Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Pericope of the Week: Schlink's 1954 Address at the Second Assembly of the WCC

In addition to being Ash Wednesday, today marks the 116th birthday of Edmund Schlink, one of the most important Christian theologians of the twentieth century. This year also marks the 65th anniversary of the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, which convened in Evanston, Illinois, where Schlink delivered the opening plenary address. His remarks were translated as "Christ--The Hope of the World" and published in The Ecumenical Review and The Christian Century.

Hans Spalteholz and I have provided a fresh translation of it in the first volume of Edmund Schlink Works: Ecumenical and Confessional Writings (The Coming Christ and Church Traditions and After the Council), which I edited in 2017. This five-volume project is being published by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

In observance of both the start of Lent and Schlink's birthday, I've chosen as the TM pericope for this week the first two sub-sections of Schlink's address (pp. 266ff. from vol. 1 of ESW):

            If we inquire about the future of the world, we cannot help but run into the New Testament’s announcement of the end of the world. “The form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7.31). “The world with its lust is passing away” (1 John 2.17). The New Testament at the same time announces to us a great tribulation that will come upon the world before it passes away: war and famine, a disintegration of community, massive numbers of deaths, and natural disasters. We are commanded to pay attention, when such things take place. Where there is talk of the coming Christ as the hope, such talk is always also about the end of the world. 
          Against the announcement of its end, the world defends itself with its own hopes. Even many Christians have grown deaf to this announcement. They set it aside as Jewish apocalyptic thinking. But at the same time it is an unavoidable fact that anxiety about the end holds sway over humanity today. The hopes of the world have become particularly desperate.  Everywhere thoughts and dreams are filled with visions of horrors. One fears that the massive destruction of people that took place in the two world wars will return in a gigantic escalation. One sees before one’s very eyes the collapse of skyscrapers and the destruction of metropolises. The further development of the atomic bomb has most vividly and concretely opened before us the prospect of the end of humanity and the destruction of the planet. Precisely with its progressive developments humanity seems to have run into its limits.
            There is, of course, an essential difference between the anxiety of contemporary humanity and the New Testament announcement of the end. We are afraid of people who could misuse their power to unleash horrific catastrophes. We are afraid of the atomic powers of nature over which human beings could lose their dominion. But according to statements in the New Testament, the catastrophes of the end times are not merely human misdeeds or the consequence of human failures but God’s action. God will prepare the end of this world. From God’s throne go forth the commands that send the apocalyptic riders throughout the earth (Rev. 6.1, 3, 5, 7). They are “the bowels of the wrath of God,” which will be poured out on the earth (Rev. 16.1ff.). God has “given people up to a debased mind, to do what is of no good” (Rom. 1.28). The end of the world is the Day of God’s judgment.
            And we further hear, this judgment over every human presumption God has given over to Jesus Christ. Christ will come as the Judge of the world. He will break into the world “like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5.2). He will pounce on the world like a vulture on a cadaver (Mt. 24.28). The appearance of Christ will be the end of the world. “Then all the families on the earth will wail” (Rev. 1.7).
            What then has happened to “Christ—the hope of the world”?
            If with this theme we only focus on the continued existence of this threatened world, then we will miss the point of our conference theme. If we expect from Christ only the securing of this world so that humanity can pursue undisturbed its freedom, its businesses endeavors, and the improvement of its standard of living, then Christ is not the hope of the world, but rather the end of this world’s hopes, for Christ is the world’s end. The name of Christ does not permit itself to be misused as a slogan in the struggle for the self-preservation of this world.
            The decisive question is not, “How do we get through these wars and catastrophes?” The real question is, “How can we stand in the presence of God?” Our real threat does not come from people, powers, or forces in nature, but rather from God, whose judgment no one can escape. The hidden root of our anxiety is our anxiety before God, who will bring to nothing the pride of this world. This is the question, “Is there a rescue in the face of God’s judgment?”

