Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Another take on The Passion of The Christ

Who Do You Say That I Am? A Review of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the

By Robin Morgan

It seems to me that Lutherans are particularly good at three significant days in our lives: infant baptisms, funerals and Good Friday. These are moments when nothing we can do will make any difference in the outcome. An infant in arms, a family grieving the loss of a loved one, disciples standing at the foot of the cross are all equally impotent to effect what is taking place. Here in these extreme moments, our Lord's promise to us, justification by grace, for Christ's sake, through faith, stands out in bold relief. We are indeed beggars. It is only God's gracious act on our behalf through Jesus Christ that makes any difference.

Which is why I don't completely understand the hue and cry among Lutherans about Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ?

Granted, the movie is devoid of context. Except for a few flashbacks of tender interludes with his mother or disciples, Jesus' life and ministry are absent. Even why this man is being tortured and put to death is not entirely clear. Why when countless people over the centuries have been subjected to this kind of degradation and worse did Gibson make a movie about this one?

Granted, the stereotypic anti-Semitic images are straight out of medieval European piety that led to horrific suffering among Jewish people at the hands of Christians. The Church must forever acknowledge our sins of anti-Semitism and guard against anything that fans the flames of such prejudice and the monstrous consequences that come from it.

Granted, Pilate, unlike the indecisive, but seemingly well meaning bureaucrat caught in a no-win situation in the movie, was a ruthless thug who ruled Palestine with the iron rod of Rome.

Nonetheless, the whole movie is about those hours when the evil humanity's sin had unleashed was brought to its despicable, inevitable conclusion. Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, was tortured and put to death. The whole movie is about those hours when our actions or inactions meant nothing when God as Judge and Christ as sacrificial lamb and savior are center stage battling for our lives.

It was violent. He wasn't a beautifully carved corpus hanging on a cross made from highly polished Black Forest wood. He was flesh and blood in agony. Yet even those of us who profess/confess the depth of Lutheran theology don't want to accept that it was that bad. We want our Jesus gentle and pleasant -- someone who teaches our children to be kind and moral, but then gets out of the way when the real work of running the world is being done. In some ways, regardless of its shortcomings, this movie rubs our noses in Jesus' question, "Who do you say that I am?"?

Why would those of us who profess/confess the depth of Lutheran theology shy away from the opportunities this movie provides to speak about our Lord? Start wherever your conversation partner starts. Whether you begin with the anti-Semitism, the violence, or the androgynous Satan, follow Philip's example when he was speaking with the Ethiopian eunuch, “Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this [the question about Isaiah 53 that the Ethiopian posed], he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.]? (Acts 8:35)

The core of what we have to offer the church catholic and the world is being portrayed in movie theatres around the globe. Of course it's the Gospel according to Mel, so what? As Paul says in Philippians, "Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my sufferings in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice."? (Phil 1:15-18)

If our only purpose is to preserve pure doctrine and 16th/17th century counterpoint, then we need to rethink calling ourselves church. I know that church is wherever the Word is rightly preached and the Sacraments administered, but is the Word being rightly preached when mission to the world really isn't part of our agenda? We might as well retreat behind the walls of our architecturally superior buildings with our pure doctrine and proper sacred music like the medieval monks who copied illuminated manuscripts and considered themselves above the common people. Whoever may be the Luthers of our day won't even be on our radar screens except as enemies.

It's messy out here in the world. Messy and violent. No movie will ever be able to portray exactly what happened on that first Good Friday. But film is an important means of communicating in our post-literate culture. Wade
out into the muck of pop culture and proclaim the good news of Jesus. The Lord's promise to us, justification by grace, for Christ's sake, through faith, is made for such extreme moments. And in the doing, we may be enriched in ways we never imagined possible.

Holy Saturday and the Person of the Logos

This reality of Holy Saturday, the reality of a Jesus Christ entombed requires us to rethink some of the classical vocabulary of theology – namely, the loci of nature and substance, hypostasis and person. All four are canonized, if you will, in the catholic tradition.

Some might try to understand the death of Jesus as the “death of his human nature.” But a nature is defined as either a sum of innate qualities (this is more properly essence) or as that interior capability by which something becomes what it is to become (Aristotle’s Physics). Essences and principles don’t die. They don’t have real existence apart from concrete instances (i.e., hypostases). Likewise for those who put forth that Christ’s human substance died. Substances, apart from particular subsistent realities don’t exist much less die.

Thus we are left with hypostasis and person. Hypostasis refers to a particular subsistence of a given substance. Person applies to a hypostasis when it is a rational subsistence. It also implies a certain exteriority (the Greek, prosopon, meant countenance – in this way it was also referred to in describing theatrical masks). There is an affinity with the beyond in this sense that entails a rational grasp of things outside oneself, but also a relationality, an openness to the other.

It is this point of personhood that we should pursue in discussing Holy Saturday. It is the day on which God is, as Greg puts it, “unknown and unheard.” It is precisely in the death of the person, Jesus Christ, that this silence descends. Silence pervades in light of this loss of the countenance – of the face of Christ who speaks to us the word of the Father, a word that is uniquely his word.

Jesus and Paul--The Word and The Witness

ABC will host this three hour special, lead by Peter Jennings and a whole host of talking heads.

Silence that Speaks

Page references to Hans Urs von Balthasar, Mysterium Paschale. Comments by me.

Death truly is, without Holy Saturday, the undiscovered country. The only way in which death speaks is when the silence of Holy Saturday is disclosed (79). It is a fundamental problem in the matter of the Son and the Father.
If without the Son no one can see the Father nor can anyone come to the Father, and if, without him, the Father is revealed to nobody, then when the Son, the Word of the Father, is dead, then no one can see God, hear of him or attain him. And this day exists, when the Son is dead and the Father, accordingly is inaccessible (49).
The matter of the Son of God’s being-dead matters immensely. If the Father’s image in the world is the Son, if the Father’s Word is the Son, then, if the Son is not there, the Father truly is unknown, unheard, un-imaged. But, as it will be seen with resurrection, this is a disclosing silence if the Son is raised from the dead.

This marks a significant departure from the view of Christ’s being dead is the harrowing of hell. There, Christ’s activity on Holy Saturday is the active scourging of the devil, publicly displaying his victory over death in the heart of death and condemnation itself, the dead in hell. Activity is the activity of one who is alive.

"…the real object of a theology of Holy Saturday does not consist in the completed state which follows on the last act in the self-surrender of the incarnate Son to his Father—something which the structure of every individual person, would entail. Rather does that object consist in the something unique, expressed in the ‘realization’ of all Godlessness, of all the sins of the world…"(51-52).

The hiatus, as von Balthasar calls it, this breach or great rupture, this “grosser Not” as Hegel’s favorite hymn has it, can be bridged or divested of its abyss by finding either universal laws in it or by avoiding its uniqueness in some way. The true way through this abyss is not to avoid the problems but confront it. Theology cannot survive Holy Saturday. Words are taken away as the Word himself is! Only the Word which speaks in Easter can bridge this gap and disclose the slience of Saturday.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The Passion and Anti-Semitism

I continue to contend that Gibson's The Passion is anti-semitic because of it's racial stereotyping, especially in the faces, facial expressions, and choice of actors for various roles. Here's an AP article that notes a similar response worldwide.

