BOOK REVIEW: Being Dad

Being Dad: Father as a Picture of God’s Grace. By Scott Keith. Irvine: NRP Books, 2015. Order here.

Much ink has been spilled over the subject of Christian parenting, especially the vocation of “father.” The critique of modern Western society that the role of father has been degraded to the point that we no longer recognize the true purpose or value of having a father is more than accurate. Doubtless this is a contributing factor to the Western acceptance of the equivalence of mother and father or much worse the irrelevance of the father. Yet many recognize the need of some sort of father-like figure—certainly all the super-villains and heroes in the movies having “daddy issues” is no coincidence. So what is a father? Is he necessary? What does he look like? What does he do?

Scott Keith, executive director of “1517 the Legacy Project,” adjunct professor of theology at Concordia University, Irvine, and (more relevant) husband and father of three children, brings the light of Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, and even some anecdotal experience to these questions with the book Being Dad: Father as a Picture of God’s Grace. Rather than being a how-to manual on raising children as a man, Keith examines what the Scriptures tell us about being a father from the example given us in our heavenly Father. Keith’s stated purpose for the book: “This book . . . will draw a picture of a good father given as a gift by a good God in order to bring children, to bring little sinners, to Himself” (6). For this reason, Keith suggests, it is the father’s first God-given duty to bring the Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins to the children entrusted to his care. 

The emphasis throughout the entire book is that the father should be a theologian who properly distinguishes Law and Gospel in the home. Keith never suggests that the father ignore the Law and be a passive patron of cheap grace, rather Keith constructs the book to demonstrate that a father is a God-given picture of His divine grace.

Keith’s first step is the ever-familiar parable of the prodigal son. He gives an in-depth study of the characters, motivations, and emotions involved in this parable. While Keith offers no novel ideas, he gives an absolutely necessary starting point for understanding the vocation of father: the benefactor and teacher of grace, and of children: receivers and witnesses of grace.

At this point Keith discusses the necessity of manly men, or in his words “masculine fathers.” He attempts to discern from the dim mirror what a masculine man is like. Certainly being a real man is more than drinking beer, smoking, shooting guns, and eating red meat. Keith suggests—and I believe correctly—that a truly masculine man is not only capable of performing “manly tasks” (whatever those may be according to his vocation) but he is gracious and loving. Keith defines “loving” in the sense of the Greek virtue “philia” brotherly friendship and love, or what our confessions would call “the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren” (SA III:IV). A masculine father demonstrates this virtue to his children and exposes them to it through his various interactions with them and others in the world. Yet here no exhaustive list of characteristics can be made for the masculine man, instead we simply accept the flesh and blood examples.

It is no coincidence that God places great importance on the estate of marriage. This clearly is for the protection and good of both husband and wife, but also for the protection and raising up of children. For this reason, Keith devotes an entire chapter to the father fulfilling his vocation as husband. He discusses that the vocations of father and mother are neither equivalent nor opposite each other; rather father and mother complement each other.

Keith devotes the rest of the book to discussing what it is to be a father, the “magic” and wonderment a father can and should bring into his children’s lives, what it means that the father is the “head of the household,” and finally what a healthy reliance of children on fathers looks like. Keith closes the book with helpful anecdotes from those in the vocation of father and/or child. He uses these to illustrate the single point successfully made throughout the entire book that the foremost duty of the father is to be a picture of our gracious, heavenly Father.

“God provides fathers so that children can know His love in this denotative way. Fathers provide the opportunity for children to point at their dads and say, ‘God’s love is like that. Like him over there. Like my dad,’” (82). Keith’s book is a welcome and necessary contribution to the ongoing discussion on the necessity and qualities of that thing we call “fatherhood.” In this book, he hits on the necessary points to show from Scripture and experience how the father is an absolutely necessary God-given vocation in this life.

Aaron M. Hambleton
Redeemer Lutheran
Lisbon, ND

Issue 25-4: Simul justus et peccator

Introduction

—by Aaron Moldenhauer

Some years ago in Bible class I led a discussion that as Christians we are simul iustus et peccator. Class members readily and heartily acknowledged that they were sinners. But the group struggled to see themselves as saints and declined to call themselves such. Saints, they reasoned, were holy, while they were sinful. They could not look past their sin to see the righteousness of Christ that is theirs through faith, the righteousness by which they are accounted saints. By only confessing half of the equation, they demonstrated that they had not internalized the concept of being simul.

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While instructing parishioners about being simul is challenging, this instruction pays rich rewards for the person who grasps the simul. Parish pastors do well to offer this instruction both in Bible classes and in private counseling. The simul is especially effective for those who, for one reason or another, question their faith. Pointing the parishioner to the father in Mark 9:24 who cries “I believe, help my unbelief!” can bring immense comfort to one who recognizes that his faith is weak. Walking through Romans 7 with a parishioner beat up by legalistic preaching is an effective means to show them that they are Christ’s, even when they see sin in themselves. Conversely, the simul allows the pastor to preach to the self-righteous that they are sinful without driving them to despair. The simul remains an excellent resource for pastoral care and theology. This issue of LOGIA offers several perspectives on the simul in Lutheran theology.

The simul is deeply rooted in Lutheran theology. From an early date in his life, Martin Luther delights in placing paradoxical statements beside one another. The simul is one instance of Luther’s paradoxical pairs, appearing early in his career. These apparent contradictions appear at least as early as The Freedom of a Christian (1520), where Luther famously asserts that the Christian is both a perfectly free lord of all and a most dutiful servant, subject to all (LW 31:344). In the same work Luther describes the exchange between Christ and the Christian by which Christ shares in the believer’s sins while the believer receives Christ’s righteousness. As Christ and the believer hold all things in common, they are both sinners and righteous at the same time (LW 31:351–53). This identification of the believer as both sinful and holy begins in Luther and persists in Lutheran theology as the simul iustus et peccator. The persistence of this concept is seen clearly in the authors analyzing and using it in this issue of LOGIA.

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In the first article of this issue William Cwirla draws connections between scriptural expressions containing the content of the simul, Luther’s thought, the Formula of Concord, and the parish. His article analyzes how the simul functions in the Formula’s articulation of the third use of the law, and how this relates to conceptions of spirit and flesh, old and new, inner and outer. Cwirla shows the relevance of these doctrines for the pastor. His contribution highlights the often-overlooked truth that the pastor must first see himself as simul. Then Cwirla continues to discuss how parishioners and the church are also simul.

Steven Paulson’s contribution to this issue examines the two kingdoms in light of the simul. Paulson highlights how the simul cuts against natural intuition and experience. By looking at the two kingdoms in light of the simul, Paulson identifies temptations to turn the church into an instrument for social action, a move that can collapse the two kingdoms into one. His article offers a unique look at the role of the church in liberal democracy by applying the simul to the question of the two kingdoms.

The simul Christian lives in a creation that is also simul. Our lives as simul iustus et peccator are lived in this simul creation, and the implications of this setting are explored by Joshua Miller’s analysis and application of Oswald Bayer’s thought on the rupture of the ages. Bayer’s idea of the rupture highlights how sin closes ears to the message that God speaks through creation. The result is that God is hidden, along with his eschatological answer to sin. By casting the believer and creation in this light, Bayer opens up room to understand the Christian life as lament — an insight offering rich applications in pastoral care.

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The simul offers one way to examine developments within the understanding of the office of the ministry. Mark Menacher’s article follows this tack. Menacher cautions against the dangers that come when the simul is forgotten in thinking about the ministry, both on a personal and an ecclesial level. Menacher develops this argument by using Luther and the Confessions as resources for thinking about the ministry and the simul.

Menacher’s article leads into Kristian Baudler’s essay on Luther and the priesthood of all believers. Baudler argues that Luther espouses the idea, and contends that recent efforts to argue that Luther does not hold to the priesthood of all believers serve an ecumenical agenda.

Together, these articles offer a rich array of material for contemplating the simul. The themes of simul and office continue into the Forum section, with diverse voices from Lutheranism represented there. Taken together, the writings in this issue of LOGIA provide resources for a Lutheran perspective that sees oneself as both sinner and saint, and then speaks the gospel to others who are likewise sinners, those to whom Christ grants his forgiveness and so accounts them saints.

Not the Same

EXCERPT: In other words, the U.S. Supreme Court, its allied judges, and its like-minded politicians are engendering the American republican-democratic state into establishing or into becoming the state Church of Neopaganism in the USA with the Supreme Court Justices in majority ruling as its self-ordained high priests.

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The Ministry of a New Covenant

The Ministry of the New Covenant

Text: II Corinthians 3:4-6

— by John T. Pless

Editor’s Note: The Rev. John T. Pless preached this sermon for the ordination of Michael Daniels on Trinity XI (August 7, 2016) at Salem Lutheran Church, Taylorsville, NC.

 This past month in Cleveland and then in Philadelphia, the attention of our nation and even the world was turned to decisions being made by the two leading political parties as to who would be put forward as their respective candidates for president of the United States. There were stirring speeches and rhetorical appeals. Those gatherings captured media coverage and commentary, and no doubt the dust will not settle until the election takes place in November. 

Prof. John T. Pless

Prof. John T. Pless

By way of contrast, we are gathered here this afternoon not to put forward a man for political office with all the ruckus of a convention. Instead, we are here on this lazy August afternoon because Christ Jesus is putting a man in a spiritual office, the office of preaching, the office of the holy ministry of Word and Sacraments. This is not an office of worldly authority, but it is an authority for it is the office of the Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life. So Dr. Luther says in one of his many sermons of John 20: “This was not Christ’s mandate to His disciples, and He did not send them forth for secular government. Rather, He committed to them the preaching office, and the government over sin, so that the proper definition of the office of preaching is that one should preach the Gospel of Christ and forgive the sins of the crushed, fearful consciences, but retain those of the impenitent and secure, and bind them” (LW 69:383). 

That is the office, Michael, into which you are placed today. The media might yawn at a church service which seems so pale and insignificant when set alongside the commotion of a convention hall, but I would submit to you that what is taking place today will have a significance — yes an eternal significance — long after the names of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are forgotten (and for that matter, even your own name is no longer remembered). The kingdoms of men and nations rise up and pass away, but the Word of the Lord endures forever. It is an everlasting Gospel, this word of the cross, which you, Michael, are ordained, that is, put under orders to proclaim.

The person who is put into the office of president has weighty responsibility on their shoulders. The man who is put into the office of preaching has an even heavier burden to bear. Presidents and prime ministers, kings and emperors are given charge over things temporal. Pastors exercise an office with eternal consequences as they are charged to forgive the sins of the broken and retain the sins of the self-righteous, those who in their fleshly security refuse to repent.

The Rev. Michael Daniels and his wife, Emily

The Rev. Michael Daniels and his wife, Emily

Political candidates recommend themselves for secular offices even as they seek to the approval and recommendation of others. But who can recommend himself for the office of preaching? As he writes II Corinthians, Paul does not commend himself, but Christ Jesus. So also with this young man, this son of Salem congregation, who is ordained today; it is finally not about Michael but about Jesus. 

Certainly, there is much to celebrate and give thanks for this afternoon. It is fitting that the congregation has a godly pride in the fact that one of your own, taught the Holy Scriptures and the Catechism in your midst, nurtured in the fear, love, and trust in God above all things, confirmed in the faith at this altar and fed here with the body and blood of Christ has been led to prepare for the pastoral office. On behalf of the whole church, I speak a word of thanksgiving for the gift that you have given in providing Michael for the work of the ministry. It is good and right that his parents and family who have supported and encourage him at each step along the way, now rejoice that Michael has come to this day. And Michael and Emily are no doubt relieved that the rigors of seminary education are in the rear view mirror and a big bright Texas-size future awaits them. There is eagerness and excitement now to get on to the work which you have been preparing for these past years. That is all well and good, but there is more. There is the one thing which you are to know and never forget. It is this: Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead is alone your sufficiency for preaching office.

The Rev. Chris Hull, senior pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, Tomball, TX

The Rev. Chris Hull, senior pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, Tomball, TX

Your confidence is finally not that you have a Master of Divinity degree from Concordia Theological Seminary, or that you have the set of skills required for effective ministry, or that Zion Lutheran Church in Tomball, Texas thinks that you will be a good fit to work with Pastor Hull. All of that may be helpful but you have something greater. The Apostle puts it like this: “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.” In a few minutes, Michael, you will make some God-sized vows, solemn promises that your teaching will be completely bound to the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions and that your life will adorn and reflect the doctrine of Christ you are sworn to deliver in season and out of season. These vows should cause you to tremble more than a little. You can finally give a full-throated and unqualified “yes” to these questions because your confidence is toward God through Christ.

