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.

Monday, August 12, 2013

War Veterans facing PTSD, Depression, and Suicide: Why the current situation is bleak and what the Christian church can do to help.

This month, I'm going to do a series of blog posts discussing the topic of "Battle Fatigue".  While it is a very popular topic that is out there in the public consciousness, I perceive that it has really received the short shrift among Lutherans specifically and the Christian church more generally.

So why call it "Battle Fatigue" here?  Battle Fatigue is an older term which is about 25-75 years old.  These days, all of the issues surrounding the unique challenges faced by returning veterans are typically lumped into the clinical term called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  PTSD is a psychological diagnosis.  I am just a Christian war veteran and not a trained psychologist.  PTSD is a serious and real problem, but it is not the only problem that returning service members face and not the only topic that I want to address.

While some of my personal observations about PTSD and its treatment will come up, I am also going to speak about a wide range of issues facing returning veterans (and Christian veterans in particular) that don't always neatly fit into the more narrow set of symptoms and issues that that clinical diagnosis addresses.  It is my hope that this discussion will help start some dialogue and at least help some people address this issue.

Before I get into the topic, I'm going to get some house keeping out of the way.  I am no longer in the military so my personal observations on this blog obviously don't reflect any official policy of any branch of the military or the government as a whole... much less individual units or commands that I have been in contact with over the years.  Because these are often deeply private issues, I am going to do my best to speak very abstractly on this public forum without using names, places, or units so that I don't reveal very emotionally sensitive situations past and present.  I also come from the Army, so a large part of this is going to be from a "soldier's" perspective (as opposed to sailors, airmen, marines, civilians, contractors, etc).  Because the services have become so integrated and face similar challenges, I'm sure a lot of these topics are going to translate fairly well across branches.  For the sake of simplicity, I'm going to say "soldier" to encompass military personnel as a whole.

As you can probably tell from the tiny amount of actual comments that I get on this blog, most of the feedback that I get from my posts is via email anyway.  I really appreciate any and all feedback... especially on this important topic.  Public conversation is great, but I would encourage anyone who wants to talk to me privately about these issues to email me.  You don't even have to give me your name or anyone else's name and I certainly won't share anything that anyone tells me to anyone without permission.

Here is my email:

Here are some of the topics that I am going to discuss in various posts (feel free to suggest additional topics or revisiting of already covered topics):

1.  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.

2.  Counterproductive Hero Worship:  How the ghosts of the Vietnam War and the changing American culture have caused a well-meaning public to overcompensate thus creating the myth of a romantic, idealized soldier that feeds into the worst aspects of the "Honor Culture" which sometimes hurts individual soldiers rather than supporting them.

3.  The Chaplaincy:  Some "outside looking in" observations on how the military chaplaincy is forced to operate in the combat environment and how various challenges in the situation make it very difficult for soldiers to receive meaningful spiritual care.

4.  Reintegration and the Congregation:  How some of the unique challenges faced by returning war veterans affects how they relate to their home congregation and what the local church can do to welcome back these members and help them.

5.  Deployment and the Congregation:  What the church can do to spiritually support deployed members and their families.

6.  The Spiritual Reality of the War Environment:  How modern American culture as a whole (and the American church by extension) is not equipped to address the spiritual aspect of a combat environment and what we can do to change that.

In each of these and any other topics that I plan on discussing, I will do my best to include my thoughts and suggestions on:

What pastors and elders can do to help.
What congregations and family members can do to help.
What individual service members can do to help themselves.

I'm really looking forward to getting some informative and proactive information out on this topic and I hope that it will be constructive and valuable.  Really, if I can help one person, it will be worth the effort.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Faith is NOT the Assurance of Our Guesswork

Trinity 12:  Gen 15:1-6, Heb 11:1-16, Luke 12:22-34

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."  -Heb 11:1

Now one finds this passage misquoted out of context on wall art and stitched into couch blankets all the time and well meaning people use it to validate themselves in all sorts of ways.  After all, all you need to do is believe something... anything really...and be really, really, really convinced about it and it has to be true.  Isn't that what it means?  Well what is this "faith" that the apostle is talking about and what are these "things" that we hope for and don't see?