            We will then only speak rightly of Christ as the hope of the world if we humble ourselves under God and rightly acknowledge God as the Judge of the world. Yes, we have deserved God’s judgment. We have not given God the honor that is due to him. We were only thinking of ourselves when we should have been serving our fellow human beings. We have often enough been silent when we should have loudly raised our voices. We have too often been afraid when we should have loved, and judged when we should have forgiven. The unrighteousness, the oppression, the bloodshed of this world cries to heaven, and the history of the church itself is not only a praise of God but is again and again a scandal. “We have sinned, done what is not right, acted wickedly and rebelled. We have turned from your commands and ordinances” (Dan. 9.5). “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?” (Ps. 130.3).
            Only if we repent and confess that we have forfeited our lives before God, will we recognize Christ as hope of the world.
            Christ is the hope as the crucified one. Look on this man, crowned with thorns on Golgotha, despised and rejected, who hangs on the cross! Look on this man with the disfigured body and the bloody countenance, the very essence of every human woe and shame! Hear from his mouth the cries, “I thirst,” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The pious brought charges against him. The authorities condemned him. His friends deserted him. But the deepest depth of his agony was his being forsaken by God, his suffering of God’s judgment. But this man Jesus Christ did not die for his own sins. “Surely he has borne our sickness and carried our sorrows” (Is. 53.4a). “He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our sins” (v. 5a) God “has made him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness which is valid before God” (2 Cor. 5.21).
            The one who was judged for the world will appear as Judge of the world. As the one who has borne the sins of the world, Christ is coming to the world. As the one who died for the world, he acts on behalf of those who cry to him in God’s sight. We must cling to the crucified one. Upon the crucified one we must place our hope. Only by faith in him will we find rescue on the Day of Judgment, will we be declared “not guilty,” despite our sins, for the crucified one is given to us by God for our righteousness.
            Christ is our hope as the risen one. God has raised the crucified one from the dead. Through this action God himself has confessed of Jesus, “This man alone died without sin, this one is my son.” God has torn him from the bands of death and set him into that life which is free of all the limitations of this world. He is the new human being. God made Jesus the victor over all his enemies, has lifted him up, and has given to him “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Mt. 28.18). Christ is the Lord of the world. But Christ has not kept this victory to himself. Just as he died for the world, so he also arose for the world. He was victorious over the powers of sin and transience in order that those who believe in him will likewise become victors. He thrust his way through to that life, as the first fruits, in order that many might participate in it as well. Hardly having escaped from death, the risen one turned to his own who had forsaken him or even had denied him, presented himself to them, and offered them his greeting, “Peace be with you!”
            On the crucified one who is risen, let us place our hope! He is our victorious brother, who will appear as Judge of the world. He is the first fruits of the new creation, who is preparing this world for its end. The conqueror of every need is coming. He will appear in order to awaken his own, just as he is awakened, in order to make them victors, just as he is a victor. He will gather together the new humanity whose head he is. Then there will be a new creation.
            Christ is thus the hope of the world, not as a guarantor for the continued existence of this world, but rather as Redeemer from all the bonds of this world. Christ is the hope of the world in that he calls out people from the world, in that he gathers together his people from the whole world, the people who are strangers in this world and whose citizenship is in heaven. Christ is the hope of the world only insofar as the world does not remain the world, but rather allows itself to be transformed through repentance and faith. Christ is the end of the world, with its joy and sorrow, and thus, precisely in this way, is he the hope for the world, for in the passing away of this world, he will bring forth the new creation.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Bonhoeffer and von Dohnanyi in Kerr's "A Man Without Breath"

As someone who has taught and written about Christians in Nazi Germany, I have grown to love the Bernie Gunther novels by Philip Kerr. I recommend them to my students as a way getting a good sense for what it was like to have lived, and moved, and had your being in that terrible, perplexing world. Kerr, who died last year, wrote marvelously well, and I am saddened that there won’t be any further Gunther stories. I especially like A Man Without Breath (Penguin, 2014), since it matches up nicely with my lectures on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi.

But Kerr’s depiction of von Dohnanyi in this novel is only partially accurate, since the real von Dohnanyi would never have said (esp. in Mar ’43), “But the fact remains that the German Army does not murder prisoners of war” (p. 47). During von Dohnanyi’s employment as a lawyer in the Ministry of Justice (already starting in ’33), he began to prepare a secret set of files on Nazi atrocities. These files were greatly expanded after Sep ’39. While most of those files concerned the criminal actions of Party leaders, some of the reports did in fact address the murders of prisoners of war by members of the German military and special police battalions. Von Dohnanyi had hard evidence that the German Army had in fact committed atrocities, e.g., he was in possession of films of murders and executions carried out in Poland after 1939. These so-called “Zossen Files,” which were discovered by the Gestapo on 22 Sep ’44 in the Abwehr bunker at Zossen, were the key pieces of evidence that the Nazi officials used to incriminate von Dohnanyi and several others in his circle of conspirators, including Bonhoeffer. Moreover, as a conservative Lutheran Christian, von Dohnanyi would never have made such an idealistic statement about human behavior. (A small point re: p. 50: When von Dohnanyi traveled to Smolensk [in late Feb ’43, not on Mar 10 ‘43], he took the night train from Berlin to Rastenburg, and then from there he took a plane the rest of the way. Kerr has von Dohnanyi fly all the way, which, despite the historical inaccuracy, does make for a more interesting, if also fully inventive tale.)

