Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Luther Seminary Story "A Blog's Life"

Luther Seminary Story "A Blog's Life"

This article, authored by Sheri Booms, features our blog and a nice picture of Clint behind his Mac. There are some other blogs authored by other folks associated with Luther Seminary.
Deo Gracias

One angle the Augsburg Confession does not consider is the ancient question of the relation of sin and Jesus' coming. Only in the Large Catechism does Luther approach the threshold of the 'triumph of grace.' There he reflects this Benjamin Britten hymn:

Deo Gracias! Adam lay ybounden, bounden in a bond, four thousand winter, thought he not too long; And all was for an apple, an apple that he took, as clerkes finden written in their book. Deo Gracias! Ne had the apple taken been, the apple taken been, ne had never Our Lady a been Heavene Queen. Blessed be the time that apple taken was. Therefore we moun singen: Deo Gracias!

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Barth and the Angels

There are a lot of quotes from Greg that I remember and carry around with me. One was a couple of years back in reference to Barth's angelology. If I remember the quote correctly, it went like this, "Barth ends up handing over all the ministry he had so carefully placed in the hands of Christ to the angels. They end up doing everything." After having now read Barth's doctrine of angels in his Creation section of Church Dogmatics, I agree.

Barth does do a thorough job (when is Barth not thorough?) of setting out the complexities of the doctrine of angels, and does bring the doctrine back from its metaphysical explorations in the hands of Aquinas, among others. Jensen sympathizes with Aquinas on this point, because he believes Aquinas needs to go in the direction he does on the doctrine of angels in order to fill out his system, but this is not an excuse, exactly, if indeed, as Barth rightly asserts, the point of an angelology is to explicate what angels are and what their ministry is according to the Scriptural witness. The angels are particularly at risk of us ascribing to them things they are not according to our systems, needs, and mythologies.

Barth proposes to take the middle road between a) the "shrug of the shoulders" theology that amounts to a demythologizing and denigrating of the reality of and/or ministry of angels, and b) all those remythologists who seek to construct circles and levels of angels going about doing various things, things apparently the remythologizers can peer into and know something about.

Barth's middle way is the way of witness. Angels are witnesses, not surprising given that all parts of creation, in Barth's theology, need and must be witnesses (Barth succumbing to his own "system"?). Throughout his explication, we get golden nuggets, exegetical insights and reflections worth all the pages of reading.

Some examples:

Luther's evening and morning prayers contained in the Small Catechism have what Barth calls the doctrine of angels in miniature. The conclusion of each prayer reads: "Let your holy angels have charge over us, that the wicked one have no power over us." Emphasis on your> holy angels, namely the Lord's.

Angels appear at the beginning and end of Christ's earthly ministry, but play little or no role during that same ministry. They function as book ends, and get out of the way when Christ himself is his own witness. They appear again in Acts once Christ has ascended, and play an important role in apocalyptic. Barth reads this appearance/absence motif into and part of his theology of angels as witnesses.

*** A worthy and helpful corrective to this 2nd point in Jensen's in the 2nd volume of his Systematics, where he sees the function of angels as working where the ministry of God in Christ is "marginal" or at risk. Thus at his birth, at the end of his 40 days in the desert, at his resurrection, and during the early ministry of the apostles. In this way, the angels are witnesses but also participants in God's ministry of reconciliation (I may be reading some things into Jens at this point, but that's my read, anyway).

Barth and Jens are most helpful on angels by making them preachable. We can preach on the ministry of angels in relation to the ministry of Christ, and need not make them independent locuses for preaching and prayer in their own right. This is in keeping with the infrequent but important references to angels in the confessional documents. It seems also to be in keeping with Luther's own prayer life, who did not pray to angels, but prayed to God that angels would minister to him and encouraged others to pray the same.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Martin Luther's Sermons

More and more Luther is now on-line. If only somebody would take the CD-ROM version of Luther's Works (Fortress Press, hint hint!) and put it on-line so as to compete with Calvin and all the other reformed works that are available and widely read as a result.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Christmas Eve

I did give in last Thursday and Friday evening, and like the rest of a certain portion of American humanity, raced over to see Return of the King. I'm not sure what the compulsion was. The movie was very good, but that's about it. No revelations. When people look into the movie and seek out Christian themes in Tolkein's work, I feel it is similar to exploring a # of works of fiction or cinema to make "Christian" connections. That is, inasmuch as a piece of art is "in the world" and available for reflection, one can find Christian themes. But I don't see how ROTK is any more incarnational or sacramental or theological than many other movies not based on the novels of an ostensibly Christian writer.