The temptation here is to make this "faith" a piece of head knowledge that we conclude or just an impression of the heart that moves us to feel something... and as fallen creatures we want to make these "things" into our own image of what we wrongly think we should put our faith in: people, treasures, fame, legacies, purposes, the American Dream, political ideals, even a god of our own making who supports our opinions and excuses our actions, etc, etc... the list is as limitless as man's sinful imagination.

But this faith is not the assurance of our guesswork.  It is not a kind of reasonless fideism that amounts to little more than positive thinking or letting whatever our heart wants be our guide and presumptuously call it a movement of God.  This faith is an external gift which God gives to us which we hear with our ears by the Word of Christ [Eph 2:8-9, Rom 10:17].  God reveals Himself concretely so that there is no mistake.  We have no excuse to be blown around by every wind of doctrine.  He comes to Abram and speaks His promises to Him [Gen 15:1-6].  He comes to Noah with terrible words of judgement and warning, but also the sweet means of salvation.  God did not rely on these heroes of the faith to know the hidden will of God or force them figure these hidden messages of God by blindly searching the depths of their being.  Additionally, these faithful witnesses did not go forth with the blind confidence that God would back their whims no matter what they might be.  They did not have to test the whims of the culture around them to see what the popular course of action might be as if God was speaking to them through the trends of mankind's cultural development.  Instead, Almighty God called them and declared His promises and--by the gift of faith--they believed and it was counted to them as righteousness.  From that they naturally responded with action from faith.

And what are these "things" that we hope for?  They are the very "things" that were hoped for by those saints who have come before us.  They certainly are not the things of this world or a place in this life only [Heb 11:13-14, 1 Cor 9:24-25].  They are not the things that we encounter every day and desire for ourselves because the Scripture clearly says that we have convictions of things not seen.  Wealth, success, fame, happiness, power, glory... we may not have it personally, but we have at least seen it around us.  These cannot be those "things" that we don't see.  Faith does not hope for mortal stuff or earthly glory. 

These "things" are not the things of this world that we see all around us: the lusts of the flesh and the pride of life [1 John 2:16-17], but are the very "things" that God has promised in his Word which are ours through the Son by the work of the Spirit which are salvation through the Gospel by the death of Christ and an eternal kingdom which lies ahead for all who believe. [Rom 1:16].  Not this world, but a better country, a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called our God, for He has prepared for us a city [Heb 11:16], a city that St. Augustine calls "The City of God" which is "The Heavenly City [that] outshines Rome beyond comparison. There, instead of victory, is truth; instead of high rank, holiness; instead of peace, felicity; instead of life, eternity."

How could sinful man with his limited understanding be sure of such a wondrous thing without having seen anything like it?  And as a free gift no less?!?  Indeed, we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, or come to Him, but the Word of Promise that went out to Abram and now goes out to us does the very thing that it says must be accomplished [John 6:44].  God draws man to Himself and makes what must be out of what is not.  He brings Abram on this journey of promise and by pure declaration transforms Him through His divine will on account of Christ.  By grace alone, God declares something new about Abram.  Abram who is a fatherless old man doomed to see his wealth pass to another upon his death.  Abram a man whom Hebrews calls "as good as dead" would have God name him Abraham the father of many nations.  From Abraham's seed would come the messiah, the Lamb of God, Christ Jesus, who takes away the sins of the world [John 1:29].

And even today, this Word that does not return void comes to us in our hearing and declares us to be what we were not.  We too would be "as good as dead", but are given new names and made new by the working of the Holy Spirit.  Just as Abram is named Abraham so the Spirit mercifully regenerates his own and makes us new by the washing of regeneration [Titus 3:4-7].  We were named "Sinner", but God declares us "Righteous" in Christ.  We were named "Fruitless", but by grace we are made "Fruitful".  We were named "Slave", "Enemy", and "Old Adam", but God calls us out of our sinful condition and declares us to be called "Heir", "Child", and "Saint".  God always keeps His promises and with this promise He provides the means with which it is accomplished.  With this new good name we bring forth the good fruit that God gives us to bring forth in the form of good works in keeping with the fruits of repentance [Matt 3:8-9].

