Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Manga Bible


Have any of you heard about the Manga Bible? Apparently it hasn't hit the book stores this far north, or I simply haven't noticed (most likely the latter.) At any rate it appears to be the latest attempt to market the Bible for today's youth. Essentially it is an adaptation of the Bible in the "Manga" style of Japanese comics that has become extremely popular of late. There are two versions of this "Manga Bible," one illustrated by Ajibayo Akinsiku (otherwise known as Siku) and written by Akin Akinsiku, both from Great Britain, and the other being the Zondervan Graphic Novels' edition by Korean manhwa artist Jung Sun Hwang and author Young Shin Lee. One reviewer noted "Hwang and Lee's irreverent, light-hearted take on Biblical stories...geared for younger readers... or at least a younger audience than the teen/young adult-skewed "Jesus is a bad ass" version of the OTHER Manga Bible."

Illustrating the Bible with cartoon-type illustrations is not new, nor is it objectionable. Even paraphrasing the Bible in such a format has it's place, if the story is accurately and faithfully presented. My concern is that this new "Bible," based on the above reviewer's comments, makes Jesus into just another comic book hero, instead of helping young people know the true Savior. While the author(s) may wish to present Jesus in a way that captures the young person's attention, do they end up making Him into a mere caricature of Himself; an image that bears little to no resemblance to the original? If you have any experience with this latest "Bible," I would be interested in hearing your observations and critiques.

Symposia Papers Now Available at the CTS Site

Concordia Theological Seminary of Ft. Wayne recently placed three of the symposia papers on their site. They are:

Dr. John G. Nordling - "You Were Bought for a Price: Slave Redemption in the New Testament and Beyond"

Dr. Peter J. Scaer - "The Atonement as Expressed in Mark's Sacramental Theology"

Dr. John A. Maxfield - "Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin on the Significance of Christ's Death"

The papers for 2008 can be found here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What is a Missional Church?


A comment to my last article caused me to think. The writer asked about the word "missional." Now I have heard this word bandied about much in recent years. My suspicion of the word no doubt arises from its seeming novelty. It was the same with the word "disciple." It went from a noun to a verb to describe what the church should be doing, as in "disciple-making," taking its cue, I think, from Matthew 28. The point then was we needed to have disciples not just "members."

"Missional" is supposed to be a term describing what is related to the mission work of the church, or of a missionary. However, in popular usage, the meaning has morphed into something quite different. Now it's about "contextualizing" the work of the church, which to my ears sounds like another call to change the historic aspects of its work and worship.

In an article entitled "What is a Missional Community," Jason Zahariades writes:

"However, in a missional community, the church is God’s sent people. That means when everything is stripped away – the building, the events, the activities, the leaders, and other identifying markers for the church – the people are the church and church is the people. Therefore, wherever God’s people are corporately or individually, there is the church. Church is at home, in the car, in the restaurant, the beach – wherever God’s people find themselves in their daily lives."

Is this the new definition of the church? If so, it falls far short of the truth. In Article VII of the Augsburg Confession we read: "The church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered." Notice in Mr. Zahariades' definition the church is identified with the believer alone, not with the means of grace that sustains his faith and and his life in Christ. It has been common for people over the years to use the excuse not to attend church saying that they didn't have to go to church to be a Christian. Then someone says something foolish about worshiping and communing with God out in the woods. Missional communities fit nicely into this old model.

Yet is this what the first believers did? No. They came together in community gathered around the Apostles' Doctrine, the Prayers, and the Lord's Supper (Acts 2:42.) Word and Sacrament. But where is the Word and the sacraments in the "missional community"? And for that matter, where is the called servant of the Word, the public minister of the Gospel, the pastor? Not essential either. Church is just where you happen to be at the moment. Or at least that seems to be one exaggerated aspect of this new movement.

Within some Lutheran circles the term "missional" seems to be driven by the emphasis on outreach as the prime identifying mark of the church. Thus, activities and congregations are judged as to whether they are "missional," or as the older phrase put it, whether they are "maintenance congregations." The idea being either you want to change and grow, or you want to remain numerically stagnant and eventually die. Often the emphasis (as you can see in the article quoted above) is on human action not divine work (Law vs. Gospel.)