Which might be also to say this, that I enjoy the works Tolkein and Lewis produced, and have always appreciated writers of that ilk, le Guin especially, but I don't get very worked up by the connection between their fantasy/mythology and its connections to a Christian worldview. Give me Austen, Updike, Shakespeare, Giertz, for Christian literature, to name a few. For the fantasy genre, just make it good.

That's the view from over here. I'm currently blogging between afternoon and late evening Christmas eve services. It has been a puzzle how to prepare sermons on the birth of Christ, as strange as that sounds. Many other days of the year are easier to proclaim. To wrest the gospel out of the mess our culture makes of Christmas is a serious and difficult thing. Requires some good close reading of Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit, to be sure.

I'm working with the idea that God "stumbles" into the Incarnation, not an accidental stumble, but the kind where, when you kneel, you end up falling on your face, closer to earth than originally imagined. Christ's birth in a stable and bed in a manger extends past humanity and into the very earthly, into creation. This incarnation reaches out to creation even beyond the human, and to those humans who tend (and attend to) the creation. It then reaches back to God in the praise of the shepherds and the angels, and the quiet contemplation of Mary.

And it proleptically imagines the Lord's Supper, the body of the baby Jesus bedded it's first night in a feeding trough. From His very birth we know His destination and what He does for us.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Nothing Will Come of Nothing

Sin: nothing, something, sort-of-a-thing? Matt raises the excellent question of sin as no-thing (privation) or is it something, he asks? J. R. R. Tolkein followed the main line: Sauron and his evil could never make creatures of his own but could only twist elves into orcs. Evil in Augustine's view is sort of like that: evil comes only as twisted good.

Of course, part of this comes from what seems to be axiomatic in traditional thought: evil cannot be anything because if it is, then God somehow has something to do with it, or it poses itself as a competitor to God's "Godness" (pardon that--it seems to work better in German: Gottes Gottheit).

AC XIX was written in part to show that despite the strong views of God's action in the world, God's creative power, the Reformers did not see that God caused sin in any way. This does not remove the speculative question of how such sin came to be. It wasn't until modern times in which God's "Godness" could be seen more in the light of God making the world out of an already existing chaos or God existing with the world in mutual dependance to some degree.

These latter positions provide occasion to think about something and nothing. In Aristotle's Metaphysics, nothing is not really the sort of nihil that is oblivion. Nothing is sheer potential to be. In that way, there is something in nothing. Aristotle accorded some right to the Pre-socratic mot "nothing will come of nothing" but he saw in nothing only that which waited on becoming something. So nothing is not always nothing. More in this regard would exceed the bounds of a blog post.

As to the devil: is 'he' something or nothing? 'He' gets scare quotes because personal pronouns do not necessarily apply; nor even a proper noun. If the devil is to be accorded reality at all, along the lines drawn by the Bible, he would be a creature. He would be the closest thing to being a creature that has sucessfully refused to be a creature. He has limitless names, and so, cannot be located or pinned down. He will allow himself into no one's gaze or hearing, in order to avoid his own creatureliness.

But despite a short speculative indulgence, the most important locus of Christian speech if not thought on the devil and sin ought best to be its absolution and rejection. For "one little word will fell him."

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Article XIX. The Cause of Sin

It is taught among us that although almighty God has created and still preserves nature, yet sin is caused in all wicked men and despisers of God by the perverted will. This is the will of the devil and of all ungodly men; as soon as God withdraws his support, the will turns away from God to evil. It is as Christ says in John 8:44, "When the devil lies, he speaks according to his own nature.

In our previous comments on the freedom of the will, we concentrated more on the concept of freedom in the Spirit and less on the actual content of will and willfulness. This article directs our focus away from freedom and towards a (doubly bound?) will. The crucial point is made in the 2nd to the last sentence. The perverted will is the will of the devil; the true human nature is only truly human at the support of God, but when God withdraws support from the natural will, the will "turns away from God to evil."

