Concerning Christian Liberty by Martin Luther


“Thus from faith flow forth love and joy in the Lord, and from love a cheerful, willing, free spirit, disposed to serve our neighbour voluntarily, without taking any account of gratitude or ingratitude, praise or blame, gain or loss. Its object is not to lay men under obligations, nor does it distinguish between friends and enemies, or look to gratitude or ingratitude, but most freely and willingly spends itself and its goods, whether it loses them through ingratitude, or gains goodwill. For thus did its Father, distributing all things to all men abundantly and freely, making His sun to rise upon the just and the unjust. Thus, too, the child does and endures nothing except from the free joy with which it delights through Christ in God, the Giver of such great gifts.”

-Martin Luther, Concerning Christian Liberty

He sends forth the Word publicly so that all may hear it, that the heart experiences it, that through faith is wrought by Christ in secret

LutherGimbrett_EgliseProt_24 (2)


“Hence, all that we preachers can do is to become the mouthpieces and instruments of Christ our Lord, through whom he proclaims the Word bodily. He sends forth the Word publicly so that all may hear it, but that the heart inwardly experiences it, that is effected through faith and is wrought by Christ in secret where he perceives that it can be done according to his divine knowledge and pleasure. That is why he says: “I am the good shepherd.” And what is a good shepherd? “The good shepherd,” says Christ, “layeth down his life for the sheep; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” In this one virtue the Lord comprehends and exemplifies all others in the beautiful parable of the sheep. Sheep, you know, are most foolish and stupid animals. When we want to speak of anybody’s stupidity we say, “He is a sheep.” Nevertheless, it has this trait above all other animals, that it soon learns to heed its shepherd’s voice and will follow no one but its shepherd, and though it cannot help and keep and heal itself, nor guard itself against the wolf, but is dependent upon others, yet it always knows enough to keep close to its shepherd and look to him for help.”
-Martin Luther, sermon on John 10, Church Postils, 1523.

Books by C.S.Lewis

Monochrome head-and-left-shoulder photo portrait of 50-year-old Lewis

C. S. Lewis

The Irish-English writer C.S.Lewis (1898-1963) has written many books and essays on the Christian faith, some defending it, some meditating on it. A partial list follows

  1. Mere Christianity. This originated as a series of fifteen-minute radio talks addressed to e very general audience, undertaking to give a general account of Christian belief. It begins with a discussion of some reasons for believing that God exists, and why it matters that He does, and then continues with an account of the redeeming work of God in Christ. It includes a discussion of Christian moral standards, and Trinitarian theology. Throughout, the author undertakes to confine himself to the common Christian core of belief, and to steer clear of disagreements between denominations — hence the word Merein the title.
  2. Miracles. The author defines a miracle as “an interference with Nature by a supernatural power,” and proceeds to examine the question of whether we have grounds for believing that there exists something that can properly be called supernatural (this involves definitions of Nature other than just “everything that exists”), whether there are grounds for supposing that that something could not or would not interfere with the workings of Nature, and what sort of view of reality is involved in the Christian assertion of the Miracle of the Incarnation (God took human nature upon Himself in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth). A cogent discussion and analysis of fundamental questions.
  3. The Problem of Pain. Undertakes to answer the question, “If God is good and God is omnipotent, then why is there pain and evil in the world?” or, as otherwise put, “If God loves me, why can’t I get my locker open?”
  4. The Great Divorce. A dream (owing some ideas to Dante) in which the author visits Heaven and Hell. The question is not what they are like physically, but rather what it means to be in Hell or in Heaven.
  5. The Abolition of Man. Not explicitly Christian. Three lectures defending the concept of Natural Law (a moral standard known in principle to all human societies).
  6. The Screwtape Letters. A series of letters from Screwtape, an experienced devil, to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter on his first assignment. The letters deal with the psychology of temptation, and will make most readers laugh — and wince. (Note: Some copies have at the end an essay, “Screwtape Proposes a Toast”. This was written years later on a totally different subject. By all means read them both, but not as a single work, or in rapid succession.)
  7. Reflections on the Psalms. Problems or questions that occurred to Lewis while praying or studying the Psalms, and his thoughts thereon.
  8. A Preface to Paradise Lost. A series of lectures on epic poetry and in particular on Milton’s Paradise Lost. Lewis delivered these in his professional capacity as a specialist in Mediaeval and Renaissance English Literature, but they will be of interest to Christians as well as to English students, for Lewis maintains that one cannot understand or appreciate the poem without understanding (not necessarily accepting) the beliefs that the poem presupposes.
  9. The World’s Last Night and Other Essays. Includes:
    • The Efficacy of Prayer. Does it make sense to believe that prayer can change things?
    • On Obstinacy in Belief. Does it ever make sense to believe something “in the teeth of the evidence”?
    • The World’s Last Night. How ought the doctrine of Christ’s Second Coming to affect our lives and thoughts?
    • and Other Essays. Many collections of Lewis’s essays have appeared since his death, and there is an annoying lack of uniformity, so that the same essay may appear in two different books, or in one but not another collection with the same title.
  10. The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. Includes:
    • The Weight of Glory. On the promises concerning Heaven.
    • Transposition. (The title essay of the earlier editions.) Dn the indwelling of the higher in the lower.
    • The Inner Ring. On the urge to “belong” as a temptation.
    • and other addresses.
  11. The Space Trilogy. Three science-fiction or fantasy novels on Christian themes.
    • Out of The Silent Planet
    • Perelandra
    • That Hideous Strength
  12. The Narnia Chronicles. Seven books for children, fantasies or fairy tales that introduce indirectly many Christian topics. A reader might not notice the Christian implications (and I would suggest not pointing them out to a first-time reader), but an adult faced with a serious, intellectual, adult question may sometimes recall a passage as very much to the point. (I have.) Calling them books of stories may suggest an arbitrary collection of independent tales. In fact each book is a single story, and the series is a unity and should probably be read in the order of writing (although this makes the sixth a flashback, and some would favor reading it first.)
    • The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
    • Prince Caspian
    • The Voyage of The Dawn Treader
    • The Silver Chair
    • The Horse and His Boy
    • The Magician’s Nephew
    • The Last Battle
  13. Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer. The title explains.
  14. Till We Have Faces. Novel retelling the story of Eros and Psyche from the viewpoint of one of the sisters. One listmember wrote that she disliked Lewis’s work (I suspect for political reasons). I got her to read this and she loved it. She said: “I had no idea Lewis could write this sort of book!”
  15. English Literature in The Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama, later named Poetry and Prose in The Sixteenth Century. A standard reference work. Much of the material is of interest chiefly to the specialist, but someone already familiar with the doctrines on which Christians are in general agreed and wanting to understand the differences that gave rise to the Protestant Reformation will find much helpful material. I particularly recommend pages 32-44, 162-165, 177-180, 181-192, 438-463.
  16. The Pilgrim’s Regress. An account in the style of John Bunyan of how a young man, nominally reared as a Christian, abandoned his beliefs and fared forth in search of something better, and eventually arrived at a destination in one sense identical with, but in another sense very different from, his starting point. The intellectual alternatives he considers are affected by the fact that he is (a) an Englishman, living in the 1920’s, and (b) a scholar largely devoted to literature and philosophy. Today’s reader may therefore find some of the references irrelevant or simply baffling, but I predict that there will be a residue that hits home.
  17. The Four Loves. An analysis of different kinds of love, and different uses of the word “love,” taking as its starting point four Greek words for kinds of love.
  18. The Allegory of Love first made Lewis’s reputation in his profession as a literature professor. It deals with the development of allegorical love poetry in Western Europe from Ovid to Spenser. Parts of it are of interest only to the specialist, but I do not think this is true of the book as a whole. Reading it significantly changed my views on the workings of the subconscious.
  19. God in The Dock is a collection published after Lewis’s death of various essays, brief memos, letters to the editor, etc. that he had written.
  20. An Experiment in Criticism deals with Art, particularly literature. Many critics have first distinguished good books from bad books, and then defined Bad Taste as a taste for Bad Books. Lewis asks what will happen if we reverse the process by distinguishing two kinds of pleasures to be gotten from books (or music, or painting) and then distinguishing books on the basis of the kind of pleasure that they offer, or the way in which they invite the reader to approach them.
  21. The Discarded Image is an account of the view of the cosmos that was standard in medieval times, with a discussion of its effect on literature and on the imagination.
  22. Studies in Words takes several English words (and often their counterparts in Latin or Greek) and discusses changes in their meaning from century to century, and the patterns of human thought underlying the changes.
  23. … and many more!

Karl Barth

Karl Barth


Karl Barth is considered by some the greatest Protestant theologian of the 20th century and possibly the greatest since the Reformation. More than anyone else, Barth inspired and led the renaissance of theology that took place from about 1920 to 1950. The son of the Swiss Reformed minister and New Testament scholar Fritz Barth, Karl Barth was born in Basel, May 10, 1886, and was reared in Bern, where his father taught. From 1904 to 1909, he studied theology at the universities of Bern, Berlin, Tübingen, and Marburg. In 1913 he married Nelly Hoffman; they had five children. Barth  became known as a radical critic both of the prevailing liberal theology and of the social order. Liberal theology, Barth believed, had accommodated Christianity to modern culture. The crisis of World War I was in part a symptom of this unholy alliance. In his famous commentary Epistle to the Romans (1919; trans. 1933), Barth stressed the discontinuity between the Christian message and the world. He rejected the typical liberal points of contact between God and humanity in feeling or consciousness or rationality, as well as Catholic tendencies to trust in    the church or spirituality.

Barth held professorships successively at Göttingen and Münster universities from 1923 to 1930, when he was appointed professor of      systematic theology at the University of Bonn. He engaged in controversy with Adolf von Harnack, holding that the latter’s scientific theology is only a preliminary to the true task of theology, which is identical with that of preaching. He opposed the Hitler regime in Germany and supported church-sponsored movements against National Socialism; he was the chief author of the Barmen Declaration, six articles that defined Christian opposition to National Socialist ideology and practice. In 1934 he was       expelled from Bonn and returned to Switzerland; from 1935 until his retirement in 1962 was professor at Basel, exercising a worldwide influence. During this period he worked on his Church Dogmatics (1932-68), a multivolume work of great richness that was unfinished at his death. He remained in Basel until his death, December 10, 1968.

The principal emphasis in Barth’s work, known as neoorthodoxy and crisis theology, is on the sinfulness of humanity, God’s absolute transcendence, and the human inability to know God except through revelation. His objective was to lead theology away from the influence of modern religious philosophy back to the principles of the Reformation and the prophetic teachings of the Bible. He regarded the Bible, however, not as the actual revelation of God but as only the record of that revelation. For Barth,
God’s sole revelation of himself is in Jesus Christ. God is the “wholly other,” totally unlike mankind, who are utterly dependent on an encounter with the divine for any understanding of ultimate reality. Barth saw the
task of the church as that of proclaiming the “good word” of God and as serving as the “place of encounter” between God and mankind. Barth     regarded all human activity as being under the judgment of that encounter.
Barth’s first attempt at dogmatics was a volume of a Christian Dogmatics, published in 1927, which he judged to be a false start. Then in his study of Anselm of Canterbury he found a catalyst leading to what he called a breakthrough. He discovered in Anselm’s “faith seeking understanding” that theology did not have to justify itself by some outside criterion; it has  its own rationality and internal coherence in the form of witness to the event of Jesus Christ. This gave him confidence in his study of the gospel and in the fact that theology was a fully rational procedure, and he began his Church Dogmatics.

The Church Dogmatics is in four “volumes,” each comprising between two and four large tomes. Volume I is on the doctrine of the Word of God. Volume I/1 is about the three forms of the Word of God (preached, written, and revealed) and the nature of the Trinity. Volume I/2 treats the three forms in more detail — the revealed form in the incarnation of the Word of Jesus Christ, the written form in Scripture and the preached form in church proclamation.

Volume II is on the doctrine of God. Volume II/1 treats the knowledge of God, the main emphasis being on God’s initiative in revealing himself.
Then Barth treats the reality of God. He describes God as “one who loves in freedom,” and there is an exposition of the “perfections of the divine loving”  (grace, holiness, mercy, righteousness, patience, and wisdom), and the “perfections of the divine freedom” (unity, omnipresence, constancy,      omnipotence, eternity, and glory). Volume II/2 is on the election of God, Barth’s term for predestination. Barth transforms the doctrine of his own Calvinist tradition of double predestination by centering rejection and election in Jesus Christ, who takes all rejection on himself and also both elects all and is himself elected. Christ’s election leads to the election of the community of Israel and the church, and only in that context is it right to talk about the election or rejection of the individual.

Volume III is on the doctrine of creation. Volume III/1 is on God’s work of creation, its goodness and the relation of creation to God’s covenant.
Volume III/2 is on human being. Jesus Christ is the “real” human being and the criterion for true humanity. Volume III/3 covers providence, evil as     an “impossible possibility” which has no future, and heaven, angels, and demons. Volume III/4 treats the ethical side of the doctrine of creation.
God gives the freedom to live in gratitude before God, with other people, in respect for life and in limitation.

Barth completed the first three parts of Volume IV and partially completed part 4. Considering the doctrine of reconciliation, in Volume IV he       interweaves the themes of Christology, sin, soteriology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, justification, sanctification, and vocation. Christ is the servant, the judge who is judged in our place and who empties himself, the royal man who is raised up by God; He is the true witness, the victor over all that opposes him, and the light of life. Specific aspects of sin are     exposed by each aspect of Christ — pride resists accepting what God become man does for us; sloth refuses to take an active part in the new life given by Christ; falsehood resists and distorts the witness of    Christ. The way of human salvation is justification by faith through which the Christian community is gathered, sancification in love through which the community is built up, and vocation in hope, which sends the community out as witnesses in word and life. Barth did not live to write any of the projected final Volume V on eschatology.

Although Barth’s uncompromising positions were a great strength during the period of Nazi power, his views were increasingly subjected to criticism in the following decades. Some argue that he was too negative in his estimate of mankind and its reasoning powers and too narrow in limiting revelation to the biblical tradition, thus excluding the non-Christian      religions. He gives such radical priority to God’s activity that some critics find human activity and freedom devalued. Barth sees revelation and salvation as given by God and valid quite apart from the subjective responses of human beings, and this is questioned as regards how far it takes account of the importance of human response to God. Barth’s realism apparently aroused controversy; Barth takes a middle way between literalism (a one-to-one correspondence between our language and God) and  pure symbolism or expressivism (no real preference at all). He takes a similar position on the historicity of the Gospel narratives; they are not necessarily literal history, nor are they myth or fiction.

Among Barth’s other better known works are The Word of God and the Word of Man (1924; trans. 1928), Credo (1935; trans. 1936), and Evangelical     Theology, an Introduction (1962; trans. 1963). His works have influenced many theologians positively and negatively, including Rudolf Bultmann, Paul Tillich, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Hans Küng, Jürgen Moltmann, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Eberhard Jüngel, and many theologians from beyond continental Europe.
1996 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Copyright 1996 Grolier Interactive, Inc.
Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia, Copyright 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation.
The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Thought, ed. Alister E. McGrath, Copyright 1993 Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

Provocative Thoughts from Soren Kierkegaard


Provocative Thoughts from Soren Kierkegaard

A choice! Do you, my listener, know how to express in a single word anything more magnificent? Do you realize, even if you were to discuss year in and year out how you could mention nothing more awesome than a choice, what it is to have choice! For though it is certainly true that the ultimate blessing is to choose rightly, yet the faculty of choice itself is still the glorious prerequisite. What does it matter to the young lover to take inventory of all the outstanding qualities of her fiancé if she herself cannot choose? And, on the other hand, whether others praise her beloved’s many perfections or enumerate his faults, what more magnificent thing could she say than when she says, He is my heart’s choice!

A choice! Yes, this is the pearl of great price, yet it is not intended to be buried and hidden away. A choice that is not used is worse than nothing; it is a snare in which a person has trapped himself as a slave who did not become free – by choosing. It is a good thing that you can never be rid of it. It remains with you, and if you do not use it, it becomes a curse. A choice – not between red and green, not between silver and gold – no, a choice between God and the world! Do you know anything in comparison to choice? Do you know of any more overwhelming and humbling expression for God’s condescension and extravagance towards us human beings than that he places himself, so to say, on the same level of choice with the world, just so that we may be able to choose; that God, if language dare speak thus, woos humankind – that he, the eternally strong one, woos sapless humanity? Yet, how insignificant is the young lover’s choice between her pursuers by comparison with this choice between God and the world!

A choice! Or is it perhaps an imperfection in the choice under discussion here that a human being not only can choose but that he must choose? Would it not be to the young lover’s advantage if she had a zealous father who said, “My dear girl, you have your freedom, you yourself may choose, but you must choose.” Or would it be better that she had the choice but coyly picked and picked and never really chose?

No, a person must choose, for in this way God retains his honor while at the same time has a fatherly concern for humankind. Though God has lowered himself to being that which can be chosen, yet each person must on his part choose. God is not mocked. Therefore the matter stands thus: If a person avoids choosing, this is the same as the presumption of choosing the world.

Each person must choose between God and the world, God and mammon. This is the eternal, unchangeable condition of choice that can never be evaded – no, never in all eternity. No one can say, “God and world, they are not, after all, so absolutely different. One can combine them both in one choice.” This is to refrain from choosing. When there is a choice between two, then to want to choose both is just to shrink from the choice “to one’s own destruction” (Heb. 10:39). No one can say, “One can choose a little mammon and also God as well.” No, it is presumptuous ridicule of God if someone thinks that only the person who desires great wealth chooses mammon. Alas, the person who insists on having a penny without God, wants to have a penny all for himself. He thereby chooses mammon. A penny is enough, the choice is made, he has chosen mammon; that it is little makes not the slightest difference.

