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Monthly Archives: January 2014

Lutherans are boring

(Obviously pictures are inappropriate for this post.  Deal.)

So says Gene Veith and Anthony Sacramone.

Clips from Sacramone’s piece:

“Check out the combox at Cranach for opinions as to why those millennials yearning to smell bells don’t head to Wittenberg, as opposed to Canterbury, Rome, or Constantinople. I already offered my opinion as to why I thought Calvinist churches were more attractive to many than were Lutheran, so let me throw one more stink bomb onto the buffet table:

Lutherans are boring….”

and

“…Remember, pop culture deals in tropes, types, especially when it comes to “traditional” and “conservative” types. Sensitive progressives hammer home stereotypes in order to box in figures they believe are adversarial by nature or proclamation. Lutherans don’t register as offering anything these more conventional and immediately recognizable figures do.”

and

“….Growing up, all the Lutherans I knew were boring. They minded their ps and qs and paid their taxes on time (begrudgingly—I was LCMS, after all) and kept their heads down and their feet on the ground. They were good citizens and thought things through and were practical, rarely all that imaginative (although every once in a while a teacher would try and shake things up, only to be brought to heel if no great measurable results were forthcoming). There were exceptions, of course. (An elementary school teacher pretty much drank himself to death.) But they were notable for being exceptions.”

and

“Slow. Steady. Invisible. Boring.

Of course, as I got older, I realized there were many many worse things than being boring. Like being abusive. And legalistic. And filling kids’ heads with all manner of wrath-of-God/sinners dangling from a thread over the fires of hell stuff.

OK. So Lutherans don’t so much get bad press, as no press. But what to do now? How to capture the attention of these millennials now?

Haven’t a clue.”

Hah – this stuff is great.  He goes on to talk about some very interesting points regarding Lutheran liturgy (too much variety in the new hymnal – not able to effectively memorize it) and then closes like this:

“What does Lutheranism have to offer that Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism doesn’t? Luther. A pre-medieval worship that has exorcised the penitential out of repentance, all the obfuscating cults of the saints that made grace something one had to connive out of God as if he were a Renaissance prince whose attention could be gotten only by court insiders. Justification by faith alone. The gift of vocation that put a blacksmith on spiritual par with a bishop. The great freedom in knowing that God doesn’t need your good works — but your neighbor does, who is therefore not a means to a ladder-climbing end.

And the theology of the cross, which does more to eviscerate the unconsciously karmic idea of life’s causes and effects than anything else. Ever pray fervently for some good thing and received the exact opposite of what you prayed for? Yet instead of rebelling, you came to understand what it was to wait with Christ one hour in Gethsemane? You are a theologian of the cross.

In other words Christ at the beginning, Christ at the center, Christ at the end. And for you.

Boring.”

As my pastor says: simple, humble, weak.  Add boring to the mix.

Hmmm… something we should embrace?  Not to be “proud” of it (of course not!) but because it is unavoidably true – and there is something great about this kind of “magnificent monotony” (as a rather exciting/compelling Roman Catholic by the name of Brennan Manning put it).

FIN

 

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

What is the meaning of Bart Ehrman? Mountain or molehill?

Bart Erhman: highly respected by the world, but nevertheless easily dismissible.

Bart Erhman: highly respected by the world, but easily dismissible nonetheless?

This essay follows up this recent post (Should we be saying that the Scriptures are in but not of this world?)…. I have decided not to break up this essay, but to post it all at once.

Recently, there has been a bit of controversy about a paper written by Dr. Jeffrey Kloha, a professor at the LC-MS’s St. Louis seminary.  One of Dr. Kloha’s main points is that the church needs to think critically about the matter of what constitutes the Bible especially in light of the questions that a new generation has – provoked in large part by the liberal Bible scholar Bart Ehrman.  You can read a bit more about what Dr. Kloha is trying to do from a sympathetic perspective in this piece from the well-known and respected Lutheran historian Martin Noland.

In many ways I can vouch for Dr. Kloha’s point.  Here at Concordia St. Paul (I do not speak for this institution), I have taught roughly 200 undergraduate students as an adjunct professor – many of them not Christians – over the past three years.

During that time, I’ve gotten questions like the following:

 -“How or who initiated putting the writings of the Bible together as one book?”

-“Who compiled the stories in the first original Bible?”

-“Whoever compiled the Bible, how did they decide which stories to publish and which ones to leave out?”

-“How were the books of bible chosen to become the bible as we know it today?”

-“It would be interesting to know who wrote the bible or who put together the bible.”

-“How do we know that the word of God has not been altered by man throughout the years and in the years were no word was written down in particular?”

-“Why is there so much controversy about the scriptures? My husband is not a Christian and he watches many things on the History Channel about scriptures that were uncovered after the bible was written or about scriptures that were intentionally not included in the bible.”

-“I’m curious, as a theologian do you still explore ancient texts that didn’t make the cut, like the Gospel of Thomas, even though they are suspect – to gain additional insight into the teachings of Christ? I have to admit it’s tempting to think about the possibility that God may have left behind something for future generations to discover during a time when He knew we may need it.”

-“Do we know other than faith that the original composer of the Bible had pure intentions for the teachings of God and Jesus Christ or was it out of greed?”

-“Why did Protestants (Martin Luther and others) take out the five books in the Bible (This is an honest question and not an attack by any means)?”