Personally, I am concerned by this term and the implications it appears to make. So, for now, I'm going to avoid the term. I'll stick with the old ones. Words like Word, means of grace, sacraments. Those still work for me.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Incarnational - What Does It Mean?

Is "incarnational" a true word in Christian usage? Recently I ran across an article and some discussion on this topic that was quite critical of its more recent use, a least within the Lutheran tradition. It is claimed that "incarnational" has no historic basis in the Lutheran tradition, although it can currently be found in wide use across a number of denominational lines. As I wrote this article the spell-check feature put a red line under the word. Obviously it is not a normal, or typical, form of the word "incarnate," at least in common use at the moment. To be fair, however, the word "incarnational" can be found in an unabridged version of Webster's Dictionary, and it means "of or relating to, or emphasizing incarnation or a doctrine of incarnation." That was from page 1141 of Webster's Third International Dictionary, Unabridged, 1961. Although this was 47 years ago, I am going to assume that the definition can still stand. It is interesting to note that one charge is that the use of the word is novel and faddish.

Part of the reaction stems from an article written by Dr. Arthur Just, entitled "The Incarnational Life" in the For the Life of the World magazine put out by Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne. A reading of this article seems to show that Dr. Just uses the term along the lines of the definition above. His point, if I understand correctly, is that the life of the church and the believer is derived from the incarnate life of Christ. Thus, our life "in Christ" by faith is "related to" the incarnation of Christ where God took on human flesh and dwelled among us. Unlike those who make much of the warm fuzzy feeling of Jesus in their heart, "incarnational" theology wishes to ground the Christian life with the true, tangible reality of the fleshly Christ as He comes to us in physical forms of water, bread and wine. Thus "incarnational" is somewhat synonymous with "sacramental."

To that end I believe that all the hullabaloo about this word is much ado about nothing. If the word can be found in a dictionary almost half a century old it is hardly novel or undefined, as some charge. The idea is really rather simple. There is no attempt to usurp the uniqueness of the only Incarnation of Jesus Christ, as is also charged. The point is merely to show that the incarnation is more than just an event - It is the defining truth that shapes the life of the church and every believer. That is it, as far as I can tell, unless someone else can see something I am missing.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Indiana License Plate: "In God We Trust"


As I traveled through Indiana last week on my way to the Symposia I was surprised to see several cars sporting a new specialty license plate with the words "In God We Trust." It was not a surprise when I learned that the ALCU was behind a lawsuit saying the plates are unconstitutional. Apparently it's an apparent disparity in fees that got the original plaintiff so upset. Specialty plates that support sports teams or other private organization have to pay additional fees. A news article from Fox News last April gives additional details of the lawsuit.

"In God We Trust," though, is clearly a national motto. It's even on our money. Admittedly there is some debate as to what generic civic deity it refers to, but the point is still there: This country was originally founded by people of faith, not agnostics or atheists. You can't get around it, no matter how many times you chant: "Separation of church and state." Still the debate rages on.

One writer, an avowed agnostic, shares these strong words of protest:

"If this new plate were a true specialty plate, available for an additional fee paid only by those who share its sentiments, I would give this subject only a passing thought of gladness that the freedoms of expression and religion were alive and well in my state.

However, that this plate is offered at no additional fee places it into a category of state sponsorship with an assumption that the sentiments are representative of every Hoosier who has a thought on the subject. It is this assumption that I, as many, find offensive, narrow-minded and arrogant in the extreme — the egotistical blindness and inconsideration of which goes against everything for which I believe America stands and for which Indiana should stand.

Stare … blink … stare … A state-sponsored plate that says “we”?

Are we to suppose the “we” in “In God ‘We’ Trust” means everyone in Indiana? Our seemingly Evangelical state leadership appears to be supporting this idea that “we” means every one of us. Or perhaps they only mean that the opinions of anyone who is not part of their “we” are simply irrelevant. I think “we” means “we” are ALL paying for the cost of a plate whose sentiments only apply to some. ...

While, admittedly, Indiana is a state perhaps far more homogeneous than our coastal counterparts, Hoosiers represent nearly every belief system throughout the world, including atheist and agnostic theologies. I should think to any reasonable person logic would then dictate that ALL Hoosiers, that is the collective “we,” DO NOT ALL “Trust In God.”