The love of God is hatred of the world and love of the world hatred of God. This is the colossal point of contention, either love or hate. This is the place where the most terrible fight must be fought. And where is this place? In a person’s innermost being. Whether the struggle is over millions or over a penny, it is a matter of loving and preferring God – the most terrible fight is the struggle for the highest. What immeasurable happiness is promised to the one who rightly chooses. If anyone is unable to understand this, the reason is that he is unwilling to accept that God is present in the moment of choice, not in order to watch but in order to be chosen. Therefore, each person must choose. Terrible is the battle, in a person’s innermost being, between God and the world. The crowning risk involved lies in the possession of choice.

Whatsoever a person chooses, when he does not choose God he has missed the either/or, or rather he is in perdition with his either/or. So then: either God/?What does this either/or signify? What does God demand by this either/or? He demands obedience, unconditional obedience. If you are not obedient in everything unconditionally, without qualification, you don’t love him, and if you don’t love him – then you hate him. If you are not obedient in everything unconditionally, then you are not bound to him, and if you are not bound to him then you despise him.

If you can become absolutely obedient, then when you pray, “Lead us not into temptation” there will be no ambiguity in you, you will be undivided and single before God. And there is one thing that all Satan’s cunning and all the snares of temptation cannot take by surprise – an undivided will. What Satan spies with keenness of sight as his prey, what all temptation aims at certain of its prey, is the ambiguous. When unclarity resides, there is temptation, and there it proves only too easily the stronger. Wherever there is ambiguity, wherever there is wavering, there is disobedience down at the bottom.

Where there is no ambiguity, Satan and temptation are powerless. But with the merest glimpse of wavering, Satan is strong and temptation is enticing, and keen-sighted is the evil one whose trap is called temptation and whose prey is called the human soul. Of course, it is not really from Satan that temptation comes, but ambiguity cannot hide itself from him. If he discovers it, temptation is always at hand. But the person who surrenders absolutely to God, with no reservations, is absolutely safe. From this safe hiding-place he can see the devil, but the devil cannot see him. And if with absolute obedience he remains in his hiding-place, then he is “delivered from the evil one.”

There is a tremendous danger in which we find ourselves by being human, a danger that consists in the fact that we are placed between two tremendous powers. The choice is left to us. We must either love or hate, and not to love is to hate. So hostile are these two powers that the slightest inclination towards the one side becomes absolute opposition to the other. Let us not forget this tremendous danger in which we exist. To forget is to have made your choice.

The Task/Becoming an Individual

Why is it that people prefer to be addressed in groups rather than individually? Is it because conscience is one of life’s greatest inconveniences, a knife that cuts too deeply? We prefer to “be part of a group,” and to “form a party,” for if we are part of a group it means goodnight to conscience. We cannot be two or three, a “Miller Brothers and Company” around a conscience. No, no. The only thing the group secures is the abolition of conscience.

It is the same with busyness. A person can very well eat lettuce before it has formed a heart, yet the tender delicacy of the heart and its lovely coil are something quite different from the leaves. Likewise, in the world of spirit, busyness, keeping up with others, hustling hither and yon, makes it almost impossible for an individual to form a heart, to become a responsible, alive self. Every life that is preoccupied with being like others is a wasted life, a lost life.

A sparrow, a fly, a poisonous insect is an object of God’s concern. It is not a wasted or lost life. But masses of mimickers, a crowd of copycats are wasted lives. God has been merciful to us, demonstrating his grace to the point of being willing to involve himself with every person. If we prefer to be like all the others, this amounts to high treason against God. We who simply go along are guilty, and our punishment is to be ignored by God.

By forming a party, by melting into some group, we avoid not only conscience, but martyrdom. This is why fear of others dominates this world. No one dares to be a genuine self; everyone is hiding in some kind of “togetherness.” Sensitive organs are shielded and not in immediate contact with objects, so us ordinary people are afraid to come into personal, immediate contact with the eternal. Instead, we rely on traditions and the voice of others. We are content to be a specimen or a copy, living a life shielded against individual responsibility before the Truth.

True individuality is measured by this: how long or how far one can endure being alone without the understanding of others. The person who can endure being alone is poles apart from the social mixer. He is miles apart from the man-pleaser, the one who manages successfully with everyone – he who possesses no sharp edges. God never uses such people. The true individual, anyone who is going to be directly involved with God, will not and cannot avoid the human bite. He will be thoroughly misunderstood. God is no friend of cozy human gathering.

Yes, in the purely human world the rule is this: Seek out the help and opinion of others. Christ says: Beware of men! The majority of people are not only afraid of holding a wrong opinion, they are afraid of holding an opinion alone. In the physical world water puts out fire. So too in the spiritual world. The “many”, the mass of people, put out the inner fire – beware of men!

According to the New Testament to be a Christian means to be salt. Christianity addresses this question to each individual: Are you willing to be salt? Are you willing to be sacrificed, instead of belonging to the crowd, which seeks to profit from the sacrifice of others? Here again is the distinction: to be salt or to melt into the mass; to let others be sacrificed for us on behalf of the Truth or to let ourselves be sacrificed – between these two lies an eternal qualitative difference.

The deep fault of the human race is that there are no individuals any more. We have become split in two. When a book has become old and shabby, the binding separates and the pages fall out. Similarly, in our time we are disintegrated. Our understanding, our imaginations do not bind us in character. We are spineless wimps who only flirt with the highest. How can we ever possibly avoid the dizziness that comes from fear of people in the midst of this whirlpool of millions where everything is either crowds or movements? What faith it takes to believe that one’s life is noticed by God and that this is enough!

Wanting to hide in the crowd, to be a little fraction of the group instead of being an individual, is the most corrupt of all escapes. Granted, it will make life easier, but it will do so by making it more thoughtless. Yet the question is that of the responsibility of each single individual – that each of us is an authentic, answerable self. It is a cop-out to make a racket along with a few others for a so-called conviction. We ought, before God, to make up our own minds about our convictions, and then live them out regardless of the others. Eternity will single each person out as individually responsible – the busy one who thought he was safe in some group or some enterprise, and the poorest wretch who thought he was overlooked.

Every person must render account to God. No third person dares venture to intrude upon this accounting. God in heaven does not talk to us as to an assembly; he speaks to each individually. This is why the most ruinous evasion of all is to be hidden away in a herd in an attempt to escape God’s personal address. Adam attempted this when his guilty conscience led him to imagine that he could hide himself among the trees. Similarly, it may be easier and more convenient, and more cowardly too, to hide yourself among the crowd in hope that God will not recognize you from the others. But in eternity each shall individually render an account. Eternity will examine each person for all that he has chosen and done as an individual before God.

It will be horrible on judgment day, when all souls come to life again, to stand utterly alone, alone and unknown by all, and yet candidly, exhaustively known by him who knows all. No one may ever pride himself at being more than an individual. Nor can anyone despondently think that he is not an individual. No, each one can and shall render account to God. Each one has the task of becoming an individual.
The Road is How

There is a generally accepted metaphor that compares life to a road. To compare life to a road can indeed be fruitful in many ways, but we must consider how life is unlike a road. In a physical sense a road is an external actuality, no matter whether anyone is walking on it or not, no matter how the individual travels on it – the road is the road. But in the spiritual sense, the road comes into existence only when we walk on it. That is, the road is how it is walked.

It would be unreasonable to define a highway by how it is walked. Whether it is the young person who walks it with his head held high or the old decrepit person who struggles along with head bowed down, whether it is the happy person hurrying to reach a goal or the worrier who creeps slowly along, whether it is the poor traveler on foot or the rich traveler in his carriage – the road, in the physical sense, is the same for all. The road is and remains the same, the same highway. But not the road of virtue. We cannot point to the road of virtue and say: There runs the road of virtue. We can only show how the road of virtue is walked, and if anyone refuses to walk that way, he is walking another road.

The dissimilarity in the metaphor shows up most clearly when the discussion is simultaneously about a physical road and a road in the spiritual sense. For example, when we read in the Gospel about the good Samaritan, there is mention of the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. The story tells of five people who walked “along the same road.” Spiritually speaking, however, each one walked his own road. The highway, alas, makes no difference; it is the spiritual that makes the difference and distinguishes the road. Let us consider more carefully how this is.

The first man was a peaceful traveler who walked along the road from Jericho to Jerusalem, along a lawful road. The second man was a robber who “walked along the same road” – and yet on an unlawful road. Then a priest came “along the same road”; he saw the poor unfortunate man who had been assaulted by the robber. Perhaps he was momentarily moved but went right on by. He walked the road of indifference. Next a Levite came “along the same road.” He saw the poor unfortunate man; he too walked past unmoved, continuing his road. The Levite walked “along the same road” but was walking his way, the way of selfishness and callousness. Finally a Samaritan came “along the same road.” He found the poor unfortunate man on the road of mercy. He showed by example how to walk the road of mercy; he demonstrated that the road, spiritually speaking, is precisely this; how one walks. This is why the Gospel says, “Go and do likewise.” Yes, there were five travelers who walked “along the same road,” and yet each one walked his own road.

The question “how one walks life’s road” makes all the difference. In other words, when life is compared to a road, the metaphor simply expresses the universal, that which everyone who is alive has in common by being alive. To that extent we are all walking along the road of life and are all walking along the same road. But when living becomes a matter of truth, then the question becomes: How shall we walk in order to walk the right road on the road of life? The traveler who in truth walks life’s road does not ask, “Where is the road?” but asks how one ought to walk along the road. Yet, because impatience does not mind being deceived it merely asks where the road is, as if that decided everything as when the traveler finally has found the highway. Worldly wisdom is very willing to deceive by answering correctly the question, “Where is the road?” while life’s true task is omitted, that spiritually understood the road is: how it is walked.

Worldly sagacity teaches that the road goes over Gerizim, or over Moriah, or that it goes through some science or other, or that the road is certain doctrines, or certain behaviors. But all this is a deception, because the road is how it is walked. It is indeed as Scripture says – two people can be sleeping in the same bed – the one is saved, the other is lost. Two people can go up to the same house of worship – the one goes home saved, the other is lost. Two people can recite the same creed – the one can be saved, the other is lost. How does this happen except for the fact that, spiritually speaking, it is a deception to know where the road is, because the road is: how it is walked?
Followers, not Admirers
It is well known that Christ consistently used the expression “follower.” He never asks for admirers, worshippers, or adherents. No, he calls disciples. It is not adherents of a teaching but followers of a life Christ is looking for.

Christ understood that being a “disciple” was in innermost and deepest harmony with what he said about himself. Christ claimed to be the way and the truth and the life (Jn. 14:6). For this reason, he could never be satisfied with adherents who accepted his teaching – especially with those who in their lives ignored it or let things take their usual course. His whole life on earth, from beginning to end, was destined solely to have followers and to make admirers impossible.

Christ came into the world with the purpose of saving, not instructing it. At the same time – as is implied in his saving work – he came to be the pattern, to leave footprints for the person who would join him, who would become a follower. This is why Christ was born and lived and died in lowliness. It is absolutely impossible for anyone to sneak away from the Pattern with excuse and evasion on the basis that It, after all, possessed earthly and worldly advantages that he did not have. In that sense, to admire Christ is the false invention of a later age, aided by the presumption of “loftiness.” No, there is absolutely nothing to admire in Jesus, unless you want to admire poverty, misery, and contempt.

What then, is the difference between an admirer and a follower? A follower is or strives to be what he admires. An admirer, however, keeps himself personally detached. He fails to see that what is admired involves a claim upon him, and thus he fails to be or strive to be what he admires.

To want to admire instead of to follow Christ is not necessarily an invention by bad people. No, it is more an invention by those who spinelessly keep themselves detached, who keep themselves at a safe distance. Admirers are related to the admired only through the excitement of the imagination. To them he is like an actor on the stage except that, this being real life, the effect he produces is somewhat stronger. But for their part, admirers make the same demands that are made in the theater: to sit safe and calm. Admirers are only all too willing to serve Christ as long as proper caution is exercised, lest one personally come in contact with danger. As such, they refuse to accept that Christ’s life is a demand. In actual fact, they are offended at him. His radical, bizarre character so offends them that when they honestly see Christ for who he is, they are no longer able to experience the tranquillity they so much seek after. They know full well that to associate with him too closely amounts to being up for examination. Even though he “says nothing” against them personally, they know that his life tacitly judges theirs.

And Christ’s life indeed makes it manifest, terrifyingly manifest, what dreadful untruth it is to admire the truth instead of following it. When there is no danger, when there is a dead calm, when everything is favorable to our Christianity, it is all too easy to confuse an admirer with a follower. And this can happen very quietly. The admirer can be in the delusion that the position he takes is the true one, when all he is doing is playing it safe. Give heed, therefore, to the call of discipleship!

If you have any knowledge at all of human nature, who can doubt that Judas was an admirer of Christ! And we know that Christ at the beginning of his work had many admirers. Judas was precisely an admirer and thus later became a traitor. It is just as easy to reckon as the stars that those who only admire the truth will, when danger appears, become traitors. The admirer is infatuated with the false security of greatness; but if there is any inconvenience or trouble, he pulls back. Admiring the truth, instead of following it, is just as dubious a fire as the fire of erotic love, which at the turn of the hand can be changed into exactly the opposite, to hate, jealousy, and revenge.

There is a story of yet another admirer – it was Nicodemus (Jn. 3:1ff). Despite the risk to his reputation, despite the effort on his part, Nicodemus was only an admirer; he never became a follower. It is as if he might have said to Christ, “If we are able to reach a compromise, you and I, then I will accept your teaching in eternity. But here in this world, no, that I cannot bring myself to do. Could you not make an exception for me? Could it not be enough if once in a while, at great risk to myself, I come to you during the night, but during the day (yes, I confess it, I myself feel how humiliating this is for me and how disgraceful, indeed also how very insulting it is toward you) to say “I do not know you?” See in what a web of untruth an admirer can entangle himself.

Nicodemus, I am quite sure, was certainly well meaning. I’m also sure he was ready to assure and reassure in the strongest expressions, words, and phrases that he accepted the truth of Christ’s teaching. Yet, is it not true that the more strongly someone makes assurances, while his life still remains unchanged, the more he is only making a fool of himself? If Christ had permitted a cheaper edition of being a follower – an admirer who swears by all that is high and holy that he is convinced – then Nicodemus might very well have been accepted. But he was not!

Now suppose that there is no longer any special danger, as it no doubt is in so many of our Christian countries, bound up with publicly confessing Christ. Suppose there is no longer need to journey in the night. The difference between following and admiring – between being, or at least striving to be – still remains. Forget about this danger connected with confessing Christ and think rather of the real danger which is inescapably bound up with being a Christian. Does not the Way – Christ’s requirement to die to the world, to forgo the worldly, and his requirement of self-denial – does this not contain enough danger? If Christ’s commandment were to be obeyed, would they not constitute a danger? Would they not be sufficient to manifest the difference between an admirer and a follower?

The difference between an admirer and a follower still remains, no matter where you are. The admirer never makes any true sacrifices. He always plays it safe. Though in words, phrases, songs, he is inexhaustible about how highly he prizes Christ, he renounces nothing, gives up nothing, will not reconstruct his life, will not be what he admires, and will not let his life express what it is he supposedly admires. Not so for the follower. No, no. The follower aspires with all his strength, with all his will to be what he admires. And then, remarkably enough, even though he is living amongst a “Christian people,” the same danger results for him as was once the case when it was dangerous to openly confess Christ. And because of the follower’s life, it will become evident who the admirers are, for the admirers will become agitated with him. Even that these words are presented as they are here will disturb many – but then they must likewise belong to the admirers.

Answering Doubt

Have you ever doubted? I wonder whether you have ever born the marks of imitation? I wonder whether you have forsaken all to follow Christ? I wonder, whether your life has been marked by persecution?

Indeed, many have doubted. And there have been those who felt obliged to refute their doubt with reasons. But these reasons backfire and foster a doubt that gets stronger and stronger. Why? Because demonstrating the truth of Christianity does not lie in reasons but in imitation: what resembles the truth. Yet we Christians prefer to take this proof away. The need for “reasons” is already a kind of doubt – doubt lives off reasons. We fail to notice that the more reasons one advances, the more one nourishes doubt and the stronger doubt becomes. Offering doubt reasons in order to kill it is just like offering a hungry monster food it likes best of all in order to eliminate it.

No, we must not offer reasons to doubt – at least not if our intention is to kill it. We must do as Luther did, order doubt to shut its mouth, and to that end we must keep quiet.

Those whose lives imitate Christ’s do not doubt such things as Christ’s resurrection. And why not? Because their lives are so strenuous, so much expended in daily sufferings that they are unable to sit in idleness keeping company with reasons and doubt, playing at evens or odds. Secondly, need itself quenches the doubt. When it is for a good cause that you are despised, persecuted, ridiculed, in poverty, then you will find that you do not doubt Christ’s resurrection, because you need it.

Without a life of imitation, of following Christ, it is impossible to gain mastery over doubts. We cannot stop doubt with reasons. Those who try have not learned that it is wasted effort. They do not understand that imitation is the only force that, like a police force, can break up the mob of doubts and clear the area and compel them to go home and hold their tongues.

Recall that the Savior of the world did not come to bring a doctrine; he never lectured. He did not try by way of reasons to prevail upon anyone to accept his teaching, nor did he try to authenticate it by demonstrable proofs. His teaching was his life, his existence. If someone wanted to be his follower, he said to that person something like this, “Venture a decisive act; then you can begin, then you will know.”

What does this mean? It means that no one becomes a believer by hearing about Christianity, by reading about it, by thinking about it. It means that while Christ was living, no one became a believer by seeing him once in a while or by going and staring at him all day long. No, a certain setting is required – venture a decisive act. The proof does not precede but follows; it exists in and with the life that follows Christ. Once you have ventured the decisive act, you are at odds with the life of this world. You come into collision with it, and because of this you will gradually be brought into such tension that you will then be able to become certain of what Christ taught. You will begin to understand that you cannot endure this world without having recourse to Christ. What else can one expect from following the truth?

