Saturday, December 24, 2011

Pericope of the Week: A Christmas Carol

One of the reference works that I frequently consult is The Oxford Companion to the Year: An Exploration of Calendar Customs and Time-Reckoning, ed. Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). It is a treasure-house of information about marking time and keeping seasons. Daily reading from this large book--along with a reading or two from that other, larger, more important book--is yet another way one can "number one's days" so as "to gain a heart of wisdom" (Ps. 90).

The entry for December 25 reminds the reader that this date was observed in ancient Rome as marking the winter solstice and thus was regarded as the day to remember "the birthday of the Sun." Many Romans worshipped the sun as the true godhead, "of which other gods were mere facets, and the authentic guarantor of the Empire." In the third century the emperor Aurelian officially ruled that the date was forever after to be celebrated as "the Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun."

Caravaggio's Nativity with Saints Francis and Lawrence
In the first centuries of what would become the western catholic church, Christians did not celebrate Christmas as a festival on its own. Rather, they acknowledged the birth of Jesus in connection with his baptism, which was celebrated on January 6. Thus, this celebration, "the Epiphany of the Lord," is actually about three centuries older than the first celebration of Christmas. Only after Christian worship was legalized by Constantine the Great in the year 313 did Christians begin to celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25. What had been a date that focused on the birthday of "the unconquerable Sun" now was focused on the birthday of "the unconquerable Son." Christians who had previously despised the divine birthdays in the pagan Roman world now transformed the solar feast into the Feast of Christ's Nativity, the birth of "the Sun of Righteousness" (Mal. 4:2). Gradually the new Christian feast spread throughout the Western church, but not so in the east. (Arminian Christians still do not celebrate Christmas.) After the Reformation, many Protestant groups also refrained from observing the festival, ostensibly because it lacked Scriptural support. (Lutherans are not among these. We say, "Why not celebrate the birth of Jesus?")

After a quotation from Dickens' A Christmas Carol ("'…If I could work my will,' said Scrooge indignantly, 'every idiot who goes about with "Merry Christmas" on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!'"), The Oxford Companion presents many poems and tidbits about the modern, secular "holiday" that has replaced the Christian feast, which was itself a transformation of a pagan celebration. There are recipes and customs and nostalgic observations about this and that "yule-tide" tradition. Still, creeping into the secular litany is the occasional hint of the earlier Christian moorings of the date. Near the end of the entry is this marvelous English Christmas carol from the fifteenth century. It will serve as the pericope for this first week of Christmas. (Hint: read it aloud, slowly.)

Ther is no rose of swych vertu
As is the rose that bare Jesu; Alleluya.

For in this rose conteynyed was
Heuen and erthe in lytyl space, Res miranda [a wondrous thing]

Be that rose we may weel see
that he is God in personys thre, Pari forma [with the same form]

The aungelys sungyn the sheperdes to:
Gloria in excelcis Deo. Gaudeamus [Glory to God in the highest. Let us rejoice]

Leue we al this worldly merthe,
And folwe we this joyful berthe; Transeamus [Let us cross over]

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pericope of the Week: Geoffrey Hill

Looking a bit like Walt Whitman, Geoffrey Hill is one of our best poets. He is both beautifully descriptive and biblically prophetic.

While one can find a recent online picture of him standing cordially beside the current Archbishop of Canterbury, he acknowledges the "distance" that has grown between himself and the Church of England. Nevertheless he still confesses that he "adheres to certain old fashioned religious concepts such as the doctrine of original sin" and therefore has "been much influenced spiritually – not necessarily for the good-- by St Paul, St Augustine, Luther and Karl Barth as well as the Hebrew prophets and the teachers of wisdom" (from a May 26, 2011 interview with The Oxford Student).
Geoffrey Hill

This week's pericope is a collection of excerpts from a brief online interview that Hill recently gave the Economist magazine. Earlier this month he appeared at that magazine's inaugural Books of the Year festival.

Click on this link and you'll be taken to that interview:

The above photo comes from The Oxford Student. For Hill's interview there, go to:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Giving Thanks

While Christians need not wait until now to express their gratitude and praise to God, November has traditionally been an intentional time for Americans of all backgrounds to "give thanks." Of course in our day, as well as in earlier eras, not everyone gives thanks to God for the blessings of one's life. While "God" and "Jesus" may be on the lips of many, too often those lips are not praising.

In the seventeenth century, ragged bands of God-fearing pilgrims and settlers in the New Land frequently set aside a day of "thanksgiving" to God. Before they ate, they prayed. Often overcoming great difficulties and challenges to eek out a living, they had much for which to be thankful. After an arduous year of tending to fields and flocks, they gave thanks to God for whatever harvest they had, bountiful or not. One can imagine them enjoining one another to praise the Lord, along the lines of the old hymn:

Sing to the Lord of harvest, sing songs of love and praise;
With joyful hearts and voices your alleluias raise.
By Him the rolling seasons in fruitful order move;
Sing to the Lord of harvest a joyous song of love.

In the nineteenth century, in the midst of the American Civil War, President Lincoln declared a National Day of Thanksgiving. For the first time, all the states would be encouraged to observe "Thanksgiving" on the same date. That the President did this was largely the result of petitioning by Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (creator of the nursery rhyme, "Mary Had a Little Lamb"), who argued that a sense of national unity could be re-established and fostered among the warring states if they all observed Thanksgiving on the same day. One can imagine Americans in 1863 pausing to give thanks to God along the lines of the old hymn:

Before You, Lord, we bow, Our God who reigns above
And rules the world below, Boundless in pow'r and love.
Our thanks we bring In joy and praise,
Our hearts we raise To You our King.

At the end of the last century, my teacher and friend, Martin Marty, published a little book about "hope." Included in that book of reflections and photos (the latter by his son, Micah) is an entry on "Praise." Marty writes, "Praise usually erupts spontaneously when someone wants to thank God for what has been or to express passion about the now and the here. But how do we praise in the spirit of hope, which means to praise about a future that has not yet occurred? …The long record of praise by people who hope becomes understandable when we recall that what is thereby celebrated is nothing but the character of the God of 'God's people,' who is steadfast in dealing with us also in the times of disappointment. Hence, we praise" (Martin Marty, Our Hope for Years to Come [Augsburg, 1995], 63). Marty's meditation and his invitation to thank and praise God are grounded in the lines of the old hymn:

Praise the Lord! Oh, let all that is in me adore him!
All that has life and breath, come now with praises before him!
Let the amen sound from God's people again.
Gladly with praise we adore him!

On this Thanksgiving Day 2011 my family and I will gather with the faithful from Immanuel, Michigan City, to give thanks and praise to God, not only for the material blessings we have received from his hand, but also, especially, for the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation that have been given through Jesus. We, too, will pause, like our Christian forebears of old, to thank and praise God for these gifts. On our lips will be the lines of the old hymn:

Now thank we all our God With hearts and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, In whom His world rejoices;
Who from our mother's arms has blest us on our way
With countless gifts of love and still is ours today.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Through Their Eyes by F. Dean Lueking

One of the joys of teaching theology at Valparaiso University is getting to know people from around the world, both Christians and non-Christians. Over the years I have been blessed to have taught many students from every continent except one. (I'm still waiting for someone from Antarctica.) This semester I'm once again teaching the basic Christian theology course that nearly all VU students have to take to graduate. Among the participants are students from Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Kuwait, and Guinea. While some of these international students come from non-Christian backgrounds, a few are Christian. Each provides an informative, non-western perspective on the theological topics we discuss. Of late these international students have helped us to distinguish between "America" and "Christianity" even as they have helped to enrich our understandings of "global Christianity" and the current conflicts between Christians and non-Christians in other parts of the world. The conversation continues.

