Luther Hostel: Creation, Science, and God’s Omnipotence

We had nearly 40 visitors with us this week for Luther Hostel, featuring lectures on Creation and the New Creation. Attendees also had the opportunity to join the campus community, worshipping in Kramer Chapel, drinking coffee and eating meals with the students and faculty, and even attending regular classes at intervals throughout their three-day visit. Special sessions on the theme are set aside in Luther Hall, taught by such faculty as Dr. Gifford Grobien, Dr. David Scaer, Dr. Ryan Tietz, Dr. Benjamin Mayes, Dr. Charles Gieschen, Rev. John Dreyer, Dr. William Weinrich, and Dr. Jeffrey Pulse.

Dr. Benjamin Mayes, Assistant Professor of Historical Theology, taught two sessions, one on studying the Bible (with tips from Lutheran Orthodoxy; specifically, how Johann Gerhard and C.F.W.Walther taught pastoral preaching and teaching according to Scripture), and the other on God’s omnipotence in the light of creation and science.

First, it must be understood that, while the specific issue of creation vs. evolution is a relatively new one, people have had problems with the Bible’s claims since the beginning of time (those hissed words in Genesis 3:1: “Did God actually say…?”). In St. Augustine’s day, pagans scoffed at the impossibility of miracles as the basis for their unbelief; following the Reformation, Zwingli and Calvin could not accept Jesus Christ at His word—the Lord’s Supper as stated in Scripture is impossible by any reasonable observation, so they came up with their own rational explanations.

Dr. Mayes explained the centuries-old arguments between rationality and faith, breaking down the coordination Scripture and Science into nine models:

[Please note: “Science” here refers broadly to empirical observation; i.e. what you see in the world around you.]

      1. We reject science when it conflicts with Scripture.
      2. Scripture is true and science is subject to it; we don’t reject observations/data, but we don’t allow science to interpret Scripture. We live with the mystery; the “Classic Lutheran Approach,” as Dr. Mayes put it (though models 1–3 have all been traditionally taught in the LCMS).
      3. Science is trustworthy and Scripture accommodates it; i.e. Scripture was written to be understood from the perspective of the hearer. For example, when “the sun stood still” in Joshua 10, this was not a scientific statement about the movement of the solar system. God may have stopped the turning of the earth rather than the sun for this miracle, and Scripture reflects visually what the witnesses that day saw: the sun standing still.
        [Note of caution: this distinction can be used in a bad way; see model 5.]

Models 4-9 prioritize knowledge gained through reason and observation over God’s Word. Subscribers of the following models put their confidence in their own experiences:

      1. Double truth: something can be true according to reason and simultaneously false according to theology. Postmodernism, essentially; the idea that you and I can have different “truths,” but in this case that I, personally, can hold several conflicting “truths.”
      2. Science is trustworthy and Scripture was written to accommodate the prejudices of the Bible’s original audience. (The distinctly heretical extension of model 3.)
      3. Reason (which includes empirical observation) interprets Scripture, but some things are above reason/nature. For example, in the 17th century, heretics argued that the Trinity doesn’t make rational sense and so cannot be true, but that miracles were possible because they were above nature.
      4. Reason interprets Scripture and nothing is above reason/nature; we reject Scripture when it conflicts with science.
      5. Reason attacks the reliability of Scripture, undermining its credibility. Therefore, we reject Scripture.
      6. God works by progressive divine revelation outside of Scripture, revealing Himself through scientific discoveries even when those contradict Scripture. Believe these new revelations, reject the old.

For hundreds of years, the Lutheran Church used a work by Matthias Flacius (1520-1575), “Key to Holy Scripture,” as a tool and basis for the classical understanding of Scripture as the inerrant Word of God with science, reason, and rationality subject to it. He laid out several principles (partially quoted here, from the translation provided by Dr. Mayes):

      1. Don’t make judgments about God’s nature on the basis of human reason, “just as if someone were to see clay pots and conclude that the potter himself was made of clay.”
      2. God is free; He does not always act in the same way, nor is He bound by the physical laws of nature that He created. He is omnipotent, “so he will perhaps change some things either now or at its own time, such as at the end of the world…”
      3. God is all-wise, as evidenced by the infinite of variety in His created works. “Therefore, any would-be scholars or natural scientists or others who want to reason from the present nature of natural things—that ‘Nothing is made out of nothing,’ and…’No individual thing is perpetual, therefore the soul is not immortal, nor is there a resurrection’—such wise people, I say, act just as if someone, with mediocre diligence, were to look at all the works now effected in the workshop of an excellent artificer and would deny that [the artificer] knows how to do works of another kind, or had ever made them, or would ever make them.”
      4. Since God is omnipotent, “nothing God wills is impossible for him. For since he is the author of nature and [its] creator, and he created it in the way he chose, it is certain that also by his choice he can change it…”

In short: our reason and experience of His world does not give us the right or ability to claim what God can and cannot do. “Lutherans are particularly well-equipped because of our adherence to the mystery of the Lord’s Supper,” Dr. Mayes noted. “Empirical data tells us that’s not the Body of Christ. God’s Word does, and we believe it.” Our approach to the Lord’s Supper should be our approach to creation. We accept it as truth because God is omnipotent and His Word is truth.

We are called to be both bold and cautious: there has to be a clear rejection of dogma that weakens scriptural doctrine. We reject theistic evolution and Old World Creationism because these theories present a cascading number of theological problems: death before the fall; God declaring death “very good” (if it occurred during creation) rather than as the wages of sin; a skewed definition of humanity (at what point do created creatures evolve into the likeness of God? Did Christ come to redeem humanity or just a stage of evolutionary development?); where does the soul enter the picture; and it makes Jesus a liar: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female…?” (Matt. 19:4).

At the same time, we must remember not to go beyond Scripture. Creation is a mystery, partially told in the Book of Genesis and partially told by the evidence of the world around us. We can make some excellent guesses, but we also remember God’s admonishment to Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4). There are excellent resources out there, like Answers in Genesis, which offer theories on how creation and a young earth is supported by observation and science; but we value them for the possibilities they present (especially as an apologetics tool) without stating that these theories are as inerrant as the Word on which they are based.

And finally, a word of compassion: speak in love and with respect in correction and teaching. The issue of creation vs. evolution is often one of great theological concern to the scientists in the pews. While evolution does undermine Scripture, even this can and should be taught gently. We don’t destroy our neighbors for the sake of being right, nor do we devastate our brothers and sisters in Christ, but seek their good.

Dr. Mayes presentation was based on his paper, “Creation, Science, and God’s Omnipotence,” published in Concordia Theological Quarterly Vol.82, No. 3 in 2018. You can read the full article here:

Revelation: Christ and the Angels

Dr. Gieschen opens his presentation with a word of prayer.


In order to take a look at the entire Book of Revelation over just two days, Dr. Gieschen hit only the highlights during the Fall Retreat, focusing specifically on Christ and the angels. In fact, you see much more of Christ and the Trinity (especially the Holy Spirit) in Revelation than you do of random angels. The first few words of Revelation are absolutely vital for the understanding of Revelation: “The revelation [or unveiling] of Jesus Christ.”

“A lot of the problems in interpreting Revelation would be resolved by keeping these few words in mind,” Dr. Gieschen said. “Keep that focus and you’ll stay on track for what this book is all about.”

