This is better answered here.

All my internet friends are in the Church of Rome (for the most part), so when local Roman art sensation Owen Cyclops asked some questions on Twitter, I thought I might answer ’em. My official affiliation is the church of the Augsburg Confession, which is called “Lutheran” (among other churches that believe wildly different things, but are also called Lutheran), but I am a layman enthusiast and not a trained and authorized spokesman for my church, so take this with grain of salt.


I missed the granddaddy of the whole list, which I’m going to answer above the fold. The list itself, then, will be answered below the fold.

if youre christian, what convinced you to be the particular “branch” or “denomination” that you are? since ive “figured things out” ive been focusing more on my relationship with god than on this question, but im looking to take things a little further […]

I was brought up Baptist. Officially non-denominational, but as I learn more about the history of the church and its various factions, I find it was effectively Baptist. Which is the most American denomination, and I’m pretty solidly American by blood and culture, so it fits.

In college, I didn’t know what to do with my life, and so, like a moron, instead of dropping out of school before I got any debt and trying different things, I went to a non-denominational Christian school in hopes that the Holy Spirit would help sort me. While there, I got drafted into basically a local Dungeons and Dragons group that was 90% Christian. The DM was an argumentative Lutheran who would pick theological fights with my classmates.

I, myself, enjoy watching and commenting on debate, but I do not enjoy picking or defending a side. In my experience, every person on all sides of any debate has an instinct to Strawman like crazy, and I don’t see the point in talking to someone who is ideologically unable to hear the words coming out of my mouth. But sitting on the sidelines and saying, “no, I think you went too far there,” or, “oh, damn! That’s a good point,” is a useful learning technique for me.

And I learned that the Scriptures teach that Baptism saves and the bread and wine of communion are the body and blood of Christ.

At that time, I converted to the Lutheran church. I wasn’t happy about it, but they were right and I was wrong and that was that.

A few years later, though, I realized that both Rome and the Orthodox also teach this, and I hadn’t ever given them a fair shake. I began purchasing apologetics by all sides of this three-way argument.

The case between the Lutherans and the non Sola-Scriptura churches is fundamentally hard to analyze because they admit different standards of evidence. I was 70% Lutheran but 30% really undecided until very recently because of this. If a Baptist debates a Lutheran, you both have a single authority, the sacred Scriptures, to which your arguments are beholden, and you can work hard to reject the less Scriptural argument in favor of the more Scriptural argument. But when a Roman Catholic goes, “Your name is Peter and on this Rock, mic drop,” you’re in a bit of bind because by Rome’s standards of evidence, that really is a pretty good argument, but by Augsburg’s, it’s a ridiculously paltry one. When you judge which side has the better of that discussion, you are basically choosing who wins in advance.

And that’s not reason or logic. That’s raw prejudice. But the differential evidentiary standards necessitates it. All arguments between Rome and Augsburg are and, fundamentally, must be talking past each other.

All except one: Sola Scriptura itself. Since choosing the evidentiary standard effectively chooses the church, that became the topic of greatest concern to me.

(Well, not quite. If Sola Scriptura falls, I still have to pick between Rome and the East, and frankly, the East seems more likely to me, but there you are).

And that’s what I’ve been mulling over for the last couple of years. I’m now 90%/10% instead of 70%/30% on the Sola Scriptura topic. I’ve reached a point where my best option to settle it once and for all is to do a deep dive into Patristics, but I haven’t gone for that deep dive just yet. ‘Cuz Holy Cow, there’s drinking from the firehose!

And now for the original post:

Continue reading “This is better answered here.”

A Can of Worms

Yesterday was the 500th of Martin Luther saying, “Here I stand, I can do no other unless convinced by Scripture and plain reason. God help me.”

To hear tell, social media was rife with Lutherans crowing and Romans, crowing in turn. Sculptures and woodcuts of sacred figures casting Luther out of Heaven or ushering him into Hell adorned my twitter feed.

I consider it a credit to my social media curating that I only saw a handful of the adornments, and almost none of the crowing.