The Lord, Romano Guardini, Gateway Edition

It did not occur to me that Gibson's The Passion was something I would need to recover from until I began preparing my sermon for this coming Sunday. First, I sat down and read the 23rd chapter of Luke. All the way through I was comparing notes with the movie. Then I pulled out Guardini, who I've been reading during Lent, and read the following chapters:

11. The Sacerdotal Prayer
12. Gethsemane
13. The Trial
14. Jesus' Death

I recommend them to anyone who is preparing to preach this Passion Sunday. They are an excellent textual icon that will have the net effect of drawing you back and away from the over-visualization of the movie. Guardini, in chapter 14, also recommends re-reading the passion narratives of each of the gospels- Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and John 19.

It is at this point that the struggle is engaged. My imagination has been charged up by viewing the movie, even though my analysis is largely negative. I despise some of the historical conflations and insertions. I detest some of the racial stereotyping of the movie. On the other hand, Gibson's portrayal of Gethsemene and the calm there followed by the storm is an excellent cinematic interpretation of the gospel content, IMHO.

The struggle is also engaged because so many of my parishioners have viewed the movie and have discussed it with me. So should or shouldn't mention of it make it into Sunday's sermon? Should we take this opportunity to truly preach the gospel, a gospel that is about more than blood and gore? Or should we go the route of apologetics, weaving our own preaching into the context of the lived experience of a culture that consumes and swallows wholesale such im-media-te extravaganzas?

I know this much. I have my work cut out for me- but the work is rich, because the rich's of Christ are immense.


These are some lecture notes from a course I taught in a diaconal ministry program.

"Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again."

This acclamation points to the centrality of our faith. We would not call God Father without Jesus inviting us to do so. We would not identify Jesus' Spirit from other spooks and powers without his giving the Spirit to the church. And surely, at the center of all of this is his rejection, crucifixion, death, burial, and then the great message given to the women at the tomb that he is not dead but lives. Of all the great deeds of God throughout history and again to the end of ages, this is the greatest act of God the Father. Death is an enemy of the God of Israel. For in Sheol who will give you praise? Can these bones live? When faced with nothing, God speaks and the world comes is created. Thus, there is a deep link between the gift of the Sabbath and the love of God in Jesus’ cross. Death and all of its accompanying powers and conspirators usurp the gift of time. Death takes away time, it hinges and oppresses and most of all, stops short creatures.

So when we gather at the Vigil of Easter or at Good Friday, we do not do so to listen just about these ancient deeds of God but we do so to be a part of them. We do not come together on Good Friday wondering if Jesus is dead. We tell each other and the world the story of Jesus’ death. Telling the story about Jesus’ death differs from the way it went the first time because we tell the story with the view towards the end of the story. If Jesus hadn't been raised, I doubt this story of his death would matter much at all except one more victim in the annals of terrible victims. One more failure in the face of the God of Israel. Think of the reenactment of the battle of Gettysburg. What would its character be if other events were different? Or rather, it would have taken on other characteristics if it were a rout of the North by the South.

There are a few aspects of this that matter for our discussion. We say in the Vigil that "This is the night" We commemorate this night as the night Jesus rose from the dead.

Jesus’ resurrection is a different sort of event than that of his death. That Jesus died, no one doubts. But Jesus’ resurrection is not an event like other events such as a car wash or a handshake. Instead, it is the one event that gives hope and gives space for faith. Just as the Sabbath gives us time and freedom from labor, the message of Jesus’ resurrection brings us to live and love with the Crucified One.

In other words, we have access to past events only insofar as they bear on Jesus raised from the dead. We cannot therefore claim the event of crucifixion as having this or that meaning without the subsequent resurrection just as we cannot have the resurrection without looking back to the cross. We may make sense of the cross but its sense for God and God’s action in it depend entirely on the challenge it presents for God and therefore what God does with it. Why does God abandon his Son? What is it for? Without Easter we cannot begin to answer these things. We cannot replace God in the position of Friday so what good would it do for us to do so? If we were to do that, then the Easter acquires a position beyond the cross and Jesus' death rather than bringing us back to Jesus' cross.

There is an additional difference between the very night of Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigils whose fast we keep. That difference involves our being assembled into Jesus' death, being crucified with him. And therefore we wait with Jesus and his promise in silence of a sort, waiting for resurrection. The Vigil of Easter as a celebration therefore differs from the very first one because we honor the identity of Jesus' death with our own and while we live towards that death we are given, in our silence and waiting, the promise of being raised with him.

Holy Saturday is indeed the ultimate baptismal day.

Monday, March 29, 2004


Once again, a discovery that has very little to do with Lutheran Confessions, but it does have something to do with the place sin brings us to, and the strange mysteries of things like radiation. I'm not sure I've ever seen an on-line exhibition as powerful as this. You must take a look!

All the while I was looking at these photos, I kept getting the feeling I get whenever I read William Gibson. Anyone else a fan?

Sunday, March 28, 2004

The Large Catechism

A Christian, Profitable, and Necessary Preface, and Faithful, Earnest Exhortation of Dr. Martin Luther to All Christians, but Especially to All Pastors and Preachers, that They Should Daily Exercise Themselves in the Catechism, which is a Short Summary and, Epitome of the Entire Holy Scriptures, and that They May Always Teach the Same.

I confess, in matters theological, I am prone to flights of fancy. I certainly chase after the ever new. I find the practice of preaching catechetically compelling. I find preaching the breadth of Scripture inspiriting. I find almost anything except for lectionary preaching enlivening (am I anti-ecumenical for this?). In fact, the biggest problem with the lectionary is that it fails catechetically at two levels. First, it jumps around so much in Scripture that it does not preach Scripture in a coherent fashion. Second, the typological comparisons between Old Testament and Gospel do a disservice to the depth and breadth of the OT and the opportunities to preach from it.

Which is not to say good preaching cannot be done from the lectionary. In fact, we follow the lectionary in our congregation. But it requires amplification to do well, especially if you are called to preach from the first reading.

But to return to Luther's admonition. Yes, we need short epitomes of the Scripture. Daily pastors and Christians should exercise themselves in this short epitome. This is itself an important aspect of our confession. We summarize Scripture and our teachings in shorter, easy to learn portions, and we refuse to fly off to "higher" levels of reflection if this means we are drawn away from the most basic things.

It may be something like this- when Greg and I call each other on the phone, we certainly are desirous of deeper discernment and new insights. But we often begin by discussing the weather. To answer the R.E.M. song, yes, we should talk about the weather. The winds blown up by the Spirit drive us back to that which holds us fast, the mast of that great ship, the cross of Christ. Otherwise, the winds bury us in the deep water.

Forde Festschrift: By Faith Alone: Essays on Justification in Honor of Gerhard O. Forde

This one, now available too has some major hitters writing in honor of the same Forde. Every one of these essays is of exceeding value for contemporary Christian theology.

A More Radical Gospel: Essays on Eschatology, Authority, Atonement, and Ecumenism

This book collects some of Gerhard Forde's essays. It is also the third book in the Lutheran Quarterly series. If you don't know Forde, his teaching and writing on law and gospel are just some of the treasures I and others owe to him. In Carl Braaten's book on justification he claims it was Forde, Robert Bertram, and Robert Jenson who did the most to preserve justification and the "one true treasure of the church."

An example:

Forde loves to quote one of Luther's table talks when people talk about sin, human freedom, the fall, and other things. Someone asks Luther: Why did God create if God saw sin was to come into the world and bring creation into bondage? Luther (or Forde) answers: well, suppose you were to approach the divine throne and ask God that. He would answer: so that you would know my Son and how much I glory in him.

Forde answers: if you caught a little bit of that Son or his cross, you would say to the Father:

Do it again.

