Luther and Reason

In terms of our relationship with God, Martin Luther “has very, very limited use, if any use at all, for reason”. [1]  How can this be true?  We are made in the image of God.  Part of our being is our reasoning ability.  Did God give us this ability and yet totally ignore it when it comes to our relationship with him?

Now I agree we need God’s revelation given through the Bible and Jesus.  There is no way using only our reason that we can know and understand God’s plan for us.  However, even though our definitive communication with God is the Bible, how can we properly interpret the Bible unless we use reason?  There are two examples.

First, there are conflicting passages in the Bible about what constitutes salvation.  Most Christians believe salvation is through belief in Jesus alone but there are over 70 verses that teach salvation is through the person we become.  How do we resolve this issue?  We must use reason.

Second, from my experience, people who oppose the use of reason in our relationship with God believe they have the correct interpretation of the Bible and therefore they think they have no cause to use reason.  Everyone agrees that God made us finite.  What does it mean that we are finite?  It means that we are limited in our ability to know what is true.  If we are finite, how can we be sure our interpretation of the Bible is correct unless we use reason and dialogue with other Christians?

Reason is absolutely essential in our Christian life.  Martin Luther was finite just like the rest of us and in this case he is in error.


[1]   Carl Trueman, “Self-glory or a cross?”, World Magazine, September 30, 2017, p. 24.

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Is God Omnipotent?

In his book God, Faith, and Reason, Michael Savage quotes another author who makes the argument that God is not omnipotent because he permits all the evil in our world. [1]

However, the definition of God, “the one Supreme Being; the creator and ruler of the universe”, implies an omnipotent God.  If a being can create our incredible universe, such a being would certainly be omnipotent.  Also, just because someone chooses not exercise a particular trait does not mean that person does not possess it.

Instead the question we should ask is:  why does God not exercise his power to prevent evil?  The Bible does give us hints.  The book of Genesis records the story of the fall of mankind.  Adam and Eve thought they knew better than God.  How does God deal with such people?  Romans 1 mentions several times that God gives up on people who insist on going their own way and permits them to do whatever they want.  The reason evil exists in our world is because we humans allow it; we choose it.  God permits evil in our world because he wants to show us the consequences of our actions.

The Jewish physician and philosopher Maimonides maintained the causes of evil and suffering were three.  First, we exist in a material sphere.  Second, people cause each other pain.  Third, we bring suffering on ourselves and this is the greatest cause. [2]

God has essentially told us humans that if we think we could do a better job in running this world to try it. History shows us how miserably we have failed.  God still intervenes, on occasion, in our world to keep things from going out of control, to accomplish his purposes, and to point us in the right direction.


[1]   Michael Savage.  God, Faith, and Reason.  New York:  Center Street, 2017, pp. 15-16.

[2]   Shlomo Pines, translator.  Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, Volume II. Chicago:  The University of Chicago Press, 1963, pp. 443-445.

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God’s Sovereignty

Does God control all aspect of our lives?  Verses like the ones quoted below would indicate that he does.

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord  by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord  stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:  Ezra 1:1 ESV

And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the Lord  had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel. Ezra 6:22 ESV

However, we must base our theology on what the entire Bible has to say about the subject.  Recently, while reading 2 Chronicles, I came across the following verse.

And so in the matter of the envoys of the princes of Babylon, who had been sent to him to inquire about the sign that had been done in the land, God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart.  2 Chronicles 32:31 ESV

Paul tells is in Philippians 2:12 to work out our “salvation with fear and trembling”.  How can we do anything about our salvation if we do not have free will?  Why would God command us to do something we cannot do?

Oswald Sanders quotes D. E. Hoste and Hudson Taylor as saying as they went further along in their walk with God, they found that God did not give them as much assistance in determining God’s will. God treats mature Christians as mature adults and leaves more and more to their own judgment [1]

The argument between God’s sovereignty and human free will is meaningless.  The Bible plainly teaches both are true.  There are times when God intervenes in human events to move people to accomplish his purposes.  However, there are also times where he leaves us to our own devices to develop us as persons and to teach us the lessons we need to learn.


[1]   J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, Chicago:  Moody Press, 1967, pp. 112-113.