This is also what Christ says, and this is the only proof possible for the truth of what he represents: “If anyone will act according to what I say, he will experience whether I am speaking on my own.” Venture to give all your possessions to the poor and you will certainly experience the truth of Christ’s teaching. Venture once to make yourself completely vulnerable for the sake of the truth, and you will certainly experience the truth of Christ’s word. You will experience how it alone can save you from despairing or from succumbing, for you will need Christ both to protect yourself against others and to maintain yourself upright when the thought of your own imperfection would weigh you down.

Yes, doubt will still come, even to the one who follows Christ. But the only person who has a right to leap forward even with a doubt is someone whose life bears the marks of imitation, someone who by a decisive action at least tries to go so far out that becoming a Christian can still be a possibility. Everyone else must hold his tongue; he has no right to put in a word about Christianity, least of all contra.

Anxiety and Despair

Learn to be satisfied with little – will you deny that this is much?

It is not only the poor who hunger. There is a hunger that all the treasures of the world cannot satisfy, and yet this hunger is for them. There is a thirst that all the streams of overabundance cannot quench, and yet this thirst is for them. I know very well that there is an anxiety, a secret, private anxiety, about losing.

“Cast all your care upon God.” You are to cast all care away; if you do not cast all care away, you retain it and do not become absolutely joyful. And if you do not cast it absolutely upon God, but in some other direction, you are not absolutely rid of it. In one way or another, it returns again, most likely in the form of a still greater and more bitter sorrow. For to cast care away, but not upon God – that is distraction. But distraction is a most doubtful and ambiguous remedy.

Anxiety for the next day is commonly associated with anxiety for subsistence. This is a very superficial view. The next day – it is the grappling-hook by which the prodigious hulk of anxiety gets a hold of the individual’s light craft. If it succeeds, he is under the domination of that power. The next day is the first link of the chain that fetters a person to that superfluous anxiety that is of the evil one. The next day – it is strange indeed, for ordinarily when one is sentenced for life the sentence reads, “for life,” but he who sentences himself to anxiety “for the next day,” sentences himself for life.

One who rows a boat turns his back to the goal towards which he labors. So it is with the next day. When by the help of eternity one lives absorbed in today, he turns his back to the next day. The more he is absorbed in today, the more decisively he turns his back upon the next day, so that he does not see it at all. If he turns around, eternity is confused before his eyes, it becomes the next day. But if for the sake of laboring more effectually towards the goal (eternity) he turns his back, he does not see the next day at all. By the help of eternity he sees quite clearly today and its task.

If you are to labor fruitfully today, you must be in this position. It always involves delay and distraction to want to look impatiently every instant towards the goal, to see if you are coming a little nearer, and now a little nearer. No, be eternally and seriously resolved, turn completely to the labor and turn the back to the goal. Such is one’s position in rowing a boat, but such is also the position when you believe.

You might think that the believer would be very far from the eternal when he turns his back to it and lives today, while the glimpser stands and looks towards it. And yet it is the believer who is nearest the eternal, while the apocalyptic visionary is farthest from the eternal. Faith turns its back to the eternal in order precisely to have this with him today.

Father in heaven! Draw our hearts to you so that our longing may be where our treasure is supposed to be. Turn our minds and our thoughts to where our citizenship is – in your kingdom, so that when you finally call us away from here our leave-taking may not be a painful separation but a joyful union with you. We do not know the time and the place, perhaps a long road still lies before us, and when strength is taken away from us, when exhaustion fogs our eyes so that we peer out as into a dark night, and restless desires stir within us, wild, impatient longings, and the heart groans in fearful anticipation of what is coming, oh Lord God, fix in our hearts the conviction that also while we are living, we belong to you.

Under the Spell of Good Intentions

There is a parable in the Scriptures that is seldom considered yet very instructive and inspiring. “There was a man who had two sons. The father went to the first and said, ?Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ?I will not’; but afterward he changed his mind and went. And the father went to the second son and said the same and he answered, ?I will go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” (Mt. 21:28-31). We could also ask in another manner: which of these two was the prodigal son? I wonder if it was not the one who said “Yes,” the one who not only said “Yes,” but said, “I will go, sir,” as if to show his unqualified, dutiful submission to his father’s will.

Now, what is the point of this parable? Is it not meant to show us the danger of saying “Yes” in too great a hurry, even if it is well meant? Though the yes-brother was not a deceiver when he said “Yes,” he nevertheless became a deceiver when he failed to keep his promise. In his very eagerness in promising he became a deceiver. When you say “Yes” or promise something, you can very easily deceive yourself and others also, as if you had already done what you promised. It is easy to think that by making a promise you have at least done part of what you promised to do, as if the promise itself were something of value. Not at all! In fact, when you do not do what you promise, it is a long way back to the truth.

Beware! The “Yes” of promise keeping is sleep-inducing. An honest “No” possesses much more promise. It can stimulate; repentance may not be far away. He who says “No,” becomes almost afraid of himself. But he who says “Yes, I will,” is all too pleased with himself. The world is quite inclined – even eager – to make promises, for a promise appears very fine at the moment – it inspires! Yet for this very reason the eternal is suspicious of promises.

Now suppose that neither of the brothers did his father’s will. Then the one who said “No” was surely closer to realizing that he did not do his father’s will. A “no” does not hide anything, but a yes can very easily become a deception, a self-deception; which of all difficulties is the most difficult to conquer. Ah, it is all too true that, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

It is the most dangerous thing for a person to go backwards with the help of good intentions, especially with the help of promises; for it is almost impossible to discover that one is really going backwards. When a person turns his back on someone and walks away, it is easy to see which way he is going. That is that! But when a person finds a way of turning his face towards him who he is walking away from, and in so doing walks backwards while appearing to greet the person, giving assurances again and again that he is coming, or incessantly saying “Here I am” – though he gets farther and farther away by walking backwards – then it is not so easy to become aware. And so it is with the one who, rich in good intentions and quick to promise, retreats backwards farther and farther from the good. With the help of intentions and promises, he maintains the honest impression that he is moving towards the good, yet all the while he moves farther and farther away from it. With every renewed intention and promise it seems as if he is taking a new step forward but in reality he is only standing still, no, he is really taking another step backward.

The good intention, the “Yes,” taken in vain, the unfulfilled promise leaves a residue of despair, of dejection. Beware! Good intention can very soon flare up again in more passionate declarations of intention, but only to leave behind even greater desperation. As an alcoholic constantly requires stronger and stronger drink, so the one who has fallen under the spell of good intentions and smooth-sounding declaration constantly requires more and more good intentions. And so he keeps himself from seeing that he is walking backwards.

We do not praise the son who said “No,” but we need to learn from the gospel how dangerous it is to say, “Lord, I will.” A promise with respect to action is somewhat like a changeling (an infant secretly changed for another) – one needs to be very watchful. In the very moment a child is born the mother’s joy is greatest, because her pain is gone. When because of her joy she is less watchful – so says the superstition – evil powers come and put a changeling in the child’s place. In the crucial initial moment when one sets out and begins, a dangerous time indeed, enemy forces come and slip in a changeling promise, thus hindering one from making a genuine beginning. Alas, how many have been deceived in this manner, yes, as if cast under a spell!

Faith: The Matchless Lack of Logic

Can one come to know anything about Christ from history? No. And why not? It is because Christ is the paradox, the object of faith, and exists only for faith. About him nothing can be known; he can only be believed. You cannot come to know anything about Christ from history. Whether one learns little or much about him, it will not represent who he is in reality. Obtaining historical facts makes Christ into someone other than who he in fact is.

Can’t you at least demonstrate from history that Christ was God, even though we might know little else? Let me ask another question first: Can any more absurd contradiction be imagined than wishing to prove that an individual person is God? Now think of proving that! How can you make something that conflicts with reason into something reasonable? You can’t, unless you wish to contradict yourself. The so-called proofs for the divinity of Christ that people claim Scripture sets forth – his miracles, his resurrection, his ascension – are not, when you think about it, in harmony with our reason. On the contrary, they demonstrate that believing in Christ’s works is a matter of faith.

What can all the miracles really demonstrate anyway? At most that Jesus Christ was a great man, perhaps the greatest who ever lived. But that he was – God – no, stop; that conclusion will surely miscarry.

How is it possible to observe the gradually unfolding results of something and then arrive at, by some trick of deduction, a conclusion different in quality from what you began with? Is it not sheer insanity (providing humanity is sane) to let your judgment become so altogether confused as to land in the wrong category? A footprint is certainly the consequence of some creature having made it. I may mistake it for that of a bird, but on closer inspection, and by following the prints for some distance, I may determine that some other animal made it. Fine. But can I at some point reach the conclusion: ergo it is a spirit that has walked along this way, a spirit – which leaves no print? Precisely the same holds true whenever we try to infer from the results of a person’s life that therefore he was God.

True, if God and humankind resemble each other so closely so as to essentially belong to the same category of being, the conclusion “therefore Christ was God” makes perfect sense. But this is nothing but humbug. If that is all there is to being God, then God does not exist at all! But if God belongs to a category infinitely different from the human, why, then neither I nor any one else can start with the assumption that Christ was human and then logically conclude that therefore he was God. Anyone with a bit of logical sense should be able to see this. The question of whether or not he was God lies on an entirely different plane: each person must decide for himself whether or not he will believe Christ to be what he himself claimed to be.

Faith protests against every attempt to approach Christ by means of historical facts. Faith’s contention is that the historian’s whole approach is – blasphemy. How strange! With the help of history, that is, by looking at the results of Christ’s life, we think we can arrive at the conclusion that he was God. Yet faith makes the very opposite claim. Anyone who begins with this kind of logic is guilty of blasphemy. The blasphemy is not so much the hypothetical assumption that Christ was a human being, but in the thought that the results of his life can be separated from who he was. When you scrutinize the facts, you make Christ out to be just a man.

With regard to Christ we have only sacred history (which is qualitatively different from the historian’s account). Christ is the divine-human paradox that history can never digest or convert into a proof. Even with what we know of Christ’s life and of all his brilliant works, they will pale in comparison to his coming again in glory! Or perhaps you think that Christ’s return will be nothing more than the progressive result of his life in history? No! Christ’s return will be something entirely different, something that can only be believed. That Christ was God incarnate in his lowliness and that he will come again in glory, all this is far beyond the comprehension of history. This cannot be inferred from “facts” or from history, no matter how matchlessly you regard them, except through a matchless lack of logic.

It is infinitely beyond history’s capacity to demonstrate that God, the omnipresent One, lived here on earth as an individual human being. History can indeed richly communicate knowledge, but such knowledge annihilates Jesus Christ. How strange, then, that anyone ever wanted to use history to demonstrate that Christ was God. Even if Christ’s life had manifested no astonishing results, it makes no difference. Besides, what’s so extraordinary about the fact that God’s life had extraordinary results? To talk this way is sheer nonsense. No, God lived here on earth, in true lowliness, and that is what is infinitely extraordinary – extraordinary in itself. The fact that he lived among us is infinitely more important than all the extraordinary results ever recorded in history.

To Need God Is Perfection

With respect to physical existence, one needs little, and to the degree that one needs less, the more perfect one is. In a human being’s relationship with God, however, it is inverted: the more one needs God the more perfect he is. To need God is nothing to be ashamed of but is perfection itself. It is the saddest thing in the world if a human being goes through life without discovering that he needs God!

For what is a human being after all? Is he just one more ornament in the vast array of creation? And what is his power? What is the highest he is able to will? Well, we do not want to defraud the highest of its price, but we cannot conceal the fact that the highest is realized only when a person is fully convinced that he himself is capable of nothing, nothing at all. What rare dominion – not rare in the sense that only one individual is born to be king, since everyone is born to it! What rare wisdom – not rare because it is offered to just a few who are educated, but because it is offered to all, and accessible to all! True, if a person turns outward, it will probably seem as if he were capable of accomplishing something amazing, something that satisfies him, something that draws enthusiastic admiration. From a human perspective, humankind may well be the most glorious creation, but all its glory is still only in the external and for the external. Does not the eye aim its arrow outward every time passion and desire tighten the bowstring? Does not the hand grasp outward, is not his arm outstretched, and is not his ingenuity all-conquering? Deception!

A human being is great and at his highest only when before God he recognizes that he is nothing in himself. Consider Moses or the so-called works of Moses. What is the deed of even the greatest hero; what are demolishing mountains and filling rivers compared with having darkness fall upon all Egypt! But these were not really Moses’ works. Moses was capable of nothing at all, for the work was the Lord’s. Do you see the difference? Moses – he did not make decisions and formulate plans while the council of the common sense listened attentively – Moses was capable of nothing at all. If the people had said to him, “Go to Pharaoh, because your word is powerful, your voice is triumphant, your eloquence irresistible,” he would have answered, “Oh, you fools! I am capable of nothing, not even of giving my life for you if the Lord does not so will. I am capable only of submitting everything to the Lord.” Or if the people who thirsted in the desert had appealed to Moses, saying, “Take your staff and order the rock to give water,” would not Moses have answered, “What is my staff but a stick?”

A person who knows himself perceives that he, in and of himself, is actually capable of nothing. The same applies to the internal world. Are any of us capable of anything there, either? If a capability is actually to be a capability, it must have some kind of opposition. Without opposition, one is either all-powerful or one’s capability is something entirely imaginary. In the internal world of spirit, opposition can come only from within. In this way, we struggle with ourselves. If a person does not discover this conflict, his understanding is faulty and consequently his life is imperfect; but if he does discover it, he will understand that he himself is capable of nothing at all.

Such self-knowledge we are referring to is really not complicated. But is one not able, then, to overcome oneself by oneself? How can I be stronger than myself? When we speak of overcoming oneself by oneself, we really mean something external, so that the struggle is unequal. Take, for example, someone who has been tempted by worldly prestige but who conquers himself so that he no longer reaches out for it. If he is to guard his soul against a new vanity, he will have to admit that he is not really able to overcome himself. He understands that with will power alone he creates in his innermost being temptations of glory, fear, despondency, of pride and defiance, and sensuality greater than those he meets in the external world. For this reason he struggles with himself. Victory proves nothing with regard to this greater temptation. If he is victorious in facing the temptation with which the surrounding world confronts him, this does not prove that he would be victorious if the temptation were as terrible as he is able to imagine it. He knows deep within himself that he is capable of nothing at all.

In one sense, to need God and to know that this is a human being’s highest perfection, makes life more difficult. However, insofar as a person does not know himself, he does not actually become conscious in the deeper sense that God is. The person who realizes that he is capable of nothing cannot undertake the slightest thing without God’s help, without becoming conscious that God is. We sometimes speak of learning to know God from the events of past history. We open up the chronicles and read and read. Well, that may be fine, but how much time it takes, and how dubious the outcome frequently is! But someone who is conscious that he is capable of nothing has every day and every moment the precious opportunity to experience that God lives. If he does not experience it often enough, he knows very well why that is. It is because his understanding is faulty and he believes that he himself is, after all, capable of something.

This does not mean that a person’s life becomes easy simply because he learns to know God in this way. On the contrary, it can become that much more difficult. But in this difficulty his life acquires a deeper meaning. Should it mean nothing to him that he continually keeps his eyes on God, knowing that he himself is capable of nothing at all, yet with the help of God he is indeed capable? Should it mean nothing to him that he is learning to die to the world, to esteem less and less the things that fade away? Finally, should it not have meaning for him that he most vividly and confidently understands that God is love, that God’s goodness passes all understanding?

We are not saying that to need God is to sink into a dreaming admiration and some visionary contemplation. No. God does not let himself be taken in vain in this way. Just as knowing ourselves in our own nothingness is the condition for knowing God, so knowing God is the condition for the sanctification of a human being by God’s assistance and according to his intention. Wherever God is, there he is always creating. He does not want a person to be spiritually soft and to bathe in the contemplation of his glory. He wants to create a new human being. To need God is to become new. And to know God is the crucial thing. Without this knowledge a human being becomes nothing. Without this knowledge, he is scarcely able to grasp that he himself is nothing at all, and even less that to need God is his highest perfection.
Truth Is the Way
What is Truth?

Soren Kierkegaard

Excerpted from Provocations, available FREE in e-book format.

Truth is not something you can appropriate easily and quickly. You certainly cannot sleep or dream yourself into the truth. No, you must be tried, do battle, and suffer if you are to acquire truth for yourself. It is a sheer illusion to think that in relation to truth there is an abridgment, a short cut that dispenses with the necessity of struggling for it. With respect to acquiring truth to live by, every generation and every individual must essentially begin from the beginning.

What is truth, and in what sense was Christ the truth? The first question, as is well known, was asked by Pilate (Jn. 18:38), and it is doubtful whether he ever really cared to have his question answered. Pilate asks Christ, “What is truth?” That it did not occur to Pilate that Christ was the truth demonstrates precisely that he had no eye at all for truth. Christ’s life was the truth (Jn. 14:6). To this end was Christ born, and for this purpose did he come into the world, that he should bear witness to the truth. What, then, is the fundamental confusion in Pilate’s question? It consists in this, that it occurred to him to question Christ in this way; for in questioning Christ he actually denounced himself; he revealed that Christ’s life had not illumined him. How could Christ enlighten Pilate with words when Pilate could not see through Christ’s own life what truth is!

Pilate’s question is extremely foolish. Not that he asks, “What is truth?” but that he questions Christ, he whose life is expressly the truth and who at every moment demonstrates more powerfully by his life what truth is than all the most profound lectures of the cleverest thinkers. Though it makes perfect sense to ask any other person, a thinker, a teacher, or whoever, “What is truth?” to ask Christ this it is the greatest possible confusion. Obviously Pilate is of the opinion that Christ is just a man, like everyone else. Poor Pilate! Pilate’s question is the most foolish and confusing question ever asked by man. It is as if I were to ask someone standing right before me, “Do you exist?” How can that person reply? So also with Christ in relation to Pilate. Christ is the truth. “If my life,” he might say, “cannot open your eyes to what truth is, then what can I say? For I am the truth.”