Friday, March 26, 2004

95 Theses

This link provides 95 more (secular) theses. Just in case you didn't get enough. But I got enough. So I don't need any more theses. This guy doesn't need any more of those theses either. I wonder what door these guys are going to nail all of their theses to. I wish I were done with my thesis. I can't wait to nail that to somebody's door. Maybe I should just go nail a door. If I had a hammer...

The Triumph of the Market

The Society of which I'm a member came up with their 9.5 theses about six years ago, but the link above presents a full-fledged 95, with many signatories, but translated into a secular key. Uff da.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Lutheran Confessions--The Next Step

Now that we've taken a breather by looking at the status of confessions, church communion, and other related matters, what next? Since all Lutherans recognize at least the Augsburg Confession, and we happily blogged our way through that, we should probably go on to the second most recognized set of Confessional documents: the Catechisms. That's my vote anyway. What say ye readers and bloggers?

New Life for an Old Review

Okay, it's only from 1998. But this review by Robert W. Jenson of Wolfhart Pannenberg's third volume of Systematic Theology brings to light much of what our blogging staff and readers went back and forth on church, churchiness, and Protestant-Catholic stuff.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Faith Ink

Rich Melheim has picked up an e-mail from me reflecting on their new curricular materials, Faith Stepping Stones. It's good stuff, and I recommend reviewing his site, those of you wanting to make confirmation ministry more holistic and family oriented.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Preaching As Though We Had Enemies

This may be one example of how post-liberal theology bears fruit worthy of the name orthodox. In any event it is classic Hauerwas, for whatever that is worth. I have a love-hate relationship with his theology. How can you not?

Confessing the Trinity

Below I've copied an e-mail I recently sent to an inquirer at our congregation who seeks to learn more about the faith, and has lots of good questions. On Sunday, she asked about the Trinity. Below I've copied my response. What did I miss? What would you say differently?


I thought I'd also share with you briefly why I as a Christian confess the Trinity. These are rather impromptu notes, but they probably are representative of my thoughts on the sbject.

First of all, I believe the doctrine of the Trinity is primarily something that helps us understand how Christ is both God and man. If it weren't for Christ, we would have no reason to concern ourselves with the Trinity. The Trinity is not an abstract concept, some kind of philosophical formula to try and define God. Rather, we believe in the Trinity because of Christ.

Why do we believe in the Trinity, and how does this spring from Christ? Well, a good starting answer is to read the gospel of John. In the gospel of John, we get Jesus praying and teaching about his relationship to the Father and to the Spirit. The idea of the Trinity is about relationship. Jesus is in relationship with the Father because the Father is the Father of the Son, Jesus. He teaches his followers to pray to the Father in this way, "Our Father, who art in heaven..." And he also promises that, after he is resurrected and ascends to heaven, he will send the Holy Spirit to "be our comforter" and "lead us into all truth". So, the Holy Spirit comes to continue preaching and teaching Jesus the Christ to us.

This means that the God we know is not some distant and abstract deity, a creation of the minds of the philosophers. Instead, God is the one we know because Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, born of the virgin Mary, and lived as fully God and fully man. Because of this, we see that God cares for us (he sent his only Son) and God is intrinsically in relationship (because rather than being a lonely and all-powerful figure, God is a relationship, and mutual living together of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). I find this last aspect of the Trinity especially compelling. Because God is Trinity, God is in relationship in God's very self, and therefore, God is love. God could not be love (as 1 John tells us) unless God were three persons, for love is that which is between persons. So, we can say that God is love, and God loves, because God is already the lover, loving his beloved (Christ) in the power of love (the Holy Spirit).

All of these persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, share intimately in each other's lives. The Father brought about all creation through the Word, the Son. This Word was in the beginning with God (John 1), the Holy Spirit does nothing but preach this Word, and the Spirit is present in Christ, and descends upon him. The members of the Trinity are therefore full participants in each other's lives, while remaining differentiated. This is also how we understand the body of Christ, into which we are incorporated at baptism and the Eucharist. Although it is true that the church is "one body", we also know that the body has many members, and therefore many different gifts and functions. The Trinity is the same. All members of the Trinity are fully God, but they are at the same time unique. The Father is not the Spirit, etc.

I find this to be wonderfully compelling, for it makes God dynamic, it teaches us how to understand the life of Jesus in relation to God and the Spirit, and it gives us promises- that God is love, that Christ is for us, and the Spirit remains with us, teaching us about Christ and leading us to the Father. This is why we baptize in this name and only in this name- I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We baptize only in this name because there is so much about this name worth speaking about and remembering.

Monday, March 22, 2004 Books: Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda (Rockwell Lecture Series) Books: Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda (Rockwell Lecture Series)

Another fascinating book. Like Lindbeck, does a great job of identifying the whole issue of Cartesian anxiety, while not necessarily getting us to the constructive next step. But still very helpful.

The Future of Postliberal Theology

The Future of Postliberal Theology

Here's an essay by one of my favorite church historians, Gary Dorrien. If you've never read Dorrien, go out and do so soon. It's a treat. This essay surveys post-liberalism in a way that might be helpful to the conversation Josh and I have been having over heterodoxyin the ELCA, LCMS, etc.

Full Communion

The Formula of Agreement established in 1997 relationship between the ELCA, PCUSA, RCA, and UCC. The document argues that with the signing of that statement, "full communion" would come about among these churches. This, of course, is a long time coming. Of the three ecumenical proposals of 1997 to the ELCA, this is probably the one that could be called "ecumenics lite." The other two, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, and the Concordat with the Episcopal Church USA (to become Called to Common Mission in 1999) got the most schrift. At the time, I considered the JDDJ and the Concordat to be the most significant. The reasons is that they would require the most straightforward changes to ELCA practice. The Formula of Agreement, I was told, said that nothing had to change between Reformed and Lutheran. It was "all good" and that was that. I now think this is the weakest of the three proposals, not only from the perspective of what it claims, but also its success at promoting "full communion."

"Full communion" is a term that developed out of the course of the dialogues to describe the goal of ecumenical dialogue. In its use, however, this amounts simply to the older form of North American views of fellowship, viz, "pulpit and altar fellowship." This for the most part has had the force of: your pastors are ok, ours are ok, so the lay folks can go hither and yon to your altar and ours. But the 1925 Minneapolis Theses state: " fellowship, that is, mutual recognition, altar and pulpit fellowship, and eventually cooperation in the strictly essential work of the church... ." This later part is the part missing from the establishment of full communion between ELCA and PCUSA/UCC/RCA.

So clergy can go back and forth. Same deal with the Anglican agreement only after a while bishops can do that too. But what next? Is that it? The Minneapolis theses that formed the old-old ALC have a better go of it. From what I know of PCUSA polity, there would be immense difficulty in admitting ELCA bishop/synod governance to have sway in the PCUSA. In other words, is there no joint work/decision? Sure pastors may be recognized but it does seem to just stop there. At least the Reformed-Lutheran dialogues in France required the Reformed to dump their commitment to liturigical actions that suggested that Jesus wasn't present in the Supper.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Remarks on the LCMS Document "A Lutheran Understanding of Church Fellowship"

In the comments, dart pointed me to this 2000 LCMS document to explore further the LCMS mind on these matters. What follows are some casual remarks on the document and further questions. I appreciate the back and forth in the previous comments. I think there are some flaws and loops in this statement and a lot has to do with me being an outsider to these things. For instance, I have always been concerned that things are true and proper and so on. But I have usually only attached "pure" to "cane sugar" in my reflection. :-) Page numbers refer to the page in the pdf document.