That little phrase that Paul uses “through Christ” is the key. Paul’s ministry was not validated by his cleverness or perseverance, by his eloquence or appearance, by his credentials of heritage or education but only through Christ. So it is with you, Michael. You are sufficient for this work only because your sufficiency is from God through Christ. 

He has made you competent to be a minister of the new covenant. The prophet Jeremiah spoke of the new covenant that God would make with His people. The old covenant made at Sinai was shattered by Israel’s sin. There is no salvation there. The Law can only curb and condemn sin; it is powerless to forgive sin. Instead, Jeremiah proclaims a new covenant. That new covenant contains a promise absent in the old covenant. And the promise is this says Jeremiah: “ I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34).

You are a minister not of the letter that kills (that’s the Law) but of the Spirit who gives life (that’s the Gospel). Yes, you will preach the Law in all of its sternness to those who are hardened in their unbelief but that preaching will never take their sin away. You will preach the Law only so your hearers might come to hear the promise of the new covenant: “ I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” The letter kills, the Spirit gives life. The law never finds righteousness, and it is powerless to create it. The Gospel only finds sinners, but it is the power of God for salvation for it bestows righteousness in the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ.

You, Michael, are today authorized to be an agent and ambassador of the new covenant, on your lips are the words of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes way the sin of the world. His words are spirit and life (John 6:63). Your competence and your confidence are in them. Move away from Jesus’ words, start referencing yourself, proclaiming something other than the Law and Gospel or mixing and muddling the two, and then you will have neither competence nor confidence. For this reason, your confession like that of the disciples can only and ever be: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” 

Preach the Law? Yes, for it is necessary to bring secure sinners to repentance. Afflict those who are comfortable in and with their sin. To those who have been so afflicted, preach the comfort of Jesus Christ who atoned for the sins of the world and by His resurrection gives forgiveness of sins to all you will receive it. That is the work of the minister of the new covenant. Today, Michael, it is the work committed to you.

Christ Jesus is sending you on your way today as a minister of the new covenant, not the letter that kills but the Spirit who gives life. You cannot see the ending of the path set before you. The Lord who sends you does not promise that the journey on which you are now embarking will be an easy one. This culture of death into which you are sent despises Christ. The ever-deceiving world, your own stubborn flesh, and the clever devil will always be on the attack. But you have a promise that is guaranteed by the Lord Jesus Christ who has been raised from the dead never to die again. This is the lively and life-giving hope which will not disappoint you. In Him your life and work are secure for in this Jesus your sufficiency is from God. He has made you competent to be a minister of the new covenant, not the letter that kills but the Spirit who gives life. You have His promise. That is enough. Amen. 

 

Prof. John T. Pless is assistant professor of pastoral ministry and missions at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana.


As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.

 

 

Book Review: Praying Luther’s Small Catechism

Praying Luther’s Small Catechism. By John T. Pless. Concordia Publishing House, 2016. 182 pages. Paperback. $8.99

In a day and age where there is a great famine of God’s Word and a culture beset on removing all voices of a distinctly Christian worldview, Pless’s Praying Luther’s Small Catechism must find a space on your bookshelf. In the preface, Pless sets the tone that there is always more to learn and receive in this exemplary reformational and catechetical text. “Readers will be drawn into a deeper and lasting appreciation of this handbook for doctrine, vocation, and prayer. It is especially desired that your own praying of the catechism will be enlivened and enlarged” (ix).

Chapter 1 begins by emphasizing that Luther’s Catechism is more than an adolescent text used for a short period of instruction. It is a book to be prayed and digested for a lifetime, confessed before the world, and uttered incessantly against the devil. These simple words, Pless says, “are not too difficult for the young pupil yet they contain abyssal mysteries into which the mature Christian sinks” (2).

Chapter 2 is devoted to the Ten Commandments. The Law is inscribed upon creation. The voice of prayer lies in every throat. The question however, as Pless aptly points out, is to what god are your prayers addressed? Is it a voice searching and hoping that a divine ear will hear? Or is it the voice of faith that our heavenly Father always listens to with joy and thanksgiving? Drawing on Luther’s “Simple Way to Pray,” Pless shows the reader how to pray through the formula of instruction, thanksgiving, Confession, and prayer. This formula helps the reader to see that Luther’s Small Catechism is not just one book, but a “school text, song book, penitential book, and prayer book” (16).

Chapter 3 turns to the Apostles’ Creed. The Creed instructs the Christian over what kind of God he has, what He has done, and what He will do, for God has bound Himself graciously to His own promise and gift of creating, redeeming, and sanctifying the sinful creature. Drawing upon Oswald Bayer, Pless concretely expresses the reality of the relationship of faith, giver, gift, and response, showing the reader how he should rightly confess, pray, and give thanks to God for such marvelous gifts. Pless helps the reader to see how Luther understood everything which is contained in the Creed is pure gift, “without any merit or worthiness in me.” “Luther’s whole exposition of the Creed proceeds in terms of divine giving” (50). 

Pless then turns his attention to the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is the prayer that governs all Christian prayer. Not only is it our Father’s words, but they are words placed into the mouth of the Christian that he might pray aright, according to the will and desire of his heavenly Father. Pless shows how the first three chief parts of the Small Catechism come together in command, promise, and petition. Not to be missed in this chapter is how Pless cuts through every false theology of prayer, demonstrating that all prayer is prayed under the crucible of the cross: “The Lord’s Prayer is a cry wrung from the crucible, an exposition of the shape of life lived under the sign of the cross in the hope of the resurrection” (53).

After the Lord’s Prayer, Pless moves to consider Baptism. In order to pray in God’s Name, one must first be given His Name, and that is precisely what God gives in baptism. The instituting words are the gift and the gift is embedded in the words. In baptism God is not out to make religious people, but rather He creates new creations by water and Word. Pless seeks to reclaim the understanding of the present tense reality of baptism. Baptism is not an empty religious ritual, an invisible force field that protects the sinful man by the mere performance of the rite. Rather the Christian hears in the word spoken a new reality being declared. “Baptism works for the forgiveness of sins, and as such it brings about a change of lords. Sin is no longer lord. Jesus is” (83). The sinful creature is now a new born creature, water and Word, promise and gift, all at work by the Triune God, giving sinful creatures new born names by which they petition and plea for grace and mercy to the open ears of their Father.

In chapter 6 Pless moves to Confession, Absolution, and the Office of the Keys. Confession is not merely good for the soul, it is the soul’s mercy and life. While giving the historical background of the insertion of this chief part into the Small Catechism, Pless argues that “Luther certainly didn’t want to jettison the practice of individual confession, but filter it through evangelical sieve of justification by faith alone, so that purified from its Roman abuses it might be restored as a means of consolation for those terrified by their sin” (96). Far from a father confessor’s tool to extract tidbits of information, confession is retained for the sake of the absolution, for those well worn by their sins and in need of rescue and respite from the old wicked foe. Burdened consciences need a place where they are not turned inward, but outward to an external Word that pronounces Christ’s forgiveness apart from the internal struggles that haunt them. That outward Word, “Your sins are forgiven,” is the “word which opens the heart and unlocks the lips for prayer, praise, and thanksgiving” (107).

From Confession and Absolution Pless turns to the Sacrament of the Altar. Pless underscores that with the Sacrament of the Altarthe gift must not be confused with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving does not result in gift, but gift always results in thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is not removed from the life of the Christian, but simply relocated, as in the post-communion collect that orders faith and love in their proper spheres. Pless observes that Luther sought to ensure that “Christians know what the Sacrament is, its benefits, and how it is to be used in faith” (110). Pless reminds readers that at time of the Reformation Luther was fighting a battle on two fronts. First against the Roman Catholics who turned the Sacrament into a work of merit; second, against the Sacramentarians who divested Christ’s body of its corporeal presence. Pless demonstrates how Luther was able to confess both the sole divine gift of this Sacrament alongside the true presence of Christ’s body and blood that gave enfleshed comfort to weak and dying sinners. For Pless, as for Luther, Christ’s words are key for “Christ’s words bestow what they promise” (113).

Chapter 8 is devoted to daily Christian prayer. From morning to night, from abundance to scarcity the Christianis a beggar that pray for daily and eternal bread. It is from one’s creatureliness that he pray. “The heavenly Father is to be praised and thanked precisely at those junctures in daily life where it is most clear that we are creatures: when we wake from sleep and again when we take our rest, as well as at mealtimes, when we receive nourishment for our bodies” (120). We always pray as creatures, always dependent upon our heavenly Father’s hand to satisfy the desires of our bodies and souls. In the home, the table of meat and drink become a table of gifts, a little altar where we creatures give thanks that our heavenly Father has given such sustenance out of His pure and divinely gifted hand. Here the Divine Service is “transported into the everyday space of the family dining room” (125).

Pless concludes by considering the Catechism’s Table of Duties. Here Pless instructs the reader in the three estates that God instituted, congregation, civil government, and the family. The Table of Duties are informed by these estates that the Christians inhabits in faith. They are the orders that restrain sin, that allow for life to increase, and provide peace and safety so that the gospel may be preached for the joy and edification of God’s holy people, and that the church be enlarged through this proclamation. Pless notes that Luther spoke often of these three estates, especially in his magisterial work, “Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper.” Here Luther shows that faith is not bound to any one estate but is found in all three. Pless does warn that none of these estates “are paths to righteousness before God . . . they are concrete locations where faith is active in love for the well-being of the neighbor” (128). The various vocations of the Christian lead him to see and act in love for those who are entrusted into his care. He is a slave of love to his neighbor, and yet because of Christ and His gifts, he is lord of all, subject to none, a citizen of heaven. 

Pless’s text is a gem in the church’s work of catechesis. Against the failures of generations fixated upon themselves, and a disintegration of culture, Praying Luther’s Small Catechism will aid all children of God, no matter their station in life, to receive and teach the language of Christ’s church and to confess her Lord’s will that all come to Him, the sole author of grace and mercy, forgiveness and eternal life. In these difficult and perilous days this book that will aid the Christian mightily, not only teaching him how to pray, but how to live in the world according to the heavenly Father’s good pleasure. Most assuredly, this book will teach the Christian how to receive the Father’s gifts through the Son and by the Holy Spirit. Every Lutheran should have a copy of this book. And its pages should be well worn. 

 

Christopher L. Raffa

Pilgrim Evangelical Lutheran Church

West Bend, WI 

Three Principles of Ecclesiastical Art Production from the Writings of Luther

— by Ted Giese

Art is something that must be perceived. Of course many things in the daily life of the individual are perceivable, but a great deal of things go unnoticed both actively and inactively by the casual observer. There are two kinds of perceivable things in the world: those things touched by human hands and those things that are not. In the case of those things that are touched by human hands, intentionality becomes an essential clue as to the purpose behind their formation, just as Gene Edward Veith suggests in his book Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture, when he states that art “brings abstract philosophies down to earth.” H.W. Janson and Anthony F. Janson in their classic art history textbook History of Art assert that art is the most intentional of humankind's activities, or at least it is the most intentional form of expressing ideas and concepts in nonverbal non-traditional linguistic forms. What has been defined as art has fluctuated over time, and the artisans of one time become the artists of another and vice versa. This is largely due to shifts in social attitudes and tastes.

At the time of the Reformation of the sixteenth century, art was becoming what people generally understand it to be today: drawing, painting, sculpture, and architecture. This Renaissance period that coincided with the Reformation period was a great time of upheaval within Western culture, and some scholars like Erik Erikson believed that Martin Luther had little interest in art at all. This is not true. Luther commented and wrote about art many times, yet he did not give a single list of parameters that one could use in the proper production of ecclesiastical art. For this, one must look more broadly at the writings of Luther and deduce from them useful principles.

