Thursday, January 18, 2007

Reflections from the Symposia - Part 2

On Wednesday they concluded the exegetical symposia and began the symposia on the confessions. The latter is actually the original symposia, with the exegetical being only 21 years old. Dr. Dean Wenthe, president of CTS (Concordia Theological Seminary) began the day's lectures with the lengthy topic "From Creation to Consummation: The Inclusive Identity of Israel's God as Challenge to Ancient and Contemporary Pluralism." The essence of his paper was directed toward the fact that much of the energy of the Torah is directed against pagan plurality. He noted the extensive Hebrew vocabulary for the words idol and idolatry. It is true that you can often determine the priorities or predominant issues of a culture based on the specialization of certain words. He ended his lecture reminding us that our calling is to proclaim the uncompromisingly exclusive nature of God. In light of the controversy that has swirled around Dr. Benke in the past, especially regarding the nature of his witness to the true God in the midst of a very pluralistic environment, this is a needful reminder in our church today.

The second lecture was given by Dr. John G. Nordling, one of the newer professors at CTS. He recently completed the Concordia Commentary on Philemon and is considered an expert on ancient slavery. Thus his topic was no surprise: "Identity in Christ: Pauline Perspectives on Slavery." Although rather technical in many places, his lecture did highlight a point I may not have completely appreciated in my studies of the NT, namely that slavery was a kind of 'touchstone' upon which the Christian life was played out in the NT world. While Paul himself was probably never a 'slave' in the conventional sense of the word, he used this identity frequently as part of his self-understanding as an apostle. While some scholars would maintain that Christianity was not as initially attractive to the lower classes, Nordling maintains that the faith was indeed very much a slave's religion. Thus the imagery of slavery was a natural and helpful one for Paul to use in relating the nature of the Christian faith. We are not our own, we belong to Christ. We are called to suffer in His name. This seems to be a helpful point for us to remember in our often independent-minded faith. Our life does not belong to us. We are called daily to die to sin and rise with Christ. We are slaves of Christ.

The third lecture was given by Dr. Adam Francisco, a young professor out of our Concordia in NY. His engaging topic caught my attention right away: "Luther, Lutheranism, and the Challenge of Islam." He gave an informative overview of the history of Luther and Lutherans and Islam. I was surprised by how much Luther wrote on this subject and how well informed he was, considering he probably never had any contact with an actual Muslim in his lifetime. His approach to Islam was refreshingly candid considering the politically-correct sensitivity we have been prone to as of late. He noted that the Koran is the opposite of the scriptures especially in that it has a low view of sin and a high view of humanity. Francisco also put to rest the idea being peddled these days that the Confessions show some relation between the God of Islam and that of the Bible. Luther himself said that "Allah is the devil in disguise." However, what should be our source material in understanding what Islam truly believes? Dr. Franciso said that most people go straight to the Qu'ran (Koran) or to books written by Christians about Islam. He, on the other hand, recommended going to the Hadith (see here for an article in Wikipedia.)

The fourth lecture was presented by Dr. Philip Cary on the topic of "Sola Fide: Luther and Calvin." Dr. Cary comes from an Anglican background and although he is an 'outsider' to the Lutheran church he seemed to have a pretty solid grasp on how we view faith compared to the Evangelicals. Evangelicals appear to be more prone to a "faith in faith" approach, while Lutherans look to the objective means through which faith is created, namely Baptism.

The final lecture of the day (I can't believe I really sat through all of them today!) was by Dr. Larry Rast. Dr. Rast, professor of Church History at CTS is an informative and interesting speaker, and I look forward to his lecture each year. His topic was "Fundamentalism, Neo-Evangelicalism and the Revival of a Confessional Awareness in the LCMS." His paper dealt with an outline of Missouri history stretching back to the controversies of Dr. Pieper's day to the present. Ever careful to say enough, but not too much, one was given a brief but informative insight into the theological state of affairs at present. His paper was a good prelude to the introduction of Dr. Paul Zimmerman's book, A Seminary in Crisis, just published by CPH, which chronicles the events leading up to the 1974 "walk out" in St. Louis and especially the Fact Finding Committee commissioned by J.A.O. Preus. The book's cover is featured to the right of this article. (You can see the ordering information at CPH here.) Dr. Zimmerman and Dr. Barth are the only two remaining members of that committee. I was privileged to have Dr. Zimmerman was one of my parishioners in Traverse City, Michigan, and was delighted to see him yesterday after many years. He and his wife appear to be in good health and spirits. I plan to get my copy signed by him today and then digest its 400+ pages when I return.

The lectures are only part of the symposia experience. Dr. Rast preached the first day and Dr. Wenthe was the featured preacher yesterday, and both of their homilies were very pastoral and insightful to the text. We used the new LSB and it's wonderful for this country parson to hear chanting again! At the end of the day was the Vespers service for the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. Dr. Just delivered the homily for this occasion and the Schola Contorum presented some beautiful choral pieces. It was most inspiring and I was all prepared to die and be with Christ!

As I type this the first lecture of the day is in progress, but I will be back for Dr. Scaer's after chapel. No one misses his! So, I best be off again. It all goes so quick. Tonight is the banquet and then tomorrow I am on the road back home. I will probably type my concluding thoughts after I return home.


Steve B said...

Actually, Dr. Francisco studied with a well known Shake and Koran Scholar over at Oxford and recently received his Ph.D. from there.

In the past, his presentations have been given primarily to hostile Muslim audiences and, from what I understand, he had their attention, if not their respect.

His teacher, after on of Adam's presentations, said of Luther, "Finally, an opponent worthy of Islam."

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