I am also grateful for how these non-western students have encouraged the American, mostly Christian students to take the subject matter of the course more seriously than might otherwise have been the case. Some weeks ago one of my American students told me that she felt compelled to learn more about the history of Christianity, her religious background, because she had met a Muslim student here who knew the history of her tradition better than she did. She told me that she felt embarrassed by her ignorance and thus wanted to overcome it. She has come to see that "the Christian tradition," the actual title of the course, is far more complicated and complex than she initially thought. Not only is "the tradition" much older and deeper than she had heretofore been led to believe (hence, we might be better to speak realistically of "traditions"), but it is also more ethnically and culturally diverse than her exposure to it, via the Sunday-morning services at her local congregation, has indicated.

Pr. and Mrs. Lueking
To help students to see the complex texture of the global Christian church more fully and to help these students connect with Christian people who are separated from them by both space and time, I am having them read Dr. Dean Lueking's new book, Through Their Eyes: A People's View of the Global Church, Foreword by Martin Marty (Chicago: Tyra Books, 2011; $25.00).

In the interest of full disclosure: Dean is a friend who has been a great support to me personally, both when I was a graduate student at his alma mater, the University of Chicago, and when I have come under ecclesiastical pressure for my theological investigations and publications. He has been a role model for me in so many ways...)

I can easily envision this 472-page book as the centerpiece of a multi-week adult forum, especially within a Lutheran congregation. One would be hard-pressed to find more engaging, flesh-and-blood stories about contemporary Lutheran Christians throughout the world than those conveyed here. As Marty notes in his Foreword, "Most of Lueking's featured people are…pastors, teachers, ministers, catechists, nurses, and the like. I'd like to meet more of them personally and cannot forget most of them, even if I've greeted them on only a half-dozen pages here" (xiv). While most of these are Lutheran, which is what one would expect, given that the Luekings are Lutheran, there are also a few non-Lutheran Christians who crop up as well. Perhaps the model of this book will inspire others to write similar accounts for folks in the rest of the 35,000+ Christian church groups in the world today.

The book is divided into nine geographical parts that take the reader from Palestine (Bethlehem) through Africa (eastern only), eastern and western Europe, central and south America, northern Asia and India, Southeast Asia, and finally to New Guinea and Australia. Along the way, the reader encounters stories of hope, courage, struggle against hardship (especially against economic poverty and the poverty of spirit), new and renewed conversions to Christian faith, joy in the midst of suffering and persecution, stories of Christ-living-in-community (to paraphrase Bonhoeffer). The book seeks to provide a global picture of the church "through the lens of the individuals who gather regularly in congregations, who know the ups and downs of Christian discipleship in their daily lives in the world" (xix). Yes, Dean and his wife, Beverly, appear as important characters in these stories, too. After all, they were blessed to receive them first-hand as a result of their missionary experiences. But their presence is not intrusive: their words and actions give way to those of the central characters. Photos of the latter help to connect faces with the stories.

One other thing is clear from reading this book: Dean and Beverly Lueking are missionaries. The heart of their mission is sharing the gospel of Christ's love and mercy with all who will receive it, and doing so in gentle, humble, creative and patient ways. While Dean thought that he might be called after seminary (he graduated in the same class as my uncle Bob, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, 1954) to serve as a Lutheran missionary in Japan, he was instead called to serve as an associate pastor at Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, a position that then allowed him to complete a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. (His research focused in part on the Christian mission in the global church.) Dean would remain at Grace as pastor until his retirement several years ago. During this long pastorate he and his wife were also able to engage in further missionary work abroad. Grace granted them two sabbaticals: one in '83 to study churches in Africa and Asia and the other in '91 to study churches in the Southwest Pacific. Throughout their ministries, Dean and Beverly have been bridge-builders and care-givers. Near the end of his pastoral ministry Dean was encouraged by foreword writer Marty to write this book in which he would recount visits and revisits with Christians from around the world that he had met or had come into contact with during his various travels.

(A story in last Sunday's Chicago Tribune is a further example of how the Luekings are "bridge-builders." They recently reconnected with a long lost foster son after reading about how he had reconnected with a family member of his own that had been thought to have been murdered by John Wayne Gacy. See the online article, "One Reunion in Gacy Saga Fosters Another,",0,7458310.story)

The stories that the Luekings relate in Through Their Eyes are too numerous to recount here. Let me identify three that have stayed with me since first reading the book a few months ago:

After a description of the military occupation of Bethlehem and what that has concretely meant for many hundreds of Palestinians, including Palestinian Lutherans, Lueking asks, "How does one continue to live under such conditions of injustice and humiliation?" The responses to this question by two Palestinian Lutheran clergymen, Rev. Mitri Raheb and Bishop Munib Younan, stick in the mind. Hope for the future for them is anchored in Jesus Christ, "who has made his home with us, especially among the outcast and suffering." According to Lueking, Younan's "prophetic ministry, sealed by the Holy Spirit's calling" is to be "a servant shepherd in a church largely composed of people who need a future governed by hope rather than the pain of what they have lost" (17).

When Pr. Lueking wrote his book, Itaffa Gobena was the president of the Ethiopia Evangelical Church Mekane Yesu (EECMY). In Lueking's book he recounts the struggles of Christians during the Marxist regime in that country in the 1970s and 80s. He himself was arrested, beaten, threatened with execution, "but was spared death by the sudden action by the jail warden who, without explaining why, arranged his release--an experience that to this day Gobena attributes to the intervention of angels" (46). After studying theology at Wartburg Seminary in Iowa, he returned to Ethiopia. His burdens? "Insufficient inward growth in soundness of faith as the church rapidly expands outwardly, conflicts in the church which come from imitating the spurious teachings of sects and self-made prophets, and the difficulty of engaging the Orthodox Church in meaningful dialog." And his joys? "The joy of living as God's child and servant, free in Christ's grace to believe the good news and share it openly… We of my generation have experienced so much blessing that others before us could only foresee by faith--doors opened and believers formed by Christ's Spirit in astonishing ways and numbers. Fifty years ago our parents were tortured, chained, humiliated, and in some cases murdered for the sake of the Gospel. Now we see the fruits of their faith and that is our greatest joy" (ibid.).

Irene Ponce, Adita Torres, Ofelia Davila, and Alicia Cuyotti are among the first women ordained as pastors in the Lutheran Church of Peru. They have served congregations among the poorest of the poor, for example in the slums of Lima and Cusco, in lands that have been affected by Roman Catholicism, Pentecostalism, and indigenous religions. In this trying context these pastors have reached out to troubled youth, have struggled to assist abused women, drug addicts, and the unemployed, and have tried to meet peoples' acute needs of body and soul. The dedication of these female pastors to the poor, as revealed in Lueking's vignette, makes a lasting impression.

I know of no other book quite like this one. We get an "on-the-ground" portrait of central characters in the Lutheran church's mission in and to these various locales. The stories are ultimately encouraging, since the cross and resurrection of Christ are at the center of what is confessed and told. In the midst of death and suffering, there is also life and salvation. The Luekings demonstrate that a little Christian compassion and ingenuity go a long way, that faith, hope, and love really do make a difference, perhaps especially under the most difficult of circumstances. Seeing the church through the eyes of Christians in other parts of the world does amazing things for one's own vision.