The article is very clear in its connection to a common Lutheran understanding of the will as either ridden by Christ or the devil. There is, in this understanding, no autonomous will (the horse) that looks around at the available cast of jockeys (the devil or Christ), and then picks one or the other, or alternatively, choosing the natural and healthy alternative, rides off into the meadows free of any rider at all. No, the will is ridden, and the only remaining question is, "By whom?"

This may further answer our questions around the free will. We might say this: the free will is the will free from sin because it is supported by (and in) God. The bound will is the will in sin, because it is bound by (and in) the devil. The bound and the free will have this in common, that they keep company with someone. They separate on the issue of which company.


I notice here an almost synonymous use of the terms "nature" and "will", and wonder if that is the intent or understanding of the confessors.
Is Anybody Gonna Complain?

If I copy this piece of horrible news into the blog?


In a high-tech cover-up, the Washington Post this morning reports the White
House is actively scrubbing government websites clean of any of its own
previous statements that have now proven to be untrue. Specifically, on
April 23, 2003, the president sent his top international aid official on
national television to reassure the public that the cost of war and
reconstruction in Iraq would be modest. USAID Director Andrew Natsios,
echoing other Administration officials, told Nightline that, "In terms of
the American taxpayers contribution, [$1.7 billion] is it for the US. The
American part of this will be $1.7 billion. We have no plans for any
further-on funding for this."

The president has requested more than $166 billion in funding for the war
and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan this year. But instead of
admitting that he misled the nation about the cost of war, the president has
allowed the State Department "to purge the comments by Natsios from the
State Department's Web site. The transcript, and links to it, have
vanished." (The link where the transcript existed until it caused
embarrassment was www.usaid.gov/iraq/nightline_042403_t.html).

When confronted with the dishonest whitewash, the administration decided to
lie. A Bush spokesman said the administration was forced to remove the
statements because, "there was going to be a cost" charged by ABC for
keeping the transcript on the government's site. But as the Post notes,
"other government Web sites, including the State and Defense departments,
routinely post interview transcripts, even from 'Nightline,'" and according
to ABC News, "there is no cost."

This story is not the first time the President has tried to hide critical
information from the American public. For instance, the president opposed
the creation of the independent 9/11 investigative commission, and has
refused to provide the commission with critical information, even under
threat of subpoena. Similarly, after making substantial budget cuts, the
president ordered the government to stop publishing its regular report
detailing those cuts to states. And when confronted with a continuing
unemployment crisis, the president ordered the Department of Labor to stop
publishing its regular mass layoff report.

It is also not the first time the administration has sought to revise
history and public records when those records become incriminating. As the
Post reports "After the insurrection in Iraq proved more stubborn than
expected, the White House edited the original headline on its Web site of
President Bush's May 1 speech, "President Bush Announces Combat Operations
in Iraq Have Ended," to insert the word 'Major' before combat." And the
"Justice Department recently redacted criticism of the department in a
consultant's report that had been posted on its Web site."

Valerie A. Metzler, M. A., C. A.
Valerie Metzler Archivist/Historian
114 Ruskin Drive
Altoona, PA 16602-2916
814 940 0493
fax 940 0449

A posting from the Archives & Archivists LISTSERV List sponsored by the Society of American Archivists, www.archivists.org. For the terms of participation, please refer to http://www.archivists.org/listservs/arch_listserv_terms.asp.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Once Catholic - A Catholic Site for Seekers
A Superb Quip by Bultmann

"Luthers Auffassung von Rm 7, 15 ff ist zwar exegetisch falsch, aber sachlich nicht unpaulinisch" ---"Christus des Gesetzes Ende" in Glauben und Verstehen, vol 2, p. 47.

Trans: "Luther's conception of Romans 7, 15ff is pretty much exegetically false, but in what matters it is not unpauline."
Koinonia, Fellowship, Communion, and Sharing

Just for fun, I was looking at different Lutheran understandings of communion, fellowship, whatever. Here's some statements (Some of these links are to pdf files).

A Protestant Understanding of Church Fellowship
This from the EKD in Germany, a church formed after the war.

The Porvoo Churches, a communion of Lutheran and Anglican churches in Nordic Countries.