So, as heirs of the promises of God with our new name, we hope for this heavenly kingdom that is to come and eagerly await its consummation with repentant joy.  We wander here as strangers and exiles with that coming promised land in mind.  What good are Sodom and Gomorrah to us when we are being lead to the place of God's choosing? What good is the Land of Ur?  So, as children of God called by his name, what profit is there in thinking of those lands from which we have been called out of?  With what lies before us, let us keep our eyes fixed on that prize so that we do not have the opportunity to return from whence we came.

With such a bountiful inheritance, what worry or need do we have that the Lord does not provide for us?  What paltry treasures, titles, or experiences could we care to possess when compared to that heavenly glory that is yet to come and the peace that comes in the knowledge that it is most assuredly ours no matter our present circumstance?  Like the undeserving and spoiled heirs of a rich father, we are without want or need and are free to cast off or give away the things that others desire and fight over [Luke 12:29-34].  God has given us the knowledge that those things are passing away and we are certainly provided with all of our needs.  How easy it is to give away the temporary small things when the one big thing is in view!  Even the best and truest things of this life are here today and gone tomorrow.

But our faith is not in those "things"... that guesswork of man's feeble mind, that impulse of his heart, that idolatry of his sinful desires, that creation of his seemingly grand designs, or even that work of his mortal hands.

No, our eyes are fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith [Heb 12:1-3].

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I'll begin;
Here I raise my 
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothèd then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

How Important was the Hiedelberg Disputation Really?

There is no doubt that Luther's 1518 Heidelberg Disputation holds a great deal of historical significance in the development of the events that lead to the Reformation.  If nothing else, it was the presentation of these theological arguments that won Luther an invitation to debate Johann Eck at Leipzig.  It is interesting to note that the thrust of the Leipzig Debates centered around matters Luther had brought up in his 95 Thesis (Papal primacy, indulgences, purgatory, etc) and could not really be called any kind of "Heidelberg II: The Legend Continues".

So, as a new Lutheran several years ago, I was tickled to hear from other people that the entire world had got it wrong and that the 95 Thesis, while historically significant as the catalyst for the reformation, did not really hold a candle to the theological importance of the little known Heidelberg Disputation.  The 95 Thesis was really about errors in practice after all while Heidelberg really gets into some doctrinal meat.  Right?  Who doesn't love doctrinal meat!  I fell for this idea because no one really holds the 95 Thesis up as an important doctrinal work in itself... but this Heidelberg Disputation.  Could it really be a theological dark horse that has gotten centuries of short shrift?

Gerhard Forde really did a great job selling me on the theological importance of Heidelberg in his work On Being a Theologian of the Cross.  As a neophyte I clearly missed the word "reflections" in the subtitle of this book and Forde's own admission on page 30 that its purpose was not to explain Heidelberg but rather to expound his own theological impressions with the Disputation as a back drop.  Looking back now I can see that on my first read I didn't really understand what I was reading. It took a second read years later after I had read alot more to see this book and its points more clearly.

And yet there are many Lutherans, particularly among the theological elite in the laity, that puppet the idea that the Hiedelberg Disputation was this unknown theological gem worth in depth study.  I have even heard it (along with Forde's book) called a "must read" for any Christian.

But how theologically important was the Heidelerg Disputation really to Lutheranism?

That's not just a rhetorical question.  It obviously has historical significance.  It is a major event in the timeline of the Reformation and it is a significant window into the mind of what more than a few LCMS pastors and scholars have called "Early Luther".  In a few short years of study in Lutheranism I have gone from "Very Important if not Critical" to "Not all that much actually".  I am open to hear some opinions on this subject.

Here are some of my reasons why I no longer put much theological weight behind Heidelberg:

Lack of Explicit Influence.  I have yet to find a place where Johann Eck challenges Luther directly on his "Theology of the Cross vs Theology of Glory" concept (the reason why everyone loves Heidelberg).  While Luther opposes Erasmus in The Bondage of the Will with themes that appear in the 1518 Disputation, I do not see a robust rehash of Cross vs Glory there.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe Luther ever had the Heidelberg Disputation published and I don't think that they appeared before him at the Diet of Worms.  I haven't found the theologia crucis in the Confessions.  While my monolinguistic handicap makes my study of Lutheran theology far from exhaustive, it is hard to find any doctrinal analysis or even mention of Heidelberg until the 20th century.  It would seem that there is scant reference to this work as anything of theological significance until modern times.

