Friday, September 27, 2013

Does Evolution Change Our Theology?

One of the issues with Evolution that seems to go unnoticed by many is its potential effect on the traditional understanding of our theology.  The claim put forth usually makes it seem like nothing really changes.  We simply need to approach Genesis differently so that its message and what is claimed by evoutionary theory agree.  Thus what began as narrative history now becomes symbolic.  Yet it doesn't end there.  A whole host of doctrines ultimately need to be reexamined.  Genesis 1 - 3 sets the stage for all that comes after this.  Adherence to Evolution of necessity brings into question the doctrine of sin, how we understand death, and salvation.  These doctrines are morphed, it appears to me, into this kind of thinking:
  • If Adam and Eve do not represent real, historical figures, then their recorded actions are merely symbolic and not related to any particular action.  Thus, their disobedience and the consequence of that disobedience, having no anchor in reality, floats free and becomes detached from any discussion of sin.  For sin is the act of disobeying the clear commands of God.  Actual sin morphs into a sense of general sinfulness which vaguely morphs into whatever we end up defining it as. We see this happening already as certain social behaviors are re-explained as no longer sinful because they are too widely accepted by people.  Sin becomes our unwillingness to accept people for what or who they are, for intollerance. 
  • If living things, including the evolutionary ancestors of man, were dying long before homo sapiens came on the scene hundreds of thousands of years ago, how are we do understand the reason for death and how it fits in which the general plan of God?  When Paul writes that the "wages of sin is death," death is then reinterpreted as "spiritual death" to make it fit with the evolutionary picture.  Death is even reimaged as somehow "good" since those who suffer from disease, disability and pain are relieved of these burdens by death.  There are real issues here that need to be noticed.  The Easter miracle so central to the Christian faith is that Jesus physically rose from the dead, the first fruits of all who would rise. If death is not the curse it is pictured in the traditional reading of Genesis, then how do we reinterpret the resurrection of Christ and its implications for the life and future of all who believe?  Why would His 'physical' resurrection be so important if spiritual death was the ultimate culprit and physical death simply incidental?  
These are but a few thoughts on the implications Evolution has for our theology.  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why Francis is More Popular with the Media than Benedict

The title to this post, while reflecting a recent article on the subject ("Are the Media Giving Pope Francis a Pass?" - RNS), is a bit misleading on the point of this post.  My point, then?  I have to admit that this brief article revealed some simple, yet signficant points that could be incorporated by many Lutheran pastors in their own ministries.  Sounds odd, I suppose, for Lutherans to be taking pointers from a pope, but you should be perceptive enough to spot these things when you see them.  I would recommend reading the article for yourself, but here are the main points made (although not all are equally applicable).  Why does the media seem to like Francis more than Benedict? -  1.) Few knew him before he became pope, 2.) Francis is empathetic and humble, 3.) Style becomes substance, 4.) He practices what he preaches, and 5.) Francis is not Benedict.  Francis connects with people with a sense of genuineness that also betrays the ability to truly relate.  In other words, he's not removed from the world.  He may live in a kind of 'gated community,' of sorts, but that does not keep him from interacting with the common and the poor. He seems to understand the pastoral nature of his position and he acts as much like a regular parish priest.  To be pastoral means to minister to real people where they are at with a real sense of love and concern.  More could be said, but the point was made, and I confess I am still growing into this. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Professors Who Return to Parish Ministry

Another professor is returning to parish ministry.  Dr. Reed Lessing will be leaving a position at our seminary in St. Louis, where in addition to teaching various course offerings in the Old Testament he was also director of the graduate school.  These transitions facinate me.  After being in parish ministry for so long one has a tendency to think that positions such as Dr. Lessing's are seen as 'higher' than the common pastorate.  After a seeming 'promotion' to teaching future pastors, and that at a graduate level, you wonder what would move a man to go back to the parish.  Having known nothing other than the parish, I am admittedly at a loss to relate.  I realize that academics has its own downside.  One can probably feel a bit 'cut off' from the real world of the Church, left dealing with a somewhat artificial world instead of the flesh and blood people a pastor has to minister to in real time.  Perhaps one misses the relationships formed in the family of a congregation where the bonding between pastor and people brings untold blessings that cannot be duplicated in a classroom.  I'm not sure.  However, I am encouraged.  Too often I have coveted the opportuntity that Dr. Lessing is leaving.  I have not appreciated the tremendous honor given me as a parish pastor.  Thank you, Professor, for letting me see again the priviledge I have!
As his biography will no doubt be removed soon from the seminary site, I will reproduce it below.  Dr. Lessing, it will be noted, did enjoy about 13 years of pastoral experience before going to the seminary.
Dr. Reed Lessing was born and raised in Denver, Colo. He was ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry on June 29, 1986 at Christ the Servant Lutheran Church, West Monroe, La. Reed served as the church’s pastor until March of 1990. From March 1990 to August 1999 he was the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Broken Arrow, Okla. In September of 1999 he was installed as assistant professor of exegetical theology at Concordia Seminary. In May of 2005 he was advanced to the rank of associate professor. In August of 2007 he became the director of the Seminary’s Graduate School. Reed is married to Lisa (nee) Radke and their marriage has been blessed with three children: Abi (24), Jonathan (21) and Lori (17).

