Is Inerrancy Blasphemous?


Nota bene: This essay was never published on the old Strange Herring site. It was finished sometime in mid-2015 and left as a draft. The reasons for that will become apparent shortly. I am publishing it on July 28, 2016, because, well, in revisiting my digital oevre, I thought it a shame to have wasted so much time for nothing. And don’t forget to catch the updates at the very bottom. (You’ll have to dig to China.)


So the St. Louis-Post Dispatch has written up a tendentious piece on the Matthew Becker controversy in the LCMS. There’s no guessing which side the paper is on. There’s no guessing who the bad guys are and who the good guy is.

With that said, I have a lot to say on this, and not necessarily what you’d think. The only reason I feel that I have a right to stick my nose in is that the LCMS was the church body I was baptized and confirmed into, the church body whose parochial schools I attended for 12 years, the church body I left at roughly the age of 16 and never returned to, even to this day (despite attending many, many Divine Services in LCMS churches over the past nine years).

I started writing this post back in March 2015, even though I didn’t know it. That’s about the time Randy Boyagoda’s biography of Richard John Neuhaus hit bookstores. Writing about that lead me to RJN’s time in the LCMS and his connection to such people as Arthur Piepkorn and Herman Otten, which lead me to recent books about the Seminex walkout, which lead me to the topic of inerrancy and what it means in the confessional Lutheran world today.

I wrote and rewrote parts of it over a six-week period. It had reached, oh, about 10,000 words at that point.

And so I decided not to publish it. Continue reading “Is Inerrancy Blasphemous?”


A Strange Review: The Overnighters


So I first wrote about The Overnighters back in October, when the documentary hit film festivals. All I had to go on was the trailer—and a couple of comments to my post. Now I’ve had a chance to watch the film via streaming on Flexnertz.

For those of you who have been otherwise occupied with life or work or space travel, North Dakota has been experiencing something of an oil rush, what with the fracking boom in those parts. Workers from around the country have been pouring into hot spots looking to make some serious cash. A lot of these workers were unable to find work of any kind in their home states, owing either to the flat economic environment since 2008, a lack of education, or serious felony convictions that make getting hired difficult even under the best of economic conditions.

Where do all those workers stay while they’re on the job in North Dakota? The oil companies aren’t putting them up. And what happens when labor supply begins to exceed demand? Do all those would-be workers just pull a one-eighty and head back home? Continue reading “A Strange Review: The Overnighters”

The Real Real Jesus

So every year around Easter we’re treated to the same spectacle: the miserable atheist communists in what we call the mainstream media run a TV or print series on “Finding the Real Jesus” or “Was Jesus Married?” or “Jesus Didn’t Exist and He Would Have Been the First to Say So” or “The Gospel of Judas’s Soccer Coach”—you know, to get consumers in the spirit of the holiday, which, as the New York Times knows all too well, celebrates the birth of jazz.

As Christians know all too well, the attempt to identify a Jesus outside the apostolic witness found in the New Testament has yielded, at best, contradictory and at time hilarious results.

Rather than whine about it, I think we should make this one of those newfangled “teachable moments.” Roman/Anglo Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutherans should pay for billboards nationwide with the following:

“The REAL Real Jesus”

Oh the outrage…

Strange Quote of the Day: Bo Giertz

The pastor mediates the absolution, but he also gives advice, sometimes including suggestions for penance and satisfaction. This advice is some of the most beneficial in a complete confession before the pastor. A person may be entangled in such moral conflicts that life becomes almost unbearable. She might have no one in whom she dare to confide. What if she then would realize that her pastor is a shepherd of the souls ready to meet with her in private confession and obligated to keep to himself everything that she has told him! . . .

When it comes to penance it must be said immediately with emphasis that no penance in the world can earn forgiveness of sins for us. We receive forgiveness of sins only for the sake of Jesus Christ, by grace and without anything that we do. If we would earn forgiveness with our penance, we would be lost beyond hope. . . . He must acknowledge that he neither had been as contrite as he should have been nor had done enough to put relationships right with fellow men whom he had insulted in the past and, truth be told, still insults with envious and demeaning thoughts. Nor dare he claim that he has such disgust at sinning as he ought. . . .

Thus penance is not a means for us to make us deserve forgiveness. But what then is it? Penance is one of the fruits of faith. . . . How penance is a fruit of faith is strikingly set forth in the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector in Jericho known for his greed. He was despised by all the townspeople, but when Jesus came to Jericho He first of all paid a visit to Zacchaeus, who confessed his sinful love of money and was fully forgiven by Jesus. Zacchaeus said, filled with jubilant joy of faith in his Savior, “Lord, I will give half my belongings to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone, I will pay him back four times as much” (Luke 19:8).

That is what penance is! . . . The Spirit and the Word will often drive a person who is penitent to do the penance that God expects from her without her being guided by anyone else. However, every Christian knows that it is not always easy to understand what kind of penance God wants him to do, even if he dearly desires to do His will. This uncertainty can be totally devastating to the peace of the soul. . . .

If you want real cure for your tormented conscience, there is one thing to do: lay everything bare for your pastor, confessing your sins and receiving in the absolution the gift of forgiveness, and also accepting his advice for your spiritual journey. Your father confessor may then ask you, as a sign of your penitence, to agree to do the penance he suggests without your knowing what he is going to ask you to do.

—Bo Giertz, Christ’s Church

Discuss. Clergy (Lutheran), please give concrete examples of penances you have enjoined on penitents. Penitents (Lutheran), please give concrete examples of penance you have enjoined on yourself. Self (Lutheran), please consider concrete as the best of all Rome’s gifts.

Von Balthasar and Calvin in Hell


Back during my tenure at FIRST THINGS as managing editor, we ran a debate that we labeled “an exchange” between Edward T. Oakes, S.J., and Alyssa Lyra Pitstick, entitled “Balthasar, Hell and Heresy.” Hans Urs von Balthasar was one of the most profound Catholic theologians of the 20th century, perhaps its most important. (He also nurtured the work of Swiss Calvinist-turned-Catholic writer Adrienne von Speyr.) He was to Catholic thought what Karl Barth was to Protestant: the man you had to contend with if you were going to do theology during his lifetime.

Most interesting is that Balthasar was one of the maybe half dozen thinkers who could wrap their mind around Barth’s work, especially his capacious Church Dogmatics. (In fact, if you want an introduction to Barth’s work before wading in yourself, Balthasar’s The Theology of Karl Barth is a nice place to start. You could also try Justification by Hans Kung, but I wouldn’t mention it in mixed company. Speaking well of Kung among traditional Catholics is like my reading out from the works of William Tyndale on Thomas More’s feast day: prepare for some angry looks.)

Both Barth and Balthasar were charged with teaching a kind of universalism. Both denied it, and their best expositors demonstrate that these charges were false. But one can be forgiven if the great theologians’ language, unless parsed very finely, can easily lead one in that direction. Continue reading “Von Balthasar and Calvin in Hell”

Strange Quote of the Day: F.E. Mayer




The Christian is instructed to view the divine work of creation in its soteriological significance, since God is our Creator that we may benefit from Christ’s work. For that reason the Confessions are concerned, not with describing the creation of the world as a historic fact in the distant past, but rather with establishing the significance of the creation for the individual: ‘God has created me and all creatures.’ It is this soteriological emphasis, which prompts the Lutheran Confessions to say that God has done this not from any motive of self-glorification, from eros, an egotistic love, but as a loving Father who provides His children with all they need in temporal and spiritual blessings.

—”The Lutheran Church,” The Religious Bodies of America