Ecumenism: The Vision of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The ELCA's main document.

The Lutheran Understanding of Church Fellowship. The LC-MS's 2001 statement on the matter. This follows up on the earlier Theology of Fellowship.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Breath and Word

A few responses to Matt from his Responsio.

1. Surely the Bible utilizes the language of the Spirit in us and in our heart. These refer not to "within" vs "without" but rather to the whole person. Much of the Bible's witness in this regard shows the Spirit's descent or invasion as a wind or breath. Thus, the Spirit is not defined in any way in the Bible as non-corporeal even if the Spirit is eternal and from the Father. The citations you provide from Paul can be seen in the light I put forward here.

2. You still do not address in your responses the questions I raise about freedom interpreted by obedience. This, I think, is central and I appreciate your grounding the matter in the action of the Spirit. Why the result is not freedom blasting open obedience, I leave to you to ponder.

3. We could further discuss this matter in terms of the ordo salutis you indicate on either Catholic or Protestant grounds. I do not appreciate either approach despite the complexity of concern that Lutherans brought to such formulas in the period of Orthodoxy or the Formula of Concord itself.

4. I further find obedience is something that needs to be resisted in understanding inter-Trinitarian relations. The obedience of the Son to the Father does not respect the Son's freedom vis-a-vis the Father much less what the Son does for the Father. The Father is witnessed to by the Son and very much waits on the Son for what the Son will hand over to him (1 Cor 15). The reciprocity of relations and actions among the Triune identities may not be symmetrical or even in some way but obedience should be replaced by sending. Otherwise there are a whole host of issues I can raise concerning the place of Jesus' human action in the divine life either as mirror of the eternal love or its very crucial point.

Yada yada yada!!

Monday, December 15, 2003

Adbusters Culture Jammers Headquarters

This site is not in any way connected with the normal topic areas of our blog, but it's just too cool not to make note of...
Eternity, Time and the Trinitarian God
This lecture was given by Pannenberg in 1999. I read it a while ago and the mention of logos asarkos earlier today gave me cause to take another pass. Maybe you guys have already given it a read (especially Greg, given that it's from CTI) but if not, take a look. Like all great pieces of theological reflection, it continues to give me pause to think and re-evaluate.
Word Without Flesh? A Minor Tribute to Gunton

Colin Gunton's growing criticism of the nasty piece of theology known as the logos asarkos earned him the confusion of fellow Reformed theologians. Myself, a standard Lutheran and therefore, at least to the eyes of the Reformed, an innovator in things Christological, rejoices in this fact.

Much Western theology prefers to discuss Jesus in terms of the act of Incarnation and therefore to start with the logos, nevermind what that is, which is eternal--again move along quickly and don't ask what eternal is---has taken upon flesh. We can worry about defining all of this later and see whether it fits together systematically.

Gunton is part of a revolution in Christian theology, and I think this is correct, that sees this all as theology that wishes to be faithful to the incarnational motifs of Scripture but fails to argue what on earth all of this is. And especially, Gunton shares in exposing the severe antinomies that Western Christology has.

He is remarkably anti-speculative and in following Karl Barth, shows that there is no knowledge of God outside of Jesus and on that basis, any talk about the Word's eternal character is determined by Jesus' life on earth. This leads to a severe revision of views of the eternity of God, views that Gunton's teacher Robert Jenson and others have been pleading for and for a long time coming.

Becuase of this revision, many see Gunton as less than orthodox. Surely he is if orthodoxy requires adherence to the ancient Christological dogmas along with their metaphysics. But if orthodoxy requires fidelity to Jesus and the God of Isreal, Gunton is surely one of the right-confessors.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | The Rev Prof Colin Gunton

How did I miss this? In any event, a very fine obit for a very fine theologian.
Matthias Flacius

have you bought the book?
Augustine is making the classic distinction between nature and grace. Both natural good and supernatural good are ultimately dependent on God, but while natural good can be perfected according to the nature of the subject, supernatural good elevates the subject to a supernatural level of perfection.

Nature, then, is the locus of natural freedom. Freedom can't be considered as an "all options are open" arbitrary free for all (this is a confusion of voluntas with arbitrio). Rather, it is anchored in the dynamic of the person. Persons are conditioned by environment, habit, cupidity, etc. and thus their freedom is defined by a _natural_ tendency toward a perceived (although not necessarily actual) good. Hence this freedom is (indeed sometimes sorely) limited as “some liberty.”