Luther Academy

My congregation was blessed yesterday by a wonderful message from the Rev. Dan McMiller, executive director of Luther Academy, who came as part of our annual mission festival.  His sermon and presentation following the service provided us with a true tour de force in presenting the extensive work of his organization in international mission efforts.  Luther Academy is a small organization with a big mission and worthy of our support.  Pastor McMiller serves as the only paid staff, serving the many needs internationally by a team of very qualified volunteers.  They fill a unique niche in mission work by providing several annual pastoral conferences to pastors throughout the world who would otherwise not have this valuable resource which we in this country take for granted.  I would encourage you to check out their website and review their various projects and the teachers and presenters they employ.  Luther Academy was the brainchild of Dr. Robert Preus, the president of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne where I studied for the ministry.  I also had the honor of taking a few classes with Dr. Preus, an exemplary theologian with an international vision.  His son, the Rev. Daniel Preus, currently serving as fourth vice president of the Synod, continued the work of his father and enlarged the vision.  Luther Academy, like many small organization, is facing financial challenges in meeting the increasingly growing demands for its services.  Consider supporting their work and maybe even sponsoring one of their projects as a worthy mission effort!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Changing the Verses in Hymns - Or Not

In our increasingly politically-correct culture coupled with an incredible ignorance of biblical truth, it should not be surprising to hear of those who are offended by even the most simple hymns.  But they are.  In the article "Hymn Writers Won't Change Lyric for Presbyterians" we read that those who are responsible for the new hymnal in the Presbyteriann Church (USA) will not include the popular hymn "In Christ Alone" because of one verse.  They asked the authors if they could change it.  The authors refused.  Good for them!  The verse in question was: " "On that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied."  Apprently substitionary atonement is out of vogue now with Presbyterians.  They preferred instead: "the love of God was magnified."  As the article's author notes at the end: "Bringle writes that most committee members didn't want the new Presbyterian hymnal to suggest that Jesus' death on the cross was an atoning sacrifice that was needed 'to assuage God's anger' over sin."  So God isn't angry about sin?  That's new.....

Saturday, August 17, 2013

My New Car

It may be hard to believe but I haven't bought a car in about 7 years.  The last purchase was a 2001 Subaru Outback which I paid for outright with money I inherited after my grandmother's death in 2006.  With the exception of a head gasket repair, for which Subarus are notorious, it has been a tough and reliabe vehicle.  Purchased with 107,000 miles, it now boasts 222,000.  Since my son needs a car at college, we will be selling it to him, knowing that it will be a good dependable first purchase.  Now I am the proud owner of a 2004 Honda Accord Sedan LX. Well, I will be later today once the loan is approved and I claim the vehicle from the dealer. My wife and I researched this to death and we narrowed the field down considerablly before settling on this model.  Basically we crossed off most, if not all, domestics.  Toyotas, Hondas, and other similar makes seem to have the best track record overall in terms of dependability and longevity.   Although it has 110,000 miles, Hondas are known often to exceed 300,000 miles or more, so I know I've got this car for a while.  I could have gone smaller, but as a middle-aged man I enjoy a little comfort now, especially on longer trips.  The Accord is techically a mid-sized sedan, larger than the smaller Civic.  I also bought from an established dealer, which while I realize may have meant I paid more upfront, it also gave me more assurance that the car I purchased was in good mechancial condition. It also gave me instant access to CARFAX information, which is becoming, I suspect, an industry standard for establshed car dealers.  It's a clean and well-maintained vehicle with one prior owner and no previous accidents or problems.  Nothing fancy, to be sure, as the picture shows.  But I've never been flashy.  I just want dependability and comfort.  [Note: While I was posting the dealership called to inform me my loan was approaved and we can claim the car, which we will this afternoon.  Hooray!]  For the 'techies' who might be interested it has a 2.4L DOHC MPFI 16-valve i-VTEC I4 engine.  I've read up a bit, however, I'm still glazing over.  I guess I don't care as long as the thing works.....

My Thesis Saga

It's been a while since I posted on the progress of my thesis.  Unfortunately it's taken a while to get through the proposal phase.  My first proposal simply didn't work, and although my advisors were kind in their contructive comments, I could see that the topic was mired in a swamp of ideas and wasn't going to gain the traction it needed.  So I started over.  Practically from scratch.  A thesis or even a dissertation on the lectionary issues surrounding the Apocalypse of St. John still retains much potential, but it was too much work for what I need to accomplish right now.

I submitted my revised proposal this past spring, but with the usual complexities of forms and paperwork coupled with the inevitable confusion of changing staff, it slowed down considerably.  Finally, I was told by the advisor of my program (which has changed a couple of times since I started in 2010) just to start writing, which my thesis advisor had told me at the beginning of the summer.  And I have.  So far I'm only on the eighth page, but I am attempting to understand Massey Shepherd's work, which has taken a bit more effort than I initially anticipating (and I'm also a working pastor and circuit counselor and active father and husband....).  For those so interested, here is the final working title: "A Study of the Influence of the Church's Liturgical Forms on the Literary Stucture of the Apocalypse of St. John."  I'll keep you posted on the progress.....