Saturday, March 19, 2016

MARTIN LUTHER: VISIONARY REFORMER - Scott H. Hendrix

Although a very readable book, finishing the nearly 300 pages took me longer than desired.  Part of this was due, in part, to the final revisions on my thesis and the ongoing labor of pastoral tasks.  Normally I don't have the opportunity to read and review such a new book (Yale University Press, 2015), but my wife, who works at the local library, saw it as a new acquisition and brought it home, aware of my interest.  Hendrix produces a fresh and somewhat original biography, choosing to see Luther not as a larger-than-life saint, but as a man given to a very human combination of strengths and weaknesses.  Although it might seem as if such a biography could turn into an attempt to downgrade the great reformer from the usual accolades of those who admire him, Hendrix instead reveals his flaws while clarifying misunderstandings of Luther, placing everything into the historical context of the times.  Seeing this human side of Luther is actually refreshing since our heroes too often seem super-human and thus practically unreal and intangible.  Hendrix does recognize Luther's passion and commitment to the Gospel and to Christ, even as he exposes his sometimes human foibles.  Many historical details gave vivid context to the story, helping the reader to feel far closer to the events than many more academic accounts.  I would actually like to purchase this book and reread it in the near future as it seems impossible to soak up all that you read over a period of many weeks.  Hendrix also does a wonderful job of describing the various personalities that surrounded Luther, helping the reader to appreciate their true value in the reformation, which like most endeavors in life, is seldom the work of just one man. I highly recommend this biography to anyone interested in the life and times of Martin Luther, especially as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

AFRAID: DEMON POSSESSION AND SPIRITUAL WARFARE IN AMERICA - A Review

It has been about three years since I read the last book by Dr. Robert Bennett, entitled I am Not Afraid: Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare. I posted about this book, but looking back I notice that I did not review it after reading it.  In short, it was a very enlightening and eye-opening work about demons, exorcism, and spirituality from the perspective of the Lutheran church in Madagascar.  The book is the fruit of his Ph.D work at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, and much of it reflects his research conducted in Madagascar.  Nevertheless, it was very applicable to the situation here in the US.

The description of the book from the Concordia Publishing House site offers a nice summary:
While Africa and Madagascar seem like strange and faraway places, the world in which we now live has become much smaller than many of us could ever have imagined. Moreover, even our neighbors visit the local fortuneteller, read the horoscope page in the newspaper, and attend séances that seek to reach departed friends, lovers, and family members. Consequently, as we begin a journey into faraway places, we may soon find they are not as far away as we may have expected.
— Chapter 3

I Am Not Afraid is Rev. Dr. Robert Bennett’s fascinating first-hand account of the spiritual warfare found within the Lutheran Church of Madagascar. Is spiritual warfare something new to the Church? Bennett reviews what the Bible, Church Fathers, and contemporary Lutheran leaders have to say.
Part One includes recent conversations dealing with spiritual warfare, an introduction into the Malagasy Lutheran Church, and the traditional Malagasy worldview. These are the stories of those who have been rescued from the darkness of sin and brought into the light of the Gospel.
Part Two looks to the Bible and the Church for explanation and historical perspective on the spiritual warfare found in the Malagasy Lutheran Church. Is it something only found in the time of Jesus and the apostles? What has the Church said in the past about such activities? Bennett explores the views of Martin Luther and other Lutheran leaders, and finally provides some helpful contemporary material and resources for dealing with spiritual warfare in today’s context.
Includes a glossary of key terms, transcripts of personal interviews, bibliography, Scripture index, and subject index.


This year he followed up with a second work, Afraid: Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare in America.  Focused more on conditions in this country, this second volume touched on topics not necessarily handled in such a work.  For example, there are chapters on Vodoo and Indian religion.  Again, it is not simply a retelling of other second hand sources, but in many cases reflects his own research in the field.  As I look back on my ministry it is apparent that there was little in the LCMS to refer to when dealing with the demonic in actual parish situations.  The Pastor's Companion (Lutheran Service Book portable agenda) for the first time provided a full house blessing rite along with additional resources for dealing with the demonic and occult.  Bennett has added to these resources with two easily read books that offer practical advice and insight to those working in real world situations.  I could only wish that such resources had been available in my early ministry. Yet even now in the last third of my active years, I am thankful to finally have someone not only address the issue, but offer information for pastors to become better educated and equipped.

I picked up my copy at the recent Symposium on the Lutheran Confessions at CTS-FW last week and read it within the week after I returned. Dr. Bennett was gracious to sign my copy and included in his signature the reference Rev 2:10, which happens to be my confirmation verse.  Dr. Bennett, by the way, is not the executive director of Luther Academy.


Both books can be ordered from Concordia Publishing House.

Again, the summary from CPH offers additional information for any who may be interested in reading the book:
A fascinating and unnerving book, Afraid is a must-read that equips all Christians to recognize the devil’s influence in our society and to act on it.
Robert Bennett describes real events and actual confessions people have shared with him of demonic encounters—in America, in our modern age. Summoning demons, interacting with “ghosts,” and holding séances led to what many may call horrifying hallucinations and even schizophrenia. But for many Americans, these things are their spirituality.

How can we break free from the despair and crushing fear that such encounters can bring? How do we come to the aid of our neighbors who are lost in Satan’s deceptions? Bennett points us to the only way out: God’s grace and the medicines He gives to His people.


Friday, January 1, 2016

New Year's Goals

It has long been fashionable to set "resolutions" for the new year.  It has also been a running joke how these resolutions are quickly and easily broken.

What follows, then, is not so much a list of resolutions as goals; items I hope to accomplish or at least attempt - some directions to set me on the road for the months to come. They are also reflections on past goals and new year completions. By year's end I'll review and reassess.

1.  Finish the revisions on my thesis, defend, graduate and try to determine what I should do with the degree.  This may seem almost self-evident by now, but it is a goal in the making since 2010 when I first began the degree.  I don't think that I ever doubted my ability to finish it, but I did envision its completion a bit sooner.  My original reason for pursuing the degree is being reevaluated.  I had hoped to one day teach at a post-high school level (college, university, seminary) and knew that I needed more than just my M.Div to compete.  Over the years I realized that this goal may have been a bit unrealistic in certain ways.  First, many positions teaching theology go to those with doctorates, especially Ph.D's (and I simply do not have a goal to go that far, even though it's possible if I tried). Secondly, I'm not sure if even offered a position I would want to relocate at this juncture (largely because of my youngest being in high school).  So I'm considering other options, such as adjunct online teaching and offering to teach overseas for short-term mission trips (such as Luther Academy or Lutheran Heritage Foundation, etc.).  Like my goal with entering the military years earlier, my intent is not necessarily to leave my first calling (local pastoral ministry), but to supplement it.  So, too, with teaching. I see this year therefore as wrapping up the academics that set me on this course, and then exploring and reaching out for possibilities of how to use it to the glory of God.  Unlike my attempt to enter the military before, the goal of graduate work did materialize, and I firmly believe that it was a door that God Himself opened.  Now I need to see where the path beyond that door leads.
2.  Read more.  Too many precious minutes and hours are wasted with the TV and the computer.  It is a plague of our day.  Now I value both for various reasons, but I also see its limits as well.  I saw a challenge online to read 100 books by year's end.  That's a tall order and I'm not really sure one I feel I need to meet.  But I do want to read more and it will take discipline to do so.  This blog, as in the past, will record that reading by occasional reviews.
3.  Be more disciplined in my devotional life.  When I went to Nashotah the spirituality of the place inspired me to become more spiritual myself.  As happens too often, though, I became lax over time and let this fervor wane.  I'm not really concerned to adopt one program and see it through, as I  am to simply make sure time is set aside each day in meditation on God's Word and in prayer.  At present I am using the simple orders of Daily Prayer in Lutheran Worship along with Day by Day We Magnify Thee, a devotional of readings from Martin Luther.  This seems appropriate with the 500th anniversary of his birth approaching.  I need to keep this goal as simple as possible in the interest of keeping consistent.  
4.  Grow in my firefighting skills.  Even after 13 years on the department (I joined in January 2003), I too often feel like a novice. Granted, my original position was that of chaplain, and I feel competent there, although I'd like to add to my skills (more training in CISM, for example).  I became an actual trained firefighter later in March of 2008, which will be 8 years this March.  So I've had less time in this field.  Nevertheless, I need to improve.  Last year I finally finished the EVOC course to improve my driving skills.  I have been trying to learn more about running the engine as well, knowing that given my age I will not always be able to work with hoses and such on the fire ground as I do now.  Each year I take advantage of whatever training is offered, feeling good about increasing my knowledge and skills as a firefighter.  This year I will build on that and try to increase it as well.
5.  Learn or relearn a foreign language.  Rebekah may go on a class trip to a Spanish-speaking country and I may go with her.  I also see value in trying to go back to German.  Whatever I do I need to increase my knowledge in a second language.  I also plan to continue my work with the Greek Study Group that meets on Tuesdays. 
6.  Work on the crossbow.  This past year I purchased a crossbow (as a previous post noted), partly in the interest in extending the hunting season.  Time and weather did not really make that much of a possibility, so I decided to aim for the Fall when the new season begins (September).  I also purchased a range-finder, which is more needed with bows than with firearms.  So I have all the components.  Perhaps taking advantage of the local range in town might be helpful.  We'll see.  This hunting tool takes me to a more simple historical period and I'm excited to learn to master it.
7.  Spend time with those we love.  I know this again sounds self-evident, but too often we let precious moments slip away in the busyness of life.  My older children are very involved in their jobs and educational pursuits, but they also look forward to our visits.  Rebekah will soon be off to college and Carol and I will be empty-nesters for the first time since 1988.  I also want to remember to take the time to be with my cats Jody and Romeo.  They are both growing much older and I want to appreciate them while they are still with me.  2016 could be the year when they pass away.  Time does not stand still.
8.  Write and publish.  The STM allowed me to do my first true writing-for-publishing (LOGIA, 2011).  Now I have the bug to do more.  Although I already have ideas for books, I am thinking that beginning with articles may be a more realistic goal at this point.  So, let's see if I can actually get at least one article published this coming year!
9.   Maintain my diet.  This past year I finally committed to changing the way I eat, mainly for weight loss, but also for better glucose control.  At my best I hit about a 20 pound loss of weight, and my glucose control has been excellent over all, giving me AIC readings of under 6.  So, my goal this year is to continue that and not slip back into old habits.  I like where I am physically and do not want to return to the past. 

Well, I think that's enough of a list for now.  These are items I had already been thinking about, so they are good goals that I have a prior commitment to meet.  May God's will ultimately be done. To Him be all glory!

Looking to a good 2016!!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 in Review

This review is personal and in no way exhaustive.  It simply seemed like an interesting thing to do as the old year winds to a close. Looking back at the first post on this blog back in January, I noticed that after years of concerns and tensions surrounding the teaching of Dr. Matthew Becker (part of which is documented in this blog), we went from an exoneration of his theology (and the frustration that it would never be dealt with properly), to his final departure from the LCMS.  All this within a span of six months.  Amazing.

As one of my more recent posts indicates, I am finally in the last stages of my degree, begun way back in 2010.  I had hoped, originally, to have finished it before now.  However, the life of a pastor, husband, father, chaplain, firefighter and circuit visitor is full, and the thesis received attention as I was able.  I made a final push this summer and by summer's end the last page of the last chapter was reached. A post in February indicates that I had reached page 60 and was done with the first part, debating whether I should make a major push to finish.  But it did not seem like a good idea, and I am glad I took the time necessary to do a quality job. Many revisions later, with many more awaiting, the thesis is largely done.  I hope to wrap up revisions early in the new year and schedule a defense before Lent.  This might be tricky since Lent comes early this year.

Throughout the year, even as I worked through the thesis, I have tried to read more.  As a way of documenting that effort this blog has also become a running review of the books I read.

This Spring my youngest child, Rebekah, graduated from the 8th grade and was confirmed.  Now 15 she is a freshman at the local high school and involved in a combination of band (she plays the flute and piccolo), piano, and dance.  David, my middle child, finally secured a full-time job at Gordy's County Market in Chippewa Falls.  Rachel, my eldest, is working on her master's degree at the University of Minnesota in educational policy and started working for Vets Plus, Inc.  My wife, Carol, began working in August as an independent consultant for Thirty-One, a direct marketing firm specializing in bags of all sorts (totes, purses, etc.) All-in-all, it was quite a year for beginnings and conclusions.  It will be interesting to see what 2016 holds in store!

I end the year in this blog with a total of 19 posts, up from my lowest of only 3 last year! It's hard to believe that I am still blogging after just over 9 years.  It appears that I started the Northwoods Seelsorger on November 25, 2006.  Wow! The blog posts no longer receive comments, and I am sure few probably read this anymore.  Blogging has been eclipsed, in part, by social media, and that's o.k.  I keep this site open, in part, because it is a much safer way to write about subjects that will only engender negative attacks. It also gives me the chance to write about subjects that would have little interest to those on FB. 





LUTHER - MAN BETWEEN GOD AND THE DEVIL by Heiko A. Oberman

In the conviction of adding to my knowledge of Luther and the Reformation, I embarked on a reading of Heiko Oberman's book Luther - Man Between God and the Devil (1982).  As I had intended in previous years, the book was started around the Reformation this past Fall (I often wanted to read something about Luther and the Reformation each Fall around the time of the Festival of the Reformation.)  With 330 pages to work through, it took me longer than expected to finish (Which was complicated by the lure of other books read and reviewed while I worked on this one.)  That is not to say that it was heavy or overly technical.  The truth is, this book was a joy to read.  It provided a wealth of insights into Martin Luther, and having now completed the book I realize I'll need to reread it again to truly absorb many of the author's points.  Given that this was a translation from the original German, I was impressed that the text did not read in a wooden way, but felt fresh from beginning to end.  Oberman tells the story of Luther, as the subtitle indicates, from the theme of conflict with the devil.  This does not become as evident in the early part of the book, but once in, the theme is brought to the fore again and again.  Aside from this, Oberman also notes that the sense that Luther lived in the last days also dominated this thinking.  Oberman, while trying to bring Luther alive to a modern audience, was also careful to describe him in the context of his own time.  From my vantage point he succeeded.  Some books you read and leave.  Some you return to in the hope of gleaning material passed on the first time. This book fits the latter case.
Postscript: I have actually owned this book for many years.  Only now does it seem that I am making some effort to find lost treasures in the mass of books I have accumulated.  I am glad that I was able to finally finish this book just as the year is ending. Now on to another book!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Full and Complete Draft Sent to Readers

A full and complete draft of my thesis has now been sent to my readers for review and suggested revisions as of December 21.  Within a day my first reader had completed his review and responded by email.  I await anything from the second.  Hopefully by the end of January I can make the necessary revisions and schedule a defense.  The final word count as of December 21 was 38,618, totaling 120 pages with 385 footnotes.  Without footnotes it is 30,167. 

KILLING REAGAN - a Review

For months now I have been working, on and off, to finish a book by Luther as an attempt to include something about the great Reformer as part of the Reformation season.  Once again, however, I was distracted by another fascinating book.  As many are aware, Bill O'Reilly, with Marin Dugard, has authored a whole series of books in the "Killing..." series.  I now own and possess a few of these.  This book, Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault that Changed a Presidency (2015) is a brief but informative treatment not only of Reagan's earlier past, but especially of his presidency, and then of his eventual physical and mental decline leading to his death in 2004.  It was interesting to read about a history of events that took place mainly while I was in college and seminary, but in which I apparently took only passing interest. Many names sounded familiar, as did numerous events, but I never looked deeply into them.  Only now, well into my middle years, am I catching up and taking a closer look at events that were no pivotal to world history in my formative educational years.  I am aware that there is some controversy surrounding this book.  Any book, especially by a media personality with such a high profile as Bill O'Reilly, will be placed under an exceptional amount of scrutiny and careful critique.  I am certainly not enough of an historian or an expert to evaluate these criticisms.  All in all, however, it was interesting and informative.  It was also humbling to think that such great men as Regan were also very human, suffering the same struggles and setbacks as others of lesser popularity. O'Reilly seems to spare nothing, without entering into a biased attack familiar to the bitter enemies one makes in life.
Details on the controversy are summarized in a brief Wikipedia article here.  After reading it, I think that I should probably read a bit more from other established biographies.