Remarks on LCMS “The Lutheran Understanding of Church Fellowship”

1. Assumes that “Altar and Pulpit Fellowship” is a sufficient description of Christians or Christian churches sharing in “all spiritual things.” Thus, it does not consider other views or images of church fellowship. It hinges upon the relationship of two pastors and each pastor, each to her own church and to the confession which they share.
2. Such fellowship concerns mainly visible fellowship. There is only one church but there are two aspects to it: “The one church, the fellowship of all believers, expresses herself outwardly as the assembly around the Gospel and sacraments. The internal and external fellowship is facets of the one church. Internal fellowship is constituted by faith and the external fellowship is expressed by confession” (p. 5). Limits are drawn to both fellowships but the internal one is regulated by God alone and cannot be circumscribed by human action. The external limits of fellowship are “confession.”
3. So one of the difficulties this presents, and is acknowledged in the document, is the status of Christians outside of the true external fellowship. It seems to me that the logic here compels a straightforward identification of the one true church with the true external fellowship even though the document later gets nervous about that conclusion, just as the followup response to this document states. I assume that when one has faith in Christ then one is a member of his body. How membership in that body means that that person can get turned down at the altar is a disconnect of the logic here. The document wants to retain a sort of Christian segregation: equal in the invisible, internal church, but separate in the visible church.
4. Unless I am missing something the statement happily implies that the sacraments administered even in “heterodox” communities are true sacraments even if “tragically” screwed up by a “heterodox” confession.
5. The document assumes that the reader knows what a confession is (p.5-7). It seems to use confession, doctrine, teaching, and preaching interchangeably. As examples it utilizes the Nicene Creed, the Lutheran Confessions, Jesus’ action before Pilate, Peter’s confession, and what Paul says in Romans 10:9-10, and many more. These are not the same sort of thing even if they are all related. The Nicene Creed was originally a canonical rule and acquired liturgical status. The Lutheran Confessions were teaching tools for children, articles of incorporation of a military league, a confession for a highly specific purpose at Augsburg, the personal writing of Melanchthon, and later acquired status in various ways in various lands as legal requirements. The Formula of Concord is not recognized by all Lutherans as an essential confessional document. Peter’s confession is not the same as what Jesus did. And so on and so forth.
6. Further, the document assumes that there is an untroubled relationship between a church bodies “official doctrine” and the communicants of a church belonging to that church body. Does this document assume that the articles of incorporation or other legal documents required for non-profit status in the state of Minnesota constitutes official teaching? I do not think that there shouldn’t be something like “official teaching” but it is difficult to see what it is. This is further difficult because the document makes no distinction between false teachers, Christians in “herectical” communions and the like (p.8-9). Some are going to hell, others aren’t. You know who you are, I guess.
7. The discussion of truth and confession on p. 7ff wishes to shunt aside ideas that truth and human expression of it are fluid matters at best, difficult to capture. The document on this score seems captive to very very very very modern views of truth that is clear, distinct and unchanging. St. Louis, meet Descartes.
8. It would seem that the importance of doctrine would require a frank discussion of what constitutes the fundamental articles of faith.
9. Post-Reformation churches in the West are in the same situation vis-à-vis fellowship in the patristic age. Werner Elert’s idealistic theology of communion has been contested on many levels and this assertion of his, carried directly into this statement, portrays the ancient rejection of heresy to apply in exactly the same way to the churches of today.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Charcoal - 100% Natural Hardwood brought to you by Laralee Distributors -

Charcoal - 100% Natural Hardwood brought to you by Laralee Distributors

Spring is on the way, and where would we be without some great charcoal to light up the grill with. Does this count as being quite away off the beaten path from the normal LC posts? :)

Journal of Lutheran Ethics- Between Sanctity and Depravity

Journal of Lutheran Ethics

No, I'm not saying the JLE is between Sanctity and Depravity. Rather, John Witte Jr. has a fascinating study of the law and two kingdom's on Luther's thought that can be download from the JLE, and is worth reading. There are also some new and relatively mediocre reviews of Gibson's The Passion posted here, if you're so inclined to read such things...

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Individualism, Communion, and Piety

It occurs to me that two disparate conversations from the history of this blog are actually connected. The connection hinges on the relationship between individualism and communion and their relationship to ethics.

We might say the pietism isn’t wrong-headed per se, but puts the emphasis in the wrong place. Pietism makes ethics an individual thing, and sanctification the property of an individual. Although certainly sanctification has to do with individuals, it has to do with them in their co-inherence. Sanctification is about edifying the body of Christ.

We see this most clearly in the ethical addresses of Paul to the communities to which he writes. Or the parenesis of Peter and others. Always, although the ethical life applies to individuals, it applies for the building up of the body.

So how does this relate to our discussions. For one, it relates to the critique of evangelical Catholicism as being a pietist movement. I believe this is essentially wrong-headed because it sees the ev cath movement as being individualist in its emphasis. But at the heart of the evangelical catholic movement is a “taking care for” communio-ecclesiology, a respect for the catholicity of the church, and an honoring of the communion of saints across time. In these senses at least, the ev cath movement cannot be accused of pietism.

But it is also true that it applies to our approach to hermeneutics. Here again individualism is the key issue (something Matt has pointed out in critique of Chris’s congregational piety). And we might reference Emerson to make our point clear:

“Whoso would be a man (sic) must be a nonconformist…. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. I remember an answer which when quite young, I was prompted to make to a valued adviser who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church. On my saying, What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? My friend suggested, - “But these impulses may be from below, not from above.” I replied, “They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil’s child, I will live then from the Devil.” No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature.”

Now, I don’t mean to say that those who take a more Evangelical approach to the interpretation of Scripture (no intermediary necessary, Scripture above tradition, etc.) are necessarily in Emerson’s camp. Far from it. He goes much further than they would go. But the logic lies in the same direction. The Scripture is read and interpreted in the church , not as the property of individual believers. This way lies pietism, and ultimately, the tyranny of the individual.

Certainly there is potential tyranny in the other direction. The Magisterium conceptualized as a force that can “put the slap down” on heresy, always itself already clear what heresy is and isn’t, is itself a form of tyranny to be avoided. Nevertheless, the middle way, and the important direction to take, when speaking of ethics as well as of hermeneutics, is to understand them both as being a part of “the church”, not apart from it, or as the particular property of a subset of the church, the individual or a local congregation or an individual denomination. The ethical life of the Church is ontologically the perichoretic life of the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit. The interpretation of Scripture takes place only in this body and only by this spirit. And the church only reads Scripture rightly, and only lives its life rightly, as this one body.

This may be another way of answering the question re: evangelical Catholicism that gets beyond the issues of pietism and hermeneutics. More importantly, I believe it shows why our calling theologically in this period is to work out an adequate ecclesiology informed by a more robust pneumatology. But that is for another post.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

2004 Papers - Symposia: Exegetical and Confessional Theology

2004 Papers - Symposia: Exegetical and Confessional Theology

These papers from a symposium at Fort Wayne, IN, are recommended by our neighbor, Fearsome Pirate. I have yet to read them, but am particularly interested in the discussion of the faith of Christ.

