An Unguarded Paedobaptist

I know very little of T. David Gordon beyond his essays in “By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification” and “The Law is Not of Faith”. From these essays I gather that he is someone who speaks his mind, and perhaps bombastic (he compares John Murray to the drunk uncle no one wants to talk about). The main thrust of his essays is that Murray departed from the reformed tradition by not acknowledging great discontinuity between the Mosaic and New covenants. He makes several good points, but he tends not to realize that he is not arguing against Murray so much as the WCF tradition.

I enjoyed his response to the oft-used argument that paedobaptists use: For God to say he will be God to someone necessarily implies a soteriological relationship.

Murray (and his followers) implicitly believe that the only relation God sustains to people is that of Redeemer (which, by my light, is not a relation but an office). I would argue, by contrast, that God was just as surely Israel’s God when He cursed the nation as when He blessed it. His pledge to be Israel’s God, via the terms of the Sinai administration, committed him to curse Israel for disobedience just as much as to bless her for obedience. In being Israel’s God, he sustained the relation of covenant suzerain to her; he did not bless or curse any other nation for its covenant fidelity or infidelity. In this sense, he was not the God of other nations as he was the God of Israel. (p 120 “By Faith Alone”)

But a more interesting comment comes later in a footnote:

I would like to indicate that I think his [Murray’s] view ought to be given due and serious consideration because of Murray’s stature within the Reformed tradition, and because of his otherwise orthodox views on most matters. For this reason, while I think his view is unbiblical, and therefore confuses our effort to understand the Bible, and while I think he has retained the wrong thing and jettisoned the right thing from the tradition, I think we should discuss his views for a few generations.*

*I am perfectly happy with retaining the covenant of works, by any label, because it was a historical covenant; what I am less happy with is the language of covenant of grace, because this is a genuinely unbiblical use of biblical language: biblically covenant is always a historic arrangement, inaugurated in space and time. Once covenant refers to an over-arching divine decree or purpose to redeem the elect in Christ, confusion is sure to follow. Thus, in my opinion, Murray kept what ought to be discarded and discarded what ought to be kept.

(p 121 “By Faith Alone”)

No objection here. Let’s call the covenant of grace what Scripture does: the new covenant!

A Quest for More: Living for Something Bigger Than You

I actually finished a book. I have a terrible track record of reading several books at a time and never finishing any of them. I just read Paul Tripp’s “A Quest for More” and wanted to share a few quotes.

The book is an explanation of what it means to seek first the kingdom of God. Tripp explains this seeking in terms of a constant battle between seeking the expansive, transcendant kingdom of God and the constricting, deadly kingdom of self. It’s a heart issue, which means you can be outwardly seeking the kingdom of God (studying the bible, serving others in the church, evangelism, etc) while inwardly seeking the kingdom of self (doing all those things to glorify and please yourself, not God).

I won’t provide a full review, just some good quotes. I recommend the book.

The problem is that most of us don’t think in kingdom terms. You know, you just rather thoughtlessly get up in the morning and go to work, or get the kids ready for school, or take the dog for a walk, or read the morning paper. You and I don’t live with a ready sense of our intentions or allegiances. And this is precisely how we get ourselves into trouble. Without knowing it, we can reduce the promises of Scripture down to a hope that God’s grace will ensure the success of our little kingdoms.

Every day is shaped by the blueprints, laws, policies, structures, plans, politics, relationships, goals, purposes, and actions of some kind of civilization. If you are a human being you cannot escape this work…No one ever says, “I have decided to forsake the glories of the kingdom of God to pursue the self-oriented glories of my own kingdom.” Instead, because of the blindness of sin and the fact that we exist in little moments, so much of our kingdom building takes place without conscious intentionality. And because we have defined biblical morality as the keeping of a set of rules, rather than the ownership of our hearts by the Lord, much of the conflict of kingdoms goes unnoticed. As a result, our lives end up being shaped by a confusing mix of big kingdom rules (the kingdom of God) and little kingdom rules (the kingdom of self). In the home, dad doesn’t only get angry when God’s law is broken, but when his law is broken as well. Mom isn’t only dedicated to seeing her children internalize God’s standards; she wants them to internalize the rules of her civilization as well. The child’s experience is that breaking the little kingdom rules get as much attention as breaking the big kingdom rules, and sometimes even more. In the blender of the frenetic schedule of the average modern Christian family, these two systems of law get so mixed up it becomes hard to separate one from the other. We say we are serving God, but there is another civilization that is shaping every intention, decision, and action. When it comes to which kingdom we are building, it is very easy to be blind and confused. We say we embrace the transcendent, but where the rubber meets the road in our daily lives, our living shrinks to the field of our personal concerns. We don’t forsake the faith, but the real kingdom we are building, where we live and work each day, is a kingdom of one.