As with Pilate, in our day Christ as the truth has also been abolished: we take Christ’s teaching – but abolish Christ. We want truth the easy way. This is to abolish truth, for Christ the teacher is more important than the teaching. Just as Christ’s life, the fact that he lived here on earth, is vastly more important than all the results of his life, so also is Christ infinitely more important than his teaching.

Christ is the truth in the sense that to be the truth is the only true explanation of it; the only true way of acquiring it. Truth is not a sum of statements, not a definition, not a system of concepts, but a life. Truth is not a property of thought that guarantees validity to thinking. No, truth in its most essential character is the reduplication of truth within yourself, within me, within him. Your life, my life, his life expresses the truth in the striving. Just as the truth was a life in Christ, so too, for us truth must be lived.

Therefore, truth is not a matter of knowing this or that but of being in the truth. Despite all modern philosophy, there is an infinite difference here, best seen in Christ’s response to Pilate. Christ did not know the truth but was the truth. Not as if he did not know what truth is, but when one is the truth and when the requirement is to be in the truth, to merely “know” the truth is insufficient – it is an untruth. For knowing the truth is something that follows as a matter of course from being in the truth, not the other way around. Nobody knows more of the truth than what he is of the truth. To properly know the truth is to be in the truth; it is to have the truth for one’s life. This always costs a struggle. Any other kind of knowledge is a falsification. In short, the truth, if it is really there, is a being, a life. The Gospel says that this is eternal life, to know the only true God and the one whom he sent, the truth (Jn. 17:3). That is, I only know the truth when it becomes a life in me.

Truth is not a deposit of acquired knowledge, the yield. This might have been if Christ had been, for example, a teacher of truth, a thinker, one who made a discovery. But Christ is the way as well as the truth. His teaching is infinitely superior to all the inventions of any and every age, an eternity older and an eternity higher than all systems, even the very newest. His teaching is the truth – not in terms of knowledge, but in the sense that the truth is a way – and as the God-man he is and remains the way; something that no human being, however zealously he professes that the truth is the way, dare assert of himself without blasphemy.

Christ compares truth to food and appropriating it to eating it (Jn. 6:48-51). Just as food is appropriated (assimilated) and thereby becomes the sustenance of life, so also spiritually, truth is both the giver and the sustenance of life. It is life. Therefore one can see what a monstrous mistake it is to impart or represent Christianity by lecturing. The truth is lived before it is understood. It must be fought for, tested, and appropriated. Truth is the way. And when the truth is the way, then the way cannot be shortened or drop out unless the truth itself is distorted or drops out. Is this not too difficult to understand? Anyone will easily understand it if he just gives himself to it.

Love or Hate

A choice! Do you, my listener, know how to express in a single word anything more magnificent? Do you realize, even if you were to discuss year in and year out how you could mention nothing more awesome than a choice, what it is to have choice! For though it is certainly true that the ultimate blessing is to choose rightly, yet the faculty of choice itself is still the glorious prerequisite. What does it matter to the young lover to take inventory of all the outstanding qualities of her fiancé if she herself cannot choose? And, on the other hand, whether others praise her beloved’s many perfections or enumerate his faults, what more magnificent thing could she say than when she says, He is my heart’s choice!

A choice! Yes, this is the pearl of great price, yet it is not intended to be buried and hidden away. A choice that is not used is worse than nothing; it is a snare in which a person has trapped himself as a slave who did not become free – by choosing. It is a good thing that you can never be rid of it. It remains with you, and if you do not use it, it becomes a curse. A choice – not between red and green, not between silver and gold – no, a choice between God and the world! Do you know anything in comparison to choice? Do you know of any more overwhelming and humbling expression for God’s condescension and extravagance towards us human beings than that he places himself, so to say, on the same level of choice with the world, just so that we may be able to choose; that God, if language dare speak thus, woos humankind – that he, the eternally strong one, woos sapless humanity? Yet, how insignificant is the young lover’s choice between her pursuers by comparison with this choice between God and the world!

A choice! Or is it perhaps an imperfection in the choice under discussion here that a human being not only can choose but that he must choose? Would it not be to the young lover’s advantage if she had a zealous father who said, “My dear girl, you have your freedom, you yourself may choose, but you must choose.” Or would it be better that she had the choice but coyly picked and picked and never really chose?

No, a person must choose, for in this way God retains his honor while at the same time has a fatherly concern for humankind. Though God has lowered himself to being that which can be chosen, yet each person must on his part choose. God is not mocked. Therefore the matter stands thus: If a person avoids choosing, this is the same as the presumption of choosing the world.

Each person must choose between God and the world, God and mammon. This is the eternal, unchangeable condition of choice that can never be evaded – no, never in all eternity. No one can say, “God and world, they are not, after all, so absolutely different. One can combine them both in one choice.” This is to refrain from choosing. When there is a choice between two, then to want to choose both is just to shrink from the choice “to one’s own destruction” (Heb. 10:39). No one can say, “One can choose a little mammon and also God as well.” No, it is presumptuous ridicule of God if someone thinks that only the person who desires great wealth chooses mammon. Alas, the person who insists on having a penny without God, wants to have a penny all for himself. He thereby chooses mammon. A penny is enough, the choice is made, he has chosen mammon; that it is little makes not the slightest difference.

The love of God is hatred of the world and love of the world hatred of God. This is the colossal point of contention, either love or hate. This is the place where the most terrible fight must be fought. And where is this place? In a person’s innermost being. Whether the struggle is over millions or over a penny, it is a matter of loving and preferring God – the most terrible fight is the struggle for the highest. What immeasurable happiness is promised to the one who rightly chooses. If anyone is unable to understand this, the reason is that he is unwilling to accept that God is present in the moment of choice, not in order to watch but in order to be chosen. Therefore, each person must choose. Terrible is the battle, in a person’s innermost being, between God and the world. The crowning risk involved lies in the possession of choice.

Whatsoever a person chooses, when he does not choose God he has missed the either/or, or rather he is in perdition with his either/or. So then: either God/?What does this either/or signify? What does God demand by this either/or? He demands obedience, unconditional obedience. If you are not obedient in everything unconditionally, without qualification, you don’t love him, and if you don’t love him – then you hate him. If you are not obedient in everything unconditionally, then you are not bound to him, and if you are not bound to him then you despise him.

If you can become absolutely obedient, then when you pray, “Lead us not into temptation” there will be no ambiguity in you, you will be undivided and single before God. And there is one thing that all Satan’s cunning and all the snares of temptation cannot take by surprise – an undivided will. What Satan spies with keenness of sight as his prey, what all temptation aims at certain of its prey, is the ambiguous. When unclarity resides, there is temptation, and there it proves only too easily the stronger. Wherever there is ambiguity, wherever there is wavering, there is disobedience down at the bottom.

Where there is no ambiguity, Satan and temptation are powerless. But with the merest glimpse of wavering, Satan is strong and temptation is enticing, and keen-sighted is the evil one whose trap is called temptation and whose prey is called the human soul. Of course, it is not really from Satan that temptation comes, but ambiguity cannot hide itself from him. If he discovers it, temptation is always at hand. But the person who surrenders absolutely to God, with no reservations, is absolutely safe. From this safe hiding-place he can see the devil, but the devil cannot see him. And if with absolute obedience he remains in his hiding-place, then he is “delivered from the evil one.”

There is a tremendous danger in which we find ourselves by being human, a danger that consists in the fact that we are placed between two tremendous powers. The choice is left to us. We must either love or hate, and not to love is to hate. So hostile are these two powers that the slightest inclination towards the one side becomes absolute opposition to the other. Let us not forget this tremendous danger in which we exist. To forget is to have made your choice.
Weight of Inwardness
Truth is the work of freedom and in such a way that freedom constantly brings forth truth. What I am referring to is very plain and simple, namely, that truth exists for a particular individual only as he himself produces it in action. If the individual prevents the truth from being for him in that way, we have a phenomenon of the demonic. Truth has always had many loud proclaimers, but the question is whether a person will in the deepest sense acknowledge the truth, allow it to permeate his whole being, accept all its consequences, and not have an emergency hiding place for himself and a Judas kiss for the consequence.

There is a lot of talk about truth. But the task before us is to vindicate certitude and inwardness, not in abstraction but in an entirely concrete sense. Certitude and inwardness determine whether or not the individual is in the truth. It is not a lack of content that gives rise to arbitrariness, unbelief, mockery of religion, but lack of certitude. Whenever inwardness and appropriation are lacking, the individual is unfree in relation to the truth, even though he otherwise “possesses” the whole truth. He is unfree because there is something that makes him anxious, namely, the good.

It is not my desire to use big words in speaking about the Age as a whole. However, you can hardly deny that the reason for its anxiety and unrest is because in one direction, “truth” increases in scope and in quantity – via science and technology – while in the other, certainty and confidence steadily decline. Our age is a master in developing truths while being wholly indifferent to certitude. It lacks confidence in the good.

Take the thought of immortality, for example. The person who knows how to prove the immortality of the soul but who is not himself convinced by it, and does not live by it will always be anxious. Despite all his proofs, he shrinks from the truth of immortality. He deceives both himself and others by pretending that the proof is enough. In the process of trying to prove immortality he forgets immortality, since immortality is precisely what he fears. He remains anxious and is thus forced to seek yet a further understanding of what it means to believe in the soul’s immortality.

Without inwardness, an adherent of the most rigid orthodoxy may be demonic. He knows it all. He genuflects before the holy. He is ceremoniously flawless. He speaks of meeting before the throne of God and knows how many times to bow. He knows everything, but only like the person who can prove a mathematical proposition when the letters are ABC, but not when the letters are DEF. He is nonetheless anxious, especially whenever he hears something that is not exactly the same as his belief. He resembles the philosopher who has discovered a new proof for the immortality of the soul and then, in peril of his life, cannot produce the proof because he has forgotten his notebooks! What is it that both of them lack? It is certitude.

With what industrious zeal, with what sacrifice of time, diligence, and writing materials the theologians and philosophers in our time have spent to prove God’s existence! Yet to the same degree that the excellence of these proofs increase certainty declines. What is it that such individuals lack? Again, it is inwardness.

But inwardness may also be lacking in an opposite direction. So-called pious Christians are also unfree. They too lack the authentic certitude of inwardness. That is why they are so pious! And the world is surely justified in laughing at them. If, for example, a bowlegged man wants to be a dancing master but is not able to execute a single step, he is comical. So it is also with the multitudes who are so religious. Often you can hear the pious beating time, as it were, exactly like one who cannot dance but nevertheless knows enough to beat time, yet who are never fortunate enough to get in step. In order to reassure themselves, the pious seize upon grandiose ideas that the world hates. They battle ideas, but not with their lives. Such is the life of those who lack inwardness.

Eternity is a very radical thought, and thus a matter of inwardness. Whenever the reality of the eternal is affirmed, the present becomes something entirely different from what it was apart from it. This is precisely why human beings fear it (under the guise of fearing death). You often hear about particular governments that fear the restless elements of society. I prefer to say that the entire Age is a tyrant that lives in fear of the one restless element: the thought of eternity. It does not dare to think it. Why? Because it crumbles under – and avoids like anything – the weight of inwardness.
Behold the Birds of the Air

Once upon a time there was a wood dove. It had its nest in the fearsome forest, where wonder and apprehension dwelt together, among the erect, lonely trees. But nearby, where the smoke rises up from the farmer’s house, lived some tame doves. The wood dove would often meet a pair of these. He would sit on a branch that stretched out over the farmyard, not far from the two tame doves on the ridge of the roof. One day they were talking together about how things were going and about making a living. The wood dove said, “Up until now I have made my living by letting each day have its own troubles, and in that way I get through life just fine.” The tame dove, not without preening itself, answered: “No, we manage differently; with us, that is with the rich farmer with whom we live, our future is secure. At harvest time, my mate and I sit up on the roof and watch. The farmer brings in so many loads of corn that I know we are secure for a very long time. We two are well provided for and have our guaranteed security.”

When the wood dove returned home he pondered the matter. It occurred to him that it must be a great comfort to know that one’s living was secure for a long time, and what a wretched thing it was to always live in uncertainty. “It would be best,” he told himself, “to gather a great stockpile and store it here or there in some safe place.”

The next morning the wood dove woke earlier than usual. He got to work right away and was so busy gathering and storing that he scarcely had time to eat. But as fate seemed to hang over him, every time he had collected a little supply and hidden it away, when he came to look for it, it was gone! Meanwhile there was no actual change about making a living. He found his food every day as before. And yet a great change had taken place. He did not suffer actual want, but he had acquired the anticipation of need in the future. His peace of mind was lost. He had become anxious about the necessities of life.

From now on, the wood dove began to worry. His feathers lost their glint of color, his flight lost buoyancy. He was no longer joyful; indeed, he was almost envious of the rich, tame doves. He found his food each day, ate his fill, and yet he was not satisfied. In worrying about his needs he had trapped himself in a snare in which no birdcatcher could have trapped him, trapped as only a free creature can trap himself. “This securing of the future is constantly on my mind,” he said. “Oh why am I a poor wood dove and not one of those rich ones?”

He saw plainly that anxiety was taking its toll on him, and so he spoke seriously to himself, yet not so seriously that he could drive away the worry from his mind and set his heart at rest. No, he only spoke in such a way that he convinced himself that his care was justified. “I am not asking anything unreasonable or impossible,” he said. “I do not ask to become like the wealthy farmer, but only like one of the rich doves.”

Finally, he contrived a scheme. One day he flew over and sat between the tame doves on the ridge of the farmer’s roof. He noticed a place where they flew in, so he flew in too, because surely the storeroom had to be there. But when the farmer came home in the evening and shut the dovecote, he discovered the strange dove. He immediately put it into a little box by itself until the next day, when it was killed – and released from its worries about the necessities of life! Alas, the worried wood dove had not only trapped himself in worry but also in the dovecote – to its death!

The wood dove is like us silly human beings. When a person is content with the dignity of being human, then he understands that his heavenly Father feeds him. This he learns from the birds of the air. He does not live like the tame birds in the house of the wealthy farmer, but in the house of him who is richer than everyone, for heaven and earth are the house and possession of God, and humankind is his guest.

A person must be content to be as he is; a dependent being, as little capable of sustaining himself as of creating himself. If we choose to forget God and look after our own sustenance, then we are overcome with anxiety. It is certainly praiseworthy and pleasing to God when a person works for his food. But if he forgets God, and thinks that he himself is supporting himself, then he becomes burdened with the necessities of life. Let us not foolishly and small-mindedly say that the wealthy are spared this anxiety, while the poor are not. On the contrary, only he is spared who is content with being human and understands that his heavenly Father feeds him. And this is as possible for the wealthy as is it for the poor.

Worry about making a living, or not making a living, is a snare. In actuality, it is the snare. No external power, no actual circumstance, can trap a person. If a person chooses to be his own providence, then he will go quite ingenuously into his own trap, the wealthy as well as the poor. If he wants to entrench himself in his own plot of ground that is not under God’s care, then he is living, though he does not acknowledge it, in a prison. When the farmer shut the door on the wood dove, the wood dove believed himself to be safe, when in fact he was caught. Or to put it another way, he was shut out from the care of Providence and trapped in a life of anxiety. In a spiritual sense he made himself a captive – trapped himself unto death.


Excerpted from Provocations, an ebook from the Bruderhof (used by permission).

Nikolai Grundtvig, Bishop and Writer

Nikolai Grundtvig, Bishop and Writer 

Nikolai Frederik Severin Gundtvig and Soren Kierkegaard are the two principal figures in Danish theology in the 19th century. Grundtvig was born in 1783, and at the age of 20 graduated from the University of Copenhagen with a degree in theology. At the University, he became absorbed in poetry and Norse mythology, and became convinced that poetry speaks to the spirit of man more richly than prose, and is the medium of choice for conveying and expressing spiritual truth. His book, Mythology of the North, published in about 1808, promotes this thesis.

In 1810 his father, a pastor, fell ill and asked Nikolai to assist him with his parish. His first sermon, entitled “Why has the Lord’s Word disappeared from His House?” caused an uproar, and led to his official censure, which gave him second thoughts about his calling. However, he was ordained the next year, and assisted his father until his father’s death in 1813. It was a while before he got a parish of his own, and another denunciatory sermon of his led to his resigning the pulpit in 1826. In 1839 he was made chaplain at a home for aged women, a post that he kept for the remaining 33 years of his life. Meanwhile, he wrote books, including a version of Beowulf that advanced the study of Anglo-Saxon literature. He wrote more than a thousand hymns. (The Lutheran Book of Worship includes: “The bells of Christmas chime once more,” “Bright and glorious is the sky,” “Cradling children in His arm,” “God’s Word is our great heritage,” “Spirit of God, sent from heaven abroad,” “Peace, to soothe our bitter woes,” and “Built on a rock the Church doth stand”. The last of these is the most widely known and sung outside Lutheran circles.) His leadership helped to bring about the establishment of free public high schools for the masses in 1844, and the peaceful introduction of parliamentary government (retaining the monarchy) in 1849. In 1861, he was made a bishop, but without a diocese. He died 2 September 1872.

Danish immigrants to America tended to be pro-Grundtvig or anti-Grundtvig. The former (the “happy Danes”) formed the American Evangelical Lutheran Church, while the latter (the “gloomy Danes”) formed the United Evangelical Lutheran Church. Both of these are now part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

-James E. Kiefer


Friedrich Schleiermacher

The German preacher and philosopher Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher is often called the leading 19th-century theologian of the Protestant church. Schleiermacher was born on November 21, 1768, in Breslau, Lower Silesia (now Wroclaw, Poland). Despite his being the son of a Reformed clergyman, Schleiermacher studied under the Moravian Brethren (Herrnhuters), gaining from them an appreciation for the Latin and Greek classics and a strong sense of religious life. He found the teaching of the Herrnhuters too restrictive, however, because the faculty refused to lecture on current intellectual trends. In 1787 he entered the University of Halle, where he studied the philosophies of Aristotle and Immanuel Kant. After his ordination in 1794 he accepted a position as a Reformed preacher in Berlin. There he mingled with German romantic philosophers, became a friend of Friedrich von Schlegel, and began a translation of the works of Plato. Apart from a period when he was professor of theology at Halle (1804-07), most of his life from his ordination in 1794 until his death was spent as a preacher and teacher in Berlin. From 1810 he was professor of theology at the newly founded university there.