There are seven points to keep in focus when interpreting the Book of Revelation:

  1. Always remember the first verse: the person and work of Jesus Christ is the primary focus of Revelation.
  2. The language of Ezekiel, Daniel 7-12, Zechariah, and Isaiah are invaluable for interpreting the imagery found in the book. The number one reason why people struggle with Revelation is because we’re not immersed in the visionary prophesies of the Old Testament like the first-century Church (many of whom were Jews) would have been.
  3. Revelation was meant to be read/heard start to finish without interruption. It plays like a movie. Though there are some truly rough chapters, these do not exist by themselves as the entirety of the book puts all terrifying visions in perspective: Christ is victorious and already reigning.
  4. It is not written in chronological order. Some scenes flash forward, others back. The whole Old Testament is summarized in 12:1-4 and then the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus is summarized in verse 5. “It’s a big flashback to show you the whole sweep of history, that Israel is waiting for this child to be born,” Dr. Gieschen explained of the image of the woman crying out in birth pains. “It’s distilling down a very complex picture of history.” In the latter half of chapter 7, time jumps forward to the end times. But that’s only a portion of the book. “There’s also a lot of present reality,” he added.
  5. The heavenly throne room in Revelation 4-5 is the most important scene in the entire book, as it sets the whole tone of the book. It depicts present reality in heaven as a result of the victory won by Christ’s life, atoning death, and resurrection on earth.
  6. The two portraits of Christ as the Glorious Man and the Slaughtered Lamb work together to present the full picture of Christ: His eternal nature (who He is, linked with the Old Testament) and the incarnate, flesh-and-blood Jesus (what He’s done, as recorded in the New Testament).
  7. Revelation contains symbolic imagery and numbers that must be interpreted for their meaning rather than literally. “I take the meaning literally, not the words literally. Just because Jesus is a lamb doesn’t mean he has wool, seven horns, and hoofs. He’s the sacrifice. That’s what it means.” More of this symbolic imagery will be explained throughout the summary.

An important part of teaching Revelation is to inoculate hearers against pre-millennialism, the belief that Christ will reign a literal thousand years (and many additional beliefs when all the prophetic imagery from Revelation is taken literally). Instead, we’re amillennialists: “We believe that Christ is already reigning and the thousand years is a symbolic length,” Dr. Gieschen explained. “When He comes again it’s not to reign on earth but to bring about the new heaven and the new earth, and the resurrection.”

[Please note: he went over more of the specific beliefs and why they are heretical (and dangerous), but to keep this already long summary shorter, CLICK HERE to read an article on millennialism (with one correction scribbled in by Dr. Gieschen), plus notes on certain mysteries like 666 and the mark of the beast.]

The “movie” of Revelation plays out in this way: the prologue puts it all in perspective (“The Revelation of Jesus Christ”), which is then followed by the letters written specifically to each of the seven churches in Asia. Chapters 4 and 5 present the key vision of the throne room (our present reality). The bulk of Revelation (chapters 6-16) cycles three times through seven woes, with breaks to remind us that, though the world is in agony, we are saved and being saved by Christ who is already reigning. Chapters 17-22 present the future of two women: a prostitute (Babylon) and the bride of Christ (New Jerusalem). The epilogue closes on the best of news: Jesus is coming.


First, it must be pointed out that we are not certain who John is. While he is possibly the apostle, what we do know for certain is that his name is John and he was important to the churches in Asia. A bishop, he oversaw the seven pastors of the seven churches in Asia, which would have each been a collection of houses churches. He was, essentially, a circuit visitor.

The loud voice that speaks to John to write down all he sees is a guiding angel. In the Book of Revelation it often says “John was in the Spirit,” so this angel is very closely linked with the Holy Spirit, who is either using a created angel to guide John or may Himself be manifesting as an angelic messenger to guide him. That he appears to be divine is made clear that he is the only angel that John attempts to worship. Though the angel tells John that he must not, this is not necessarily a sign that the angel is not the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit always points to Jesus and wants no worship apart from Him. “But don’t push it too far” Dr. Gieschen said.

The only other angel you see in these first chapters is the person of Christ, who appeared as the pre-incarnate Son even in the Old Testament. CLICK HERE to read more details about the Old Testament references that show who He is, from His face to His clothes, hair, eyes, feet, voice, and the two-edged sword coming out of His mouth. From the document’s summary: “Christ is depicted as…the visible manifestation of YHWH who showed himself at times to the prophets in the likeness of a man/son of man….this shows that he is fully identified with YHWH in this vision and in the understanding of John, the author of Revelation.”

The vision is also a message of comfort, specifically to the seven congregations, for Jesus is in their very midst with their pastors in His hand: “And on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man…in his right hand he held seven stars” (1:12-13, 16).

It is also a much broader message of comfort. “Like a son of man” is right out of Daniel. “The very one that Daniel saw, that Ezekiel saw, that’s the same God that is now become Jesus, died, risen, standing before John right there,” Dr. Gieschen explained. “Jesus is the eternal God seen by the prophets of old. For someone versed in the Old Testament, they’ll see the connection immediately. Not ascended and gone; ascended to be with His whole Church.”

The “Fear not” in verse 17 can also be translated to “Stop your fearing” from the original Greek. “And He gives him a reason not to be afraid. Crucifixion is central to His identity. The Book of Revelation wants you to never forget that the God who saved you is the God who died for you,” Dr. Gieschen said. We don’t judge God on our experiences (i.e. “I’m healthy, He loves me; I have cancer, He doesn’t” or even “My church is facing no challenges, He loves us; my church is fracturing over false doctrine, He doesn’t”). “We’re part of a reality where sin causes sorrow and death,” he acknowledged, “but we’re also part of a reality where sin has been overcome in Jesus and the future is going to be unfolded—not to a conclusion of all destruction, but to a restoration and resurrection.”

Though we were born spiritually dead, our first resurrection—a spiritual resurrection—occurred at baptism. We need not fear the second death in the lake of fire, for we are saved by Christ who is already reigning, as the entire Book of Revelation will show again and again. The second resurrection, at the last, will be a physical one.

The rest of the chapters in this section are the specific messages written to the seven chapters. They’re still instructive to the whole Church: each letter begins with a callback to the first chapter, bringing to mind the image of the risen Christ, and each letter ends with the Gospel—with a promise.


The vision of the throne room in chapters 4 and 5 sets the tone for the entire Book of Revelation. It is also the second most Trinitarian passage in the Bible (second to Matthew 28:19 “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”). All three persons of the Triune God are clearly present. The Father is seated on the throne (“he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian…who was and is and is to come,” emphasizing His eternity), the Holy Spirit is before Him (“before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God”; seven is a reference to the fullness of the Spirit, also referenced in Isaiah, and torches bring to mind Pentecost), and the Son (“among the elders I saw a Lamb standing”).

This is not the first prophetic vision of a throne room in the Bible. Daniel 7 and Ezekiel 1 also speak of God enthroned. “The picture speaks 10,000 words,” Dr. Gieschen said of the importance of imagery in these books. “Chapter 4 begins with ‘Come’ and John immediately goes through an open door.” Here is an instant visual of our access to the heavenly reality. John immediately steps from Patmos to heaven. “It’s an accessible and present reality. Not just: this is what it’s going to be like. It’s true right now. Through the Word of God you also have access. Through this vision, we too see it. We not only see it, we also participate in it when we attend Church. We are united with the Lord and angels. It’s a reality we participate in now.”

The Father, you’ll note, is never seen in the form of a man. On the throne His appearance that of stones (jasper and carnelian). The rainbow around His throne gives you a sense of the size and scale. Some have postulated that the 24 elders before the throne are from the 12 tribes and the 12 apostles, but Dr. Gieschen thinks there’s a better answer from 1 Chronicles: there were 24 classes of priests in the earthly temple. The heavenly temple is a reflection of that, representing those who have spoken for Christ and are serving Christ. The white garments and golden crowns indicate how we both serve Christ and reign with him. We are given a garment in baptism (the righteousness of Christ, depicted as a robe). “Someday will be given a permanent robe which can never be soiled,” Dr. Gieschen said. “Now we continue to wash it in blood.”

