Let these all be gone, our vict'ry has been won;
The kingdom ours remaineth.

After all, what is this Kingdom of ours but Christ Himself reigning and giving His gifts just as He promised to give us through the power of the Spirit? What can anyone do to take the blessed salvation of God from us when it is given to us freely on account of Christ? They can take our temporal happiness, our possessions, our human dignity, our families, even our lives. While this is horrific to consider much less experience, the one thing that is needful is beyond man's reach. Indeed, let all the rest of it be gone for there can be no treasure or victory here on earth that compares to the priceless gifts our Lord mercifully bestows on each of us.

I have learned of this tentatio very intimately. I have come to know that all men suffer in varying degrees regardless of their belief. Persecution is not uniquely visited on God's elect. Personal experience and the outcry of the psalmist teach us that both good and evil fall upon the righteous and the unrighteous indiscriminately. Even among martyrs there are those who are persecuted even to death for false religions and temporal causes.

While all men certainly suffer, it is the Christian alone who uniquely suffers as Christ suffered: rejected, scorned, and afflicted. While it seems to be no greater or less than the suffering of others in a broad since, it is somehow distinctly different--even strange--to the sufferings that the rest of the world endures.

As we are sanctified and conformed to Christ, the new man is renewed and strengthened in the faith by the Spirit. Our desires change as we live and love God's law to the degree that we are enabled by faith while we daily put to death our old sinful flesh. By the Spirit we do not worry or dread about the things that once troubled us in the flesh and in its place a holy zeal, longing, and compassion grows in the heart of faith. It makes us strangers here in ways I had never really understood.

And so we suffer apart from the world in ways that the world cannot fully appreciate nor predict. Nor can the world truly fix our suffering. They do not understand it because the cause of our trials are spiritual discerned. They cannot really comfort us through their darkened thinking with their temporal pleasures and sinful catharsis. The know only of what St. Augustine called "The City of Man" which is centered in the love of self and the pride of life and know nothing of "The City of God" whose light and center is Christ. It is this bleak expanse of mankind as they live in their futility that brightens the light of Christ's church in my eyes when I compare the two cities contrast.

This embassy of God's heavenly city here on earth is where the only true rest for me resides... where the only comfort for the suffering Christian is freely given and shared: this Gospel of ours where we pitiful sinners stand redeemed before God by grace alone; this divine blessing, a bright and unending dawn, that dispels the long night of sin and death; this mystic sweet communion that we members of Christ's body share with one another which is our blessed consolation and joy as we bear one another's burdens and await the consummation of His kingdom on the Last Day.

Dear Christian, Christ and His church, by faith, will be enough to see me through all of the suffering of this evil age until the end of the age where we will both see the end of all our tears.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Battle Fatigue, Part 1.2: Understanding the American Bushido

In the previous post on this topic of the series, I spoke about the differences between honor-based societies and guilt-based societies.  Today, I will illustrate how the US military (particularly the ground force branches like the Army and Marines) is an honor-based society and point out some positive and negative consequences of that cultural design.

As a big history aficionado, I recognized early on in my military career the close similarities between the US military and other historical military organizations.  It almost has to be that way in order for the chain of command to function properly and a fighting force to function at peak capability.  It seems impossible to have an effective military force without establishing some form of collectivist culture.  Honor-based cultures have this built in and have the added benefits of being self-policing, disciplined, and aggressive to please superiors.  Over the last 100 years, it has had an added bonus in that almost all of the foreign cultures that the military has operated with are also various kinds of honor cultures in their own right so there is a high degree of common ground to build on.

So, to be clear, I am not saying that current military doctrine and culture is "wrong".  I am also not saying that it should change or that it even could be changed.  My only point is that it exists and that its characteristics (coupled with the natural consequences of those characteristics) do not seem to be well understood by individuals who are charged with preventing and treating Battle Fatigue in all its shapes, sizes, and colors.  It doesn't enter into their thinking as a contributing cause, it is not addressed as an additional concern in their training, and it is not effectively mitigated in their treatments.

To illustrate my point that anyone dealing with our military is dealing with an authentic honor culture, I will take two examples:  a branch of the US military that I know very well, the "US Army", and a very stereotypically rigid honor culture, the "samurai caste of feudal Japan".

Let us look at their doctrinal similarities.  Here are the seven army values that are taught constantly to every army soldier from enlistment to the day they leave the service.  The training doctrine includes these values all the time, they are on walls and posters, and they are even included in the performance evaluation system:

US Army Values (Taught via the acrostic: LDRSHIP)
Selfless Service
Personal Courage

Now we will compare that list of values to the Seven Virtues of Bushido ("The Way of the Warrior"):

The Seven Virtues of Bushido (Feudal Japan)
忠義 (chūgi) Loyalty
(gi) Right Conduct
(rei) Respect or Courtesy
(jin) Humanity and Benevolence
名誉 (meiyo) Reputation or Honor
(makoto) Sincerity
勇氣 (yūki) Courage

They are essentially identical.  I pointed this out on occasion to various comrades in the army and they were surprised because the Army Values are not taught as "Bushido" per se, but while what is "taught" is LDRSHIP, what is "caught" is bushido.