When Luther was writing about art, he was writing about architecture, drawings, paintings, and sculptures as they could be found in the secular and religious culture of his time. What is measured as art in our current time has widened considerably to include a vast and varied set of interrelated fields and disciplines far exceeding the confines of drawings, paintings, sculptures, and buildings. Conceptual art, performance art, text-based art, textile art, installation art, earth art, photographic art, cinematic art, time-based art, kinetic art, sound-based art, digital art, printmaking, and assemblage all comprise the current definition, along with drawing, painting, sculpture and architecture. These fields will at times intersect with one another, creating complex relationships and systems.

Luther's writings in no way encompass all of these current fields, yet three essential principles can be taken from Luther's writings when it comes to the production of ecclesiastical art and its proper function in the church.

  1. Christian ecclesiastical art must respect the inerrancy of Scripture, that is the Old and New Testaments contained in the Christian canon, and them alone;
  2. Christian ecclesiastical art is to act as secondary instructional materials in the form of memorials and reminders for the Christian, which is to say it must serve a pedagogical purpose;
  3. Contextual matters are to be taken into consideration when producing ecclesiastical art for the divine service.

These principles will all be examined briefly to give a better understanding of how Luther looked at ecclesiastical art and its proper function in the church.

First, scriptural inerrancy is a key building block of confessional Lutheran thought, second only to Christ himself, for scripture is the infallible word of God and must be respected as such. A great deal of the assurance of the Christian is based on the fact that the scriptures are true and contain no falsehoods or errors. Scriptural inerrancy then becomes the first rule by which Luther discerns art of any kind. If it is in adherence to Scripture, it is good and useful; if it is not, then it is dangerous to faith. Producing ecclesiastical art that is good and faithful can only be accomplished through respect for scriptural inerrancy.

An example of this approach by Luther can be found in his 1539 Lectures on Genesis where Luther notes, concerning contemporary images of the patriarch Abraham's near sacrifice of his son Isaac on mountain of the Lord, that "it was not a sword, and the picture commonly painted of Abraham about to kill his son is incorrect. It was a knife, such as butchers and priests were accustomed to use." (LW 4:110–11). Two very different things are conveyed when the sword of a king is compared and contrasted with the knife of a butcher or an Old Testament priest. The first is a symbol of government and the vocation of the sword, the other is a symbol of the sacrifice, particularly in the case of an Old Testament priest. With the cross of Christ and Jesus' death upon that cross as the center of Scripture and with the account of Abraham and Isaac typologically pointing to the sacrifice of God's only Son, the question can be asked: Which better conveys visually what the text of Scripture teaches? The sword or the knife? Artistic licence in this case can introduce error at worst and theological dissonance at best.

Earlier in 1522 Luther likewise pointed out, in his sermon for the festival of Epiphany, that the common misconception promulgated by artists that there were three Wise Men from the east just because there were three gifts (gold, frankincense and myrrh) was in fact incorrect, because Scripture never numbered the wise men (LW 52:160). These examples may seem nitpicky to some, but they show the serious attitude Luther had concerning the inerrancy of Scripture and the potential pitfalls of bearing false witness in ecclesiastical art production. There is also an element of common sense in Luther's statements: if the text of Scripture does not say it, do not make it so in art. To do anything else would be a lie, as well as subversive. If the intent is to produce faithful ecclesiastical art, then hyperbole becomes a dangerous ground upon which to build, even if it is well intentioned or has become traditional. It should be noted that Luther does not specifically insist on scriptural inerrancy, while at the same time it is important to note that Luther singles out as "incorrect" works of ecclesiastical art that do not adhere to scriptural inerrancy.

Second, ecclesiastical art contains a pedagogical purpose in the form of memorials and reminders. While discussing the use and production of personal prayer books (LW 43:43), Luther advocates the daily remembrance of Scripture through imagery in a similar fashion as he advocates the daily remembrance of baptism in his Small Catechism. Scripturally, Luther accepts the use of images, even including crucifixes and images of saints, based on Joshua 24:26 and 1 Samuel 7:12, because examples of ecclesiastical art such as these serve the same function of memorial and witness as is sanctioned in the Old Testament with the proper use of witness stones (LW 40:87).

For Luther, ecclesiastical art was permissible only when it was not the object of worship. Consider the bronze serpent made by Moses in Numbers 21:8–9 under the specific direction of God. It began as a useful object and had a specific pedagogical purpose. It was there to teach the people to trust in God and his promise. When it was being misused later in the time of Hezekiah, Hezekiah destroyed it (2 Ki 18:4) because it was being worshiped (LW 40:87). Between the time of Moses and Hezekiah there was no problem with the bronze serpent because its only function during that time was to serve as a reminder of the grace of God for his afflicted people.

Because of the value of ecclesiastical art as pedagogical, it is necessary at this point to take a short detour into Luther's response to iconoclasm in his time. Luther preferred to avoid the destruction of ecclesiastical art if it did not have to be physically destroyed, or rather he preferred teaching as opposed to hammer, chisel, and torch (LW 40:58). Luther's approach in this regard was much more pastoral. On the one side, the Roman church taught falsely concerning images, claiming that just seeing, and/or praying to, or being in the presences of certain material objects could forgive sin (SA II.23), produce miracles, and be counted as meritorious. On the other side, Luther had the iconoclasts and enthusiasts who wished to strip the world bare of all ecclesiastical art, seeing it as inherently idolatrous. Luther stuck with Scripture and promoted an alternative approach. His main concern was the worship of images, and in his treatise of 1525 "Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments," Luther provides the above discussion concerning the bronze serpent, as well as his philosophy for avoiding idolatry, as he debated the iconoclasm of Karlstadt. He states:

“[I] approach the task of destroying images by first tearing them out of the heart through God's Word and making them worthless and despised. This indeed took place before Dr. Karlstadt ever dreamed of destroying images. For when they are no longer in the heart, they can do no harm when seen with the eyes. But Dr. Karlstadt, who pays no attention to matters of the heart, has reversed the order by removing them from the sight and leaving them in the heart. For he does not preach faith, nor can he preach it; unfortunately, only now do I see that. Which of these two forms destroy images best, I will let each man judge for himself (LW 40:84).”

On the one hand having ecclesiastical art and keeping it present within the worship and devotional life of the Christian provides opportunity for pedagogy. Conversely, on the other hand, the absence of such art will hamper and/or shift pedagogy away from visual learning. The latter was not the intention of Luther. He certainly understood such visual learning as valuable, and made a case that it would be beneficial if images like those printed in his translation of the Bible would find greater uses.

Before leaving this second principle, consider how Luther suggests that such prints as found in books should be painted on walls because, as he puts it, they "do no more harm on walls than in books." He continues saying, “It is better to paint pictures on walls of how God created the world, how Noah built the ark, and whatever other good stories there may be, than to paint shameless worldly things. Yes, would to God that I could persuade the rich and mighty that they would permit the whole Bible to be painted on houses, on the inside and outside, so that all can see it” (LW, 40:99).

Third, ecclesiastical art best serves the church when context is considered. This might best be thought of as a natural refinement coming out of the first two principles. These principles being a deep and careful regard for scriptural inerrancy and the desire to produce works of art which focus themselves as pedagogical reminder and witness.

The question of context for Luther utilizes the most basic form of common sense flowing from the first two principles. Luther gives a very strong opinion concerning this as he writes about the Sacrament of the Altar on the basis of Psalm 111 in 1530:

Whoever is inclined to put pictures on an altar ought to have the Lord's Supper of Christ painted, with these two verses written around in golden letters: ‘The gracious and merciful Lord has instituted a remembrance of His wonderful works.’ Then they would stand before our eyes for our heart to contemplate them, and even our eyes, in reading, would have to thank and praise God. Since the altar is designated for the administration of the sacrament, one could not find a better painting for it. Other pictures of God or Christ can be painted somewhere else. (LW 13:375)

Luther wishes to reinforce the fact that "the Lord is gracious and merciful" (LW 13:373). The trouble comes when individuals approach the Sacrament of the Altar in confusion, when the recipient of the body and blood of Christ is afraid of Jesus, afraid of God the Father because Jesus has been "painted" either with words or presumably with paint, to varying degrees, as angry or displeased in the institution of his sacrament. Luther assures the Christian that "[Jesus] will not devour you or stand over you with a club when you go to the Sacrament" (LW 13:374).

Here we can see how Luther is making the distinction between what is appropriate and what is not, and how an individual piece of art in the wrong place can bear false witness concerning the true teachings of the church. The preceding block quote provides a positive example of how art can be employed to get the right message across to the troubled soul, becoming that proper reminder and witness. When applied, this third principle would suggest quite strongly that there is a proper place for ecclesiastical art.

For example, one would be encouraged to put ecclesiastical art concerning baptism around a baptismal font. In contemporary art theory, this is called site-specific; the fabrication or production of aesthetic elements that interact with the pre-existing environment. This is most common in the field of installation art where a change in the environment is attempted; the success of such a change is largely determined by how seamless the integration of the preexistent merges with the aesthetic additions. The desire is generally one of two things: either to create unease or inquiry by the use of juxtaposition, or to create harmony by the use of common homogeny or winsomely developed homogeny. Luther appears to desire the latter. Juxtaposition is not generally useful in ecclesiastical art unless it serves the first two principles and is contextually appropriate.

To put a finer point on the necessity of context, consider this example. King David is a prominent individual recorded in holy Scripture. It is entirely possible to produce a painting or sculpture of David that would be faithful to the text of Scripture, an image that contained no spurious errors. Such a work of ecclesiastical art could rightly be understood as serving as a witness to the personage of David and his life lived in the grace of God's promise of salvation, yet it would be contextually inappropriate to place such a work of ecclesiastical art predominantly at the altar. Doing so would be an elevation of David over Christ and would then retroactively break the first two principles. The work of art would, because of its placement, teach falsely and if it taught falsely it would subsequently no longer be respectful of Scripture and scriptural inerrancy.

These three principles for the production of ecclesiastical art give the artist and patron/congregation valuable insight into what best constitutes ecclesiastical art how it can be faithfully utilized by the Christian. In the current milieu, the field of art encompasses virtually all elements of Christian worship. As a result, these three principles may be applied more broadly especially when the entirety of the divine service and its physical setting is deemed to be art. Movement, color, gesture, body language, duration of time, fabric, construction materials, tone, structure, sound, music and all the non-verbal elements are perceivable as art. The principles of respect for scriptural inerrancy, pedagogical reminder and witness, and appropriate context can therefore be applied to an individual element or to the whole of the divine service.

Lastly, because of the common sense nature of these three principles, they have been generally applied by Lutherans, but because they have not been presented as principles formally, their use has been subject to variability due in part to shifts in social attitudes and tastes. As a result the Lutheran church in North America, on the congregational level, has often been influenced more by the artistic principles of other denominations and/or by secular artistic movements than it has been by Luther and its own writers and thinkers. Careful consideration of these three principles from the solid footing of Scripture could provide a way forward toward a comprehensive understanding of ecclesiastical art and its proper function in the church.

 

Rev. Ted Giese serves as associate pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Regina Saskatchewan Canada.


As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.

Issue 25-3: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Introduction

—by Wade Johnston

This issue was edited as the rhetoric of the United States presidential election primary season came into full swing. Election seasons are often contentious and seldom pretty, but this year’s is vying for a spot in a class all its own. Perhaps as much as any other election, Christians have a vested interest in this one. Much has changed — and more quickly, perhaps than at any other time in the lifetimes of those reading this.  The Bible has not changed, and the doctrine of the two kingdoms remains the same, but culturally and societally life for the American Christian, who holds dual citizenship in the temporal and spiritual kingdoms, has taken on a different sense and feel. It is a salutary thing, then, to review what Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions have to say in this regard and to wrestle with how we apply Lutheran principles to new circumstances.

Purchase the Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness Issue of LOGIA here. 

A particular strength of this issue is that it helps the reader to see how Christians have wrestled with and applied two-kingdom theology not only in our contemporary American context but also across time and space. Seeing the church wrestle with the two kingdoms in various circumstances and settings helps us identify our own personal, cultural, and contemporary blind spots. Moreover, the experience of fellow Christians in the past and across the globe provides lessons for our own setting.

This issue begins with a call from Gene Veith to remember that God, while hidden in the temporal realm, is nevertheless active in that realm — active especially in his Christians, who need not, indeed dare not, neglect their citizenship in this realm. Through their vocations Christians serve for the benefit of their neighbor as masks of God, through engagement in the world and not withdrawal from it. The temporal kingdom is the realm of the law and reason, and yet the same gracious God who provides us with second- and third-article gifts in the spiritual kingdom graciously, mercifully, and undeservedly provides  first-article gifts in the temporal kingdom.