By Source, Fair use,
Hans von Dohnanyi
Contrary to what is stated on p. 273, von Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer were not imprisoned by the Gestapo at Prinz Albrechtstrasse on 5 Apr ‘43. While von Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer had been arrested by the Gestapo, they were under the jurisdiction of the German military. Thus, von Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer were imprisoned at the old Tegel Prison, which was one of the military’s interrogation prisons, and those interrogations were always conducted by military officials from the Reich War Court (with Gestapo officials merely observing). Bonhoeffer remained a prisoner at Tegel until the discovery of the Zossen Files ended his period of military confinement. Only after 8 Oct ’44 was he then imprisoned by the Gestapo at Prinz Albrechtstrasse (and afterwards sent to Buchenwald and then to Flossenbuerg, where he was executed).

Kerr states as fact that “Hans von Dohnanyi was sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1944; on Hitler’s orders he was executed on or after April 6, 1945, at the same time and place as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Sack” (“Author’s Note,” p. 464). This statement is mostly incorrect. While von Dohnanyi was a prisoner at Sachsenhausen, he was likely executed on April 9, 1945, the same day as Bonhoeffer. However, Bonhoeffer was never imprisoned at Sachsenhausen, nor was he executed there. Bonhoeffer was imprisoned at Tegel, at Prinz Albrechtstrasse, and then at Buchenwald. During the last week of his life, he was sent to the Flossenbuerg concentration camp, where he was executed on April 9, 1945.

These minor historical inaccuracies do not detract from the craftsmanship and dramatic force of Kerr’s excellent novels, but in the interest of accuracy, which I know Kerr sought always to maintain, I share these few corrections here.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

A Chapel Homily on Anfechtung and Faith

The winter 2019 issue of Valpo magazine arrived a few days ago. This is the quarterly magazine of my university's alumni association. The cover article is about the 2017 alumni tour that I led to Germany in observance of the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. The article also focuses on the participation of Valpo's chorale in the special services that took place in Wittenberg and its environs at the same time. The editor was kind enough to include even a few quotes from yours truly.

To read a truncated version of the article online and to see some of the photos, you can go to here.

(My colleague, Gretchen Buggeln, and I are now gearing up for the European tour that we are leading in July 2020. While this tour is also being sponsored by the university's alumni association, it is open to anyone who considers himself or herself "a friend of Valpo." For info on that tour, you can go here. Space will be limited to 30 participants.)

Seeing the article reminded me that during the candidacy process for becoming a rostered minister of word and sacrament in the ELCA, I was asked "to select and submit a sermon you preaching during this past year that highlights your role as a missional leader who participates in the formation of disciples." I chose to submit a homily I preached in the Chapel of the Resurrection just one week after returning from the Germany tour. The chapel theme for that semester was "Ever Reforming: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty." The chapel leaders asked me to preach a six-min homily on this theme. The assigned Scripture text was Gen. 32.22-32. Those chapel leaders also asked me to weave Martin Luther into the homily, in light of the 500th anniversary.

So here's what I preached that morning (Nov 7, 2017):