The four living creatures mark out a throne, and though each creature would later by symbolic of each of the Gospel writers, at the time they would have been simply reflective of creation (because God is Creator and the creation praises Him as such). And you’ll recognize this refrain the angels are singing: “Holy, holy, holy.” Angels also sang it in Isaiah 6 and we too still sing it thousands of years later. “We’re using the very words that are sung in heaven because we’re participating in that reality,” Dr. Gieschen said. “Yes we have both feet on earth, but we’re also participating in God’s presence with His angels in front of the throne.”

The most important scene comes in Chapter 5: “Who is worthy to open the scroll?” But rather than the glorious man we saw in chapter 1, we see the same Son in the midst of the throne, this time as the slain Lamb. Slain but standing in victory over death. The contrast is purposeful: we must understand that the God who is enthroned and ruling is the one who became true flesh and was sacrificed for us.

“Lamb” is used 28 times in Revelation, many more times than any other names of Christ. The crucifixion is central to His identity and how we should understand God. Each detail of the Lamb is a whole volume of Christology on who Jesus is and what He’s done. In Daniel, one horn is a symbol of power; the seven horns here show that He is all powerful. Trinitarian unity is also depicted: the Lamb has seven eyes (the fullness of the Spirit is present with the Son) and He is in the midst of the throne where the Father sits.

The slain Lamb also joins two important festivals: Passover and the Day of Atonement. Jesus died on Passover and accomplished atonement through His death. All the theology of the Day of Atonement is brought into the Passover feast.

“Don’t ever leave chapters 4 and 5 behind when you read the rest of Revelation,” Dr. Gieschen said. “This is a present, ongoing, and eternal reality. The Book of Revelation wants you to have this in mind as you go into the cycle of sevens. This is still true: the Lamb is reigning. You are part of that reality, you are participating in this, even as you experience disasters, war, death, etc. That’s what it’s like now, not just when you get to heaven. You are participating in this, you are citizens of this; heaven isn’t just up there after we die. Heaven is accessible. We followed John into the open door, opened by Christ.”

“Adoration of the Lamb,” by Jan van Eyck, 1432

[Please note: it is exceptionally difficult to find an artistic depiction of the throne room that does not bring some theological problems into the interpretation, most obvious of which is that God the Father is always shown in the figure of a man when He is never depicted as such in the Bible. Christ is always the visible image of God. “They can’t seem to help themselves,” Dr. Gieschen noted during the presentation as he showed art examples from across history. Even this altar piece didn’t entirely get a pass; the Lamb isn’t bloody enough. “The Lamb was slain,” Dr. Gieschen emphasized. Angel wings are another thing artists add when they shouldn’t. They’re only an occasional feature of angels and, more unfortunately, are misleading when they’re used to depict a passage that is actually about Christ.]


Where the throne room shows the present reality in heaven, the three cycles of seven woes in chapters 6-16 (seals, trumpets, and bowls) show the reality of this present age on earth. These disasters are a reminder to us that we need the deliverance that God has won. They function as Law. The Book of Revelation does not sweep the disasters of this age (from eschatological disasters to blood, famine, and war) under the rug or try to wrap it up in clean linen.

The first cycle showcase the four horsemen of the apocalypse, who, outside of the actual Book of Revelation, get more press than Jesus. “But who is opening the seals that release the horsemen?” Dr. Gieschen asked. “The Lamb. He’s always in the picture, in control.”

Also, joyful and comforting passages consistently show up between the cycles of sevens. Chapter 7 is such a break, with the sealing of the 144,000. We also see angels mentioned once again. The four angels in verses 1-3 would have been created beings, but “then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun” is a messianic figure. Jesus comes from the East (Ezekiel 43:102) with deliverance.

The 144,000 is a symbolic number of the finite number of Christians on earth at any given time, with the 12,000 from each tribe of Israel showing that the Church is the New Israel. It’s a comforting message: God can number all the true believers at any time in any age. And the best image of the sealing of the 144,000 would be a baptismal font. In baptism we are sealed with God’s name (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) on our foreheads, marked as one redeemed. Your baptismal identity is foundational. You are a child of God for all eternity. All other identities change and fade, but the name of God on your forehead is the root of your identity. “So right in the middle of all this disaster,” Dr. Gieschen said of chapter 7 in the midst of the cycles of woe, “you’re claimed. It’s great reassurance that no matter what is going on, you are Christ’s.”

Verses 9-17 then jump forward to the end of time, helping any readers/listeners of the text living in the here and now to be comforted by the future. “Your life isn’t just what’s happening now or next week or next year; it is your reality for eternity.” God promises both here and in Isaiah to wipe the tears from every face. We do not have to wait until the end of Revelation to be assured that there will in the future be no more death, sin, or tears of sorrow. You are given a foretaste in the vision to help sustain you through the cycle of sevens. And there is another distinctive parallel and contrast: the curse on man in the garden in Genesis 3:9 (“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread”) and now a promise in Revelation 7:16 (“They shall hunger no more…the sun shall not strike them”).

At least one if not two persons of the Trinity are present in chapter 8. The seven angels standing before God who are given seven trumpets may be the Holy Spirit (one of the seven angels is later proven to be John’s guide in chapter 17), and “another angel” then comes in verse 3 to stand before God where He begins serving as the heavenly high priest, mediating for us and giving us access to the Father. Sound familiar? “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession….Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14, 16).

The mighty angel in Revelation 10 is an even more prominent example of an angel whose true identity is Christ. Though the word “angel” makes interpreters nervous (as Dr. Gieschen put it), the details are all there: “from heaven”; “wrapped in a cloud” (characteristic of God on Mt. Sinai and in the tabernacle); “rainbow over his head” and “face like the sun” (callbacks to chapter 1), and the scroll in his hand (the scroll here appears smaller than it did in chapter 5, likely because it was first opened while He appeared as a Lamb and now He is a much mightier figure). He also raises his right hand and swears, an image that parallels both Deuteronomy 32 and Daniel 10; God swears in the first and the divine man (the pre-incarnate Son) swears in the second. John is told to eat the scroll just as Ezekiel was in Ezekiel 3.

“Christ is an angel in terms of office, not ontology,” Dr. Gieschen explained. “He functions as a messenger but is not a created being.” As to the eating: “This is what I seek to do to my students,” he said. He feeds them the Word of God and what comes out: “The Word they have ingested.” You proclaim what you eat. “You are not speaking your own words, but the Word of God.”

Once the second woe passes but before the third woe comes, there is another callback to the throne room in chapters 4 and 5 in Revelation 11:15: the twenty-four elders fall on their faces before God and worship. For all that the three cycles of the seven woes are still ongoing, the Book of Revelation speaks most commonly about the victory of Christ. “It presents reality (Satan, death, destruction), but in perspective: it is an encouraging book,” Dr. Gieschen said.

Chapter 12—the chapter that features Michael and the angels in the war in heaven—begins with a chronological retelling of history. Verse 1-4 reviews Old Testament history. The pregnant woman is not the Virgin Mary, as is popularly argue, but Israel. The language matches that of Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37, of the nation as the sun, moon, and stars. She is longing for the birth of the Messiah while Satan is a dragon that swept down a third of the stars—a reference to the angelic rebellion. “This is his propaganda,” Dr. Gieschen said of the awful description of the dragon. “He wants us to think he’s a divine being. But peel away the propaganda and he’s a created angel.”

The dragon tries to thwart God’s plan of salvation by waiting to swallow the Messiah, but he fails: verse 5 is a very quick distillation of Christ’s birth, earthly ministry, and ascension (“caught up to God”). In verse 6 the woman—faithful Israel/the Church—flees from the dragon and is protected by God for 1,260 days. Those symbolic 42 months (three and a half years) is the same length of time of the famine in ancient Israel during the days of Elijah. It also seemingly contradicts the thousand year reign of Christ promised later in chapter 20. So is the time of the great tribulation between Christ’s first coming and His second coming a short time or a long time?