It is interesting to note that the bushido teaching of "meiyo" is much more developed than the army concept of Honor, but the US Army teachings that "Honor" means keeping the other six Army values effectively creates by default the "meiyo" concept of the creation of an individaul's "public face" or "external reputation".  If I am expected to keep these things, well then I will make sure that I at least appear to keep them perfectly thus creating an artificial face that I show to the collective that does not reflect what I know to be true.  In practice the two concepts become very similar.

Why is pointing out this similarity of ethos important?  Because when one finally sees the US military as a true honor culture and not just an honorable extension of the American culture, then some of the circumstances facing the military and its members past and present finally have a context and (at least partial) cause.

Having established that the values of bushido and the Army are essentially identical the question naturally arises:  "What other similarities do the two cultures have?"

Positive similarities include mental discipline, physical and emotional resilience, fraternity, martial prowess, and of course bravery.  But when both honor systems are tested by the rigors of war, we see negative similarities as well:  high suicide rates, increased anxiety, depression, buried emotional states, lack of self-reporting for psychological and physical injuries, a lack of internalized guilt over wrong doing so long as the culture approves, outbursts of unwarranted violence, and increased instances of intentional fratricide.  There are environmental and biological causes for some of these issues of course (and I am unfortunately having to paint with a very broad brush for the sake of brevity), but the thrust of the point that I am developing is that the culture is at least a contributing factor and likely to be a supporting cause.

From what I have seen, this possibility does not seem to be on anyone's radar either inside or outside of the military.  Most of the focus for addressing issues facing returning combat veterans is threefold:

1.  Clinical (psychological diagnosis, emotional resiliency training, and post-crisis treatment)
2.  Familial (family reintegration and life counseling)
3.  Environmental (retraining individuals for the peace-time environment by getting them to unlearn their war habits and skills)

...but never are any issues approached with the military culture itself as a cause or contributing factor.  In fact, it is often the case that bushido-like concepts like the "Army Values" are used to motivate individuals to participate in the threefold training, thus showing that the military is attempting to use the rules of the honor culture to address the issues that the honor culture itself might have helped to exacerbate.

Just like the throttle in an engine increases performance while it also magnifies heat and friction, the very culture mechanism in the military that causes it to out-perform expectations in a combat environment may be pushing individuals into emotional circumstances that they (and those tasked with their welfare) do not fully understand or appreciate.

I would like to reapproach two of the boxes from the honor culture chart in the previous post:

Internal versus external conflict arises in two of the boxes.  This is when the individual and his external group do not see things the same way.  This is why members of honor-based cultures will do anything that they can to keep all situations in the right two boxes and why things go so badly when it shifts to the lower left box.  Of course I should point out that "guilt" here is a subjective thing which is determined by culture.  It may not be a crime per se... it could be something a simple as being guilty of "being weak" or being guilty of "being crazy".  The culture and the individual defines what constitutes guilt in this case.

Culturally speaking, the upper right and lower left corners have "release valves" in a guilt-based culture that help to correct the dissonance between individual and his external collective.  These correctives do not really exist or function in the honor-based culture and that has some very distinct results that are not often seen in guilt-based cultures.

When Others think I'm not guilty, but I believe that I am.
In a guilt-based culture, the resolution is simple:  The individual should feel guilty and either cease the activity or confess his guilt to the collective (thus moving him to the more harmonious boxes in the the upper left or lower right.)

In a honor-based culture, there is no resolution.  So long as the situation remains the same, the disagreement is allowed to continue with no artificial or natural consequences on the individual.  In fact, a kind of hole is often dug either by the emboldened individual who feels free to engage in increasingly detrimental behavior or by the paranoid individual who feels compelled to keep his shameful secret at all costs.  Rather than feeling culturally pushed to the more harmonious boxes, the unavoidable construction of the honor-based culture causes the individual to feel trapped and compelled to maintain the status quo which cannot always remain intact forever.

This is an unidentified contributor to the strong social stigma against getting mental health treatment that exists in the military (which is far worse than the stigma in the civilian public).  This is why self-medication, personal secrecy, and a superficially healthy "public face" are so prevalent in individuals who start to experience significant problems and circumstances.  In many cases, individuals would rather die than fail in the eyes of their honor culture.  Unfortunately this is often proven to be the actual case as most honor cultures have higher than average suicide rates.  This is also why troubled individuals in the military are so difficult to diagnose and treat.  They do not ask for help because they are culturally impeded from leaving the upper right box.  This is not because of something simple and artificial like peer pressure or poor command climate, but is a natural consequence of a deeply ingrained culture that values public perception (real or imagined) over the material realities of any given situation.

In the case of military personel, the mere risk of cultural shame is enough to cause individuals to endure all kinds of personal toment (at levels that would be considered unneccesary outside of the context of an honor culture) or even watch themeselves emotionally deteriorate while presenting a brave front for their honor culture.  In small measures and while situations are less drastic, this result is essential to military success, but when the threshod is crossed and an individual is operating far behind his capacity to maintain the situation, the artificial construct of the honor culture now creates a largely undetectable time bomb in the individual which ticks silently and looks normal right up to the point where the individual's rational grip on the situation snaps.

