Thursday, September 29, 2011

Patron Saint for National Coffee Day?

Today is my day.  Coffee has been part of my life as long as I can remember.  We even grind our own beans to get the freshest taste possible. How much do I consume each day?  You measure that?  Come on! As it is National Coffee Day it occurred to me that it should have its own 'patron saint.'  Giving it the most shallow reflection possible, I thought how about James and John, the "sons of thunder"? Works for me.  Any better ideas out there?  We only have today....

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An Interesting Experience

If you follow the ALPB's "Your Turn" discussion board, you may have seen my name in several posts over the last week or two.  After following various discussions over the years I finally decided to dive in and actively participate.  What prompted my involvement was the postings from Dr. Matthew Becker.  Dr. Becker's writings on ALPB, his own blog, and on the Daystar Jounal have been documented and reviewed on this blog many times.  Until recently I had only commented on his public writings, but had never actually engaged him in active discussion.  The time seemed overdue to take that next step.  The discussions on the topic "Valparaiso University and the LCMS" are now closed.  Pastor Speckhard, the site monitor, realized that it had more than run its course.  I agree.  However, while it lasted it did prove to be a lively, at times contentious, but very revealing discussion.  It often surprised me how open Dr. Becker was about his views since he freely embraces Evolution, Women's Ordination and the Higher-Critical method of biblical interpretation, to name only a few of his beliefs that are at odds with the public confession of his denomination.  To his credit he is a highly intelligent and well-informed scholar.  He could be dismissive, at times, of his opponents, seeing their defense of conservative and confessional viewpoints as narrow minded and ill-informed.  One had to be ever vigilant to catch the tricks of debate that diverted you from the topic.  For me it was a good exercise in theological reflection and defense.

Having graduated from Concordia Seminary - St. Louis in 1988, I find it amazing how liberal his views have now become. I graduated from the sister seminary in Ft. Wayne the year prior, and knowing graduates from St. Louis from this time and since, it was not my impression that a wave of liberalism was active in those years.  It would seem that his studies at the University of Chicago had a lot to do with the turning of his theology, not to mention his admiration and friendship with liberal scholars outside the LCMS (such as Dr. Ed Schroeder.)  As is typical of those within the ELCA, he strongly insists that he is within the mainstream of Lutheran thinking, often invoking Luther and the Confessions to show that his convictions are all well supported by the sources.  He utilizes the "Gospel Reductionism" of a previous era, easily dismissing some sections of scripture he feels are in conflict with the gospel, even going to the point of proposing the "abrogation of the law," seeing the books of Moses as having little value to the theological enterprise today.  As one can see from his review of Dr. Scott Murray's book, he is among those who take issue with the Third Use of the Law, although they will still embrace FC, Epitome VI and insist that the conservatives simply misinterpret the whole point.

As was made evident by more than one poster Dr. Becker's theology is clearly that of the current ELCA.  Some questioned how he could feel comfortable in the LCMS considering his highly conflicting views of many theological areas.  I also pondered on this prior to my involvement with the ALPB site.  My reflections then still seem to hold.  To be honest, I am not really sure why he stays.  Part of me wonders, as I did before, if he sees himself at the vanguard of a movement to recapture the LCMS and direct it back to those old days before the Walkout.  He does not, however, give an indication that this is necessarily his plan.  He insists that there should be room for people such as him and for people such as me.  We should all be able to coexist together.  What is troubling, though, is that this is not a matter of simple differences on practice.  His theology was clearly condemned in New Orleans in '74, and were he on the faculty of Concordia-St. Louis today, I cannot see a reason why they would not bring him up on charges of false doctrine as they did the faculty then.  Is he then 'baiting' the LCMS to see what it will do?  Is he looking to be a modern day martyr of liberalism to make the Synod look bad if and when they finally take official action?  Or is he flaunting his freedom before the rest letting them know there is absolutely nothing they can do?  I don't know.  But it troubles me.

I am comforted by the fact that our seminaries are solid and that the theology Dr. Becker holds does not represent the mainstream of the Synod's ministerium.  As I noted before on this blog, those who still hold to the old Seminex theology are aging and passing from the scene.  The "Battle for the Bible" represents another era long gone.  So, perhaps I should just put this one to rest and chalk it up to an interesting experience.  Feel free to review the Valparaiso discussion site and let me know if I missed something.  It was, at times, a bit confusing to keep up with all the issues. 

Nice Post from "Pastoral Meanderings"

Like Pastor Peters I am now old enough to ponder that question as well: How did we get to this point?  The good pastor reflects on the changes he has observed in the Missouri Synod over the decades and wonders out loud why we need the diversity we now have.  I pass it on for your review:
"How did we get to his point?" at Pastoral Meanderings.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Lamb's Supper: A Review

Earlier this year a reader recommended a book by Dr. Scott Hahn entitled The Lamb's Supper (Doubleday, 1999).  In light of my upcoming research and the fact that my papers were finished, I finally secured a copy by inter-library loan and read it.  Dr. Hahn's book attempts to offer a fresh approach to the Mass by returning to the last book of Holy Scripture for insights.  He does admit that while seeming to be somewhat novel, his book actually borrows from the ancient fathers and thus rediscovers the past as much as provides new understandings.  The first portion of the book offers a primer on the Mass, obviously anticipating readers who may be less knowledgeable about the liturgical forms.  He writes as a Catholic convert and thus seems conscious of others like himself who may be looking for encouragement to change.  He also writes for Catholics in need of rediscovering the old forms and learning again a meaning they may never have been taught.  To these ends the book is well suited.