When the Holy Ghost is received through the Word and the Sacraments of the Church (I would add), a supernatural “new man” is wrought in us – Christ. This life in the Spirit is bestowed with a capacity for an entirely different order of freedom – freedom in Christ. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free.” (Gal 5:1) This order corresponds not to the natural, but the divine, the supernatural. The tendency – the “towardness” of this volition is defined not by the natural loves of man, but rather the love of the Son for the Father and the love of the Father for the Son. “Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; abide in my love.” (Jn 15:9)

This infused (by grace), interior tendency of the Son’s love for the Father is concretely manifested by our obedience – “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love; just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (Jn 15:10) This graced obedience is foremost the putting of things in right order – i.e., with God above all as Lord and Master, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37) This love for the Lord (which is a share in the Son’s love for the Father) opens up within us an outpouring of this love, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” (Mt 22:39) which essentially desires to share the love which has first been shared with, indeed infused in, us.

This action is characterized not by slavery, for obedience and especially the obedience of love is the opposite of coercion. Rather it bears the mark of freedom in Christ. What is the ultimate expression of Christ’s freedom and love for the Father? The cross. Hence the freedom we are given by Christ is a freedom to suffer, loving God the Father. It is not freedom to justify ourselves, rather it is freedom to die for our love of the Lord only to be resurrected by his gracious love which first raised his only Son.

So is natural liberty a “dubious liberty,” limited in both range and capability? Yes. Are righteousness, justification and the Word beautiful gifts that eclipse the concept of human freedom? Indeed. But these gifts also work within us a new freedom, the Freedom of Christ. This Freedom is not individual in the sense that natural freedom is, but it is a freedom that is bestowed upon the person qua individual. Thus, discard freedom as a shadowy beast? Yes. In the sense that it is useless, indeed harmful, to assert (along with Pelagius) that natural freedom is capable of loving God and the subsequent flourishing of that interior love in righteous acts. But should we discard the mystery of how God moves us interiorly with the grace of the Holy Spirit to cleave freely to Christ, and to obey in freedom with him the Father in suffering and in ultimate joy? To do so would be a denigration of God’s plan.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Article XVIII: Of Free Will.

1] Of Free Will they teach that man's will has some liberty to choose civil righteousness, and to work 2] things subject to reason. But it has no power, without the Holy Ghost, to work the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness; since the natural man 3] receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. 2, 14; but this righteousness is wrought in the heart when the Holy Ghost is received 4] through the Word. These things are said in as many words by Augustine in his Hypognosticon, Book III: We grant that all men have a free will, free, inasmuch as it has the judgment of reason; not that it is thereby capable, without God, either to begin, or, at least, to complete aught in things pertaining to God, but only in works of this life, whether good 5] or evil. "Good" I call those works which spring from the good in nature, such as, willing to labor in the field, to eat and drink, to have a friend, to clothe oneself, to build a house, to marry a wife, to raise cattle, to learn divers useful arts, or whatsoever good 6]pertains to this life. For all of these things are not without dependence on the providence of God; yea, of Him and through Him they are and have their being. "Evil" 7] I call such works as willing to worship an idol, to commit murder, etc. 8] They condemn the Pelagians and others, who teach that without the Holy Ghost, by the power of nature alone, we are able to love God above all things; also to do the commandments of God as touching "the substance of the act." For, although nature is able in a manner to do the outward work, 9] (for it is able to keep the hands from theft and murder,) yet it cannot produce the inward motions, such as the fear of God, trust in God, chastity, patience, etc.

Article XVIII of the AC is, in effect, the flip side of article IV on justification. Less words are employed (especially in the apology; speaking of the apology to the AC by Melanchthon on article IV, there probably has been no clearer exposition or essay on justification ever written- it warrants constant re-reading and referral); nevertheless, the issue of justification is the theological side of the anthropological question regarding the freedom of the will, and vice versa. It is not surprising that the old Adam rails and rants over the issue of free will, because we have a free will, right?