 Schleiermacher’s first major work, On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured  Despisers  (1799; Eng. trans., 1893), defended religion against its Enlightenment critics. Religion, he argued, was not a philosophy, nor abstract metaphysical thought, nor natural science, nor adherence to dogmatic formulae, but the “sense and taste for the infinite” consisting  primarily in feeling; belief and action are secondary. Knowledge of the soul and knowledge of God are inseparable: a concept that had been presented more than 1000 years earlier by St. Augustine. His thought thus has a subjective focus, but it should not on that account be deemed sheer “subjectivism.” Schleiermacher’s careful analysis of religious feelings  always has in view, at least by implication, the infinite and eternal reality to which these feelings are responses. The Speeches are sometimes held to be pantheist in tone, but he did not identify the world with the “infinite and eternal.” Rather, he held that it is always in and through one’s experience of the whole interconnecting realm of the finite that there comes a sense of dependence upon the infinite ground of all things.

In his most important work, The Christian Faith (1821; Eng. trans. of 2d ed., 1928), Schleiermacher specified religious feeling as the “feeling of absolute dependence.” Correlated with the feeling of absolute dependence is a consciousness or intuition of God. Human blessedness, he taught, consists in the strengthening of the God-consciousness, and sin is the obscuring of this consciousness. Jesus Christ shared the humanity of all human beings but was unique in the strength and constancy of his God-consciousness, and his redeeming work consists in the impartation of his God-consciousness to the believer. He was not afraid to call his theology “mystical,” centered as it was upon the personal communion of the believer with the wholly God-conscious Christ. His other writings include The Soliloquies (1800; trans. 1926), Christmas Eve (1806; trans. 1890), and Brief Outline of the Study of Theology (1811; trans. 1850).

Schleiermacher has been accused of making religion invulnerable at the expense of turning it into a purely subjective experience, but this criticism is contested on the grounds that it misinterprets the term feeling. The influential neo-orthodox movement of early-20th-century theology, particularly as represented by Karl Barth, developed partly in       reaction to Schleiermacher’s influence, stating that Schleiermacher led the great defection whereby liberal theology focused on human potentiality and religiosity at the expense of God’s own reality, majesty, and grace.

Barth himself, however, retained a wistful admiration for Schleiermacher, eventually speculating that “all might not be lost” with him, especially if we await a theology “predominantly and decisively of the Holy Spirit.”

1996 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Copyright 1996 Grolier Interactive, Inc.
Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia, Copyright 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation.
The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Thought, ed. Alister E. McGrath, Copyright 1993 Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

-Island of Freedom


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Soren Aabye Kierkegaard (the “o” is written with a slash “/” through it) is considered the father of the philosophical movement called existentialism.

In a Danish film, Ordet (“The Word”, based on a play by Kaj Munk–see 5 January), one character appears to be insane. Someone asks his brother:

“Has he always been like this?”
“No, he became this way while at the University.”
“A love affair?”
“No, reading the works of Soren Kierkegaard.”

Whenever I have seen the film, this line elicited general laughter, since the audience was a student crowd, and most knew enough about Kierkegaard, if only by reputation, to get the point.

Often, the details of a philosopher’s life are irrelevant to his philosophy. Who cares how many brothers and sisters Aristotle had? It does not affect his concept of Categories. With Kierkegaard, however, the life does matter to the student of the philosophy.

Kierkegaard’s father, Michael Pederson Kierkegaard, was a farm laborer who led a desperately unhappy life of grinding poverty. One day (I gather while he was still in his teens), full of rage at his lot, and God’s apparent indifference to it, he stood on a hilltop, shook his fists at the sky, and solemnly cursed God. Soon after, by a series of strokes of remarkable good fortune, he prospered, and ended a long life by dying a rich man. However, he carried a tremendous burden of guilt for his cursing, and his life was not happy, for his wife and five of his seven children died within a space of two years, and he felt that God was punishing him.

His youngest child, Soren Aabye Kierkegaard, was born in Copenhagen in 1813. He went to the University to study theology, but later switched to philosophy. When he learned of his father’s boyhood curse, he was shaken to the core. He became for a while a stranger to both God and his father, but later became reconciled to both. In 1840, being 27 years old, he was betrothed to Regine Olsen, ten years younger. He loved her, but he had come to believe that he was called to probe the dark, unhappy side of existence, and that he could not ask Regine to share this unhappiness with him, or make her understand what he was thinking and feeling, and that he ought to break off with her for her own good. She loved him, and was not willing to be dumped for her own good. He decided to behave so badly that when it became known that the betrothal was off, everyone would assume that she had broken off with him. He then ran off to Berlin for six months, to let the dust settle. (Mark Twain said: “Never tell a woman that you are unworthy of her. Let it come as a surprise.”) The episode had a deep effect on him, and he comments on it in several of his books. For example, he compares his willingness to renounce his fiancee for the sake of his vocation to Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. However, he expected that, even without ever seeing each other again, they would continue to have a “spiritual union,” trusting that God would somehow make the impossible possible and bring them together eventually. Kierkegaard never married. Regine married Fritz Schlegel and accompanied him to the Danish West Indies when he was appointed governor thereof. Kierkegaard felt deeply betrayed by her action, and refers to it several times in his later books. He made her his sole heir.


Over the next few years, he wrote and published a series of books:

Either/or: a Fragment of Life (1843)
Fear and Trembling (1843)
Repetition (1843)
Philosophical Fragments (1844)
The Concept of Dread (1844)
Stages On Life’s Way (1845)
Concluding Unscientific Postscript To the Philosophical

Fragments: a Mimic-pathetic-dialectic Composition, an Existential Contribution (1846)

Edifying Discourses in Divers Spirits (1847)
Works of Love (1847)
Christian Discourses (1848)
The Sickness Unto Death (1849)
Training in Christianity (1850)

He published most of his work under a variety of assumed names, so as to make the point that they were not a single consistent point of view. Often a later book would reply to arguments found in an earlier book.

Most philosophical writers before Kierkegaard, both Christian and otherwise, undertake to explain reality, to offer a view of it that makes sense. Consider, for example, Georg W F Hegel (1770-1831), whose views dominated philosophical study in Kierkegaard’s day. He was considered by his admirers to have found the key to explaining, in principle, just about everything. His position was called Dialectical Idealism. “Dialectic” refers to the process of examining a idea (Thesis), working out its implications and consequences and applications, and thereby finding difficulties (Antithesis) that require the discarding of the original idea and the adoption of a modified form of it (Synthesis), a new idea. We then examine the new idea (Thesis), and repeat the process. The goal of the process is the final thesis, God, alias the Absolute. (Find a sleeping freshman who is taking a philosophy course, whisper “Hegel” in his ear, and he will murmur, “thesis, antithesis, synthesis.”) German professors of religious history, influenced by Hegel, wrote papers on Judaism, Hellenism, and Christianity as thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. They discussed the history of the early Church in terms of Peter (who wanted to preserve the simple teachings of the Jewish rabbi, Jesus), Paul (who wanted to abandon the Jewish aspects of the faith, abolish the requirement of circumcision, and turn the whole thing into a mystery religion like Mithraism), and Luke (who in the book of Acts undertook to portray Peter and Paul as allies rather than enemies). [Please note: their descriptions of the apostles, not mine.] Thesis, antithesis, synthesis! They wrote histories of the formation of the Hebrew Scriptures in terms of the J document, the E document, the combination of the two to form the Je document (synthesis), and so on. Their opponents accused them of manufacturing theories to fit Hegel’s pattern, and then forcing the evidence to fit the theories. But to many scholars, it seemed that Hegel had made sense of everything. (Marx, in contrast with Hegel, called his philosophy dialectical materialism. He said that the fundamental fact of history was not the succession of ideas, but the succession of material and economic systems. Feudalism, working out its consequences, destroys itself and leads to capitalism. Capitalism, working out its consequences, destroys itself and leads to socialism. But these are not logical or conceptual consequences, but physical or material ones. Hence the term “dialectical materialism.” But I digress.)

Kierkegaard was convinced that this whole approach is a mistake, that the world is a mysterious and often frightening place, and that explanations that try to make it less so are dishonest. Traditional philosophers (sometimes called “essentialists” to distinguish them from Kierkegaard and other “existentialists”) are like a man sitting in an upper window overlooking the street and watching a parade go by, and undertaking to describe the parade, noting the various components of the parade and how they interact. But man is not really like a bystander watching a parade. He is like someone who, not by his own choice, is marching in the parade. And this is crucial to his experience of the parade. One cannot distinguish the observer from the observed, subject from object.

Kierkegaard also laid great emphasis on the notion that freedom means that man must choose arbitrarily, with no criteria to guide him. If he can give any reasons for his choice, then the choice is determined by the reasons and is not truly free. This notion of freedom he and many others find both convincing and terrifying.

The book by Kierkegaard most widely read in survey courses in philosophy is Fear and Trembling, which deals with Abraham’s choice when God commanded him to sacrifice his son Isaac. How could Abraham know that it was God and not Satan who was talking to him? Is not murder wrong? If we say that God makes the rules of morality, and so good Means whatever God happens to command, we then find that the statement “God is good” no longer means anything except, “God wants whatever God wants.” Moreover, the view that God can and will simply redefine the standards of morality whenever it suits Him is incompatible with what we read four chapters earlier, where God speaks of judging the wicked city of Sodom, and Abraham says, “What if there are some good men in the city? Will you destroy the righteous along with the wicked? Far be that from you [alternate translation: Shame on you]! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25) And so Kierkegaard struggles with the meaning of Abraham’s choice, and talks about something called “the teleological suspension of the ethical.” And students remember the phrase, and parrot it back on the final exam.


In his later years, Kierkegaard became convinced that it was his mission to attack the complacency of the established church. The Lutheran Church of Denmark was the official Church of the country, recognized and subsidized by the government, but, still more to the point, it was accepted by polite society, and Kierkegaard saw this as dangerous. The Bishop of Copenhagen was a scholar of impressive achievements, respected both as a theologian and as a scientist. Kierkegaard describes him as follows (I quote approximately from memory):

It is Sunday morning, and the bishop is scheduled to preach at The cathedral. In his liturgical robes, he ascends the pulpit. His graying hair adds a touch of wisdom to his already striking and dignified appearance. The Royal Family is present, and several rows are filled by members of the Danish Academy of Science. Glancing over the rest of the congregation, one sees bankers, lawyers, judges, wealthy merchants. The bishop begins to speak. “Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, my text this morning is taken from 1 Corinthians 1:28. Behold, God has chosen you for himself, you, the despised and rejected of the earth.” And no one laughs.

He waged a campaign against what he saw as a complacent and compromising Church, spending both fortune and health recklessly, until after two years he collapsed in the street and was taken to a hospital where he died a month later, on 11 November 1855.

For a while, immediately after his death, he was largely forgotten, but then interest in his writings revived. They struck a chord in many readers, Christian and non-Christian alike. Thus, when a new edition of his works was issued after his death, one editor was a convinced Christian, and the other two were atheists. His work has deeply influenced not only professed Christian philosophers like Paul Tillich, Karl Jaspers, and Karl Barth, but also atheists like Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, and Albert Camus, and Jews like Martin Buber.

I close with two extracts from his writings.

    Then Abraham lifted the boy up and walked with him, taking him
    by the hand, and his words were full of comfort and
    exhortation. But Isaac could not understand him. Then he turned
    away from Isaac for a moment, and when Isaac saw his face a
    second time it was changed, his gaze was wild, his expression
    one of horror. He caught Isaac by the chest, threw him to the
    ground and said:  "Fool, do you believe that I am your loving
    father? I am an idolater. Do you believe that this is God's
    command? No, it is my own desire." Then Isaac cried out in his
    anguish: "God in heaven have mercy on me, God of Abraham have
    mercy on me; if I have no father on earth, then be Thou my
    father!" But below his breath Abraham said to himself: "Lord in
    heaven, I thank Thee; it is better that he should think me a
    monster than that he should lose faith in Thee."

When the child is to be weaned, the mother blackens her Breast, for it would be a shame for the breast to look pleasing when the child is not to have it. So the child believes that the breast has changed, but the mother is the same, her look loving and tender as ever. Blessed is the one who needs no more terrible means to wean the child. (from Fear and Trembling)

There is so much said now about people being offended at Christianity because it is so dark and gloomy. But the real reason why man is offended at Christianity is that it would make of a man something so extraordinary that he is unable to get it into his head.

    Imagine the mightiest Emperor that ever lived; and imagine
    some poor peasant, who would think himself fortunate if he
    could but once catch a glimpse of the Emperor, and would tell
    his children and grandchildren of this as the most important
    event of his life.  Suppose that the Emperor were to send for
    this man, who had not supposed that the Emperor knew of his
    existence, and informed him that he wished to have him as a
    son-in-law. In all probability, the peasant, instead of being
    delighted, would be offended, since he would suppose that this
    could mean only that the Emperor wanted to make a fool of him!

    And now for Christianity! Christianity teaches that every
    man, say an ordinary man who would be quite proud of having
    once in his life talked with the King of Denmark, can talk with
    God any moment he wishes, and is sure to be heard by Him, that
    for this man's sake God came into the world to suffer and die.
    If anything would stun a man, surely it is this. Whoever has
    not the humble courage to believe it, must surely be offended
    by it. (abridged from SICKNESS UNTO DEATH)

PRAYER (traditional language):

Heavenly Father, whose beloved Son Jesus Christ felt sorrow and Dread in the Garden of Gethsemane: help us to remember that, even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death and desolation, thou art ever with us; that, encouraged by the writings of Soren Kierkegaard and others, we may believe where we have not seen, trust where we cannot test, and so come at last to the eternal joy which thou hast prepared for us, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen -James E. Kiefer

Authority, Hermeneutics, Tradition, and Holiness

The Windsor Report: Hermeneutics and Holiness



The Windsor Report[1] (TWR hereafter) is an important document on church governance after certain events “have uncovered major divisions throughout the Anglican Communion.”[2] TWR is crafted to address an issue seen as a “crisis,” and has much to be commended.[3] Our main interest is its suitability as a case study on hermeneutics as it includes a section on the authority of Scripture and the interpretation of Scripture. ” In paragraph 60 (60, etc. hereafter) it states that the Anglican Communion is experiencing a conflict between two different schools of interpretation: “Enlightenment” and “pre- or anti-critical conservatism.” As other Anglicans have noted, this hermeneutical impasse has created “two religions in one church.”[4] Are these two hermeneutics irreconcilable?

How these leaders have applied their understanding of Scripture and how TWR is received will be of interest to others who find themselves dealing with similar issues.[5] Let it be clear that this paper’s primary concern is not the Anglican Communion, nor the issue of homosexuality. Our focus is the critical, underlying question: what is necessary to interpret Scripture faithfully.



TWR refers to the “entrenched views of the Enlightenment” and its “unwarranted negative judgements” on Scripture. Yet we should ask if the Enlightenment is more entrenched than the authors realize. Does not TWR’s language of “Pre and anti-critical conservatism,” (60) cause a conservative to wonder just how moderate are the moderates? Many of these negative judgments would be modified by an appreciation that the Enlightenment created an unwarranted mistrust of tradition. Proponents of Liberal Theology then began giving themselves permission to choose texts to favor and texts to ignore because Scripture was seen to have been written “long ago and far away.”[6] As John Macquarrie wrote, “We have in fact anonymous accounts of these matters, written so long after they happened that their historical accuracy is open to grave question.”[7]

But the time and distance between us and the ancients is not a liability, rather our appreciation of the continuity of tradition is a treasure. What wouldtruly be a liability is if we were to jettison tradition and come up with new answers to all human dilemmas. Hans George Gadamer debunked Enlightenment skepticism in the classic work, Truth and Method.[8] If this advancement in the philosophy of hermeneutics would be brought to bear on biblical interpretation, the modernist phenomena of “picking and choosing”[9] which texts to honor could certainly be minimized, and if the safeguards suggested later were to be put into place, safe ground would be found for a renewed theology for the 21stcentury.

Philosophy of Hermeneutics

 To understand the Gadamerian turn in philosophical hermeneutics one needs to track the development in the tradition from Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey to Martin Heidegger and Hans George Gadamer. Before Schleiermacher hermeneutics had been principally a philological exercise; an approach primarily focused on the interpretation of ancient texts. Schleiermacher saw understanding as a dialogue between the reader and the writer where the reader transforms herself into the other person in order to grasp the meaning.[10]

Dilthey, his biographer and successor, desired to develop a methodology other than Empiricism to distinguish the human sciences from natural sciences, and he did this by emphasizing the historicality of understanding. Dilthey wanted objectively valid interpretations of “expressions of inner life.”[11]

Heidegger[12]defined hermeneutics as understanding the process of understanding. He asked when does meaning come to light.[13] Heidegger posited understanding as a moment of understanding. Rather than seeing hermeneutics as the study of texts, Heidegger emphasized understanding as how we use language as a way to know our way of being; understanding is a mode of being. Heidegger taught that when the interpreter engages in a dialogue with a text there is the possibility that the essence of the text will emerge.[14] Heidegger and Gadamer made hermeneutics be concerned with the process of being, that is, ontology of understanding. Heidegger said Dasein (being) is understanding.

Gadamer said Being is in languageand that nothing exists except through language. Since understanding is only understood verbally, his philosophical hermeneutics have universality as the basis of all disciplines,[15] but their suitability for doctrine about the One who is Spirit and Word should be excitingly evident.