I approached the book looking for more extensive connections between Revelation and worship, which Hahn only briefly treats.  Again, one must appreciate that this work is geared toward a broad audience and does not promise to offer deep academic insights.  Nevertheless, he offered some interesting observations worth further research and study.  For example, understanding that Revelation is a book filled with allusions and references to worship, he suggests that the book is divided much like the liturgy into Word and Sacrament (121).  Chapters 1 to 10 concern the liturgy of the Word, while chapters 11 to the end concern the Sacrament.  This is in keeping with his central thesis that "If we want to make sense of the Apocalypse, we have to learn to read it with sacramental imagination" (118).  He notes that "If you go back and read Revelation end to end, you'll also notice that all of God's great historical interventions - plagues, wars, and so on - follow closely upon liturgical actions: hymns, doxologies, libations, incensing...." (120).   On the page prior to this he offers a helpful chart with references to various chapters coordinated with a variety of worship allusions.   Although I was aware of connections between Revelation and worship, it did not occur to me that the Eucharistic liturgy may actually provide a 'grid' upon which the myriad of apocalyptic details might be better comprehended.

For Hahn this approach provided the key that made sense of a book he had studied for years prior to converting to Catholicism.  It was in attending the Mass that the pieces finally came together.  As a Lutheran I could read this book sympathetically and often nod in agreement, even while maintaining a respectful disagreement with certain Catholic doctrinal points expected of such an author.  His other basic theme of the Mass as "heaven on earth" was a theme heard prior from Dr. Just and resonated easily with my view of the sacramental experience.  More than once I found myself thinking, 'I'm going to have to reread some of this and think more about it.'  While I was intrigued by his view, it was just different enough from the approach many of us have been given for years as to create moments of struggle as I tried to adapt the somewhat new hermeneutic to this book.  Still, as Dr. Hahn stressed, this is nothing new.  The ancient fathers said it all before.  Unfortunately we have too often distanced ourselves from the earliest centuries and treated exegesis as if it needed none of the older guides.  The fathers were steeped in the sacramental mysteries and it should not surprise us that they should see it in Revelation where our modern eyes are not as well focused.

As mentioned before, I need to soak this in and process it further.  Hahn has given us a way of viewing this too often confusing book of scripture with a fresh vision that avoids the misguided approaches of the evangelical community, and brought it back to its rightful home in the church's worship.  Perhaps if it wasn't divorced from its place in the worshiping assembly, we might never have wandered so far into such strange fields of interpretation.  

Monday, September 5, 2011

Functional Marcionism

In light of an ongoing discussion over on the ALPB site, I would like to recommend a fine article on the use of the Old Testament by Dr. Daniel Gard of Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne.  It is entitled "The Church's Scripture and Functional Marcionism."  (CTQ, 74: 2010, pages 209-224). The concluding paragraphs are worth noting here in summary:
The core and center of the Scriptures is the person of Jesus. All that the Old Testament conveys points us to him. The Old Testament is more than a series of specific prophecies that find their fulfillment in the person of Jesus, with everything else simply "filler." All of the Old Testament, just as the New, is focused on him. He is "Israel reduced to one." The offices of Christ-Prophet, Priest and King-are understandable only in light of the Old Testament offices. Conversely, the Old Testament offices are understandable only in light of the incarnation. Everything that took place before the incarnation is focused on him as much as everything that has happened since or will happen in the future is focused on him.
The continuity of the two testaments, and the continuity of the ongoing people of God, is all about Jesus. Reading the Old Testament is reading the word of Jesus who spoke by the prophets. He connects the history of ancient Israel with modern Israel, the church. From Genesis to Revelation, there is one narrative, one story, one Scripture. Marcion erred not just in the breadth of his de-canonization of the entire Old Testament but in his de-canonization of any of it. If the church is to be faithful to her own understanding of the Scriptures as the only source and norm for faith and life, the Old Testament must be an equal partner to the New Testament. For, indeed, they are not two but one Scripture, united in their witness to Christ.

As can be seen with some scholars today, there is a tendency to reduce the canon to a "canon within a canon."  Parts of the OT become subordinate to the NT and thus the unity of the Scriptures is dismantled.  Dr. Gard's article is worth reading in light of this current trend.  

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Well, another milestone was reached early this morning.  At around 1:18 a.m. the last of my graduate papers was sent out to my professor.  I am now A.B.T. - "All but thesis."  What a relief!  The papers didn't sound too interesting to my high school aged son, but I enjoyed them.  They both revolved around the theme of my upcoming thesis.  For my course in History and Practice of the Church Year with Dr. Pfatteicher I wrote a paper entitled "The Apocalypse in the Revised Common Lectionary: An Analysis of Its Use in the Church Year."  The second paper, written for History of the English Hymnal with Dr. Herman, was "Allusions to the Apocalypse in Selected Hymns in English."  I am gaining a new appreciation for the book of Revelation and its relationship to the worship of the church.  One of the books recommended by a past comment on this blog, The Lamb's Supper by Scott Hahn, is one of my next projects to read. I plan to spend the next few months doing preparatory reading on Revelation with the intent of beginning thesis work after the first of the year.  I'll keep you posted on the progress.

BTW, many, many thanks to my dear wife who stayed up way past midnight to proofread the last of my papers.  What would I do without her?