Friday, January 27, 2012

Is the Rhetoric on This Site "McCarthy-like"?

In response to a post I made back in August of last year, one reviewer noted that "Clearly, the rhetoric on this site is Macarthy like."  The comment was in response to material I have written regarding Dr. Matthew Becker and what he teaches.  Since most readers of this site may not see Cheryl's comment, I wanted to bring attention to it so others could read and respond themselves.  The post under review is here.  After reviewing it and others, let me know if you think that the writing here reflects McCarthy and unnecessarily accuses someone short of the facts and draws unfair conclusions.  I'm curious as to what others might think.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Good Sermon on the Proper Role of Sex

I will admit that I did not preach on the difficult Corinthian text this past Sunday.  Not that it didn't need to be preached.  In fact, given the culture in which we now live it needed to be preached more than ever.  I hope that, given its straightforward epistolary nature, the reading of it still communicated sufficiently to those who needed most to hear.

I was quite pleased, though, with one sermon on this text.  It was preached by Archbishop Dolan of New York.  Although delivered by a Roman Catholic cleric, I venture to suggest any Lutheran could nod approvingly to its message.  At least those conservative enough to appreciate the exclusive role of sex within a life-long, monogamous, heterosexual union.  Archbishop Dolan is to be commended for framing the subject in the context of divine love, thus allowing the gospel to predominate.

If you would like to hear the sermon, go to this page of his archived homilies.  Click on January 15.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

An Agnostic Writes Religious Songs

Many of you probably remember Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel's 1970 Grammy-winning song “Bridge Over Troubled Water."  Radio stations still play it.  Apparently the song was influenced by gospel music, and some have felt inspired by the lyrics (although the key line about the bridge was actually inspired by a Claude Jeter song from 1958).  Nevertheless, one of the authors, Paul Simon, now age 70, remains an agnostic.  One of his recent albums, "So Beautiful or So What" contains many spiritual images including God, angels, creation, pilgrimage, prayer and the afterlife. One Irish blogger suggested it could be the best Christian album of 2011. Who would have thought an agnostic could do that?

Raised in the Jewish faith through his bar mitzvah Simon admits he had no interest in religion at the time.  However, he claims that there has always been a spiritual dimension to his music, and it was especially evident in this latest collection of songs.  According to a Religious News Service article "Simon says the religious themes were not intentional—he does not describe himself as religious. But in an interview with the PBS program “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly,” he said the spiritual realm fascinates him.“I think it’s a part of my thoughts on a fairly regular basis,” he said.  “I think of it more as spiritual feeling. It’s something that I recognize in myself and that I enjoy, and I don’t quite understand it.”

For those who recognize the power of natural revelation as doorway toward potential faith, Simon's story may offer encouragement.  The article notes "Simon said the beauty of life and of the earth often leads him to thoughts about God.'How was all of this created? If the answer to that question is God created everything, there was a creator, than I say, Great! What a great job,' he said. But he said he won’t be troubled if it turns out there is no God. 'Oh fine, so there’s another answer. I don’t know the answer,' he said. Either way, he added, I’m just a speck of dust here for a nanosecond, and I’m very grateful.'”

Simon has not yet arrived at faith, however, and we pray that one day he will.  God has granted to him sufficient exposure to the Word, it seems, but he is still resistive.  At age 70 time is no loner on his side.  In a day when entertainers become lost in the morass of self-indulgence, Simon's journey is taking him in another direction.  Hopefully that journey will end at Christ.  

To read more go to "The long spiritual journey of Paul Simon" on the RNS site.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Did the Synod Actually Once Support the Historical-Critical Method?

According to a post on another blog, a document from 1967 shows that the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod actually once commended the historical-critical method.  The document, produced by the Synod's Commission on Theology and Church Relations, is entitled "A Lutheran Stance Toward Contemporary Biblical Studies."  It can be found on the Synod's website here.  Having read the document I am not convinced that it does support the historical-critical method, even if it acknowledges that certain aspects of it may provide helpful insights for the interpretive process.  As one who studied for the ministry in the mid to late 80's and was instructed thoroughly in the historical-grammatical method, it was news to me that an official document of the Synod had been in existence then for 20 years that supported a methodology at variance with the way I was taught at a synodical school.  To claim that it supports the historical-critical method undermines the continuity of the Synod's official convictions and proclamations on biblical studies over the last several decades.  It also potentially legitimizes teaching against Synodical stances on such issues as women's ordination and evolution. 