Lack of Efficacy.  This goes hand in hand with my theories about it's lack of concrete influence.  It is my opinion that Heidelberg did not receive the broadside that say the 95 Thesis did because the former failed to correctly address the problems it diagnosed while the former was much more successful at dealing with the issue at hand.  There is no doubt that the 95 Thesis identified and directly combated some serious errors.  Did Heidelberg really do this or was it really a first attempt at getting a grasp of the theological mess of medieval Romanism.  The Gospel is badly muted in Luther's argumentation because much of Luther's talk of "grace" and "belief" are still influenced by monastic synergism.  While the Augustinians disapproved of Luthers ideas in 1518, it is unlikely that suggesting that the answer to wrongly trying to do good is for us to suffer more as Christ suffered would have gotten Luther excommunicated.  That conclusion really isn't "Lutheran" in any kind of confessional sense and might not even be all that traditionally "Protestant".

Lack of Transcendent Relevance.  I attribute the rediscovery of the Heidelberg Disputation as a theological work to situational expediency.  Rather than addressing transcendent truths that are timeless and largely relevant to the Christian in all times and places, Heidelberg seems to hit all the right check marks for a certain brand of theologians that did not exist as an organized school of thought in 1518.  As is so often the case, its rising popularity has more to do with its pragmatic usefulness as a theological support for particular ideas and various philosophical approaches.  Like any great man, Luther suffers a high degree of appropriation from later minds.  This "Early Luther" is particularly vulnerable to appropriation because his ideas are still so subjective and vague.  The Heidelberg Disputation is a prime example.  Is it theologically important because its concepts are transcendent and universally relevant?  ...Or is it being made theologically important because its language and argumentation can be used to easily support theo-philosphical ideas that the more robust and developed ideas found in the Book of Concord do not?  This might explain why the rest of the world and 500 years of history have missed the importance of the Heidelberg Disputation and why many of its current greatest admirers and advocates come from relatively new schools of thought:   Christian Existentialism, Hegelianism, Liberation Theology, and Post-Modernity just to name a few.

Thoughts?  Critiques?  Pitchforks and burning effigies?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Baptismal Regeneration & Infant Baptism vs. Baptism as Testimony & Age of Accountability

In the last few days, a great deal of ink has been spilt and even more podcast time here and here has been dedicated to the Lutheran (i.e. the Biblical) position on baptism... particularly in Lutheran circles.

They have done a fantastic job defending infant baptism and baptismal regeneration from our critics using Biblical and patristic sources.  I have nothing to add for either of those approaches... and I have, over the years, tried both approaches with my Anabaptist friends and family with little success.  I have used the scriptural supports and the list of patristic quotes and even posted some of them on this blog before.

Most of the time, that approach is met with apathy and a glazed look.  It has been my experience that most Anabaptists don't put too much doctrinal thought into why they reject Baptismal Regeneration and are against Infant Baptism.  They think even less about the theological grounds for why they support Baptism as Testimony and the Age of Accountability.

Even if you prove your point from the Scriptures and the early church, they either tend to just "agree to disagree" or they acknowledge your point as some non-essential piece of trivia that has no impact on anything important.  Why?  I think it is because most of the modern Anabaptists I know fail take the ramifications of this debate seriously.  In fact, this theological debate coming from the Anabaptists is the first robust discussion that I have ever heard on the actual Scriptural merits of the differing practices.  So, while the Scripture and the early church fathers is the BEST approach, it is almost never my FIRST approach.

Most American Christians, mirroring the anti-intellectual culture they are in, put much more stock in experiential evidence than grammatical facts and historical evidence.  I have come to think that one must meet them where they live first with a few experiential arguments to move their hands off of their ears and then follow up with the dogmatic supports on the back end.

So here is my contribution to this web discussion:  the experience-based evidence and a harsh first-hand appraisal of what is at stake if the Anabaptists are right (which they aren't):

I grew up as an Arminian Anabaptist with most of that time spent in churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.  I was a child growing up under the "Age of Accountability".  It has given me a few first hand observations that I believe are helpful.