It is, of course, our right to have this wonderful variety of opinions on the subject. However, also, as a matter of course, one point of view on this subject should never be given preference over another on a state-sponsored banner designed to represent us all...." (State-sponsored Christian Doctrine? by J. Kirby Thompson at: http://www.nuvo.net/articles/statesponsored_christian_doctrine/)

Well, sorry Mr. Thompson, the motto is a bigger issue than your views or your state. Take it up with the country that adopted it. Perhaps we can get a national consensus to adopt another motto: In Me I Trust. It would, no doubt, better reflect the narcissistic character of our current society....

P.S. In doing a very simple search I also discovered that Indiana is not alone
with this motto-bearing plate. Note these from other states:

Sound Bites


The recent issue of Newsweek magazine has a picture of Hilary Clinton on the cover with the quote: "I have found my voice." It was a phrase much repeated in the media following her New Hampshire win. So often in an election year issues of all sorts are reduced to a minimum of digestible words. Speeches capitalize on brief images easily captured by the memory, instead of deep thoughts that require extended contemplation. One commentator noted not long ago how frequently the single word "change" was evoked by all the candidates, often repeated extensively in a single speech. Living in a world where visual and voice media often predominate in the public square, those who wish to promote their ideas and identity feel forced to proclaim their words in the convenient capsule of communication known as the "sound bite." Unfortunately sound bites are open to a range of interpretation, and for this reason they fail to communicate anything clearly. Change? Change of what? It doesn't matter. You decide.

Sound bites are also the plague of the church. Too often popular preachers provide a diet to the masses of little easily digested portions of thought, that end up offering the spiritual nutrition of a candy bar to a diabetic. Not only do they not feed the soul, they harm it.

Pastors are often pressured by parishoners to shorten and simplify their sermons, especially after they have sat at the feet of the entertainment gurus who pass themselves off as prophets. Concerned by increasingly empty pews and lighter collection plates, they feel caught between the realities of hard-edged economics and the call to faithfulness. Compromise, often a hated word by any who value the truth, is probably more a part of the modern day pastor's work than any would care to admit. Surviving in a world of sound bite communication places the pastor in the tightrope walk of getting the Gospel out, but reducing it in the process so that ever shrinking attention spans will remain alert long enough to hear.

However, if we must reduce the words, let us learn from St. John the Baptist from this Sunday's Gospel. Seeing the Christ pass by he captured the essence of the Gospel in a few powerful words: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! The reality is that we daily face a world that is on the one hand overwhelmed by words and information, and on the other hand pulls away from them. If the word must be simplified at times, then, let us not forget the name of Christ and the work of the cross. We can continue the proclamation in extended catechesis for those who have the faith to learn more.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Symposia Review


My daughter and I made it safety back from the seminary last night after a great time at the Symposia. This was her first Symposia, and she seemed to enjoy all the experiences immensely. The chapel services were rich with the music of the classics and the superb gifts of their very accomplished choirs. We received our fill of Bach, and then more, as we patiently listened to a 30 minute rendition of Cantata BMV 92 in German during the "Commemoration of the Faithful" service on Wednesday morning. The lectures were varied and stimulating, and eventually you will be able to find them on the seminary's site, although they have yet to be posted as of the writing of this article. Check back here to find them when they finally make it on the web.

Since I attended only the Confessions Symposia this year, I can't comment too much on the exegetical portion, although I am sure that there is much here worth reading. The speakers that I found particularly interesting included Dr. Scaer (a given!) with his paper entitled "Flights from the Atonement," Dr. James Massa with a paper entitled "Eucharist and Eschatology in the Thought of Pope Benedict XVI." Dr. Rast with his paper entitled "The Meaning of Christ's Death in Evangelical Theology," and Dr. Arand's paper entitled "Atonement and the Two Kinds of Righteousness." The latter paper was, in some ways, more 'catechetical' than purely academic, complete with a Power Point-style presentation. This paper was helpful to me personally in explaining the "Two Kinds of Righteousness" that some of the professors in St. Louis have been at the forefront in reviving. Dr. Arand took us back to Luther's commentary on Galatians to show from the Reformer himself the nature of this fundamental theological paradigm.