One of the arguments from the left is that the Synod was highjacked by hard-leaning conservatives who took the Synod in a direction different than it intended to go (see the recent article on the Daystar site by Domsch.)  The usual culprits, of course, are the Preus brothers, J.A.O. and Robert who came from the ELS.  It is true that many scholars from St. Louis were leading the church down a path different than where the Preus brothers were.  The question, however, is whether those in St. Louis in the 60's and 70's reflected the true spirit of Missouri, or those who worked to correct what they perceived as a liberal course-change.  Looking back to the roots of our church body which find their genesis in men who broke with the rationalism rampant in the church of their own time, I see the events preceding the Walk Out of 1974 as of a different spirit than what we find in our founding fathers. 

Read the CTCR document for yourself and see if you believe it endorses the historical-critical method.  The entire text is only eleven pages long and will only take a short time to read.    

Daystar Journal Publishes Spring Articles

For those so interested, the liberal online journal Daystar has published two articles for its Spring issue.  The first is a reworked article by Dr. Matthew Becker entitled "An Argument for Women Pastors and Theologians."  The second is a response by Mr. David Domsch to concerns raised about his Fall article on fear in the LCMS.  The first article contains no surprises, but rather articulates again a liberal defense for women's ordination.  I find it interesting that Dr. Becker does not engage the work by established scholars in the LCMS and others who have written several substantial studies that argue against women's ordination, especially those printed in the CPH book Women Pastors: The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective, now in, I believe, its third revision and printing. 

The second article gives some insight into the reasoning of those who are liberal yet remain within the LCMS.  Mr. Domsch, a layman, willingly admits that as a layman he is not a member of Synod and if the church to which he belonged left the Synod, so would he.  Yet he also paints a picture of the Synod as a place of broad belief and varied convictions (which no doubt reflects to some degree where many of our churches and clergy are truly at today), and a history marred by what he views as a political approach to theology.  Majority votes determine truth it appears.  It is true that majority votes do not determine truth and we probably rely on this too heavily when defending it.  Nevertheless, many of us hold to certain teachings of our church body not because they passed a vote at a convention, but because they reflect sound, scriptural truth.  We are not as concerned about a given convention as we are about the long, ongoing continuity of our confession.  Novelty often spells trouble in doctrine, and certain teachings, such as women's ordination, are historical novelties, as my previous post in December addresses. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Baptism of Our Lord

According to Mark they came to the Jordan as sinners looking for forgiveness.  A stream of hurting, broken humanity journeyed from all over Judea and Jerusalem to find a new beginning in the water.  Then one day another came.  He had no sin.  He had no need of forgiveness.  And yet he came to the water.  Here in the Jordan he willingly established his solidarity with sinful man.  Made to be sin who knew no sin.  One man set his face toward death that he might die in their place.  His life for theirs.  Today the ministry begins, the reverse journey back to death that there might be life.  Today the heavens open knowing they will close in darkness for a time on that hill called Skull.  They will open looking to the day the curtain finally tears asunder and the sacred space revealed, the place where man met God for atonement, atonement through blood sprinkled upon a seat called Mercy.  It will open showing where Jesus will ascend to the right hand of the Father, the place he has prepared for us, the home to which he wishes to take us.  Today the Spirit descends as a dove, the Spirit who hovered over the primeval waters bringing life out of empty darkness.  The dove that was released from the ark to find dry ground has returned, for the flood has ended.  We were buried with him through death, buried in those waters that sin's power might die.  We have arisen to walk in newness of life.  The Spirit has come to bring the life of Christ to our death-filled lives.  Today the Father speaks.  He declares his love for his Son, proclaims he is pleased.  We who stand in Christ by faith hear the voice too.  We are among the beloved of God.  Because of him the Father looks with pleasure upon us.  Just as the angels sang on Christmas day, peace to men with whom he is pleased.  Our life is hid with God in Christ.  Our sinful humanity clothed in his righteousness.  Today we step again into the river of life.  We return to the font to remember where we were reborn, remade, regenerated, renewed, where the Spirit descended, where the Father spoke, where we were buried and raised, where it all began....

