Thursday, January 31, 2013

McGrath’s Story Devoid of the Real Christ

Ends Up With Neither Legend nor History
McGrath’s Story Devoid of the Real
Christian News, February 4, 2013

Review by Craig Parton, Esq., Santa Barbara, California

“McGrath ends up with neither legend nor history, but, sadly, only ‘another story’ for post-modern man to fuse with a life devoid of ‘the Way, the Truth, and the Life’” concludes Lawyer Craig Parton in a review of Alister McGrath’s Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith. Parton’s review is scheduled to appear in the Global Journal. It was sent to Christian News by John Warwick Montgomery.

McGrath has become a hero among the organized conservatives in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod ever since the LCMS invited him to be the key speaker on Reformation Day at a Conference on Confessional Lutheranism held in Peachtree, Georgia. The LCMS with the help of Thrivent paid the expenses of 120 Lutheran theologians from many nations to hear McGrath. The LCMS said the 120 represented 20 million Lutherans. The office of the LCMS President would not tell CN just who was responsible for inviting McGrath. Neither the LCMS nor Thrivent would tell CN how much the conference cost. CN published an open letter to McGrath by LCMS evolutionist Matthew Becker praising McGrath for supporting evolution. McGrath, like Becker, also promotes women pastors. McGrath’s wife is an Anglican priestess. The LCMS’s official publication praised the entire conference including McGrath.

The Steadfast Lutheran commended Harrison and Joel Lehenbauer of the LCMS’s CTCR for arranging the Conference on Confessional Lutherans and inviting the Anglican McGrath. CN said that instead of McGrath, some articulate confessional Lutheran, such as Montgomery, David Menton, Wallace Schulz, John Brug, Al Schmidt, etc. should have been invited. CN proposed that the conference consider a 21st Century Formula of Concord and begin plans for a 21st Century Reformation at the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on October 31, 2017.
Instead the LCMS bureaucracy preferred to invite a pro-evolutionist and supporter of women pastors who undermines the key scriptural doctrine of justification and real objective truth founded upon the absolute historicity of the Christian faith.
Here is Crag Parton’s entire review:
Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith
(Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Baker Books, 2012)
Alister McGrath 

Reviewed by Craig Parton, Esq.,
Santa Barbara, California
British evangelical Alister McGrath is well known for his work on the history of the doctrine of justification, which he at one point modestly characterized as “the definitive work on the subject” (see “Iustitia Dei:  A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification.”).  One trenchant reviewer of that book, however, pointed out that McGrath’s method of relativizing each succeeding generation’s interpretation of St. Paul’s teaching on justification had actually resulted in a “refusal to assert that Scripture has any objective, absolute meaning:  its teachings, even those as central as justification, are defined only in the continuing history of its interpretation.”  (see review by John Warwick Montgomery in Modern Reformation, Vol. 9, No. 2, March/April 2000).
In his latest book on apologetics (“Mere Apologetics”), McGrath apparently believes (with all modesty, to be sure) that he is an inheritor of the legacy of C.S. Lewis.  Were it but the case.  Instead, McGrath (utterly contrary to Lewis) insists that the “character of the apologist” is at least as important as the content of the apologist (in the vein of John Stackhouse’s “Humble Apologetics,” a source that McGrath recommends be read along with the sanctified living fare served up by mega-church pastor Rick Warren). Thus we now have McGrath asserting (alas trying to persuade, an activity he repeatedly claims is actually pointless in the postmodern context) that the idea of the truth of Christian evidences is a “rationalistic Enlightenment” concept that has little cache anymore in a postmodern culture that values “images, stories and narratives” (pgs. 27-28, 141, 154).  McGrath further argues (contra his entire thesis that arguments are largely useless in a culture that no longer is interested in objective truth, but does like to talk about “beauty and goodness” and “images and narratives”—pgs. 35, 47) that since Christianity cannot be “absolutely proven” it really reduces to a faith decision, that apologetics and evangelism are essentially exclusive categories that do not overlap (p. 23, 123), that apologetics converts no one and “is not evangelism” (pgs. 23, 44), that there is little value in trying to persuade people of the truth of Christianity anymore because the key to the gospel is its “interpretation” and only the gospel itself gives that interpretation (pgs. 61-62), and (drum roll please, dramatic finish coming)…well, here it is best to hear McGrath’s story directly from McGrath:
“Let me offer some personal reflections.  When I was younger, I use to believe that the best way to help other people discover the truth and excitement of Christianity was to argue with them—in other words, to persuade them Christianity was right and true.  In short, I adopted what many would now call a “modern” approach.  But today I would communicate the truth of the gospel in another way.  I would tell the story of how I came to faith.  Why?  Partly because a story is much more interesting than any argument, but more significantly, my story shows that Christianity is real—in other words, that it has the capacity to change people’s lives, to give them new reasons for living and a firm hope for the future.” (p. 141).
Before we test these “truth claims” (apologies to the author), we should acknowledge that “Mere Apologetics:  How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith” makes some legitimate points worth reminding those engaged in the apologetical task:
1. Apologetics is both a science and an art (p. 38).  It requires understanding the unique objections that each succeeding generation raises to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, being sensitive to those objections, and not simply assuming that “one size fits all” when it comes to the apologetical task.
2. That arguments (there is that nasty word again) for the existence of God still have a place in the apologetical repertoire.  McGrath feels the need to rename these arguments as “pointers to faith” (I think they were previously called “proofs for God’s existence” during the previous 1200 years of Christian apologetics?).  He does reference useful evidence for the fine-tuning of the universe, the longing for justice, the splendor of the natural world, God as a person which grounds all personhood, the “intuition of hope” or the experience of transcendent joy, and the existence of “a homing instinct for God.”  (Chapter 6). To be entirely fair, the author does have a chapter on the “Reasonableness of the Christian Faith” but the chapter is devoid of any historical or legal apologetics (McGrath doubts the value of historical apologetics for reasons discussed below and appears completely ignorant of the 500 year-old field of legal apologetics, citing not one reference in the field of lawyers who have examined the truth claims of the Christian faith).
3. There is a discussion (though brief) of the so-called “new atheists” and the approaches available to deal with their objections (once again, McGrath has been necessarily forced to use “modernist, Enlightenment and rationalistic” arguments in order to refute the “modernistic” contentions about truth raised by the new atheists). 
This said, the book suffers from a number of serious flaws:

1. A focus on the character of the apologist as equally important as the content of the apologetical message. For McGrath, “incarnational apologetics” (p. 35) has a wholly different meaning from the apologetical setting of presenting the historical evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Instead, incarnational apologetics now is about the “faithful living” of the apologist (with a liberal usage of the word “authentic” scattered throughout this discussion).  Thus “humble apologetics” reduces to focusing on the character of the apologist at least as much as on the actual message being proclaimed. The story of Jesus plays second fiddle to the story of McGrath.
We simply note in passing how far this is from the apostolic presentation of Christ Crucified.  When the focus shifts to the character of the apologist and his/her “authentic living” of the Gospel, you can be sure that Christ in His saving office is no longer of central importance. Similarly, when Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life” is “suggested reading” (to the exclusion of any legal apologetics or the basic works of evidential and historical apologetics) the focus shifts to a Gospel entirely intra nos (as opposed to Luther’s extra nos or entirely objective Gospel). To be sure, the book would have seriously benefitted from a discussion of the Reformation’s emphasis on trust in Christ being grounded first in evidence and facts (notitia), with assent (assensus) built on those facts, and then trust (fiducia) coming as final active layer in the process of saving faith. It is true that notitia does not save, but that is like saying that the foundation of a cathedral is not critical because it is not seen.
Connected with this fixation on the character of the apologist comes a deficient definition of apologetics, which McGrath calls  “….a willingness to work with God in helping people discover and turn to his glory.” (p. 41).  Maybe it is McGrath’s particularly ethereal brand of Calvinism bearing fruit a hundred fold at this point, or maybe it is the announcement that the book is not “committed to any particular school of apologetics” (p. 12), but “turning people to God’s glory” is not the Gospel as St. Paul defines it in I Corinthians 15: 1-5.  Other Calvinist apologists (Van Til, Warfield, Frame, Sproul, Gerstner) have at least realized that Classical or even presuppositional apologetical approaches cannot simply leave people in mere theism, which is precisely where McGrath leadeth.
2. The biblically unwarranted creation of the hermetically sealed compartments of apologetics (generally negative in character) versus evangelism (the closing of the deal that only God does by means of the Holy Spirit).  Does Scripture put these endeavors in tight compartments?  Most certainly not!  When the affirmative use of evidence (as opposed to McGrath’s main focus on apologetics as merely “removing barriers”) is employed so as to focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, any meaningful distinction between apologetics and evangelism vanishes.  Contrary to McGrath who in a former life used to persuade people of the truth of Christianity but now “tells his story,” the Apostle Paul aggressively presented the truth claims of Christianity in a Roman culture surely as relativistic and “post-modern” as ours, employing apologetics in the task of evangelism (see, Acts 26:28, for example, where Paul—obviously by the power of the Holy Spirit, had “almost persuaded” King Agrippa to become a Christian).
3. The belief that post-modernism has changed the game fundamentally in terms of apologetics.  McGrath goes so far as to denigrate “older apologists” who are supposedly answering questions “no one is asking” since the earlier concept of truth found in “modernism” is no longer holding the day (pgs. 28, 31). Making a persuasive case based on facts and evidence that call for a decision based on the truth of assertions is apparently outdated (which will be news to the legal and medical professions that operate on these basic premises every day to make literally life and death decisions).
But McGrath, as the Native Americans found out when dealing with the White Man, “speaks with forked tongue” when claiming that arguments and evidence are largely worthless in dealing with postmodern man.  For example, he refutes the new atheists based on arguments grounded in evidence.  It appears he does not see the irony in his necessitarian use of reason, evidence, facts and persuasion in his own volume.  For surely if “Mere Apologetics” is not intending to present truths and to persuade, what exactly is its value?
Underneath McGrath’s deficient view of the value of truth questions for modern man is a highly narrow and inadequate understanding of “proof.”  This is perhaps the consequence of an apparent total lack of familiarity with legal apologetics and the evidentiary standards of proof when dealing with questions of fact (see the work of Montgomery, Simon Greenleaf, Ross Clifford, Charles Lamb, Lord Hailsham, Sir Norman Anderson, Edmund Bennett, and the many legal apologists who have worked on critical issues of evidence and “proof” in apologetics).  Defaulting to “faith” as the key to eternal security in Christ (as opposed to Luther’s discovery of grounding one’s security in the objective means of grace presented in the promises of baptism and the Lord’s Supper), the author concludes that since the case for Christ cannot “absolutely be proven” in the end it all reduces to a question of “faith” (see especially p. 94 where the remarkable assertion is made that there is not enough evidence to prove that any worldview is right and all reduce to a matter of faith!).  While there is a short treatment of the problems with the verification principle as developed by Logical Positivism (McGrath claims the principle itself is incapable of verification), the author appears totally unaware of the necessitarian character of employing that construct (see Montgomery’s Tractatus Logico-Theologicus, at proposition 2.994—“Sound methodological proposals are accepted on a necessitarian basis, in that whenever the critic herself is forced to make decisions of a crucial nature in ordinary life, she is found to be employing the very proposal she is criticizing.”).
Mere Apologetics is another example of how a supposedly “practical book” on apologetics is anything but practical in dealing with flesh and blood non-Christians.  By choosing a title that alludes to the work of C.S. Lewis, the bar is set high.  McGrath, unfortunately, never delivers but instead devalues persuasive arguments based on the facts of Christ’s dying on the cross and rising again from the dead.  In doing so he has turned Dr. Luke’s “many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3) into “one of many narratives to choose from.” 
Lewis’ fellow Inkling, J.R.R. Tolkien, in referencing the deeply mythic and poetic qualities of the biblical narrative, spoke of legend and history having “met and fused” in the person of Jesus Christ (indeed Lewis himself spoke of Christianity as the marriage of heaven and earth, where perfect myth and perfect fact conjoin).  By untethering the mythic and narrative aspects of the Scripture from its sheer facticity and verifiability (an approach utterly rejected in Lewis’ unsurpassed Mere Christianity), McGrath ends up with neither legend nor history but, sadly, only “another story” for post-modern man to fuse with a life devoid of “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

Craig Parton is a trial lawyer and partner with a law firm in Santa Barbara, California.  He is the author of three books on the defense of the Christian faith, and a contributor to numerous articles published in legal and theological journals.  Mr. Parton is the United States Director of the International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism and Human Rights, with study sessions taking place each July in Strasbourg, France (   

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Concordia Journal and Christian Century Agree on Emergent Church?

Christian News, January 28, 2013, Vol. 51, No. 04

The January 9, 2013 and January 23, 2013 issues of The Christian Century have full page notices announcing a forum on the emergent church movement sponsored by The Christian Century and the Wisconsin Council of Churches. Brian McClaren, a leader of the emerging church movement is the speaker. The Christian Century says: “THE CHURCH THAT IS EMERGING - “Many sectors of the Christian Church are retrenching, Christian leaders are feeling anxious and trying to figure out how to survive. Yet, many Christians are seeing the pressures of today as the birth pains for a new kind of Christian faith for tomorrow.” McClaren’s most recent book is Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity In a Multi-Faith World. McClaren is a Universalist who does not believe Christianity is the only saving faith.

When the Concordia Journal of Concordia Seminary featured the Emerging Church in its Spring, 2012 issue the lead story of the June 25, 2012 Christian News was “Seminary Journal Clashes with CTCR on Emergent Church.” CN photographed the entire 11 page article from the Concordia Journal and its masthead. It has the names of some 50 faculty and staff members. Travis Scholl is listed as Editor and Managing Editor of Theological Publications.

While Scholl lives in Missouri, the LCMS’s 2012 Lutheran Annual reports that he is a member of the Atlantic District. Scholl had Atlantic District President David Benke write an article or the Concordia Journal on Father Richard Neuhaus praising Neuhaus, graduate of Concordia Seminary who denied such doctrines as the inerrancy of the Bible and justification by faith alone. Neuhaus was a pro-homosexual universalist certified by the seminary even though he promoted his liberal views during his days at Concordia Seminary before he joined the Evangelical Lutheran Church and then the Roman Catholic Church. The Concordia Journal has also published articles by Dr. Matthew Becker, an outspoken supporter of evolution and the ordination of women. Becker is a professor at Valparaiso University but is listed in the Lutheran Annual as a member of the Northwest District. Thrivent has been using Scholl in its move to reach out to members of other denominations and not just Lutherans. The Thrivent Board of Directors has no problem with having an ELCA lesbian as a member of its board. When CN reprinted the article in the Spring 2012 Concordia Journal by Chad Lakies, CN also published an article CN had previously published exposing the anti-Christian nature of the Emerging Church movement. CN wrote to Lakies, who is now teaching at Concordia University, where Becker previously taught:

* * * 

June 6, 2012
Professor Chad Lakies
Concordia Seminary, St. Louis
Dear Professor Lakies:

June 6, 2012 Professor Chad Lakies Concordia Seminary, St. Louis Dear Professor Lakies: I have just read your “The End of Theology? The Emergent Church in Lutheran Perspective” in the Spring 2012 Concordia Journal.

During the last several years, Christian News has published a good number of articles on the Emerging Church. At times it is difficult to pin down exactly what the defenders of the Emerging Church believe just as it was 50 years ago. To find out what the young scholars of the time believed, like Pelikan and Marty, who were bringing in new insights to the LCMS, the best thing to do was to ask them questions.

The Concordia Journal says that you accepted a call to serve as assistant professor of theology at Concordia University, Portland, OR. Dr. Matthew Becker formerly held such a position at Portland. Christian News also asked him some questions.

Would you please answer these simple questions?

Should there be room on the LCMS clergy roster and in the schools of the LCMS’s Concordia University System for professors and pastors who:

1. Deny that the Bible is inerrant in all matters? Yes___ No ___

2. Maintain that God used evolution to create the world? Yes___ No ___

3. Insist that God did not create the world in 6/24 hours days? Yes ___ No ___

4. Maintain that women should be permitted to become pastors in the LCMS.
    Yes ___ No ___

5. Teach that Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and other non-Christians can get to heaven without saving faith in Jesus Christ. Yes ___ No ___

6. Believe there should be room in the LCMS for a theologian like your predecessor, Dr. Matthew Becker, who also wrote for the Concordia Journal. Yes ___ No ___

He makes it clear in The Day Star Reader that he champion’s evolution and women pastors.

Sincerely yours, Herman Otten, editor
Christian News   

Lakies did not respond     

* * * 

The entire notice promoting the emerging church on the back cover of the January 9, 2013 Christian Century is on page 8 together with a page from the Winter 2012 The Vine and Branches of Abiding Word Ministries on “The ELCA’s Latest Foray Into Heresy? An examination of the ELCA’s acceptance of the false teachings of the Emergent Church.” It says: “The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has struck a new theological low by publishing and promoting a new adult Bible study that attacks the foundations of the Christian faith, including the doctrine of Christ’s atonement. Animate Faith, released by the ELCA this past August, is being taught in their congregations all over America. The study might better be called ‘Animate Unbelief.’ It incorporates the distortions and ramblings of an assortment of Emergent Church Leaders.”
“Session 1: God – Faith Is A Quest is taught by Brian McClaren, considered the founder of “Emergent Church.’ When McLaren talks about God in this course, it is not the God of the Bible he is referencing.”

“The Emergent Church’s Retreat into the Reformation Darkness,” an article by Paul M. Elliott in The Trinity Review, and reprinted in the November, 2012 The Evangelical Methodist, says: “In the Emergent mind, Jesus Christ is emphatically not the only Savior from sin and Hell.”

The Trinity Review says: “Students of church history will recognize much of Emergent Church thinking on the Bible as the warmed-over 20th-century Neo-orthodoxy that destroyed most mainline Protestant churches as well as many conservative ones. Emergents are following in the insolent footsteps of Karl Barth, Rudolph Bultmann, Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich and others. These in turn were influenced by early 19th century philosopher Soren Keirke- gaard, whose great gift to theology was to assert that there is no such thing as objective truth.”

“The Emergent Church is spreading a new wave of spiritual poison through religious academia. The fact that Emergents are welcomed on the faculties and in the classrooms of openly liberal seminaries is no surprise. But today Emergents also find a friendly response in the majority of reputedly more conservative Bible colleges and seminaries. It ranges from favorable classroom exposure to outright advocacy by professors and administrators. Reputedly conservative schools that have fallen into the Emergent web include Biblical Theological Seminary, Biola University, Covenant Theological Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, Erskine College and Seminary, Houghton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, Taylor Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and most Southern Baptist schools. “It only takes a few years of exposure to false teaching for young minds to become the generation that will carry the poison out of the seminaries and colleges, into the pulpits, and into the pews.

“There is another reason why so many in the Evangelical and Reformed camps are accommodating and even embracing the Emergent Church movement. That reason is intellectual pride. The Emergent Church movement is all about the pride and glory of man, not the glory of God.

“We have seen this pride and glorification of man in place of God in the Emergents’ essential approach to what they falsely call ‘Christianity.’ The central focus of the Emergent religion is not the Christ of the Bible, but an all-inclusive assembly of people from all sorts of ‘faith traditions.’ We have also seen the same pride in the reaction of Emergents who are insulted by the doctrine of salvation from sin and Hell by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. They reject such a doctrine because it means that true Christianity is an exclusive rather than an inclusive faith. “We have also seen that the Emergent Church movement is all about prideful man’s embrace of misery and paradox as the keys to ‘higher knowledge.’ The Emergent focus is not on Biblical orthodoxy, but on ‘a generous orthodoxy’ – ‘orthoparadoxy.’ Emergent leader Rob Bell boasts, ‘This is not just the same old message with new methods. We’re rediscovering Christianity as an Eastern religion…’”

“Christian, do not be confused or deceived. Christ’s true Church has no place for the Emergent Church’s ‘generous orthodoxy.’” The Christian Century and the Wisconsin Council of Churches have also sponsored a forum featuring Marcus Borg, a leader of Jesus Seminar, which totally rejects historic Christianity. (Bonhoeffer and King, p. 290). Some of the man articles CN has published exposing the liberal theology of the pro-homosexual and pro-abortion Christian Century are in the Christian News Encyclopedia.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

LCMS’s Smoldering Embers of Conflict

Good May Result from Promotion of Universalism in East

Christian News, January 21, 2013
Vol. 51, No. 03

When a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod pastor participated in a unionistic and syncretistic worship service with Muslims, Bahai, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and liberal Protestant clergy, 12 year-old embers of smoldering embers of conflict in the LCMS were rekindled.

On September 23, 2001 Dr. David Benke, president of the LCMS’s Atlantic District, with the approval of LCMS President Jerry Kieschnick, prayed and worshipped with Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and liberal Protestant church leaders who all were supposed to be praying to the same god. Benke, in his defense, later wrote “The Muslim God is also the true God.” A survey showed that the majority of the members of the LCMS agree with him. They reject the notion that the Holy Trinity is the only true God and that a person is justified by faith alone in the merits of Jesus Christ. “Interfaith Service in Newtown Promoted Universalism” in the January 14, 2013 Christian News mentioned statistics from “‘Poll: Most Christians’ belief out of sync with Bible’ in the LCMS July 2001 Reporter and reprinted in the July 23, 2001 Christian News.”

The smoldering embers in the LCMS go back even further than what happened in New York’s Yankee Stadium on September 23, 2001. The embers from the formation of Seminex in 1974 during the LCMS’s great “Battle for the Bible” were never extinguished. Many who supported the theological position of the liberals, who formed Seminex, remained in the LCMS to agitate for women pastors, evolution and the critical views of the Bible condemned as false doctrine not to be tolerated in the LCMS in Resolution 3-09 of the LCMS’s 1973 convention. Dr. Kurt Marquart observed that the LCMS never followed through on 3-09. The LCMS’s 2010 convention again affirmed the 1973 convention resolution. However, no supporter of evolution, higher criticism of the Bible, women pastors, abortion, or homosexuality in the LCMS has ever been disciplined or banned from communion. The embers just keep smoldering in a church today which now has a “koinonia” policy which bans no liberal supporter of evolution, abortion, higher criticism of the Bible, or homosexuality from communion. Only someone who filed charges of false doctrine vs. an LCMS evolutionist or supporter of women pastors has been banned from communion in the LCMS. Some are hoping that good may result in the LCMS from the smoldering of the embers of conflict stirred up by the horrible massacre in Newtown.

“Good May Result From Yankee Stadium Controversy for LCMS In Rekindling 25-Yaer-Old Embers of Conflict” a story in the December 10, 2001 Christian News mentioned in the January 14, 2013 CN said:

“When two hijacked airplanes reduced New York’s World Trade Center to rubble September 11, they also rekindled 25-year-old embers of conflict in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod,” says the December 2, 2001, Omaha World Herald in a story titled “Lutheran President Criticized for Prayer.” It is reprinted in this issue (p. 6). In 1999 Seminex celebrated its 25th anniversary. Seminex was formed in 1974 when 45 out of 50 faculty and staff members of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, left this LCMS seminary and formed Seminex. They took about 450 students with them. Only five members of the faculty remained with some 80 students. It was one of the most significant events in the history of American denominationalism. The Bible doubters left and the Bible believers regained control of their seminary. In most U.S. denominations the liberals won their denomination's "Battle for the Bible." Both liberals and conservatives said the editor of Christian News and Concordia Seminary President John Tietjen, who become President of Seminex, were primarily responsible for the controversy.

Liberals and conservatives said that had it not been for Christian News, liberals would still control the seminary and most of the conservatives now at the seminary would never have been called to the seminary. The LCMS, they said, would by now most likely be in fellowship with churches which formed the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The liberals maintained that the LCMS should be broad enough for professors who denied the inerrancy of the Bible, rejected the immortality of the soul, the historicity of the Genesis account of creation and other sections of the Bible, the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, the fact that the 8th Century B.C. prophet wrote all 66 chapters of Isaiah, the historicity of the story of Jonah, direct rectilinear Messianic' prophecy, etc. They wanted the LCMS to be broad enough for pastors who supported evolution, the ordination of women and homosexuals serving as pastors. The 1973 convention of the LCMS officially declared in resolution 3-09, reprinted again this year in Christian News, that the theological position of the liberal professors who formed Seminex was false doctrine which was not to be tolerated in the church of God.

The 1973 resolution was a major step in the right direction for the LCMS. However, LCMS President Jacob Preus and other leaders of the LCMS did not follow through. They permitted those who supported the theological position of Seminex to remain within the LCMS. The embers kept smoldering. CN showed these leaders that there still were many on the LCMS clergy roster who enthusiastically supported the position of the Seminex professors, the position which the 1973, convention said was not to be tolerated within the LCMS. The Preus, Bohlmann, and Barry administrations all permitted these Seminex supporting liberals, including such outspoken radicals as Paul Bretscher and Donald Prange, who deny the deity of Jesus Christ, to remain on the LCMS roster. The documentation CN supplied LCMS officials was ignored. The embers kept smoldering. Liberalism was not extinguished.

At the 25th anniversary of Seminex CN questioned some 350 graduates of Seminex, who were certified for ministry in the LCMS, and professors and clergymen who signed statements supporting the theology of Seminex. Hardly any of them said they now repudiated the theology of Seminex and affirmed the inerrancy of the Bible and opposed the ordination of women and evolution. CN gave the responses to LCMS officials. The Seminexers were permitted to remain on the LCMS clergy roster. Efforts at the 2001 convention of the LCMS by the editor’s congregation to have the convention take action against the Seminex liberals, including Prange and Bretscher, were sidetracked.

If the “embers of conflict” within the LCMS were stirred up by the fact that Atlantic District President David Benke, with the approval and encouragement of LCMS President Gerald Kieschnick, prayed with Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and other non-Christian at the prayer service held in Yankee Stadium, then the entire matter may end up for the good of the LCMS. Hundreds of thousands of members of the LCMS may finally wake up to the fact that there are many liberal clergymen within the LCMS who still support the anti-scriptural position of Seminex and who should be encouraged to join ECLA if they do not repudiate their liberal theology. The Yankee Stadium prayer services have led to more publicity for the LCMS in the nation’s press that any other event since the founding of Seminex. Perhaps there is still a chance of preventing the LCMS from becoming just one more of America’s “anything goes” churches. Once the true Lutheran in ELCA see that the LCMS does not keep on its roster professors and clergymen, who deny what the Scriptures teach, more of them will leave ELCA and join the LCMS. The Seminexers in the LCMS should join their liberal friends in ECLA and the loyal Lutherans in ELCA should join the LCMS, WELS, ELS or one of the smaller confessional Lutheran church bodies.

Ed. After CN filed charges of false doctrine vs. Donald Prange and Paul Bretscher, they left the LCMS.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


ELCA and LCMS Clergy May Teach Muslims and Christians Believe in Same God Christian News, January 14, 2013, Vol. 51, No. 02

Pastors and professors in The Lutheran Church in America and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod are now permitted to maintain that Muslims and Christians believe in the same true God. Dr. David Benke, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, insists that “The Muslim God is also the true God.” At an interfaith service held at Yankee Stadium on September 23, 2001 the LCMS official, with the approval of LCMS President Jerry Kieschnick, prayed with Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Liberal Protestants and Roman Catholics. LCMS Vice-President Wallace Schulz, who maintains that the Holy Trinity is the only true God and only God who actually exists, ruled that Benke had violated Holy Scripture and should be removed from the LCMS clergy roster if he does not repent.

Dr. Kurt Marquart defended Schulz’s decision, when the case was heard. However, Schulz was overruled and Benke now says he is reconciled with all members of the LCMS’s Council of Presidents, including the LCMS’s president and vice-presidents, without having retracted. He says that all members of the LCMS’s COP commune with him. Crisis in Christendom – Seminex Ablaze includes a statement by Schulz.

Schulz wrote: “This is why I state emphatically, and very, very sadly that all, and I repeat ALL of the divisiveness we have had in the LCMS as a result of Yankee Stadium can be traced to this (Kieschnick’s) ‘original’ sin.” (Page 111 Crisis in Christendom-Seminex Ablaze.) Benke is among those on the LCMS clergy roster who maintain that there should be room on the LCMS clergy roster for those who support evolution and women pastors.

LCMS officials have tried to curb publicity about a recent similar interfaith service in Newtown, Connecticut where President Obama participated with clergymen from various religions, including an LCMS pastor who is reported to have spoken at length with LCMS President Harrison and his district president prior to participating in the interfaith service. CN has asked both the LCMS president and Rev. Timothy Yeadon, the president of the LCMS’s New England District, if they urged the LCMS pastor in Newtown not to take part in the interfaith service which included leaders of non-Christian religions.

“American Muslims” in the January, 2013 Lutheran of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America again shows that ELCA pastors may teach that Muslims worship the same God Christians worship and that they may worship with Muslims. An Editor’s note at the beginning of “American Muslims” says: “This series is intended to be a public conversation among teaching theologians of the ELCA on various themes of our faith and the challenging issues of our day. It invites readers to engage in dialogue by posting comments online at the end of each article at  “The series is edited by Philip D.W. Krey, president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, on behalf of the presidents of the eight ELCA seminaries. The two ELCA professors in the dialogue are Professor David Grafton and Professor Michael Shelley.

“Grafton is associate professor of Islamic studies and Christian-Muslim relations and director for graduate studies of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.

Shelley is dean and vice-president for academic affairs; associate professor of Christian-Muslim studies; and director of A Center for Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice, all at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.”

Professor Shelley writes in The Lutheran: “However, from the beginning of his ministry, Muhammad, whose message was grounded in an uncompromising monotheism, proclaimed that only Allah should be recognized and worshiped. “Are Allah and the God of the Bible the same? Certainly the Quran contends they are. It says to Jews and Christians, ‘Our God and your God is one’ (Quran 29:46).

“Kenneth Cragg, a famous British Christian scholar of Islam, has suggested that it is helpful to think in terms of the subject/predicate relationship in sentence structure. The subject about which we are speaking is the same, but the predicates employed have significance both for where we agree and where we disagree. “We can agree, for instance, that God is the creator and that God is one. However, we may disagree on how the oneness of God is understood. Thus Christians would expand the predicate from ‘God is one’ to ‘God is three in one’ or ‘God is a tri-unity,’ language Muslims find unacceptable. “I agree with Cragg that we are likely to have more constructive conversations with our Muslim neighbors if we proceed on the assumption that we are talking about the same divine being.”

Thursday, January 3, 2013

“Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification” by Alister E. McGrath

Review by John Warwick Montgomery
Christian News, January 7, 2013
Vol. 51, No. 1

(Reprinted by permission from the author from the March/April 2000 Modern Reformation. See “In LCMS Today: McGrath Is In and Montgomery Is Out,” December 17, 2012)

In his preface to this one-volume revision of his original two-volume edition, Alister McGrath informs us of its purpose and scope: “The history of the development of the Christian doctrine of justification has never been written. It is this deficiency which the present volume seeks to remedy. The first edition of this work appeared in two volumes in 1986 and quickly established itself as the definitive work on the subject.” A claim this broad needs to be (we hesitate to use the word) justified to warrant purchase, if only on economic grounds.

McGrath, a prominent Anglican evangelical known on both sides of the Atlantic, treats the doctrine of justification in a strictly chronological fashion, beginning with the Patristic period and St. Augustine. (He does not deal with Paul’s views in the New Testament as such; we shall return to his reasons for this at the end of this review.) The medieval period is discussed in considerable detail, with helpful distinctions made between different approaches to justification characteristic of major monastic orders and ideological schools (Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinians). The Reformation period is, needless to say, central to the book, with a description of Luther’s theological development followed by a comparison of the Lutheran and Reformed approaches to the doctrine and a brief discussion of justification in Protestant Orthodoxy. Then follows Trent, the English “Reformation legacy” (including not just Tyndale, Hooker, and the Puritans, but also, oddly enough, John Henry Newman-owing to his critique of Luther in his Lectures on Justification), and the period from the Enlightenment through the Protestant liberalism of Schleiermacher and Ritschl to Barth, Tillich, Bultmann, the post-Bultmannian new hermeneutic (Ebeling), and the 1983 U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue group’s Justification by Faith document.

Before going into details, we may legitimately ask a preliminary question or two: How revised is the revised edition? and, Is the work indeed unique? As to the degree of revision, it is very slight: aside from minor updating of references and a few stylistic improvements, the only new material is the addition of two final sections updating the book with references to recent Pauline scholarship and ecumenical endeavors to bridge the Protestant-Catholic gap.

What about the author’s claim to have produced the only extant “history of the development of the Christian doctrine of justification”? If this means a single volume devoted to the subject and published in our time, he may be strictly correct. But the great histories of Christian thought have hardly been able to avoid a doctrine so central to Christian faith. One thinks not just of the likes of Harnack but of twentieth century treatments such as J. L. Neve and O. W. Heick (1) and J. L. González.(2) Looking at random at Neve and Heick, one finds, for example, an entire chapter devoted to “Positions on Justification” in their discussion of the New England theology of Jonathan Edwards. Neither Neve and Heick nor González is referred to anywhere by McGrath, and one gets the distinct impression that he did not benefit greatly from the synoptic histories of doctrine in doing his own work. Often these histories provide more careful and more detailed discussions of justification than he himself gives.

To be sure, a single work focusing on a cardinal doctrine is always useful. McGrath admits in his preface that “in effect, the present study is a bibliographical essay.” As such, it will often provide insights hard to find elsewhere. Thus, there is a fine critique of John Henry Newman’s gross misunderstandings of Luther.

But sweeping treatments of historical topics must in the final analysis be judged by their adequacy on the level of the particular. Toynbee was unsuccessful in defending himself against the critics of his A Study of History when he declared that “a committee may be able to run a country but a book must be the product of a single mind.” The fact is that no one person can be the master of gigantic amounts of detail, so the specialists’ treatments are often much more useful than one person’s attempt to cover the whole field. How does McGrath’s book stand up to detailed analysis?

Not very well. Here are a few examples. He properly recognizes that the chief influence on the nascent Anglican theology of the Reformation period was Lutheran (“Despite this clear alignment with the Lutheran Reformation, rather than the Swiss Reformations of Zurich or Geneva, the Elizabethan period witnessed a general decline in the fortunes of Lutheranism in England”-sec. 30), but he shows no acquaintance with the best of the detailed treatments of the matter: H. E. Jacobs (3) and N. S. Tjernagel. (4) Indeed, one of the most remarkable features of the McGrath volume is its omission of American scholarly literature in general, much of which reaches a greater level of theological depth than the British material.

The author’s handling of the Lutheran theologians of the period of seventeenth century Protestant Orthodoxy is truly unfortunate. This does not apparently arise from dependence on A. C. McGiffert’s Protestant Thought Before Kant or on Jaroslav Pelikan’s stereotyped treatment in his From Luther to Kierkegaard (they are nowhere referred to), but his underlying point is the same as theirs: These theologians departed from Luther, hardened their categories, and contributed to the rise of Pietism and ultimately to Enlightenment rationalism. McGrath doesn’t address the groundbreaking work on the theologians of Lutheran Orthodoxy by the brothers J. A. O. Preus and Robert D. Preus. (5)

Particularly unsettling is the impact of the author’s own Calvinism on his interpretations. Thus, the Lutheran dogmaticians of the late sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries invariably come out less attractively than their Calvinist counterparts:

Significantly, the Reformed school is considerably closer to Luther (especially the 1525 Luther) than Lutheranism. Given that both confessions adopted a strongly forensic concept of justification, which set them apart from Luther on this point, the strongly predestinarian cast of Reformed theology approximates to that of Luther to a far greater extent than Lutheran Orthodoxy. Similarly, the strongly Christological conception of justification to be found in Luther’s writings is carried over into Reformed theology, particularly in the image of Christ as caput et sponsor electorum, where it is so evidently lacking in Lutheran Orthodoxy. Both in terms of its substance and emphasis, the teaching of later Lutheran Orthodoxy bears little relation to that of Luther (sec. 24).

These misrepresentations derive not from careful analysis of the corpus of dogmatic writings in question but from a tacit acceptance of such Reformed attempts to assimilate Luther to Calvinist double-predestination as that of James Packer in his edition of Luther’s Bondage of the Will. It is also not easy to see a one-to-one relationship between Luther’s very definitely Christological center and the Calvinist dogmaticians’ emphasis on our Lord as “head and sponsor of the elect”! (6)

McGrath holds that the Lutheran dogmaticians based their doctrine of election upon God’s foreknowledge of the faith of the one to be justified. He says nothing of the controversies over the question of the actual teaching of Luther and of the dogmaticians of Orthodoxy on this issue that led to the formulation of the theology of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.(7) The literature of that nineteenth-century controversy, involving also the old Buffalo, Iowa, and Ohio Synods, leads to the inevitable conclusion that the Lutheran view was not at all as McGrath formulates it. Neither the Calvinists nor the classic Lutherans focused on foreknowledge of free will; they both saw God’s election and the work of the Holy Spirit as the sole source of the believer’s status. They differed in attempting to account for the lost, the Calvinist theologians attributing this to a divine decree, either supralapsarian or infralapsarian, the Lutherans to man’s own fallen condition and perverse misuse of his free will. (8)

Karl Barth’s position on justification comes under criticism but not, it would seem, for the best reasons. McGrath notes that “Barth cannot share Luther’s high estimation for the articulus iustificationis" (sec. 37). He explains this as stemming from Barth’s theological method: for Barth, “soteriology is necessarily secondary to the fact of revelation, Deus dixit.” Now Barth’s lack of appreciation for the centrality of justification certainly relates to his theological method, but that does not concern his attitude toward revelation at all as much as it does (1) his overarching stress on the sovereignty of God and (2) his appallingly weak doctrine of sin (sin as an absence of something-see Gustaf Wingren’s criticism of Barth in Wingren’s classic, Theology in Conflict; and my Where Is History Going?). Moreover, it does not seem entirely responsible for McGrath to stress Barth’s doctrine of revelation and not inform his readers that, as a matter of fact, Barth’s view of revelation was evacuated of any and all empirical grounding by his absorption of Khler’s distinction between revelatory Geschichte and the ordinary facts of history (Historie). But that is doubtless because McGrath, like many English evangelicals, refuses himself to acknowledge the inerrancy of Scriptural revelation.
The treatment of Tillich is even more inadequate. Here is the whole of it:

In an important essay of 1924, Tillich noted that the doctrine of justification applied not merely to the religious aspects of moral life, but also to the intellectual life of religion, in that it is not merely the sinner, but also the doubter, who is justified by faith. Tillich thus extends the scope of the doctrine to the universal human situation of despair and doubt concerning the meaning of existence. Tillich thus argues that the doctrine of justification, when rightly understood, lies at the heart of the Christian faith. While nineteenth-century man was characterized by his idealism, his twentieth-century counterpart is characterized by existential despair and anxiety-and it is to this latter man that the Christian message must be made relevant. Tillich attempts this task by the “method of correlation,” by which the Christian proclamation is “correlated” with the existential questions arising from human existence. For Tillich, the doctrine of justification addresses a genuine human need: “man must learn to accept that he is accepted, despite being unacceptable” (sec. 38).

It is amazing that McGrath can set forth such a viewpoint without pointing out its utter incompatibility with anything historic Christian faith or Holy Writ has said concerning justification. (The only semblance of an evaluation is the single sentence in a footnote: “Despite the verbal parallels with the concept of acceptatio Dei, it is difficult to see quite how Tillich understands man to be accepted by God.”) Moreover, no attempt at all is made to relate Tillich’s metaphorical recasting of justification to (1) his presentation of God as Being Itself (the ontological dimension of his thought), (2) Christ as the New Being (his soteriology), or (3) his so-called “Protestant principle,” on the basis of which every religious assertion stands under criticism-thus, ironically, making doubt endemic! Altizer, according to Hannah Tillich, hastened Tillich’s demise by pointing out that if noreligious claims are indefeasible that would of course include Tillich’s Being Itself, the foundation of his entire system-and Altizer’s point would, of course, equally apply, mutantis mutandis, to any “doctrine” of justification he espoused. For the short treatment of Tillich just quoted, McGrath cites only Tillich’s Protestant Era and The Shaking of the Foundations-and gives but a single secondary reference, and that to a relatively unimportant treatment of Tillich’s correlation principle. Surely a theologian of Tillich’s influence deserved a more thorough analysis and critique than this.
It is also difficult to understand how a history of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith could be written with no mention of such overarching ideas in the history of doctrine as Anders Nygren’s magisterial analysis of the interplay of agape (God’s self-giving love) and eros (man’s self-centered love)-a thesis unsuccessfully refuted by M. C. D’Arcy. (McGrath cites a minor journal article by Nygren, but not his Agape and Eros, and the concept is nowhere treated.) If justification is understood forensically as God’s unmerited act of love in eternity toward a fallen race, as the Reformers believed, whilst Roman theology saw the infusion of grace as requiring human acceptance by way of adherence to the Church’s teachings, then it should be quite evident why Augustine’s uneasy caritas-synthesis of agape and eros fractured at the time of the Reformation, and why Trent unqualifiedly condemned justification by grace through faith alone. Appreciation of the Nygren thesis would also have helped McGrath to see more clearly the weaknesses in contemporary ecumenical attempts to blend the Protestant and Roman Catholic positions on justification.

Unquestionably the most troubling aspect of this book comes in a paragraph of the preface. The author writes:

Some readers of the first edition expressed puzzlement that there was to be found no specific treatment of Paul’s view on justification. It may be helpful to such readers to recall that every generation believed that it had understood Paul correctly, and was duly puzzled when its own settled convictions were called into question by a later generation. What one generation takes to be an accurate analysis of Paul is seen by later scholarship as that generation’s analysis of Paul, reflecting its own values, presuppositions, goals and prejudices. The present volume can thus be seen, at one level, as a continuous analysis of the church’s interpretation of Paul on justification, which takes no fixed view on what the correct interpretation of Paul should be.

One understands not wanting to be criticized for one’s theological views by those who disagree, but the kind of relativism that this passage conveys goes beyond mere scholarly reticence. It is, in effect, the refusal to assert that Scripture has any objective, absolute meaning: its teachings, even those as central as justification, are defined only in the continuing history of its interpretation. Of course, this is in fact to espouse precisely Newman’s “organic” model of doctrinal development, which is basic to Roman Catholic ecclesiology. Contrast Luther to Erasmus, who was arguing essentially the same thing:

If you are referring to essential truths-why, what more irreligious assertion could a man possibly make than that he wants to be free to assert precisely nothing  about such things? ... I certainly grant that many passages in the Scriptures are obscure and hard to elucidate, but that is due, not to the exalted nature of their subject, but to our own linguistic and grammatical ignorance. ... Who will maintain that the town fountain does not stand in the light because the people down some alley cannot see it, while everyone in the square can see it? (De servo arbitrio, WA, 18, 604-605; cf. Montgomery, In Defense of Martin Luther and Crisis in Lutheran Theology).

This is the same McGrath who wrote in a foreword to a recent evangelical interpretation of Richard Hooker: “The vision which Hooker encourages for modern Evangelicalism is that of a movement which is deeply grounded in and nourished by Scripture, yet strengthened and sustained by a sense of solidarity within Christian orthodoxy down the ages.” (9) But how can the church be “grounded in and nourished by Scripture” if the meaning of the major doctrines of Scripture-to say nothing of the rest of its content-is at the mercy of the “values, presuppositions, goals, and prejudices” of each generation of Christian believers? Here, one either holds, in Anglo-Catholic fashion, that the Holy Spirit continuously preserves the church from error through control of its traditions or, in the unshakable conviction of the Reformers, that an objective, perspicuous Scripture must forever judge the church: Ecclesia semper reformanda est. A firm doctrine of inspiration and a rock-solid hermeneutic are essential for the latter viewpoint. Neither is needed for the former.

1 [ Back ] J. L. Neve and O. W. Heick, A History of Christian Thought (2 vols.; Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1946).
2 [ Back ] J. L. González, A History of Christian Thought (3 vols.; Nashville: Abingdon, 1970-1975)
3 [ Back ] H. E. Jacobs, The Lutheran Movement in England During the Reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI (Philadelphia: G. W. Frederick, 1890).
4 [ Back ] N. S. Tjernagel, Henry VIII and the Lutherans (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia, l965).
5 [ Back ] Cf. Robert D. Preus’s two-volume Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia, 1970-1972).
6 [ Back ] Cf. David Chytraeus, On Sacrifice, ed. and trans. John Warwick Montgomery (2d. ed.; Malone, TX: Repristination Press, 1999).
7 [ Back ] See inter alia, A. R. Wentz, A Basic History of Lutheranism in America  (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, l955), pp. 212-216.
8 [ Back ] F. Pieper, Christian Dogmatics (4 vols.; Saint Louis, MO: Concordia, 1950-1957), II, 419-422, III, 471-503.9 [Back] In Nigel Atkinson, Richard Hooker: Reformed Theologian of the Church of England? (Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster, 1997).
John Warwick Montgomery is distinguished professor of apologetics and law at Trinity College and Theological Seminary (Newburgh, Indiana) and provost for its U.K. and European operations. He is author of several books, including Law & Gospel.