George Barna and Evangelical Catholic

"Values American Christians have abandoned (according to Barna): radical obedience, holistic stewardship, church loyalty, submission to authority, accountability, diversity, discipline, persecution, biblical knowledge, theological purity, salvation by grace alone, elder care, family spirituality, holiness, patience, and confession of sins." (Scott Boren in Making Cell Groups Work )

Of how many of the above could we say it is the goal of evangelical catholics to re-embrace in spite of the cultural abandonment of them in the modern era? Seems to me this also is a mark of what we might call a distinctly evangelical catholic option. Add liturgy and the daily offices to the list, and you've got a pretty comprehensive definition.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Jesus, Mary and Martin

After you read this tantalizing essay, there's a link at the bottom that proceeds to an article on "The Blessed Virgin in the Confessions" as well as "The Blessed Virgin in Lutheran Hymnals". Placing a link to these articles (I'm still trying to figure out who wrote them) may be another partial answer to the question, "What is an evangelical catholic?" Answer: "Someone who links to such pages from a blog called Lutheran Confessions." Or maybe I've just got too much time on my hands this late evening and am wasting it on-line.

Takes a Lickin'

A friend of mine went to the Passion movie and some of his fellow parishoners noted how Jesus is sort of a Rocky-like figure. Living in the part of Jersey that is under the sway of Philly rather than NYC, I was of course curious. "Say more." In their view the movie was basically: see how much they can dish out to Jesus and he still can take more! Sort of like what a professor of mine once said of the last words of Jesus from the cross in Luke: "hold tight folks, I'll be back after these messages."

Hardly the theologia crucis.

Monday, March 15, 2004


This site came to my attention via Susan Hedahl's helpful book, Listening Ministry Good stuff, puts a whole new spin on the "theology of the Word".

Friday, March 12, 2004

Why Does the Church's Disunity Matter? And Why Would 'Evangelical Catholicism' Be a Good Thing?

Why Does the Church's Disunity Matter? And Why Would 'Evangelical Catholicism' Be a Good Thing?

Ok. For the sake of argument, let's leave off the question of the relationship of institutional unity to other forms of unity in the church because that seems most heated. Let's take a look at an individual congregation. Would it make sense to say that a congregation where some don't consider others in the congregation to be Christian to be a difficult problem? Let's say the others return the favor. How do we ajudicate unity or disunity in such a situation? Well, we could pull the big c-trigger and say: there's unity there in Christ. Well, how? In their being baptized? In their communing at the same table? Sharing the same air? Being under the same oppression of sin, death, and the devil? And all his e-vil?

What prevents this same kind of question from extending among congregations? Or even congregations that identify somehow they got their preacher from the Archbishop of Milwaukee who was confirmed as bishop by other bishops who seem to feel a need to visit the bishop of Rome from time to time. Or perhaps they got their preacher from Luther Seminary. Why would it matter that one set of people claim to be one in Christ with others but don't share the Supper? Whose loss is it?

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Again I don't know how to make links so type this into your browser:

Now this is an example of an emerging church that I believe would never happen in a institutionally unified church... and they are doing just fine without a pope.
Where to begin?

Hello everyone – sorry to have been “gone” so long. I was on Spring Break, visiting my beautiful fiancée in Slovakia. I had a wonderful time despite the bitter cold and 4pm sunsets. Enough autobiography – to the issue(s) at hand. The formidable Treatise is our locus, but what a diversity of concerns it addresses: authority, structure, orders, the Petrine ministry, spiritual vs. temporal authority – just to name a few. So, where to begin? It seems to me that before approaching the See of Rome in any particularity, we must seek to discern what institution and structure mean in the context of a historical ecclesiology. For if it posses any rôle at all, the pontificate certainly would posses it within and only within this matrix.

Let us begin by considering the concept of institution abstractly/metaphysically with the hermeneutic of the four causes:

1. Efficient Cause – to institute is synonymous with to establish. An institution, then, appeals to a founder who is the sine qua non of its existence. Now the efficient cause can be seen in two different modes. In one way, it can start a process that is then seemingly self-sufficient. However, it can also be seen as an ongoing efficient cause – such as sunlight is to the warmth of the planet. Analogously, the institutor can have two possible modes of efficacious causality with the institution.
2. Final Cause – action is dynamic in that it has a ‘towardness’, an end. An institution, in the mind of its founder as well as in its own historical dynamic, has a purpose. Should the institutor remain as an ongoing, interactive efficient cause, he can do so within the life of the institution. Thus he is efficient and purposive agent of this dynamic towardness.
3. Material Cause – in a sense, the institution itself is the material. To this we must add that in the case of an institutor who remains within the institution as an ongoing efficient and purposive agent we have an incorporation (etymologically literal in the case of the church) of the institutor and institution.
4. Formal Cause – the institution qua material is endowed with the form of institution. This form reflects the efficiency and intentionality of the institutor. Depending on ongoing presence of the institutor, the form of the institute can reflect and even participate in the very form of the institutor.

The ongoing, indwelling efficient cause of the institution of the church is solely the Three-Personed God. In a special sense, Christ enjoys a unique rôle in this economy, as Chris rightly puts, “this Church belongs to Christ and to Christ alone. Why do I say that? Because I had nothing to do with its purchase... it was Christ's body and blood that paid for it...” Thus Christ acting within the Trinity exclusively instituted the church. The Apostles were not helpers in the absolute, efficient sense of the word. In other words, God in Christ is the plenary efficient cause. Likewise, the final cause – the end – is the perichoretic communion, the Trinity. It is immediately obvious that the efficient cause and the final cause are radically one and the same. Thus, in the presence of the Incarnate Word, the βασιλεια is at hand – as a dynamic reign that causes to be and draws in that which it has caused.

Where does that leave the other two causes – the material and the formal? The institution as the Body of Christ with Christ as the Head is the best Biblical image for the material institution. Thus the scholastics refer to the grace of Christ as capital grace. Aquinas writes in ST III:8:5 that there is no real distinction between capital grace and personal grace, or the grace that Christ as Head bestows on us through the Holy Spirit. Such is the unity between the head and the body animated by one Spirit that the grace is radically one grace flowing from Christ’s headship. Continuing with the analogy of the mystical body, there is an organic ordering principle evident in the formal causality bestowed by the efficient/final cause onto the material in radical union with him.

This formal aspect has an interior and an exterior manifestation. Interiorly, we are con-formed to Christ – we are moved internally by grace to a loving relationship of faith. This corresponds to the first part of the Shema (Dt 6:4-5) quoted by Christ in the Gospels –“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The conformity to Christ is worked in the individual, in diverse ways, by the gifts of the Spirit. There is a corresponding exterior and communal aspect of the Shema that draws all into this con-forming unity – “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The unity we share in Christ’s body is a remarkable model of this two-fold conformity to Christ worked in the mystery of his Headship – his Capital Grace. This unity, informed by the vision of a shared faith, is wrought by the Ur-gift of the Holy Spirit – charity.

A look at 1 Corinthians 12-13 puts this action into perspective. There is an immense diversity of spiritual gifts. They manifest in individuals in manifold ways. All are equally loved and drawn into communion with God, but this is carried out in different ways. Furthermore, the differences among individuals are somehow important in fellowship of the Church. What unites this diverse group? Looking to the next chapter, we see Paul’s answer – love. Love is given priority, even, over the other theological virtues in that it unites and vivifies the other virtues vis-à-vis relating the individual to God and his Assembly. So, in a radical sense, charity (united with faith and hope) as a gift of the Holy Spirit is the ordering principle in the People of God as the Body of Christ.

