Theological Musings

My latest piece for First Things takes up a subject I’ve discussed elsewhere from time to time: Christian Masculinity. The occasion for this particular post was a recent news story about “America’s manliest church”—one that’s raffled off guns and spends an inordinate amount of time talking about booze and “big balls.”

My focus in my article is less to talk about this particular church then to use it to talk about a problem that’s worried me for some time: the teaching that Christian men are called primarily to be warriors. Sometimes this takes a more dignified approach (we should be knights!) and sometimes it’s more crass, as in Ignite’s case. But in each situation, the problem is the same: it suggests aggression is or should be the defining feature of Christian masculinity.

I spend the rest of my article deconstructing this errant understanding of manhood, choosing the analogy of a gardener (like Adam) as a more helpful image of Christian masculinity. Read the article (“Uprooting the Christian Masculinity Complex”) to understand why.

Of course, there’s only so much you can say in so short a column. If you want a more in-depth discussion of the subject, you’ll have to read a feature I wrote for Converge a few years back: “Christian Masculinity: The Man God Hasn’t Called You To Be.”

Finally, I’ve broached similar topics in an article for A Christian Thing entitled “Does the Church Make it Hard to be a Man?”



We continue to speak [the words of the Nicean Creed] because they continue to be true. What the First Council in Nicea confessed on the basis of Scripture, Christians today continue to confess: Jesus is God. He was not created. He has always existed. And because He is God, He has power to save sinners like you and me. It might be ancient history, but the confessions made at Nicea are forever relevant to our faith today.

Of course, the council in Nicea in 325 was not the first council in history. In fact, Christians had long been in the habit of gathering together to discuss issues of concern, to pray, and to make plans for the future. Even the Apostles hashed out issues in this way, discussing whether Gentile believers needed to follow the same rules (on circumcision and dietary laws) that the Jews did (see the story of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15).

In some ways, this might sound a little mundane. Surely God could guide the Church in a more dramatic fashion. Couldn’t we hold face to face discussions with Him like Moses did? Couldn’t He send signs and wonders to confirm what direction we should take? No doubt God could act in such a way, but the fact is He frequently chooses simpler ways to communicate with His people. He gives us a book—common paper, common ink—and yet infuses His own Word into it. He speaks over common water, pours it over our heads, and somehow claims us as His children. He takes bread and wine, mixes it with His words of forgiveness, and uses it to give us His own body and blood. He gives us normal run-of-the-mill pastors to speak God’s very own words of mercy to us on a regular basis.

The above is a selection from my recent column “Why we gather: A lesson from Nicea.” Check it out over at The Canadian Lutheran.


Regular readers of this blog will remember me plugging The Christian Humanist Podcast (CHP) from time to time. If you’re at all interested in theology, philosophy, literature, “and other things that human beings do well,” as the tagline goes, then it’s well-worth listening to.

TertullianCHP just took on one of Tertullian‘s works recently, and the resulting episode is very enjoyable. Go listen to it, but before you do be sure to read the piece by Tertullian. It’s called “On Idolatry” and you can find it online here.

I had a few comments after listening which I’m sharing with the show on its website, but thought I’d post them here as well. [In case you’re interested, I’ve previously discussed one of their episodes on Luther’s Freedom of a Christian over at First Things in a post entitled“Non-Lutherans Reading Luther: What Makes Good Works ‘Good’?”.] Now, my unpolished thoughts on the Tertullian episode:

Hi all,

Just listened to the Tertullian podcast and thought it great. The episodes where you take on a particular text are always among my favourites.

Michial’s comments about how doing theology in general can become a form of idolatry were thought-provoking. They were balanced nicely by David’s comments about the need (and difficulty) of submitting our theological reflection to the greater authority of revelation. Otherwise we are very much in danger of re-creating God in our own image.

I can’t help but think of Helmut Thielicke’s classic A Little Exercise for Young Theologians. Despite the rather patronizing-sounding title (the German original is not so offensive), the book is useful reminder to those who study theology that their “superior” learning does not give them leave to ignore the thoughts (and occasional rebukes) of “simpler” Christians. One important note Thielicke makes is that the theologian must not presume to think he can simply study theology at arm’s length. “We must also take seriously the fact that the ‘subject’ of theology, Jesus Christ, can only be regarded rightly,” he writes, “if we are ready to meet Him on the plane where He is active, that is, within the Christian church. Only the Son knows who the Father is; only the servant knows who the Lord is.” In other words, our examination of the things of faith must be mediated by the revelation of Christ—in His Word (Scripture) and His body (the Church).