Whenever my position, which is “Lutheran”, comes up, I get commentary from my Roman friends who either explain patiently why Luther was a terrible person, or else offer him as much grace as possible, but patiently explain why Luther was terribly wrong. In my youth, I frequently got into such arguments with atheists over the basic facts of history (namely that Christ arose), and I never demurred until I was content than an objective viewer would see I had clearly beaten the pants off my opposition. But I frequently demure when it comes to defending Luther and his ideas. There are two reasons for this: a greater, and a lesser. Today I would like to concern myself primarily with the lesser. But let us first briefly (ha!) address the greater reason.

I don’t actually give two figs what Luther said or did.

When reading through the Encyclopedia of Catholicism, one of their entries, I’m not sure if it was on some Lutheran thing, or on the Lord’s Supper, commented that Luther believed that the Sacrament of the Altar does not confer forgiveness of sins.

Now, I cannot with 100% confidence, tell you that this is false. I think it is false. I can assure you that if I go to my priest, he will tell me it is false. But even if it is true, it doesn’t matter.

The Scripture says “This is the new covenant in my blood, shed for the forgiveness of your sins.”

I believe the sacrament forgives sins.

Every church with which I commune teaches that the sacrament forgives sins.

Now, I suspect that Luther also, at least at one point in his life, believed that the sacrament forgives sins, because Luther wrote two catechisms that teach this very thing. And the Lutheran churches preserve these two catechisms in our book of Concord, where we lay out our dogmas and our arguments for them.

But let us suppose Luther wrote these things by mistake and actually taught what the encyclopedia claims. Or perhaps he later changed his mind, and the teachings he finally settled upon are not the teachings the Lutheran church has preserved.

Luther is not now and was not then the Pope of Lutheranism.

The fundamental distinction between the Lutheran church and Rome is our views of authority. The Father has given all authority in Heaven and on Earth to the Son. On this, all the churches agree. The Son has given Magisterial Authority to His Apostles. On this, all the churches agree.

From here there are three positions. The Enthusiasts believe that Magisterial authority was passed on to their whims, the stirrings in their guts, and to divinatory arts. Rome and the East believe that Magisterial authority persists in the teaching office of the Church. And the Lutherans believe that it died with Apostles, making the record of their teachings the final authority. This position is called “Sola Scriptura,” and it boggles my mind that a Roman will one minute attack Sola Scriptura (fair enough, as this is actually our stance), and the next minute tell me that Luther was a bad faith actor.

We didn’t call ourselves Lutherans. That’s your term for us. We went with “Evangelical” (although, sadly, the term was already taken by the time we made it to America). Every church names itself with a name that means “We’re the True Church.” Rome calls themselves Catholic. The Greeks say they are Orthodox. And the Concordians claim to be Evangelical. Well, Christ’s church is Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical. If (as I suspect) the Lutherans are correct, it is because they are catholic. If, as my homies insist, Rome is correct, it is because they are evangelical.

The proper parallels to calling the church of the Book of Concord “Lutheran” is calling the church of Rome “Papist”. Which I hold to be true, but I do not actually use the term because I do not expect to win converts by needlessly pissing in the wheaties of my brethren. I favor the term “Roman” because it is not primarily an insult and yet neither does it concede the argument.

We are men, and not the children of antifa. We have better arguments than naming ourselves “the good guys” and insisting everyone else is the bad guys by virtue of our self-chosen name.

And the name “Lutheran” obscures the nature of the Lutheran churches, specifically, that they do not count themselves beholden to Luther’s words and actions any more than they count themselves beholden to the Bishop of Rome.

And now I turn to the point of this post. The lesser issue.

Do you actually think I believe that?

Here’s the thing. For every attack on Luther, there exists an answer. I presume, for every answer there is also a rebuttal, and a rebuttal to the rebuttal. This argument has been going on for half a millennium, after all.

Luther said “Sin boldly”? He was being bombastic and hyperbolic, and his instruction taken in context cannot be read as an endorsement of sin. Luther added the phrase “Apart from works” to a specific Bible passage in his translation? That translation was not unique or original to Luther; Aquinas had also used it. Luther was antisemitic? You do realize that On the Jews and their Lies was a tit for tat answer to On the Christians and their Lies, right?