Apostleship is given a priority of sorts in the latter part of chapter of 12 leading up to 13. One might say that apostleship participates in the unitive action of charity. Thus Christ, after asking Peter thrice “do you love me”, responds to Peter’s “yes” with “feed my sheep.” (Jn 21: 17-18) The mission of the apostle is to “preside in charity” (Ignatius of Antioch, Ep. ad. Rom., 1,1). The formal causality of the institution of the Church admits of an ordering principle, a structure, if you will. But in the Body of Christ, this ordering principle is none other than charity as the fundamental gift of the Holy Spirit to the baptized faithful. This is an ordering principle given to all, but it is specially manifested in the apostolic munus for the sake of unity in diversity. It necessarily has a visible dimension as it is particularly for the sake of a community. Again, the apostolic ministry is visible precisely in that it is for the community. How else could it really be societal? Furthermore, in that it is a unitive visible ministry, it follows that it is manifest in a visible unity rather than an indistinct plurality.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Norway: Lutheran theologian becomes Roman Catholic

Norway: Lutheran theologian becomes Roman Catholic

More on Ola Tjørhom...

The Porvoo Churches

The Porvoo Churches

Cool site!

Liturgical Press

Visible Church- Visible Unity: Third Book in Unitas series

Chris has posted an excellent challenge, and to begin with, I refer him to Ola Tjørhom's Visible Church- Visible Unity , the best representative for the trend in my own thinking that I could possibly refer him to. I don't believe this is a cop out. I'll also reply "in my own words", but Ola has made a beautiful start.

Here's a summary:

"Visible Church—Visible Unity
Ecumenical Ecclesiology and “The Great Tradition of the Church”
Ola Tjørhom; foreword by Geoffrey Wainwright
In Visible Church—Visible Unity Ola Tjørhom explores central questions in current ecclesiological and ecumenical debates from the perspective of an evangelical catholicity of “the Great Tradition of the Church.” Tjørhom shows how the fundamental visibility of the Church and the similarly visible nature of Church fellowship is a corrective cover against “invisible” perceptions of these entities. This theme of visibility is developed in view of the sacraments, the ministries, and the mission of the Church.

Visible Church—Visible Unity includes “Chapter 1: Toward the End of the Reformation Project? The Riddle of Protestantism,” “Chapter 2: ‘The Great Tradition of the Church’—An Old Way Forward?” “Chapter 3: The Church—Mother of Faith and Priest of Creation,” “Chapter 4: The Goal of Visible Unity—Reaffirming Our Commitment,” and “Chapter 5: Life in the Spirit—Toward a ‘Materialist’ Spirituality.”

Ola Tjørhom, D.Th., currently serves as professor of dogmatics and ecumenical theology at the School of Mission and Theology in Stavanger, Norway. Previously he has been a research professor at the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, director of the Nordic Ecumenical Institute, and researcher at the Norwegian Foundation for Humanistic Research. His previous publications include several contributions on ecumenism, ecclesiology, and sacramental theology.

"Have the Reformation churches remained true to their original insights about renewal, or have the twin threats of liberalism and pietism led them to settle for a ‘mere Protestantism’? Ola Tjørhom dares not only to ask this uncomfortable question, but to suggest a concrete alternative: closer attention to the ‘Great Tradition’ of the Church. He accomplishes this without lapsing into nostalgia (all too common in the invocation of this concept) and in an ecumenically sensitive way. And he traces the concrete ecclesiological and sacramental consequences in a way that make this book an important study for Christians of every stripe."

David S. Cunningham, Professor of Religion, Hope College"

Whose Church is it anyways?

I don't know how to make all those fancy bold letters and stuff or make titles that actually appear on my posts so bear with me here... the title of this post is Whose Church is it anyways?

My issue with the evangelical catholic movement is that it is a movement towards the Catholic structure and not a truely evangelical movement of the Catholic Church towards the confessing churches. This bears out when I get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach in the discussion of the magesterium and of human authority particularly in the position of pope. You see I can't get around one fact, and I truly am open to hearing more about this, but you see as far as I can see this Church belongs to Christ and to Christ alone. Why do I say that? Because I had nothing to do with it's purchase... it was Christ's body and blood that paid for it... as soon as human beings start messing around with issues of authority, who gets to do what, etc. etc. it seems that we are once again dethroning Christ and pretending like this church is ours and not His.

In essence, I truly believe that institutions shackle the Gospel and de-radicalize it. We cannot begin to deal with the ramifications of Christ's teachings say on the outsider, the leper, the last shall be first, etc. etc. Instead we put on gold robes and pectoral crosses and use those symbols to pretend to an authority that isn't truly ours.

I want to engage on this but it seems to me you all are on your way back to Rome and I can't for the life of me figure out why.

Monday, March 08, 2004

The Passion

The Passion

"I agree with all those statements. It is a beautiful and well-crafted work of art. It is a clearly Catholic work, accenting the self-giving of Jesus, his relationship with Mary, and the Eucharist. It is gory, with excessive and gratuitous violence (including a crow plucking out the eyes of the "bad thief" after his taunting of Jesus).

And it does exaggerate the role of the Jews. Many examples could be cited to demonstrate this..."

A Letter to Rich Melheim

A Letter to Rich Melheim

The following is a letter to Rich in response to his question, "What about the Fifth Church model inspires you in your ministry?" For those interested in such things, visit his web site!

Dear Rich,

I could begin an answer to this question at a # of different points, but I'll start with high school youth ministry. I appreciated the outline of high school ministry you're trying experimentally with a church in Colorado. Currently our high school youth program has continued the program model- Sunday night "events", usually social in nature. Bowling, etc. Nothing wrong with getting together socially, but this functions as the "center " of the high school ministry rather than something extra. We've been in conversation with the local Roman Catholic church about doing joint vespers services, and our high schoolers already respond more wholeheartedly to service and worship opportunities in any event.

We are also introducing this coming fall an adult mentor program for those transitioning from 8th grade confirmation to 9th grade ministry as high schoolers.

The high school thing taps into my interests at another level, because I don't want to implement a staff-centered and driven high school youth program. I want to see it centered in the family, in devotional life, and hopefully in small groups of high schoolers supporting each other in the faith. The old "lone-ranger" model seems too tiring.

From another angle, I believe our church is burned out on the programmatic stuff, bu they're equally fearful of a transition that doesn't look like another big (read: successful) program. So simply using the fifth church materials as a teaching tool is itself helpful. I've done a good deal of reading in ecclesiology, as well as some of the stuff in the Emergent church on more organic forms of small group ministry; I've been reading on cell groups, the catechumenate program, etc., and rather than introducing one of these programs (cell group, catechumenate, small groups, etc. all of which contain excellent ideas) as the solution to our supposed malaise, I believe simply helping us all think about the multiple levels at which the church exists would itself be restful and renewing. Then we pray, give thanks for the breadth of the church that God has given us (we cannot have God as our Father if we do not have the church as our Mother- Cyprian), and listen for the vision given to us.

Finally, beginning with the first church reminds us all that renewal begins at home (renewal actually begins when the Spirit brings life to this cruciform body of Christ that we call the church), but in terms of the life of the church, the fifth church models encourages people to look for change at home at the same time that they expect change (but seldom volunteer to help out) in the fifth church.