            The theme for chapel this semester has been “Ever Reforming: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty.” This theme arose from the fact that this past October marked the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation, an event linked with the posting of Martin Luther’s famous theses.
            We often think of Luther as a great man of faith, but he also was a great man of doubt. He was often uncertain about the world and about his own relation to God. Luther used a word to describe these periods of doubt and uncertainty: Anfechtung. Can you say this word with me? Anfechtung! This is your word for the day. It is a word that connects with the story of Jacob wrestling with that strange figure by the river Jabbok. Luther knew that story well. Indeed, he often felt like Jacob, wrestling with God. The word “Anfechtung” describes what others have called “the dark night of the soul.” It is a word that refers to the experience of serious doubt about God, when one is suffering deep spiritual tribulation, spiritual crisis. Anfechtung, as Luther described it, can even feel like one is being attacked by spiritual forces over which one has no control. In a time of Anfechtung, according to Luther, God and the Devil seem to be one and the same. When one is experiencing Anfechtung, one is out in the wilderness, literally be-wildered, wrestling with God and the Devil. Even after becoming a monk and still later as a professor of theology, Luther suffered Anfechtungen. These periods of doubt and anxiety often were occasioned by illness or the deaths of others. Luther often repeated the famous aphorism, “In the midst of life we are surrounded by death.” Undoubtedly, he was then thinking of the random nature of the plague, which would strike a town or village, when some would succumb and others would not. Luther knew he was a mortal sinner, and this too led to Anfechtungen. As he learned from experience, the only way to find relief from Anfechtungen is through faith in the promise of Christ. That promise takes us away from ourselves and relocates our lives in Christ, in his eternal love and in the context of his abiding presence. Luther learned that there is nothing so deep and troubling that God in Christ is not deeper still. In the midst of death, we are surrounded by Christ.
            As Luther learned firsthand, experience re-forms our faith. When my nephew was two, he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, cancer of the nerves. It is a childhood cancer that overtakes almost all who get it. Many thousands of us prayed for Andrew’s healing. For a while it appeared that he was going to escape the clutches of that cancer. But one day it began to grow again, and this time it was unstoppable. Four-year-old Andrew died in his mother's arms as he reached out his own small arms and mumbled, “Jesus, Jesus...”
            As some of you know, at the very same time that Andrew was dying, my own 4-yr-old son hit his head on a swivel chair, which resulted in a torn artery under his cranium. At the time, he and my wife were visiting her family in Chicago and I was back at our home in Portland, Ore. So I received the worst phone call of my life to date, when an ER doctor told me that my son was being flown to another hospital for emergency brain surgery. When I hung up the phone, I was no longer in Portland but out in the wilderness. I spent most of that night flying to the Midwest. Well, that’s not quite accurate. I spent most of that night in a mental fog, Anfechtung of the worst kind. And in the more lucid moments, I was praying and pleading. I was Jacob at the Jabbok, wrestling with God and the Devil, caught somewhere between faith and doubt.
            I should probably mention that my son’s name is Jacob. I can use the present tense “is” because Jacob’s surgery resulted in a miracle. So much blood had pooled on his little brain that he should have died or at least been severely disabled. The neurosurgeon, too, was a bit bewildered. When I arrived at the hospital the next morning, there Jacob was, sitting in the bed with what looked like a white turban on his head. “Nice that you could make it, Dad.” When he prayed the Lord’s Prayer later that day by himself, when he got to the Fourth Petition, he said, “Give us this day our daily breath.” I can no longer pray that petition without remembering that one-liner.
            My faith was certainly re-formed through that whole experience. Experience has taught me that there is a lot of bewilderment in faith and theology. Why did Andrew die and Jacob did not? Was God deaf to the prayers for Andrew but responsive to the prayers and pleadings for Jacob? I believe God hears our prayers and responds to them in God's own ways. God invites us to pray and promises to hear us. I also know that what I pray for is not necessarily what God wills to happen. As one of America's greatest theologians has correctly put the matter, “The Almighty has His own purposes.” Why the prayers for Andrew did not issue forth in a miracle like that which apparently happened to Jacob is beyond the ken of mere mortals. If there is a moral to the story of Job, it is this one. I am also much more aware today than I was fifteen years ago about the fragility and uncertainty of life. So much remains an inscrutable mystery. God has God’s reasons that human reason knows not.
            Thank God, Christ joins us in our bewilderment. His light is sufficient for all Anfechtungen. In his light we see light. In Luce tua videmus lucem. [This is Valpo’s motto.] When we can count on nothing else in this world, there is one who remains constant: our Lord with his abiding love and mercy.
            Patriarch Jacob wrestled with God until he forced a blessing from God. This encounter by the waters of the Jabbok would forever mark him. For the rest of his life he would be called “Israel,” he who wrestled with God--and prevailed.
            Is that not finally what faith is, at least in part, namely, wrestling with God until we force a blessing from God? What tempered my Anfechtung that lonely night I traveled to Chicago was the baptism of my son. That watery encounter with God forever marked my Jacob, far more deeply and permanently than the question-mark-shaped scar on his head today has done. I can no longer read the story of Patriarch Jacob’s watery encounter with God at the Jabbok without at the same time thinking of my own Jacob’s baptismal encounter with God—and our own subsequent wrestling with God and of God’s own wrestling with us—in which we prevail by trusting that ultimately God is for us and not against us. That’s faith in the midst of doubt and uncertainty.
            You, too, are marked with the cross of Christ forever. That baptismal marking is an act that repeatedly wrestles a blessing from God. It provides a certain grounding for those who suffer Anfechtung in this uncertain world. It is a blessing that even death and hell cannot destroy. For now, for you, that watery blessing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is enough. Amen.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Rostered and Called VII

And here's another excerpt from "the entrance essay" that I was asked to write as a part of the candidacy process of becoming an ELCA minister of word and sacrament:

3. Missional Leadership
Based on your responses to the previous two questions, especially your theological constructs above, how has your understanding of yourself as a missional leader been shaped by your personal faith in the Triune God and your key theological building blocks?
            I am who I am because of my baptism. Nothing I’ve experienced in my life has been more important to me, my identity, and my vocation than that sacramental event in September 1962. Every morning and night, I make the sign of the cross in remembrance of it. I make this same sign of the cross each Sunday in the divine service and in the weekly chapel services I attend at Valpo.
            In a very basic way, my calling to the pastoral and educational ministry was not my choice; it was something thrust upon me by someone I greatly loved and admired. My grandfather’s piety and vocation rubbed off on me and I felt called to become like him. While at times that summons was a burden, mostly it was not. I do not recall ever thinking about pursuing another vocation, at least not for very long or to any significant depth.
            Luther’s explanations to the three articles of the Apostles’ Creed inform my personal faith. I believe that God has created me and has given to me my senses and reasoning and other attributes that are useful in an academic setting for the sake of extending God’s own mission in and through Valparaiso University. I believe that Jesus Christ is my redeemer and savior—and the savior of the whole world. I believe that God so loves the world that God has sent Christ into the world to love it and bring it to its fulfillment. I believe that I cannot believe in Christ without the Spirit first calling me to faith and sustaining me in that faith through proclamation of the word and the administration of the sacraments. Baptized into the name of God and nourished by Christ’s holy meal, I am called out from the world and sent back into it in my various callings: disciple, husband, father, teacher, pastor, citizen.
            Luther’s explanations of the Creed also serve as starting points for the university-level theology courses that I teach. In these courses, I seek to help my students gain deeper understanding of God the creator, the person and work of Christ, and the actions of the Holying Spirit. In many ways, my teaching serves as an exposition of God’s mission to and for my students. I am particularly interested in helping people to understand God more truly and to use the gifts that God has given me to help others to grow in their own faith and to discover how God might be calling them to service in the world (“equipping the saints for their work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” [Eph. 4.12]). As a professor of Christian theology at Valpo, I seek to love the Lord with all my heart and mind and to love my students and colleagues as myself. I strive to teach my students in faithful obedience to Christ. In this way, I seek to fulfill the Scriptural exhortation that was spoken to me personally in the pastoral blessing at my confirmation: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
            One aspect of this teaching involves writing. I have recently written a book on fundamental theology, I am editing and translating several large volumes of writings by a principal modern Lutheran theologian, and I am beginning to develop a new book that will summarize key Christian teachings for undergraduates. As I indicated in my remarks above, I am always trying to show my students—those who are Christian as well as those who are other-religious and non-religious—what a “critical” faith in Jesus Christ might entail, an informed faith that does not shrink from the hard questions relating to Christ and the apostolic witness to him. For those who are other-religious (e.g. Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist) and non-religious (“the nones” and “the dones”), I seek to share reliable historical and theological information about Jesus, to explicate what it might mean to believe in Jesus, and to invite respectful dialogue. In this way, I seek to fulfill Christ’s admonition “to go and make disciples of all nations,” particularly through my teaching and personal witness.
            As I remarked in my Entrance Essay, the epigraph to the published edition of the Jefferson Lecture by the most famous scholar to have taught at Valparaiso University, Jaroslav Pelikan, is a quote from Goethe’s Faust: “Was du ererbt von deinen Vätern hast, Erwirb es, um es zu besitzen” (“What you have inherited from your fathers, acquire it in order to make it your own.”) Following Pelikan’s own example, I have tried to make this aphorism the motto of my work as a teacher and scholar of the church. Like him, I have undertaken this work primarily as an historian of ideas, although my final designs have never ceased to be theological. On the one hand, I have sought to understand and teach “the Christian tradition” as a person of faith, indeed as one who publicly identifies himself as a Lutheran Christian by conviction. Following the example of the author of the Augsburg Confession, I have striven to be irenic and ecumenical in my approach to Christianity and the other religions, to maintain in myself and to convey for others a basic respect and appreciation for the wider catholic “Great Tradition,” its texts, basic institutions, and influential characters. In view of the fact that most everybody is an expert on the present, I will continue to try “to file a minority report on behalf of the past.” On the other hand, I have also sought to convey the benefits of engaging the Christian tradition and other religious traditions critically through the same interpretive strategies that are brought to other human phenomena. In this respect, I do not hesitate to indicate where and why the Christian tradition, its texts, and institutions have been and are being criticized by scholars, including by me. I thus agree with Richard Hughes’ description of a Lutheran approach to “tradition” in which one must always be re-assessing and rethinking one's understandings. I believe this “critical” approach to “tradition” is essential in my work of teaching students to lead and serve in church and society. Once again, Luther’s theology of the cross, informed by more recent engagements with it, continues to shape and inform my calling as a professor of Christian theology.
            I became a teacher because I caught “the joy” of learning/teaching from my grandfather and from other significant pastor-scholars, some of which I have already mentioned. I want to be like they are (or were). Their passion for knowledge and truth is wed to their passion for God, which leads them to care for others and to entice these others to seek the same passions. I have learned that such passion is important for these pursuits, that one need not be afraid to share this passion, and that one ought not downplay the knowledge and experience one has received to date as a scholar/teacher of the church. I have also learned not to pretend that one is really ever “objective” and “neutral” in the Geisteswissenschaften (including theology), even if I also know that one should constantly strive to avoid bias and prejudice. Since students in my classes examine and reexamine the nature of religious experience, the meaning(s) of sacred texts, the (in)significance of ecclesial institutions and practices, and the future of a given faith, they analyze matters that come close to the “core” of one’s personal identity and worldview. Consequently, the space in which students address these matters must be one that is as non-threatening as possible, one that encourages civil discourse and respectful, humble postures. I have found that establishing such hospitable space is greatly improved by truly knowing my students, even liking them, and by trying to get them to know and like each other. Since I have always learned best when teachers cared for me as a learner, I have tried to follow their example. In these ways, I am humbly trying to fulfill Christ’s calling to me as one of his missional leaders at Valparaiso University.
            I hope my students recognize that I, too, am a student who is seeking understanding. I am grateful for the opportunities to learn from students and colleagues about how to become a better teacher/scholar for the sake of the church’s mission. While I try to stay current in my field of study (Christian systematic theology), I also find immense value in reflecting on pedagogy. This entails experimenting with different approaches to methodology and teaching strategy. (Most recently I have benefited from Stephen Brookfield’s Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, which impressed upon me the importance of “seeing oneself through the eyes of one’s students,” of keeping a pedagogical autobiography, of holding critical conversations with peers about what works and what does not.) I am constantly trying to learn new ways to teach and learn.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Rostered and Called VI