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After Jesus taught us what we now call the Lord’s Prayer, the first comment he made was:

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-16 ESV)

The reason he did was because part of the Lord’s Prayer states:

“and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”. (Matthew 6:12 ESV)

The words Jesus uses are interesting.  He assumes that we have and will forgive those who are in our debt.  But what does it mean to forgive others?  Andrée Seu Peterson explains in very concrete terms:  “Give your brother a clean slate every day” because we do not know how God is working with that individual.  If someone wrongs us we are to forget that transgressions; remove it as far as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12)  Christianity is to be positive and hopeful–“Love. . .believes all things, hopes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7 ESV).  [1]

Do we really forgive others their trespasses against us?  Jesus’ statement in verses 14-16 is a warning that if we do not then God will not forgive us our trespasses.  If our sins will not be forgiven, then how can we live in the presence of God?  Our Christian doctrine tells us that sin separates us from God.  The whole purpose of Jesus death and resurrection for our sins was to obtain forgiveness of our sins without which, our doctrine tells us, we would be separated from God for eternity.

This passage makes it very clear that God expects more of us than just our belief in Jesus and his death for our sins.  God expects that we take action and in this passage God tells us one action he expects us to take is to forgive others their trespass against us.


[1]   Andrée Seu Peterson, “Forgive those debtors”, World Magazine, October 15, 2016, p. 63.

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What We Recall

Over the holidays I chanced upon a book about a crew member of the USS Arizona who survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  This book was about his experience during the war and included information on his formative years.  He went to church when he was growing up and of that experience he states:  “What I recall from my place on a hard wood pew in that little Methodist church was not so much what I heard from the pulpit as what I saw in the people”. [1]

Mr. Stratton did not write a book on religion or our Christian beliefs but he stated what we all acknowledge–that what we do speaks so loud that others cannot hear what we say.  And yet we think our Christian faith is just a matter of belief and our actions are not involved.  How can we maintain such a belief?


[1]   Donald Stratton with Ken Gire.  All the Gallant Men.  New York:  William Morrow, 2016, p. 21.

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Critical Thinking

I met Al Arnold at a Civil War reenactment where he was selling his book.  His book is about his grandfather who was a slave and who worked for Robert E. Lee as an orderly during the war.  This led Arnold to research the topic of blacks who fought on the side of the Confederacy.  I was intrigued by the subject matter—why would slaves fight for the system that enslaved them?  So I bought Arnold’s book.  And I am glad I did because his book is about much more than the topic that first interested me.

In his Preface, Arnold brings up a topic which should be common knowledge to us all.  He mentions that to think critically of ideas is a goal that we all should attempt to attain but to think critically of others is not. [1]  What struck me is the simple question of:  Why?  What is different between ideas and people where to be critical of one is admirable and to be critical of the other is not?

To think critically of ideas is laudable because our ideas and beliefs can be in error.  We need to be critical of them to correct any mistakes in our beliefs.  In fact that is the way we discover most of the mistakes in our belief system.

So why is it considered to be wrong to think critically of others, even when they are in error?  Evidently there is something special about humans—we are made in God’s image.  It is obvious that our ideas and beliefs are not.


[1]  Al Arnold, Robert E. Lee’s Orderly, A Black Youth’s Southern Inheritance, Murrieta, CA:   Inknbeans Press, 2017, p. xiv.

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The Purpose of Scars and Dents

In a recent aviation oriented magazine, the owner of an airplane who leased out her airplane to a local flight school lamented the fact that whenever she flew the airplane she would notice new damage that was caused by student pilots.  Trying to keep the airplane is good condition was a challenge and she wondered if she should stop leasing the aircraft to the flight school.

The author of this article also recalled when her 2 year old son used a hammer he had received as a Christmas gift to “work” on the wooden floor of their house.  The floor was stained and where her son had “worked” on the floor the lighter color of the actual wood shown through.

The lesson the author learned from these experiences was that ”home is a place to grow and make mistakes and scratch up the floor as we actively live our lives”.  She also came to realize that “Airplanes were never meant to spend their time in a hangar, being kept in pristine condition.  They were made to be flown.”   “It’s not really about the airplane.  It’s about the pilot, whose character is shaped each time he tries again after not getting it right the first time.  Those scratches on the airplane help remind us what’s important:  learning to value our scars.” [1]

Is it not the same in our personal lives?  We are finite, sinful creatures and God’s purpose is to make of us a new creation.  As C. S. Lewis states:  “What [God] cares about is that we should be creatures of a certain kind or quality—the kind of creatures He intended us to be—creatures related to Himself in a certain way.” [2]  As we said in the last blog, the events of our lives are not that important.  What is important is the way we respond to those events; if we learn from those events.  And the way we respond to those events will determine the type of person we become, whether the kind of creature God want us to be or the kind of creature that is opposed to all God stands for and is.