“Yes!” Dr. Gieschen declared. “From God’s perspective it’s a short time, from our perspective it’s a long time.” The contrast is purposeful. “One emphasizes that it is a limited time and the other emphasizes that it is a larger time, but both work together to emphasize the fact that God isn’t going to let this go on forever and ever. The time is short and yet we don’t know how long.”

Revelation 12:7-11 (the war in heaven featuring Michael and all angels) immediately follows this quick history lesson. “This is describing what is going to happen in heaven because Jesus won the victory on earth,” Dr. Gieschen explained of the passage. “Michael and the angels won the victory by the blood of the Lamb. We don’t go after Satan with heat-seeking missiles; Christ has already defeated him. We use what Christ has done against Satan.

“One of the most powerful activities against the action of Satan in the world is to worship,” Dr. Gieschen went on. Why? “Because you are saying: this is the true God and I’m receiving His victory.” In worship, God serves us with His victory and life. “Worship foils everything. There is where we receive the victory of the Lamb. There we are empowered to be faithful witnesses out in the world.”

Michael and the angels enforce Christ’s victory over the devil and his followers, for “there was no longer any place for them in heaven.” Throughout the Old Testament you can find examples of Satan in God’s presence (like in the Book of Job), where he brings accusations against God’s people. But now “the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” This activity has come to an end. In his place we have a high priest who pleads on our behalf before His Father night and day. “And they [the whole Church] have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb” (verse 11).

God could and did forgive sins before this moment in history, but it was on the basis of a future sacrifice. The devil could still say sins have not yet been paid. But all that is over. We need not even be haunted by the guilt of our past sins. Satan cannot accuse you before God; he cannot accuse you to your face. We can rightly say: “Go to hell where you belong.”

Michael, the leader of God’s armies, wields the sword of God’s Word. Michael is not Christ, evidenced by the fact that he bears a distinct name. Michael is not conquering Satan—he’s enforcing the victory that Christ has won through the blood of the Lamb.

The two beasts rising out of the sea and earth in chapter 13 are a parody enacted by Satan to imitate the Holy Trinity. The dragon is his attempt at the Father, the first beast performs signs and wonders like the Son, and the second makes people worship the first—a mockery of the Holy Spirit who always directs worship to the Son. The dragon and the two beasts are also not one-and-done deals. They are symbolic of the devil’s activity during every age, representing all the false gods, false christs, and false worship that throws itself against the Church in every generation.

In addition, the mark of the beast is Satan’s imitation of the name we bear as baptized children of God; it isn’t visible any more than the sign of our baptism is. “You know whether a person is a believer or unbeliever based upon whose name they bear or confess,” Dr. Gieschen explained in one of his handouts. To learn more about the mysteries of interpretation in Revelation 13, 16, and 20, CLICK HERE.

In chapter 14 we are once more presented with the 144,000, baptized with the name of God on their foreheads. This is the final rest stop before the last cycle of seven. It is another refreshing moment in the midst of the doom and gloom, an image of the saints who know the true God and sing his praise along with the host in heaven, though these saints are still on earth—but with the Lamb in their midst. “The Gospel will continue to be proclaimed even in the midst of all these challenges,” Dr. Gieschen said. “God uses faithful pastors to make this happen. We will have faithful pastors to the end of time.”

We are also presented with Christ, who is the reaper—“Not the grim reaper,” Dr. Gieschen added. “He’s bearing the harvest. There’s a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand.” And finally, in Revelation 15 and 16, the seven angels closely connected with the Holy Spirit in the inner sanctuary, pour out the wrath of God, finishing up the last cycle of seven woes.

Gustave Doré’s “The Last Judgement,” 1866

The guiding angel—who is revealed to be one of the seven trumpet angels with the bowls of wrath—carries away John “in the Spirit” for this final section of Revelation. The angel’s behavior (and likely divine appearance) is the reason Dr. Gieschen suspects John sought to worship him. His guide is clearly closely connected with the Holy Spirit, either as His servant or a manifestation—though of course the angel redirects John’s focus: worship God on the throne, not me. His refusal teaches us something: that worship is always to be directed to the Trinity, especially the Son as the visible God.

The vision presents two women: the prostitute (Babylon) and the bride of Christ (New Jerusalem). Those that worship a false god are part of this prostitute. That she is a human figure shows that this is a very personal problem; that she is also a city shows that this is a group problem. The prostitute is wealthy and arrayed in outward glory, but her idolatry and self-indulgence leads to destruction and death.

The marriage supper of the Lamb follows the destruction of Babylon. On this side of heaven, the bride of Christ is often humiliated, but now her restoration is at hand as the wife of the Lamb. The two women are a warning and comfort: to those believers who suffer greatly on earth, they will be restored when God brings His judgment—both wrathful against the prostitute, drunk with the blood of the saints, but also gracious. He gives the bride a future she doesn’t deserve, and the gracious gift of the new heaven and new earth.

“There’s a lot of gates into the New Jerusalem,” Dr. Gieschen said of the 12 gates in the high walls. “It’s symbolic of the access we have to this eternal reality of the new heavens and the new earth.” Together the 12 gates (inscribed with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel) and the 12 foundations (with the names of the 12 apostles) show that both the faithful of the Old Testament and the New Testament are a part of this New Jerusalem.

Chapter 20 presents another example of the angel as Christ, whose identity is in the details. He has authority, since He holds the key (“I have the keys of Death and Hades” from 1:18). This is also not the first time Christ speaks of binding Satan (here presented with all of his titles—the dragon, the ancient serpent, the devil and Satan). In Matthew 12, Jesus asked how He could be casting out demons unless He first enters the strong man’s house and binds him.

Chapter 20 is prone to misinterpretation. “The number one problem is reading 20:1-6 as chronologically following 19. View it as a flashback, in light of what Christ did in his earthly ministry to limit Satan’s power.” It answers the question of how Satan came to be thrown into the lake of fire. “First he was bound [through Jesus’ death and resurrection], then Christ reigned, then He brought about Satan’s end.”

Since we are still in the time of great tribulation following Christ’s first coming (who is already reigning for the symbolic thousand years), Satan is yet only bound. “The chain doesn’t mean he can’t move or do anything,” Dr. Gieschen warned. “He has a realm and in that realm he’s very powerful. But outside of that, when we are in the Kingdom of God, he has no authority over us. We deny Christ and enter his realm and he’s very powerful.” As to the devil’s release from prison just before he’s thrown into the lake of fire, this is an indication that there will be an escalation against the Church right before the end.

Revelation 21 is then a beautiful picture—the climactic picture, as Dr. Gieschen put it—of the Book of Revelation. We began in heaven and now the book ends in heaven. “This is a restoration of what God created this world to be.” God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. He will dwell with His people once more. “He won’t annihilate this world; it was corrupted by sin. He will restore it. The end time will look a lot like the first time.” And once more we have this promise: he will wipe away every tear from their eyes. “Behold, I am making all things new.”

In Revelation 22, we are told that we will still have the name given to us in baptism. “He has given us His name, His own righteousness.” Dr. Gieschen said. “We don’t have to worry that we’ll die in His presence. The name of God is an outward mark of that. It’s very important imagery in Revelation.” The final chapter of Revelation also offers us a promise, repeated by Jesus three times, in verses 7, 12, and 20:

“I am coming soon.”

The Church’s response follows: “Amen! Come Lord Jesus!”