And here's another excerpt from "the entrance essay" that I was asked to write as a part of the candidacy process of becoming an ELCA minister of word and sacrament:

2. Core Theological Commitments
A. What key theological insights have been influential in your development as a missional leader in the Church as it participates in God’s mission in the world? Include distinctive biblical and Lutheran theological building blocks which you have used to construct a theology of mission that informs your current understanding.
            Anselm’s motto remains basic for my development as a missional leader in the church as it participates in God’s missio: fides quaerens intellectum.[1] As one who has been baptized into the name of the triune God, I seek to love and understand God and everything else in relation to God. Because I am baptized, I think and teach theologically. The ultimate aim of my thinking and teaching is to articulate the good message about God’s love and mercy in Jesus Christ for a world that desperately needs that kind of loving.
              From my grandfather, who served as a Lutheran chaplain in a state mental hospital, I learned a lot about Christian confidence in God in the face of human suffering and about compassionate ministry that is carried out in the name of Christ. When my grandfather would take me with him on his pastoral calls, I learned first-hand the importance of agape love and unconditional acceptance of “the other” in pastoral care. While he probably never read Meister Eckhart, he nonetheless exemplified for me the wisdom of being prepared at all times for the gifts of God and always for new ones.[2]
            I do consider the apostolic gospel to be the heart of catholic doctrine since it announces the unconditional forgiveness of God in Christ for all sinners. That gospel reveals the righteousness of Christ which is external to human beings and is given by God as a gift (sola gratia) to the one who trusts in Christ (sola fide). Thereby a “happy exchange” occurs: the sinner receives whatever Christ has, as though it were his or her own, and whatever the sinner has (sin, death, hell) “Christ claims as his own.”[3] Freed from the need to justify themselves before God, Christians are called to serve others in love. “Good works” are thus the fruit of faith but not its condition. “Together in Jesus Christ we are freed by grace to live faithfully, witness boldly and serve joyfully” (ELCA Mission Statement).
            Apart from Luther and Augustine, the one other theologian with whom I have had the longest running conversation is probably Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose Ethik and prison reflections continue to challenge and inspire me. From him I have learned that Christian theology is called to see the world “from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled—in short, from the perspective of those who suffer.”[4] While we are not Christ, “if we want to be Christians, we must have some participation in Christ’s large-heartedness by acting with responsibility and in freedom when the hour of danger comes, and by showing real compassion that springs, not from fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer….”[5] Every human being is a child of God.
            From Bonhoeffer I also gained entry into a wider discussion about Luther’s theology of the cross, which is foundational for all of my teaching. I agree with Luther: “the cross of Jesus Christ alone is our theology.”[6] Luther, of course, made his case by appealing to Paul’s teaching in First Corinthians 1.18ff. “Theologians of the cross see things differently.”[7] A theology of the cross is a theology of humility. It stresses how all human knowledge, including the theologian’s own, is limited, fragmented, easily distorted by the power of sin and evil, but also forgiven and renewed by the crucified and risen Christ. It is a theology that fits with Lonergan’s counsel, which I quoted above, which also coincides with the truth of Luther’s pithy comment: Sola experientia facit theologum (“experience alone makes the theologian”).[8]
            I come to the Scriptures on the basis of these commitments and presuppositions. While the Scriptures are indeed a set of historical documents, which can be studied like any other ancient texts, lying within them is the living Word of God, which can be found nowhere else. I seek to understand these Scriptures, to highlight the evangelical sense of their words, and to find within them the witness to the living Christ.
            Over the past thirty years of ordained ministry, I have also gained greater clarity about a crucial prerequisite for serious ecumenical dialogue, namely, the willingness from the very start to be open to God’s activity in the other churches, indeed, even the other religions in the world. I have learned to see the center of God’s mission in the risen Christ, around whom all of the churches revolve. I have received this insight especially from Edmund Schlink, who stressed that “the life of our church, its doctrines and its institutions only partially correspond to the fullness of the kingdom of God in Christ.”[9] In this regard, I have also gained a deeper understanding of the breadth and complexity of God’s mission from friends who are mission partners from other parts of the world. Aside from key members of Valpo’s theology department who are from the global south, I will mention just two others. I recently hosted Bishop Emeritus Munib Younan, president emeritus of the Lutheran World Federation and the retired bishop of the Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land, who spoke to my students about the challenges that Palestinian Lutherans face in his native Jerusalem and the West Bank. Later this month, I will be hosting Dr. Mitri Raheb, who serves as pastor of the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem.[10] Strengthening and supporting these ecumenical partnerships are crucial for the ongoing mission of the church, both locally and globally. At the very least, we avoid focusing entirely on the needs in our parochial setting and are able to see more clearly needs that are elsewhere, along with the expanse of God’s mission in the world.