Michael Berg unpacks the natural human desire for life, liberty, and happiness. From Aristotle to America’s fathers, the desire for happiness and the good life has been a driving force. To what extent people have control of the pursuit of the same and what exactly happiness is has been debated, but that happiness (whatever it may be) is something worth having and to be pursued in so far as we are able has been a given. As Berg reminds us, though, only the cross can provide true, meaningful, and lasting perspective, helping Christians to see meaning even in suffering, which is inescapable in this life and undermines all human ploys for the good life (summum bonum) and enduring temporal happiness.

My own article explores Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms and how he responded to the changing political atmosphere of his day. Challenged by a potential imperial invasion, Luther, Melanchthon, and the Wittenberg circle were faced with the very stark question of whether it was appropriate for Lutheran princes and imperial cities to mount a defense. Informed by the jurists of constitutional arguments — and yet, to the jurists’ occasional consternation, steadfast in their commitment to the Scripture’s teaching regarding obedience and just war — they carefully addressed the issue of resistance, which was later taken up by Magdeburg in its legendary opposition to the Augsburg Interim and Leipzig Proposal.

Voldemārs Lauciņš expands our horizons with lessons from Latvia in the previous century. While this may be new ground for many readers, they will find it fruitful. It is good to realize that the temporal realm is organized differently elsewhere and presents various challenges and opportunities throughout the world.

Jack Kilcrease provides valuable insight for Christians as they wrestle with the end of Christendom. His solution is delightfully unoriginal: law and gospel. This is a most welcome call not to lose sight of the church’s task and message in the light of new challenges. Moreover, Kilcrease reminds us that there are opportunities in the midst of contemporary tumult. After tracing how we got to where we find ourselves today, he notes that even persecution can serve for the benefit of the church, as it has in the past. This need not be an age of retreat and decline. What this age needs is nothing other than what sinners in every age have needed, whether the culture bore vestiges of a bygone realization of it or not: Christ.

Finally, changing gears and focus, Frederic W. Baue, like Lauciņš, expands our geographical horizons, this time to Ethiopia. Readers will be thankful that the gospel is being preached, taking root, and charting its course in Ethiopia.  They will also, keenly aware of the challenges it faces here in America, not be surprised that it faces challenges abroad as well. We rejoice that confessional, liturgical Lutheranism is making inroads and we pray that the Lord will allow it to continue to do so in Ethiopia, America, and throughout the world.

We are excited to bring you these articles in print. We pray that you are edified by them, and we look forward to receiving correspondence. Life in two kingdoms is as complicated as ever and yet the Christian is blessed to live and love both God and neighbor in each. We are not the first to struggle with two-kingdom theology and, unless our Lord comes soon, we will not be the last. We are not alone; throughout the world Christians are struggling to live as citizens of two realms and to serve well in both. This issue strives to remind us of that and to inform our own thinking by casting a broad view geographically and temporally.

Standing Bold Upon Firm Ground

— By Gunnar Andersson

Translated by Bror Erickson

At the beginning of this month (June) the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia in synod decided to update the church order to say that only men can be ordained as pastors. The decision reinforced what was already the practice since 1993 when Janis Vanags became archbishop. Seventy-seven percent of the delegation voted for it; only seventy-five perfect was needed for such a change to be made.

The 2016 Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia meets in the Cathedral of Riga. Photo via the ELCL.

The 2016 Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia meets in the Cathedral of Riga. Photo via the ELCL.

It is very encouraging that the church in Latvia has integrity and stands up to pressure from different directions to follow along with the modern agenda. To see that a church dares to go against the stream, towards the word of God and not away, is a sign of hope in our time.

During the same synod a Swede (!), Hans Jönsson, was elected bishop for the Diocese of Liepaja. Because of his faithfulness to the Bible and confession even in the question of holy ministry, Hans could not be a pastor in the Church of Sweden, and this finally led him to Latvia where he was ordained in 2003. Since then he has garnered more and more confidence as dean, as overseer of the Church’s economy, and as chairman of the board of regents for the church’s seminary. His consecration as Bishop takes place on the sixth of August in Riga’s Cathedral.

No church is free of challenges and worries, not even in Latvia. But there is a decisive difference between striving against God’s word and serving with God’s word. The latter has the Lord’s promise with it. For a long time, the Church of Sweden has been on a collision course with the Bible and the confessions and has said no to people the Lord has called to ministry precisely because they are not able to compromise with their consciences that are bound to the word of God. Instead of faithful pastors, many communities have received those that would lead them away from their Savior.

Against this background of the church and congregations in Sweden depriving themselves of the call and gifts of the Lord, it is a joy to note that the church in Latvia values and receives the ministry of those who want to remain faithful to the Lord’s will. Let us pray for the Lord’s blessing and protection for the church in Latvia and her future bishop.

The need in Sweden for genuine evangelical divine service and congregational life is acute. The remaining functional congregations in Sweden are being disposed of at an alarming rate. Many have been anesthetized by continuing to sit under pulpits where God’s word was first diluted before moving on to pure heresy. Congregations and priests, bound to the confessions of the Church of Sweden but independent of the presently politically bound organization are needed in many places, both so that the Christians can be built up and strengthened in faith and trust in Jesus, and so that new converts could be won for him.

Unfortunately, there have been very different opinions both concerning the need and the way forward among groups and individuals within the confessional movement. To judge from the growing number of converts to the Roman Catholic Church many seem to have subsequently given up hope for evangelical Lutheran Church life in Sweden. Perhaps there is reason to question how much the evangelical Lutheran faith really meant for them. Or perhaps the discord within the Church of Sweden become an excuse for them to do what they have always wanted?

Another worry that can be sensed is that we in different areas have been eager to defend our specific spiritual traditions and are not capable or willing to see and affirm that which is good and in other places. Faithfulness to the Bible and confessions is a must, but freedom of expression needs to prevail as it fits.

The most significant initiative to bring forth the great heritage of the Swedish Church is the Missions Province, the college of pastors of which Hans Jönsson is a member. The Province is not big, and it isn’t growing very fast. At the same time, numbers and greatness are not anything the Bible emphasizes as a sign of whether or not we have the Lord’s blessing. However, the Lord asks for faithfulness.

There is every reason for the Mission Province to work boldly, both to nurture the already established congregations, and to establish new congregations. This is especially true in areas where there are few alternatives, organizationally independent of the Swedish Church. The newly established congregations in Borås and Karlskrona are examples of this.

No matter which country one lives in, or how the congregation’s circumstances look, there is great reason for boldness if one stays on the God given firm ground. The Lord remains seated on the throne!


This article was originally published in Kyrka och Folk Nr. 25-26 23 Juni 2016 93 Årg.


As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.

Book Review: Brand Luther

Brand Luther: 1517, Printing, and the Making of the Reformation by Andrew Pettegree (Penguin: New York, 2015), 338 pgs.

The flood of words in books and articles, on blogs, and at conferences commemorating, discussing, and making hay of 1517 is already here. One of the insights of Andrew Pettegree’s new book on Luther and the media of his day is that this flood is nothing new. The German printing market boomed in the first quarter of the sixteenth century in large part thanks to Luther’s very modern ability to write about theology in clear, brief, and convincing vernacular language, and fortunes were made printing and publishing in the German world where each printer could without hindrance reprint the Luther texts from Wittenberg he knew would sell by the hundreds and thousands. Pettegree marshals a very detailed knowledge of that particular story into line with the larger stories of the Reformation and Luther’s life and career.

            Pettegree does not write for the specialist. He uses the word “Reformation” with a capital R and without any discussion of a variety of “reformations,” including a Catholic one. Although the book covers the period from roughly 1480 to 1580, the word “confessionalization” does not appear once even when he is talking about the clarification of confession and political status at events like the Diet of Speyer in 1529 or the publication of the Book of Concord in 1580. Commendably, he wants to make the outline of the history of the Reformation, the biography of Luther, and the role of printing in both comprehensible to someone neither pursuing a degree in or making a living from the subject.

            The narrative heart of the book is the biography of Luther, traced from his father’s investment in copper mines to his death at Eisleben seeking to reconcile feuding brothers. Someone without much or any very clear knowledge of Luther’s life story will gain it from this book. Into the bargain, Pettegree draws Luther without enlisting him as the herald or hero of something much larger than himself. Pettegree’s Luther is not the harbinger of modern freedom of conscience, the German nation, or even of all the Lutheranism that followed him. He was a man of singularly great intellect and facility of expression who was courageously tenacious or foolishly obtuse, depending on one’s sympathies. He was mighty at Worms in defending a conscience captive to the Word of God, uniquely instrumental in the history of the German nation and the German language, and the theological progenitor of what Pettegree calls a new way of being a Christian community instantly recognizable to modern Lutherans in its devotion to Scripture and the primacy of congregational song. Yet Pettegree is careful never to make Luther merely the sum of everything or everyone he influenced, a cipher we fill in for ourselves in commemoration of the great man.

            This is most clear when Pettegree narrates Luther’s two major absences from Wittenberg between 1517 and his death in 1546—his friendly imprisonments at the Wartburg in 1521-22 and at Coburg Castle in 1530. It was during those times that we have the clearest picture of how much Luther was involved in from day to day as he wrote and agonized about all he could not control. He gave detailed instructions to his wife Katie in 1530 about how a manuscript should be yanked from one printer and given to another, even as the first printer sent a beautiful final copy of the book to him, arriving after Luther’s excoriating instructions were already en route home. As he wrote at a superhuman pace in 1520-22 and managed and reviewed everything from university curricula to the placement of pastors in rural Saxon parishes to numerous manuscripts at divers and sundry printers all at once, Luther’s energy is astounding and his very human frustrations and dislikes evident.

            The “brand” the title identifies is the distinctive appearance of Luther’s writings that the reformer promoted after early mishaps with Rhau-Grunenberg, the only printer in Wittenberg when Luther arrived there. There were six other centers of printing in the German world: Leipzig in nearby ducal Saxony with its own university, Augsburg, Nuremberg, Basel, Cologne, and Strasbourg. Wittenberg’s sole printer was terribly backward by comparison, and once the thirty-four-year-old, hitherto obscure professor of Bible began to make a sensation with the publication of the Ninety-Five Theses, which were quickly reprinted throughout the German world, Luther knew that Wittenberg needed a sophisticated, modern look for its German-language Flugschriften, the very brief, very pungent writings so popular across Germany, and for its academic works in Latin and eventually for the German Bible, issued in parts from the September Testament of 1522 to the first complete Bible printed by Hans Lufft in 1534. With the aid of Lucas Cranach and the Lotter printing family, Luther put together a “look” for even the smallest pamphlets that would make his name and Wittenberg’s name sufficiently famous for both “Luther” and “Wittenberg” to be used on writings that were not strictly his and certainly had not been printed in Wittenberg. A specialist in the history of books, especially printed books, Pettegree is at his most detailed when laying out the nature of early modern printing and why, for instance, a Leipzig printer with Catholic convictions would petition his staunchly Catholic ruler for the right to print Luther’s works for sale in his staunchly Catholic territory. The interconnection of Luther with the emerging print media of his time is so necessary to understanding his success in view of his early obscurity and later ignominy, and Pettegree demonstrates the interdependence of the writer and his market masterfully.

            In connection with that central story of Luther and his use of what were then new media in ways before unused by any theologian, Pettegree deftly adds a general sense of the flow of the Reformation (including the humanists like Erasmus and Pirckheimer initially sympathetic to it), political and theological opposition to it (including a very sympathetic portrait of John Eck), and its eventual theological diversity, introducing at least briefly everyone from the more famous Zwingli, Bucer, and Calvin to the less famous but important Rhegius, Zell, and Müntzer. He is eloquent obviously on the role of printing and its suppression in markets more highly regulated than Germany’s, like France, England, or the Low Countries, where the suppression of early print media meant the suppression of nascent Lutheran sympathies. In a few paragraphs or a few pages, he covers topics as various as Zwingli’s progression from parish priest to his battlefield death, the relationship between Duke George of Saxony and Jerome Emser, and the southwestern German origins of the Bundschuh cause leading to the Peasants’ War of 1525. He is able to discuss all of this without becoming pondersome or superficial.