First, I had a difficult time "converting" to Christianity.  When I reached the vague "Age of Accountability" range, I could not really look back and recall a time when I did not consider myself a Christian.  In practice it is more of a rite of passage than a spiritual awakening because (contrary to the theory behind Age of Accountability) children who grow up in church GROW UP IN THE CHURCH.  You don't point to a four year old and tell their parents, "I can't wait until he becomes a Christian."  That's crazy... especially when he is singing "Jesus Loves Me This I Know... For the Bible Tells Me So."  Especially given that, in many churches, this is about as deep as the doctrinal teaching goes for Christians at any age.

By the time I reached my teens, it was very difficult for me to formulate my "conversion story" for witnessing to the lost.  Some how, "I have always been a Christian" was just not something that my Sunday School teachers were prepared to deal with.

Second, the way that many Anabaptists handle the Age of Accountability is not consistent with the dire situation that the teaching implies.  Looking back as an adult, why weren't the adult members of my church carefully watching me to discern the subjective time at which Almighty God was going to apply the guilt of my sins to my soul?  If the ability of human reason and guilt is what brings about the wrath of God for sin, why weren't my powers of reason rigorously tested?  Why was I just thrown into an age appropriate information class when I started to self-report a desire to take communion?

I would think that the parents of children approaching the Age of Accountability would lie awake at night praying for the ability to foresee the exact moment when their child's wretched soul was destined for hell... when my mental faculties and personal conscience matured enough to make me "responsible" for the evil that I was already doing.  I was certainly in fear of hell many years before anyone else seemed to be concerned about my eternal destination.

Third, there is the next gross inconsistency that I realized at a very young age.  If God can abide sin in children and not hold them accountable, why does he change the rules as you get older?  If He can overlook actual sin because kids "don't know what they are doing" or "didn't really mean it" or "didn't understand the eternal consequences"... well, then why doesn't He do that for lost adults who are in practically the same situation?

As an adult, I am not really that much more aware of the manifold ways in which I sin than I was before.  I am not really that much more empowered to halt my sinful condition.  I certainly don't "feel" more guilty than I did as a young boy... because I grew up wracked with personal guilt... guilt that my "testimonial" Baptism did not comfort.  When is this Age of Accountability really?  Is it 4?  Is it 5?  Is it 10?  Is it 13?  45?  No one knows.  It is different for each person... well that is a pretty subjective answer to base the fate of eternal souls on.  We are talking about hell here.

Fourth, I remember my pastor as a child saying the following phrase before each Baptism, "Baptism doesn't save a person.  It is an outward expression of an inward experience."  I must have heard that 100 times growing up.  Well, what is that Inward Experience?!?  How do I know if I had that for real?  Now I know that it was a summary of the misinterpretation of the 1 Peter 3:21-22 passage.

Taking their belief as fact for a second, how do I know that my inward appeal was good?  What if I was under the Age of Accountability when I made that appeal and didn't fully understand what I was doing?  Did that invalidate my inward experience?  Can a child still in the Age of Accountability make that appeal and convert?  What if he does it too early and thinks he is converted when he wasn't biologically ready to convert?  Does that still count?  What would have happened if I ran over the Age of Accountability by six months and died?  What would happen to me then?

You can see that this whole topic really tore me up as a child.  Second only to missing "The Rapture" it was the highest point of dread that I experienced.  The emotions are as raw today as they were when I was a child.  So, Biblical truth aside for a second, it is a deeply emotionally wounding practice for kids who care about their eternal destination... and parents who bother to take the doctrine seriously as if it has eternal ramifications.  How was all this questioning handled?  Well, I was told that I should love God and have faith in Him and not try to "just use Jesus as a fire escape".  Turn me back onto the Law.  That's nice... No wonder I left.  Okay.  My ranting is over.

The big problem with Age of Accountability from a practical stand point is that it simultaneously over-estimates and under-estimates children.  It over-estimates their ability to communicate their spiritual condition and needs because adults DO NOT know what kids are really thinking.  It under-estimates their capacity for guilt and reason because adults DO NOT know what kids are really thinking.

I would also point people to this other experience that I had that proves that children are often a lot more theologically savvy than adults give them credit.  It really illustrates the foolishness of the Age of Accountability.  Look at this old post about a young child's proclamation.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Called the Divine Mysteries by Faith: Not because they are absent from us, but because they are above our understanding.