So my students are reading the book. As an added bonus, the author has graciously agreed to visit my class next week to discuss his book with them. So they are also busying formulating some questions for the conversation.

[Purchase info: In order to keep the book price at $25, Dean is doing much of the marketing of Through Their Eyes himself. The quickest way to get a copy is to send him a check for $30 ($5 extra covers postage and handling) to Dean Lueking, 829 Lathrop Ave, River Forest, IL 60305 with your name and address. You will have your own copy pronto. In addition, Dean is making a special offer for book discussion groups: Order a box of 12 copies at $15.00 each (40% discount) and receive free shipping as well. Several pastoral friends have found such groups beneficial for broadening a global church awareness. For this offer, please send a check for $180 (12 x $15.00) to the above address.]

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pericope for the Week: Garrison Keillor

The following has been around for awhile, especially among us Lutherans, but it hasn't yet been posted here, so I'm going to pass it along as this week's pericope. Keillor is certainly a saint, at least in the Pauline-Lutheran sense of that word, and so it is also fitting that this excerpt from his writings serves as our "All Saints Day" posting for this year...

Garrison Keillor

By Garrison Keillor 

I have made fun of Lutherans for years - who wouldn't, if you lived in Minnesota ? But I have also sung with Lutherans, and that is one of the main joys of life, along with hot baths and fresh sweet corn.
We make fun of Lutherans for their blandness, their excessive calm, their fear of giving offense, their lack of speed and also for their secret fondness for macaroni and cheese. But nobody sings like they do.

If you ask an audience in New York City , a relatively Lutheranless place, to sing along on the chorus of 'Michael Row the Boat Ashore', they will look daggers at you as if you had asked them to strip to their underwear.. But if you do this among Lutherans they'll s mile and row that boat ashore and up on the beach! And down the road!

Lutherans are bred from childhood to sing in four-part harmony. It's a talent that comes from sitting on the lap of someone singing alto or tenor or bass and hearing the harmonic intervals by putting your little head against that person's rib cage. It's natural for Lutherans to sing in harmony. We're too modest to be soloists, too worldly to sing in unison When you're singing in the key of C and you slide into the A7th and D7th chords, all two hundred of you, it's an emotionally fulfilling moment.
I once sang the bass line of Children of the Heavenly Father in a room with about three thousand Lutherans in it; and when we finished, we all had tears in our eyes, partly from the promise that God will not forsake us, partly from the proximity of all those lovely voices. By our joining in harmony, we somehow promise that we will not forsake each other.

I do believe this: These Lutherans are the sort of people you could call up when you're in deep distress. If you're dying, they'll comfort you. If you're lonely, they'll talk to you. And if you're hungry, they'll give you tuna salad!

The following list was compiled by a 20th-century Lutheran who, observing other Lutherans, wrote down exactly what he saw or heard:

1. Lutherans believe in prayer, but would practically die if asked to pray out loud.
2. Lutherans like to sing, except when confronted with a new hymn or a hymn with more than four stanzas.
3. Lutherans believe their pastors will visit them in the hospital, even if they don't notify them that they are there.
4. Lutherans usually follow the official liturgy and will feel it is their way of suffering for their sins.
5. Lutherans believe in miracles and even expect miracles, especially during their stewardship visitation programs or when passing the plate.
6. Lutherans feel that applauding for their children's choirs would make the kids too proud and conceited.
7 Lutherans think that the Bible forbids them from crossing the aisle while passing the peace.
8. Lutherans drink coffee as if it were the Third Sacrament.
9. Some Lutherans still believe that an ELCA bride and an LC-MS groom make for a mixed marriage. (For those of you who are not Lutheran, ELCA is Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and LC-MS is Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, different divisions of the same Protestant religion. And when and where I grew up in Minnesota, intermarriage between the two was about as popular as Lutherans and Catholics marrying.)
10. Lutherans feel guilty for not staying to clean up after their own wedding reception in the Fellowship Hall.
11. Lutherans are willing to pay up to one dollar for a meal at church.
12. Lutherans think that Garrison Keillor stories are totally factual.
13. Lutherans still serve Jell-O in the proper liturgical color of the season and think that peas in a tuna noodle casserole add a little too much color.
14. Lutherans believe that it is OK to poke fun at themselves and never take themselves too seriously.

And finally, you know you're a Lutheran when: 
*It's 100 degrees, with 90% humidity, and you still have coffee after the service;
*You hear something really funny during the sermon and smile as loudly as you can;
*Donuts are a line item in the church budget, just like coffee;
*The communion cabinet is open to all, but the coffee cabinet is locked up tight;
*When you watch a 'Star Wars' movie and they say, 'May the Force be with you', you respond, 'and also with you';
*And, lastly, it takes 15 minutes to say, 'Good-bye'.

May you wake each day with His blessings, Sleep each night in His keeping, And always walk in His tender care.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Fourth International Crossings Conference

For the past year, I have been preaching nearly every weekend at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Michigan City. That preaching has taken place alongside of the "proclaiming," the "professing," that I do in my classrooms at Valparaiso University, my "day job." Visitors to this blog know that the pastor at Immanuel died suddenly a year ago. I got the call the same day he died: "Would you please preach the gospel to us tomorrow? Our pastor died today." So, by God's grace, that's what I've been doing and will continue to do until the congregation is able to select and call a full-time pastor, hopefully in the coming year.

One of the ways I prepare for that preaching is to visit the website of The Crossings Community. Not only does that site provide a theological offering on every Thursday (or shortly thereafter), it also gives a weekly analysis of the Scripture readings for the upcoming Sunday. Inevitably, there will be something in that Crossings text study that finds its way into my sermon.

The folks connected with Crossings are friends and comrades in Christ. Case in point: Crossings co-founder, Ed Schroeder, and his wife, Marie, stopped by my office last weekend. They came because it was Valpo's homecoming and Ed, a de jure graduate of '51, wanted to catch up with classmates. He stopped by my office to say "hello" and to drop off some more Elertiana (materials from and about the Lutheran theologian, Werner Elert, who has been an influence on each of us). I use the phrase, "some more," because I've already been the recipient of Ed's generosity re: Elert materials. A whole shelf's worth of books in my office was once in Ed's. (Deo v., I hope to visit the archives in Erlangen next fall to push forward a small book project I've been developing, namely, a translation of several sermons that Elert gave in the 20's, 30s, and 40s. Ed has been midwife to that project.)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
And then last week I received the quarterly Crossings newsletter and was pleased to read a description of the upcoming Crossings conference in St. Louis that will take place in January. The planners of the conference have been kind to invite me to join one of my old grad-school compatriots, Dr. Richard Bliese, who is now the president of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, to speak about Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45). Our friend, Dr. Steve Kuhl, who is the president of Crossings, will serve as the moderator of that conversation on "The Thought and Challenge of Bonhoeffer."

Cathy Lessmann, who serves on the Crossings board, is once again doing a stellar job of planning the pre-conference and conference. She's asked some of us to pass along information about the conference, so I'd like to do that here:

The Fourth International Crossings Conference will take place January 22-25, 2012, at Our Lady of the Snows Retreat Center in Belleville, Illinois (just across the river from St. Louis).

The theme of the conference is "The Gospel-Given Life: Discipleship Revisited."

The pre-conference begins on that Sunday evening at 7pm with an introductory presentation, "How Distinguishing God's Law and God's Gospel Brings Jesus' Full Benefits to Bear on Real Lives in the Real World," by Pr. Jerome Burce, who also served as a long-time missionary in Papua New Guinea.