And here I can say that I have found Dr. Kloha to be an invaluable resource!  For example, he has made statements in past Issues ETC interviews about how the canon came to be that have been particularly helpful as regards highlighting certain facts that persons like Ehrmann downplay or fail to discuss.  I often refer my students a Sept. 2006 online issue of the Lutheran Witness where he wrote a very helpful piece.

Click image to go to magazine

Click image to go to magazine

That said, I also think it is important to approach an issue like this from a certain frame of thinking.  Let me explain where I am coming from.

I recently read in David Scaer’s 1971 monograph The Apostolic Scriptures (recommended by Dr. Noland) the following: “Some people have doubts about Jesus, but no one can doubt that by the end of the first century Christians were gathering into groups called churches” (p. 18)

Or so it seems.  Just watch.  Even if such distrust of history could never be legitimately earned, it’s amazing how “science” can tempt persons to believe all kinds of crazy things.  For example, witness the “Singularity” types in Silicon Valley – it seems that very few think they are totally on the fringe, even though they are, as even one of their good friends Jaron Lanier notes in his new book Who Owns the Future? (see pp. 12-13, for example).*

"History is bunk." -- Henry Ford, giving voice to many more “scientifically inclined” persons: “History is bunk” (at least insofar as accounts of the past that come down to us are something that we put our trust in)

Henry Ford, giving voice to many more “scientifically inclined” persons: “History is more or less bunk…” (at least insofar as accounts of the past that come down to us are something that are of any real relevance for us – much less that we should be putting our trust in things like these!)

Like so many other “scientific enterprises” it seems to me that the practice of textual criticism could use a little criticism itself.  I am suspicious of those who give too much time of day to a “hermeneutic of suspicion”!  The more I ponder all of this, the more I wonder if the discipline has outlived any real usefulness it may have had**.  It is one thing to doubt that the bones of particular saints of the church are really located here or there – when distrust has certainly been earned.  It is another thing to put the reliability of the New Testament as we have received it in any doubt whatsoever!

But how can I so readily pan the experts?  Well, as with so many things in life, it depends on the judgment of the particular expert.  Which expert are we talking about?  In my experience, it seems that anything that clearly testifies to the truth of Jesus Christ will – must – be questioned by the world.  Therefore, minority reports can be highly significant – especially in these last days when faith is not readily found on earth.  Therefore, when the impeccable and eminently qualified Sir Frederick Kenyon, said “the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed” and “the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the [NT] may be regarded as firmly established”, I am happy to hear such an expert verify what I’ve always believed – no, known – to be true.  Here, it is not really “trust but verify” (oxymoronic statement), but rather “trust and be happy when verification comes”.

Kenyon

Kenyon

Wait a minute!  You can’t say that you know it to be true!  Well, sure I can – God’s Holy Spirit testifies to my heart that the Scriptures are true and reliable and that He providentially guided His Church, through true and reliable men, to not only more or less passively recognize and receive definitive books as the Apostolic deposit – bolstered by Old Testament prophecy-fulfilling miracles – but to preserve their reliability for our benefit.  The Holy Spirit uses this word – because they are Christ’s very words – to create and nurture faith, and to continually lead us back to this word (Isaiah 8:20, Acts 17:11).  Full stop.***  Besides, even from a non-supernatural perspective, scientists must admit that there is much history that is truly known here or there only among the locals – and is potentially discoverable to others.****  The Christian can say for good reasons that what he knows here is what he has yet to be shown is false – distrust has yet to be earned.

Kenyon was right many years ago and still is.  Folks like Bart Ehrmann should be the outliers, even if, sadly, they are not (or don’t seem to be, given the attention they attract in the media).  When persons ask, this really should be our first answer to these questions, and quite frankly, this will satisfy most everyone.  There will be a few other faithful yet doubting folks who will be curious, wonder, question and interrogate more – and we should readily invite this and guide them! – but we need to realize that they will be in the minority.

"It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

“It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

The more I think about this, mountains being made of molehills come to mind.  I am opening to hearing arguments to the contrary, but it seems to me that these things are not the most difficult issues the church today needs to be concerned with.  And of course matters of textual criticism were not the pressing issues at, for example, Nicea or during the Reformation – even though there has always been some knowledge about varieties of variances in biblical texts (also with the different ways Jesus, for example, says things from Gospel to Gospel – or variances of chronology, with the temptation accounts for example)!

Bart Ehrmann excels more as a rhetorician than he does as a decent scholar, giving an accurate and nuanced presentation of the reality that exists as regards early New Testament texts.  Putting the best construction on men like Ehrman, I would have to say perhaps he does not realize how utterly uncharitable, lopsided, and un-best-construction-like his analysis is.  Or, spiritually speaking, how much he has been utterly deceived by the Deceiver – both during his time as a fundamentalist, and also now as an atheist/agnostic.

"The heart has its reasons which reason cannot know."  Well said Blaise! - and yet we can and must say more.

“The heart has its reasons which reason cannot know.” Well said Blaise! – and yet we can and must say more.

We need not give too much time to his arguments.  It does us no good to hem, haw, and waver here.  He needs to be called out – and perhaps this goes for a good part of the field of textual criticism in general, the NA 28 crowd included!  Science is a gift of God, but the scientific methodologies of our age are often decidedly set against God and His church, whether it is done so in a subtle or not-so-subtle fashion (here is another example I recently wrote about, Daring to Deny Darwin).