"In the second place, they raise in opposition also those statements of the ancients in which they call the Lord's Supper a mystery or sacrament, a mystic benediction, and mystical food.  Likewise, that the body of Christ is present or received in or under a mystery or sacramet.  They [the adversaries] understand a "mystery" as a figure or a sign of an absent reality.  But the ancients called both Baptism and the Lord's Supper mysteries, not with regard to the absence of anything but because they could not understand them with their minds or grasp them with their senses; rather, these sacramets occupied a position far above and beyond the range of the senses and the mind and had to be understoood and judged by faith on the basis of the Word of God alone.

Thus Paul says: "We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery" [1 Cor 2:7], and again he speaks of the dispensers of "the mysteries of God" [1 Cor 4:1; Col 1:25-27]."  Chyrsostom, Homilia 82 in Matthaeum, says: "In the mysteries of Baptism and the Lord's Supper we must not only look at those things which are subject to the senses but we must particularly believe that those things which are taught us by the Word are present and bestowed upon us, even though to the senses and to reason they seem absurd, for they are above our senses and our reason."

-Martin Chemnitz

Saturday, August 3, 2013

An All-Encompassing Nature

"The Spirit of the Lord fills the world;" (Wis 1:7) "where shall I go from Thy Spirit or where shall I flee from Thy presence?" (Ps 139:7) The prophet says:  "I am with you, says the Lord of hosts... My Spirit abides among you." (Hag 2:4-5)  If wherever God is, the Spirit is present also, what nature shall we presume Him to have?  An all-encompassing nature, or a nature confined to particular places, as we have described the nature of the angels?  No one would say the latter.  He is divine in nature, infinite in greatness, mighty in His works, good in His blessings; shall we not exalt Him; shall we not glorify Him?   I reckon that this "glorifying" is nothing else but the recounting of His own wonders."

-St Basil the Great
From On the Holy Spirit

Friday, August 2, 2013

"...My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives."

"All things of earth are fleeting and transitory; but the soul is immortal; how then can it find peace in these?  All of these are of the earth earthy, but our souls are of heavenly origin, how then could these satisify its holy desires?

In Christ alone it finds the peace it seeks (Matt 11:29); He only can satisfy and fully meet its immortal desires.  Against the holy wrath of God, it quietly rests in the wounds of Christ the Savior; against the accusations of Satan in the almighty power of Christ; against the terrors of the law in the gospel of Christ; against her accusing sins in the precious blood of Christ, that speaketh better things in the presence of God than the blood of Abel (Heb 12:24); against the fear of death it reposes in joyful confidence in the intercession of Christ at the right hand of the Father above.

And so faith finds rest in Christ; but our love also finds there its most blessed repose.  If we set our hearts upon earthly things, we shall not have this true peace, because these earthly things themselves do not have it, nor can they possibly satisfy the longings of the soul, because they are finite, whilst our souls, made in the image of God, ardently long for that Infinite Good, in whom all good things are.

As then our faith ought to rely upon nothing in all the world but the merit of Christ alone, so also our love should be set upon no earthly object, not even upon ourselves.  The love of self hinders the love of God, and we ought to prefer that love to all things else.  Our soul is the bride of Christ (2 Cor 11:2); it ought then to cling to Him alone.  Our soul is the temple of God (1 Cor 3:16), and hence it ought to be the dwelling-place of God alone."

-Johann Gerhard
From Sacred Meditiations

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Amplified Error: The Danger of Biblical Word Studies

It is a common joke among philosophy majors that the most dangerous thing in the world is a first year philosophy student.  Why?  Because he knows just enough to be really dangerous.  He has just enough knowledge to solidify his uniformed opinions in his own mind and just enough rhetorical tools to convince the people who know less than him that he is some kind of expert.

The same is true of original languages when doing Bible study.  Probably the most dangerous study in the world is carried out by someone who knows "a little" Greek... or "a little" Hebrew.

Or worse... he doesn't know either of those languages at all but has a Greek to English dictionary or thinks his Amplified Bible coupled with his Strong's Concordance makes him a Biblical scholar because it has two lexicons in the back.  The truth is that a solid English translation (like the ESV or NASB or even the old NIV) studied and read in context is far more advantageous than listening to pseudo-scholars writing Greek words one at a time on a white board.  After all, context is important because scripture interprets scripture.  Insight into the original languages is good BECAUSE it sheds more light on the original context... not because it gives you trivial knowledge of all the possible meanings and uses for Agape.  If you can't understand the context of the phrase in its original language, what does one word really profit you?  There might be an advantage there, but the danger should not be underestimated. 

