Category Archives: Essays in Lutheran Mysticism

An Offensive Weapon.

I’d like to start this post with a stanza of one of my favorite hymns: Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying, by Stephen P. Starke.

 Though around us death is seething,
    God, His two-edged sword unsheathing,
    By His Spirit life is breathing
       Through the living, active Word.

And now: The Church of Christ Wields an Offensive Weapon.

There is an image of a warrior that resides in the back (or sometimes the front) of everyone’s mind. There is another image that, though usually pushed much further back in the mind, also takes its residence in everyone’s mind: A man dying on his knees. The warrior is tall, he is strong, his grip is iron, his eyes are bright. He may be ruthless and wicked, or kind, a shield to the weak: but he is strong. His enemies fear encountering him. The man dying on his knees is weak, pathetic even. He is bound and has been tortured. His head is shaved and he is thin from being a prisoner. In the mind’s eye, this man is broken into pieces: he is not a man; he is a heap of the fragments of a man. And yet he sings. This man, this broken and dying man, is a witness: a martyr. His blood is spilled because he refuses to deny his Lord Jesus.

Strange, how the mind’s vision is so poor. We ought to look again at the two men before us. It is a paradox that confronts us. When Christ came into this world, everything went inside-out and topsy-turvy. In reality, everything went right-side-up: but if everyone else is upside down, the one who sees the world right side up is ‘topsy-turvy’. When the people of God sing ‘The white robed army of martyr’s praises you’, we confess that these saints, who died ‘poorly’, in truth, died well; that these who were slaughtered with their hands tied, fought and even triumphed in the war.

In today’s world, the church spends most of its time defending itself. It defends its doctrine. It defends its right to speak about what it believes. It defends the lives of the old and the unborn. All this good, yet something of a shame. It is a shame because the church is fundamentally made and equipped for offence. It does not primarily exist to defend its values, or its doctrines or its people. The Holy Church wields, despite appearances, a sharp and well-made sword. It is made to ‘go and make disciples of all nations.’ It sends its warriors out, and often, they die, and the church grows. The strange paradox that slaughter has never annihilated the Christian faith is explained by the fact that in death, the martyr’s victory over the devil is won for him, and the sword of the church strikes true.

And again, the many in the church spend their time doing their best to sound good. The most charitable construction of this is that they are trying to not be misunderstood: so let us think that. Yet, it is a travesty that the church cares overmuch if it offends people. It is not a coincidence that offensive (the technical term for attacking in a fight) and offensive (as in someone was offended) are the same word. The church has been literally guaranteed to offend people. Are people offended when they are told they are sinning? Yes. Are they offended when they are told that this thing, that the church ought to call a favorite sin, that makes them feel so happy, is going to damn them to hell? Yes! Do people loathe it when they are told that even nice people, people they liked a lot, will go to eternal damnation (which is torment) if they do not have faith? Obviously!

And yet: those who engage in sexual perversion need to be told that they are committing sins, that they are perverted. Likewise, people who gossip need to hear that their gossip is also a vile sin that must be repented of. People within, and especially without, the church must hear the conviction of the Law of God. Without the condemnation of the Law, the Gospel has no impact.

The church must be offensive and call evil, evil; and good: good. The Devil, the world and one’s own flesh will scream. People will take you to court, they will close down your businesses with lawsuits, they will threaten you and may one day again make martyrs in the streets. But consider this: the Church is filled with warriors intended to be specialists in offensive combat, and the most potent weapon in her armaments is the witness of the lifeblood of the saints.

I opened with a great hymn, now I will close with a great comic… If you haven’t spent time reading through at Adam4d, you ought to. Click through for the whole strip.

What kind though, Todd? [silence]

A Short Defense of Mysticism

Here is the introduction for the ‘Essays in Lutheran Mysticism’.

In our heavily scientized society, it is tempting to forget, in our great human arrogance, that God is not understandable. We as Christians confess that God is beyond our understanding, yet we often treat Him and His works as if this misunderstanding is one that is just barely out of the reach of Human reason. In fact, the only real difference effectively between the scientism of the modern world and the modern Christian is this: The secularist believes that all things which are currently out of reach will be eventually within reach, while the modern Christian often behaves as though the Nature and Mind of God are barely out of reach and will always remain ever so slightly out of reach. In reality the Godhead is infinitely out of reach. We have forgotten the Mystery (and in a real sense also the Majesty) of God.

In nearly every case this abandonment of the mystery of God is tied to intellectual arrogance as if the creator could ever be understood by the creation. Instead I propose a return to the appreciation of mysticism – not a mysticism that claiming that everything and every attribute of God is unknowable – rather a mysticism of humility. This mysticism recognizes that, while in the Holy Writ, God provides precise detail and clear language in all things necessary to salvation, the human mind is not capable of assimilating the whole (or even a fraction) of the infinite knowledge and wisdom and character and emotion of the Godhead. Thus, in many cases, we are therefore dependent on catching glimpses of God – and be as Moses who turned aside his face upon hearing the whisper of God.

There is a second reason I believe that a return to mysticism is important. This reason is about the state of the unbeliever in today’s Post-modern world. Every age has its own particular virtues and vices: often the latter is indeed a perversion of the former. That these virtues are warped does not negate the ability of the Word of God to sanctify them, and use them to great ends. I believe that the when the underlying virtue of an era’s vice is employed it can have a profound impact upon the lost of that time. St. Paul did not tell the Athenians to stop being so logical and feel more. Consider this: personal belief is a powerful component of the post-modern world, while one of the most distinguishable parts of Christian doctrine is that our relationship to God is a personal, intimate one: that of children with their father. Again, consider the pervasive lie of ‘what is true for you’, and consider the uncorrupted reality of the paradox. Lastly, the post-modern man feels as though his very soul is withered by the arid heat of impersonal science. The post-modern wanders in search of wonder, and ‘their very sins are sad’. In this world, I contend that it is the role of the Christian to be the last rationalist, the last empiricist, the last mystic, and the last hedonist all combined.

So here is my recommendation which may  feel like a paradox: intellectually rigorous mysticism.

Blog announcment

Hello, this is to kick off a series of posts (of indefinite length) in which I attempt to do some constructive philosophy. (Most philosophy these days is either learning what someone else said, parsing, or tearing down people’s worldviews… This will be none of those.)

I thought about writing essays for a little book or something, but I’d rather post them for people to read; it seems to me that if you think you have something interesting to say, you shouldn’t try to charge anyone for it. One ought to at least write enough to convince people that what one says is interesting.

And that brings us to this; what, if it was a book would be ‘Essays in Lutheran Mysticism’. The reason I want to do this will become plain as the essays roll out. But in general, I think the many do not realize that while Luke 2 was written by a scientist and historian, John 1 was written by a mystic.

You can expect a real intro essay (largely to delineate why I think orthodox mysticism is important) in the next day or two… I hope you enjoy it… I have this (probably lost cause) hope that  there may be entertaining arguments in the comments…