The pre-conference continues on Monday with two tracks that will run simultaneously. Track A ("You Can Handle the Truth") will provide an in-depth analysis of the famous "six-step method" of the Crossings Community. This method is used each week in the online Crossings "text study" to unpack the law and gospel in the appointed Scripture reading(s) for the upcoming Sunday. Pr. Marcus Felde and Cathy Lessmann will be leading this seminar.

Track B is itself a two-part track. On that Monday morning Pr. Burce will "cross" the Gospel of Mark in a presentation entitled, "Patient Impatience and Other Astonishments: A Reading of St. Mark, Crossings-Style." That afternoon, Dr. Bliese, Dr. Kuhl, and yours truly will hold forth on Bonhoeffer and his views of discipleship. We are asking participants to read a few items ahead of time:

(1) Bob Bertram's essay, "Bonhoeffer's Battles for Christendom: His 'Responsible Interpretation' of Barmen," in A Time for Confessing, ed. Michael Hoy (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 65-95. (Bob was the other co-founder of Crossings, my teacher for a couple of courses in Chicago, and a frequent correspondent with me after I started teaching at Concordia, Portland in the early 1990s.)

(2) Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010).

Since the latter work has many flaws, both historical and theological (for confirmation of this judgment, see the critical review at, I recommend that people also examine the following:

Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance (New York: T & T Clark, 2010).

The conference itself will be addressing the question, What does it mean "to follow Jesus" today? Contrary to those who answer this question by asserting some form of "imitating Jesus," conference presenters will hold out a more promising alternative: following Jesus means first and foremost "trusting him and his promises." Jesus can be trusted to do for us what is necessary, as we follow him to the cross. At the heart of discipleship, then, is the invitation "to come and die with me," as Bonhoeffer himself observed. "Exploring the counterintuitive power of this invitation to create a genuinely gospel-given life is what this conference is all about," as the program materials put the matter.

On Monday evening Dr. Kuhl will speak on "The Disciple and Christ: Faith Alone."

On Tuesday morning, a friend and grad-school comrade of olden days, Dr. Mark Mattes, will evaluate contemporary forms of "discipleship" in light of his research into Martin Luther's theology of discipleship. As many of you know, Mark is a bright and leading light among contemporary North American Lutheran theologians.

Later that day, Dr. Robert Kolb, professor at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and one of the great Luther scholars in the world today, will offer insight into the history of Lutheran understandings of discipleship.

Other speakers at the conference include Pr. Marty Wells, the bishop of the Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod of the ELCA ("The Church Executive as Disciple of Christ"), Dr. Kathryn Kleinhans, professor of theology at Wartburg College ("Tweet if you Love Jesus") [Kit's son, Chris, is a student of mine this semester in my honors course on Christians in Nazi Germany.], and Felix Meylahn, pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa ("Following Jesus when Things Are Falling Apart: A Post-Liberation Perspective from South Africa").

For more conference details and to register, please visit the Crossings website:

It would be great to see you there!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Review of Welcome Them Home--Help Them Heal

Dr. Edward Schroeder is a long-time friend and colleague-at-a-distance. Along with another friend and former teacher, Dr. Robert Bertram, he founded "The Crossings Community," an international group that seeks to relate law-promise theology to our contemporary world. Over the years Ed has asked me to write occasional essays and reviews for the Crossings Community. I've also participated in a few of their conferences and will be doing so again in January (speaking on Bonhoeffer).
Last week Ed published a book review by yours truly that I'd like to reproduce here. It's been a busy week and I thought I'd save time by allowing it to serve a double-duty. To find the original, and to read materials by Ed, Bob, and their associates, please visit the Crossings website:
Thursday Theology #690

September 1, 2011
Topic: A Book Review: Pastoral Care for Iraq/Afghanistan veterans.

Colleagues, More American veterans of the Vietnam war died by suicide after returning home than the 50 thousand who came home in body bags, whose names are inscribed on the monument in Washington, DC. The lethal nature of war persists even when they come home alive--and (allegedly) unscarred. Here's a look at all that from the inside. Reviewer Matthew Becker's father was one such survivor who came home wounded. Severely so. Becker reviews here for us a book about those badly damaged survivors, that then goes on to spell out the rubrics for distinctive Christian care to move them to fuller recovery. Matt is a prof in the Theology Department of Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana.

Peace and joy!
Ed Schroeder


When my dad returned from Korea in the fall of 1951 he was a wreck. He had been severely wounded in the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge. Actually pronounced dead on the battlefield and then later found breathing, he was rushed to a MASH unit, stabilized, and sent back to the states for months of rehabilitation. He was blind in one eye, partially blind in the other, deaf in one ear. He had lost part of his brain. Bullet wounds and grenade fragments had left other scars on his chest, legs, and head. But the more troubling scars were hidden, psychological, moral, soul-scars. His father, a Lutheran chaplain at the Oregon State Hospital, and mother did their best to try to help their 20-year-old son to accept what had happened to his body and to move on with his life, but they were overwhelmed by the challenges to help heal his spirit. As my grandfather told me later (I was born a decade after my dad was injured), the only medicine for the deepest wounds were the gospel and persistent Christian love and care. At my dad's funeral I commented on how my dad had died twice before his final physical death: the first death was in his baptism, when he died with Christ and was raised to new life in him, and second was on that fateful day in October, 1951. His "third" death happened in June, 2004, long after the 7-10 years that the VA doctors had given him to live after his terrible injuries. Of course, in between these "deaths" my dad died daily in remembrance of his baptism. Such daily dying was necessary, especially when memories of what he had done in the war surfaced to trouble his conscience. (One evening, decades after that Forgotten War, while my dad was watching a report on the news about Korean and Vietnam widows and orphans, he began to cry. "Maybe I killed that woman's husband or that child's father or brother..." We three kids went to bed early that night.)

I should add here that my mom, Glenys, was a huge part of my dad's recovery and rehabilitation. She helped him through some tough days and weeks of his life. Married to my dad for nearly forty years (they met in the late 1950s), she was his biggest supporter and encourager. For example, she helped to motivate him to apply for a job with the regional office of State Farm in Salem, Oregon, a job which he got and which he kept for more than thirty-five years. When he would feel down and out, she had a knack for helping him to see the bigger picture, to find joy in life, to take one day at a time. Together, they found strength and support from the Lord, from their congregation, from their extended family and many friends.

I often think about my dad when I see reports about the young service personnel who are returning with similar wounds from Iraq and Afghanistan. What kind of spiritual care will they receive for their troubled souls?
Given that nearly 70,000 Americans have been severely injured in these wars and that 500,000+ have been injured or damaged in other ways, both physical and psychological, Christian caregivers and church workers will likely face situations where they will be called upon to provide ministry to such individuals and their families.
My grandparents and mom could have benefited from the booklet, WELCOME THEM HOME--HELP THEM HEAL: PASTORAL CARE AND MINISTRY WITH SERVICE MEMBERS RETURNING FROM WAR, a 2009 publication of Elim Lutheran Church of Blackhoof (Barnum, MN) that was written by John Sippola (military and hospital chaplain, parish pastor), Amy Blumenshine (candidate for diaconal ministry in the ELCA), Donald Tubesing (retired pastor, prolific author on wellness and stress management), and Valerie Yancey (professor of nursing). Blumenshine has an MSW and a masters in theology, and both Tubesing and Yancey have earned doctorates (in counseling and nursing ethics[!], respectively). The book was partially underwritten by a grant from Wheat Ridge Ministries.
The purpose of the book is to provide knowledge and resources for pastors, parish nurses, counselors, and Christian caregivers in their ministry to service personnel and their families. By reading the book, I gained new understanding of the challenges that military personnel face before, during, and after deployment. Frankly, I learned about my dad and his similar combat and post-combat experience, even though he served in a different war half a century ago.