This is, incidentally, why Lutherans have a bit of trouble with Calvinist approaches to theology. From our perspective, the Calvinist has too strong an urge to try make logical sense of everything, whereas Lutherans instead warn about the danger of peering into the “hidden things of God.” The prime example is the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement. It certainly makes good logical sense of the doctrine of election, but nevertheless distorts (to my mind at least) the clear Scriptural teaching that God desires all to be saved. (I’ve broached this subject at First Things before in an article entitled “Why Lutheran Predestination isn’t Calvinist Predestination.”)

I’d also like to thank Michial for his pastoral reflections on idolatry and our own guiltiness and need for grace. While Tertullian might imply we can somehow avoid sinning, Michial comes in with a much more realistic (and biblical) take: that we are all guilty, both of sin ourselves and culpability in supporting the sin of others. As St. John puts it so well, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). That being the case, claiming like Tertullian that we can fully avoid idolatry actually results in falling into another form of idolatry—one in which God declares us righteous on the basis of our sinlessness. Expecting God to say we’re doing just fine? That’s the Pharisee’s god. But it’s the Publican who gets things right, coming in repentance to a God who is just but nevertheless merciful.  Otherwise you have a Christianity that doesn’t need Christ. And if that’s not idolatry, I don’t know what is.

Thanks for a great show, as usual.




The topic of assisted suicide and euthanasia is currently under fierce discussion in courts and newspapers across the country. The proposition is that the option of suicide in the face of uncontrollable suffering (whether physical, mental, or emotional) should be a fundamental right of all Canadians, and should be included in conscientious palliative care. Related is the idea of euthanasia, which is when the decision to bring about intentional death is made by a third party because the person believed to be suffering is unable to communicate a decision.

On the surface, this all sounds very compassionate. But couched in this compassionate-sounding language is a very harsh belief: that some lives are more worth prolonging than others, and that some people should choose to die.

So writes L. Block in a recent article for The Canadian Lutheran. I have read no more careful and compassionate article on this topic, and recommend it to your reading—especially in light of the fact that Quebec recently legalized euthanasia. Rather than write lots about Block’s article here, I’m just going to quote it at length.

Although presented as a choice, this “right to die” has the potential to become a “duty to die,” which would affect the most vulnerable people in our society. People who don’t want to die may choose suicide rather than become a burden to their families, or may be convinced to choose suicide for someone else’s perceived good, opening the door to widespread elder abuse.

And how would such a change affect our existing palliative care system? It isn’t hard to see that helping people end their lives is much less expensive than offering high quality palliative care for an extended period of time. There is also a very real possibility that the “right to die” could be extended beyond those with terminal illnesses to include people with disabilities, or even mental illness. In Belgium, where the option of assisted suicide exists for those deemed to be suffering psychological anguish, this has already happened. What kind of a message will that send? “Your life is hard, because you can’t see/hear/think/move like other people. You can die if you want to.”

hands-of-mercy-candleHow does that impart hope to those despairing in the grip of depression, or offer encouragement to those striving to succeed despite physical or mental handicap? And how would it affect the kind of resources available? It is clearly much less expensive to usher someone out of life quietly than find a high quality group home for them. Or pay for the wheel-chair-friendly renovations on their house now that they have a spinal cord injury. And what about those who are completely dependent on others for all their care, or who can’t communicate a desire to live?

If our attitude as a society shifts to embrace the notion that some people are worth less than other people, our willingness to care for them will shift as well. Expressed in offhand comments, facial expressions, or tone of voice, this negative perception would do untold damage to our most vulnerable.