B. Describe how these key theological insights informed the missional leadership experience you described above in #1.
            In my vocation as a Christian theologian at Valpo, I have struggled to couple academic freedom with a Lutheran understanding of the freedom of a Christian, a freedom which is anchored in the Christian gospel and oriented toward specific notions of “vocation” and “paradox.” I share the view of Anthony Diekema who believes that this relationship between academic freedom and evangelical freedom leads to “an environment that demands both responsible freedom and responsible tolerance,” exemplifying the essence of “the truly Christian academic enterprise.”[11]
            I have also learned that these freedoms are not easily maintained, even in a Lutheran university (cf. my experience of teaching theology at Concordia, Portland). I am sensitive about the need to create and defend what the philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer has called “free space” in a university.[12] Such “free space” is necessary, not only for the integrity of a university but also for the sake of those communities that a university serves, which in my case includes the larger Ecumene.
            Academic theologians can help the church to think, to assist the church in its mission to educated people, and to deepen the understanding of the faith among the faithful. A major task of theology, then, is to find that point within the substantive content of Scripture at which it “confronts contemporary human beings most immediately with the reality of its subject matter,” and to ward off misunderstandings.[13] I have learned a lot about this specific task from my teacher, David Tracy, who rightly notes that Christian theology has three audiences or publics that it engages: the church, the academy, and society.[14] Theology engages these publics, it seems to me, on the basis of the global vision of 2 Corinthians 5.17-19, which continues to be for me the most liberating passage in the biblical canon. (I would add a fourth public to Tracy’s three, namely, the planet as a whole, its ecosystems, its climate. Theology is also “for the birds.”)
            Grounded in the message about the cross, Christian theology involves scholarly, faithful, free inquiry that is dialogical, paradoxical, provisional, charitable. It explores the integral connection among the intellectual, the moral, and the spiritual dimensions of human life and experience for the sake of serving and edifying others. As a theologian of the cross, I acknowledge that theology does not have all the answers for all the disciplines and that each scholarly discipline has its own integrity. In this context, I have learned, theology gives as much as it receives. It listens more than it speaks. It celebrates the liberating arts, defends academic excellence and free inquiry, and pays close attention to the results of the disciplines, especially as those results shed light on the human condition. As you can imagine, such theologizing is also a messy, even risky business. No issues are totally and completely settled. If we are convinced that they are settled, then something is not right with our mission, since we would not be encountering and engaging people who think we are wrong (e.g., “the nones,” “the dones,” philosophical atheists, adherents of non-Christian religions, et al.).

