Wednesday, January 4, 2017


Here is the review of Bobertz's most recent book that I am reviewing - hopefully - for a seminary journal:

The Gospel of Mark: A Liturgical Reading. By Charles A. Bobertz. Baker Academic. Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2016. 288 pages. Softcover. $27.99.

Charles Bobertz, professor of theology at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, offers a provocative commentary on the Gospel of Mark utilizing narrative criticism with an additional twist.  As the title indicates, his interpretation is a “liturgical reading.”  Bobertz notes: “The narrative of Mark reads differently if one presumes that the ritual practices of the early Christians (what I will refer to as Christian liturgy) inform the creation of the story, that is, why Mark was written in the first place, and why it was disseminated to its earliest readers” (xvi).  By his own admission much of his interpretive approach relies on “a good bit of hypothetical reconstruction,” and throughout the book he qualifies many of his conclusions as probable and imaginative, but not absolutely conclusive.  He openly admits that his interpretive approach “is not the usual way Mark has been understood within the tradition or by the vast majority of modern scholars” (xix). Nevertheless, he insists that this approach is the only reasonable one to use in interpreting Mark.
In keeping with his narrative critical approach Bobertz looks at Mark through the
hypothetical eyes of the “liturgical reader” or “ancient reader” as opposed to the “modern reader” or “casual reader.”  This reader is part of Mark’s hypothetical “house church” which is supposed to exist in the time after the destruction of Jerusalem, which  may be located in Galilee. In contrast to some biblical scholars who also take a liturgical approach to the interpretation of the scriptures (Shepherd, Hahn), Bobertz does not look for details of a specific liturgy, which too often requires the interpreter to read back into the book a form that dates after it.  Instead he sees the liturgical reader as one who views the narrative of Mark through the sacramental rituals of Baptism and the Eucharist, which he also admits that he “reads back” into the narrative of Mark (4).  What makes Bobertz’s approach unique in this sense is his effort to have most details of Mark’s gospel interpreted as symbolic reflections of Baptism or “ritual meals” (Eucharist).  For example, while the story of Jesus’ calming the storm in Mark 4 might be seen as a demonstration of Jesus’ divine power over the forces of nature and a message to the disciples not to fear (as interpreted by the modern reader), Bobertz unpacks all of the details and words in such a way that the “liturgical reader will ‘see’ baptism, resurrection, and the dominance of chaos that follows” (47).  He deliberately “locates the creation and reception of the narrative within the experience of a reality largely created by early Christian ritual practice” (xvii).  Even the character of Jesus Himself, traditionally seen in a historic context in terms of specific acts, is reinterpreted here (through the eyes of the liturgical reader) as the “ritually enacted body of Christ,” or the members of Mark’s house church, gathered in worship around the table of the sacrament (xxv).  He later contrasts the “historical Jesus” (also noted as the “individual Jesus”) with what he calls the “narrative Jesus” (148), deviating from much modern scholarship, even other critical scholarship. 
To understand Bobertz’s approach one has to also recognize that he views the Gospel of Mark as largely symbolic, even “deeply symbolic.” Although he would not necessarily deny the historicity of the events in the narrative as they are reported, he does not feel that they were reported to convey “literal historical truth” (xxv). The primary purpose of this symbolism is to “answer a question at the heart of early Christian self-definition: What gives legitimacy, in the face of Jewish reluctance and opposition, to the presence of Gentiles in the Lord’s Supper of the house church?” (xxii) Bobertz develops the issue of Gentile inclusion at the Supper, it appears, mainly from the work of Stendahl in what would later be known as the New Perspective (xviii). Paul’s epistles, especially Romans and Galatians, are important sources for Bobertz in understanding why the mission to the Gentiles and their inclusion in the Christian church constitutes a central challenge for those in the house churches of Mark’s time.  Bobertz interprets  the entire text of Mark’s gospel with a fairly consistent matrix that involves repeated themes of inclusion of Gentiles and women at the Supper, usually in the context of the “house church” of Mark’s own time, a community formed and informed by the rituals of baptism and Supper, baptism as resurrection, and primeval chaos giving way to creation. Bobertz also sees Mark’s house church community as a persecuted community, and thus themes of suffering and martyrdom become additional interpretive keys within the narrative. 
Given Bobertz’s liturgical Catholic background it is not difficult to understand how he would be inclined to view Mark through the lens of sacramental ritual acts and the community in which these rituals are enacted.  For others committed to the historic liturgical character of the church his focus on the centrality of the sacramental life of the church will be intriguing, even encouraging, and his insights into the fuller meaning of the sacraments will also be informing. However, for the more conservative interpreter who approaches Mark as an historical record of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, Borbertz’s symbolic narrative-critical approach will seem to separate the gospel text from its true historical moorings. The stories serve primarily to illustrate contemporary issues (mainly contemporary to Mark’s time), not to explain eternal truths. Such an interpreter will also be frustrated by a distancing from the gospel as primarily the story of Jesus who lived in time and whose death and resurrection, as historical events, are critical to the present and future life of the individual believer, as well as the church.  For Bobertz Jesus’ death seems not to be ultimately valued for the salvific benefit for the individual believer, but rather as a means of establishing the community (192).  Admittedly, the believer is not to be seen as merely an individual apart from the body of believers, and Bobertz does navigate away from this modern malady.  But in doing so he seems to leave behind the very story that brings this community into existence even though he acknowledges it and explains the exegetical details.  One feels that the characters in the gospel only represent something else; that they are props for a larger, more contemporary story of Mark’s own time.  As he summarizes it at one point: “the very heart of the narrative plot of Mark” is “Jesus rises from (baptismal) death to receive the Spirit of new creation and thereby to establish the house churches  of Jews and Gentiles, men and women. And so he then must die in order to be the very death which ritually enacted in baptism, establishes participation in the ritual meal, the new creation of the church itself.’” (187)
Bobertz, by his own admission, clearly breaks with most modern scholarship on Mark. He also admits that the average “casual reader” may easily become confused by certain stories.  The message of Mark is essentially hidden to such a reader and only seen clearly by those who would be inclined to view the narrative in the way Bobertz has imagined it. Some initial reviewers felt that his book represented a useful attempt to restore this gospel to its original context and demonstrate how its author used the language and practices of baptism and Eucharist  to more fully explain its message.  However, unless one accepts the premises of narrative criticism it will be difficult to accept uncritically the views of this author.  If one wishes to see how narrative criticism is applied to a gospel account, especially with the added criteria of an imagined house church community in the late first century as the target audience, Bobertz’s work will prove an interesting read.  Yet, for those who wish to approach the original text and learn more about it, and for those interested in learning more about the immediate historical setting of the events in the gospel, this book will unfortunately prove disappointing.  