The Symposia has always provided a wide spectrum of views and scholars from varied traditions, which assists the Lutheran listener in remaining current on theological thought beyond his own boundaries. It was for this reason that Dr. Massa's paper was stimulating to me, explaining the nuances of Catholic theology, especially those areas of more pronounced difference. Fr. Massa is a priest of the diocese of Brooklyn, Professor of Theology at the Immaculate Conception Seminary in Hunington, and Executive Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interrelgious affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Washington. His ability to comment on the current Pontiff's theology stems from his doctoral work, where his dissertation was on the theme of "The Communion Theme in the Writings of Joseph Ratzinger."

Beyond the presented papers there is much additional activity to take in during the week as well. The evenings are full of receptions at the homes of professors and staff, giving one the opportunity to visit on a more casual level with the rich variety of participants, some who come from as far away as Russian and India. The banquet on Thursday evening provided delicious food and engaging entertainment with the accomplished jazz singer Erin Bode and her fellow musicians. You may want to read more about her recent work in South African with the Themba Girls, a project encouraged by Rev. Matt Harrison of the Board for Human Care.

Overall I was pleased to make it back to my alma mater one more time. It is always a great reunion with classmates and others that I otherwise seldom see. This year was particularly special since I was able to expose my daughter to a side of the church she was not familiar with, thus opening possibilities for the future as she contemplates her future involvement with the church-at-large.

Of course my trip would not be complete without feeding my book habit with even more volumes to stack beside my easy chair in the living room. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Dr. David Scaer has completed the latest volume in the Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics series, entitled "Law and Gospel and the Means of Grace," and that it is available for purchase. I also snatched up the book I mentioned in an earlier post, "Women Pastor's - The Ordination of Women in Biblical Perspective," published by CPH just this year. And before I forget, you don't want to miss the second volume of Dr. Scaer's work put out by the Concordia Catechetical Academy on many of his more popular theological articles over the last several decades. I have only peeked within, but the table of contents reveals a great collection of varied subjects allowing one to enjoy the book without the burden of reading it cover-to-cover.

If you have not attended one of CTS's symposia, I would heartily invite you to the one next year.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Sometimes Catalogs Can Say A Lot

Although I don't think that I have ordered from them in years, Christian Book Distributors continues to fill my mailbox with their many seasonal, sale, and professional catalogs. It seems that I also receive the "Preferred Customer" one too, which is interesting since I am not a frequent purchaser, if I purchase anything at all.

But I do look at them from time to time. Perhaps I'm hoping that they might offer something "Lutheran" again, like they still did twenty-some odd years ago. That's how I purchased my set of Pieper's Dogmatic texts, and my Keil-Delitsch commentary set on the Old Testament. And I think that my wife may have ordered the volumes of Luther's sermons from them as well.

But all along I realized that they were Reformed at heart, although I noticed that on the back page of my "Pastor's Resources" catalog they still offer "The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther" in 7 volumes for the very low price of $34.99. Great deal, by the way.

Still, the times have changed. Joyce Meyer is among the bestsellers, along with Charles Stanley and (gasp!) Joel Osteen (Don't get me started!). There is an entire page devoted to "Rick Warren and Saddleback Resources" already on page 5. You can purchase a DVD curriculum and get all of your "Purpose Driven" books and resources in one place now. Page 6 is the "Andy Stanley and North Point Resources" page, followed by "Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Resources" on page 7. Luther is still on the last page, by the way......

Commentaries do not appear, then, until page 8, although there are several pages of resources to choose from, if you are Reformed, that is. Under DVD's & Videos the "Alpha Course" is listed with over a dozen entries. I have heard this is used by many denominations, including too many Lutherans, and that if you want to remain faithful to the truth of scripture you'd stay far away from it.

Naturally the catalog would not be complete without a full page devoted to "Women's Ministry" and "Men's Ministry" and "Youth Ministry" and "Children's Ministry." How did we end up with so many ministries? In the old days we spoke of only one....

Under Church Supplies you have the usual fare, including a "KJV Cambride Lectern Bible." Now this baffles me. With all the talk of being relevant and accessible and understandable, and you want to put a KJV on the lectern? Or is it only for show? Nice Bible, by the way, and it only costs "$444.99 in goatskin leather.