And the Christian response:

All of this runs entirely counter to Christ’s model for the Church. Jesus Christ also preached compassion. He offered relief of suffering to the lepers, not by ending their lives, but by loving them. He reached out with physical and spiritual healing for the disabled. He opened His arms to the children, all the children, including the child afflicted by an evil spirit. Given for “the least of these,” this is real compassion. This is His model for us, too. We are not to be seduced by the idea of this world, that young people with perfect bodies and minds are somehow better and more deserving of life than those who are old, or ill, or dying, or disabled. We must speak up for those who cannot….

Euthanasia must not be used as a balm to ease the suffering of those who are witnessing the death, or the disability, or the pain. We cannot use it to ease our own consciences, to say, “We did the right thing.” No, as is often the case, the right thing is definitely not the easy thing. We cannot show compassion by being the hands of death; we must instead be the hands of Christ.

Go read it all at The Canadian Lutheran.



Why is the imaginative life important for Christians?

I ask that question, among others, to Dr. Gene Veith in a recent interview for The Canadian Lutheran. In the course of the discussion, we delved into such topics as Christian subcultures, imaginative apologetics, C.S. Lewis, and how the Church can foster a healthy imaginative life.

A couple of snippets to whet your appetite:

Many of the obstacles against the Christian faith in people’s minds are really imaginative creations: they think of God as an old man with a beard up in the sky looking down on this suffering world, and they can’t believe that. No one should believe that. God is much bigger than that…

And another:

C.S. Lewis wonders why he didn’t see how mind-blowing and wonderful Christianity is when he was first taught it as a child. Part of the problem, he says, is that it wasn’t taught in a way that addressed the imagination. He marvels how it is possible to make the story of God-becoming-flesh and dying for sinful man so boring. But that’s how it was presented to him as a youth.

Gene Veith, Provost and Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College in Virginia, was keynote speaker for the Canadian Centre for Scholarship and the Christian Faith’s third annual conference March 21-22, 2014 at Concordia University College of Alberta in Edmonton. His topic was “The Arts, the Imagination, and the Christian Life.”

Dr. Veith is the author of numerous books, including The Spirituality of the Cross and God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life. He is also co-author of a forthcoming title on the Christian imagination.

Read the full interview at The Canadian Lutheran. You may also want to check out Gene’s site Cranach, where he is using the interview as the starting point for additional online discussion.



You can understand why the other disciples were angry. James and John had approached Jesus in secret and asked to be given authority above the rest. “Let one of us sit at your right,” they requested, “and the other at your left in your glory” (Mark 10:37).

The other disciples, we read, were “indignant” when they heard about all this (Mark 10:41). It’s not surprising. “What’s so special about James and John?” you can imagine them asking. “Why should they sit at Jesus’ left and right, and not me?”

In their place, we might ask the same. No one enjoys feeling overlooked. We want to be recognized for our good work and to be rewarded accordingly. So when our acquaintances advance in life while we’re left behind, we feel under-appreciated. Cheated, even. “What’s so special about them?” we mutter to ourselves. “I should be the one climbing up the ladder.”

It’s been a perennial problem for humanity since Adam and Eve: we want all the power and prestige we can get. And if we can’t “be as gods,” as the serpent once promised, then we’ll settle for having a throne next to God’s. We’ll be His right-hand man, just so long as we’re ahead of everyone else. Like James and John, we want a position of power and glory…

So begins my most recent column for The Canadian Lutheran. It’s entitled “Jesus right-hand man.” James and John, of course, are told by Jesus that He cannot give them the places at His right and His left. So to whom did these places go? Find out here.


luther-face-webMy latest at First Things went up a few days ago (February 18), to coincide with the anniversary of Luther’s death. Since then, it’s been picked up by Real Clear Religion and the Gospel Coalition, among other sites.

On this day in 1546, Martin Luther fell asleep in the Lord. Lutherans therefore recognize him this day and thank God for him. But let’s be honest: Luther wasn’t always a very nice man.

So begins the article. I go on to discuss Luther’s failings (they are many) before bringing us back to the real reason we remember him:

“This truly is why we remember Luther: not because he was always nice, not because he was always good, and certainly not because he was always right. He wasn’t. Instead, we remember Luther because he directed attention always away from himself to Christ. It is to Christ we look for salvation, not our own holiness.”

Read the whole thing at “Standing with Martin Luther: Remembering a sinful saint.”

(The title of this post is taken from Anthony Sacramone’s tweeted description of my article).


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