All wars are not the same and these current American wars are unique in several respects, not least because the mental and spiritual trauma of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is extensive and intense. A key strength of the booklet is how it offers helpful avenues for addressing these deep and widespread wounds.
The book is divided into six brief chapters. After an introduction that underscores how serious the crisis of care is for America's combat veterans, the first chapter provides an historical overview of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Chapter two is devoted to an analysis of the challenges that military personnel face when they return from foreign wars to civilian life. Chapter three helps the reader to understand the complexities of warrior wounds, the ones that have injured the body, the ones that have done damage to the conscience, the ones that have done damage to the spirit. The final three chapters define three key roles that Christian churches have with respect to caring for wounded veterans. The first role is "to reach out" to each individual veteran by listening and encouraging self-expression, by relating to the veteran and not the war, by offering honest encouragement, by encouraging self-care, by making appropriate referrals to professionals, by praying, by being genuine and trustworthy, by receiving care themselves. The second role of the church is "to create a healing environment." Caregivers within Christian communities do this by being tactful, offering hospitality, praying for veterans and their families, creating a "circle of care," remembering veterans in regular staff meetings, learning about the phases of military service (pre-deployment, deployment, post-deployment, re-deployment), working toward peace, allowing for confession and forgiveness and making amends. A final role for the church is to provide healing rituals throughout the church year. This chapter offers several creative ways that congregations can implement spiritual healing exercises and activities into the rhythm of the church year, e.g., one Lutheran congregation developed a Lenten worship series to address personal and communal "spiritual wounds" and the brokenness of war.
While these chapters offer a wealth of practical tips and advice on helping veterans to heal, I was a little surprised that the theological dimension of that healing process was not more explicitly articulated in the chapter that summarizes the church's "first role." The primary role of the church is to proclaim and teach the gospel and administer the sacraments according to the gospel. This role involves inviting individual members of the congregation, including veterans, to repent of their sins and to trust that for Christ's sake they are forgiven. That, of course, is what my Grandfather said finally was most helpful to my dad in his healing. Certainly the gospel is implied throughout the book as essential in the healing process, but there really isn't any careful articulation of how the gospel specifically applies to the lives of these veterans in that chapter four, where it would best fit. What difference does Jesus really make for combat veterans? The lack of explicit gospel articulation in chapter four was the most glaring weakness of the book to me. For example, in that chapter, "Basic Principle #3: Offer honest encouragement" begins with the following assurances: "It's not your fault. Your struggles, whatever form they take, are not your fault nor are they signs of weakness" (p. 52). Are Christian caregivers ever really in a position to say this, especially if in fact some of the veteran's struggle is due to actions (or inactions) that the combat veteran is convinced were sinful? It would seem to me that an appropriate pastoral response to the veteran who struggles with guilt and anxiety, at least in some pastoral situations, is not to excuse or deny or explain away the veteran's guilt, but to help the veteran to come to the point of being able to confess "the struggle" and guilt to God and to receive the forgiveness of Christ. Perhaps one ought to help the veteran to die daily with Christ and rise anew in Christ's mercy and forgiveness. (Sacramental theology is not really addressed until the final chapter on liturgical practices that promote healing.) Thankfully, chapter five does in fact underscore this need for Christ's forgiveness in the section, "coming to grips with guilt," which does involve confession and forgiveness. Maybe the problem here is one of placement. Wouldn't Lutherans put a section on "law" and "gospel" in chapter four ("the church's first role") and at least acknowledge that Anfechtungen ("spiritual struggles") and the accusatory nature of God's law in one's conscience ("guilt") are results of sin that all sinners experience, and that these are only properly addressed through the consolation of the gospel of Christ crucified and risen? That seems to me to be the church's primary role, and thus an articulation of that role belongs in chapter four and not mentioned in passing at the end of chapter five.
Three appendices are tagged on at the end. The first addresses how to make a referral for a veteran and includes an overview of the Veterans Administration and helpful community resources for veterans (such as online organizations). The second appendix includes several screening tools that parish nurses could use for preliminary detection of possible Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and traumatic brain injury. These tools are not diagnostic, but are designed to help a caregiver to decide if further evaluation would be helpful. The final appendix is a "wounds of war assessment," which is designed to help the caregiver "identify factors that may affect the health and well-being of veterans who have served in combat and thereby suffered wounds of war" (p. 103).

The style of writing makes each chapter understandable and interesting. Helpful quotations from veterans of several wars, caregivers, and professionals are highlighted in the margins to connect human experiences with the themes in each chapter. "Key point" boxes are interspersed throughout. At the end of each chapter there is a page for the reader to make notes to him- or herself. This is a very practical resource that Christian congregations will want to utilize in their outreach and ministry to veterans and their families.

To order a copy of the booklet ($10) and learn about additional resources, visit

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Pericope of the Week: Senator Mark Hatfield

Former United States Senator from Oregon, Mark Hatfield, died on August 7 at the age of 89. Senator Hatfield has been one of my "heroes," ever since I met him when I was a seventh-grader at Leslie Junior High School in Salem, Oregon. The senator, who had also attended Leslie and had later graduated from my high school, South Salem, had been invited to speak to my fellow students and me about his vocation as a public servant. I don't remember what he said that day, but I do remember meeting him afterwards. In the course of our brief conversation he asked me my name and, when I told him, he then asked if my grandfather was a Lutheran minister. I told that indeed he was. He then said, "Your Grandfather and I go back a long time. When I was in the Oregon legislature I invited him to open a few of our sessions with prayer. He and I had some good discussions about God and the Bible and Christian discipleship. Please give him my greetings." I thought it was pretty cool at the time that my Grandfather was a friend of a U. S. senator.

I didn't know until later how difficult the senator's public service had been, how he had opposed the war in Vietnam, how he had been critical of President Nixon's policies (despite the fact that they both were members of the same Republican Party), how he had been attacked by some of his constituents for "mixing his personal faith and politics" and thereby undermining each (in their view), how he found himself caught between the "rock" of Christian conscience and "the hard place" that is the U. S. Senate.

When I returned to Oregon to teach at Concordia University, Portland, I was given the task of occasionally teaching a course entitled, "Religion and Public Life." My teacher and friend, Dr. John Scheck, had developed the course, which he handed on to me, and then I changed it to suit my own interests in "public theology." One change that I introduced was adding a segment to the course that allowed guest speakers to visit the class and to share with the students their understandings of the relation of their religious faith (or lack thereof) to their work/calling in public life. So I invited a newspaper editor to talk with the students. The head of a public university addressed them on one day. On another, the head of a large corporation spoke about the challenges of relating Christian faith to the dynamics of capitalism. There were others from business, social service agencies, and the media.