You cannot be Christ-centered without becoming cross-centered.

Sam was a Christian, but his faith lacked zeal and direction. He did all the right things, but they seemed empty and without energy. At work, however, he took on a completely different personality. He was positive, driven, interactive, and zealous. He arrived early to get a jump on his day, not because he was forced to but because he wanted to. Often he was the last person to head for home. In his walk with the Lord and his life with his church, he appeared neither excited nor engaged. Yet at work he was alive, every pore opened. Why the contrast? What was missing?

Here’s what happens. When Christ isn’t central in the life of a Christian, his Christianity will always get reduced to theology and rules. It will cease to be the central organizing principle of his life. It will give way to other powerful motivations and move to the fringes of his life. I think this is the experience of many Christians. Their Christianity is missing Christ! It then becomes little more than an ideology with an accompanying set of ethics. What is incredibly dangerous about this is that if Christ isn’t central in our hearts, something else will be. Christianity as theology and rules will allow self to be at the center. It is only Christ who can free you and me from bondage to the little kingdom. Functionally, Sam’s faith had been reduced to beliefs and commands. But Christianity gutted of Christ is devoid of both its beauty and its power. Only love for Christ has the power to incapacitate the sturdy love for self that is the bane of every sinner, and only the grace of Christ has the power to produce that love.

…There really is no place for Christ in many people’s Christianity. Their faith is not actually in Christ; it is in Christianity and their own ability to live it out. This kind of “Christianity” is really about the shadow glories of human knowledge and performance. It does not require the death of self that must always happen if love for Christ is going to reign in our hearts.

…What does it mean to live a Christ-centered existence? It means that the fear of the Lord, more than fear of anything else, sets the agenda for our actions, reactions, and responses. This is the essence of big kingdom living. The kingdom of self is driven by all kinds of other fears: fear of man, fear of discomfort or difficulty, fear of failure, fear of not getting my own way, etc. The principle here is that if God doesn’t own the fear of our hearts, he will not own our lives. You and I are always living to avoid what we dread. If we dread displeasing God more than anything else, because our hearts have been captured by a deep, worshipful and loving awe of him, we will live in new ways.

…When I live this lifestyle I find joy in telling Jesus, day after day, that I need what he did in his life, death, and resurrection. This lifestyle is about growing to acknowledge that in some way, every day, I give evidence to the fact that the cross was necessary. And this lifestyle of forgiveness makes my daily attitude one of heartfelt gratitude and joy.

Our thoughts can be so dominated by the necessary tasks of the day, by the difficulties we face, or by the people around us, that we lose our consciousness of the Lord of Glory who has drawn us into his transcendent purposes for the universe. Or our day can be kidnapped by anxious cravings and all the “what ifs” that worry is able to generate. Big kingdom living really does start with remembering the King. This isn’t some mystical spiritual exercise for the super spiritual. It is street-level worship.

Once again, the problem is not that Kat is dissatisfied with her relationships. In fact, she is way too easily satisfied. Kat has woven a fabric of little kingdom relationships around her. These relationships have little or nothing to do with God, his will for Kat, and his plan on earth. They are part of a quest for an unencumbered, low-demand, entertaining, happy life. Kat seems utterly blind to the transcendent glories that could be hers as she experiences the travails of pursuing relationships that are driven more by the purposes of God’s kingdom than by little kingdom desires. Kat’s short-sighted satisfaction is exposed by the fact that when she looks at her relationships, she does not groan. If you pursue God’s plan for your relationships, you will groan, because you will be confronted with how far you and others are from what God says is good and best. Pursuit of big kingdom relationships will bring you to the end of yourself and make you cry out for the help that only God can provide. Like Kat, you are too easily satisfied by fun and casual relationships.

Relationships take commitment. Relationships demand time. Relationships require perseverance. Relationships call us to sacrifice. At its core, biblical faith is not a commitment to an ideology; it is an undeserved welcome into a relationship. It is Christ making us the “apple of his eye” and calling us to love him more than anything or anyone else in our lives. Can you imagine a man declaring his love for a woman, telling her that she is more important than anything else in his life, and yet finding little time to deepen their communion and love? It is possible for us to declare ourselves to be Christians, to say that we love the Lord more than we love anything else, and yet to have no time for Christ!