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

New Year's Goals

I looked back at last year's goals and was pleasantly surprised to see that many were actually met or at least attempted.
1.  I did finish and defend my thesis. The thesis was defended on April 29.  I went on to graduate and receive my Master of Sacred Theology degree on May 26.  The degree was award cum laude, "with honor," reflecting a grade point average of an A. I mused in this goal that my initial plan with the degree was to teach, but realized that securing a position was unlikely.  However, at the end of last year I was offered a position as an adjunct professor teaching homiletics to a cohort of eight men in the SMP (Specific Ministry Program) during the summer through my alma mater Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.  Although I've filled out the usual employment paperwork, there is much, yet, that I do not know.  Stay tuned!  Learning to teach online when I have never taken any coursework online will be one of my great challenges for the new year. 
2. Read more.  I did accomplish some reading and continue to work on other books.  I can always read more and will try to do so in this coming year.  My goal this year is mainly to read works connected with the class I am going to teach.  To that end, one of the books I am working on is Walther's The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel.  I also plan to work though the various essays in Liturgical Preaching (Concordia Publishing House, 2001).
3. Be more disciplined in my devotional life.  Still working on this one.
4. Grow in my firefighter skills.  Still working on this one as well.
5. Learn or relearn a foreign language. I am extending this one to 2017.  My initial effort has already begun with Spanish.  However, in looking at the many resources in my library, I have decided to work at German (which I have studied in the past) and Latin as well.  Maybe a bit ambitious, but the books I am using are not heavily academic and my goals are fairly modest at this point.
6. Work on the crossbow.  I did sight in my new crossbow this fall and actually took it hunting.  Although I didn't see much, I did make an attempt.  I had planned to go back out after rifle season, especially after the holidays, but that has not yet happened.  My license allows me to hunt through January 8, which gives me five more days.  We'll see if I can still get out and try one more time.
7. Spend time with those we love.  I enjoyed many days this year with my children, both at their homes and at ours, as well as a rented home this summer.  We will continue this in 2017.
8. Write and publish.  I did not publish anything this year, but have pretty much finished a book review I hope to submit to the Concordia Theological Quarterly.  My originally intention was to do this last year, but I'm still procrastinating finishing the review.  Some months ago I requested to review a to-be published book from Baker Academic by Charles A. Bobertz entitled The Gospel of Mark: A Liturgical Reading.
9. Maintain my diet.  Still working on this.  I've been fairly faithful here, although I've experienced some unexpected weight gain since winter set in.

Most of the above goals from 2016 still hold for this year.  I would add only a couple more to the above.
10.  Be more faithful in exercising.  On the first day of the year I got out and went snowshoeing.  I would also like to go out and go cross country skiing this year as well.  Besides this I try to walk regularly at the church for 30 minutes.
11. Listen to more classical music.  I have neglected this and do attempt, at times, to listen to some via the public radio station while driving.  

Thursday, August 25, 2016

My Thesis in Print

Although I noted it on Facebook, I neglected to post something here.  Given that I chronicled the entire journey of my graduate work from 2010 on, it seems only fitting that the final post (a little after the fact) be given to the day the bound copy of my thesis arrived in the mail.  As the picture shows it is a red hardbound book with the simple title on the spine that reads: "D. Engebretson - STM - 2016.  Inside the cover is the official certification of examination signed by the Rev. Thomas N. Buchan, Ph.D, my thesis director, and Garwood P. Anderson, Ph.D, the second reader. Buchan is noted as an Associate Professor of Church History and Director of Assessment.  Anderson, the only person who was consistent in my journey, is listed as Professor of New Testament and Greek.  The date of the certification is 4/29/2016.  The thesis was given a grade of "pass."  I didn't realize it until I saw this copy that there is a second possible grade, "Pass with distinction."  I'm not sure what I would have had to do to earn that level.  But I am happy to know it is finished.  The copy arrived on August 4.  It will now sit on a shelf at Nashotah House's library awaiting someone to discover it and maybe even read it.  Who knows....

1066 THE YEAR OF THE CONQUEST by David Howarth

In this very readable history David Howard chronicles the fateful and pivotal year 1066 from New
Year's Day to the end of the year.  The book begins with a very descriptive picture of life in a typical town of England at the beginning of the 11th century, and proceeds to describe the various events and personalities that formed the drama of that year.  As an historian Howard is to be commended for balancing his interpretation of events as he examines the available sources of the time.  The history of 1066 is a history with two viewpoints - one Norman and one English.  It is often said that history is written by the conquerors, and to some extent this is true of English history at this juncture.  Howard, however, sifts through the records taking into consideration biases and excesses, looking for the truth between the lines.  This book is a very readable history and helpful for getting a good picture of what happened that year along with the implications for the years to come.  The author also attempts to flesh out the primary characters of the story, seeing them not as legend would, but in true human perspective, emotions, conflicts, doubts and all.  As one reviewer summed it up: "A model of scholarly popular history." My copy is a Barnes and Nobel reprint from 1993.  The original was written in 1977.  I read this book, in part, to give me a better grounding in the history that begins the four book set of historical novels by Thomas Costain, The Conquerors (1949) that I intend to read next.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016


In the Wake of the Plague is a quick and easy read for a historical book.  After finishing The Great Mortality by Kelly I was interested in reading more on this fascinating event in history, so I decided to keep reading in this thematic area since I had another book covering the period.  By comparison, however, Kelly's book is far more informative.  Although Cantor was a credentialed historian with a Ph.D in history compared to Kelly's master's, I felt that Kelly spent more time researching and assembling his work.  Although Cantor includes sections of interesting historical information on the medieval era, it has a tendency to seem almost like 'filler' after a while.  In fact, he seems to spend more time on telling the stories of historical figures than he does telling the story of the Plague.  Toward the end of the book he does provide more specific treatment, yet even this has the sense of a light treatment, and I was surprised that he would give any credence to outlandish theories of the Plague's origin such as the theory that it came from outer space.  Like Kelly Cantor also spends a good amount of time expounding on the Jewish pogroms that occurred during the Plague years, and the heavy treatment at times seems out of proportion to the rest of the story - even in Kelly.  If I had to recommend one book over the other I would recommend Kelly's.  Interesting to note is that on Amazon the reviews are not very high for this book. 41% of the reviewers gave it only one star!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

THE GREAT MORTALITY by John Kelly (2005)

I enjoyed this book.  However, I have to admit that it took me months to finish. Perhaps it was the
time, with other distractions getting in the way such as the defense of my thesis, graduation, etc.  Being a student of the Medieval Era I found the wealth of information about this time period to be fascinating.  Kelly not only explains the technical aspects of the Black Death from the 14th Century, he also weaves into the narrative stories and accounts of events impacted by this great plague.  Some might argue that he spends an inordinate amount of space on some of these issues, such as the antisemitism of the time.  However, historical events should always be considered in the overall context of the period, recognizing that disease impacts many areas of a society, including family, economics, politics, and faith, to name but a few.  Kelly walked away from his extensive study with a mixture of sadness and encouragement.  Sadness over the horrific immensity of the death that transpired throughout the world, from the far east to the shores of Greenland.  Encouragement over the instances of virtue and kindness in the midst of the global tragedy, as well as the developments that rose as a result of the plague.  Although not an expert in any way on this topic, I was impressed by his attention to not only the historical sources, but to the scientific questions alike.  He did his homework.  In fact, this book was several years in the making.  The approach of the book is a tour de force that works its way from Mongolia (its supposed origin), throughout eastern and western Europe, England, and even as far west as Greenland.  More than once I was thankful for the map provided in the very front of the book that shows the progress of the plague as he narrates it in the book.  Given how long I took to finish the book, and the length of the work plus the wealth of information (over 340 pages), I feel like I should re-read it some day.  As a side note: The book is appended with personal information on the author and a brief story of the writing of of the book.  I recommend this volume heartily. P.S. Although I want to move on to another topic, I just might read Norman Cantor's book In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World that Made It (2001).  Kelly makes note of Cantor, and it seems like an equally readable work.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Historical Roots of the Warham Guild Hood

In doing just a little checking on the internet, it's interesting to see how the Warham Guild hood, which I have as part of my STM degree attire, is actually a throwback to the Medieval hood. One article notes "the work of the Warham Guild in its imaginative renderings of medieval hoods" (reference is from here).
Again, here is my hood:
The Medieval hood, which was originally a very practical outer garment to cover a person's head and shoulders, protecting both from the elements, bears striking resemblance to this revived form:

This hood was also a part of the garb of monks in that era.

The Medieval hood, in some cases, also had what is known as a "liripipe," a long tail hanging from the back of a hood.
You can see the modern stylized version of this on my own hood.

From an article on "Academic hood development" we read that "By 1463 the favourite dress of doctors was the hood with round bell-shaped cape, and the liripipe, which was now shortened or entirely removed and replaced by a separate article, the scarf, now represented by the lapel or panel. By 1592 the hood was worn with the lining displayed." See here for the linked article. The article also notes that "By the fifteenth century the hood came to be seen, in England at least, as a token of graduation and was given distinctive colours and lining."

In an article on the evolution of hood patterns, they echo the observation made above that "initially they evolve from the actual medieval headgear used by everyone." The article then notes that "the medieval hood consists of three parts: the cowl (or hood proper), the cape (or shoulder) and the liripipe.  Exactly what shape the medieval academic hood had is open to question, but it doubtless was the same as the hood in everyday use." Then, referencing the Warham Guild style in particular they note that "a reconstructed version of this, known as the Warham Guild shape...from the company that promoted its use in the will be seen that all three parts are present, although the liripipe is possibly much shorter than the medieval one would have been." Eventually the hood evolved from this form, changing shape and function as time passed.  You can read the remainder of the article here.

I noticed that the Warham guild hoods for the lower degrees, such as the Masters in Ministry and the Master of Arts in Theology were mainly black in the cope portion.  Those of the higher degrees, such as M.Div and STM then adopt the maroon color for the cape, with the red lining for theology.  Maroon appears to be the school's color.

One additional picture of a priest wearing a full hood in the Warham Guild style:
The source is from an article here from 1915 in reference to the Warham Guild.  It is captioned: "Doctor's Full Choir Habit. (Surplice, Scarlet Chimere, true Hood, Tippet, and Cap.)" I find it interesting that it notes the "true Hood."  The Warham Guild attempted over a century ago to restore what they believed was the original hood design.

Here is another image from the 1950's:

Going back to our own era, here is a present day example of a hood much like mine, this one borrowed from "Robes of Distinction."
It is posted on a Pinterest site under the designation "Ornaments of the Church," which also includes many examples of ecclesiastical garments, although this one is identified as "University of Hull, BA".  The academic color of the lining corresponds to the school color, which is turquoise.  The University of Hull is in England, and I am not aware of any other institution in the US, save Nashotah, that uses this unique style of academic hood.   In checking the school's website, it does not appear that this style of hood is currently used, so the picture might be from an earlier period.  Their site also notes that "the distinguishing feature of the System to be used in the University of Hull may be termed 'The Single Silk System', i.e. one special silk (turquoise blue taffeta) lines." Note: Where this hood has the lining in the color of the institution, I am now wondering how this works for Nashotah.  Red is, in the American system, at least, the academic color of theology. 

Some additional information from a online discussion board for musicians.  One participant wrote: "By the way IanW, I just purchased, for the fun of it, a Warham Guild-style hood from Wippell of London (I hold a Doctor of Musical Arts from a "Big 10" university). Its design is adapted to the American academic regulation (with the institution colors in the lining and a 4-inch border of the discipline color in velvet around the bottom edge. It actually looks really amazing, and I can't wait for the opportunity, however rare, to wear it with cassock and surplice, as it was designed."  Interesting.  I had wondered how I would wear this hood for an academic occasion outside of the church.  I thought of purchasing a standard master's gown (if needed), but according to this source that would not be entirely correct.  Perhaps that is why the picture above is on a white robe instead of a black one. And according to the source above this hood was originally "promoted its use in the church." So I guess I'll figure out what to do when and if such an occasion arises.

So far the closest thing I have found in academia that resembles a Warham Guild hood are the ones used in Australia, specifically at Deakin University. The one below is for a master's degree by research:

Also, here is some more information on the evolution of the hood from STILIM.AZ:
"Medieval dress consisted of a flowing gown or cappa clausa, with a cape or cloak draped over the top. This often had a cowl-like appendage that could be pulled over the head, much like a hooded cape or capitium. By the second half of the fifteenth century, the fashion had progressed toward an open gown, said to be an expression of the new acceptance of academic learning and the arts. From 1490 onward this gown became standard academic dress, with the hooded cape becoming more ornamental than practical. Most commonly, bachelors and masters scholars wore black gowns made of “princes stuff” or “crape,” with the senior man’s garment having wider sleeves to allow for movement while teaching. The dress hood took the form of a drooping cape, lined with silk or fur to denote the scholar’s faculty or social status. For example, in 1432 Oxford forbade the use of miniver for anyone except Masters of the Arts and those of great wealth or noble birth. Variations in sleeve style and lining continued to mirror fashionable dress, and by the sixteenth century academics followed professionals and the clergy in the wearing of caps.
It is difficult to pinpoint the origins of the academic cap, but it is thought to have evolved as a variation on the ecclesiastic pileus cap and the medieval head scarf. Most contemporary graduates wear the trencher form of the pileus quadratus-or the Oxford mortarboard. This consists of a small skullcap, shaped to fit the head, and a flat, square top, adorned with a silk tassel. This form of headwear became popular with the clergy after the Restoration, when it was thought that emphasizing “squareness” denoted greater dedication. However, the modern academic form was not popularized until the eighteenth century, when wood or card was used to stiffen the square. Some philosophical doctors or secular doctors may wear a variation of the Tudor Bonnet, a softer, fuller hat, or if of Scottish origin, the John Knox cap."  (
Here are some examples from Spain, the only place that seems to use a true cape-style hood:

These people are wearing attire for those with honorary doctorates. The green cape is for education, and I think the blue one on the top is for the sciences. The third one is the president of the European Union.  It appears that these capes do not have a hood, an evolution of the garment in modern time, perhaps.  I am not sure what the gold symbolizes, or the red. They seem to come in a variety of colors.
More searches......Here is a picture of the faculty at Trinity Episcopal School of Ministry.  The gentleman on the second row, far right, appears to be wearing a Warham Guild hood with his doctoral robe.  Far as I can tell he is the Rev. Dr. Henry L. Thompson III, whose doctorate is a D.Min from the same institution.

Not sure if this was the original hood that he was awarded, though.

Addition (October 5, 2016): I discovered that court dress in England and Wales also utilizes a style of hood similar to the Warham Guild.  In the picture below are circuit judges, I believe from Wales. You will note the distinctive cape style of hood. This style is also utilized by others in the legal profession on very ceremonial occasions, such as the Opening of the Legal Year at Westminster Abbey.