“It is one of the most ancient Christian prayers,” Dr. Gieschen said. “The prayer for the return, the coming of Christ. Answered in a preliminary way because, when we pray that, He comes to us. But we also pray that He will come in the ultimate way, on the last day, to bring restoration.”

Five light ” Te Deum” window depicting Christ Triumphant; St. Peter’s Church, East window, Woodhall Spa, UK; glass by James Powell & Sons 1920

Full List of Dr. Gieschen’s handouts for his Fall Retreat presentations can be found here:

Angels in the Bible, Especially Revelation

Article on Millennialism (plus diagrams of millennial views)

Outline of Revelation, OT References in Rev. 1, Seven Things to Keep in Mind, and Additional Resources

Symbolism and Interpreted Mysteries (Rev. 20, 13, and 16)

Angels in Art and Revelation

Dr. Grime, Director of Good Shepherd Institute, opens the Fall Retreat.

The title for this past weekend’s retreat, “What in Heaven Is Going On?” was taken from a tagline from a 1993 Time Magazine cover: “69% of Americans believe in angels. What in heaven is going on?” Dr. Charles Gieschen, Academic Dean at CTSFW, began with an overview of the misplaced spirituality of angels in popular culture and how we should view them through the lens of Scripture. “When there’s this fascination with the angels, sometimes what’s lost is the access to God—the immediate access to God through Jesus Christ,” Dr. Gieschen added. “The proper focus (the focus of all the good created angels) is their Creator.”

To get angels right, we go to Scriptures. The word “angel” means “messenger,” and not every messenger in the Bible is the created angelic being we automatically imagine. “We get off base if we think the term angel means somebody who has wings who is created. As a matter of fact, a lot of the angels or messengers that appear in the Bible do not have wings. There are some places where you do have angelic beings, created angelic beings, that are depicted with wings (seraphim, Revelation 4), but most of the time when an angel appears, that angel appears in the form of a man—and sometimes a rather imposing looking man.”

This gets to another truth. An angel in the Bible can refer to one of three possible identities: 1.) God Himself; 2.) created spiritual beings; or 3.) human beings.

When the “Angel of the Lord” refers to God, this is always the Son (the pre-incarnate Son in the Old Testament), since He is the visible image of God. This is clear from John 1:18 and John 6:46—that no one has seen the Father except for the Son. The pre-incarnate Son is the angel of the Lord that calls out to Hagar in Genesis 16, to stop Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, who wrestles with Jacob (called here, simply, “the man”), announces Samson’s birth (His identity evidenced by the fact that He accepts the offering from Samson’s parents), and the story of Balaam’s donkey, to name a few.

Attendees take time during the lunch hour to visit the new art exhibit on angels that is open in the library.

The created angelic beings are genderless and not always winged. Only two angels are named in the Bible (Gabriel and Michael), though there are a myriad of unnamed angels. Gabriel is the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit while Michael is the protector of God’s people, which is why he’s always depicted in art with a sword (though the sword is not necessarily literal; the Word of God is also referred to as a two-edged sword). They serve as messengers/spokesmen (Luke 1:26-28); protectors (Psalm 91:11-12); worshipers (Isaiah 6:1-4; “They are the guide and model of how the creation should worship the Creator,” Dr. Gieschen explained. “They naturally and repeatedly acknowledge the Creator who has given and brought them life, who is the source of goodness and love, the natural response to which is praise and adoration.”); and enforcers of judgment (Revelation 12:7-12).

The devil (Satan/Lucifer/the ancient serpent) is a fallen angel as are his followers, referred to as evil spirits, demons, principalities, and powers. At the beginning of creation, everything was declared good, which would have included all things invisible (Genesis 1:1-2). At some point, however, a rebellion followed, about which the Bible says only a little. Isaiah 14:12-17 briefly explains that Satan led a rebellion in heaven and Revelation 12:4 speaks of how a third of the angels rebelled. “The futility of that rebellion was utterly clear to all the rest,” Dr. Gieschen said. “No rebellion ever followed again. At that point, the ranks of the angels were fixed.

Though he would like people to think so, Satan is not a counter god to God. He is a defeated created being and Michael is the enforcer of the victory of Christ upon Satan. “Christ won the victory through His blood, He won it on earth, so Michael and the good angels enforce that victory upon Satan and the evil angels,” Dr. Gieschen explained. “Once that happened—Christ’s atoning—they can no longer come into the presence of God and accuse believers.” We can also, in Christ, exercise power over Satan. “The one being we can truly tell to go to hell,” he added.  To understand these created beings, you must keep the centrality of Christ among the angels. They work in service to the true God and should only be properly viewed in that light.

As to the third type of angel, human beings referred to as angels of the Lord include the prophets Hagai and Malachi—human messengers of the Lord. Pastors too are messengers, and can be properly referred to as angels. In the context of Revelation 1:20, “the angels of the seven churches” would have been pastors.

Prof. Steven J. Cody, Assistant Professor of Art History at Purdue University Fort Wayne, led one of the presentations on angels in art in Renaissance Italy. The art produced during that era was never meant for a museum but was created for altars and as a backdrop for religious ceremony. “They were liturgical instruments to help focus worship,” he said. He also quoted Augustine: “‘Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit’; if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel’: from what they are, ‘spirit’, from what they do, ‘angel.'”

Dr. Grime (left) and Prof. Cody (right) eat lunch together as they discuss the theology of the angels in art.

Dr. Gieschen later noted that artists often want to go farther than the text. For example, an artist may depict an angel with wings to go with a passage that is actually speaking of the Son. That said, art is still a visual way to reinforce theological truth. It just must be kept in mind that angelic art is shaped more by Christian history than Scripture.

As such, the Fall Retreat also marked the opening of the new art exhibit in The Wayne and Barbara Kroemer Library. These art pieces came from artists in churches across the country and include pieces drawn, painted, carved out of wood, and sewn, to name a few styles. Attendees took time during their breaks to find each piece displayed throughout the library—including the wall of art created by the children of the seminary community.

Two walls of art. The top features all the art from the children of the seminary community, and the bottom is only a portion of the art sent to CTSFW from artists across Synod for the exhibit.

Today’s post features the lessons on art and angels, with only a bit about Revelation. On Wednesday, we will post more about the last book of the Bible and its focus on Christ (and the role of angels). Dr. Gieschen teaches a class on Revelation at CTSFW and wrote his dissertation on Angelomorphic Christology; essentially, the pre-incarnate Son as the angel of the Lord.

To learn more about biblical references to the angels as well as the angels role in worship in Revelation, CLICK HERE. Dr. Gieschen put these handouts together for his presentation.

Convocation: The Pornographic Imagination

It was a packed house in L7 for this morning’s convocation, “The Purification and Sanctification of the Pornographic Imagination” with Dr. John Kleinig. An Old Testament theologian with a PhD from Cambridge as well as honorary doctorates from CTSFW and Concordia Irvine, Dr. Kleinig teaches at Luther Seminary in Australia and as a guest at many seminaries across the world. He’s on the CTSFW campus this week for a continuing education class on the Divine Service.

He began the discussion with some definitions: both what pornography is and what it isn’t. Pornography is as old as human history (some of the oldest cave depictions are pornographic) though the word comes from the Greek pornos, which means prostitute. “So pornography is the depiction of the activity of male or female prostitutes,” Dr. Kleinig explained. “It’s not necessarily the depiction of nudity. We get into a lot of trouble if we identify nudity with pornography… [pornography] is selling sex for commercial purposes.”

In the ancient world, there was a religious significance to pornography, seen as a way for human beings to tap into the super sexuality of gods and goddesses for sexual potency or fertility. Today, the pagan religious significance is largely gone, but instead it is both more open and more hidden. In ancient times, to view pornography you had to go to a theater where sexual acts were either simulated or performed on stage, and other people saw you. The internet has changed everything: “Now the new thing is that it can be done in secret. That’s one of the tools of the devil, that it can be accessed in secret. It’s more secret on the one hand yet more public on the other. Everybody knows about it. When I grew up, it was hidden under the carpet. Now everyone knows.”