…It is frighteningly easy to find so much satisfaction in the things we are doing that we have little time or energy to find satisfaction in Jesus. The problem is that few of the things we are pursuing are harmful in themselves. We can give ourselves valid reasons for being involved in all of them. And so the distractions in our lives don’t trouble us. They occupy our schedules with logic and plausibility, even though they prevent us from pursuing this one central romance that is meant to be the unchallenged source of our meaning, identity, purpose, and hope…

…When we examine our lives closely, it becomes clear that our problem is not our schedules. It is not that God has put more on our plates than we can possibly accomplish in seven, twenty-four-hour days. Our problem is our fickle hearts that wander away from this one central romance and so easily give our affection to another. The Bible calls this “love of the world.” And the Bible tells us that if we love the world, the love of the father is not in us. (See 1 John 2:15—17.)

…Our problem is not that we fail to be satisfied. Our problem is that we are too quickly satisfied. When we are not lonely, it is because present lovers have stolen our affection away, and for the moment, we are satisfied.

He also has a great chapter on anger that very helpfully distills the issue into kingdom anger: anger about disruptions to our kingdom of self or to the kingdom of God. It’s not about being quiet and passive and free of anger. It is about being angry at the right things:

This new anger is an unquenchable zeal for God’s cause and an uncompromising distaste for sin. It is the anger of compassion that cannot help but seek to relieve people who are suffering from sin’s damage. It is the anger of mercy that responds to the foolishness of sin with understanding and grace. It is the anger of restoration that refuses to condemn, but believes that lost rebels can be rebuilt into the likeness of Jesus. It is the anger of service that finds delight in helping burdened pilgrims bear their load. It is the anger of peace that hates the division that sin has birthed in our world and does everything that can be done to restore harmony. It is the anger of forgiveness that hates sin’s guilt and despises its shame.

The problem is that when you elevate your little kingdom desires to “needs,” you no longer live with guarantees. But God has not promised to deliver all the things you have hoped, desired, and convinced yourself that you cannot live without… when these things control your heart and command your hopes, you will tend to judge God’s faithfulness, not by whether he has been true to his promises, but by whether he has given you the things that you have set your heart on. But this is right where the redemptive quandary lies. If God gives you the things that are playing a role in your life that only he is supposed to play, wouldn’t he be encouraging in you the very addictions from which his grace is meant to free you?

so there you go


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Every day the deficit grows, you spend more than you own
Papa always said to me, keep a close eye on your authority ’cause

You say that you care, I was unaware
You say that you care, I was unaware

All you do is push, pull, tear, we can’t stretch it any farther
All you do is push, pull, tear, we can’t stretch it any farther

Every day taxes increase, so is this our land or is this our lease?
Papa says son, it’s the land of the free, as he broke his back trying to make ends meet…

You say that you care, I was unaware
You say that you care, I was unaware

All you do is push, pull, tear, we can’t stretch this any farther
All you do is push, pull, tear, we can’t stretch this any farther

You say that you care, I was unaware
You say that you care, I was unaware

All you do is push, pull, tear, we can’t stretch this any farther
All you do is push, pull, tear, we can’t stretch this any farther

The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology

I am now able to sleep at night: Pascal Denault has written the book I’ve been looking for.

Someone has finally put in print an analysis of what 17th century particular baptists believed about covenant theology. As amazing as it sounds, no other book has done this. Of the now numerous books published on baptist covenant theology, none of them have done what Denault has done. None of them endeavored to explain what the editors and signers of the 1689 London Baptist Confession meant when they modified Chapter 7 of the LBCF. Some have written how they personally interpret Chapter 7, but not necessarily how the London baptists did. Many reformed baptists have labored hard to reconcile their credobaptism with covenant theology, but for the most part they went back to the drawing board to do so, rather than standing on the shoulders of those who came before.

But, I don’t blame them. It’s not like you can find these primary sources on Amazon, or even in your library. For the most part, they’re just not in print. Reformed Baptist Academic Press did a great service in publishing Nehemiah Coxe’s treatise on covenant theology, but before that it wasn’t available in print. And still most of the other writings are not available. Denault notes: “I spent weeks communing with seventeenth-century theologians through their writings; sometimes reading them with a magnifying glass when only the original edition existed.”

The result is a unique combination of historical survey and modern polemic against presbyterian covenant theology. The value of returning to the source of 1689 confessional covenantalism is that it is decidedly different from the covenant theology of modern reformed baptists. Only two modern books articulate the same view: Jeffrey Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw in the Theology of Infant Baptism and A.W. Pink’s Divine Covenants (for the most part).