500 or so years ago, when these arguments were first spun up, somebody was arguing in bad faith. Given human nature, there was likely multiple bad faith actors, even on whichever side was correct. These days, however, the stories are passed on in good faith. Your Roman priest is not lying when he says Luther said A, B, or C, and neither is my Lutheran priest lying when he rebuts by saying Luther actually said X, Y, or Z. They are both passing on to their sheep what they learned in good faith from their teachers.

And this is why I demure. Because the argument proceeds at this point on a he-said/she-said basis. You tell me in good faith what your priest told you in good faith. I tell you, in good faith, what my priest told me in good faith.

The natural rebuttal from Rome is, “well, my priest is validly ordained, whereas yours was falsely appointed by a heretical sect.” But don’t you see? This is ultimately the very point under contention. We would not care about Luther’s teachings or character unless we were considering which church is, indeed, orthodox.

You will not convince me by loading your conclusion into your premises.

The proper step at this point, then, is to turn to the original source material. To read Luther and his foes in their context. Ideally, in the original German and Latin.

And this I will not do. Mostly, because I don’t have the time. Partly because I really, really dislike the German language. And partly because, as I wrote above, Luther is not the pope of me.

If ever I have time to do in-depth original source investigation, it seems to me far more profitable to learn Koine and read the New Testament as written rather than as translated, along with the LXX and the earliest Church Fathers. Indeed, it is my hope to eventually do so. If I am converted to Rome (or the East, which frankly I think is far more likely) or else confirmed in my current position, let it be at the feet of Peter, Paul, Irenaeus, and Clement, rather than Luther or Trent!

There is also the matter of vocation to consider. I am not a professional apologist. I do not wish to become one. It is incumbent on professional apologists to go the source and get his facts straight. It is not incumbent on all the flock to become professional apologists. Some of us have to be farmers or shopkeepers or construction workers.

If God permits, I should like to be an entertainer.

Art Under the Shadow of the Gun

I have nothing new to say. Only a new audience and a new occasion. This essay is nothing more than my ripping off of C.S. Lewis’s Learning in War Time.

I have maintained for the last decade or so that I expect my country, the United States of America, to fall apart in the early 2030s. This belief is not due to my own expertise, and I am ill suited to defend it. It is the considered opinion of historians and philosophers I trust.

Of late, however, men are starting to take my premise seriously. Except they expect the collapse much sooner. Next week, perhaps. The foundations are shaking. The public mood is turning. And being ill-suited to the task of defending my 203X date, I’ve heard a question floating around my circles:

What role has an artist in all this? Should he set down his brush and take up a gun? Or, if he holds his brush, should he seek to use his art to aid his friends and defeat his enemies? Does he adulterate his art by ignoring the Muse for the sake of propaganda? Does he fiddle while Rome burns by ignoring propaganda for the sake of the Muse?

The Christian has a more serious question. For of course, wars and rumors of wars are nothing but birth-pains to us. Every man who dies on the battlefield will rise again to live in eternal glory or eternal torment. But nations and political groups are mayflies, creatures whose lifespans are measured in mere centuries.

Should the Christian artist throw aside his brush, then, and spend all his effort tending his own soul in a monastery or nunnery, or seeking to save the souls of others as an evangelist or priest? Or if he holds on to his brush, should he seek by his art to aid the angels and defeat the demons? Does he adulterate his art by ignoring the Muse for the sake of propaganda? Does he fiddle while souls burn by ignoring propaganda for the sake of the Muse?

Clearly, whatever answer suffices for eternal matters must also be strong enough for trifling matters like a world superpower at war with itself.

And here we can cheat on our impromptu philosophy exam. We already know what the Apostles told us to do in the light of eternity: To use our gifts for the glory of God. To do whatever lies before us with all our strength, as if God and not some man had set us the task. To be content in our station, whether master or slave, though to cast off the chains of slavery whenever peaceful means to do so present themselves. To be good fathers and good sons, good soldiers and good grocers. And good artists.

Neither religion nor war can stop men from drawing pictures, composing poems, or singing songs. Art is more endemic to humanity than war. We are born in the image of a gardener king, not a warrior king. We are made in the image of a gardener God who is a warrior God — but only because a serpent invaded His garden.

Moreover, we find men who are seriously at war writing books, singing songs, and celebrating Christmas. Even when the bullets fly, we will not give up culture. That is who we are.