Gadamer’s Critique of Enlightenment Historicism

Schleiermacher believed that the job of hermeneutics is to recover the original intent of the author. This remains the modernist rut. Gadamer taught that the point is not to understand the author; rather one understands the text because one can be grasped by the being of the text. Understanding happens when the horizon of the object and the horizon of subject come together. We have a consciousness affected by history, the text also has a history, and when our history is informed by the text’s history, we have the possibility of a new moment of participatory understanding. For Gadamer, this historical consciousness is always at work as a mediation of past and present. Gadamer wrote that hermeneutics such as Schleiermacher’ s which attempt to gain the real meaning of a text as if it was a reproduction of the original production is nonsensical. What is brought back is not the original meaning.[16] Instead, the locus of hermeneutics is the ground between the familiarity and strangeness of a text, of how it was intended and the place it has within tradition.[17] It is proper to see a past work within a tradition which is leading up to the present, a tradition we participate in, of which we already have knowledge. To understand our present correctly, we need to see the present as rooted in the past.[18] We are never an unrelated, advanced race looking at primitive cultures when we read Scripture. Temporal distance is productive of understanding and not something that must be overcome.[19] Gadamer defines historicism as the false belief that in order to understand a past work we must first determine the spirit of that age and attempt to think and feel as they did. Historicism is naïve because it does not take into account its own historicity.[20] Temporal distance can help us to discern false prejudices which lead to misunderstanding and true prejudices which lead to understanding.[21]

 Instead of historicism, we need to realize that “we are always already affected by history,” which plays a part in determining what we study, and how we approach it.[22] “Historically affected consciousness” is part of the hermeneutical process, suggesting the questions we will ask, limiting possibilities of understanding the place of a work within its tradition, and how we will attempt to understand it.

It is necessary to see that understanding is essentially a process; hence we need to understand what affects this process of which we are a part. It is as though we are in a conversation, but what kind of conversation is it? Gadamer tells us that we cannot hear a text if we do not allow it to speak. The job of an interpreter is not as one who would attempt to translate an utterance word-for-word into another language but to express what they heard in a way that seems most appropriate.[23] One learns to express the meaning.

Gadamer proved that what we are listening to is tradition. We can think of viewing a tradition as scanning an horizon. One achieves historical horizon through effort. History is something we live and move in; therefore, we view it as we move through it. Some people see only what is near them, but others achieve the ability to scan the horizon. This fusion of horizons constitutes the process of understanding.[24]

            TWR uses the word “tradition” as above in the section on interpretation: “?tradition’ consists primarily of the recollection of what the scripture-reading Church has said.”(60) This is that to which they can appeal. Is that not where they have lost it? Have they lost touch with its authority and hermeneutical centrality?



What TWR calls “crisis” is not political maneuvering over the rules governing sexual behavior, or broken communion, or even the impending losses over an emotionally charged issue.[25] This pan-denominational crisis was precipitated by how communities of faith interprets, understands and applies Scripture in doctrine [26] and church policy.[27]

Scholarship has led to a “bewildering range of available interpretative strategies and results”(62), not only of the various critical methods, but also theologies which are serious attempts to revise classical Christian theology and even to prove it as wrong. One would only need to think of the theology of the most influential liberal Anglican theologian, John Macquarrie, whose Principles of Christian Theology has been the most widely used text for Episcopal and Anglican seminaries in recent decades. Macquarrie’s theology has such a far reaching effect that one critic says “his approach radically changes the meanings of all Christian beliefs.”[28] The Enlightenment led to a Liberal Theology[29]which continues today, manifested in synods endorsing proposals which oppose traditions.

We need to look at Paul Tillich is an example of a Liberal theologian who urged his students to challenge classical theology. Consider the possible unintended consequences of these words:

Schleiermacher is the father of modern Protestant theology. This is his official title during the 19th and 20th centuries, until neo-orthodox theology tried to make out of him a distorter of theology during my student years, theology was faced with making a basic decision [a synthesis of everything or a return to orthodoxy with some modernizations]. If the latter is followed than of course Schleiermacher has to be abolished. My decision is thoroughly on the side of Schleiermacher, but with one qualification. Neither he or Hegel, who was even greater and who tried the same thing, really succeeded. I draw the conclusion that it must be tried again, and if it cannot be tried again, than we had better abandon theology as a systematic enterprise and stick to the repetition of Bible passages. But if systematic theology is to have any meaning we must try again even if we have a continuous history of failures, besides, out of these failures more insight has come than through the unfailing repetition of orthodox phraseologies.[30]


Perhaps the only thing to say is that these words may make sense if one considers moralism the great enemy and not Satan. Such a quest for theology while the church lies in wrack and ruin can only be taken serious by those for whom hell is only a primitive concept.

TWR rightly recognizes that there is a far different hermeneutic in Anglicanism than that of Liberal Theology, though it casts traditional interpretation negatively as the “assumptions and entrenched views of a pre- or anti-critical conservatism.” Of that side more is said below. For now, the point should be well-taken that one must make sure that it is not one’s own voice that is being heard (59).[31]

Considering that the majority of the Hebrew Scripture was given to us by men we call prophets, why are those who deny the words of a prophet not recognized as false prophets? TWR framers do not seem to be aware that communion and unity are secondary compared to the primary issues, “Who is God?” “What is Scripture?” “What is the church?”


The Immediate Need to Discern the Role of Tradition in Hermeneutics

 The enormity of the need for clarity is shown in the fact that so many theologians and bishops do not seem to know if Christians can know how to live based on Scripture. It seems that they are unaware of how far from tradition they have wandered. For example, the ironically entitled, “Journeying Together Faithfully,” is an official study on homosexuality in which all members of theEvangelical Lutheran Church in America were encouraged to participate. Ironic because the two sides are hardly together, and neither thinks the other side is being faithful. It has a companion piece written by an Old Testament and a New Testament ELCA seminary professor meant to explain what the Bible can teach us about human sexuality. It closes with the following statement, “But finally, our contributions are only one part of a larger discussion among those who seek the mind of Christ in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”[32]

Taking a page from the Enlightenment, we must also hear from science(doctors, psychiatrist, and sociologists) if we want to know the truth. Why is it that we cannot read Scripture and find answers to questions on human sexuality?unless the Bible is understood to be a totally human document?  This approach only serves to undermine the authority of Scripture so that the approval of revisionist agendas is nearly certain.

Theologians really cannot fault church structures too much for this situation if they have been so negligent in providing aids to clarity rather than bewilder. If Clark Pinnock diagnosed the situation correctly, theologians have not explicated how Scripture is illuminated for the reader in any explicit way since John Owens and Jonathan Edwards.[33] If the church is to be faithful to the charge Jesus Christ gave to teach his commandments,[34] a good beginning would be to understand that interpretation of Scripture is process which must guard against of any step of orthodox theology being removed, otherwise doctrine becomes unhinged,[35] and any number of outcomes is possible. Truly, the interpreter can arrive at the place he or she was already standing,[36]breaking the first rule taught seminarians, to always do exegesis, and never doeisegesis. We do not wish to advocate a turning back, rather what is needed is boldness in development of an explanation of pneumatological process in interpreting Scripture to renew the church, but taking into consideration the “crisis” we are in, perhaps addressing safeguards is the logical first step of a journey to develop greater clarity in how the Holy Spirit helps us read and understand the Word.


The True Nature of the Crisis

 TWR is careful to say what it is not, and that it should be understood as asking, “In short, how does the Anglican Communion address relationships between its component parts in a true spirit of communion?” [37] However, the report describes its current situation as a crisis, and the question to consider is whether the central point of their crisis is the relationship of its component parts, or whether their relationship problems are symptomatic of something deeper. Though the first definition of crisis that comes to mind might be “an emergency,” the first definition given in most dictionaries is a crucial or decisive moment.[38]Look in a theological dictionary and one finds the entry “crisis theology,” which can be defined as a Protestant theology emphasizing the judgment of God upon all merely human social and religious endeavours.[39] The New Testament says, “The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment,” (2 Peter 2:9 NRSV).  I myself wonder if the whole kit-and-caboodle of us oldliners are not already in the dock[40] and they, the Anglicans, are merely the first plaintiffs? Did we really think we could put God on trial and not be counter-sued? C.S. Lewis saw the coming crisis:

“[T]he greatest barrier I have met is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin? The early Christian preachers could assume in their hearers, whether Jews…or Pagans, a sense of guilt. Thus the Christian message was in those days unmistakably theEvangelium, the Good News. It promised healing to those who knew they were sick. The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approached the judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God in the Dock.”


Therefore, should we not be asking, “Can we know with certainty what is the will of God for the Church through a reliable method of interpreting Scripture?”[41] How can we avoid this central question any longer? But perhaps the question we should be asking to answer this question is HOW do we reliably interpret Scripture? Bear in mind that a crisis has the potential for punishment, but also reward.[42] Anglicans have an opportunity for renewal and a share in the future mission beyond what is immediately apparent.   


Absence of Shared Interpretation Causes Illness

In the section entitled “Illness, surface and deeper symptoms,” (31-42)[43] TWR gives six underlying features for their common life: theological development,[44] ecclesiastical procedures, adiaphora, subsidiarity, trust, and authority. This section is followed by ‘Fundamental principals’ (43-96), which contains the section on biblical interpretation. They call their system-wide disruption an ‘illness’ which is due to the lack of an agreed upon understanding of their ‘bonds of unity,’ (rules for church governance), but the real question to be addressed is, “Is this illness not caused by the absence of a shared theory of biblical interpretation, and will the rules not continue to be broken without some agreement on interpretation?”

“The episcopate” (63-66) seems to flow from “scripture and interpretation” (57-62). It highlights the inherent strengths and weakness of Anglicanism’s episcopacy. Paragraph 58 suggests bishops should primarily be teachers of scripture rather than a legal structure.[45] This should be seen as an opportunity for a consistently applied hermeneutic which is now absent, but we will return to this in the section which follows.

The next subsection on discernment (67-70) is to be seen as continuation of their analysis of their own hermeneutics. It discusses the different provinces as a “rich variety of cultures” in which “each is called to read scripture within, and apply it to,” none can confine their readings of scripture to their own setting, but must “discern the limits of appropriate inculturation” by “rendering account to one another.”(60) While dialogue is essential in any church, and indeed Anglicanism would benefit greatly in their current crisis if the voices of the South were listened to at the same level as the West, i.e., “One of the hallmarks of healthy worldwide communion will be our readiness to learn from one another.”(67) There is a danger of dialogue being elevated to an almost sacred standing. Does this elevation of dialogue as the appropriate methodology for faithful understanding comes from culture? What drives theological development, the renewing inspiration of the Holy Spirit or cultural accommodation?

If we were to compare this method of dialogue to that of the creedal councils, one must remember that they sometimes found it necessary to physically brawl, which is hardly the way Anglicans do business today.[46]

The phrase “scripture has always been recognized as the Church’s supreme authority” (53)[47] goes to the point I keep repeating. Is Scripture somehow ordering Anglicans to go in two different directions? The answer, of course, is that there are two different methods of interpreting Scripture at work.[48] An insightful response by the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Saskatchewan critiques the ambiguity in TWR’s section on authority and interpretation, stating, “But there is a certain naiveté or even disingenuousness, it seems to us, in presenting the issues of the interpretation of Scripture as if everyone were equally attached to its authority, and we only disagree about what it means.”[49]

TWR makes this connection on the role of Christian leaders as teachers of Scripture. It says that their bishops have a ministry based on Acts 6:4, that they should devote themselves to prayer and the word of God. “If this is ignored, the model of ?authority of scripture’ which scripture offers itself is failing to function as it should.”(58). Does the above statement mean that proper interpretation is arrived at through the work of the Holy Spirit in prayerful reading of Scripture?

Clark Pinnock wrote two edifying articles on how this works in 1993 which still stand unanswered as an appeal to academics to engage in how the Holy Spirit uses the Word. One is “The Role of the Holy Spirit in Interpretation” and the other is “The Work of the Holy Spirit in Interpretation.” In the latter article, under the heading “Why the Deafening Silence?” Pinnock asks,

“If our need of the illuminating work of the Spirit when we read the Bible is obvious, why is it impossible to locate detailed discussions of it? Why do so few theologians help us understand it. I challenge you to open the standard books on biblical interpretation and see whether you can find a serious discussion. I find I have to go back to Jonathan Edwards and John Owen to find one.[50]          


Contemporary View of the Work of the Holy Spirit in Hermeneutics

Let us now turn to Pinnock’s proposal for biblical and theological foundations for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in hermeneutics, and compare them with what we see in the Windsor report. Good move. We shall see a contrast between TWR’s concept of theological development (32-33) and Pinnock’s proposition that the Spirit continues to unfold what has already been given. Theological development is a rather Darwinian or Enlightenment concept, and one would think that Barth’s bombshell on the seminary playground would have ended that progressivist theological worldview, but it seems the Enlightenment is entrenched indeed.

Pinnock gives eight theologically sound proposals which may satisfy liberals and conservatives alike on how the Holy Spirit aids interpretation. As a whole they lead to a hermeneutic less susceptible to willful interpretation. First, the focus is on corporate experience. God leads people forth primarily as a people, not as individuals. Individuals, as Luther said, are “curved in on their own understanding,”[51] guided by the insidious controlling assumption, “What’s in this for me.” Individual Christians are put together, and fragmentary explanations of life and conceptions of truth grow into fullness as they hear the explanations of others.[52] The members’ individual stories have the familiar ring of the church’s story, the Bible, which has an unmistakable voice to those who pray over it (Acts 6:4). That familiar ring of truth aids the church when an individual or interest group says, “God is doing a new thing.” The tradition of the community is another safeguard as we judge an interpretation by our record of previous generations’ interpretation of the law and gospel.

Secondly, hermeneutics is eschatological; the LORD is coming, and the Spirit is here now moving God’s people toward that future. “The Spirit stimulates the church to penetrate the word of God and integrate it with its historical pilgrimage.”[53] Realizing that while we are not able to know everything perfectly now, that is no reason to say that Scripture has not made an abundance of things clear enough to move forward. Priority has to be given to what we know. Scripture is especially clear on what is necessary for faith, salvation, and obedience. Third, God’s goals in using the Scriptures are many and are beyond the mere intellectual. God want to assure us that we are His children, to help us understand the passion of Christ, to understand we need to die and be reborn, that it is His desire to be reconciled to us, to transform us, to equip us into His ministry, to make us his righteous ones for His justice and mercy, to make us missionaries for His kingdom, to get a people ready for his Son’s return, that He has the power to expel evil, cleanse what is unclean, heal what is sick, as well as warm what is cold in us.”[54]

Pinnock’s fourth point is that Scripture must be viewed in the context of world mission.[55] When TWR speaks of mission and transformation it is understandably brief, but it still seems vague in comparison to Scripture itself.[56]Perhaps all that reading and chanting of Scripture snippets is not a safeguard but dangerous familiarity, because Scripture actually is concrete in its diagnosis, focused on specific outcomes on its way to a specific end. Scripture’s focus is on commitment and growth in grace though the power of God. We must remember that while worship may be the primary activity of the church, the goal of the Spirit’s use of Scripture is world mission. Abraham’s descendants are to be as many as the sands of the beach and the stars of the sky. An entire book, Jonah, was delivered for not only Israel to know they were not God’s pet, but also that Anglicans and Lutherans and others would realize that the stasis our particular denomination is not God’s objective. TWR acknowledges that, but goes on to talk about Anglicanism as if it is the church, as though Anglican unity is what is at stake with no acknowledgement of the impact of Gene Robinson on the rest of the world!

Fifth, Pinnock writes that the Spirit is using Scripture to discern where the church is headed, to recognize the signs of the times, point out the incredible growth of the church in Africa and Asia, the phenomenal rise of Pentecostal Christianity, the ecumenical movement, and the rise of Trinitarian theology and a convergence on Christ as transformer of culture (Niebuhr)[57]. The sixth safeguard is recognition that the church can make mistakes. Progress is not inevitable. The Reformation itself is proof that corruption can be confronted and corrected.[58] His seventh proposal squarely addresses the denominationalism hinted at above, and it deserves some space:

Our denominations hold proudly to paradigms they ought to be criticizing and correcting, but cannot under the circumstances ? our opinions come under the judgment of our sectarian slice ?Everyone knows that the Nicean Creed has a stature that the Thirty-Nine articles do not have because of our disunity. And cannot much of the loss of our hermeneutical certitude be traced to this factor? We cannot convene church-wide councils. A magisterium does not exist with a fully catholic sweep, because of our denominationalism.[59]


Pinnock’s eighth and last proposal is on the individual’s cultivation of a reverent, prayerful reading of Scripture in the gifts of the Spirit, like humility, patience and obedience. Note that only after seven corporate steps is the individual interpretation introduced, and even there safeguards are needed. Cultivation is a long-term process, planting, nourishing, weeding, pruning, protection from predators and then the harvest. In that process comes the all important aspect of wonderful discoveries of new meaning, where the text seems to transform us as we connect our own experience with it, and the Spirit helps us to see the beauty and wisdom of God’s Word, as happened with Luther and Romans 1.17.[60]

Pinnock writes that we should not expect to encounter something different from what Scripture has already said.[61] The original meaning is what is given and that does not change, but the Spirit can use the original witness to create significance for readers. The Spirit helps us to restate the message in new language, rather than give an entirely new message. The result is that readers are enabled to participate in salvation history as they participate in their own salvation.

God has given a narrative of salvation that empowers His church for mission (as TWR), God continues to lead us forward in mission (as TWR), “oriented to the biblical testimony.” This reasoning and language is similar to TWR, but Pinnock’s thought the Spirit is not using the Word to send us out and do entirely new things. The Spirit sends us out to do the old thing which is witness to a God who saves the world from sin.