The most prevalent view amongst reformed baptists today is a modified version of presbyterian federalism. This is the one covenant, two administrations view. Denault notes “the Presbyterian paradigm of the Covenant of Grace consists in seeing only one covenant administered respectively by the Old and New Covenants. This notion was definitively rooted in Presbyterian theology when it was integrated into the standards of Westminster: “This covenant [the Covenant of Grace] was differently administered in the time of the law and in the time of the gospel […]” (39). Most reformed baptists agree with this view. In his Exposition of the 1689 LBCF, Sam Waldron notes “The truth is that the way or scheme of salvation has been one and the same in all ages of the world. In the revelation of this scheme of salvation all the divine covenants were involved. They were its historical administrations.” But they disagree with presbyterians over what constitutes the difference in administration between the old and the new. They will say that the old covenant eternally saved some of it’s members, but the new covenant eternally saves all of it’s members – and this is the newness of the new covenant. As James White argues:

The point is that for Niell [his paedobaptist interlocutor], the “counter-point” to which he is responding is an either/or situation: either the elements of the New Covenant described in Heb. 8:10 were completely absent in the Old Covenant (as he understands the citations he presents to assert) or they were present and hence cannot be definitional of what is ‘new’ in the New Covenant. But it is just here that the position of Reformed Baptists in general, and that seen in our exegesis, must be allowed to speak to the issue. We must agree that considered individually, each of the elements of the New Covenant listed in Heb. 8:10-12 can be found, in particular individuals in the Old Covenant… So, if some in the Old Covenant experienced these divine works of grace, but most did not, what then is to be concluded? That the newness of the New Covenant is seen in the extensiveness of the expression of God’s grace to all in it… Hence, when we read, “God’s law, the transcript of his holiness and his expectations for his people, was already on the hearts of his people, and so is not new in the new covenant,” 11 we respond by saying it is not the mere existence of the gracious act of God writing His law on the heart that is new, but it is the extensiveness of that work that is new. While some in the Old Covenant experienced this, all in the New Covenant do so… The newness of the New Covenant, as we have seen exegetically, is that all of these divine actions are true for all of those in it.

The Newness of the New Covenant

As White alludes, his position is representative of “Reformed Baptists in general”. The new and the old covenant do not differ in substance – they both renewed hearts, forgave sins, and saved eternally. They only differ in administration – some received this blessing in the old covenant, but all receive this blessing in the new covenant. But as Denault demonstrates, this view is not representative of seventeenth-century baptists.

Coxe summarizes the Baptist distinction as follows: “the Old Covenant and the new differ in substance and not only in the manner of the administration.”… his federalism can practically be considered as the standard of Calvinist Baptists [of the seventeenth-century]. (18) … Consequently, none of them endorsed the theology of one Covenant of Grace under two administrations (58). [Note: apparently 1 or 2 Calvinist Baptists did endorse the two administration theology]

Instead of the one covenant under two administrations view, seventeenth-century baptists held to “one covenant revealed progressively and concluded formally under the New Covenant” (61).

“[Chapter 7] is the most discordant passage of the confessions of faith. Knowing that the Baptists made every effort to follow the Westminster standards as much as possible when they wrote their confession of faith, the originality of their formulation of the Covenant of Grace is highlight significant. It is obvious that the authors of the 1689 completely avoided any formulation reminiscent of the “one covenant under two administrations” model that we find in the other two confessions of faith. This absence must be interpreted as a rejection of the theology behind this formulation and not as an omission or an attempt at originality.” (60-61)

The Baptists believed that before the arrival of the New Covenant, the Covenant of grace was not formally given, but only announced and promised (revealed). This distinction is fundamental to the federalism of the 1689 (62)… The Baptists considered that the New Covenant and it alone was the Covenant of Grace. In Baptist theology we find an equivalency between the Covenant of Grace and the New Covenant (63)…The Baptist understanding rested on another fundamental distinction: one between the phase where the Covenant of Grace was revealed and the phase where it was concluded. The revealed phase corresponded to the period preceding the death of Christ and the concluded phase corresponding to the time that followed. Therefore, Baptists considered that no other covenant, besides the New Covenant, was the Covenant of Grace.