Pornography, like every bad thing, is a perversion of something good. “Let’s face it: you all know that God invented sex. He approves of sex,” Dr. Kleinig said. “Pornography is the perversion of one of God’s most precious, valuable gifts.” Visual intimacy is an important part of our sexuality, of which the key stimulating senses tend to be visual for men and touch for women (at least generally, though naturally you’ll find differences in individuals). All five senses are employed in the act. “God is not a sexual killjoy,” Dr. Kleinig continued. “In fact, God disapproves of pornography because it ruins the enjoyment of sex.”

Pornography is mentally, physically, and psychologically damaging. But most of all: spiritually damaging. “Pornography is a spiritual problem,” he said. “It’s one of the ways the devil attacks us.” The devil has a contempt and disgust for our bodies and our physicality (having none of his own), not only in and of itself but because we have been given the gift of procreation—of life—through sexual intercourse. The devil can’t create let alone procreate; he can only destroy.

“The problem with pornography is not sex,” Dr. Kleinig explained. “The problem with pornography is idolatry and original sin…The devil gets us to idolize an imaginary body (the brushed up kind of body that you get in photography, in films, and on television)…and parades that in front of us so that we make an idol of that. Then that distracts us from the real bodies of the opposite sex…It has to do with the imagination. We no longer desire the things that God wants to give us, but the things God has forbidden.” Once a thing is forbidden, we imagine how enjoyable it must be—when, in truth, God forbids those things that will harm us and our relationship with Him and with each other.

In fact, the problem of pornography is not the physical act of viewing it, but that viewing forbidden sexual activity encourages our pornographic imagination. “The problem is not out there on the internet,” Dr. Kleinig said. “The problem is here—” he pointed to his heart “—my imagination and my pornographic imagination.”

Imagination is the unique, God-given ability to picture things that aren’t in front of us. We can mentally form pictures, hear words, even smell, taste, and touch within our own minds. “A large part of normal sexual activity is imaginative engagement with [another] person,” he said. It’s not the activity, but the imagination as we picture things that stimulate ourselves for masturbation. “You can get rid of pornography, but you don’t get rid of the problem [which] has to do with the human heart, the human conscience, the human imagination.”

At this point, Dr. Kleinig directed a word of warning to those in church work, those in training, and their spouses. The devil absolutely targets those who directly serve the Church. “Each one of you is a threat to the cause of satan,” he said. The immediate agenda: ruin sex for you. The bigger goal: “He will use sex against you to undermine your marriage, and your ministry, and your relationship with your parishioners. He’d like to destroy your faith, but that’s very hard to do for a believer. But he’ll settle for lesser goals…And he’s succeeded beyond his wildest dreams in recent times in the church. Statistics show that pastors, particularly, access pornography at the rate and sometimes a greater rate than people outside of the Church. And you need to see that’s the target.”

So how, then, do Christians address the root cause of pornographic temptation?

First: “You need to see it and understand your own temptation and your own vulnerability and learn from it. And you need to listen to and heed your conscience. Now you don’t need me to tell you that if you access pornography you are ashamed of it. Otherwise why would you do it in secret?”

We heed God’s Word, His law, and His judgment. But thanks be to God, that His judgment is not a condemnation but a diagnostic tool. “It shows me that I have a bad conscience, that I’m riddled with shame and that something’s wrong me, and something needs to be fixed up,” Dr. Kleinig explained. And the root problem is not sex, though satan would like to make you believe that it is. Society itself is deeply confused, careening between two extremes: from pornographic liberty to the moralistic backlash of Puritanism (which is where the idea that nudity is pornographic and that God disapproves of sex—rather than being credited as its inventor and giver—comes from). “Both are stupid,” Dr. Kleinig said bluntly.

Jesus ministers through Law and Gospel. Though satan—once the root problem is diagnosed—will come along and whisper that you must fix yourself, we know from experience that the harder we try to avoid a sin, the more we are attracted to and enslaved by it. Which is why the next step is Confession and Absolution. “You can fix up the behavior, you can put blocks on your behavior, bring your spouse into it, all that’s common sense, but you don’t fix up the problem. The problem can only be fixed up not by you but by God.

Dr. Kleinig strongly urged that everyone have a confessor. “Like an alcoholic, the basic starting point is that you can’t fix it up yourself. You admit you are helpless and you hand it over to God.” It is a process. No matter how often you fall, you confess again, you pray again, you seek help again—again, again, again, again, again. In Confession and Absolution, we bring the unfruitful works of darkness into the light, exposing that which has now become visible and transforming darkness into light (Ephesians 5:11-13).

Third: seek cleansing. “One of the things about pornography is that it makes you dirty. It defiles you, and because it defiles you, it desecrates your holiness as one of the people of God. You need cleansing. It’s the blood of Jesus that cleanses you from all sins.” There is no sexual sin that cannot be forgiven.

In addition to receiving Christ’s body and blood in communion, Dr. Kleinig also practices the holy living as laid out in Ephesians 5:3-4: “But sexual immorality and all impurity [Dr. Kleinig preferred the translation ‘fornication’ as it refers more specifically to sexual sin in all its guises] or covetousness [in this context, sexual greed] must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”

Begin with the tongue, he explained; “the place to start is not what we do, but what we say.” From this passage, we can draw two conclusions. First, that we should not speak of sex in filthy terms. Much of the banter out there is sexual, joked about in the crudest terms possible. If you knew nothing about sex, if you overheard this joking you’d assume it was a ghastly, unclean act.

“Instead,” (and second) “let there be thanksgiving.” Be thanks-givers. “One of the most powerful tools we have to combat [sexual immorality] is to give thanks to God for sex,” Dr. Kleinig said. “It’s a good gift from God. It’s to be received with thanksgiving.” In giving thanks to your partner and thanks to God for their sexuality, your eyes are opened to what you have versus what you do not have. In a thank you there is an acknowledgment that what you have received is good, as well as delight and admiration in the gift and in each other.

Proverbs 5:18-19, which specifically addresses men, is an excellent example:

Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.

“Rejoice” is to enjoy. Sexuality in the Old Testament often has a visual focus, and a common euphemism is to uncover nakedness. There is a distinct visual intimacy between husband and wife—and a difficult one at that. We fear other people seeing us and disapproving. Nakedness is deeply intimate. But there is an enjoyment and delight in revealing ourselves to our spouse.

The Song of Solomon also serves as a guide. This book of erotic poetry depicts the sexuality between a man and his wife, with descriptions that appeal to all five senses. “The whole thing consists of a conversation initiated by the woman, the wife, with her husband,” Dr. Kleinig explained. “And it’s all talk. It’s about the language of love.” It is not a book of sexual mechanics but is the conversation of marriage, in which a couple speaks their love to one another. Too often, the courtship of words ends shortly after marriage when the conversation has just begun in earnest. Even sex is a conversation—a way to communicate with your whole body.

Though erotic, the Song of Solomon is as much God’s Word, inspired by the Holy Spirit, as any other book in the Bible. “Now why has God given us this book?” Dr. Kleinig asked. “[It’s] meant to purify and sanctify our imagination and our sexuality.” Meditate on it, he suggested. Learn to appreciate our spouses sexually. “Notice the movement of his eyes,” Dr. Kleinig said of the husband in chapter 7:1-5. He goes from his wife’s feet to her thighs, then to her navel, her belly, her breasts, eyes, nose, and then to her head, crowned by her hair. “He gives her an eye-over of appreciation. He looks at the whole of it.” The wife does the same to her husband in 5:10-16. “Her eyes go and it’s quite telling,” Dr. Kleinig pointed out. She starts off with his golden head of raven black hair, then to his eyes, cheeks, lips, arms, torso, legs, then back up again to his mouth—where both kissing and speech originate.