To set aside the brush for the gun, then, is a foolish proposal. Even if it is a good idea, we could not do it except in the extreme moment of the emergency itself. Once we have taken up the gun and marched off into combat, our hand will itch until it seizes upon a new brush, or pencil or pen, and we shall find ourselves painting in the trenches.

So much for the question of whether we ought to set our art itself aside. Now for the question of whether we ought to prioritize the muse or the mission.

Let us stop thinking for a moment of books and games, and start thinking of houses. Let us pretend we are stonemasons and carpenters. What we are asking is whether we ought to stop building houses, and instead build barracks and chapels.

The answer is situational. A carpenter hired by the army ought to build barracks as the army directs. A carpenter hired by the church ought to build chapels as the church directs. But a carpenter hired by neither ought to go on building houses, to the glory of God. The best, most beautiful houses he may, given his talents and constraints.

A cobbler serves God best not by putting little crosses on his shoes, but by making good shoes. And a storyteller serves God best not by putting little crosses in his stories, but by telling good stories.

Now you may want to tell a story that makes a theological point. Very good. C.S. Lewis wanted to do so, and the Narnia books are great art. But perhaps you want to leave all moralizing and philosophizing out of the story, except as the tale itself demands. Very good. Tolkien hated allegory so much so that he openly disdained Narnia, and Lord of the Rings is great art.

If you are a musician in the army, and the army wishes you to write a march, then by all means write a march. If you are your own man, and you wish to write a march, then by all means write a march. But if you wish to write, instead, a sea shanty, do that. You are not fiddling while Rome burns. You are making a mark on immortal souls, while the mortal things crumble.

I make it sound very grand. I am not inviting you to put on airs. What deeper mark is made on a soul than the marks a mother and a father make? And yet our culture casts these aside as unworthy pursuits. The pictures I draw are nothing, in the end, next to the diapers I have changed. The pictures were as much a product of my vanity as any gifts and callings God has given me. But a dirty diaper is a clear and unquestionable sign from Heaven that there is work to be done, and work of an unambiguous sort.

A dirty diaper very cleanly cuts through the weight of emotion around all this talk of fiddling while Rome burns. Whether bullets fly through the air, or indeed, souls hang in the balance, the thing has got to be done.

But whatever pictures I feel a need to draw, let me draw them with all my might, as unto God and not men.

Hymns and Hims

There’s a quote made the rounds of late. Something about singing hymns with the same gusto as marching songs and sea shanties — because that’s what they are.

Something like that.

Problem is most hymns are not fight songs and sea shanties. And for some, that’s fine. Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence is perfect as is. Built on the Rock the Church Doth Stand needs no improvement. It is Well With My Soul would only be worsened if it were changed. Thy Strong Word is… well, it’s already a sea shanty.

Being a convert to the Lutheran tradition, however, I am confronted with a problem. Most of the hymns were clearly originally written in German. They don’t go well in English. The poetry of the translation is good enough, but the meter of the music was plainly meant for different words.

Sometimes a German Hymn does fine directly translated. Usually, if it is full of sturm and drang. The aforementioned Built on the Rock and Lutheran Theme Song A Mighty Fortress Is Our God are good examples.

On the flip side, nearly everyone who suggests changing up the music in the divine service is trying to sneak in a Baptist-style worship service long on blue jeans and guitars and emotional manipulation and short on anything that actually confesses the catholic faith. I have fended off a couple of attempts to recruit me for such campaigns, due to the fact I have a decent ear, and can thus sing slightly better than average.

I didn’t go to all the trouble of converting just to attend a second-rate version of the church I left.

Thing is, the church has been around since at least when Cain and Abel went to make sacrifices (I would say since Adam first heard God curse the serpent), and in those 6000+ years permeated every culture there is. We have no excuse for bad music. We ought be able to skim the best of tunes and the best of poetry off the top of that great cataract of culture. We ought to have a giant book chock full of verified bangers.

I lack the training to right this wrong. But there it is, and it pains me greatly.

Anyway, I’ll be listening to sea shanties for a while. Sea shanties are the anthem of the broken spirit discovering after the breaking that somehow it has won. That is a very Christian spirit, even if the shanties tend to be long on whores and rum. And I have added “Shanty Hymns” to the list of things I’m making, even though I’ve no skill for the task.