Again, just to note the contrast between seventeenth-century baptists and modern reformed baptists, Waldron states

“Each use of the term to refer to a divine covenant in the bible refers to a covenant made by God at some specific historical epoch. None of these covenants may simply be equated with what the [London Baptist] Confession describes as ‘the covenant of grace’… The New Covenant has sometimes been equated with the covenant of grace. As the Confession remarks, ‘the full discovery’ of the covenant of grace ‘was completed in the New Testament.’… If this theological terminology [covenant of grace] is used, however, it must be guarded carefully in two ways. First, the distinction between the divine covenants [ie new covenant] and the covenant of grace must be maintained jealously. (107-110)

I don’t mean to criticize White and Waldron and others who hold their view. I only wish to make it abundantly clear what is being said in Denault’s book. It is easy to read another book on baptist covenant theology and categorize it with the others without realizing it’s uniqueness and it’s disagreement with other reformed baptists. Greg Nichols’ “Covenant Theology: A Reformed and Baptistic Perspective on God’s Covenants” has been lauded as a hallmark point for reformed baptists. Derek Thomas notes “Baptists who embrace their historic Calvinistic and Covenantal roots have long since needed a robust and comprehensive treatment of Covenant Theology that includes the nuanced interpretations of the biblical covenants that a baptistic hermeneutic requires. This treatment by Greg Nichols does just that and more.” The oddity is that this treatment that has long been needed, has long existed! And Nichols’ modern treatment is not representative of the older treatment already given. Whereas Denault spends the entire book explaining the meaning of the change in LBCF 7.3, Nichols gives it a paragraph and barely mentions any disagreement. This is fine if Nichols’ main focus is to explain his personal beliefs about covenant theology, but it is lamentable that paedobaptist scholars like Thomas inevitably see it as representing the Calvinistic and Covenantal roots of the 1689.

There is a lot to be learned from seventeenth-century baptists. In particular, Denault’s book helped iron out a few wrinkles in my understanding of baptist covenant theology.

His discussion of the Abrahamic covenant and clarification as to what Coxe said about it was very helpful. He shows how the baptists answered the claims of Petto and others who saw the Abrahamic covenant as unconditional but the Mosaic as conditional (a view echoed by Meredith Kline and Michael Horton). They answered Petto’s primary text for this view (Gal 3:16-17) by appealing to Galatians 4:22-31.

“The Baptists saw two posterities in Abraham, two inheritances and consequently two covenants… Not that the posterity of Abraham was of a mixed nature, but that Abraham had two distinct posterities and that it was necessary to determine the inheritance of each of these posterities on the basis of their respective promises… This understanding was vigorously affirmed amongst all Baptist theologians and characterized their federalism form its origin” (119-120).

But, very helpfully, Denault clarifies that this did not mean they saw two formal covenants with Abraham. They saw only one formal covenant – the covenant of circumcision (Gen 17). The other was seen only as a promise (Gen 12) (a footnote interacts with Jeffrey Johnson’s disagreement on this point, and is very helpful as well).

Denault also does an excellent job of illuminating the precise nature of the Mosaic covenant as a covenant of works, according to the baptists. I have previously objected to John Owen’s remark that the Mosaic Covenant law demanded perfect obedience. I preferred A.W. Pink’s explanation that only outward, national, general conformity to the Mosaic Covenant was required, since it was a national covenant. However, Denault notes that these two views are in harmony:

“In agreement with the Covenant of Works, the Old Covenant demanded a perfect obedience to the Law of God, but contrary to the Covenant of Works, the Old Covenant was based on a sacrificial system for the redemption of sinners… The slightest disobedience to the Law constituted a sin punishable by death (Rom 6:23), but not necessarily a transgression of the Old Covenant. It is necessary to make the distinction between the requirements of the Law of works affirmed under the Old Covenant and the requirements of the Old Covenant itself towards Israel. The maintaining of the Old Covenant depended on the Levitical priesthood (Heb 7:11) and not on absolute obedience… the obedience required was general and national in character. God graciously overlooked the many offenses. However, the covenant would be broken if Israel habitually sinned and were marked nationally as a rebellious people who disregarded God’s Word” (137-138).

There is much to be gained from Denault’s work. It fills a very necessary gap in the existing literature on baptist covenant theology. The work addresses many of the objections and concerns raised by modern paedobaptists against modern Calvinistic baptists. For example, the recently published “Kingdom Through Covenant” defense of “progressive covenantalism” is seen by many as “the” covenantal answer to paedobaptists by modern Calvinistic baptists. But Kingdom Through Covenant really looks very little like the seventeenth-century baptists. And what’s more, these older baptists avoided the pitfalls that Kingdom Through Covenant is precisely being criticized for (see my next post). Sadly, I doubt that Denault’s work will get the attention that Kingdom Through Covenant did, although it deserves to.

Enough already: go read it!

I’m Making a Movie

The ‘Best Short Film’ Award was given to Useless, an 11-minute film based on Philemon 1:10–11. Written and directed by Brandon Adams, the film short previously won ‘Best Film’ at the 168 Project.

In winning ‘Best Short Film’ at the SAICFF, the film’s director automatically received a $250,000 opportunity to produce a feature film with Echolight Studios who sponsored this Jubilee Award category. Bobby Downes, President of Echolight, explained their vision in partnering with the SAICFF for this commendation.

“Storytellers have shaped our society in the way that we think for all of recorded history. . . . Stories are used for teaching, for entertainment, for passing on old knowledge and wisdom,” noted Downes.

“Tonight, Echolight is going to do something about encouraging storytellers. We believe that supporting this generation of Christians making movies will have a significant impact on lives in the years to come, so we are planting a seed here tonight by awarding the winner of the Jubilee Award for Short Film with $250,000 as an opportunity to make a movie with Echolight Studios and get worldwide distribution.

“The message is this: Those who are faithful in the little things will be better equipped to pursue bigger projects.”

Santorum also commended the SAICFF and the filmmakers in attendance for their important labors in the culture wars: “You are the ones who shape the culture, and Washington, D.C. is simply a reflection of that. So I just wanted to come here to encourage you and to thank you. . . . This country needs you. . . . [I] think that really great things are going to come in the darkest times and be lit . . . from this festival.”Downes then passed the baton to special guest Sen. Rick Santorum, who presented the award on Echolight’s behalf: “It is my honor to be here with Echolight. I’m excited about them and what they’re doing, trying to nurture and build, to create a real powerful portal for this industry.”

“Thank you for this tremendous honor and opportunity,” wrote Adams. “I have spent the last ten years seeking to learn how to create art that glorifies God, which has included cultivating my craft; but, more importantly, growing in the grace and knowledge of my Redeemer. My hope is to express the work that Christ has done in us and in history through the medium of film, with the prayer that Christ will be exalted over all things. And this award and prize has granted the opportunity to do so.”Boo Arnold, one of the two lead actors in Useless, received the award on behalf of Brandon Adams, who directed the film, but who was unable to attend due to the recent birth of his son who was born five weeks early. Sizemore read a statement Adams texted him when he learned he had won this award.

San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival Announces 2013 Jubilee Award Winners

I would greatly appreciate your prayers for this project as there will be many, many challenges to overcome in order to create a film that truly glorifies God.

See also

Also, if you noticed in the above, my son was born a few weeks ago! He surprised a little early, but his big brother, and the rest of us, are adjusting well to the latest addition to our family. God was very merciful in bringing him home safely.

There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly

For the last several years I’ve a had a few health issues that lay under the radar. (Please excuse the departure from our regularly scheduled blogging and bear with me in the descriptions)

  • After drinking milk my whole life, and even whole milk in high school and college, I became lactose intolerant
  • I’ve always had a fast metabolism, but I began to visit the bathroom with greater frequency after meals, with IBS symptoms
  • Almost 3 years ago I had my first migraine ever. I didn’t know what hit me, but I was puking and pretty out of it. Excedrin fixed me right up though. Who knew? After that point my headaches were never the same. Thanks to my Excedrin trick it never got that bad again, but there was a marked difference in how all my headaches felt from that point on, and I seemed to be getting them with greater regularity (once a week wasn’t uncommon). Tylenol wouldn’t get rid of them, only a migraine pill.
  • I found it nearly impossible to survive off of less than 9 hours of sleep a night. If I tried getting up early, I’d be slammed the next night and have to tuck in early. I just couldn’t get over the hurdle.

I shrugged these things off, believing it was just how my particular body works. But in September it started getting a bit worse.

  • My face and neck would start to get hot, to the point I had to walk around with a cold washcloth around my neck
  • I started getting strong pressure in my eyes and they would sting, accompanied by more and more frequent headaches – again only resolved by migraine pills
  • I started urinating very frequently throughout the day
  • I was waking up with headaches, sometimes waking me from my sleep

I was out of town for work as all these symptoms started getting worse and worse, inhibiting my ability to stay focused and do my job. I knew something wasn’t right but was clueless as to what. I tried WebMD and other similar sites trying to find something that fit my symptoms with no luck. For some reason some of the nonsense I had heard about gluten sensitivity came to mind. So I reluctantly started googling the fad “gluten-free” and what do you know, the symptoms for gluten-sensitivity seemed to line up. They said the best way to test was simply to cut gluten out of your diet and see if there is an improvement. So I did my best on the road and seemed to get a relief from the symptoms.

I continued after I got home and the symptoms went away. According to my wife, my headaches were showing up about once a week. After about 8 weeks I hadn’t had one. Not only that, my energy levels kicked up and I was doing fantastic on 7 hours sleep. My skin inflammation disappeared, along with the eye pressure. So clearly I was having a problem with gluten. But

What the heck is gluten?