Pinnock’s proposals compare favorably with TWR. We see agreement on the collective nature of the church’s interpretation of Scripture. TWR’s main interpretive thrust seems to be the transformative nature of a Spirit empowered Word for which Pinnock is in full agreement All in all, Pinnock’s pneumatological interpretive tools are compatible and would be prescriptive for Anglican illness if taken. The problem is that Pinnock’s safeguards are helpful for those who have good intentions.  As with Gadamer’s understanding of hermeneutics, a great deal of help is still needed in order to prevent real heresy, such as Gnosticism and false prophecy, and for that one has to reach back into not-so-recent past. The concept of biblical holiness is the asbestos of the church.

Therefore, as out of fashion it is to contemporary ears, the most reliable safeguard for sound hermeneutics to put into practice what our parents knew, the need for repentance from sin. This, with the succeeding steps of the Order of Salvation, leads one into an ongoing walk in faith with our Lord. The last, ongoing step was called “holiness” by the Reformers, Scholastic Orthodoxy, Pietists and all sides of the English Reformation, as well as all their descendents until the ascent of Liberal Theology. With such safeguards in place, and cultivating a practice of biblical humility, the church could be freed to practice a hermeneutic not of the past but one for getting ready for the future mission of God. If we were to be limited to one solution for today’s “crisis,” or even to be limited to one question of TWR, that question would be, “What do you mean by holiness?”[62]


Holiness in Hermeneutics          

I propose that understanding biblical holiness is integral to doing hermeneutics. Holiness begins with an understanding of repentance from sin which means coming to God on God’s terms. To be convicted in the court of conscience for one’s sin is the work of the Spirit. Biblical teaching on repentance warns of the danger which awaits those who have hardened themselves toward God and willfully sin. This is consistent with all ages of the Church until the Enlightenment, is consistently a principal point of the Reformers, the early church Fathers, the apostles, Jesus, and the prophets. Only then can the Spirit use the Word to create faith. These are all undisputed points in any biblical orthodoxy, and should again become an explicit part of hermeneutics.

Remembering that, “unity and communion are meaningless unless they issue in that holiness of life,” (3) let us focus on the concept of holiness. Perhaps it is best to begin with that which one is most familiar. The meaning of holiness most common in the Lutheran tradition today is “set apart by God.”[63] I have learned that one must not rely on contemporary theologians, as good as they might be, to get a good sense of any subject, but must look at different eras of church history, and especially research the founders of various movements, realizing that as soon as they are dead their followers engage in conflict over exactly what their work meant. 


Holiness and Martin Luther

Holiness can mean “set apart,” or a moral and ethical religious way of being achieved only through personal encounter with Christ and sustained by His indwelling Spirit. It is not solely a theological concept concerning a declaration of justification. Luther seems to support the set apart definition when he wrote


We see with utter clarity that Christ and the apostles designate as saints [those who] believe that they have been sanctified and cleansed by the blood and death of Christ. And they are saints, on the basis, not of their own works but of the works of God, which they accept by faith, such as the Word, the sacraments, the suffering, death, resurrection, and victory of Christ, the sending of the Holy Spirit, etc. In other words, they are saints, not by active holiness but by passive holiness.[64]


Understanding “holiness” as “set apart” resonates with some Scripture, but this meaning is best yoked to the other principal usage, which is a lived, pilgrimage straining to live holy as seen in passages like Hebrews 13, “Do you not know that without holiness, no one will see the Lord?”[65] Does faith makes us holy? Yes, but never are we free to live in opposition to God’s will as shown clearly in Scripture. Luther made such statements as above in a specific theological context, the law and gospel dialectic, in which it was understood that what the Law demanded but was never able to fulfill, the gospel provoked and was made possible through the gifts of the Spirit. Vitally important to understanding Luther’s view of holiness as shown in the life of the believer, he wrote,


It is difficult and dangerous to teach that we are justified by faith without works and yet to require works at the same time. Unless the ministers of Christ are faithful and prudent here and are “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1), who rightly divide the Word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15), they will immediately confuse faith and love at this point. Both topics, faith and works, must be carefully taught and emphasized, but in such a way that they both remain within their limits. Otherwise, if works alone are taught, as happened under the papacy, faith is lost. If faith alone is taught, unspiritual men will immediately suppose that works are not necessary.[66]


Luther thus warned his readers to watch out for those who said that because of God’s love, His moral law would be abolished. He urged alertness to confusion over teaching on the relation of sin and repentance to holiness.

But we teach that the church is holy, though only through faith in Jesus Christ; in addition, it is holy in its life, in the sense that it refrains from the desires of the flesh and practices its spiritual gifts? For they do not want to deny Christ, to lose the Gospel, to cancel their Baptism, etc. This is why they have the forgiveness of sins; and if through ignorance they err in doctrine, this is forgiven, because at the end they acknowledge their error and depend solely on the truth and grace of God in Christ.[67]

Luther emphasized the need for continual confession of sin as well as confession of faith. It needs to be also noted, and very frightening it is indeed for those who hear only of their baptism being as good as a ticket to heaven, to hear Luther speak of the possibility of God “canceling their Baptism.” As far as the likelihood of a church being able to have the authority or ability to have some infallible, ongoing authority to judge Scripture, Luther wrote, “But i[the church] is not yet holy in the sense of being delivered and rescued from all evil desires or of having purged out all wicked opinions and errors.[68] Because of the presence of sin, the church must be judged by Scripture, not vice-versa.

            While Luther could conceive of false teaching concerning antinomianism, one wonders whether he could imagine a day when theologians did not even use the terminology. He might ask what use they even have for the Holy Spirit since the initial contact of the Holy Spirit is not to comfort us or even to lead us out into mission, nor even to create faith, first it must convict us of our sin so that we might see the need for salvation, then to be regenerated, and thereafter to live in daily repentance and be led by the Spirit to do that which pleases God and avoid sins.

Therefore, be very careful to distinguish properly between true and hypocritical righteousness and holiness. Such a saint will also abstain from the desires of the flesh by means of the faith through which he is justified and through which his sins, past and present, are forgiven; but he is not completely cleansed of them. For the desires of the flesh are still against the Spirit. This uncleanness remains in him to keep him humble, so that in his humility the grace and blessing of Christ taste sweet to him. Thus, such uncleanness and such remnants of sin are not a hindrance but a great advantage to the godly. For the more aware they are of their weakness and sin, the more they take refuge in Christ, the mercy seat (Rom. 3:25). They plead for His assistance, that He may adorn them with His righteousness and make their faith increase by providing the Spirit, by whose guidance they will overcome the desires of the flesh and make them servants rather than masters. Thus a Christian struggles with sin continually, and yet in his struggle he does not surrender but obtains the victory.”[69]


            We can compare Luther with J. C. Ryle and see a similar understanding of the place of holiness in the order of salvation which begins with repentance and ends in victory, understanding that Ryle was a repository of earlier Puritan thinkers.


 J.C. Ryle’s Holiness Counter to Liberal Theology

This is, of course, not the first crisis for the church or Anglicanism. One could do as James Innes Packer and research similar situations in the Church of England, such as the life and work of J.C. Ryle, Bishop of Liverpool 1864-1900, who warned back then that, “A fog of vague liberalism overspreads the ecclesiastical horizon.”[70] As the founding bishop of a diocese which had Anglo-Catholics, and who lived through the introduction of the German critical method and liberal theology, Ryle navigated through theological waters similar to those Lambeth does today. Ryle understood the puritan ideal of holiness.[71]

 If one needs to sail between Scylla of Liberalism and the Charybdis of Biblicism, it would be best to have a navigator who knows the waters. On one side we have students of Tillich’s who desire to create new truth in a Hegelian synthesis of culture and Christian propositions, or combining piety and philosophy like Schleiermacher.[72] This does seem to be the explanation for ECUSA’s “Second Pentecost.” On the other hand, it is imperative that the pendulum does not swing so far as to deny that the Holy Spirit does bring new insights. If there are two camps on either end of a field which may be tomorrow a battleground, a discussion on the possibilities of a hermeneutics of holy living could broker a union between the two religions in one church, and not least by reminding all sides that repentance for sin is a necessary step in order to achieve unity. Repentance is the key, and thankfully the responses to TWR ask again and again, where is the ECUSA expression of repentance. That outcry would well be a reaction also to Repentance for reconciliation is mysteriously absent from TWR, another means for Anglicans to reclaim tradition.

Bishop Ryle’s approach to the Christian faith was a Chalcedonian understanding of Scripture, fully human and yet fully divine, and perfectly united; humanity as completely corrupted by sin due to the fall and the only remedy is the sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ; the need for justifying faith and the advantages of a childlike faith; the need for the inward work of the Holy Spirit in repentance,[73] conversion and  regeneration; and the importance of holiness, inward in the heart and outward in the Christian walk.[74] Compare that understanding and the interpretation of Scripture found in TWR. The word “regeneration” is not to be found, the words “sin” and “repentance” are only found twice in 86 pages, yet ‘holiness’ is used ten times.[75]

One wonders how often Ryle is read today though. Ryle wrote referring to the increasing disuse of holiness in his time, “A man might really think it was a dangerous subject to handle.”[76]  In relation to the discussion above concerning antinomianism and the danger of failing to distinguish between law and gospel, faith and works, he quotes Rutherford, “Believing and doing are blood-friends,” and chides,

“I sometime fear if Christ were on earth now, there are not a few who would think that His preaching [is] legal[istic]; and if Paul were writing his epistles, there are those who would think that he had better not write the latter part of most of them as he did.[77] But let us remember that the Lord Jesus did speak the Sermon on the Mount and the Epistle to the Ephesians contains six chapters not four.”[78]



Ryle advises “to all who desire to be holy” that “you will make no progress until you feel your sin and weakness, and flee to Him.”[79] Repentance, faith, being joined to Christ, sanctification, partaking of the divine nature, holiness, and continuing in holiness, abiding in Christ, here is the complete Ordo.

Ryle’s image of a pharmacist changing the doctor’s prescription is perhaps the most fitting analogy for that which I have attempted to argue, and a very apt, antidote for the illness in the body today:

A doctor’s prescription of a medicine often contains five or six different ingredients. There is so much of one drug and so much of another ? Now what man of common sense can fail to see that the whole value of the prescription depends on a faithful and honest use of it? Take away one ingredient, and substitute another; leave out one ingredient altogether; add a little quantity on one drug, take away a little from another. Do this, I say, to the prescription, my good friend, and it is a thousand chances to one that you spoil it altogether. The thing that was meant for your health, you have converted to downright poison.[80]




If trends in the teaching of the interpretation of Scripture were examined, we would learn about theory, which would be helpful, but if we were to investigate the hermeneutics in recent official denominational documents, we should be almost able to predict outcomes.[81] Safeguards could then be put in place to avoid unsound doctrine.

The first consequence of faulty hermeneutics is not hearing what God intends for us to hear. That is best judged by application. We also need to consider if precipitating civil war in the church raises a red flag and indicates a tragic application that can be traced to faulty hermeneutics. While there have been many masterful works in recent decades on the art of scriptural interpretation,[82]additional work is needed on applied hermeneutics;[83] for in this we learn about the nature of the faith which undergirds the application. By examining how interpretation is applied, one arrives closer to be able to learn about the possible outcomes of an application. Church history is replete with examples of harmful unintended consequences from the way Scripture was interpreted as well as the outright heretical.

 It would be incredibly naïve to be unaware that the church has those who willfully impose interpretations of Scripture inconsistent with sound doctrine because they believe they have a better idea of how things should be. Importantly, harmful teaching does not begin with wrong thinking, but rises from a wrong heart.[84] The condition of the heart is ignored today in the teaching of biblical interpretation.[85] As one man who had been influenced by the Enlightenment but came back to orthodoxy, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, wrote, “Faith is not an accuracy of logic but rectitude of the heart.”[86]

Because of TWR’s strong affirmation that “Within Anglicanism, scripture has always been recognised as the Church’s supreme authority ? the insistence of the early Anglican reformers on the importance of the Bible ?seventeenth and eighteenth century divines hammered out their foundations of “scripture, tradition and reason”; in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries we have seen the ?Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral’, in which scripture takes first place” (53)  when the forward of TWR begins by asking, “What do we believe is the will of God for the Anglican Communion?”[87] it is asking the basic hermeneutical question, “What does this text say?” within a Gadamerian understanding of tradition as a participatory reality. Remembering what Gadamer said about  Anglicans have the best possible ground on which to stand to interpret Scripture if they stand on what the above mentioned figures of the 16th-20th centuries wrote about the interpretation of Scripture.

  Perhaps the most helpful hermeneutical tool to use when considering “God is doing a new thing” interpretations of Scripture is what Hans George Gadamer wrote about time not being a gulf to be bridged but “the supportive ground of the course of events in which the present is rooted.”[88] Temporal distance “is not a yawning abyss but is filled with the continuity of custom and tradition, in the light of which everything handed presents itself.”[89] The church must be on guard when urged to jettison an important component of its tradition. The foremost reason sin and repentance have fallen out of use is the revision of the doctrine on sin. If sin has been placed by “oppression,” the first horizon is blurred and the second is altered. What may actually be happening is not a revision of theology, but the devising of new political theory. We must also remember that because tradition has continuity it has memory, and when a voice cries out, “God is doing a new thing” it may actually not be new at all, but a heresy such as Gnosticism.[90]

Anglicans have confessional aspects to their constitution which are called formularies, and one of those formularies is the 39 Articles. One wonders why they have fallen into such disuse, as they would provide good safeguards against willful or heretical hermeneutics. Perhaps they have not fallen into disuse as much as there has been an attempt to excise them. If they have been placed in the dust bin because adherence would nullify the hermeneutic this paper has been arguing against, they need rescuing. Consider that any interpretation which allows, “the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another,”[91] should be judged as irreconcilable with the life of church.

We are not free to interpret Scripture according to what seems right to us. When church officials do not seem to be aware of the problem of placing unity above the mandates of scripture,[92] or that the church is the gathering of the ones “called out” and are not to have fellowship with those who willfully sin (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11), we see that having a “good” hermeneutic is not good enough, the church needs a “fireproof” hermeneutic.[93] Tradition teaches that we are to discern the ways in which our lives do not line up with mandates of scripture and to then seek God’s Spirit to help us conform, pleading for deliverance from sin and finding ways to make oneself accountable so that success is likely. Daily repentance forms the only ground safe enough for an interpreter to stand on.

We need to be aware that the Church has always had faithful leaders as well as pretenders. Consider whether the illness TWR speaks of is the presence of false prophecy?  Much of the Bible is prophets speaking for the LORD. Scripture calls Moses a prophet. When someone denies that Scripture is prophecy, are they not in danger of being a false prophet? When we turn to Scripture, we see that Israel had false princes, false priests, and false prophets. In Jeremiah 23, the word of the LORD calls them out one-by-one: false shepherds (v. 1), false prophets (v. 9), false leaders (v. 10), false prophets and priests doing evil even in the temple (v.11).

 Jesus spoke of the wheat and tares.[94] St. John speaks of the need to test spirits to avoid false prophets.[95] St. Paul had his own interesting approach for dealing with false apostles.[96] Remember Second Peter and Jude.[97] These warnings bring the principle of Pascal’s wager to mind, “What if it is true, what if that is this!  Are there two religions within the one church?[98] How does one answer the question with which the Windsor Report begins, “What is the will of God for the Anglican church?” How do we know?

When addressing unity, communion, and holiness of the church, the Windsor Report speaks of “radical holiness.”(3) Would that be holiness without repentance? Of course not, but why does TWR leave holiness undefined? WR insists that “unity, communion, and holiness all belong together,” (3) but if it defines holiness, I missed it. The concept of holiness is prominent in the introduction of the TWR,[99]  reappears in paragraph 57, but then it disappears again.

Three simple propositions for immediate remedy would be firstly for denominations to declare a moratorium on passing resolutions which break the confessional aspects of their constitution. Secondly, that all in the teaching office enter into compulsorily organized study of their foundational documents; and third, that chairs be funded at all denominational seminaries to teach their foundational documents. If this is done, each denomination will have to reexamine the way it interprets Scripture, and could this examination not lead to a humbling, repenting, heart-work of God?

Is it so bewildering to interpret Scripture? In the parable of the sower, Jesus taught there were four ways to get it wrong and one way to get it right, which is one must accept the word of God. The four or more ways that the Word does not bear fruit have to do with the state of the hearer. Good soil. An understanding of Scripture as being worthy of reception is a critical piece of building a full orbed understanding of what God intends to speak to the Church in order to know and trust what is Gods’ will for the Church. Hearts are to be holy soil, and by interpreting Scripture with the safeguard of biblical holiness, tradition becomes “holy ground” again.

The Anglican Communion has better minds than mine, and surely they know their business better than me. I’ve written this to fulfill an obligation, and in no way think I have all the answers. I hope it is received in that spirit. Even more, I hope that we have a sea change in theology which brings an understanding of repentance back to the church.




What Next?





[1] The Lambeth Commission on Communion, the Windsor Report 2004, the Anglican Communion Office, London, UK.

[2] TWR, forward, 4.

[3] For succinct analysis from orthodox Anglican perspective, see William Witt, “Analysis of the Windsor Report,”; Internet; accessed 1/28/05. The offending parties were three in number: “The Diocese of New Westminster’s decision to provide rites for the blessing of same-sex unions; ECUSA’ s General Convention 2003 decision to consecrate as bishop a divorced man living in a sexual relationship with another man; and the Anglican Church of Canada General Synod 2004 Resolution that “Affirm[s] the integrity and sanctity of committed adult same sex relationships.” Of course, TWR also names “the involvement in other provinces by bishops

without the consent or approval of the incumbent bishop to perform episcopal functions” but considers that they did do out of “conscientious duty.” (155)

[4] J.I. Packer, speech at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Stamford, CT, 11/2/2004.

[5] The author is an ordained minister under call in the Evangelical Lutheran Church inAmerica, (ELCA).