The Adversary

Concept art for my upcoming Bible Story books.

Since my first book runs from Eden to the Second Coming, it is necessary to unify certain characters who are spoken of in different terms. That is, the Serpent of Eden is the Dragon of Revelation.

But there’s more going on here. The Hebrew that is translated “serpent” is potentially a double- or triple-entendre, implying “serpent,” “false oracle,” or “bronze” or “brass”. Some commentators believe that the description of Goliath, the giant’s bronze armor is a callback to the serpent of Eden… David and Goliath are both armored in their deity.

Continue reading “The Adversary”

You cannot be more righteous than God

The student loan thing is sweeping the social media again. My position has changed. Once upon a time, I was a big fan of personal responsibility, making your own way. It’s the American Dream, I thought.

But something has since occurred to me. God decreed that in Ancient Israel, all debts were to be forgiven on a regular basis.

Now, most of the calls I see to forgive student loans seem to be coming from socialists. I do not want them to implement their plans because I am certain they are trojan horses. And I, personally, am extremely uninterested in mass-starvation, gulags, and the like.

But the counter-arguments I see on offer are “I paid my loans,” or, “I made wise decisions and went to trade school.”

May God richly reward your diligence and wisdom. But if forgiveness of another is an offense against you, you are claiming that your justice supersedes that of the Most High.

If you claim to be more just than the Most High, you are wrong. Simple as.

There is some complaint that Caesar may take more of his denarii from our pockets to pay for the debts. And I agree this is unjust. My suspicion is that the loans can be rightly declared usurious and the degrees fraudulent, and the schools and banks that issued them should be made to pay rather than the taxpayer.

And I imagine some argument against forgiveness might be mounted on an esoteric economic basis. It might even be right.

I cannot become an expert in all things. I do not have the time to study economics enough to change my opinion to the economically correct one, or to mount a real defense of my opinion. I have barely enough brainpower to learn the crafts of writing, drawing, and game programming.

Where my expertise fails, I can be confident of one thing: My God, the Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth, knows all things. Therefore it is unwise to take a position contrary to His. And while His position is definitely not Socialist (“Do not muzzle the ox that treadeth the grain; He who does not work shall not eat”) it is also very much in favor of forgiveness. Or else we’re all doomed, anyway.

Here I stand. I can do no other unless persuaded by Scripture and plain reason. God help me.


I am not a great poet, but setting words to a meter often helps with their learning.

I lift my eyes to you, in Heav’n enthroned;
Ev’n as a slave looks to his master’s hand
Or maidservant, upon her mistress waits
So, too, our eyes look to YHWH, our God
Until His mercy upon us is shown.

Have mercy on us, oh, YHWH, our King!
Have mercy on us! For we’ve had our fill.
Our soul has had more than enough contempt
The proud’s contempt; the scorn of those at ease

From Psalm 123, my apologies to David

Those who trust in YHWH are like Zion
Which cannot be moved but stands forever
Jerusalem stands ring’d
By mountains of the King
Thus YHWH rings His church now and forever

The scepter of all wickedness shall not rest
Upon the land allotted to the righteous
Lest the righteous stretch
Their hands out to do wrong.
Do good, O YHWH, to the noble-hearted!

But those who turn aside to crooked ways
YHWH will lead away with crooked men.

Peace be upon God’s Church!

From Psalm 125, my apologies to David

If YHWH does not build the house
The builders build the house in vain
If YHWH does not watch the wall
The watchman stays awake in vain
To rise up early in the morn
And labor until late is vain
And eat the bread of anxious toil
For He grants His beloved sleep

Children are a heritage from YHWH.
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Arrows in the hand
Of a fighting man
So are the children of your youth

Happy is the man whose quiver is fill’d
He’ll not be ashaméd at the gate

From Psalm 127, apologies to Solomon

Happy Reformation Day

Come now. I am the most milquetoast of Lutherans. With deep sighing I despair that the church has fragmented so. I get irritated when my Lutheran brethren strive to be more baptist rather than more catholic. I proudly declare I would rather drink blood with the Pope than wine with Zwingli. While the Boomers in my congregation agitate to get guitars and 24/7 songs into the liturgy, I fight for incense and maybe even a smackerel of Latin.