The AC employs the distinction between things below and things above. Things below us are indeed those things related to civil righteousness, obeying the law, treating our families with respect, choosing blueberry rather than strawberry jam as a breakfast spread for toast, that sort of thing. Things above are those things related to justification before God. In the first instance we are free, in the second instance we are bound. In the first, the free will, through the employ of reason, makes decision willfully. In the second, the bound will does nothing unless the Holy Spirit works righteousness in the heart through the hearing of the Word.

An easy distinction to make, in theory, but much more difficult in practice, as is also witnessed by the conclusion of the article. For although in terms of outward works the free will might be able to do "good" works, the free will is unable to work the inward motions, those things that actually make good works good works in the first place. That is to say, we can follow the law and restrain the hand, but if these good works do not proceed from love of God, trust in God, etc., if they do not come out of regard for the first table of the law, then they are not good works in any event. They become instead self-righteous works detrimental to salvation because they are regarded as just and not attributed to the Holy Spirit and faith worked in us by the power of the Word. Furthermore, they are not acts of the free will, at least not in a completely free sense, "for all of these things are not without dependence on the providence of God; yea, of Him and through Him they are and have their being." Even our freely willed actions are dependent on God's providence.

So the article ultimately calls into question any freedom of the will at all, even while it allows for some semblance of that freedom, "some liberty", a dubious liberty at best, not really to be relied upon, for the good itself is worked upon us, in us and through us by God, both the good done below and our righteousness before God. Which is to say, this thing called "free will" is a shadowy beast possibly best left hidden under more beautiful gifts like righteousness, justification, and the Word, which do everything.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue Meets to Finalize Document On The Church As Koinonia Of Salvation: Its Structures and Ministries

After its round examining Scripture and Tradition, the American Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue waited for the next series. This has now concluded its first document to be published in the Spring. It will be interesting to see how this document compares to the older VELKD Kirchengemeinschaft nach Wort und Sakrament and the newer Communio Sanctorum that caused a stir due to its proposals on the bishop of Rome, honoring of saints, and some other issues. What has always been lacking in the American dialogue is a discussion of the office of bishop. The dialogue was pushed to consider first Roman primacy and then infallibility/authority by the Kung debates in the 70s. However, the ELCA has of course been thinking about bishops since then with other churches.
The Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club: Homepage

Loving the t-shirts! Any regular reader of this blog interested in giving Christmas gifts to the writers therein, feel free to order t-shirts for us!

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Social Statements

And while we're on the topic of social statements of the ELCA, here's further reflections on an onerous topic. The ELCA comes out with these with some regularity, as did its predecessor bodies. But the church almost always comes out with social statements rather than confessions. What is it about our church body that it feels completely comfortable making social statements, but can't get about the business of making confessions. In fact, the only thing that is done by our church by way of confession has to do with our ecumenical conversations, which don't end up being confessions in their own right because they are conciliatory documents.

I am happy when the unity of the church is encouraged and forwarded by ecumenical dialogue, no doubt. And I identify quite closely with many of the social statements the ELCA has made over the years. I probably lean slightly left of them, but only slightly, and then right on some others, and well, yada yada. The point is, there seems to be something wrong with the methodology. And the method of issuing the statements is further complicated by the fact that most of our churches and members don't read them in any event.

Which leaves me pondering a magisterium, and teaching authority in the church, and how there might be teaching authority in the church, and...
Caring for Health: Our Shared Endeavor

This is a proposed social statement of the ELCA. It may even have passed at churchwide, but if that is the case, it just shows how disconnected churchwide is from its pastors, cause I generally pay attention. I didn't know we had one on health and health care in the works, given all the hoopla there's been over certain other proposed social statements of the ELCA. Anyway, the site also provides some preliminary reviews by writers for the Journal of Lutheran Ethics.
Confession and Absolution

The Reformation of the Keys. Confession, Conscience, and Authority in Sixteenth-Century Germany. Ronald K. Rittgers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003. 318 pp.