Senator Hatfield in 2004
And then there was Senator Hatfield, who was by then retired. He had also graciously accepted my invitation to speak with the students. On that great day he and I met first in my office for an hour or so and reminisced about individuals common to both of our lives (e.g., my uncle had been one of the senator's law students at Willamette University). After a private lunch with a few other faculty members, he spoke to the class of 30. Unlike the talk I had heard twenty years earlier, this one I remembered. I still have the notes I took that day, also the written summary I made of our post-class conversation as we strolled around Concordia's campus. He essentially hit many of the same themes that he developed in his post-Watergate book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Waco: Word, 1976). So much of that book and his earlier reflections in Conflict and Conscience (Word, 1971) seem apropos to our current divisiveness in American political life. I doubt that the senator could get elected today, if he were alive and running, given the rightward tilt of the Republican Party, a tilt that is even more pronounced today than when I last spoke with him more than a decade ago.

This week's pericope comes from the epilogue to his 1976 book:

 [In a time of frustration] it helped [to focus] my attention once again on the basic vision and values to which I have committed my life. I knew I had to persevere.

The central issue is whether I believe that the shape of God in Jesus Christ, taking human form in history, is politically axiomatic for me today. Am I truly to stake my life on the conviction that the character of life and quality of love I see in Christ is to be reproduced in me, fundamentally shaping the style of my political activity?

Christ emptied himself. He took the form of a servant. Though rich, Paul tells us, for our sake he became poor. He was counted among the outcast. He forsook the temptations of earthly power out of fidelity to the Kingdom he came to establish. He gave of himself to deliver the poor and the oppressed out of their bondage. He prayed that not his will, but God's be done. He delivered himself into the hands of sinful men, rather than retaliate to their evil.

He loved without conditions. He spoke God's prophetic truth without fear. And he was crucified as a common criminal, dying so that we might have Life.

He proclaimed the emergence of God's kingdom--the rule of true justice and righteousness. He called those who followed him to build that Kingdom by living as a new community of God's people. To those who followed him, he said that the first shall be last, and the last first; that we must lose our lives in order to find them; and that greatness consists of the most humble acts of servanthood.

If we are called to Christ, then our lives are to take on his own shape. Whether teachers, doctors, businessmen, politicians, lawyers, laborers, or ministers, our first task is to embody the quality of Christ's life. Faithfulness to this call totally transcends any requirements of 'success' posed by our vocations or the conformist opinions of society.

Identified truly with Christ, we will find ourselves serving the oppressed of the world--the victims of injustice and sin. We will begin to look at the structures of society from the vantage point of the poor... Our call is to faithfulness, not to efficacy; it is to servanthood rather than power. We know that the most decisive action that we can take to shape history is to follow the way of Christ, to give ourselves to the building of the Body, and to pour out ourselves as he did in love.

 [Additional Pericope: A few months ago, Visko Hatfield, the senator's son, sat down with his father, whose health had become even more fragile. At the time, Visko had asked what he could do for his father. "You need to save a life." "Whose life should I save?" Visko asked. Hatfield's answer: "The first one you can."]

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Sad Case of Pr. Robert Stuenkel Revisited

My colleague in the pastoral ministry, Pr. Robert Stuenkel, is facing expulsion from the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod because he has communed with his wife at her parish, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. For the details of Bob's situation, see Pr. Arnie Voigt's article, "Restoring the Brother," which was originally published in the July issue of Forum Letter and was reprinted by permission of the publisher on my blog (July 18, 2011).

One of the issues in Bob's case involves the interpretation of section 2 of Article VI ("Conditions of Membership") in the LCMS Constitution. That section states that one of the conditions for membership is "renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description, such as serving congregations of mixed confession, as such, by ministers of the church;" and "taking part in the services and sacramental rites of heterodox congregations or of congregations of mixed confession."

What does this mean? "Unionism" is a term unique to the Missouri Synod and is intimately connected with its pre-history and early history. It has never been carefully defined. Originally the term described the forced "union" of Lutheran and Reformed congregations by royal decree in nineteenth-century Prussia and by voluntary decision of German Protestants in the United States. In practice, the term has also been applied to situations where a member of the synod has expressed "church fellowship" with church groups that have not accepted the panoply of LCMS doctrinal resolutions. Only those who share completely every doctrinal resolution of the Missouri Synod meet the condition of church fellowship with her, that is, altar and pulpit fellowship. Not surprisingly, the charge of "unionism" has been frequently leveled against military and hospital chaplains, foreign missionaries, and campus pastors, but the synod has historically (at least until the last couple of decades) granted exceptions to the general rule in these situations. (Pr. Stuenkel is a retired campus pastor.)

At its best the synod has balanced the desire to have a common confession of faith and uniform practice that reflects that faith with the more important need to remain an evangelical, non-coercive fellowship whose true focus and heartbeat is the gospel of faith alone in Christ alone. At its worst, the synod has broadened the definition of unionism so much that some used to say that a Missouri Lutheran must not have a common table prayer with anyone else but another Missouri Lutheran. In the early twentieth century, a synodical missionary who prayed with some other Protestant missionaries on the way to India was disciplined and recalled. (Later the synod publicly apologized for such loveless legalism against this missionary.)  Too often synodical leaders have applied the narrowest letter of LCMS canon law in the harshest way. More recently, the synod has been unwilling to embrace a totally legalistic definition of "unionism" and has acknowledged that praying with other Christians, or even worshiping with them, is not necessarily "unionism." After all, there are many examples of LCMS forebears and others attending divine services in "heterodox" congregations who did not come under the accusation of "unionism." (Even that strict German-Lutheran confessionalist, Claus Harms, regularly snuck into the Dreifaltigkeitkirche to listen to the great Schleiermacher preach!)

Article VI's description of "unionism" is ambiguous but it seems to be oriented toward LCMS clergy who serve as a liturgist or celebrant in a congregation that does not confess the regula fidei, the rule of faith. It can't possibly refer to members who confess their sins, sing psalms and hymns, hear the Holy Scriptures, confess the ancient ecumenical creeds, hear the gospel in the sermon, and pray with other Christians in a divine service.

A little book that has had a negative impact on the understanding of "church fellowship" in the LCMS is Abendmahl und Kirchengemeinschaft in der alten Kirche hauptsaechlich des Ostens by Werner Elert. The book was translated by my teacher, Norman Nagel, as Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries (St. Louis: CPH, 1966). I have great respect for Elert and his scholarship and this book is very informative, but how it has been used in both Germany and the United States has led Lutheran congregations away from true Koinonia (communion) and to a sectarian practice of church fellowship.

Elert's little book on patristic Eucharistic fellowship in the eastern churches needs to be understood for what it was, an initial descriptive study in his Dogmengeschichte (a multi-vol. history of dogma), a project he never finished. (A portion of his study of eastern Christology in the 4th-6th centuries was published posthumously.) So the volume is a historical study and not a normative, dogmatic treatise for the contemporary evan-Luth. church.

Even though eastern churches tied confessional orthodoxy (maximally understood) and even church polity to Eucharistic fellowship, Elert himself limited Eucharistic fellowship solely to the confession of the mandatory and essential content of the church's kerygma, i.e., to what is truly essential for the church's unity ("all the factors that sustain the church"), which, of course is summarized in the creeds and evangelical confessions--although these need to be re-examined again and again to [re]-discover what this "essential kerygmatic content" is for the present church. Elert never tired of stressing a minimalist interpretation of Article VII of the Augsburg Confession: the one, holy Christian church "is the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel."

Significantly, Elert placed his discussion of the Lord's Supper after "the person of the reconciler" and "the work of the reconciler" in the fifth part of his Glaubenslehre (his dogmatics), the part entitled "reconciliation." His reasons for doing so centered on the catholic-orthodox-evangelical claim that what one confesses of Christ has implications for what confesses of Christ's Supper and vice versa. (In other words, Luther's debate with Zwingli was a Christological debate, not merely or even centrally a debate about the Lord's Supper.)