But if I thought Rome was correct, I would join her church.

And if Rome is wrong, ipso facto the defiance of her error is worthy of celebration. Athanasius contra mundum, and all that.

I am not so milquetoast as to apologize for believing that which I think to be true.


Growing up with an artistic bent, I constantly received two sermons.

  1. Art is just work. Do the work, research the market, get paid. Thinking about muses and inspiration and all that baloney is just the excuses of the lazy and incompetent.
  2. Art is this epic, painful struggle where you pour out your soul, and then have to defy the crass moneylenders who want to change this hallowed thing you have have created.

Neimeier neatly solves the conflict.

The ancient Romans had a saying, Ars longa, vita brevis. Moderns take it to mean that life is short, but works of art last.

We post-Renaissance types get the, “Life is short,” part right. But ancients and Medievals didn’t restrict the meaning of ars to “fine art”. For them, it could apply to any craft.

The equivalent Greek word is techne. That’s a big clue that everybody before the Modern era would have put Michelangelo and Steve Jobs in the same general category. Both made stuff according to a standard.

That’s really what writing is. A carpenter makes a birdhouse by putting wood, nails, and glue together in the right configuration. An author makes a book by doing the same thing with character, setting, and conflict.

Art is craft. Craft is art. That simple.

Ancients and Medievals understood that man is spirit and flesh at once, and thus all of his actions have a spiritual dimension. There is a role for both Martha and Mary. The shoemaker is no less holy than St. Anthony.

Cartesian philosophy, with its crude mind-body dualism, caused a rupture between the mystical and the mundane that’s since plagued Western thought. The body perishes, but the soul is immortal, so the soul must take priority.

Christendom has always had a bent towards the Gnostic. John writes against it in his first epistle. And of course, we’ve always called it a heresy from the first, but a heresy wouldn’t last long enough to get a name if it were not easy to slip into.

Especially in Baptist circles, which is very much the heartbeat of the American religious heritage. Part of the impetus in claiming Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are mere symbols is the very wrong instinct that God wouldn’t act using crude matter.

Entangled minds and the evidence for your psychic ...

But He does. He always has. E=MC² tells us even luminous beings are crude matter. God was up to His elbows in the material world from the instant He said “Let there be light.”

Conversely, physical acts like kneeling, breathing, speaking, are at once also spiritual acts.

This is one of the unique points of Christian theology.

C.S. Lewis held that religions tend to fall into two camps. You either deny yourself, take up your cross and reject the material world. Or you embrace the material world. You slaughter a bull to the gods and feast on its flesh, and then sleep with a ritual prostitute, or else you practice austere self-discipline. Christianity is a middle way. No! It is a both way. It is an incarnational way. A hypostatic way.

To worship the Muse, to agonize for her embrace, this is a Gnostic thing. We are not gnostics.

To reject the Muse, to subject goodness, truth and beauty, this is a materialist thing. We are not materialists.

Artistic integrity, as it turns out, is nothing more or less than when a carpenter has an opportunity to lay down a sloppy floor in a corner or a closet, and save a few minutes or a few dollars, but chooses to do it right, right down to the bones of the house, because he is a carpenter and that is his job.

We are artists with skin in the game. We are craftsmen with soul in the game.

Here’s the head of an epic tweet thread discussing the creation of Lord of the Rings. I’m not sure how this accords with my philosophy. It’s a necessary data point, however.

Vocation Specific

God has graciously placed me in a position where I can focus on my art if I choose. It may be better for me to go get a job and help pay the bills, but if I want, I can work on and off as a farmhand, and try to make money as an artist in the mean time, and my family will live in relative poverty, but not badly for all that.

And yet, if I got a job, if I went through Lamda School, things could be so much better for my family. A little bit of that distress of decision making is showing through in my apathy towards 3D, my trying to pick a project, and so forth.

As I wrestle with the decision of what is the best thing I can do for those under me, it is good to remember a man’s vocation is not abstract. I am not a father, a husband, a farmhand, and an artist. I am a father to my specific kid, a husband to my specific wife, a farmhand to my brother, and so on.

It’s like my theory of creativity.

Continue reading “Vocation Specific”