            There is much to enjoy here, not least the detailed maps of Luther’s world and well-chosen illustrations of major figures. There is much Pettegree says that is characteristically concise and precise that we cannot here discuss. Amid a flood already begun and perhaps now itself 500 years old of Lutheriana, this new book can retell the story you may already know with accuracy and fresh facts and insights and tell a newer story about Luther’s relationship to media fruitful for reflection on our own time of massive changes in how people come to see what they see and know what they know and finally to believe what they believe.

 

Rev. Adam Koontz

Mount Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church (LCMS)

Lititz, Pennsylvania

An Update to Martin R. Noland's Article

From the Editor:  

Martin R. Noland posted an update to his article here. I felt it was worth including as a separate post:

 

"I know this blog post is now below the blog-surfers' radar, but I wanted to add a postscript item that should have been in my footnotes. Ed Stetzer wrote a blog post in November 2014 that I had seen but lost track of, that agrees with the essence of my argument. It was re-cited this week at Christianity Today, so is making the rounds. Point your browser here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/channel/utilities/print.html?type=article&id=125804"

A Word from Our Chinese Brethren

Editor's Note: This letter was originally written for Luther Academy.

A Letter from our Chinese Brethren

—by Pastor Jason Li

We, Chinese Lutherans, need solid, genuine, and orthodox Lutheran teaching as much as possible. Luther rediscovered the Gospel, and that is the only reason why we were baptized and became Christians. We believe that Lutheran theology is the faithful interpretation of the Gospel. 

Lutheran writings in Chinese are extremely scarce, almost next to none in Chinese circles, compared to Reformed and Catholic books that are flooding the market. If Luther felt frustrated when he saw the deplorable conditions of the German churches and then wrote the Small Catechism, I believe Luther would be deeply depressed to see the even more deplorable conditions of the gospel among Chinese churches. We Lutheran pastors don't even have orthodox Lutheran books in Chinese to read, let alone the Christians in our churches.

As bad a situation as this is, Luther Academy supports us by donating many confessional books (see below). These books will be a huge blessing to our Chinese Lutheran pastors in over 30 Chinese Lutheran Churches in North America, including Canada.

As for one example, the theological teachings on the Lord's Supper is the distinguishable point between Reformed churches and Lutheran churches. Every Lutheran should pay more attention to this point and not allow the Devil to take away our dear Lord from the Lord's Supper.

Another example, I am reading the article "The Decline of Biblical Preaching in the Past Century" from the book The Word They Still Shall Let Remain. I realized that I need to pay more attention to preaching biblically. The article shows that "there is nothing that keeps people at church more than good preaching. The true adornment of the churches is godly, useful, and clear doctrine, the devout use of the Sacraments, fervent prayer, and the like" (Ap. XXIV.50-51). 

We pastors always want to know how to attract people to come and worship. The Apology already tells us that a good sermon is a must. After all, the most important reason that people come to church is to be fed by the Word and the body and blood of Christ. Just like the flower without water will wither, without good biblical preaching, the hungry faithful Christian will fade away sooner than we think. And the Apology already gives me the criteria for good sermons: godly, useful, and clear doctrine. When we pray, we pray fervently. When we receive the Sacrament, we receive devoutly.

We greatly appreciate Luther Academy's support of the Chinese Lutheran Ministry. May the Lord bless your ministry and bring to us more books with solid, genuine, and orthodox Lutheran doctrines. If these books could be in Chinese, that would be the best blessing for us all.


To support the work of Luther Academy, go here

To purchase your own copy of The Word They Still Shall Let Remain, go here

Why The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and Its Kin Have Declined in Membership and What to Do About It

By Martin R. Noland


Lutheran church leaders have been trying to explain the slow-but-sure decline in Lutheran church membership in America since the 1980s. Explanation for the decline in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)[1] is straight-forward and obvious. A constant focus by the ELCA on “social justice,” church fellowship with non-Lutherans, and adoption of the gay-lesbian agenda at its 2009 convention has led many of its former members to drop out, join other denominations, or start new synods, such as the North American Lutheran Church (NALC)[2] and the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC)[3].

Explanation for the much slower decline in membership of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS)[4] and its kin—the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS)[5] and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS)[6]—is less obvious and is, in fact, puzzling. From about 1973 to the present time, church-going Evangelical Protestants have consistently out-numbered church-going mainline Protestants in the United States. Today the church-going Evangelicals outnumber church-going mainline Protestants nearly four to one.[7] In the four key beliefs that define Evangelicalism, the LCMS and its kin are aligned with Evangelicals, not mainline Protestants.[8] So in this period, why haven’t the “confessional Lutherans,” i.e., the LCMS and its kin, enjoyed the same, or similar, membership growth that Evangelicals have seen?

In my opinion, the “confessional Lutherans” have not seen growth primarily because of four factors. These four factors are things that the Evangelicals have done, and we confessional Lutherans have refused to do. The confessional Lutheran refusal to follow Evangelical practices in these matters is commendable. I would not have these synods do otherwise. The LCMS, WELS, and ELS have been faithful to their beliefs, their confessions, and the Scriptures by refusing to do these four things.

The first factor is the confessional Lutheran refusal to participate in unionistic worship services, revivals, and other unionistic religious work. American Evangelicalism really began with the Second Great Awakening, which was led by Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist ministers as a self-consciously unionistic enterprise.[9] Evangelicalism has been unionistic ever since. Unionism, or religious cooperation between people of contrary beliefs, is a key component of Evangelicalism’s popularity and its great “success.” The LCMS and its kin, on the other hand, have been strictly anti-unionistic, as were their orthodox Lutheran predecessors going back to the sixteenth century.

The second factor is the confessional Lutheran refusal to accept the theology and practices of the charismatic movement. Although the early leaders of modern Evangelicalism in the post-war period were not Pentecostal or charismatic, the tide has changed. Charismatics, who are usually classified as Evangelicals, now are a majority among “born again” Evangelicals in America.[10] Charismatics are also a key component in Evangelicalism’s growth. This has led to some conflict with non-charismatic Evangelical leaders.[11] The LCMS and its kin, on the other hand, though buffeted by charismatics for a time, have resisted the siren song of tongues-speech, bogus healings, speculative prophecies, and related manic practices. 

The third factor is the confessional Lutheran refusal to “sheep-steal.” The twenty-second paragraph of the Preface to the Book of Concord elaborates the Lutheran belief that there are many pious Christians “who err ingenuously and who do not blaspheme the truth of the divine Word” (Tappert, 11) in non-Lutheran Christian churches. This belief is the reason that, as a rule, Lutherans do not consider members of other Christian churches to be a focus of their evangelism efforts. Evangelism is properly directed to the non-churched, the unbeliever, and to people of other religions. Evangelicals, on the other hand, have grown in numbers in large part due to their willingness to proselytize their fellow church-going Christians. Although some Evangelicals have criticized this practice,[12] it is a common practice defended by “church growth” gurus.[13] Since confessional Lutherans hold to the same key beliefs as Evangelicals, our youth and young people have been “easy pickings” for Evangelicals.

The fourth factor is the confessional Lutheran refusal to identify with American Evangelical politics and political organizations. A recent pastoral letter by President Matthew Harrison reminds pastors of the LCMS that, though we have a few issues of concern for the body politic like abortion and same-sex marriage, neither the pastors nor the synod should tell people how to vote or whom to vote for.[14] 

This is in stark contrast to the Evangelical common practice of making political statements, persuading public officials, and telling the Evangelical flock how to vote and for whom to vote. Of modern Evangelicals, 62% believe that religious organizations should persuade senators and elected officials on legislative matters, which compares to 40% of Liberal Protestants, 47% of Roman Catholics, 37% of non-Christian religious people, and 28% of secularists.[15] This is a big change from the conservative Protestants in the 1950s and 1960s who believed that they should not be political involved.[16] The heavy involvement of modern Evangelicals in politics since the 1970s has been well-documented and analyzed.[17] One might conclude that many people joined the Evangelical churches since the 1970s out of political convictions, instead of spiritual ones. In the present political season (i.e., early 2016), the political convictions of Evangelicals seem to be “Trumping” their spiritual convictions.[18]

What should the “confessional Lutherans” do about this? Imitating Evangelical worship practices, sheep-stealing, accepting charismatic or unionistic practices, or any other Evangelical practices or theology will only further erode the membership of “confessional Lutheran” churches. These are not options for us.

In my opinion, in the present climate, we “confessional Lutherans” should concentrate on our strengths, not on our weaknesses. We should tell people that in regard to the four key beliefs of Evangelicals, we are Evangelicals—Dr. Gene Edward Veith has been saying this since 1999, if not before[19]—and we have so much more to offer than what is found in Evangelicalism. 

Our preaching is permeated with the constant grace and love of God, because we believe that the Gospel should predominate in preaching and teaching, not the Law. We have a doctrine of sanctification that allows for failure, because it recognizes we are always sinners and saints, and that Jesus forgives anyone who repents. We have a solid hermeneutic for interpreting the Bible that has been tested by five hundred years of theological debate. We have a time-tested theology in the Book of Concord, which our pastors are expected to follow and which keeps them from idiosyncratic teaching and church-fights over doctrine. 

We have a congregational polity, which keeps our pastors “in check,” prevents abuse of power by “bishops,” avoids problems of pastoral succession, and which recognizes the ecclesial role of the laymen in exercising their own “priesthood.” We have a liturgy and hymnody that sings the praises of God, not of ourselves. We have sacraments in Baptism and Absolution that actually give the Holy Spirit, faith, and forgiveness to those who receive them. We recognize that reason and the arts are a gift of God, unlike many Evangelicals who are anti-intellectual or who despise science and the arts. As a rule, we avoid political involvements, since we recognize the left-hand of God at work in rulers, and we have learned by historical experience that political engagement corrupts the church, and vice versa. 

  Finally, we confess that “Christ . . . in His Supper, engages with us in a blessed exchange whereby he unites himself with us through his holy flesh and blood so that, by his power, he may continually crucify and kill the old Adam more and more. And thus we all become one body in Christ, where each member is to love, honor, and support the other. . . He who finds that he is weak in faith has in the Lord’s Supper a blessed, powerful antidote to strengthen faith.”[20] 

These are just some of our strengths, which we should be happy to confess before the world in the coming 500th anniversary of Luther’s Reformation.



[1] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelical_Lutheran_Church_in_America#Statistics ; also see http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2013/06/elca-has-lost-half-a-million-members ; accessed March 4, 2016, as were all other web pages in this article.

[2] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_Lutheran_Church.

[3] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lutheran_Congregations_in_Mission_for_Christ.

[4] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lutheran_Church%E2%80%93Missouri_Synod#Membership_and_demographics.

[5] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisconsin_Evangelical_Lutheran_Synod#Membership.

[6] For current statistics, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelical_Lutheran_Synod#Membership. Statistics for 1991 indicate 21,347 baptized members in the ELS; in John F. Brug, et.al., WELS and Other Lutherans (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1995), 104.

[7] See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/05/14/in-a-dramatic-shift-the-american-church-is-more-evangelical-than-ever.

[8] The four key beliefs of Evangelicals are explained here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/april/defining-evangelicals-in-election-year.html. The beliefs are defined by the authors with the following statements used in surveys: 1) “The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe”; 2) “It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior”; 3) “Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin”; and 4) “Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.”

[9] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Great_Awakening ; see also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cane_Ridge,_Kentucky.

[10] See https://www.barna.org/barna-update/congregations/52-is-american-christianity-turning-charismatic#.Vtnw-Ob3yzM.

[11] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_F._MacArthur#Cessationism ; and http://www.christianpost.com/news/strange-fire-conference-john-macarthur-calls-out-charismatic-movement-as-unfaithful.

[12] For example, see: William Chadwick, Stealing Sheep: The Church’s Hidden Problems with Transfer Growth (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2001).

[13] See Donald McGavran, “Sheep Stealing and Church Growth,” in Win Arn, ed., The Pastor’s Church Growth Handbook (Pasadena, CA: Church Growth Press, 1979), 15–18.

[14] See http://blogs.lcms.org/2016/president-harrison-provides-a-lutheran-view-of-church-and-state.

[15] See James Davison Hunter, American Evangelicalism: Conservative Religion and the Quandary of Modernity (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1983), 115–16.

[16] See Hunter, American Evangelicalism, 116.