(Baptism is addressed in part two of his sixth section, "the changed existence" [Der Existenzwandel], after his analysis of "the church" and before his analysis of "Encouragement [paraclesis] and justification." Elert held that "baptismal fellowship" is already a reality among most western and eastern Christians, since they acknowledge each other's Baptisms as valid. But interestingly, he does not treat the Lord's Supper under "the church.")

The final paragraphs in Elert's discussion of the Lord's Supper (trans. by Martin Bertram as The Lord's Supper Today [CPH, 1973], 46-47) are most helpful for correcting the notion that there must be complete theological agreement in all matters of scriptural doctrine before there can be church fellowship: "It is precisely in the situation of the local congregation that the Lord's Supper fulfills its function as synaxis [participation in Christ and Christ's body, the church] most meaningfully," a synaxis that also has "an eschatological character." This "synaxis" "depends on the Lord's own call--and since it achieves its reality through the food received in this meal--this synaxis is practiced to the extent that Christ's call is obeyed and this food is received... Here, as in the Eucharistic prayer of thanksgiving, God is being asked to grant the synaxis of His church. What this says, first of all, is that the synaxis in the Lord's Supper is not achieved by the mere assembling of Christians. Rather it is the work of Him who calls them together and makes of the many one body."

Pr. Stuenkel and his wife have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. They publicly confess their sins and their need for Christ's forgiveness in the divine liturgy of their local congregations (LCMS and ELCA). They publicly confess the faith that is defined in the Apostles' and Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan creeds. They have been taught and they regularly confess the regula fidei that is summarized in Dr. Luther's Small Catechism. This regula fidei is identical in Pr. Stuenkel's LCMS congregation and in Mrs. Stuenkel's ELCA congregation, and this despite the theological differences that do in fact exist between these two church bodies. Pr. Stuenkel and his wife regularly hear the promise of Christ who calls them to HIS table to receive all that he has to give them, his body and blood for the forgiveness of their sins. In that promise they discern the body of Christ in their local congregations. In that promise, they hear that the Lord is calling to them and speaking to them: "Take and eat, this is given for you… Take and drink, this is shed for you…" In the synaxis of their local congregations, both LCMS and ELCA, Bob and his wife, Julie, join the faithful in proclaiming that "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again." They are in fact "confessing the Lord's death until he comes." 

The same regula fidei exists in both congregations. The same confession exists in both congregations. To somehow think that there is "an LCMS confession" and a different "ELCA confession" is to go against the divine word of faith that is confessed publicly in both congregations. When a member of the LCMS confesses the faith of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, he or she is not confessing Missouri Synod doctrinal resolutions or statements; he or she is confessing the faith of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, the regula fidei, that is, the doctrine of faith in Christ alone.

Is it not time that the LCMS stop putting itself in the position of rightly discerning for others the body of Christ? While the Synod has occasionally moved in this direction with other all-too-human convention resolutions, it has not proscribed reception of the Lord's Supper in ELCA congregations. The synod has called other church bodies names ("heterodox") and propped itself up as the true visible church of Christ on earth, but it cannot rightly put itself, human organization that it is, between the Lord's Supper and individual conscience.

Who among us LCMSers can state with absolute confidence that one has NOT rightly discerned the body of Christ when one eats and drinks the Lord's Supper in a congregation of the ELCA? How could the LCMS as a political institution ever make that kind of judgment for an individual without at the same time lording over
the individual consciences of others, frustrating the invitation and promise of Christ, and doing violence against his body?

For someone to rule/demand that another Christian (who is not under the restrictions of excommunication) must refrain from communing in such and such a congregation does violence against the body of Christ, does not preserve the communion of all who belong to Jesus Christ, and is an offense against the responsibility of communion that has its basis in the very nature of the Lord's Supper.

The invitation of Jesus that a pastor issues when he/she says the words of institution in Jesus' stead is for all of Jesus's disciples, and no bishop or district president or church body on its own may insert itself between this invitation and those who respond to it in responsible faith.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Christology and Soteriology 101

My August 1st post on the person of Christ and the being of pastors has created quite a stir online. That particular post has had almost 1,000 separate hits in the past three days, a lot more than is typical. A quick glance on the internet indicates several people seem to be confused about how it is that Jesus saves both men and women.

To be sure, the Messiah was and is a man [Greek: aner; Latin: vir], Jesus of Nazareth, prophesied from of old and born of the virgin Mary, but his being a male human being is not essential for his work as the Redeemer. What is essential is that Jesus is a human being [Greek: anthropos; Latin: homo], the Second Adam, the One who has reconciled God and humankind in and through himself. What is theologically crucial is that the divine Logos [Word] of God became a mortal human being, who suffered death on the cross, who was raised from the dead on the third day, who has reconciled all human beings in his human body.

Perhaps some of the people who think that Jesus' maleness is essential to his being the savior of all slept through Dogmatics II, wherein Christology and Soteriology are normally discussed. One of the questions that undoubtedly gets a little attention is something like the following: "If the eternal, unoriginated Logos [Word] of God, of the same being [homoousios] with God, became a man [aner], and if "whatever the Logos has not assumed he has not healed" (Gregory of Naziansus, Letter to Cledonius against Apollinarius, Letter 101 [MPG 37, 181C], but see also Origen, Dialogue with Heracleides), then how could the man Jesus be the savior of women, since he did not assume female bodily organs or a female body?"

This question is not as ridiculous as it seems, since apparently there are quite a few individuals out there today who think that Jesus had to be a male to save humankind. While the prophets foretold that the Messiah would in fact be a Jewish male, the maleness of Jesus is not crucial to our salvation. That Jesus was a male [aner] is without question, but what counts for our salvation is that he is an anthropos, a human being, of human flesh and blood. The Apostle John proclaims that the Logos "became flesh" [sarx]--since Scripture "is in the habit of calling the human being" [anthropos = here "human being"; not aner = "a man"] "flesh" ( Athanasius, Orations against the Arians, 3:30). The Apostle Paul proclaims that the Son of God (a Messianic title that needs to be understood analogically and apophatically and not literalistically, that is, not biologically or anthropomorphically) was "born of a woman, born under the law." In other words, the Logos took on human flesh and became a human being and suffered on our account in the flesh (First Peter 4:1). The body of Jesus the Christ, sharing the same human nature as all people--male and female--a human nature and mortal body that he received from his mother, died for the salvation of humankind. By virtue of the hypostatic union of the Logos with the human body of Jesus, the death of all--male and female human mortals--was accomplished in the Lord's body, and that death and corruption, and the divine judgment against human sins, were wholly overcome and undone. The divine Logos not only took on human flesh [sarx], but became a complete human being [anthropos; homo; Mensch] with body, soul, and mind. Moreover, the resurrection of the body of Jesus is God's decisive act of renewing Adamic humanity--inclusive of male and female--in the image and likeness of the Logos. For we all, male and female, are made alive in Christ because we are reborn from above by water and the Spirit. Our human nature has been "logified," to use Athanasius' wonderful word, by the work of the Logos, who on our account became flesh, that is, became a human being, whose human nature is inclusive of both male and female.