Gluten (from Latin gluten, “glue”) is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grain species, including barley and rye. Gluten gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture. (Wikipedia) It’s found in all kinds of things: most breads & tortillas, but also things like salad dressing and even cosmetics. It’s often used as a thickening agent in soups and a variety of other things.

Why is it giving me problems?

There are a variety of labels you will hear: gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance, wheat allergy, celiac disease, etc. And honestly, the issue is extremely complex and studies are ongoing, so getting clear definitions can actually be very difficult (lots of conflicting information). In a nutshell, they all mean that your body can’t handle gluten. Depending on how it can’t handle it, it has a different name. A helpful distinction is found in Dr. Osbourne’s Gluten Sensitivity vs. Celiac Disease vs. Gluten Intolerance. He offers the following definition:

  • Gluten allergy: is typically considered to be an allergy, meaning it is an immune mediated response (IgE, IgG, etc)
  • Gluten intolerance: is considered an inability to tolerate gluten that is non-immune mediated (body doesn’t like it, can’t digest it, etc)
  • Gluten sensitivity: a mesh of the above (no rigid definition). This is distinct from celiac disease (it causes celiac disease)

Basically, a lot of people have a problem with gluten, and that problem manifests itself in a variety of different ways in different parts of the body (psoriasis, migraines, celiac disease, ADHD, asthma, etc). Gluten sensitivity implies that there is an ongoing immune reaction to gluten in the diet, usually detected as antibodies against a subprotein of gluten called gliadin. The effects of gluten sensitivity can be cascading. Initially there may be no symptoms, and because it can be difficult to diagnose, if left untreated, it can begin destroying your body resulting in auto-immune disorders, etc.

Here is a helpful discussion of the differences between types of reactions (note that this study’s use of the label “gluten sensitivity” contradicts Dr. Osbourne’s definition given above).

Researchers compared intestinal permeability; expression of intestinal proteins and genes; and immune response among confirmed CD (Celiac Disease), Gluten Sensitive (GS), and healthy (or control) subjects. For the purposes of this study, gluten sensitivity was defined as not having CD or a wheat allergy (or other overlapping diseases) but with symptoms triggered by gluten exposure and alleviated by withdrawal. Interestingly, the researchers found several differences in the reactions to gluten between CD and GS subjects; the most notable differences were that GS individuals did not produce antibodies or see persisting damage to the small intestine cell walls.

The study authors suggest that CD is caused by both an adaptive and innate immune response, while GS is primarily due to an innate immune response. Adaptive immune responses require the presence of an antigen, or foreign body, which causes the allergic reaction. It’s hypothesized that the introduction of gluten (the antigen) to our diet over 10,000 years ago could have caused this response in some individuals and carried through to modern times; however, much of this is speculation. The innate immune response is antigen-independent, which might explain why those with GS don’t produce the antibodies.

GS individuals may experience symptoms similar to those with CD, but the symptoms are generally not as severe. It’s also likely that they tolerate some gluten; dose-response is unknown at this time and appears to be individualized. The biggest challenge with this condition is that there is currently no test to diagnose GS; symptoms also vary among individuals though the most common are IBS-like gastro-intestinal problems, headache, and fatigue.

New Study Supports Gluten Sensitivity as a Real Clinical Condition

How can bread be dangerous and harmful?

In starting to read about all of this, I would come across many people who began to denounce wheat altogether: not just for those who are gluten sensitive, but for everyone. They make an evolutionary argument claiming that humans were healthiest as hunter-gatherers eating wild fruits and vegetables with lots of meat. The problems came when we civilized and starting agriculture. This is known as the Paleo Diet. My response to all of this was: the bible doesn’t necessarily prescribe a particular diet, but it certainly doesn’t seem to denounce wheat and bread. In fact, Jesus seems to positively endorse bread by calling himself the bread of life. The answer, in short, is that “It’s not possible to find the bread Jesus Christ talked about in the Bible. It’s not on the planet anymore. All of the wheat is genetically modified. It’s called the 50/50 rule. In the last 50 years the gluten content in wheat has gone up by 50%” (Gluten Sensitivity and Celiac Disease on Underground Wellness Radio)

How can something that The Bible refers to as The Staff of Life be the source of so much modern illness? Didn’t God nourish the Israelites with the bread (manna) from Heaven? Well, according to gluten expert Dr. Thomas O’Bryan, seven out of ten people are sensitive to gluten, the toxic protein found in most grains! Were the Israelites somehow exempt from gluten’s wrath? Or was the all-knowing God just a little behind on his research?

The truth is that we are not eating the same grains that Moses may have snacked on as he hiked up Mount Sinai. In fact, we’re not even eating the same grains our grandparents ate! In just a mere 50 years, grains – wheat, in particular – have become a mutant species crafted by the hands of human intervention in the name of increased crop yields, resistance to drought, disease, and heat, as well as an end to world hunger – all of which are honorable causes and tremendous scientific achievements. However, the accelerated evolution of wheat through hybridization – a feat that would make Gregor Mendel proud – has been to the detriment of human health…

…“Hybridization efforts of the past fifty years have generated numerous additional changes in gluten-coding genes in Triticum aestivum, most of them purposeful modifications of the D genome that confer baking and aesthetic characteristics of flour. Indeed, genes located in the D genome are those most frequently pinpointed as the source of glutens that trigger celiac disease.

These Ain’t The Same Grains

Does the Bible Say We Should Eat Grains? is also a very helpful article looking at particular passages in the Bible dealing with wheat and bread.

As a side note, this makes an interesting dilemma for Romanists. I cannot eat any of the bread typically used for the Lord’s Supper, but some churches offer alternative options. But if you’re Roman Catholic, you don’t have any other options. After all, if they don’t follow their magic formula to the T then it’s not really Jesus’ body. That means you’ll have to decide if avoiding the sometimes fatal effects of gluten sensitivity in this life is worth spending millions of more years in purgatory (see @11min here Celiac Disease & Gluten Sensitivity w/ Dr. Tom O’Bryan). Perhaps it’s just another way to “share in the suffering of Christ” as penance. And if you can’t eat Jesus, how can a Roman Catholic be saved? (The same way anyone is saved – through faith alone in the finished work of Christ, not a heretical, blasphemous, pagan practice)

Why the rise in food sensitivities?

Food sensitivities and food allergies are on the dramatic rise. My problems have opened up a huge area of study for me, and although the information is all very difficult to sort through, one thing is certain: the human body and the foods we eat are incredibly complex – much more so than we thought. We are still learning a tremendous amount about our bodies. With all of the amazing advancements in science and medicine, we still know relatively little about ourselves. Yet this issue is rarely approaching with the humility it requires. Often it is approached with a strong dose of arrogance that modern man can solve every problem through the progress of science. In altering our foods, little actual regard is given to the fact that we actually know so little about what we are doing. Tom Malterre lists the following potential factors contributing to the dramatic increase in food sensitivities:

  • environmental toxins damaging the immune system
  • chronic inflammation
  • overuse of antibiotics (notice some chicken & beef labels say raised without antibiotics – that’s because the standard procedure is to feed animals antibiotics as a regular part of their diet)
  • overuse of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • leaky gut syndrome
  • low stomach acid
  • pancreatic enzyme insufficiency
  • not breastfeeding
  • deficiency of key nutrients for normalizing immune response
  • a diet high in processed, denatured foods, and refined sugars
  • increase in consumption of reactive foods like gluten, dairy, and soy
  • genetically modified foods
  • increase in stress

Which leads me into a forthcoming post…

Update on Me

I haven’t yet done any lab testing, as it is very complicated and a variety of different tests test different things and I’m not certain which one to do yet. I’m nearing the end of a 28-day elimination diet designed to cleanse the system, cut almost everything out, and then slowly add things back in one at a time to determine what you have a problem with (right now it appears to be gluten, eggs, and dairy, which is actually a common trio… and a rather difficult menu to prepare 🙂 Gluten problems can actually create other food sensitivities intolerances). While I have eliminated my original symptoms by cutting out gluten, my energy level ebbs and flows (and I’ve lost 11% of my body weight, from 185 to 165). Gluten sensitivity wrecks your digestive system resulting in malabsorption of nutrients from all foods. So I have some work to do in rebuilding my system. I’ve actually decided to visit a naturopathic doctor in a couple of weeks because traditional doctors, even gastroenterologists, are not as open to evaluating and treating gluten issues because so much of the research is ongoing (they dismiss it as a psychological condition or a fad diet with no scientific basis). I’ll keep you posted.


Because gluten sensitivity takes on so many forms, it can be very difficult to diagnose. I can guarantee you that if you go into a doctor with the symptoms of GS, you are not going to be diagnosed with GS (maybe celiac, but not the more nuanced NCGS). It’s going to take some research on your own and some experimentation. But I strongly suggest that you consider looking into it (some experts say as much as 10-30% of the population is gluten sensitive). It is amazing how the food we eat can affect us in such a myriad of ways that you would never think. Just read some of the testimonials here: Success Stories