[17] See Robert Zwier, Born-Again Politics: The New Christian Right in America (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1982); James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (New York: Basic Books, 1991); D. Michael Lindsay, Faith in the Halls of Power (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); Christine Wicker, The Fall of the Evangelical Nation (New York: Harper One, 2008); Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (New York: Free Press, 2012); and Kevin M. Kruse, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (New York: Basic Books, 2015).

[18] See http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/02/the-demise-of-conservative-christian-political-prominence/471093

[19] See Gene Edward Veith, The Spirituality of the Cross: The Way of the First Evangelicals, 2nd ed. (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2010). The first edition of this book was in 1999.

[20] See Martin Chemnitz and Jacob Andreae, Church Order for Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel , 1569 edition, tr. Jacob Corzine, Matthew Harrison, and Andrew Smith, ed. Jacob Corzine and Matthew Carver (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2015), 63.

Book Review:

Feasting in a Famine of the Word: Lutheran Preaching in the Twenty-First Century. Edited by Mark W. Birkholz, Jacob Corzine, and Jonathan Mumme. Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick, 2016. Xxiv + 299 pages. Click here or here.

Lutheranism began as a preaching movement. While not often given the attention it deserves by scholars, Luther put a premium on his Postille, sermons published to serve as models for preachers and for Christian edification. Doctrinally sound, engaging, and Christ-giving preaching is a non-negotiable hallmark of the Church of the Reformation. This collection of seventeen essays by both younger and seasoned theologians and pastors will strengthen that conviction and provide substantive, meaty reflection on preaching today. It is fair to say that contemporary American society values therapeutic, pick-me-up, inspirational talks but not robust proclamation. Preachers who wish fearlessly to proclaim the truth will find their vocation empowered in these essays.

First in line, John Bombara describes the current milieu for preachers as consumerist. But obviously preaching cannot be tantamount to selling goods if it is to be faithful to the truth. He indicates that sermons can be modeled after a number of different structures, (1) textual (i.e., exposition), (2) thematic (i.e., topics), and (3) dynamic (i.e., narrative preaching style). But the key to Lutheran preaching “is the living dynamic of law and gospel applied to hearers (as primary discourse), which discursive and living dynamic can make use of virtually any type of sermon structure (including dynamic structures) toward the proclamation and application of law-and-gospel” (24). This law/gospel approach pits Lutheranism against consumerism: “Consumerism and Lutheranism are a clash of orthodoxies precisely at the point of justification. Lutheranism, however, is at home in the church as the church, while consumerism must remain alien to the church if the law and gospel are to be efficaciously preached and ‘the whole counsel of God’ broadcast” (26).

Developing a theme echoed by other essayists here, Mark Birkholz grounds preaching in truth. The scriptures upon which preaching is based are reliable. “The preacher’s words are certain, even if they are not judged so by the hearers. The certainty of the message of Jesus is testified to by its coherence with the preceding word of God (fulfillment) and by the witness of those who have seen and heard the events of salvation” (40). Paul Elliot notes that the time-honored approach to the Old Testament through typology, i.e., that the Old Testament throughout mirrors and portrays Jesus Christ, makes it relevant and powerful for Christian proclamation. Christ is the “link” between the Old Testament and today (61). Rick Serina appeals to a late medieval theologian, Nicholas of Cusa, noted for his role in education, theology, and the care of souls, in order to advocate that “the reform of the church—including anything resembling a reformation of preaching—would prove impossible apart from the reform of the clergy. Without well educated, theologically competent ecclesiastics and pastors who can bring their competence to bear upon their responsibilities within the church, there is no hope for changing thought and practice in a healthy, productive fashion. Reformation begins with the clergy” (75). Furthering the theme of truth, Roy A. Coates, appealing to Johann Gerhard, maintains that sound preaching needs systematic content. “Without systematic knowledge, preaching has nothing to instruct or refute, and no certain basis from which to encourage, correct, or comfort” (95).

Jacob Corzine appeals to Johannes Brenz’s articulation of a double faith (fides duplex) in order to help preachers who proclaim to those who oscillate between faith and doubt (as so many of us do) and rightly shows that faith rests on the objectivity of the means of grace (111). Jonathan Mumme builds from the distinction of preachers identifying with their audience (we) and differentiating themselves in proclamation (I and you). Ultimately, in proclamation it is Christ speaking through the preacher, and that is the basis for the preacher’s authority in preaching. That Christ is so present frees preachers from having to “actualize” the text for hearers (137). Steve Paulson notes that the preached word is a verbum reale or efficax, a creating word, and not merely one which persuades or instructs. John Pless similarly underscores the sacramental dimension of preaching in which the preacher “does the text” that kills and justifies the hearers (169). The liturgical undergirding of preaching is precisely sacramental. Countering antinomianism, Hans-Jörg Voigt claims that proclamation is not to be set in opposition to parenesis. Instead, in light of the gospel there is a third use of the law. The Christian is called to struggle against sin in his own life and to seek to better this world.

In light of the fact that the great homilies of the church fathers could be read in lieu of one’s own sermon, then why preaching? David Peterson takes on that question. In a word, the Holy Spirit creates faith for the assembled congregation through preaching. A parish pastor has a word that no one else can say since he is most in touch with the life of the parish. Esko Murto takes on the doctrines of election, the bondage of the will, and original sin that naturally offend all sinners. The answer to the question of election (“am I elect?”) is that preaching frees the conscience, brings the promise home to sinners, secures them in salvation; to the “bondage of the will,” preaching imparts Christ and so frees the despairing conscience; and, with original sin, we can be forgiven that we are unable to offer perfect contrition.

Realizing that many parishioners are in grief, Jeremiah Johnson advocates that we should preach from the lament psalms precisely because “they do not peddle easy answers or seek to resolve the eschatological tension between the present age and the age to come. . . . [T]he laments are also brazenly confident not only in the Lord’s past faithfulness, but especially in his future action” (238). Recognizing that most preachers care for souls, Jakob Appell develops the metaphor of preacher as “physician for the sick in spirit.” Ultimately preachers are not mere healers but share a word that unlocks death and hell (256). Again, appealing to truth, Daniel Schmidt notes that there are many methods for preaching, but ultimately a sermon is not to be judged by its method but its theology. Finally, Gottfried Martens unguardedly shares the exigencies of the preparation process for preaching. With time, the steps can be internalized. Sermons are best when memorized. “In memorizing the sermon the preacher steps, to a certain degree, into the shoes of the hearers, for that which lacks clarity of thought cannot easily be memorized and similarly will have a hard time sticking with the hearers. In being memorized the sermon is honed to a final sharp edge that also makes it better for the hearers to follow” (296).

These essays are of the highest caliber. The only way to have improved this book would have been for each author to have published a model sermon alongside his essay. That is where the rubber hits the road. Not many authors here refer to the “goal, malady, means” approach to homiletics, but I have puzzled over the fact that Luther’s sermons tend to be expository, didactic, personal, and direct. Luther never has a three-point sermon (which I ever heard as a child) nor does he have a sermon proportioned as half law and half gospel. Law and gospel shine through Luther’s sermons, but only as he exposits the word of God. Nor is Luther shy of admonition, as Voigt would remind us, especially when he preaches on the epistles.

Need a recharge in your confidence in the ability of God’s word to “bring home the goods”? Give this book a sustained reading and allow it to unsettle your despondency about preaching and empower you to joyfully proclaim the good news.

Mark C. Mattes

Grand View University

Des Moines, IA

Book Review: Dona Gratis Donata

Dona Gratis Donata: Essays in Honor of Norman Nagel on the Occasion of His Ninetieth Birthday.  Edited by Jon D. Vieker, Bart Day, and Albert B. Collver III.  Manchester, MO: The Nagel Festschrift Committee, 2015. Xiv + 309 pages.

Few scholars receive the honor of two Festschrifts.  Norman Nagel is one of them.  And Every Tongue Confess was presented to Nagel in honor of his sixty-fifth birthday.  Dona Gratis Donata is in honor of his ninetieth birthday.  The first book presents outstanding essays furthering Nagel’s legacy.  The second, in my judgment, sets the gold bar in festschrifts, at least for confessional Lutherans.  Not only does each essay build on the theological legacy of those topics most important to Nagel, such as Christology, liturgy, hymnody, Hermann Sasse, and ministry, but each one is both finely-crafted and rich with insights.  If you think you’ve mastered Lutheran theology, read this book.  You’ll be proven wrong.  You will find some angle or perspective on Luther and the Confessions which is new.  

The best way to review this book is to provide a snippet from each essay which hopefully will offer a sense of the book’s excellence as a whole.  William Cwirla presents the classroom Nagel who had internalized a Socratic approach to theology, never spoon-feeding, but eager to get his students to weigh the sources and publicly defend their positions.  Cwirla notes that Nagel’s confessionalism, unlike Reformed theology, offers not a logically consistent systematization of faith but instead honors the grammar of faith through a catechetical or topics approach to theology (1).  The gospel sets limits on human reason’s ability to systematize.  Likewise, Nagel teaches us to place Luther’s various theological positions within their contexts, since the anti-papal Luther can sound, at times, like a Schwärmer, while the anti-Schwärmer Luther can sound like a papist (5).  Rudolph Blank describes visiting Nagel in the Convalescent Home where he resides.  Insightfully he notes that for Nagel prayer is never a chore but always a struggle (16), surely a prayer life with which many of us can identify.  

David Maxwell builds on Nagel’s work on Luther’s Christology, particularly Jesus’ Cry of Dereliction, and so alters how divine impassability should be understood.  God is not in need of or dependent on anything in his creation, but in Jesus’ death God the Son bears not only human sin but also divine wrath.  So, Jesus’ atonement does not square with a Platonism in which God is completely unaffected by the world, at least in the person and ministry of the Son.  Now, the doctrine of divine impassibility is not completely thrown out; after all, for Nagel, God is “always the one doing the verbs” (20), is always active with respect to man.  But building on the church father Cyril of Alexandria’s comments on the Cry of Dereliction, Jesus makes human forsakenness his own “and puts himself in the position where he can address God as one forsaken, just like the rest of the human race” (29).  This he does “not as an expression of suffering but as an invocation of the Father’s graciousness” (29).  While Cyril fails to fully break with Platonism, he certainly shows us how in the person of the Son one of the members of the Trinity suffered divine wrath for the sake of human salvation.  Kent Heimbigner develops the theodicy of an earlier church father than Cyril, Athanasius.  He notes that for Athanasius evil does not exist as human nature has been created by God.  Instead, evil is a result of the misuse of human will.  What is clear is that Athanasius’ approach is incompatible with Manicheism.  

In light of Luther’s translation of Ephesians 4:12, Brian Mosemann takes on the Pietistical cliché that “everyone is a minister” (48) and notes that the office of ministry is a gift and not a right, and through which the means of grace is administered to sinners for the building up of the body of Christ (59).  In a provocative article, Jonathan Mumme contrasts the medieval view of ministry in which the clergy exercised power over the laity, from that of today in which the laity exercise power over the clergy.  In a confessional perspective, the power of the church is a “pneumatic reality constantly locating itself in the world, without being of the world, or impinged by its imperium,” especially for administering God’s gracious gifts (79).  Naomichi Masaki builds on his work on nineteenth-century German Church administrator Theodor Kliefoth.  Masaki notes that faith is “never autonomous” (95) and that it is in the means of grace where sinners find a “concrete place” where they can meet their Lord (99).  Thomas Winger defends the reading of the epistle lesson in the divine service as not adiaphoral but instead as an apostolic response to the Son’s sending of the Spirit to guild the church and empowering apostolic witness in the world.  Charles Henrickson (tune by Henry Gerike) offers a hymn in honor of Nagel’s ministry, “Always More than We can Measure,” highlighting the triune work of delivering good news in word and sacrament to Christians.