[6] Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, “If no historical truth can be demonstrated, then nothing can be demonstrated by means of historical truths. That is: accidental truths of history can never become the proof of necessary truths of reason?That, then, is the ugly, broad ditch which I cannot get across, however often and however earnestly I have tried to make the leap. If anyone can help me over it, let him do it, I beg him, I adjure him (Lessing’s Theological Writings, ed. Henry Chadwick, A & C Black, 1956, p.56).

[7] John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology, revised edition (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1977), 10.

[8] See Hans George Gadamer, Truth and Method, Second revised edition ( New York: Continuum, 2000; Anthony C. Thisleton, The Two Horizons ( Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1980).

[9] The existence of this today in Anglicanism and the centrality of the need for it to be addressed was brought up by in “Response of the Diocese of Saskatchewan to the Windsor Report,”  “The report doesn’t really raise the vital question in the dispute that is going on: at what point do you start to be simply picking and choosing truths that happen to appeal to you from Scripture.”, accessed 1/25/05.

[10] Richard E. Palmer, Hermeneutics (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1969), 90.

[11] Ibid, 98.

[12] The next great thinker was Husserl whose phenomenology as a scientific philosophy following the pattern of Descartes and Kant with historicality playing no part in it, but for our discussion, Husserl is most important as the teacher of his student Martin Heidegger. We could also mention Nietzsche and others but space does not permit.

[13] Ibid, 156.

[14] Ibid, 155.

[15] Gadamer, Truth and Method, 476.

[16] Ibid, 167.

[17] Ibid, 295.

[18] Ibid, 297.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid, 299.

[21] Ibid, 298-299.

[22] Ibid, 299.

[23] Ibid, 308.

[24] Ibid, 307.

[25] Bishop Mark Hanson, ELCA, said in the video presented to 2004 synod assemblies that he didn’t want to go down in history as the bishop who presided over the disintegration of a denomination because “we have somehow let the questions that divide us now define us.”; Internet; accessed 12/17/04.

[26] It, of course, has to do with doctrine concerning Scripture. See John Webster, Holy Scripture: a Dogmatic Approach ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003). Webster writes that the doctrine on Scripture has been unhinged from the doctrine of the Trinity. Traditionalists point out consistently that the homosexual issue is symptomatic of non-Orthodox doctrine.

[27] John Webster, Holy Scripture: a Dogmatic Approach ( Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press, 2003).

[28] Stephen M. Smith, “John Macquarrie: the Most Dangerous Theologian,” The Evangelical Catholic,; Internet; accessed 1/17/2005.

[29] Those who emphasize the appropriateness of ?theological development’ (see paragraphs 32-33 are for the most part practitioners of Liberal Theology, which since the time of Schleiermacher, places an emphasis on the second horizon, the “reader’s response.” The others side may limit the continuity of revelation. See Clark Pinnock, “The Work of the Holy Spirit in Hermeneutics,” The Journal of Pentecostal Theology, vol. 2, 1993, 3-23, and “The Role of the Spirit in Interpretation,” The Journal of Evangelical Theology, December 1993, 491-497.

[30] Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought, ed. Carl E. Braaten (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968) 387-388.

[31] See paragraphs 59 and  60 of Windsor Report in Appendix.

[32] Arland J. Hultgren and Walter F. Taylor, Jr. Background Essay on Biblical Texts for Journey Together Faithfully, Part Two: the Church and Homosexuality, the EvangelicalLutheran Church in America,; Internet;  accessed 1/04/2005.

[33] See Clark Pinnock, “The Work of the Holy Spirit in Hermeneutics,” The Journal of Pentecostal Theology, vol. 2, 1993, 3-23, especially the section, “Why the Deafening Silence,” 7-9.

[34] We seem to desire to forget that Jesus commissioned his disciples to teach his commandments in Matthew 28. It is false to say as is often heard that Jesus did not teach about human sexual behavior. That Jesus endorses heterosexuality within marriage as the only option ordained by God in Matthew 19:3-6 is more well-known than his clearest teaching, found in Revelation 21:8.

[35] One red flag for a reader of the Windsor Report is that the words ?sin’ and ?repentance’ were virtually unused in the report, each appearing only twice in a document primarily concerned with reconciliation.

[36] See Gadamer, Truth and Method,  277-309.

[37] It is not a judgment on sexuality issues, but “part of a process” (page 5); it is mandated to report on canonical understandings of communion including practical recommendations on emerging patterns of episcopal oversight (page 8). For specific mandated purpose of the report, see “The Lambeth Commission on Communion Mandate,” page 8.

[38] Oxford English Dictionary gives earliest example as 1543, Traheron, “Crisis sygnifyeth judgemente, and in this case, it is used for a sodayne change in a disease,” The Compact Oxford English Dictionary, 27th Printing (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 1178.

[39] See The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Second revised edition, F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 359.

[40] C.S. Lewis, God in The Dock. Essays on Theology and Ethics. Edited by Walter Hooper. Eerdmans 1970.

[41] Otherwise, how will we know how to act, i.e., has modernity and post-modernity brought upon the Church a future of arrests and prosecutions leading to the status of ?repeat offender’?

[42] 1 Peter 1:6-7, “In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith — being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.’ NRSV

[43] The Windsor Report frames their crisis as ?broken communion,’ but others would see it as the beginning of schism, both within the denomination, but also as one schismatic movement within the wider Church. See Wolfhart Pannenberg, "Should We Support Gay Marriage? NO," Good News Magazine, Nov/Dec, 2003.; Internet; accessed 1/13/05.

[44] This term is used in the report as though there is a common understanding of its meaning which is a clue to the pervasiveness of a lack of hubris on the part of academics, bishops, indeed the elites of the Church.

[45] However, placing such power in the hands of bishops, that is, to their ability to interpret Scripture, as well as the power to appoint and dismiss individual priests, as well as a collective authority to make changes within their constitution is an ecclesial structure, without a consistent application of an agreed upon hermeneutical principle should be seen as dangerous. If one of their suggestions for repair is a possible future Anglican Covenant which would locate all the power to decide questions of its interpretation in one person, check with a historian first! However, these questions are answered, they point to the need for sound hermeneutics.

[46] “Covenants:

  1. We will respect each other’s faith journey.
  2. We will listen respectfully.
  3. We will ask inviting questions.
  4. We will have flexible understanding, attempting to understand from the point of view of others.
  5. We will seek to learn from all perspectives.
  6. We will keep the topic in mind when speaking.
  7. We will not speak as individuals for the group apart from our common statement.
  8. We will not repeat each other’s comments after we leave. We are free to share learnings without attribution to individuals. Otherwise, we will respect the confidentiality of other’s statements.
  9. We will clarify the nature of our speaking. We will request clarification in good faith.

 “Appendix E, A final report from the International Anglican Conversations on Human Sexuality,”; Internet; accessed 1/21/05.

[47] This has to be understood as God is the authority; Scripture is His authority over the church. See Tobias Haller, “The Authority of Scripture Who’s in Charge: Judging the Scriptures,”; Internet; accessed 1/19/05.

 Revisionists want to say that the church has an ongoing ability to correctly define what is authoritative in Scripture. See the response by William Witt,; Internet; accessed 1/19/05.

[48] Of course, people can either ignore or bend Scripture, but this paper would argue that it is primarily confusion as a result of faulty hermeneutics giving free rein to sin which is at wok in this pan-denominational crisis.

[49] The quote is worth continuing: “Bishop Spong, for example, is only at the extreme end of a spectrum of attachment to Scripture that exists within the North American church, and we hardly think his conclusions could be described as arrived at under the authority of Scripture. The report doesn’t really raise the vital question in the dispute that is going on: at what point do you start to be simply picking and choosing truths that happen to appeal to you from Scripture, as opposed to being under its authority? The report cautions us that the authority of Scripture is really the authority of God exercised through Scripture, but it does not caution us that when we don’t submit to the authority of Scripture, we reject the authority of God.”; Internet; accessed 1/25/05.

[50] There are some obvious reasons why no one since Edwards, a theologian with similar Puritan leanings as Ryle, has seriously discussed it. One that springs to mind is that Scholastic Orthodoxy, Puritans, Pietists and their descendents are almost the only ones to seriously discuss the Order of Salvation: repentance, justification, conversion, sanctification, holiness, and union with God. All the reformers operated with this understanding. Luther’s 95 Theses begins “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ in saying: “Repent ye” etc., [to do what God wants and what scripture teaches?to align one’s life with this and to realize that one’s repentant task is to place one’s will in subjection to the teachings of scripture] intended that the whole life of believers should be penitence. However, repentance from sin is barely heard today by theologians and bishops when they attempt to talk about contemporary issues even in the historical Reformation churches.Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Mark Hanson, gave his first speech as President of the Lutheran World Federation in September, 2004 in Geneva, in which he carefully refers to the Anglican crisis and the looming trouble in his own denomination, but the word repentance is not to be found. He uses “sin” once (60), to say, “Faith frees us to confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves, but also to claim God’s promise that in Christ we are bound to be free and free to be bound.”[50] Coming at the end, in a paraphrase of the confession of sin in the Western Eucharistic liturgy, it is more of a rhetorical flourish than anything else, a way to end a speech leaving people feeling good that a serious theological discussion has taken place. Though they are not bound to each other in the same way as the Anglicans, the LWF needs leadership, or they could split along the same hermeneutical lines of their sister denomination. Interestingly, the Archbishop of Canterbury appointed Rev. Dr. Ishmael Noko, LWF General Secretary, to a committee to examine the worldwide response to the Windsor Report on November 8, 2004.

 Mark Hanson, “Growing Together, Growing Apart,”; Internet; accessed 12/17/2005.

[51] Martin Luther, LW 25, 425. “Every arrogant heretic is first caught by his ignorance of the truth ? he accepts what seems to him to be true; and he is trapped again, because he smugly walks through life as if he were free beyond the snare and the trap. Finally he stumbles against everything which goes contrary to him and thus turns off his hearing. And now he becomes indignant and filled with zeal for his notions, harassing, destroying, and injuring his opponents. Thus he gets the “recompense” he deserves. Then finally their eyes become blurred, so that even though all others are seeing, they themselves are in no way moved to see anything, and while all others stand straight they remain curved in on their own understanding.”

[52] Pinnock, Work, 17.

[53] Pinnock, Work, 17

[54] Ibid. 18.

[55] Ibid.

[56] See “Response of the Diocese of Saskatchewan,” to the first question posed by Standing Committee of the Primates. “The report was ambiguous and confused about the authority of Scripture, as compared with the traditional understanding set forth in Article VI and VII of the 39 Articles.”, accesses 1/25/05.

[57] See H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper and Row, 1951).

[58] Pinnock, Work, 21.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Pinnock, Work, 22.

[61] Pinnock, Work, 16.

[62] Interestingly, the Northeast chapter of Scholarly Engagement with Anglican Doctrine, asked the same question of the document, “Let the Reader Understand; a Statement of Interpretive principles by which we understand the Holy Scriptures (“Developed at the request of the Bishop of New York  in response to the actions of the Lambeth Conference, 1998),; Internet; accessed 1/14/05:

“The question before us is not a question as to the value and infinite worth of persons who identify themselves as gay or lesbian, but is rather a question?as has been stated in the final report from the International Anglican Conversations on Human Sexuality (2002)?as to what constitutes the “[h]oliness, that we all understand ourselves bound through Christ to grow into, to encourage, and to teach.”; Internet; accessed 1/14/05.

[63] For contemporary Lutheran theological ethics, see William Lazareth, Christians in Society: Luther, the Bible, and Social Ethics ( Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2001). Lazareth is a former Director, Faith and Order Secretariat, World Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland (ed. and preface, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry Bishop Emeritus, Metro NY Synod, still teaching at Carthage College, and so has been an influential theologian in Lutheranism. Lazareth lectures consistently that ?holiness’ has the meaning of being set apart. We need to examine if this can be said to be the proper as an interpretation of the theology of Martin Luther or Lutheranism if the concept of holiness is removed out of the context of the order of salvation. Such a move has not only had the unintended consequence of “cheap grace’ (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) and worse, antinomianism, it has also led to a more and more common idea that a denomination of the Church is somehow ontologically holy (Luther said the only holy church was the hidden church). The above work can be accessed online,


[64] Martin Luther, Luther’s works, vol. 27: Lectures on Galatians, J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Eds. [CD-ROM] (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, electronic 1999, 1964), 81.

[65] See Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 3, ed. D.N. Freedman, (New York: Doubleday, 1992) David P. Wright,  “Holiness in OT,” 237-249; Robert Hodgson, Jr., “New Testament Holiness,” 249-254).

[66] Luther, LW 27, 62.

[67] Luther, LW 27, 83.

[68] Ibid.

[69]Luther, LW 27, 85.

[70] J.C. Ryle, Knots Untied, (Charles Nolan Publishers: Moscow, Idaho, 2000), 20.

[71] Holiness in Puritanism is equivalent to holiness in Lutheran Pietism and Scholastic Orthodoxy. It occupies roughly the same place in Holiness, Pentecostal and charismatic theology, though not as a necessary step toward spiritual experiences.

[72] Tillich, History, 388.

[73] Repentance has components, too. What gives an individual the ability to repent? One not only needs the Holy Spirit, one needs to know what repentance is, one needs to know what they are repenting of, and know what the word ?sin’ means. There is the matter of to Whom is one repenting. In addition, one needs to know how to trust God, and then one needs to actually have some trust, and how hard is it to trust anyone you do not know. That brings us to another real barrier in a ?break in communion’: how hard it is to be in a protracted situation where you do not understand how the other side can reach their conclusions and one wonders if they even truly know the God they are for  Whom they are speaking.  (See SEAD, “Response to LRU,” 8, Although LRU speaks frequently of God’s plan of salvation and uses the terms “redeem,” and “transform” in relation to our salvation, there is no mention of sin, repentance or the kingdom of God. LRU fails to explain from what we are being redeemed and into what we are being transformed.”; Internet; accessed1/14/05.; Internet;accessed 1/14/05.

[74] J. I. Packer,; Internet; accessed 1/11/2005.

[75] Six of the ten uses of ?holiness’ occur in the opening section, which raises a suspicion that holiness is more of a presupposition than the foundational principle that the authors suggest.

[76] J.C. Ryle, Holiness, 153.

[77] Coincidence that WR only refers to the first three chapters of Ephesians?

[78] J.C. Ryle, Holiness, 153.

[79] Ibid, 154.

[80] J.C. Ryle, Knots Untied ( Moscow, ID: Charles Nolan Publishers, 2000.

[81] “In this day and age, to find the working theology of a church one cannot go to a canon of theological works. One can, however, review the resolutions passed at official gatherings.” Philip Turner , ECUSA’S GOD: A Descriptive Comment on the “Working Theology” of the Episcopal Church U.S.A. ( Jan 18, 2005),; Internet; accessed1/27/2005.

[82] See Hans George Gadamer, Truth and Method, Second revised edition ( New York: Continuum, 2000; Anthony C. Thisleton, The Two Horizons ( Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1980). For an introduction to theory and history, see Richard E. Palmer, Hermeneutics (Northwestern Univ. Press, 1969).

[83] See Gadamer, Truth and Method, 300. He credits the Pietists for making application the third step in hermeneutics.

[84] “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come ?” Mark 7:21, NRSV

[85] Personal interview, Father Eric Cosentino, Episcopal priest, who referenced C. Fitzsimmons Allison, The Cruelty of Heresy: an Affirmation of Christian Orthodoxy(Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing, 1994).

[86] Samuel Taylor ColeridgeThe Complete Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Professor Shedd, (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876). Vol. V, 172, quoted in Allison,Cruelty, 23.

[87] The Lambeth Commission on Communion, The Windsor Report 2004, The Anglican Communion Office, London, UK, 4.

[88] Gadamer, Truth and Method, 297.

[89] Ibid.

[90] See Leander Harding, “Homosexuality and the American Religion” Copyright © The Anglican Communion Institute,; Internet; accessed 11/22/2004, and Walter Sundberg, “Take Yourself as the Starting Point’: Controversy over Sexuality in the ELCA,; Internet; accessed 11/22/2004.

[91] Article XX, the 39 Articles.

[92] See ELCA, report of Recommendations (I’ll get info)

[93] In Christianity Today interview, N.T. Wright spoke of Lambeth and the WR desiring to “fireproof” the church. The use of firewall here should be seen either as encouragement for real prophylactic: “?the issue of sexuality may be the fire that somebody has lit in one room that is actually setting bits of the house on fire. But what we’re doing is actually fireproofing the house, and then saying now we’ve got to deal with this particular fire, which happens to have broken out in this room. But we’re really more interested in long-term fireproofing the house? And the difficulty about that is that the Anglican Communion, unlike some other churches, simply does not have an international canon law or polity that would enable that to happen.”; Internet; accessed1/19/05. It is interesting that Wright would mention canon law when there is a confessional basis in The Thirty Nine Articles: XX. Of the Authority of the Church, “The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.”

[94] See Matthew 13:24-30.

[95] 1 John 4:1, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” NRSV

[96] Galatians 5:12, “I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!”

[97] 2 Peter 2:1-6, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even deny the Master who bought them — bringing swift destruction on themselves.  Even so, many will follow their licentious ways, and because of these teachers the way of truth will be maligned. And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced against them long ago, has not been idle, and their destruction is not asleep. For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into helland committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgment; and if he did not spare the ancient world, even though he saved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood on a world of the ungodly;  and if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinctionand made them an example of what is coming to the ungodly?”

Jude 1:8, “Yet in the same way these dreamers also defile the flesh, reject authority, and slander the glorious ones.”

[98] J.I. Packer speaks of two discernable religions struggling for control of the Anglican Communion, while others such as Leander Harding believe it is not so easy to tease out the confusion.

[99] For example,  (2) “The church, sharing in God’s mission to the world through the fact of its corporate life, must live out that holiness which anticipates God’s final rescue of the world from the powers and corruptions of evil (Eph 4.17-6.20); and 3. The unity of the church, the communion of all its members with one another (which are the primary subjects of this report), and the radical holiness to which all Christ’s people are called, are thus rooted in the trinitarian life and purposes of the one God.”