When Others think I'm guilty, but I believe that I am not guilty.
In a guilt-based culture there is objective value in a person's self perception.  While false accusations of guilt are never a positive experience, individuals can seek solace in their own identification of their innocence and fight to prove their culture wrong through constructive means.  The culturally accepted value in self-realized innocence is, in itself, a cathartic experience for the individual which helps to reduce the internal stress of the situation.  As a result, the individual behaves more calmly than he would in an honor-based culture because, while he has lost his reputation, not everything has been taken from him by the group's perception.

In an honor-based culture, this self perception is not really of any value because self worth is largely determined by one's public face.  When that is damaged, there is little consolation in the material facts of the situation because the culture places no abstract value in personal belief.  Because this problem cuts so deeply by effectively taking everything of worth from the person in question, unfortunate individuals who are caught in this circumstance rarely give themselves the opportunity to resolve the issue constructively and peacefully.  While, in a guilt-based culture, damaging a reputuation is perceived as an attack on one's reputation, this is not true of an honor-based culture.  Attacking a person's reputation in that cultural context is effectively an attack on the whole person (and in some honor cultures an attack on his family, clan, or nation) and is very serious.  Many a bloody samurai film is based on this premise.

The results are often drastic and violent (and alarmingly rational given their cultural context).  There is no need to detail the possibilities here.  It is simply sufficient to say that people in this situation tend to focus more on revenge-based reactions to perceived slights instead of rhetorical defenses of their point of view.  They naturally fall back on the ancient rituals of honor-based warrior cultures:  trial by combat, over-the-top proofs of bravery competency and/or strength, eleminate those in the group that are causing the shame, etc.

The point has been beaten to death... now what?
Outlining this cultural reality is an important foundation piece to this entire series.  I will be referring back to aspects of it as I address the various topics.  In the next post I will seek to illustrate how this honor culture breaks down when individuals cannot live up to its expectations and what the church can do to help service members who find themselves in these situations.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Battle Fatigue, Part 1.1: The Military Honor Culture

Let's launch into the first topic in my series on war veterans and the challenges that they face.  If you haven't read my first post yet.  Check it out here.

Here is an introductory post to lay some ground work for my points on the first topic:

The Military Honor Culture:  Why the very high-performance culture that has to be in place to keep soldiers safe and the military so effective at what it does also contributes to soldier emotional and spiritual distress, discourages self-reporting of serious problems, and adversely affects healing.

If you have never been in the military or visited other countries, the idea of an "Honor Culture" is probably fairly foreign to you... probably something that feels hundreds or thousands of years old.  They still exist and are very prevalent.  Before we can talk about the topic we should define some terms.

Guilt Culture.  Most of western civilization in this day and age is what is considered a "Guilt Culture".  Driven largely by individualism and an individuals perceptions, cultural shame has very little impact on a person's self image and does not drive their behavior.  Biblical Christianity as we practice it can be understood as a kind of Guilt Culture.  Here is a handy chart that I stole which illustrates the various situations that arise in a "Guilt Culture".

Honor Culture.  Pure Honor Cultures are very different from the modern American experience.  In this kind of culture, public perception plays a more important role than individual perception.  These two archetypes are not black and white constants and many cultures tend to shift on a sliding scale between the extremes of "Guilt" and "Honor".  American culture as a whole has been on a 250 year slide from "Honor Culture" to "Guilt Culture" which accounts for the change in public behavior.  Both types of cultures have their strengths and weaknesses.

Here is that same stolen chart but reflecting individual reactions to various situations in an "Honor Culture".

There are some easy examples of Honor Cultures.  The stories of the Knights of the Round Table and King Arthur center around Honor Cultures.  Japanese Bushido is an honor culture.  Much of the middle east is driven by Honor Culture under Islam.  Colonial Gentlemen engaged in deadly duels over what we would consider to be minor slights because they were bound to abide by their Honor Culture.  There are still parts of the deep south that are heavily influenced by their Honor Culture.  Much of our historical Honor Culture here in the west has passed into history in modern America, but there are still places where the Honor Culture is very much alive.

The US Military is very much a fully functioning Honor Culture with slight elements of Guilt Culture artificially embedded into it.  The military is, by necessity, bound to its traditions and pragmatically glamorizes and encourages this Honor Culture through training.  While individuals from the civilian Guilt Culture will bring elements of that with them when they join (and political pressure will force the military to adapt to modern civilian expectations), military training, communal conditioning, and the needs of the very specific job demands necessitate the weakening of such individualized Guilt Culture ethics in favor of a generalized Honor Culture.  This Honor Culture starts at recruitment and is heavily pushed through the entirety of an individual's career.

In a follow up post, I will illustrate exactly how and why the US Military is an Honor Culture as well as show its similarities to other known Honor Cultures in history.  I will try to point out why this is a necessary thing that cannot be changed even while I illustrate how that very culture can harm individual members when they cannot measure up to the demands of the Honor Culture that they find themselves in.

For more information than you could ever need on honor, Honor Cultures in western civilization, and their history, check out this very detailed book on the subject.