Reacting against the Danish Pietist Erik Pontoppidan’s catechism that urges sinners not to “blindly depend” on baptism as if “true repentance and faith” were not required, Eugene Boe claims that “It [baptism] is a water word that does not recoil from the dirt of sin but seeks it out that it may wash it away resulting in a cleansing that passes the inspection of the law” (138).  Al Collver notes that unlike modern ecumenical approaches to the “real presence” of Christ in the Lord’s Supper which pit Christ’s “person” against his “body and blood” (162), even, as in the case of the Arnoldshain Theses disassociate the person of Christ from the body and blood (165) that such separation is abstract, artificial, and unscriptural.  Joel Brondos says that overall Luther’s view of suffering the cross as a path not to be sidestepped overturned the Augustinian favoring of the Christian life as continuous progress from matters “lower” to ones “higher” (177).  Hence, the sacrament should not be understood as a sign (signum) but as a testament (testamentum) and the gospel is not configured through dualism of lower and higher but paradox, the “higher” coming as the “lower,” (181), incarnationally seen asthe infinite as capable of the finite.  John Pless illustrates cross-bearing as endemic to those in church vocations, modeled after Herman Sasse, who suffered hardships as he confessed Christian faith before both Nazis and union Protestant Church in Germany.

Charles Arand develops a sacramental approach to creation, based on Luther, and seeing all creation as filled with wonder and mystery, opened for the eyes of faith for delight.  Geral Krispin develops the theology embedded in the hymnody of Nicolai, highlighting forgiveness granted in the Lord’s Supper as the basis for communion with Christ and the saints, both here and hereafter (231).  Jon Vieker notes that C F W Walther’s heritage in hymnody occasionally fell short of orthodox doctrine since some hymns of the Pietists included in his hymnbook assumed an “internalizing of spirituality” (273).  William Weedon notes though that hymns written by Reformed, Roman, or Anglican authors can be appropriated in church when distinct Lutheran confessional criteria are maintained (288).  Finally, Norman Nagel’s famous essay “Heresy, Doctor Luther, Heresy!” is reprinted in this Festschrift.  Nagel’s point is that Western Christologies of the ancient church fall short of the truth of the incarnation since they wish to configure the relation between the divine and the human in the one person of Christ in terms of proportion.  But Christ is not to be understood as a man in God or from God but a man who is God (306).  Luther’s est conveys the truth that in Christ the creator is the creature (308).

These essays in honor of Nagel are brilliant, conveying a loyalty to the Lutheran tradition and commending it to the world as the best way to convey the gospel.  They merit your diligence and attention.

Mark Mattes

Grand View University

Des Moines, IA

Issue 25-1: Reading John's Gospel

Preface

“For God so loved the world . . . ” LOGIA readers will recognize that passage from John’s Gospel; many of them have known it since their earliest days of devotions at home or Sunday School. Perhaps they have sung it in hymns or anthems. It is a foundational passage that shapes even the most carefully constructed statements on the Trinity, Christology, and justification. 

John’s Gospel is different from the Synoptics. He presents the person and words of Jesus Christ in a manner that has inspired the church to represent him with the symbol of the eagle, soaring “close to the sun,” with an eye that sees with the greatest clarity. Luther, in his 1522 Preface to the New Testament, extols the Fourth Gospel: 

If I had to do without one or the other—either the works or the preaching of Christ—I would rather do without the works than without his preaching. For the works do not help me, but his words give life, as he himself says (John 6:63). Now John writes very little about the works of Christ, but very much about his preaching, while the other evangelists write much about his works and little about his preaching. Therefore John’s Gospel is the one, fine, true, and chief gospel, and is far, far to be preferred over the other three and placed high above them. (LW 35:362) 

In Eric Chafe’s study, J. S. Bach’s Johannine Theology: e St. John Passion and the Cantatas for Spring 1725, the author suggests that Luther may have been drawn to the qualities that lend this Gospel “a spiritual, meditative, even mystical quality, as opposed to the narrative character of the Synoptic Gospels” (p. 110). These qualities continue to engage the reader, and the reader’s imagination. Those who wrote by inspiration opened our eyes to eternal mysteries, but they did not write works that need a secret mystical key for our understanding. They used human words that can be understood by humanity, despite the passage of centuries. Still, we continue to ask, what do the words mean? What did Jesus mean? Why did John record it the way he did? What did John mean? How have others understood these words? Was Luther always correct in his interpretation? Does it matter? 

These questions may seem to border on hermeneutic impertinence or impropriety, but they are increasingly a part of the current conversation when readers, preachers, and scholars en- counter the words of the Fourth Gospel. This issue is, finally, about words and their value and reliability in a time in which we are increasingly led to believe that all meaning is relative and conditioned by personal experience. 

Below, Armand Boehme leads us through a study of John 6. Here we have an example of what has been called the “historical-grammatical” approach to exegesis. Boehme encourages the reader to look at the words using this Renaissance methodology, which has been the bedrock for the Lutheran understanding of Scripture for centuries. 

Patrick James Bayens presents an overview of John based on the literary key of the concluding verses. In this essay the author suggests that the entire Gospel is best understood in light of John 20:30–31 and John 21:24–25. These verses, along with the Evangelist’s eyewitness testimony, John 19:34–35, are taken to indicate John’s desire to draw his readers into the present and abiding life offered by the risen Christ in the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Eucharist. 

In “Educational Horizons in Wilhelm Löhe” author Wolfhart Schlichting guides us through Löhe’s homiletical exegesis by an overview of the Epistle Sermons of 1858 and the 1866 sermons on Holy Communion. John 6 is the object of special attention, framed by Löhe’s concern for preaching that would create religious formation (Bildung) through personal application and inward experience. In his preaching Löhe suggests that Luther may have been mistaken in his understanding of the “Bread of Life” chapter, which, to some extent, impoverished Luther’s presentation of the benefits, the spiritual justifying power, of the sacramental eating and drinking. 

Finally, “JDDJ and Its Official Discussion in the Finnish Lutheran Church: A Clarification or an Obscuration?” highlights the issues and challenges presented by the “limits” of language in contemporary theological discourse, especially when words are the pathstones towards “reconciled diversity” in Christian communities that have used the same words to describe differing theologies for generations. Simo Kiviranta and Timo Laato’s essay merits a careful read. How can we behold the glory of the Word made flesh if the syllables which bring that glory to our eyes are more quicksand than foundation stone? 

This issue of LOGIA highlights aspects of that ongoing conversation about the strengths and limitations of human language. Perhaps the reader will consider again the importance of clarity and continuity in exegetical methods and our words about God, especially if we wish to fly on the wings of an eagle into the brilliant light of the Sun of Righteousness. 

Dennis Marzolf 


To purchase this edition of LOGIA, click here.

Book Review: The World That Then Was

Luther Reed: The Legacy of a Gentleman and a Churchman by Philip H. Pfatteicher (Minneapolis: Lutheran University Press), 2015.

The shock of the past is how utterly unlike our own time it is. The shock of the recent past is how quickly it became so unlike our own. This brief biography of Luther D. Reed by the liturgical scholar Philip Pfatteicher is an exercise in justification, an attempt to provide a fresh analysis of Reed’s relevance for the present day. It succeeds in this but not because the line between today and Reed’s day is straight and highly visible.

Reed was born a few years after the Civil War to a parish pastor in suburban Philadelphia and spent his entire life in Pennsylvania. His brief trips of liturgical and artistic reconnaissance in Europe are the exceptions that prove the rule. His father’s parishes included several stops in suburban Philadelphia, the upper Susquehanna Valley, and in Lancaster, where Reed took his BA and MA at Franklin and Marshall College. He attended the Mount Airy Seminary and served two parishes near Pittsburgh for a total of ten years before being recalled to Mount Airy in 1906 to oversee the building and operation of Krauth Memorial Library, named for C.P. Krauth, the founding father of the General Council and the Seminary to which Reed devoted the great majority of his life.

This Eastern Lutheran world was German by descent but English in language and American in outlook. It was 150 years old when Reed was born and intimately connected to the country from before its founding. By Reed’s birth it was so devoted to the thought and life of the past that it had outstripped its own fathers in that devotion. Krauth had repudiated the theology of the seminary at Gettysburg at which his father had taught. Reed and other proponents of the Common Service would promote and promulgate a liturgical service and standard hitherto unseen in the United States. In his pastorate and in his writing and activity throughout his life Reed represented well the spirit of recovery and renaissance in doctrine and especially worship that was in the General Council and at Mount Airy from their founding. This spirit may rightly be criticized as “romantic,” a term Tappert used for Reed, but in its intense desire to bring the best of the past into the present, it often succeeded, changing American Lutheran liturgy decisively and in the chapel overseen by Reed, modeling that change for the church.

It was the world that then was, and from the postbellum era down to the early 1960s it prevailed. Reed was a large part of that, building up the library at Philadelphia with funds from an incredibly generous layman he had known in Pittsburgh, enriching the worship life of the Seminary and promoting that richness for his students over a half-century, guiding the Seminary after the sudden death of its scholarly light, C.M. Jacobs. All of these duties came as surprises to the self-deprecating Reed. There is much to appreciate and to revisit in this slim volume: the rise of liturgical interests among American Lutheran pastors, the churchmanship Reed exhibited in his tireless service, the broad artistic tastes he had and cultivated in his students. The best part of the book, though, is Reed’s rebuttal of Theodore Tappert’s 1964 History of the Philadelphia Seminary.

Pfatteicher includes Tappert’s acerbic summation of Reed’s life and works and then gives the reader the entirety of Reed’s nine-page, semi-public response to Tappert. It is a marvel of cutting wit, but it is above all a ninety-one-year-old man’s justification of his deeds. Reed believes Tappert was scholarly to the exclusion of churchmanship, perfunctory in the liturgy to the destruction of the Seminary’s chapel services, focused on books to the detriment of humans. He cites the fathers, Krauth, H.E. Jacobs, Schmauk, and many other earlier lights, as those who hoped in the future of confessional English-language American Lutheranism. Reed senses that his part was to carry on that legacy of renewal into his day of work and the realms of liturgy, hymnody, and church architecture. As you read, you can feel that world slipping away. He had outlived his world.

That is no justification of Tappert’s malevolence. It is a recognition that by Reed’s death in the early 1970s, the world outside and inside the church had changed so drastically as to be unrecognizable. The change was a deluge, not a development. The reader is surprised to learn that Service Book and Hymnal in 1955 was Reed’s second major hymnal on which he had worked and was in its time the longed-for appearing of Muhlenberg’s fabled “one book” that would bring about the one Lutheran church body in America so many then wished to see. One is surprised because the book to which Pfatteicher contributed so much, 1978’s Lutheran Book of Worship, is now thought to have been that book, and it itself is now obsolete even in the church bodies that used it, not to speak of those that never did. Reed promoted the Common Service, now almost forgotten in the successors to his own church body, and with LCA President Franklin Clark Fry vastly preferred Jacobean English to all others. These are all liturgical reflections of an Eastern Lutheranism that then ordained only men, officially communed only Lutheran Christians, and celebrated the Divine Service only according to a few different musical settings of the Common Service of 1888.

When one lives almost a century, he is sure to see change, but Reed lived to see a new world. Yet he was not a Columbus, nor do his books remain valuable because they herald changes to come. One can still read The Lutheran Liturgy or Worship for the same reason one might read Krauth’s The Conservative Reformation or Jacobs’ dogmatics. They are valuable in themselves and historically as witnesses to a world and a seminary and a tradition of churchmanship now gone, though buildings and names remain for now. He was the last man of the world that then was, parts of which survive in unexpected places. If he isn’t Columbus, he may be Montezuma. The Common Service is still used in American Lutheranism, but not by his direct heirs. Krauth and Schmauk are still read by some, but perhaps not so much anymore inside Krauth Memorial Library. This book is valuable to know the world before the deluge, especially if it is not your particular ancestral strain of American Lutheranism. It is also valuable to see what may be recovered from the past, as Krauth and Jacobs and Beale Schmucker and in his own way Luther Reed did in their day.

Adam Koontz

Mount Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church (LCMS)

Lititz, Lancaster County, PA

Preaching Not to Kill God

—by Joel P. Meyer

When Stanley Hauerwas writes in his memoir that, “I live most of my life as if God does not exist,”[1] he makes more than a personal confession. He captures the cultural mood that frames Christian belief and practice in much of North America. Most of us can live perfectly coherent lives without ever once thinking about God. This does not mean that we have stopped believing in God or even that we have stopped going to church. It only means that Christians often do not take God very seriously in their own belief and practice. One way of expressing this mood is to say that God is dead. God no longer has constructive force and authority in our lives. In this paper, I will argue that God will have no constructive force and authority as long as the central form of Christian discourse about God, apostolic preaching, is eclipsed. In order to make this argument I will first demonstrate that our mood reflects an inversion of authority. Human beings assume the authority to give life and meaning to God. Then, I will argue that failing to distinguish between what Gerhard Forde calls explanation and proclamation reinforces this condition. Finally, I will suggest that a recovery of the Triune God’s authority will require that Christian preaching be apostolic in nature.


