Unteachable Blockheads – Steifsynning (Luther)

Luther on Romans

Martin Luther’s “Lectures on Romans” is an excellent resource to own, read, and study. I’ve come back to it quite a bit and I’m always challenged, edified, and encouraged by it. Today when studying Romans 12:16b (do not be wise in your own estimation NASB) I came across this excellent commentary by Luther:

This is directed against opinionated, hardheaded, stiff-necked people, whom in popular language we call blockheads (‘standpatters’ – ‘immansivos’) but whom Scripture describes as “stiff-necked” and “unbelieving.” We all are strongly inclined to this fault with a strange propensity, and most rare is the man who does not possess it. In German it is described by the word steifsinnig. People of this sort refuse to change their minds, even if they have been refuted by every kind of reasonable argument. And even if one uses the opposite method (an unreasonable argument), they still remain adamant and wait for the chance to rejoice and laugh if the advice of others proves wrong. These people are the authors of contention and the most effective disturbers of the peace and the destroyers of spiritual unity. Paul speaks of this in Eph. 4:3: “Be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” and Phil. 2:2: “Be in full accord and of one mind, etc.”

Luther, Lecture on Romans, p.353-354.

It’s helpful how Luther doesn’t just point fingers and say other people are blockheaded and unteachable. He notes that we all have this “strange propensity.” It is for sure something we need to pray against: “Lord, please keep my heart and mind open to truth, wisdom, and reasonableness. Help me freely admit when I’m wrong. Give me the grace to change my views, thoughts, and actions if they are not wise, reasonable, or in line with your Word.”

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015


Called to be Faithful (Guinness)

Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization by [Guinness, Os]

I like how Os Guinness ended his excellent book, Impossible People. Here’s the paragraph:

God may stretch out his restraining hand and hold us [Western culture] back from the consequences of our settled choices. In his mercy, he may revive his church, and the Christian faith may flourish once again and provide the working faith of the West, or he may not. That is not for us to know. But our faith in God must always be our defining trust and the compass for our way of life. Living before the absolute presence of God, we are called to be faithful, and therefore unmanipulable, unbribable, undeterrable, and unclubbable. …Let us then determine and resolve to be so faithful in all the challenges and ordeals the onrushing future brings that it may be said of us that we in our turn have served God’s purpose in our generation. So help us God.

Os Guinness, Impossible People, p. 223.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Comfort for a Grieving Widow (Chrysostom)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers First Series, Volume IX
Chrysostom (d. 407 AD)

A young Christian woman was grieving the death of her husband. It was a hard and heavy blow. John Chrysostom knew of her grief and wrote her a kind letter to direct her gaze heavenward, to the Lord. In this part of the letter (dated around 380 AD), Chrysostom echoes biblical teaching that “to die is gain” and that the glories of heaven are better than the glitters of earth:

Now if it is not the name of widow which distresses you, but the loss of such a husband I grant you that all the world over amongst men engaged in secular affairs there have been few like him, so affectionate, so gentle, so humble, so sincere, so understanding, so devout. And certainly if he had altogether perished, and utterly ceased to be, it would be right to be distressed, and sorrowful; but if he has only sailed into the tranquil haven, and taken his journey to Him who is really his king, one ought not to mourn but to rejoice on these accounts. For this death is not death, but only a kind of emigration and translation from the worse to the better, from earth to heaven, from men to angels, and archangels, and Him who is the Lord of angels and archangels. For here on earth whilst he was serving the emperor there were dangers to be expected and many plots arising from men who bore ill-will, for in proportion as his reputation increased did the designs also of enemies abound; but now that he has departed to the other world none of these things can be suspected.

Wherefore in proportion as you grieve that God has taken away one who was so good and worthy you ought to rejoice that he has departed in much safety and honour, and being released from the trouble which besets this present season of danger, is in great peace and tranquillity. For is it not out of place to acknowledge that heaven is far better than earth, and yet to mourn those who are translated from this world to the other? For if that blessed husband of thine had been one of those who lived a shameful life contrary to what God approved it would have been right to bewail and lament for him not only when he had departed, but whilst he was still living; but inasmuch as he was one of those who are the friends of God we should take pleasure in him not only whilst living, but also when he has been laid to rest. And that we ought to act thus thou hast surely heard the words of the blessed Paul “to depart and to be with Christ which is far better.”

John Chrysostom, “Letter to a Young Widow,” in Saint Chrysostom: On the Priesthood, Ascetic Treatises, Select Homilies and Letters, Homilies on the Statues, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. W. R. W. Stephens, vol. 9, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 123.

Perhaps these words can be of comfort today for those who have lost a beloved Christian spouse, family member, or friend.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

If We Know Our Own Hearts (Henry)

Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Bible

Romans 12:9a says, “Love must be without hypocrisy” (NET). Matthew Henry said this love is affectionate and respectful. Concerning the latter he wrote,

2) A respectful love: In honor preferring one another (v10b). Instead of contending for superiority, let us be forward to give to others the pre-eminence. This is explained in Phil. 2:3, Let each esteem other better than themselves.

And there is this good reason for it, because, if we know our own hearts, we know more evil by ourselves than we do by any one else in the world. We should be forward to take notice of the gifts, and graces, and performances of our brethren, and value them accordingly, be more forward to praise another, and more pleased to hear another praised, than ourselves….

Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2228.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Not an Invented Sort of Religion (Horton)

Michael Horton

In the opening section of Michael Horton’s two volume work on justification he gives a helpful explanation of this doctrine in contrast to the newer perspectives on Paul:

So I remain unmoved by dismissals of the Reformation’s formulation of justification and it’s broader quest as little more than the product of an early modern obsession with the self. “Tortured subjectivity” is what you get when “God is dead,” while you nevertheless feel a sense of guilt and despair that vaguely comes from somewhere other than your inner self or the people around you. Say whatever you like about the Protestant Reformers, but they were not obsessed with introspection. On the contrary, they were gripped by the experience of meeting a stranger, an other, to whom they were accountable. Luther didn’t fear an inner judgment but a real one on the great stage of history, with banners flying and a fight to the death. Whoever this God was, he was not manipulable by the subjective wants or wish-projections of mortals. One would never invent this sort of religion as therapy for self-improvement, self-empowerment, and tranquility of mind. And regardless, Luther would not have recognized such a religion, much less sympathize with it. If there are lingering doubts about that, I hope that this will leay them to rest.

Michael Horton, Justification (vol. 1) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018), p. 23.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54105

Didymus the Blind


Among the great church fathers stands Didymus, who was born in Alexandria around 313 AD.  When he was just four years old he lost his sight.  Although his eyes didn’t work, his mind sure did: he taught himself to read by way of feeling carved letters.  He also had a photographic memory and was brilliant in all areas of education, from music to poetry to arithmetic to rhetoric.  Theologically, Didymus was of Nicene orthodoxy and probably associated with Athanasius.  He wrote many biblical commentaries, tracts, treatises, and letters and even in his own day he was viewed as a great Christian leader and teacher.  Some of his works include On the Trinity, On the Holy Spirit, and Against the Manichees.

One patristic scholar says that as far as teaching goes, Didymus was in the “mimetic” tradition: the teacher would live like the student should live.  But he was also in the “scholastic” tradition, which means learning, reasoning, and thinking about the truths of Christianity.

Here’s how Frances Young summarizes Didymus the Blind’s thinking and contribution to ththe church.

“Didymus was a scholar and a teacher; but for all his academic attainments, he was essentially a pious monk and a conservative churchman.  His scholarship was entirely devoted to the elucidation of scripture and the doctrines of the Church.  In these areas of specialty, he displayed little originality, though he undoubtedly contributed to the consolidation of the orthodox position.  His main source-book, his real inspiration, was the Bible, and in the long-term, it was as an exegete that he had some abiding influence.”

Didymus is one of the many gifted teachers in the history of Christianity – one for whom we can be thankful.  I agree with St. Jerome, who called him Didymus the Seeing rather than Didymus the Blind. 