Guess that's a mix of cynicism and optimism, but it's where I'm at. I especially want to continue my reflections on your model of the seven churches as a method for development of an ecclesiology. When I think about it in that way, I can think of one way to challenge you on your current model. It goes something like this:

You've got all the aspects of congregationalism and low church piety influencing your model- small groups, cell groups, home devotions, etc. And at the top level you've got some good Lutheran vocational stuff (sixth church) as well as the church in the eschatological sense (seventh church). But what about a church of churches, the church that exists in many places. We need to call ourselves and our people to think not only in terms of the church lived out in their daily lives, but also the church that gathers in many ways and places throughout the world. So your model needs to include a more adequate ecclesiology, including the ministry, the relation between churches, bishops, denominations, etc., and how this relates to the laity.

Hope it's not too presumptuous to suggest these things.

A Hope for Collapsing Churches

A Hope for Collapsing Churches

"FROM A DISTANCE, THE castles towers can be seen rising high above the country side, its flags snapping in the wind. Its walls stand massive and secure, and the life inside continues much as it always has. And yet its foundation is cracking and sinking, the walls beginning here and there to crumble, its flags tattered, the roofs full of holes, and many of the windows broken.

Such, certainly, are the mainline Churches. Such also is Rome, seen as a whole; that is, as including Hans Kung and Rosemary Radford Ruether as well as Pope John Paul II. Such will be Orthodoxy as well, when those Churches have more fully been infected by modernity and the cultural ghetto that has so far protected them has finally turned into a suburb. I will describe here only the mainline Churches, because their decay is already so advanced and so easy to trace. Barring divine intervention on a scale not seen since the parting of the Red Sea, the mainline Churches will predictably and inevitably collapse, but in this inevitability lies the greatest hope for orthodox Christianity therein..."

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Papal Primacy

Papal Primacy and a Bishop Among Bishops

In the first place, therefore, let us show from the [holy] Gospel that the Roman bishop is not by divine right above [cannot arrogate to himself any supremacy whatever over] other bishops and pastors.

I unqualifiably testify that I subscribe to this statement of Melanchthon's in The Power and Primacy of the Pope . I find M's arguments convincing, his citation of Scripture and Church Fathers compelling, and believe that adherence in practice to this theological assertion would benefit the church of Christ.

I have several reasons for this testimony. The list in the treatise is itself worth re-reading, but here I will give my own reasons. First, many theologians whom I respect that seek to lift up both the clear Lutheran witness as well as respect for the office of ministry, in spite of their valuing of the office of bishop, find the current primacy of the pope problematic. Second, the pope's authority in the West is a stumbling block for rapprochement with the Eastern Church. One answer to the question, "When might Lutherans faithfully return to the Roman Catholic church?" might be, "When the schism between east and west ends." Third, elevating the pope above all other bishops is not in keeping with the historic role Peter played in relation to the other apostles.

I do believe there is wiggle room here, at least at the hermeneutical level. For example, when Christ says, "Upon this rock I will build my church," certainly he is speaking, as the reformers attest, about the faith of Peter. It is Peter who says, "You are the Christ." It is this faith upon which the church is founded. But it is also true that Peter is Cephas, and some there is space for our understanding or recognizing Peter as special, as somehow representative of the apostles in a kind of figurative headship.

The other compelling text is Christ from the cross, who says, "Woman, here is your son. Son, here is your mother." He is speaking of Mary and Peter. This passage is stunning, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the passing on of sonship from Jesus to Peter. Mary, the Theotokos, now has a new son, Peter, and Peter now has as his mother the Theotokos. We speak of the church as the body of Christ, but at least here we also need understand the body of Christ as that which is born into the world through the death and resurrection of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit, which is the church. And here, as elsewhere, Peter stands in for the church more generally.

Which is not to say that he has primacy or power which he can lord over others. Rather, Peter is the son, grafted into the family, and, as one apostle among many, representative of the inheritance that comes to all the apostles. In this sense, we can say that the bishop in Rome who is especially connected to Peter, has a special place in the church, but just that a special place in the church, not over the church. This is best attested in the NT by Paul's relationship to Peter. Our 13th apostle, Paul, does not need to be given authority through Peter, for he receives it directly from Christ. This is important, but it does not take Peter's special place away.

What then is the proper relationship between the pope and the church? The pope is the bishop of Rome, for one. He is the bishop who faithfully lays claim to the Petrine office. He is a bishop among bishops. But his witness would better serve the church if he would serve the church in the same way Peter did, rather than as a king among beggars. Well, I don't know if this is the proper image. But it at least speaks the challenge in metaphorical terms.

Friday, March 05, 2004

The Passion of the Christ

The Passion of the Christ

A relatively comprehensive resource for articles on The Passion of the Christ. Especially good are the New York Times links and the Christian Scholars Group links out of Nebraska.

The Onion | Jesus Demands Creative Control Over Next Movie

The Onion | Jesus Demands Creative Control Over Next Movie

Ok, this is really funny, and in many ways The Onion article is more biblically sound than Gibson's movie itself. That may be a stretch, but maybe it will inspire you to read the Onion.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Orthodox Research Institute - Articles

Orthodox Research Institute - Articles

Further proof that truly a ton of stuff is now available to read on-line- of the making of books there is no end, but at least we usually know how to find them. In the case of the web, there's not even a way to start in the traditional sense...

The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible

The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible

Greg's "hobby" theology topics include mariology and ecumenism. My hobby theology is definitely the hermeneutical/theological relationship between the Old & New Testaments. This new document (published originally in French, then translated into Italian, and only recently into English) is now available on-line, and requires extensive time to digest (approx. 100 pages). Good luck in your reading, and send all comments my way. I'll be chewing on it slowly.

Read America

National Read America Day

Yesterday was Dr. Suess's 100th birthday. So, reading and literacy was the emphasis in schools across the union. All readers are therefore asked to report on their reading activity of the day. For the record, here's what I read yesterday:

Carl Stange, Religion als Erfahurng (1919)
Karl Holl, Luther: Gessamelte Aufsatze (1921)
Heinrich Assel, Der andere Aufbruch: die Luther Renaissance (1994)
Ola Tjorhom, Visible Unity--Visible Church (2004)
Gunther Wenz, "Von der Kirche. Grundzuge der Ekklesiologie im Anschluss an die Confessio Augustana" in Lutherische Identitat (2000)

I told Clint on Wed that I want to start reading Billy Budd again.

We now resume the regular high quality theological blogging.


I know that I fall into the trap of putting words in Brother Martin's mouth all of the time and he seemed to foresee that this would happen. What is interesting about this excerpt from his Confession Concerning Christ's Supper is his reference to his defense of the sacrament of the altar. I am wondering if it is appropriate to include this treatise in our discussion on ecclesiology and ecumenism particularly since it is in that document that Luther seems to explicitly outline his reasons for holding so tightly to the satis est? What say you all?

What Would Martin Luther Say?
An Excerpt From Martin Luther's Spiritual Last Will & Testament
by Martin Luther, 1483-1546
Translation by Rev. Robert E. Smith
From the German text in:
(Weimar: Herman Boehlaus Nachfolger, 1909), pp.499-500.

Because I see that the mobs are always growing, the number of
errors are always increasing and Satan's rage and ruin have no
end, I wish to confess with this work my faith before God and the
whole world, point by point. I am doing this, lest certain people
cite me or my writings, while I am alive or after I am dead, to
support their errors, as those fanatics, the Sacramentarians and
the Anabaptists, have begun to do. I will remain in this
confession until my death (God help me!), will depart from this
world in it, and appear before the Judgment Seat of our Lord Jesus

So that no one will say after my death, ``If Luther was alive, he
would teach and believe this article differently, because he did
not think it through sufficiently,'' I state the following, once
and for all: I, by God's grace, I have diligently examined these
articles in the light of passages throughout the Scriptures. I
have worked on them repeatedly and you can be sure that I want to
defend them, in the same way that I have just defended the
Sacrament of the Altar.