I'm no linguist and I don't have a Master of Divinity so I am not an elitist here.  I am someone who was suckered in by the people described above for most of my life.  The sad fact is that most of them fall under the New Testament rebuke that warns to avoid people who are "always learnimg and [are] never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth."

Here's an example in English so everyone can know the danger that I am talking about. I am going to remove the dead language from the equation to simplify the point. Let's take a simple English sentence and play the Amplified word game.  I will show you how easily something can go wrong if you take one sentence out of context and amplify one word out of that sentence.  Let the twisting begin:

"At that time, Billy climbed over the fence."

Now I'm going to play the pseudo-scholar word games with this one sentence as if this was a passage of Scripture.  I don't have time to read a whole paragraph where I found this thing so I will do the "scholarly" thing and look at word meanings.  Let's see... Fence... that's an interesting word.  More often than not, the ugly truth is that I only found this sentence because I did a word search for "fence" and this thing popped up so I decided to use it.  (If you don't think that that happens then you are truly naïve... and you trust too easily.)

Let's look in my English to English lexicon (called a dictionary) and figure out what all the possible meanings are of this word.

Fence (noun) 

1. a barrier enclosing or bordering a field, yard, etc., usually made of posts and wire or wood, used to prevent entrance, to confine, or to mark a boundary.
2. Informal. a person who receives and disposes of stolen goods.
3. the place of business of such a person.
4. the act, practice, art, or sport of fencing.
5. skill in argument, repartee, etc.
Now, the first one is the most common, but there are all these other meanings!  Let's play around with it and get all scholarly.  Using 2, we can conclude that it is possible that Billy is working with some kind of criminal who specializes in stolen goods... and he is trying to climb over that person.  He must be trying to get over on that activity.  Since number 4 has to do with a sport involving swords and 5 means that Billy is a skilled talker, clearly we are dealing with some kind of shady individual.  Even when you look at number 1, what are most fences for?  They are for keeping out unwanted people... so at the very least, Billy is trespassing somewhere.  This lexicon has unlocked great truths here... Billy is clearly some kind of criminal.
Entire sermon series these days are built on the system I just described in the above paragraph.  I've read whole books and sat through bible studies with only that method as the source of truth.  Now let's look at the whole paragraph with no definitions and see what is there. 
"Billy is in the Under 10 baseball league at the local community center.  He plays center field.  In the second inning, one of the best players on the other team hit a home run and scored.  Billy's coach told him to retrieve the ball.  At that time, Billy climbed over the fence.  Billy got the ball and threw it back to his team mates.  After he got back on the field, they resumed the game.  Billy's team lost, but he congratulated the other team and had a good time.  After that, his parents took him out for ice cream."
With no definition explorations, reading the paragraph in context unlocks everything one could need to know about what is going on here.  This is how a true student of a text that really wants to know what is going on and uses context clues can realize that this text is an account of a little league baseball game.  The trick is to be humble and let the text tell you what it means instead of inserting every possible meaning or impression that you have into it.

But then this arrogant fool who wants to impress himself with his own knowledge and make sure that everyone else is equally impressed gets in the way of the paragraphs plain meaning... a plain meaning that someone who reads on a 4th grade level could understand with little difficulty.  That "scholar", "teaching pastor", or "small group leader" will take a story about little league and go on and on about the word "fence".  He will speak for a half our about the bad example Billy set by committing various crimes.  At the end, he will thank God for speaking to him and unlocking this hidden meaning.

Is Billy a criminal that you wouldn't let into your house or a little kid with ice cream on his face.  You be the judge. don't even need to know what Baseball is to get the sense of what is going on!
The clue is in the sentence itself.  "At that time..." already tells you that this one sentence is already out of context.  There is something more going on that you don't know.  All someone has to do is read the paragraph and it becomes painfully clear what it means.  Try it and you will be amazed how often people get this wrong when reading the Bible.
Don't get caught doing this yourself!