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!