Under gifts you can find a variety of Jewish shofars. I've noticed a growing interest among evangelicals in Judaica items in recent years. The caption under this entry says: "Listen to the sacred sounds of the shofar and rejoice in the presence of the Holy One! Imported from Israel, these authentic horn worship trumpets connect you more deeply to the roots of our faith." Too bad they don't understand or practice the true Sacrament of the Altar. There they would find the real "presence of the Holy One." But when you don't have sacramental presence you have to import shofars....

On page 43 they feature items for worship. I was amazed to find a couple of hymnals there. Didn't the Evangelicals do away with hymnals? Still, the names tell it all: "Celebration Hymnal," "Christian Life Hymnal."

Page 44 is devoted to "The Emerging Church." I believe that I have featured an article on them here in the past. They have a book entitled "Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crisis, and a Revolution of Hope." From the description of the book it seems that this movement is a retake on the Social Gospel. New trends usually end up as recycled trends from earlier times. Solomon was right: there's nothing new under the sun.

The next page is entitled "Church Growth and Renewal." Interesting how this subject doesn't appear until page 45. Is the "movement" losing momentum behind the newer trends? The message is still all about filling pews and getting the "seekers" to come back: "Jim and Casper Go to Church," "Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary," "The Prodigal-Friendly Church," "High Expectations: The Remarkable Secret for Keeping People in Your Church." Secret? They're only now telling us? And I thought it was about feeding them the Bread of Life.....

Missions and Evangelism, predictably, is not featured until page 53, behind the "Volume Discounts and "Budget-Beating Bargains" centerfold. Tells you a lot about the priorities of these new "emerging" churches. Preaching resources come along on pages 60 to 61. Now for a Pastor's Resource catalog, wouldn't you expect this sooner? There are three pages of books, but as well all know, preaching is not as popular as it once was. Still, even in these modern times you can buy a 7 volume set of John Wesley's sermons as well as those from the pen of Jonathan Edwards. Martin Luther is on the last page.....

In a time that values the present over the past, it is not surprising to see a page on "Leadership" ahead of "Church History" and "Theology." Theology books, by the way, are on pages 78 to 79. Not practical enough for many, I suppose. And of course, "Biblical Studies," usually a key area of study for any pastor in seminary and later, debuts all the way on page 80 and 81.

Well, there's more to report, but you get the idea. Catalogs can be an insight into what is important for many evangelicals today. And considering how a lot of Lutherans have jumped on the bandwagon of their cutting-edge movements, this may very well be a painful insight into where our own church is at as well.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Life Has a Way of Getting Busy at Times

For those of you who still check in here from time to time - my apologies! As a father of three (who have all been sick at one time this week!), a full-time parish pastor, and a part-time circuit counselor, life recently has been a bit complicated and busy. As much as I love to write, these responsibilities have always taken first place.

Next week my eldest daughter and I will be traveling to the seminary in Ft. Wayne for the Confessions Symposium. I normally go for the whole week, but considering the overall costs and the local challenges of late, it seemed best to shorten my stay this time around. However, there will be plenty of time to take in all the exhibits and book displays (never to be missed!!). I heard from Pastor Bender that his catechetical institute is releasing the second volume of Dr. David Scaer's works, and that CPH has also recently released a book on women's ordination, Women Pastors? Women's Ordination in Biblical Lutheran Perspective ($26.99). You can read more about the book in this brief description at CPH. I hope to secure a copy of both before I leave.

I will also take along my laptop and plan to leave a few summaries of the sessions on this blog as I am able. I suspect that my daughter, who has a blog over on the Higher Things site called Here I Stand, will also post, in case you would like a college student's perspective as well. Although she is currently a pre-vet student at UW-River Falls, I think that maybe I can still sway her to a church work vocation :)

If you would like to actually read the presented papers for yourself, they are normally posted on the seminary's website (along with papers going back as far as 2001.) A list of some of the speakers and topics, as well as links to posted papers, can be found here. However, I would wait until later on Tuesday to see anything posted for this year. The theme for the exegetical symposia is: "Atonement for Sin in the Scriptures: Challenging the Modern Dismissal of this Biblical Theme." For the confessions symposia the theme is: "Atonement: Biblical, Confessional, Ecumenical Perspectives."

I hope that I run across some of the readers of this blog in Ft. Wayne this week. Say hello if you recognize my face from the picture on the side.

God's blessings during this holy season of Epiphany!