This just came to the desk and seemed like another note to put up. Long ago on this blog (can we point back to old posts in new blog entries?) we discussed the articles of the Augsburg Confession that deal with confession and forgiveness (11, 12, 25). There we wondered quite a bit about confession. This book does not answer many of our questions, especially those facing the restoration of confession and absolution in Lutheran churches today, but it does give the dirty detail. I have not closely examined this book but it appears to be a study of the practice of it by focusing on Nuremburg. There is a bit about Luther but the theology does not get in the way of the history.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia

Pro Ecclesia's Fall issue contains a symposium on this encyclical worth reading and commenting on. Interestingly, the Catholic and Orthodox readers are harder on the encyclical than our very own Dr. Lindbeck. Whatever your position on the Catholic view of the Lord's Supper, this is an important document to read to see the direction the pope is going post-Vatican II as regards table fellowship, eucharistic piety, Marian devotion, and understandings of the real presence in the supper.
Interlude for a Book Note

Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch. John Webster. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003. 152 pp.

This slim volume in CUP's new series, Current Issues in Theology, pleads for reconsideration of the locus on Scripture. Webster here augments previous work on the canon with straightforward proposal of the Bible's role in the Triune God's economy of salvation. Here Webster shows that sketches of biblical authority and the canon carry with them implicit ecclesiologies and theories of divine action. Webster himself modifies Barth's significant discussion of biblical theology in Church Dogmatics I/2 by expanding and discussing the role of tradition and the act of reading. Webster goes beyond the British Isles to engage the proposals of Robert W. Jenson as well as Eilert Herms and many in between. But such asides are confined to the notes. All in all, I found an excellent and provocative study that argues for Scripture's authority as antecedent to the Church's hearing. Yet, like Barth, I continued to wonder at the constant refusal to see the word of God hidden under the human actions and speeches that constitute the Church. Webster, after all, proposes a Reformed view here and such a view always seems to pleasure in what is often called Chalcedonian distinctions that see human and divine together but without confusion. I look forward to re-reading this book and enaging it in my own work on this matter. It does come from that Reformed view but follows Barth's own proposal for the okumene.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Ah, but to accept the beginning in the Word is to submit to "offering" oneself up "to the fire that presses upon the center," and to "begin to understand surrender and sacrifice as eternal fruitfulness." (28 -- sorry, I think my pagination is different) Purgation _is_ annihilation: an annihilation that ends not in complete nothingness, but rather in richness in being rooted in Christ as our center. Man's natural center is not nothingness _in se_, rather it is "nothing without Christ" -- it is relative nothingness, a completely transitory will-o-th'-wisp. Why is it transitory? Because, "as his life burns out and dies, he is consumed: a descent, not a completion." (27)

In Christ, man is consumed by the fire of the Holy Spirit, but "beginning and fire are one" so that his apparent destruction contains new life "transposed into the eternal (and therefore ever new) beginning of God..." (29) For von Speyr this process is continuous, "The whole of man's progress consists in the perpetual destruction of the human center..." This is a result of God's love, which we experience diametrically as judgment and mercy. Do we experience this process beyond bodily death? God's love, certainly, "endures forever." (Ps 118, 136) When do we experience this divine love not as judgment and mercy but simply as love? At the Beatific Vision. Thus, is there the possibility of purgation after the Resurrection but before eternal fellowship with the Holy Trinity, perhaps as an event of the Final Judgment? While von Speyr leaves it unsaid, her grammar (fire, destruction, consummation, transformation, new life) leaves the possibility quite open.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Hell: Population ????

See the excellent article for one side of the view by Avery Cardinal Dulles at the First Things web site: HERE.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Adrienne von Speyr

Bloggers to this site are participating in a pseudo-Advent discipline, reading von Speyr's The Word: A Meditation on the Prologue to St. John's Gospel at the pace of two chapters per week. This is my first stab at a response:

"Man lives in three stages: beginning, centre and fire. But since man has no centre in himself, and may not have one, he is led by the word into the fire, so that he may come to the beginning which is God. Beginning and fire are one" (20)

This enigmatic statement comes at the end of the first chapter of von Speyr's meditations. A strange kind of three stages this is, the 2nd stage not existing and the first and third stages being the same. I read and re-read this paragraph trying to figure out its relation to the chapter I had just read.

Like a good writer, though, von Speyr drew me into the 2nd chapter, where I found further reflections on her stages theory. I find these reflections to be situated conceptually within the very fine reflections my interlocutors have brought to the table on universal restoration and judgment.