Gotthold Lessing (1729-1781) argued, “Historical truth, which is accidental in its character, can never become proof of the truths of Reason, which are necessary” and “Miracles, which I see with my own eyes, and which I have opportunity to verify for myself, are one thing; miracles, of which I know only from history that others say they have seen them and verified them, are another.” “But…I live in the 18th century, in which miracles no longer happen. The problem is that reports of miracles are not miracles ….[they] have to work through a medium which takes away all their force.”*****

Gotthold my friend this is the least of your problems.  Note what happens in Luke 11 and what Jesus says in 16:31

Gotthold my friend… this is the least of your problems. Note what happens in John 11:45-53 and what Jesus says in Luke 16:31

As William Lane Craig argues in this response to Lessing’s points, there are all kinds of gaping problems with Lessing’s approach (nevertheless, we ought to be very humble in how we approach this as well).  And this is, quite frankly, very sad.  Miracles happen even today – even as some who speak of miracles or some specific accounts rightly earn our distrust.  [At the time I was writing this essay] I just talked with a man who had been a missionary to India last week (at my son’s Montessori school) who, while there, received a puzzling vision of a blind man.  Taking this to be from God, he asked others during the course of his work about blind persons in the village, and not long afterwards he prayed over a blind man and healed him.  A month later he went to check on the man.  All the idols had been removed from the house, replaced by a lone picture of Christ, and the healed man was inquiring about how to become a pastor.  My own view on these kinds of things is that God does this kind of stuff on the “front lines” so to speak, where the Kingdom of God is first establishing a foothold in this or that region vs. the forces of darkness.

(for more videos with Keener on miracles see here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLC900F8EEB62AE426)

No, with men like Gotthold Lessing and Bart Ehrmann, it is a tragedy that these cannot see what a wonderful miracle it is that most every early New Testament text that exists can be seen – without any guile – as being utterly reliable and true – that the variances that do exist do not detract from the reliability of the Church’s testimony, but rather go hand in hand with it!  Why not marvel at the miracle that God did lead the apostles of his church – yes, the “orthodox party”! – into all truth, and that, providentially, the church readily and passively received those writings whereby the Holy Spirit convicts the word of sin, righteousness and judgment – that one might have Christ the Savior!  Why not rejoice that Christ’s promise to “bring to remembrance” all the things he taught the Apostles and to “guide them into all truth” has been and is being fulfilled by His Holy Spirit – as He preserves His flock (not necessarily strictly conterminous with the “LC-MS” and those in fellowship with it by the way!) in these End Times?

Sermons from Luther on John 16 that are must reading for today.  Click on image for more.

Sermons from Luther on John 16 that are must reading for today. Click on image for more.

Reading about the Byzantine, or Majority text, in Wikipedia I read the following:

Mark 1:2 reads “As it is written in the prophets..” in the Byzantine text; whereas the same verse reads, “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet..” in all other early textual witnesses. Since the quotation introduced is partly from Malachi, the Byzantine form of the verse avoids the difficulty that might be adduced were it to be concluded that Mark was presenting a factual inaccuracy.

To this I say: “You are going to let the few examples like this that exist undermine the faith that God means to give you through the Scriptures whereby He has guarded His church on earth?  Really?  Really?  Where is the benefit of the doubt?  Why not rather assume the best – that both variants are somehow correct?  Especially since they are, as verse 3 in Mark really is from Isaiah!”

Lutheran saint Kurt Marquart: “Man is not an objective super-observer in the universe, but a condemned sinner with a vested interest in escape.”

Lutheran saint Kurt Marquart: “Man is not an objective super-observer in the universe, but a condemned sinner with a vested interest in escape.”

I don’t doubt that I have much to learn on this issue of textual criticism.  Perhaps there are all kinds of problems I am unaware of.  If that is the case, I invite your help on these matters – I myself hope to join one of the discussion groups that Dr. Kloha has so generously offered to lead (hopefully non-pastors are allowed!).  But for now, I simply do not see why this is a big deal (note that I’ve currently got a bunch of recommended books about textual criticism and the nature of the Scriptures on my list).  It seems to me that insofar as we are talking about the issue of doubt and Christians, Kierkegaard was actually right to object to the question “What is the proper object of faith?”, for one to try to answer such a question, he said, is like a lover attempting to reply to the question, “Could you love another woman?”  We cannot – and to love the lover is to love the words of the lover.  Yes, Kierkegaard was wrong about Christianity being a “leap of faith” (trusting God does not involve probabilities – such is the mother of unbelief) – for the words the Holy Ghost uses in the Scriptures to convict and save the world are utterly solid and reliable (John, 16:8-11, Acts 17:30-31!) – but what he says about the tenacity of trust towards the lover of our soul is good, right and salutary.******

Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard: right on trust and loyalty.  Pascal would say “Amen!”