There is no better classic presentation of this teaching about the human nature of the incarnate Logos than what one finds in Martin Chemnitz's De Duabus naturis in Christo [The Two Natures of Christ, 1578], chapter three. The two natures are, of course, the divine and the human. The latter is "the flesh of our body in Christ Jesus," a flesh that is common to both men and women. "For in the flesh of Christ God condemned sin (Rom. 8:3), and in the body of his flesh we are reconciled (Col. 1:20). We are justified in his blood (Rom. 5:9). He has laid down his life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28)... The true teaching of the Scriptures is that the Son of God has assumed a true, complete, and total human nature which is of the same substance with us and possesses all the conditions, powers, and desires of our nature as its own normal properties, yet is not wicked, but is without sin, uncorrupted, and holy, but in which are the infirmities that have entered into our nature as the penalties of sin. He has willingly and without blemish assumed this for us in order that he might be made the victim for us" (Preus translation, 49).

The crucial issue of our salvation is that the Logos has assumed our human nature, not that the Logos happened to do this by being born a male.

One could give a good many quotations in support of this position from theologians in every century of the Christian church, but I'll end by merely referring to Dr. Luther's smaller catechism. When he there summarized the meaning of the second article of the Creed, he wrote that Jesus is "true God" and "true human being" [German: wahrhaftiger Mensch; Latin: verus homo]. Dr. Luther did not write "true man" [German: wahrhaftiger Mann; Latin: verus vir].

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Being of Adam, the New Adam, and the Ontology of Pastors

A younger colleague in the LCMS ministerium sent me a note about an article in the latest issue (July 2011) of For the Life of the World, the magazine of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. The article was written by the Associate Director of Deaconess Studies there.

Much of the article is a fine exposition of the nature of Christian care and compassion; however, the article's third paragraph contains assertions that are contrary to evangelical-Lutheran doctrine:

"At creation, God gave headship and authority to the man Adam (Genesis 1:26) in light of the fact that Christ, the head (bridegroom) of His Church, would be incarnate as a male human. God's only Son took on human flesh in order to care for us, both body and soul--through Jesus' ministry 'the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them' (Luke 7:22). Jesus 'continues His own ministry in and through those He commissions,' [William Weinrich, "Called & Ordained. Reflections on the New Testament View of the Office of the Ministry," Logia 2/1 (January 1993), 24-25], as affirmed in John 20:22ff. Through the Holy Office established by Christ, we receive His mercy in the gifts of hearing Christ himself speak (Luke 10:16), receiving absolution from Christ Himself (Matthew 16:19-20; John 20:21-23), being taught and baptized by Christ Himself (Matthew 28:16-20; cf. Mark 16:15-16) and receiving the Lord's Supper from Christ Himself (1 Corinthians 11:23-25) [Thomas M. Winger, "The Office of the Holy Ministry According to the New Testament Mandate of Christ," Logia 7/2 (1998), 40]. The very maleness of pastors is essential to the Holy Office in which they serve, distributing Christ's mercy through the ministry of Word and Sacrament" (Dr. Cynthia Lumley, "What Is Mercy?" For the Life of the World 15/2 (July 2011),10).

The very maleness of pastors is essential to the Holy Office in which they serve?

My colleague wrote:
"I'm struck by  what appears to be a very Roman Catholic argument about gender and the pastoral office."

Indeed. The theological position asserted here by Dr. Lumley is based on Roman Catholic tradition, not on Scripture. (The article does not indicate an awareness of the problems attendant to critical-historical investigation into what the Scriptures in fact teach about the different concepts of "apostolos" and church "orders" within the NT itself.) The late Pope John Paul II described this Roman view of the Holy Ministry in his Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis (March 1992):


"The relation of the priest to Jesus Christ, and in him to his Church, is found in the very being of the priest by virtue of his sacramental consecration/anointing and in his activity, that is, in his mission or ministry."

The Pope's exhortation continues:

"The Spirit, by consecrating the priest and configuring him to Jesus Christ, Head and Shepherd, creates a bond which, located in the priest's very being, demands to be assimilated and lived out in a personal, free and conscious way through an ever richer communion of life and love and an ever broader and more radical sharing in the feelings and attitudes of Jesus Christ. In this bond between the Lord Jesus and the priest, an ontological and psychological bond, a sacramental and moral bond, is the foundation and likewise the power for that 'life according to the Spirit' and that 'radicalism of the Gospel' to which every priest is called today and which is fostered by ongoing formation in its spiritual aspect. The nuptial dimension of ecclesiastical celibacy, proper to this relationship between Christ and the Church which the priest is called to interpret and to live, must enlarge his mind, illumine his life and warm his heart. Celibacy must be a happy sacrifice, a need to live with Christ so that he will pour out into the priest the effusions of his goodness and love that are ineffably full and perfect."

Does Dr. Lumley not realize the implications of her assertion about the maleness of the pastor as being essential to the office? Why stop at the maleness of Jesus and not take the next logical step, his celibacy? If one goes down the road that unites the ontology of Jesus with the ontology of the pastor, this is where one could end, the forced celibacy of male priests. Of course the bigger problem with Lumley's third paragraph is the theological method on which it is based, a method that is based on Roman Catholic tradition and not on the clear teaching of Holy Scripture. (Who approved that third paragraph for inclusion in this LCMS seminary's magazine?)

Contrary to Lumley's Roman ontological-sacerdotalist view about the ontology of the pastor, the symbolical books of the Ev. Luth. church present the holy ministry chiefly (but not exclusively) in functional, dynamic terms, for the sake of obtaining and strengthening trust in the promise that God forgives people by grace for Christ's sake through faith. Moreover, the symbolical books stress that ALL baptized Christians, both male and female, have the power and authority of preaching the gospel and administering the means of grace, although not all are well-suited or qualified for this ministry; for example, they might not be able to teach very well. Especially important is the confessional position that a called and ordained minister of Christ, whether male or female, acts in the place of God and in the stead of Christ (vice Christi; see Apol. 7.28; Apol. 7:47), not in his or her own person or being. God preaches and acts through the called minister, but the being of the pastor, the ontology of the priest, is accidental to the office holder and not an essential, sine qua non of Christian preaching and sacramental administration. What is essential is faithfulness to the apostolic proclamation of the gospel and the administration of the means of grace in accordance with the gospel. Pastors should not confuse their being for the being of Christ, whose being is available to us only through His Word and the other means of grace.

One should also point out to Dr. Lumley that "Adam" (Hebrew: "human being") is inclusive of both male and female in Genesis 1:26-27. There is no "headship" or "subordination" within this verse. Rather, Adam, that is, "male and female," is created in the same instant by God's Logos. There is a common humanity, "Adam," that is prior to the distinction between "male" and "female." This common humanity is created in the image and likeness of God the Logos.

Finally, and most disturbingly, if Jesus' maleness is what is significant about his being the second Adam, then he cannot serve as the new Adam that is inclusive of male and female. If the fact that Jesus was about 30 years old is significant for his being the new Adam, then he cannot be the savior of senior citizens. If Jesus was only about four feet tall, as is quite probable, he can't be the savior of those who are taller. If the maleness of Jesus constitutes an essential condition of his being the new Adam, then women are excluded from participating in the new Adam. Thankfully, the physical particularities of Jesus, including his gender, age, race, etc., are accidental, non-essential to his salvific work of reconciling Adam ("human beings") to God. The same principle is true for those who serve "in the stead and by the command" of Christ today. Accidental attributes of the pastor's being are inconsequential for the fulfillment of the holy office.

Friday, July 29, 2011

My Fellow American

This video comes from an interesting, informative website, My Fellow American:


To learn more about Muslims in America, visit the website: