Brother Martin Demands Justice

95 Theses

Christian History Institute carries the second of two excerpts from my forthcoming book on the 500th anniversary of Brother Martin’s 95 Theses:

While the 95 Theses begin with repentance and appeal to divine authority, the theme they develop at the greatest length is justice for the poor. Again and again, Brother Martin hammers home the detestable oppression of the indulgence system, which manipulates people’s trust in the church to extract their money for the powerful.

One of the main points of the 95 Theses is that the gospel of free grace always stands in opposition to exploitation and injustice. The idol of artificial religion, by contrast, always ends up involving the church in the oppression of worldly powers. That is one of the ways you can tell the two apart!

I offer an uncomfortable thought experiment:

Re-read these theses, but wherever it says “indulgences” put in “our church’s religious goods and services,” and instead of “the pope” put in “our pastor.”

How does Thesis 43 read now? Thesis 45? 46? 48? 49? Uncomfortable yet? Which is the most shocking? What palaces are we building on the backs of the poor?

If you posted those theses by the collection box in your church, what would happen?

“Burn it to ashes!” Five hundred years later, Brother Martin’s fire is still burning – hot enough to burn our churches to ashes, if we don’t repent.

Your theses in reply are appreciated – and mark your calendars for the book’s release on Oct. 31!

Holy War Within


Today TGR carries my second post on “work as holy war”:

To place heart change first is not to privilege individuals over communities or other non-individual loci of concern. God does care primarily about relationships: his relationship with each person, people’s relationships with one another (discretely and in community), and the relationships between people and the nonhuman creation. But once we realize that each individual’s relationship with God is the primary constitutive factor of their whole personhood, we can see that to say “God cares primarily about relationships” does not remove the individual as individual from the center of God’s concern. If anything, it cements them there more firmly, not by excluding communities from the center but by making concern for individuals and communities interdependent.

I welcome your individual thoughts in reply!

We Need Symbols of Shared Identity

Marcher with flag

Jim Geraghty’s comments on the anthem controversy this morning are oustanding:

Americans would be better off tackling this problem with empathy. For the average law-abiding young black man, getting pulled over on a traffic stop can be terrifying, gripped by the fear that one can do everything right and still get killed over a misunderstanding. Similarly, citizens should pause and recognize that every time a police officer puts on his badge and goes out to perform his duties, he wonders if this day will be his last, and whether he will be ambushed by some nut with a grudge against cops.

Of course, instead of understanding, the country got former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick wearing cops-are-pigs socks and denouncing police brutality while wearing a t-shirt bearing the image of Fidel Castro.

Trump is of course, as always, a racist, misogynist, illiberal reprobate eager to seize any advantage, at whatever cost to the country that he so clearly despises. (All nationalists despise their countries, because they are idolators and like all idolators they despise their idols for failing to deliver the goods.)

But ESPN and all the others who decided to make a hero of Kaepernick and demand viciously that everyone must pay obesience to his integrity should have known better than to play into his hands.

They have handed Trump perhaps his greatest political victory ever. Honoring the flag and the anthem are now signs of support for Trump.

The loss of the flag and the anthem as symbols that command allegiance across all boundaries would be incalculable.

If anyone says that oppressed peoples never saw the flag and the anthem as symbols that command their alligance, I strenuously deny the claim.


How will we find common ground without a common identity, and where will we find moral commitments with which to bind scoundrels like Trump if not in a common identity that people like him have no choice but to at least nominally affirm?

MLK: “I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

Of course we can’t compel respect for the flag and the anthem. Forcing players to stand would only increase the division. That’s why it was so very, very important for ESPN not to make a divine hero out of Kaepernick in the first place. Now they’re stuck. (Of course it was also important for Trump not to be a racist, misogynist, illiberal reprobate, but that ship has sailed.)

Finding a way to restore the flag and the anthem to their rightful, nonpartisan place is a matter of national emergency.

Free Faith in Our Secular Age

The Gospel Coalition has just released its first independently published book, Our Secular Age – a look back at Charles Taylor’s volume ten years after its publication. An excerpt from Collin Hansen’s pastorally sensitive introduction runs on TGC today. The focus is hope in our secular age. I love how the book trailer turns the challenge of modernity on its head using Romans 5:4.

Carl Trueman’s chapter, focused on getting the history of religion and modernity right, is also particularly good.

I contributed a chapter, focused on the challenge of religious freedom and secularity:

Without a common god, we lack a common good. That is the first challenge. It is hard to find shared moral ground upon which to build a way of living in peace with each other. This is why worldliness and strife are increasing in our communities.

But there is a second and deeper challenge. Religious freedom brings with it a different way of experiencing religion itself. It destabilizes all religious positions, including not only fidelity to this or that religion but even belief and unbelief simply as such. It is harder now to be a really committed Christian, or even a really committed theist; it is also, in a different way, harder to be a really committed atheist. Our chaotic cultural environment undermines the sources of moral character and intellectual confidence. The only thing that has become easier (at least in the short term) is therapeutic deism and being “spiritual but not religious”—passively surrendering to each spiritual mood as it happens along.

But you should read the book anyway. In this age of freedom, I freely welcome your free speech in response!

Holy War at Work


TGR carries the first post in my new series on work as holy war:

This puts Satan in control of the world. That’s why three times Jesus calls him the archon (ruler) of the world, and once calls him “the god of this world.”

That’s why, in the temptation of Christ, when Satan tells Jesus that he rules all the kingdoms of the world and will give them to Jesus if he worships him, Jesus does not reply: “Satan, you’re crazy. You don’t rule the world, God does.” On the contrary, Jesus accepts Satan’s claim that he rules all the nations. Think about it: If it weren’t true, this wouldn’t even be a temptation. If Satan doesn’t rule the world, he has nothing to tempt Jesus with. The story would be meaningless.

Coming up: how we struggle to take our little corners of the world back from Satan in our daily work.