This dovetails nicely I think with a quotation from that most prescient of Lutheran theologians August Friedrich Christian Vilmar.  His timely words speak to our situation well:

“Doctrine as expressive of the deed of redemption is sound only to the degree that it is a true expression of these acts, and belongs to the life of the Church.  Through its doctrine the Church responds to the Lord’s acts, or rather to his questions as to whether it has understood and accepted his proofs of everlasting mercy, woven them into its own life, and consequently preserved the word of his patience.  In and by themselves therefore, dogmatics and ethics are nothing but confessions of the Church, not the results of experiences, to say nothing of the individual’s speculation in the Church.  This point of view, however, was neglected for a century and more.  Influenced by the general confusion of the human spirit which turned from real life toward a spurious life of erudition, the theological disciplines cited above as witnesses of what the Church has lived through and experienced have become ‘sciences’ (p. 59, The Theology of Facts vs the Theology of Rhetoric)

Nevermind that that was written 150 years ago!*******

Vilmar: “…none on earth can live who does not receive what proceeds from theology”

Vilmar: “…none on earth can live who does not receive what proceeds from theology”

Finally, as pastors and scholars are inevitably being drawn into discussion and debate regarding these issues, it seems to me that we might want to deeply consider the words of the Eastern Orthodox writer Rod Dreher, uttered just the other day:

“…what I can tell definitively about Orthodox Christian doctrine would be about one-third of the length of my big long Dante blog post yesterday. But I trust the guides who know the territory. I don’t need to know how to read maps to trust them to lead me out of the dark wood. Moreover, I don’t have to worry that there’s a big fight among the guide corps over whether or not the maps and the methods of map-reading have anything true to tell us about where we are in the world, and what we need to do if we are to get out of the dark wood.” (Does Doctrine Even Matter To Liberal Catholics?)

Words we might each want to deeply and personally consider in our own context – in the midst of this debate.

FIN

*James Barrat, in his 2013 book exploring the idea of “runaway artificial intelligence” says the following: “we don’t have a formal description of what understanding language really is, so how can we claim humans ‘understand’ language?  We have only observation to confirm that language is understood…. What’s so remarkable about the brain’s processes, even consciousness, anyway?  Just because we don’t understand consciousness now doesn’t mean we never will.  It’s not magic.” (p. 46, Our Final Invention).  No, that’s not fringe, that’s solid scientific reasoning.

** As a good pastor I know said: “So much of textual critical work today seems just like fine tuning the basic decisions that were made by Westcott and others in the 19th century. And THE basic decision was: Byz / M = no good / corrupt. “Uncritical” / “precritical” church tradition just can’t be trusted with the truth. Our superior methods, data, etc. have to come in and save the day.”  In any case, once the Scriptures have been discredited such that worldly elites have lost any fear whatsoever of them (actually, they are not undermined in fact – we must never forget the world’s arguments about the evidence reveal a desire to deceive, or, to put the best construction on what they are doing, their arguments put the worst construction on things), it will, in any case, no longer be a practice of academics with honored chairs but rather hobbyists – and perhaps those driven mainly by curiosity and faith instead of cynicism and unbelief.

***Note this as well though:  “No dogma which does not have a certain and clear foundation in the canonical books dare be constructed from these [antilegomena] books. Nothing that is in controversy may be proved from these books if there are no proofs and confirmations in the canonical books. But what is said in these books must be explained and understood according to the analogy of what is clearly set down in the canonical books. There can be no doubt that this is the meaning of the ancient Church.”  (Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, trans. F. Kramer, vol I, (CPH 1971)  This seems to make good sense to me.  It is interesting that some theologians in the early church who were very orthodox did not think that books like James, Hebrews, Jude, II Peter, and Revelation should be in the canon.  Again, what was at issue here – for some – was perhaps not whether or not these books contained error (properly understood, they do not), but whether or not they should be included in the canon.  And why would their canonicity have been questioned?  Not just because of questions regarding their authorship in this or that case, but also questions regarding whether the content could easily cause confusion – seeming to detract from a proper “urging of Christ”.

****As there might be persons of character who can share the oral history or actual historical evidence that is available and can be examined.   When it comes to taking history seriously, I contend that both philosophy (classical and modern) and science (classical and modern) do not know how to handle these things.  See my series What Athens needs from Jerusalem starting here.

*****Found here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/leaping-lessings-ugly-broad-ditch

******Likewise, Pascal’s wager – at least as it is popularly understood – can  be re-configured (so as not to change the nature of Christianity!): it is not really that we must choose whether or not to take a leap of faith based on probabilities, but whether or not we will find the reasonable demand for our attention – of course accompanied by all manner of evidence from the creation and from history – compelling enough to warrant putting ourselves in a position by which we may hear from God and hence, be converted (surprise! – this actually is Pascal’s argument and he was dead right – listen to this show for more).  And could God also draw unbelievers to Himself – that they might hear and be converted – through not only “strong” things like resurrections, but also by “weak” things like becoming a baby (pick it up!) or dying on a cross (“when I am lifted up….”)?!  For more on my view of apologetics, see the posts I did dealing with David Bentley Hart’s book (part II here) and read the following post and the comments which follow, where I was privileged to discuss matters of apologetics with the legendary Lutheran apologist John Warwick Montgomery in an extended discussion!: http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=19528

*******I find it interesting that this man is recently brought to light by the ELCA professor from Luther seminary Walther Sundberg.

Ehrmann pic: http://blogs.christianpost.com/confident-christian/the-gospel-according-to-bart-ehrman-16491/ ; Kenyon pic: http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw70985/Sir-Frederic-George-Kenyon ; other pics from Wikipedia.

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Pope Francis, card-carrying member of the patriarchy

Media: maybe we're going to eventually need more pics like this one

Media: maybe we’re going to eventually need more pics like this one

The sociologist Bradley Wilcox has helpfully characterized the kind of authority practiced by devout Christian men “soft patriarchy”.

Not too long ago, I realized that it is a bit difficult to find actual books written defending the morality of abortion.  For the most part, if one wants book-length arguments to counter those made from the pro-life side, one needs to look elsewhere.  Where?  Well, not to books focusing on the identity of the unborn and the rights, or lack thereof, belonging to them – but rather focusing on women’s rights, over and against their oppressors.  There are more far more books like these (for example see here and here)

And thank God for that most progressive Pope Francis – ever speaking so sensitively and intelligently to the pressing issues of our day! (sarcasm).  Well, note this from a recent Catholic News story on Francis, who was addressing all the Vatican diplomats the other day:

Popes normally use talks to diplomats to survey crises and conflicts around the globe and urge the pursuit of peace, which is what Pope Francis for the most part did. In such a context, references to anything other than geopolitics are bound to stand out.

More specifically, Pope Francis’ mention of abortion came in the middle of a paragraph about threats to human dignity such as hunger and human trafficking — both issues about which the pope has spoken more often, as consistent with the priority he has set on helping the world’s poor. The appearance of abortion in that company suggests the defense of unborn life is at the heart of Pope Francis’ agenda.

wilcoxIs this Pope Francis speaking or one of those barbaric right-wingers posing as a “compassionate” conservative”?  Surely the good Pope – who shows such great sensitivity to persons everywhere – will realize that he should not have spoken of routine abortions in the same breath as sex trafficking (and the use of children in war for example)?  Surely he will realize the “violence” words like these themselves cause!

As Wendi Wright said on Issues ETC, this does seem to upset the media template that has been thusfar established for Pope Francis.  It will be interesting to see what happens here in the near future – for now, some are interpreting this as Francis “bowing to pressure from conservatives” (see here and note the picture : ) )

Long live the soft patriarchy.  Long live complementarity.  Long live the defenders to the weakest and most helpless among us.

Lord – may your good soft patriarchy not be so soft that it rolls over in the face of that which is evil.

FIN

Image from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/the-pope/10320928/Pope-Francis-Catholic-Church-could-fall-like-a-house-of-cards.html

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Interviews with old Concordia St. Paul students now available

In case any readers of this blog are interested, you can now hear audio recordings of interviews with Concordia St. Paul students who graduated from this institution in the 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.  They are now found (here) at the Minnesota Digital library’s website Minnesota Reflections.

If you are intrigued, you can learn more about this project and the interviews at the Concordia library’s web page here.

Here’s a summary of one of the more colorful interviews:

Ritz“Interview with Rudolph Ritz, class of 1935, from Largo, Florida in 1981.  Pastor Ritz, whose mother was the chief cook for Kaiser Wilhelm II, talks about, among other things, why he came to study for the ministry at Concordia, how public school teachers sacrificed extra time to help him learn English and math, the President’s long list of responsibilities at the school (leading chapel, night watchman, his own secretary), outstanding profs and what made them great, the dissection of stray animals for biology classes, how city boys at Concordia avoided hazing and who got it the worst, classroom clowning and fun, playing sports, the difficulties professors faced, the scandal of dating students (dancing, movies), extracurricular night lectures by a professor on sexual matters, a “rebel” student newspaper (the “Rebel Comet”), pro baseball and the St. Paul Saints (Babe Ruth), work outside of school, the conversion of a co-worker to Christianity through his preaching, and an interesting story about a personal letter from President Nixon.”

And here is the poster that I put together to advertise this on campus:

oldcspstudents

 

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Mankind has always and always will seek to reach three fundamental things.

Fallen man: "Should we assimilate the Creator as well?"

Fallen man: “Should we assimilate the Creator as well?”  Click here to see the post I originally asked this question in.

Or so I said last year at this time when I did a series called “a Lutheran Anthropology for non-Lutherans” (which I am thinking about again this morning as I get back to exploring questions about science, technology and theology – getting ready for a library technology presentation).  Here is what I wrote at the time:

“….jumping off of Pastor Fisk’s book as well as all other helpful authors, I’ve got what I think is a helpful apologetic approach based on three propositional claims which I have stated very carefully (it is a bit of a reframe of Fisk’s presentation, which I consider highly insightful and valuable).  Mankind has always and always will seek to reach three fundamental things…”

A gentleman named Ralph Spraker found this series helpful and even produced a visualization of it:

Spraker

Thanks again Ralph!

Near the end of the series, I put forth this:

“…with an increase in functional knowledge and earthly power, man’s free powers tend to combine with devotion towards certain unbending  principles and “cause-and-effect” laws (like a vending machine: ultimately manipulative “if-then” moralism), and the temptation is for this to take over completely, squelching out the last vestiges of an actual person who is God.  In other words, this “highest of men”, rich in the knowledge and wisdom of the world, seeks to harness not only what have come to be known as the “laws of nature”** and “natural law”, but any “laws of the [increasingly depersonalized] supernatural” as well (whether more or less “systematically”).  This is accomplished with the help of its magicians/scientists and priests as “salvation” comes through the mighty accomplishments of the appropriate “technologies”, dealing with both the material and the “spiritual”.  Here, we find that the distinction between the natural and the supernatural, for whatever its beneficial uses, has actually been of some assistance in banishing the biblical God.  Therefore, writ large, as unchecked Old Adam more successfully harnesses the order inhering in the creation, in practice he makes the Creator his impersonal creation and himself salvation.

As a result of this, the human person – not considered in light of the Divine person of Jesus Christ and His love for all – is inevitably trodden underfoot, as at least some persons inevitably become means to other ends.”

Check out the series, which is something I am quite proud of: here is part III of III, where that last part occurs.

FIN

Image credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Picard_as_Locutus.jpg

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

“God is found in the little baby Jesus, so that He does not frighten us away with His appearance among us”: from my pastor’s Christmas day sermon

Gerard_van_Honthorst_001I meant to post this on Epiphany, but was away from the internet and missed the opportunity.  In any case, here is my pastor’s Christmas day sermon.

It was quite memorable for me, and held forth “infant theology” in its most pregnant form.  When I started this blog I wanted to talk about faith like a child – simply receiving and believing God’s word, particularly the promises of God.  But this beautiful sermon is about the child that leads us to faith – the Promise of God.

Pardon the formatting (the capitol letters and strange punctuation) that occur throughout).  My pastor breaks up his sermon manuscript so it is easy for him to read – I simply put the phrases he had broken up back together again so they form complete sentences.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” John 1:14

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, when the shepherds, Went to Bethlehem, And found things, Exactly as described for them, By the angel (The babe Wrapped in swaddling clothes And lying in the manger) What the shepherds beheld there, Was the very Creator of the World.

So one of the stanzas Of Luther’s Christmas hymn, From Heaven Above to Earth I Come:

“Ah, Lord,

Though You created all,

How weak you are

So poor and small,

That You should choose,

To lay Your head

Where lowly cattle

Lately fed.”

In other words, If you want to know where God is, Go to the manger, Go to the baby, Go to Jesus.

It really is simple Isn’t it?  If you want to find God, Find Jesus, Because in Jesus, We have the very Creator of the world.

That really is The wonder of Christmas!

But more and more, Man has come To reject, To deny, To run away from this Fact.  That Jesus is God.  Muslims, of course, Reject it out right.

How could God, The Maker of Heaven and earth become man?

Jesus a good man?

Yes.

God?

No.

Hindus, Even if they accepted the divinity of Jesus, Would simply include Him, In their pantheon Of thousands of gods.

Mormons?  For them, Jesus is godlike But not the Creator Of Heaven and earth.

Man in general?  I don’t think That man in general Has a problem with Jesus.

From what man in general Knows about Jesus, He is an okay guy, A guy who did good things, A guy who took on the establishment, A guy, Unfortunately, Who lost in that endeavor.  But God?  (The Creator of the World?)  He through whom all things were made?  No.

And sadly, Even for some Christians, They don’t realize That this is so, That the Gospel of John, Begins With this wondrous description, Of the Word, And that Word, Through Whom the world was made, Becoming flesh, In the little baby, Jesus Christ.

So they look elsewhere for God.

And perhaps we are tempted To do the same.

Where do we look?  Where do we look for God?

Perhaps This time of year, In its sites, And sounds.

For most, That would seem to be the case, That Christmas Is Christmas, is really Christmas When a specific carol is sung, A specific cookie baked, Or a specific ornament Is hung on the tree.

One of the traditions, At Christmas time At Concordia College Ann Arbor, where I went to school, Was for the faculty of the school, One evening, To serve the students Their dinner.

It was an old tradition there, And I was somewhat surprised When told about it, And amazed when I experienced it, My old Greek professor serving us roast beef, And I really looked forward to it, The next year, Only to learn, That that long-standing Christmas tradition Had been canceled.

It took something away from the season.

We have all had Similar experiences,

We have all, Identified, Certain sights Sounds, Aromas And tastes With Christmas, And when such things Were no longer to be seen, Heard, Smelled, Or tasted, What became of our Christmas?

Did we not think, That somehow, We had lost something?

That it was not right?

But what were we doing By attaching such importance To these sensual experiences?

Were we not Trying, Somehow, To find a uniqueness to Christmas, To find a specialness to Christmas, To somehow, Find God, Working in a unique way, At this time through such things?

But we need not look for God.

Not in the experiences of Christmas, Or any other place, Where He is, But has not deigned to be found.

On the contrary, Christmas is all about the fact, That God has been found, That the very Creator of the world, Is found In the little baby Jesus.

But why?  Why there?

Why is God found In the little baby Jesus?  Why not in a sensual experience, In a stunning star-filled winter’s sky?  In a fresh layer of perfect snow?  In the massive power of a blizzard, That strands everyone Where they are at, For days?

The answer really, Is simple: God is found In the little baby Jesus, So that He does not Frighten us away With His appearance Among us.

You remember What happened, When God appeared On Mt. Sinai, Or when the prophet Isaiah Beheld God in a vision, Or when the other prophets Encountered God In similar fashion: It was a terrifying, Horrifying, A simply awe-filled, Experience in which death Certainly seem imminent.  Who would ever turn to, Such an all-powerful God, Who so terrified us, With His very presence?