“These are God’s aids for us to practice sexual appreciation,” Dr. Kleinig concluded. “Fill our imagination with this and we won’t be tempted by [pornography].” Because the deep, dark secret of pornography is that it’s not explicit enough. It’s fake; neither exclusive nor intimate, let alone satisfying. It is a perversion of a gift given to us by the Lord of all creation in the days before sin, when a man first held fast to a woman.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8

Dr. Grime, seated to the left of Dr. Kleinig, helped shape the convocation as more of a discussion by asking questions throughout.

Convocation: Same-Sex Attraction

Convocations at CTSFW began this Wednesday with a presentation by Mrs. Karen Hart from Keys Ministry. These hour-long lectures take place after chapel on Wednesdays during the academic year, and typically cover a subject that will likely come up in the field for our future pastors and deaconesses. This week’s convocation dealt with sharing the redemption we have in Christ with those who struggle with same-sex attraction.


Science and Redemption

Keys Ministry has served those burdened with same-sex attraction since the 1980s, when it was founded by a retired LCMS pastor who recognized that many who struggle with these sins are desperate for a Word of hope and healing. Mrs. Hart came onboard when the ministry, which first worked exclusively with men, began receiving requests from women who also struggled with same-sex attraction. A licensed psychologist, Mrs. Hart worked in mental health for 23 years in both state-sponsored programs and her private practice. She became director in 2005. By then, they were also caring for those with minor-adult attraction and transgenderism.

Mrs. Hart has no interest in politics. “It’s more important to win souls for Christ than it is to defeat any group politically.” Science, however, plays a significant role in the issue. Research offers both background to the discussion and hope to those struggling with the burden of these attractions. According to research, 1.4% of women and 2.8% of men have performed homosexual acts in the last year; 10-16% of men have practiced it at some point in their lives. The implications are clear: though media portrays all gay people as militant social justice warriors, many are simply ordinary people who do not want these attractions—and if the statistics are to be believed, many lose them.

Unfortunately, too often the voice from church has been one of condemnation, criticism, and even vitriol. “They are left with the impression that they must first clean themselves up by getting rid of their attraction before they can go to God,” Mrs. Hart said. “They’ve never heard the Gospel.”

Genetics and Behavior

Members in the homosexual community often subscribe to the “born that way” theory, or the idea that there is a “gay gene.” When Drs. LeVay and Hamer did a study on brain structure and attraction in 1994, the media ran with their conclusions (that differences in brain structure lead to homosexual attraction in men), despite the fact that the results would never be replicated. Nor did it take into account that sexual experiences lead to physical alterations. “Behavior by itself can alter brain structure,” Mrs. Hart explained. “Sexual behavior can alter the neurons.”

Mrs. Hart referred to this as the developmental theory, that, while there may be a biological component, environment and behavior play a significant role in same-sex attraction. Science bears this out. “Whatever issue your mind is focused on, neurons will develop to hold those thoughts,” she said. “The Creator of the brain provided a way for the brain to make changes. We used to think the brain was pretty much fixed by 20 or 21. Now we know better.” For example, we know that people’s attractions change over time. The couple that marries at 20 doesn’t find 50-year-olds attractive. But catch up with them in 30 years, and they’ll be attracted to their 50-year-old spouse.

And adolescents live in something of a state of flux, uncertain and confused. At the age of 12, over a quarter of adolescents (25.9%) were unsure of their sexual orientation. By the age of 17, only 5% were still unsure. Of the 95% who were sure, 99% of those were certain they were heterosexual. At 12, these young men and women need facts, reassurance, and encouragement to avoid experimentation. With help and support, most adolescents uncertain of their sexual orientation will find that they are straight by 17. Yet the pro-gay movement advocates for precisely that: experimentation. “They know perfectly well: there is such a thing as sexual imprinting,” Mrs. Hart said. “It never goes away. I’m pretty suspicious of their motives.”


In a study on risk factors in attempted suicide among gay and bisexual adolescents, researchers compared suicidal and non-suicidal homosexual teens and found that those who had attempted suicide were more likely to have divorced parents, been sexually abused, were using drugs, had been arrested, practiced prostitution, or were regarded by their peers as feminine. And the earlier an adolescent was identified as gay, the more likely he would commit suicide; the earlier he began to be sexually active, the same likelihood appeared. This is not a surprise: most youth say they hate being gay.

Risk factors for pre-homosexual boys include: distant or absent fathers; that they have no same-sex friends (studies have found that same-sex peer bonding is even more significant for developing boys than even their relationship with their father); or come from single mother homes where the woman, because of wounds in her past, despise or fear masculinity.

For lesbians, many report a bad relationship with their mother or that they come from a family that devalued its women. Their fathers were sexually abusive, contemptuous of women, and openly showed pornography with no respect to their daughter’s modesty. These girls craved protection but did not receive it. Males are perceived as selfish, unsafe, and predatory.

Of course, there are times when nothing in an environment fits these situations. “I describe same-sex attraction as a room with many door leading into it,” Mrs. Hart said. The man or woman with same-sex attraction had excellent parents, happy childhoods, and healthy peer groups. And sometimes a child can perceive their father as unloving or unavailable when he’s neither: simply unsure how to connect with a son who may not be as traditionally masculine. “It become a self-fulfilling prophesy,” she said, where demanding a boy “toughen up” backfires. Her recommendation: “He needs to show an interest in what his son is interested in. If the father’s response is to just love the boy as he is, spend time with him doing what he would like to do, there’s a high chance he will turn out straight.”

And for those who come from a background of pain, the developmental theory still must be approached with compassion and gentleness. “Never say homosexuality is a choice,” Mrs. Hart said. “They’ll usually put up a wall when they hear that. They were born this way; no other theory makes sense.” Instead, she suggests, “Recognize that they are not born this way: they were born into a set of circumstances that set them up to have these feelings.”

When approached with sensitivity and in a spirit of love, developmental theories expose people to the idea that they may not be stuck on a road they may have never wanted to walk. “Developmental theories give people hope: if there’s a path in, there’s a path out.”

A Word of Hope

The Keys Program was developed at a time when resources for those who wanted out of the lifestyle were few. The retired LCMS pastor went to the best resource he had: the Bible. It has been the textbook of the program since its inception in the 80s.

In the spring of 2007, the ministry began receiving an increasing volume of letters from both same-sex attracted inmates and incarcerated pedophiles. Many have no experience with Christianity, so the introductory packet begins with an explanation of the Gospel with relevant Scripture references: “No sins are better or worse. All need forgiveness. Society may have to treat some sins more harshly, but at the foot of the cross we are on equal ground. God’s forgiveness cannot be earned.”

Some she will never hear from again; others want in the program. “95% of the people who are contacting me have a very legalistic attitude about how to approach God,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard ‘I need to overcome this problem because it’s not God’s will for my life,’ this attitude that they have to clean themselves up then approach God. No, I tell them. You approach God so that Jesus can clean you up.

“The Bible promises deliverance, but I make it clear that deliverance does not mean they will end up heterosexual,” she added. “The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality. The opposite is holiness. This [program] is a pursuit of holiness. I share the statistics: that a third will turn out heterosexual, a third will reduce same sex attraction and gain a lot of good insight and spiritual growth but the attraction doesn’t come online, and that a third will drop out.”

The Keys Program

The program is broken down into five units with seven key lessons. These forty sessions are each composed of a devotion, Scripture readings, study guides, and a plan of action. Solitude ends up being a vital part of the program as the ministry demands that participants examine themselves in light of their pasts and the Word of God. Unlike other programs, Keys Ministry does not rely heavily on support groups. “There’s certainly value in it,” Mrs. Hart said, “but the danger when you have a group is the level of wisdom may not rise higher than the collective wisdom of the group.”

[At which point Dr. Peter Scaer, sitting to my right, quietly said, “Ah. Like a faculty meeting.”]

The Units and Keys are broken down as follows:

Unit 1: Getting control of your life.
Key 1 Desire: What is your motivation for overcoming these sexual desires? Mrs. Hart has found this key flushes out the legalism, providing an opportunity to teach the difference between Law and Gospel. Many who struggle with these sins have a tendency to be self-pitying, envious, and resentful. Participants identify those thoughts and begin finding Scripture to counter them.

Key 2 Faith: What is your faith in? Your own ability? Your righteousness before Christ? This unit also addresses a common but rarely voiced concern: what kind of person am I going to become as I do this program? Will I like that person?

This lesson also introduces the emergency prayer in Matthew 14:30: “But when [Peter] saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’” Peter had no time for self-examination, he needed immediate rescue—and it was Jesus in verse 31 who immediately takes hold of Peter, not the other way around. “If we are blindsided with an unexpected onslaught [of negative thoughts, emotions, mindset], you can always pray this,” Mrs. Hart said. “Even if you don’t want to be stopped.”

Key 3 Scripture: The program teaches these men to use memorized Scripture to build faith, countering negative thoughts with a memorized verse. It’s crucial that they derail these thoughts as soon as possible. Mrs. Hart finds that these men cling to the verses that speak of God’s mercy as a free gift. “I had one man who used to yell Levitical verses at himself,” she said. “Guess what: it didn’t work. Focus on the cross and the ransom paid on your behalf. Don’t focus on sins but on the Savior.”

“Jesus fought the devil with memorized verses, as should we,” she continued. “Temptations are based on lies of the devil. Pray to the Spirit to expose lies. Sin is addictive, but the brain can be rewired. When one specifically blocks temptations with memorized verses, thoughts can atrophy. The Holy Spirit grows even as the literal meat of the brain grows.”

Key 4 Forgiveness: “The key of all keys,” she explained. Many come from backgrounds of hurt, preyed on by their own families, peers, molesters, and former partners. Peeling back this pain is like peeling an onion. “Forgiveness is complicated: facing painful memories without flipping into the anger to restore the sense of power that was taken away.” Instead, surrender. “Pour out your pain, grieving your losses in the presence of Jesus who bore our sins on the cross. When we’re wronged, we feel robbed; we want compensation. That compensation came on the cross. We don’t deserve a split second of time on the cross, but he gave 6 hours. We don’t deserve a molecule of blood, and he spilled quarts.” Participants are taught to pray for those who wronged them. “It restores the sense of power of which the victim was robbed.”

Keys 5, 6, 7 Love, Surrender, Rebuilding: We were beginning to run out of convocation time, so Mrs. Hart had to sum up the last few units quickly. The unit on love is important for those who never knew there was a difference between love and sex. “Some of them learn for the first time that love means self-sacrifice.” One man in the program admitted, “I always thought love was a word you used to get what you wanted from people.” Surrender, too, is a difficult concept. Participants are facing a lot of fears and insecurities, wondering where they are going to end up, if they are really willing to let God do what he will with their lives, and allowing Him to take their sexuality where He wants it to go. And rebuilding is also a matter of practicality: the time and energy they once spent pursuing their sin must be used differently. At this point they can look back and see how far they’ve come.

The next four units (Personality/Identity, Memories, Relationships, and The Miscellaneous Unit/Where do you go from here?) use the same seven keys, with different devotions, Scripture, and study guide questions. The program ends up cyclical, the participants revisiting every issue in all five units.

Not everyone makes it through the full 40 lessons; but not always for sad reasons. “Some gain freedom after only 1 or 2 units,” Mrs. Hart explained. “The rate of change varies. Weeks of calm can be interrupted by episodes of negative onslaughts. The secular world doesn’t like it when we call this an addiction, but giving up these old habits can feel like withdrawal.”

Throughout, these participants confront the lies the devil told them during their most traumatic moments, which persist long after the abuse is over. They confront painful memories, forgive the abusers in their own past, and learn of the power of Christ’s forgiveness in their own lives. “When a lie is identified and the truth of the Word counters it,” Mrs. Hart said, “it’s a very powerful moment.”

Learn more at Mrs. Hart also passed out several pages worth of resources to the group, including the studies on which her talk was based, websites for several organizations that help those struggling with same-sex (and other) desires, plus book resources. You can access a copy of those resources by clicking HERE.

Resources: Chapel Sermons

For those of you missing our chapel services while we’re off for the rest of the summer, we have several resources for watching at least the chapel sermons. One of our librarians has recently been uploading many older sermons, which you can find by going to and looking under “Newest Titles.” You’ll notice a number of them going back to 1999.

Another option is to go to, our newer media resource cite. Here’s a great place to search through our sermons. You can search for specific preachers, faculty members, or even sermons on specific readings if you’re looking for more on a specific Scripture passage. You can jump to our full archive of chapel sermons at, or you can check out the options we have by looking at the top navigation bar on the video site.

One more resource we’re highlighting today is the Media Server Scripture index. This is a resource mediated by our Library, created to walk you through how to find items on a Bible passage (including more than just sermons–opening up all of our resources to the search). This guide will walk you through how to use the index:

New Resource: Luther Biography

As a part of our latest CTQ release, we’ve highlighted the new Luther bibliography, which you can find by clicking here.

From the introduction of the bibliography, written by our Electronic Resources Librarian, Rev. Robert E. Smith, who did the work of compiling the 80 page document:

“The five hundredth anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation generated quite a bit of interest in the study of Martin Luther, his friend and colleague, Philipp Melanchthon, and their times. A major portion of the studies made as a result were conducted in the English language. They included translations of the work of Luther, sometimes of works never rendered in English and sometimes fresh versions of well-known works. New biographies were written, in-depth analysis of themes, thought, and events produced, and reviews of all of these works penned. Essays appeared in a wide range of journals, conference proceedings, anthologies, and festschriften. This bibliography was compiled at the request of the editors of Lutherjahrbuch to add to their ongoing Lutherbibliographie. It covers the publication years 2013-2017.”

There is, in fact, even more of a story behind that second to last sentence about the editors of Lutherjahrbuch and the “Lutherbibliographie.” In 2017, Dr. Benjamin Mayes (whose long list of titles include Assistant Professor of Historical Theology at CTSFW, Assistant Editor of CTQ, Co-General Editor of “Luther’s Works: American Edition,” and General Editor of “Gerhard’s Theological Commonplaces”) attended the International Lutheran Congress in Wittenberg, Germany. There he met a German scholar, Dr. Michael Beyer, who works for the main journal of Luther studies (“Lutherjahrbuch”), and is responsible for the annual bibliography of Luther studies.

Dr. Beyer told Dr. Mayes about his desire to find a North American collaborator, since it is difficult for him to get access to our databases to find English-language Luther studies. As such, when Dr. Mayes returned to CTSFW, he connected Dr. Beyer with Rev. Smith in our library. Since then, Rev. Smith has been helping to make the annual bibliography of Luther studies (the “Lutherbibliographie”), the first fruits of which are now available at the link here and through the CTQ web page (

And why was it hard for Dr. Beyer to find a North American collaborator? Because he prefers the phone to email but does not speak English well, and only with a thick Saxon accent. Dr. Mayes, who has excellent German skills, was an essential part of the collaboration: he served as the translator between Dr. Beyer and Rev. Smith.