First, von Speyr gives man three stages because the Trinity is three. She describes life for a man (sic) as "persistence in being himself, flight from his beginning and dread of his end" (24). In other words, a trinity of nothingness, whereas God is Trinity in God's being. The cravenness of humanity is in craving to live in this persistence, this center, in spite of its being nothing.

The answer to this human nothing is the Incarnation. By Christ coming as the Word, the beginning, centre and consummation of life are brought into the eternal trinitarian life. This is primarily so because whereas man tries to hold onto life and therefore dies, Christ streams forth life in his death, and thus the bringing together of fire and beginning.

This may sound Eastern Orthodox in tone, but if the centre of the human life is nothing without Christ, then we could also posit the parallel of the anihilationist position. There is nothing to be annihilated in the first place, and the being of a human is only predicated on Christ's coming in the flesh. And since the Word has come and lived among us, there is eternal life in and through that only for the first time. Not an annihilation, but a new beginning.

This then begs the question: Is it necessary for there to be further tempering after death (ala Matt's question on purgatory). von Speyr does not bring that piece into her reflections. She sticks with beginning, centre, fire.
"He who does not believe in universal restoration is an ox, he who teaches it is an ass"--Karl Barth

The character of God's judgment matters immensly in this discussion. Some versions of judgment view it as God allowing sinners to continue their way. This permission or release Jonathan Edwards captures well: "The wicked, when they are cast into hell, will continue sinning still. Yea, they will sin more than ever; their wickedness will be unrestrained.” [The “Miscellainies,” 574]. This differs from the permission of which the Bible and Protestant Orthodoxy spoke of in the permission God grants sin in the world.

The advantages of this view of course maintains a sort of "it's their own damn fault." Disadvantages accrue in the implications of God's action apart from Christ--in deed, the crucial question of God saving us despite our rebellion and against our wills applies to this view of justice.

The judgment rendered, as Aquinas frames it, appropriate to the humanity of Jesus in his cross points the way forward. Of what use is the invading reality of forgiveness if there remains a further judgment coming? What relationship does that judgment have?

Thus judgment in the eschatological sense truly obtains a different metaphor than judicial seat or bench. Instead, judgment attains the iconography of a wedding banquet.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Sorry for the redundancy, but I'm going to repost my last "comment" as it seems a propos to what Clint has just written.

It seems to me that the scriptural witness, the creeds and the tradition of the fathers are pretty unambiguous that the parousia will consist of a) general resurrection, b) a specific judgment and finally a subsequent c) bestowal of eternal life -- "enter into the joy of your master" -or- condemnation into the "outer darkness" (Mt 25 14-30). But look at it this way -- who would you rather have judge you, a friend or an enemy? The risen Christ is the embodiment of the Father and Son's mutual love, the outpouring of which is the Spirit. His judgment will not be according to the worldly mode of judgment. What is the divine mode of judgment? An impenetrable mystery that we experience even now in the Spirit's calling us to repent, for the Kingdom is near. It is a judgment that is interpenetrated with love. For God's judgment is his mercy. On the last day, those who have ultimately denied this merciful judgment will be ultimately judged. That's what I think the meaning of Mark 3:29/Luke12:10 is. Ignoring the Spirit's call to repent and cleave to Christ is to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. As the Catholic Catechism says, "There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit." (CCC 1864)
A Good Word, but not the Only Word

Operating on the principle that article XVII is a good word that we are to preach and learn and understand to be in continuing with the tradition of the church as well as the confession of Scripture, but not the only word on the subject, I am quoting from the lectionary text for this coming Sunday, the 2nd week of Advent 2003:

Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offeringers to the Lord in righteousness. Malachi 3:2-3

This is a different kind of universalism than the popular one, the one we all hope for, where all are saved. In this proclamation of Malachi's, a proclamation not at all unique, the universalism is of a negative sort. The answer to the question "Who can stand?" is "No one, not a single one." All will be refined and fuller-ized, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.

God has held all under condemnation so that he might have mercy on all. Not sure if the two images presented, one from Malachi, and this new sentence from Romans, say exactly the same thing, but they certainly present a different idea than the pure division between the sheep and the goats, the evil to everlasting punishment, the good to everlasting joy.

Here we have multiple and complex teachings on the how of salvation, to be sure, not contradictory, but full and hot and worth our contemplation.