Who would seek out a God, Whose very holiness, Would cause us to instantly Suffer revulsion at our own sin?  Who would attempt to approach A God who seem to be nothing, But death and destruction?

No one.

At least no one, Willingly.  And God knew that.  If Adam and Eve, Hid themselves from Him, As He simply walked Through The garden of Eden, What would man, Generations later, Caught in his sin, Do?

So what was God’s solution?

He takes on human flesh.

He takes on human form, He actually becomes human, So that we will not be frightened of Him.

In fact, He even goes so far, As to become The most helpless Of human beings, And that is A baby.

Now what do we think about, When we see a baby?

Are we struck With fear?  No.

Of course we joke about Being fearful of babies, Especially First time parents, But in reality, Babies do not strike fear in us.

Instead, With their form, In its beauty, And innocence, And size, Babies beckon us come to them, And take them Up in our arms, And hold them.

Realize What Christmas teaches us then: This is what God Would have us do.  He would have us, Approach His Son, Jesus Christ In faith, Just like we approach A little tiny baby, Not with fear, Not with anguish, Not with trepidation, But with confidence, And boldness, Knowing That we will indeed Be accepted By Jesus,

And being accepted by Jesus, Be accepted By our Father in Heaven.

Too easy?

No.

Easy?  Yes.  At least on Jesus’ part.

And us?  Why can we not see Jesus Our Savior, As a little baby, Who would have each And every one of us, Hold Him, With arms of faith?

Well maybe we want God, To be something else?  Maybe we do want God, To appear before us, As an all-consuming fire, As a storm, Or as an earthquake even.

Sure, The seeing the angel, And the angel choir, That would have been something!

But what did the shepherds Think of that experience?

Scripture tells us, That they were “sore afraid”!

But must it be a baby?

I mean, What kind of God Is a Baby!

What kind of power And authority And strength And might Is found in a baby?

Only the power, The authority, The strength And might Of the true, The living, The Only God, Who would so humble Himself, So that He could become like us, Setting aside, Power, Authority, Strength, And Might Just so that He could Do that Which no one else Could do, And that is, Die in our stead, And have His death, Be attributed to us.

Had He not become human, He could not have died.

But Jesus lived among us, To die among us, So that we, No longer would die, But could live.

So what a wonder Christmas is.  The Word became flesh And dwelt among us, So that we would live Forever Through faith in Christ, In spite of our flesh.

Believe in this little baby.

Believe in this God made man.

Believe in the Crucified and Resurrected Son of God, And receive, The wondrous gift Which Our Savior Jesus Christ, Is to us: Life, And Salvation!

I suppose I have said this before, But it is hard not to think Of the Baby Jesus, (The incarnate Son of God), Like one of those Christmas presents, Which we receive, And at first, Simply disregard, Ignore, Or even despise.

Why?

Because we simply do not understand What they are!

We have all received such a Christmas present, The one Which we open, And stick back under the tree, While we occupy ourselves with all of the other Presents we received.  And it is only later, That we learn That the gift, The gift that we set aside Is the one Truly of most value Of most worth, Of most meaning.

If this is what You have done, With the gift of the Savior Jesus ChristTo You, It is not to late.

Pick Him up!

Reach for Him with the arms of faith!

Believe in Him, As Your Lord and Savior From Sin and Death And that is exactly What He will be for You!

Having a hard time doing that?

Fearing what might happen?

Why?

He has come to you, Not in a fire, In an earthquake, In a great storm Full of lightning and thunder, But Your Savior Comes to You Simply, And humbly, As a tiny little Baby.

Embrace Him With the arms of faith, Hold the Very Creator of the World In Your Heart And Never Let Him Go!

He is God’s Gift to You!

He is God’s Love expressed for You!

He is God for You!  He is Your Life!  Your Salvation!  Your Eternity!

That being so, How could you have anything less, Than a Merry Christmas!

Amen.

Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and  minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting, Amen.

___________________________

 

Picture from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gerard_van_Honthorst_001.jpg, Gerard von Honthorst, The Adoration of Shepherds, 1622

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Should we be saying that the Scriptures are in but not of the world?

A well-known book detailing the historical events that led to the conflict in the Missouri-Synod ("Seminex") culminating in the 1970s "Battle for the Bible".  Click on book to go to Amazon page.

A well-known book detailing the historical events that led to the conflict in the Missouri-Synod (“Seminex”) culminating in the 1970s “Battle for the Bible”. Click on book to go to Amazon page.

The sainted (if we formally did this he would be one) confessional Lutheran Kurt Marquart said in his book Anatomy of an Explosion: Missouri in Lutheran Perspective:

Still it is a fact that the supremacy of human reason means different things to different people.  Some historical critics are obviously and dramatically more radical than others.  For example, some think that miracles cannot and do not happen, while others leave the question open.  Both types of critics take for granted that critical reason must sit in judgment over the claims of the biblical writers.  Both agree that biblical reports of miracles may be challenged, cross-examined, and found wanting by the critical scholar.  The only difference is that while some hold that sound human reason rules out miracles in advance, others consider this inference unwarranted…  The great German preacher Helmut Thielecke…. claim[ed] the right to leave undecided the question whether the Virgin Birth of Jesus really happened in fact, or ‘whether it was believing men who erected a sign,’ that is, invented the account to make a religious point!” (p. 115, CTQ edition)*