[1]   Natalie Bingham Hoover, “Scars and dents”, AOPA Pilot, November 2017, p. 24.

[2]   C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.  New York:  The Macmillan Company, 1952, p. 113.

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The Fleeting Moments of Our Lives

Depending upon which translation you read, the Preacher tells us that all of life is vanity, is meaningless, or is like a vapor (Ecclesiastes 1:2).  If we spend time evaluating his claim, we would need to acknowledge that he is correct.  There are very good reasons why the Preacher came to this conclusion.

  • What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9 ESV)
  • “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. For of the wise as of the fool there is  no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten.  How the wise dies just like the fool!  (Ecclesiastes 2:15-17 ESV)
  • I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19 ESV)
  • It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, (Ecclesiastes 9:2 ESV)

The events of our lives, taken by themselves, are meaningless.  Do we really think that 200 years from now any of us will be remembered?  Do we really think that 200 years from now the events of our lives will have an impact on that generation?

What makes our lives meaningful is the type of person we become.  What makes our lives meaningful is if we utilize our life experiences, whatever they are, to become more like God.  The events of our lives are fleeting moments in eternity but what will live forever is our soul.  And we determine what our soul will be like by the decisions we make during these fleeting moments of our lives.

The end of the matter; all has been heard.   Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.  (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 ESV)

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Rules or Relationship

People have many different opinions on what constitutes Christianity and Janie B. Cheaney points out a couple of these differing opinions in a recent article.  Some believe Christianity is discovering the right rules God has setup for us and then following those rules  Others believe it is a personal relationship with Jesus. [1]

There are problems with both opinions.  Jesus preached against just following the rules the Pharisees and Sadducees had setup.  Jesus told a parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector who went to the temple to pray.  The Pharisee’s prayer was about how he followed all the rules of his religion:  “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” In contrast the tax collector just humbly admitted his failures (Luke 18:9-14).  The Pharisee followed all the right rules but Jesus said that only the tax collector was justified before God.

If we view Christianity solely as a relationship with Jesus then of what does that relationship consist?   Jesus’ disciples had a relationship with him but very few were at his crucifixion.  The vast majority of his disciples deserted him in his moment of greatest need.  What kind of a relationship is that?  Can we have a relationship with Jesus and yet do what we want, ignoring what he desires?

I believe salvation requires both following the rules Jesus has given us and a relationship with Jesus.  As Jesus states, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.”  So why does not our doctrine of salvation include both?


[1]   Janie B. Cheaney, “Lord and friend”, World Magazine, September 2, 2007, p. 14.

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The Great Lisbon Apocalypse of 1755

On All Saint’s Day, November 1, 1755, Lisbon, Portugal was hit with an earthquake, tsunami, and then fire that destroyed a great part of the city.  Communication was slow in those days but when the other nations of the world heard about this tragedy, most promised to send aid.  In reality, very few nations actually sent aid. [1]  So who actually helped the people of Lisbon?  Was it the nations that promised to send aid but did not or the nations that promised to send aid and did?

Jesus’ parable of the two sons in Matthew 21:28-32 asks a similar question.  A man asked his two sons to work in his vineyard.  One said he would not but later did.  The other said he would but did not.  Jesus asked:  Which son did what his father wanted?

The same question applies to our salvation.  If we tell God we believe in Jesus and his death for our sins but then live a life that is contrary to his commands, do we actually believe in him?  Justin Martyr, one of the early Church fathers, answers this question very plainly.

“And let those who are not found living as He taught be understood to be no Christians, even though they profess with the lip the precepts of Christ; for not those who make profession, but those who do the works, shall be saved, according to His word:  ‘Not everyone who saith to Me, Lord, Lord shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven’”. [2]


[1]   Mark Molesky, This Gulf of Fire, New York:  Vintage Books, 2015, p. 260.

[2]   Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin Martyr”, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, ed., Ante-Nicene Fathers, Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1994, p. 168.

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