No, I'm not drunk or impulsive. I know what I am saying and
understand fully what this will mean for me as I stand before the
Lord Jesus Christ on the Last Day. No one should think that I am
joking or rambling. I'm serious! By God's grace, I know Satan
very well. If Satan can turn God's Word upside down and pervert
the Scriptures, what will he do with my words -- or the words of

Commentaries, part II redux

Commentaries, Part II, Redux

I had lots of responses to recommendations for commentaries on the Pentateuch, but zero responses for recommendations on the next five books of Scripture- Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and 1 & 2 Samuel. Do we not preach on these often enough to know the best commentaries? I'm posting again to try and get some recommendations. Thanks.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004



The following is a pseudonymous Instant Message conversation between two historical figures:

Sosthenes: i need to blog on this topic...
Sosthenes: but the gnesios always say the same thing, "Satis est", right proclamation and right adminstration of sacraments, no ecclesiology necessary
Sosthenes: the church is wherever the above happens
Sosthenes: but then they never take the next step... what does this look like?
Sosthenes: it's a kind of a strange positivism or idealism, imho
Sosthenes: is this your read as well?
Aristarchus: 100%
Aristarchus: plus lutherhimself complicates the picture:
Aristarchus: the view of the church from the 1519 sermon on the blessed sacrament puts forward a full communio view of the church
Aristarchus: and that hooks up with 1 Cor
Aristarchus: and from there, the whole world of communio ecclesiology becomes pursausive to me
Aristarchus: Jesus shares with us and with with each other in his supper
Aristarchus: thus the slogan, "The Eucharist makes the church"
Sosthenes: so when a gnesio throws that quote at you, how to respond...
Aristarchus: hmm
Sosthenes: they're very self-righteous on this point, as we've experienced
Aristarchus: because the office is necessary
Aristarchus: the hearers and preachers themselves take up space--have got bodies and so on
Sosthenes: no, it's not necessary, it is just a vessel through which the satis est is accomplished
Sosthenes: :-)
Aristarchus: i have a tough time arguing with them
Aristarchus: the phenomena of hearing matters
Aristarchus: we don't act outside of ourselves
Sosthenes: i do agree that the body issue is important... on this point the gnesios start sounding like the hyperspiritualists that they despise
Aristarchus: the space we take up is the space to which God's word comes
Aristarchus: i would also take the divine/human action angle that i often do
Aristarchus: that's my oldest tact
Aristarchus: proceeding socratically, we would look at "vessal acting through"
Sosthenes: perichoretic divine human action
Aristarchus: nothing wrong with that
Aristarchus: but it neglects the big picture
Aristarchus: Jesus' work, the "actuallity of atonement" and the Temple of the Spirit
Sosthenes: in fact, to continually harp on proclamation/sacrament without continuing in the thought in the way it is embodied is to succumb to the hyperspiritualist position
Sosthenes: maybe we can start calling the gnesios schwarmerei... they'd love that
Aristarchus: Ritschl called the neo-lutherans of his day: "Bekenntnisschwaermeri"
Aristarchus: delicious
Sosthenes: sehr gut
Sosthenes: i'm using that from now on
Aristarchus: what do you think of communio-ecclesiology?
Sosthenes: you mean that the church needs a structure because communion takes place around a table?
Aristarchus: one way to approach it
Aristarchus: more like "church is a communion of persons" and the "church is a church of churches"
Aristarchus: which allows more flexibility of event vs. institution
Sosthenes: would your formulation still allow for a very congregational approach, though?
Aristarchus: well
Aristarchus: "the one church is from and in the churches" as well as "the churchers are in and from the one church"
Aristarchus: so sort of
Aristarchus: it is congregational in that no churchly reality is abstracted from a local church
Aristarchus: thus, no biship worth the name is a bishop without being a pastor
Sosthenes: i agree with this... but what about Forde's argument that visible uinity is a chimera
Aristarchus: supervisory and jurisdictional power tied to the evangelical responsiblity of sacrmaents and word
Aristarchus: this isn't visible unity
Aristarchus: at least not in the usual sense
Sosthenes: oh
Aristarchus: it is unity in the sense of unity in word/proclamation
Sosthenes: right, and so you're saying the structure ensures the office in some sense?
Aristarchus: the failing in the gnesio angle is that it does not understand the relationship of one proclamation to the next or all proclamations going on on any given sunday
Aristarchus: it is too punctilear and doesnt' see hwo congregations are related to each other
Aristarchus: it places the whole church and local churches on completely different ontological planes
Sosthenes: well, it does... Sasse would respond, where Christ is, there is the church
Aristarchus: the whole church is the sweet bye and bye
Aristarchus: in a sense, yes
Sosthenes: so congregations are related to each other in Christ... that is the unity
Aristarchus: but where is Christ?
Sosthenes: amen
Aristarchus: answer: where the gospel is preached
Aristarchus: see the gnesio is tautological
Aristarchus: reduced to nonsense
Aristarchus: communio ecclesiology allows for a non-tautoloigcal ecclesiology
Aristarchus: it is wholly extra nos and understands the church in good reformation fashion as creatura verbi
Sosthenes: because it makes the move towards an embodied church?
Aristarchus: 100%
Aristarchus: the whole church is made up of, ta-dah, the baptized
Sosthenes: then the question becomes, what does this body look like?
Aristarchus: it is not made up of anyone who isn't preached to in some way, i guess
Sosthenes: that's why I like the comparison of charisms and institutions
Aristarchus: so the indivdual churches are related in christ, but if they are so related, their failur to relate to each other denotes something screwy
Aristarchus: not just sin
Sosthenes: i believe they parallel each other in a helpful way
Aristarchus: because you can approach the issue in terms of an individual congregation
Aristarchus: the failure for mutual recognition in Christ is a failure of an actual local communion
Aristarchus: and therefore a failure in some way at the Table
Aristarchus: you are 100% on the charism/institution thing too

to be continued...



"Disagreement in fasting does not destroy agreement in the faith." (Solid Declaration)

"...of fasts; although the end of these is to restrain the flesh, reason falsely adds that they are services which justify" (Defense of the AC)

"fasting and other outward preparations serve a good purpose, but... "(Small Catechism)

Jesus begins his instructions on public piety (read regularly at the Ash Wednesday service in the liturgical year) with the words, "When you fast..." He goes on to condemn public displays of fasting, encouraging those who fast to put on an outwardly kempt and cheerful appearance, so that the fast is between you and God.

The Lutheran Confessions say very little about fasting, but what they do say is important, given that fasting makes it into the brief and important Small Catechism and is commented on in two other major texts.

The assumption both in Scripture and in the Lutheran confessional texts is that people are fasting, and will be fasting. This means these texts come out of a different context than ours, a culture that by and large refuses to fast, and even finds the practice unhealthy.

So why do I fast? Not because it does something before God. It accomplishes nothing in the way of justification. But it does restrain the flesh, and God knows my flesh needs restraining. So I fast for the restraint of the flesh. I fast also so that I can understand better the words of Christ, "One does not live by bread alone." These are important words, powerful in our battle against the temptation of the devil. When I fast prior to receiving the Lord's Supper, here fasting indeed serves a good purpose, for then I hunger for Christ, not simply spiritually, but also physically. Christ in His supper becomes a meal for me, and his real presence is real.