Of course today, even sophisticates believe in miracles but not the Bible.  In any case, I am particularly interested in what I have bolded above.  Obviously, if you are going to be critical of the Bible, you will focus on “human element”, i.e. “the biblical writers”.  This is what the 19th c. German Lutherans who were “conservative” did (perhaps had to do if they wanted to survive in the academy), prompting LC-MS founder C.F.W. Walther to say: “it is unspeakable what the devil seeks by this divine-human Scripture”. (quoted in Marquart, 41)

Now, here are a couple quotes to ponder, from Paul Strawn’s (my pastor) paper: “Higher Criticism in Missouri: Dead or Alive?” (from the Congress on the Lutheran Confessions, May 4-6, 2011, Bloomington, MN.) evidently to be published in the future:

Probably one of the most startling aspects of an answer from Scripture given to a question posed by a seminarian while I was teaching in Nigeria in December of 2010 was that there was no follow-up question. The question had been posed, an answer from the Bible given, and that was enough. There was no “But was not Paul imposing his first-century training in Phariseeism upon the post-Pentecost Christian community?” Or “Does not James take a different view than Peter in this matter?” Or “Did not the Matthian community include that text in the gospel to explain a different matter entirely?” Instead, we simply moved on to another question. It is not that the Nigerians were ignorant: They knew their Bibles backwards and forwards, in their second or third language of English. The reason the Nigerians were satisfied with answers from the Word of God is that they did not practice higher criticism. What is higher criticism? In general it is the pursuit of the “human” or “human aspect” of Scripture. Higher criticism asks the question why a specific section of Scripture has been included in the Bible, at the specific place where it is found. Such a “specific section” can be as small as a single word, or as large as an entire book, or collection of books. Higher criticism seeks to discover, and reconstruct sources thought to have been used by Biblical writers (source criticism). It also asks the question as to why some texts are included and others not (canon criticism), and why they are put in the order in which they are found or modified in some way (redaction criticism). Higher criticism also seeks to discover unique types of texts (like hymns, poems or letters) in larger texts, and then theorizes as to the original contexts of their composition (form criticism). Startling to me in Nigeria, then, was the lack of even a hint of higher criticism within the seminarians’ questions. Even more startling: I noticed immediately. What could that mean except that after attending two Missouri Synod colleges, a Missouri Synod seminary, and then fifteen years of Bible studies, circuit meetings, and district conferences within the Missouri Synod, I had come to expect such higher critical responses to a text from the Bible offered as an answer to a question posed? And so to answer the question from the outset, higher criticism in Missouri: Dead or alive? I would be forced to answer at this point: Very much alive. (p. 1)

Note the definition of “higher criticism” he offers.  Note the word “pursuit” there as opposed to “awareness of”, “interest in”, even “some limited study of”.  Pursuit.  Near the end of one section he writes:

In applying higher criticism to the Holy Scriptures, the creating Word, breathed by the Holy Spirit, pointing us to Christ, in always searching for the human and even insisting that such a search is necessary, are we slowly over time, ceasing to be Christians, and instead, becoming Christianites, interested in “Christianology” as opposed to “Christology”? Have we, has our humanity in Nestorian-like fashion, become the focus of the church? Has the analogy of faith become the “analogy of the faithful”? Have we unwittingly become that which Francis Pieper consistently addressed in his Christian Dogmatics, and that is “Ich” theologians, “I” theologians? The question ultimately is not whether higher criticism is dead or alive in Missouri. The question seems to be: What has higher criticism done, and what is it continuing to do to Missouri? (p. 16)

But what of the human aspect of Scripture?  My pastor notes an  interesting observation from Walter W.F. Albrect, writing in a 1947 dogmatics (created as part of the 100 year centennial of the Missouri Synod) The Abiding Word:

“Our old Lutheran theologians have been attacked as totally ignoring or even denying the human side of Scripture. It is true, they do not dwell at length on what we call the human side of Scripture. But why? When human writers speak in a human language to human addressees of human interests, can there be any danger that the human side of Scripture, correctly understood, will be overlooked?

Let me remind you of a few of the human things about the Bible that need no stressing because everyone who takes up this Book and reads it sees them…”

(vol. 2, Ed. By Theodore Laetsch, p. 1)

But not everyone is so willing to admit to the Divine nature of the Scriptures.  So again, my question posed at the beginning of this post.

FIN

*Two other interesting quotes:

“If exegesis is to be practiced historico-critically, it must use the methods of secular historical science, i.e. criticism which allows only probability judgments, and the principles of analogy and correlation (cf. Troeltsch).  Thereby it subjects itself in principle to secular-historical judgment” (theses presented for discussion in the University of Munich, quoted by Marquart on p. 114)

and

“It is not enough to say that historical criticism means ‘discriminating appreciation.’  ‘The historian,’ says [David] Lotz, ‘must cross-examine, test, weigh, probe and analyze all written records of the past.  If he fails to do this he de facto surrenders his claim to the title of historian!’ (Forum Letter, May 1975, quoted by Marquart on p. 116)

As regards that first quote, of course this “secular historical science” was in many cases advanced by professing Christians.  Although for many of them, universal human reason which could be shared by all (producing clear and distinct ideas) was not necessarily supposed to be opposed to the Bible – such was the claim at the time.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

 
 
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