The above information and quote can be found in Frances Young, From Nicaea to Chalcedon, pages 91-101. (This blog post was originally published in May 2011.)

Shane Lems

Christian Truth and Knowledge, not Christian “Values”

I just finished reading Nancy Pearcey’s excellent book Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity (Crossway, 2005). This book is aimed a non-scholarly audience, although it is lengthy as far as popular books go (450 pages including endnotes). Likewise, some of the chapters delve into scientific and philosophical details that may tax readers who do not ordinarily read books on apologetics or worldview. Nevertheless, I was thoroughly impressed with Pearcey’s work and believe it is worth the time and effort it takes for ordinary Christians to read it.

In chapter 5, entitled “Darwin Meets the Bernstein Bears,” Pearcey introduces the belief system of Darwinism/naturalism and explains its philosophical presuppositions. She notes that the biggest import of Darwinism/naturalism is that it staked out an exclusive claim to the domain of “fact” and relegated religious truths to the domain of “value.” Listen to how she describes this

As one historian explains, Darwinism caused a shift “from religion as
knowledge to religion as faith.” Since there was no longer any function for God to carry out in the world, “He was, at best, a gratuitous philosophical concept derived from a personal need.” If you still wanted to believe in God, that was fine, so long as you realized that your belief was “private, subjective, and artificial.”

Next, she shows how this applies to a concrete example of “science vs. religion” rhetoric from a School teachers association in Arkansas:

Unless we understand this shift, we will not be able to decipher the debates going on all around us. For example, see if you can detect the two-story divide in these words from a position paper put out by the Arkansas Science Teachers Association (ASTA) in 2001: “Science strives to explain the nature of the cosmos while religion seeks to give the cosmos and the life within it a purpose.” Notice that, in this definition, religion doesn’t give any actual knowledge about the cosmos; it addresses only questions of “purpose.” Even then, it doesn’t reveal the purpose of the cosmos but instead “gives” it one—language implying that purpose is not objectively real but only a human construction that we impose upon the material world.

Logically enough, the ASTA paper concludes that religion-based views are relativistic, and should be restricted to the private realm within “the home or within the context of religious institutions.” By contrast, naturalistic evolution is universally true and should be taught to everyone in the public schools: “The goal of science is to discover and investigate universally accepted natural explanations. This process of discovery and description of natural phenomena should be taught in public schools.”

How should we respond to this? Throughout the book, Pearcey shows how Christians have often bought into the very “fact” vs. “value” divide being proposed by Darwinism/naturalism. Thus those students who find themselves unable to harmonize the Darwinism/naturalism that has been accepted as “fact” with the claims of Scripture are often told to pray more, read their Bibles more, or ramp up their devotional and piety efforts in general. But Pearcey describes how destructive this dichotomy is to the Christian religion and how destructive it has been to many people who have headed off into atheism or agnosticism with no sense that there are alternative options for them as Christians. She continues:

Thus the first hurdle for Christians is simply reintroducing the very concept that religion can be genuine knowledge…. We must find a way to talk about Christianity as objective knowledge, not our personal values. We must stake out a cognitive territory and be prepared to defend it.

To aid these efforts, we as Christians need to steer clear of using the term “values” as it relates to our commitment to the truth of Christianity:

It is unwise for Christians even to use the terminology of values in referring to our beliefs. Many evangelicals have become active in the public arena today, proclaiming the need to defend “Christian values”…. [O]ne historian explains, “Values are for the modern mind subjective preferences, personal and social, over against the objective realities provided by scientific knowledge”….

When we use the term values, we are broadcasting to the secular world a message that says we are talking only about our own group’s idiosyncracies, which the rest of society should tolerate as long as it doesn’t upset any important public agendas. After all, everyone knows that ethnic subcultures often hold irrational beliefs and quaint customs, and these can be accommodated as long as we all understand that no one really believes that stuff anymore—rather like humoring an eccentric old aunt.

Total Truth, pgs. 176-77.

Total Truth was an excellent read. I recommend it highly!

R. Andrew Compton
Mid-America Reformed Seminary
Dyer, IN