Friday, January 6, 2012

How to Disagree Well

Disagreeing comes naturally to everyone.  We all have cherished opinions, views we often hold to be on the level of indisputable truth.  Unfortunately when two contrasting opinions meet contention frequently results.  Some avoid conflict altogether by simply keeping their opinions to themselves.  Others strive to resolve the apparent contention by giving in and conceding their point, another means of avoiding conflict.  Still others argue to the death in a win at any cost, take no prisoners approach.  One would hope that there might still be another option that does not need to fall to either extreme.

On the Crossings website a view was offered on "How to Disagree Well" by the Rev. Dr. S. John Roth.  His advice on how to disagree well is summarized in the following three points: 

1) Fairness. I am disagreeing well when I can state the position of the person I am disputing with accurately enough that that other person recognizes that position as genuinely his/her position.
2) Intellectual integrity. I am disagreeing well when I can state the strongest, most compelling argument against my position. In other words, I am disagreeing well when I can recognize and acknowledge where my own position is most vulnerable and where a contrasting position makes valid points.
3) Honest humility. I am disagreeing well when, after thinking through my position and expressing it with true conviction, I acknowledge that as a fallen, flawed human being I myself may be wrong.

There is much here to commend.  Too often we become so caught up in our own opinions and views we forget that it is still necessary to be polite, respectful and fair no matter how passionate we might be about the topic.  As a technique of debating it is always good to be aware of the vulnerable areas of your own argument.  We can have a blind spot to our weaknesses because our our self-assured certainty.  And, as Dr. Roth notes, we must always be conscious of our human sinfulness, realizing that even with the best intentions we can end up treating people rudely, forgetting to see them as fellow children of God.  How often we have all deplored the violation of Luther's principle in the 8th commandment to "put the best construction on everything," or "explain everything in the kindest way."  It never serves our purpose to disparage the motives of our opponent, painting them as a villain just because they believe something with which we vehemently disagree.  Sometimes people have blind spots of their own and simply can't see the flaws of their views.  Patience to help the person see this may take time, but in the end it will certainly leave you with a chance of disagreeing yet not descending into the rancor of hate-filled rhetoric.

As one who has labored in the church I have seen more than my share of poor disagreements.  Unfortunately with election season upon us we are afforded a daily opportunity to see this phenomena played out in bold and living color.  Perhaps at the beginning of a new year it is a good time to remind ourselves that disagreeing can actually be done well, but we will have to work at it for it to be that way.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Year Ends and Begins With the Shedding of Blood

Given such a title one might rightly wonder if this post concerns more violence and bloodshed in the world.  However, the reference is first and foremost to the church's calendar.  While the world takes time for its annual break to party and relax before gearing up for a new year, the church realistically recalls the need for a savior to a still dying world.  The day after Christmas finds us at the funeral for Stephan, stoned for his brave confession of Christ. On the 28th we then remembered the horrible slaughter of those innocent victims of Herod's jealous wrath who tragically died in Bethlehem.  Then, just as we are beginning a new year we talk once more about the "shedding of blood" in the circumcision of our Lord.  The year ends in blood and begins again in blood.  It might feel like a dark image with which to remember a festive time, but it reminds us the true necessity of the incarnation. "Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven," the Creed intones.  Christmas points to Good Friday from the very first moment.  The name given Him sets the stage immediately: Jesus, "Yahweh saves," for "He will save His people from their sins."  And then, at the tender age of only 8 days, He submits to the Law, beginning the process of being "obedient unto death."  As the door posts in Egypt were marked with blood to spare them death from the passing angel, we mark the doors of our new year with the blood of the Lamb as well, that in this dying world we will know life and hope through Him who died for us and rose in victory, the first born of all who rise from the grave.

A blessed new year to all, a year soaked in the blood of the Savior!