C. What are the distinctive contributions of the Lutheran theological tradition for both (1) the Church’s discernment of and participation in God’s mission in the world and (2) the formation of disciples for mission in a pluralistic society?
            I have already suggested several distinctive contributions that the Lutheran theological tradition offers to the larger Ecumene (e.g., the emphasis on God’s unconditional grace and love in Jesus Christ; the theology of the cross; a strong baptismal theology of vocation; the variety of spiritual charismata that are given to the church for the sake of ministry to the world; a deep concern for the right understanding of Holy Scripture), so I will only mention two additional ones. (1) Lutheran Christians confess that agreement in the gospel and the administration of the sacraments in accord with the gospel is the sufficient basis for the church’s unity (AC VII). As far as I can tell, no other church tradition articulates the promise of this minimalist ecumenical principle as clearly as the one that stems from the Augsburg Confession, even if those within this tradition have not always implemented this principle very well. (2) Lutheran Christians also make several important distinctions in service to the gospel and the execution of Christian love in the world that other church traditions often minimize or even neglect (e.g., between law and gospel, between social justice and the justification of sinners, between human rights and Christian freedom). While making these distinctions can itself lead to real problems (e.g., separating that which ought to remain closely related, if also distinguished, can lead to false teaching about the gospel or to social quietism or to the support of injustices in the world), Lutheran Christians insist that such distinctions are crucial for the sake of creating faith in the gospel promise alone.

[1] See Anselm of Canterbury, Proslogium, esp. II-IV, in St. Anselm: Basic Writings, ed. and trans. by Sidney D. Deane (Chicago: Open Court, 1962).
[2] See Meister Eckhart, “Counsels on Discernment,” in Meister Eckhart, The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense, trans. Edmund Colledge and Bernard McGinn, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1981), 276.
[3] LW 31.351 [“The Freedom of the Christian,” 1520].
[4] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “After Ten Years: A Reckoning Made at New Year 1943,” in Letters and Papers from Prison (New York: Macmillan, 1971), 17.
[5] Bonhoeffer, “After Ten Years,” 14.
[6]CRUX sola est nostra Theologia” (WA 5.176.32 [1519 Lectures on the Psalms]).
[7] Gerhard Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 77.
[8] WA TR 1,16,13 [Table Talk].
[9] Edmund Schlink, “Pneumatische Ershütterung?,” an address delivered to the Ecumenical Institute of the WCC in Bossey, Switzerland in April 1962. For more on this address, see footnote 66 on page 35 of my introduction to the first volume of Edmund Schlink Works.
[10] I was greatly honored to have been invited by Dr. Raheb to write the introduction for the new edition of The Augsburg Confession and Luther's Small Catechism in Arabic (Bethlehem, Palestinian Territory: Diyar Consortium, 2017), 1-21. This new edition is a revision of Dr. Younan’s earlier Arabic translation of the AC and SC. The new edition was presented to Dr. Younan on the occasion of his retirement in 2017, which coincided with the observance of the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. When he and I had dinner during holy week last month, I was able to thank him for his work on the important LWF document, From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017 (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt; Paderborn: Bonifatius, 2013), which I used when I led 108 pilgrims to Germany for the observance of the 500th anniversary. I also learned a great deal about the “back story” to this document, including Bishop Younan’s important conversations with Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
[11] Anthony Diekema, Academic Freedom and Christian Scholarship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 75.
[12] See Hans-Georg Gadamer, “The Idea of the University—Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow,” in Hans-Georg Gadamer on Education, Poetry, and History: Applied Hermeneutics, ed. Dieter Misgeld and Graeme Nicholson, trans. Lawrence Schmidt and Monica Reuss (Albany: State University Press of New York Press, 1992), 47-59. I wrote my master’s thesis at Chicago on the relationship between “myth” and critical rationality in the thinking of Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur. In my doctoral dissertation, I note the influence of the biblical hermeneutics of an important nineteenth-century Lutheran theologian on the philosophical hermeneutics on Gadamer. See my book, The Self-Giving God and Salvation History: The Trinitarian Theology of Johannes von Hofmann (New York: T&T Clark, 2004). I try to summarize Hofmann’s distinctive approach to biblical hermeneutics in a shorter piece, “Johannes von Hofmann (1810-77),” in Nineteenth-Century Lutheran Theologians, ed. Matthew L. Becker (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2016), 189-211.
[13] Werner Elert, Der Christliche Glaube: Grundlinien der Lutherischen Dogmatik, 6th ed. (Erlangen: Martin-Luther-Verlag, 1988), 30. I explore Elert’s formulation of the task of theology in my essay, “Werner Elert (1885-1954),” in Twentieth-Century Lutheran Theologians, ed. Mark Mattes (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013), 93-135.
[14] See David Tracy, The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism (New York: Crossroad, 1981), 3-46.