Whatever Happened to God?

Already in the late nineteenth century, Friedrich Nietzsche realized that an epochal change had taken place, even though it had gone unnoticed by most. He saw that the basic structure of Western life and thought had turned upside down. God was no longer the source and ground of everything that exists. Instead, human beings had taken the place of God by assigning themselves the authority to give meaning and to determine truth.[2] In the Middle Ages, for example, the unquestioned assumption about the world was that the God of the Bible created it.[3] Everything that happened was explained in reference to his will and purposes, which seemed to permeate all things. But that clear and shining presence had darkened. And in God’s place, we human beings now stand as the source and ground of existence, even the existence of God.

One way Nietzsche expressed this change was to say that God is dead, and probably his most famous expression of God’s death can be found in a short tale he calls, “The Madman.” The story begins with a deranged man yelling out in the market place that God is dead and we are his killers. The man, in this case, is not an atheist but a reporter, telling us that the God who was once alive and well is now a decomposing corpse. Nietzsche’s sharp prose captures the magnitude of the event. The madman asks in amazement, “How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions?” The point is straightforward. If God is God, then God alone is necessary. Everything else is contingent on God. So without God, we have no orientation; nothing on which to base our judgments about what is good and evil or true and false except our own will to choose. But that is just the problem. Contingent creatures have killed God by making themselves the highest authority. The madman puts it this way: “Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”[4]

The problem Nietzsche identifies is not that we Westerners no longer believe in God. Rather, the way we believe in God no longer assumes that God is the ultimate authority.  One example of our condition can be found in a book by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton called Soul Searching.[5] The book summarizes the results of a large scale survey conducted by the National Study of Youth and Religion. Surprisingly, they report that American teenagers are fairly active and conventional participants in religious practices. Teens follow closely the habits of their parents, they have a generally positive attitude toward religion, and they participate in formal religious practices quite regularly on average. But at the same time, these same teenagers are extremely inarticulate about what they believe, they have great difficulty noticing what difference their beliefs make in their own lives, and they have a negative attitude to those who would pattern their life according to a set standard of beliefs. So while American teens are religious, “religion actually appears to operate much more as a taken-for-granted aspect of life, mostly situated in the background of everyday living, which becomes salient only under very specific conditions.”[6] 

This does not mean religion is unimportant, but only that it is important in a particular way. Religion still draws American teens insofar as it makes them happy and helps them get what they want out of life. “What legitimates the religion of most youth today is not that it is the life-transformative, transcendent truth, but that it instrumentally provides mental, psychological, emotional, and social benefits that teens find useful and valuable.”[7] This attitude is so pervasive among American teenagers that Smith and Denton summarizes their findings by suggesting that teens share one dominant kind of religion. Smith and Denton call it “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”[8] This form of religion has three major components. First, it has a moralistic element: religion provides the impetus for being good, which naturally leads to happy and successful lives. Second, it has a strictly therapeutic element: religion helps teens feel better about themselves. And third, this religion believes in a certain type of God, one who is not demanding or an active part of their lives, but one who shows up when they need him to resolve a problem or give them help. 

The implications for the way American teens treat God are enormous. Rather than providing the beliefs and practices that make the world shine forth with God’s will and order, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism operates as a salve for teenage life. God is not important because he is the way, the truth, and the life. God is important insofar as he helps teens cope, insofar as they find him valuable or useful. If Smith’s findings are accurate, the madman is exactly right. God is dead. American teens have not stopped believing in God, but the form of their belief treats God as little more than a therapist. God is merely someone who helps teens make their way through life rather than the One who works life, death, and all in all. Put another way, human beings have the authority to assign meaning and life to God. But a God whose meaning and importance depends on the value humans find in him is a dead God.

The way American teens treat God is not unique, however. It only reflects the small place God has within the larger patterns of American culture. Building on the work of Alasdair MacIntyre and Robert Bellah, theologian John Wright identifies two poles of typical American life—the managerial and the therapeutic. “The public, managerial realm seeks efficiency in a competitive economic marketplace.”[9] In this realm, the most important concern is the bottom line. The goal of this realm is productivity. Managers, whose sole purpose is to match means to ends in order to achieve maximum efficiency, dominate this realm. Humans, along with other materials, are resources for the maintenance and growth of organizations. The managerial realm is impersonal and competitive, and often physically and emotionally draining. So the therapeutic realm exists to compensate for the toll of the managerial realm. “The private, therapeutic realm provides personal affirmation, meaning, self-fulfillment and expression—what has come recently to be called ‘spirituality.’”[10] This realm consists of all kinds of therapists, who help us cope with the impersonal managerial realm by giving us personal support and encouragement that heals or reenergizes us to go back to work. 

By marking out these two poles, Wright is not suggesting anything profound. The give and take between the managerial and therapeutic is as basic to American life as the pursuit of a job that pays us enough to enjoy life apart from work. What’s disturbing, though, is the place the church has within this cycle. Wright observes that typically, “Churches exist as therapeutic safe houses in an impersonal world,”[11] and pastoral care aims to mend exhausted and broken lives with psychological support couched in terms of divine love. Within this cycle, God only fits within the therapeutic realm. God does not help us make managerial decisions, for instance. God, in this case, only helps us get by as he gives us personal encouragement and individual purpose. God is nothing more than something in which we find personal value. 

These examples demonstrate what it means to say that God is dead. In typical American life, God is significant only insofar as we find personal value in him. Therefore, we stand over-against God as the authorities who give God meaning and significance. So in the remainder of the paper I want to ask this question: How does Christian speech about God reinforce or overcome this condition? In order to answer this question, I will turn from cultural reflection to systematic theology, and from Nietzsche to Gerhard Forde.


Explaining God to Death

Throughout much of his work, Forde worries that Christians have stopped observing Luther’s distinction between God preached and God not preached.[12] According to Forde, the distinction works this way: Apart from the preaching of the gospel we cannot get a grasp on God. God does many things for which we have no explanation. If God is a living God, he controls and effects all things. But that means God cannot be easily excused from tornadoes, car accidents, tumors, and viruses. God works life, death, and all in all. God as such presents a problem for us because he cannot be handled, contained, or explained. When a loved-one dies unexpectedly in a car accident, for example, we can say some nice and pious things about God. We might say something like “God did it because he wants something good to come out of it in the long run.” But explanations like this do not hold water. It does not take long before we realize that our explanations of God just make God all that more imposing. If God wanted something good to come out of a death, could not God have done it without killing the person? We might try to say the opposite: God had nothing to do with it all. But then God lacks either the will or power to stop it. 

 The point is that God refuses our explanations. God simply is who he is and does what he does and nothing we say about it all will ever change or resolve that. God is much too great and abstract for us to handle. But that is just the point Forde wants to make. Since God is God, the only thing we can do about it is be silent and listen to God when he speaks for himself. The only way to deal with the abstractness of God is to let God break through it all and talk to us. God does exactly that in the preaching of the gospel. God breaks through the abstractness and actually speaks. “In and through Jesus, the crucified and risen one, a peculiar band has been unleashed on the world, commissioned and authorized to speak, not merely about, but for God.”[13] 

Forde calls this speech on behalf of God “proclamation.” “The proclamation is…the divine address, speaking not my words but the word God has commissioned me to speak, not what I think, but what God has ordered me to say.”[14] The preacher who proclaims stands in God’s place as God’s commissioned representative to speak on God’s behalf. Absolution is the paradigmatic example: “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you.” Because God has authorized someone to speak on God’s behalf, this person’s word to you is God’s word, as if God were standing here right now speaking to you face to face. The opposite of proclamation, however, is explanation. Rather than speaking words from God, explanation speaks words about God. Explanation says something in general. Rather than actual absolution, explanation says something like “God is a forgiving God.” Or, “God’s eternal disposition is merciful.”

Now Forde does not want to say that explanation is bad, but only that it has its place; namely, to prepare us for proclamation. We start running into trouble when explanations take the place of proclamation. For example, it is one thing to say about God that his eternal disposition is merciful. But just what does that mean when my brother dies in a car accident. Has God in his mercy decided to kill my brother? When explanations take the place of proclamation, the concrete reality of God more or less drops out of the picture. Rather than letting God be God in both his unsearchable majesty and his own spoken word, God becomes an idea that we can either assent to or not. Forde puts it this way: “Lectures about God are substituted for preaching God. Our personal difficulties with God are assuaged with a little theological tinkering—perhaps a new name, a new image, a new theology more to our liking.”[15] 

We should not miss the therapeutic undertones of Forde’s point. When an idea about God takes the place of God himself, whether in his absolute majesty or in his proclaimed word, God begins to bend to our demands and desires. Take again the example of a tragedy. If we start with the explanation that God in general is merciful, it doesn’t take long for us to start questioning that generalization. Is this how God’s displays his mercy? Well, once we have taken a step down the road of explanation, it is hard to turn back. Now, it seems, we have to give a reason why this tragedy happened that coheres with God being merciful in general. Maybe we say next that it happened because God wants something good to come out of it in the long run. Maybe that will satisfy us. 

In reality, though, our explanations rarely get that far. Usually we are satisfied to hear something nice about God in general on Sunday mornings and go on our way. “God loves sinners.” “God’s Son has paid the price for our sin.” “God forgives.” Speech like that is often enough to help us feel better about the one who does all in all. Once we have God in the grips of an explanation, God doesn’t seem as threatening. Explanations seem to secure us from God’s unpredictability. God is confined, predictable, and even rational, someone we can feel safe about. And that is just the problem. Wrapped in an explanation, God poses no serious interruption to our lives. We can go on just as we did before, but now with the comforting thought that God isn’t really the threat he seems to be. Explanation turns out to be good therapy. 


Preaching that Kills God and the Preaching of the Living God

There are lots of ways that explanation takes the place of proclamation, but none does more harm than in preaching. Christian preaching is supposed to be the place where proclamation happens, where God’s ordained servant speaks on God’s behalf just as he has been authorized and sent to do. But often, preaching tries to convey an idea about God. There are many ways that either explanation takes over the pulpit or proclamation happens there, but I want to focus on one fundamental instance: the preacher’s disposition toward the scriptural text.

When a sermon aims for explanation, the preacher will approach the text of scripture as a resource for information about God, as if there exists within it a kernel of truth that needs to be excavated and conveyed. The preaching task then consists of two stages. First, the preacher uses interpretive skills to locate that kernel of truth, which is thought to be the real meaning of the text. Depending on one’s religious preference, this kernel can be doctrinal in nature (the text reveals a doctrinal truth), or exegetical (the text reveals the author’s intent), or even moral/religious (the text reveals a truth about life). Second, once the preacher locates the central truth within a passage, the preacher then finds a rhetorically skillful way to convey that truth to his hearers. Such rhetorical skill aims to bridge the gap between the truth within the text and the hearer. Usually, the preacher bridges the gap by starting with an illustration that is attention grabbing and easy to grasp. Once that basic connection has been made with the hearer, the sermon goes on to show how the passage of scriptural text fits with the illustration. In the end, the preacher stands in the pulpit as a conveyor of information about God derived from the text.[16] 

Forde comments that,

The basic presupposition for such oral communication tends to be the freedom of choice. The words provide information about God and Christ which one is expected to appropriate or accept by an act of will. One may, of course, insist that such choosing is aided by grace or the workings of the Spirit…But even so the presupposition remains the same, that of the continually existing subject making its choice over against a battery of facts.[17] 

So rather than confronting us with God’s own present speech, the preacher associates God with an idea that we have to be enticed to believe on the grounds of the rhetorical persuasiveness of the sermon. If the sermon succeeds and we happen to find the idea persuasive, then that is exactly the problem: we find the idea persuasive. God fits into what we already know about the world and we remain the authorities on God.

If preachers want to maintain God’s authority over-against us, if they want their speech to honor God as a living God, then they must ask the question, “What does the text of scripture authorize me to say on God’s behalf?” When preachers proclaim from the pulpit, they have the authority and the obligation to speak in the stead and by the command of God himself. 

Speaking on behalf of God is doing something different than conveying information about God. In his book Divine Discourse: Philosophical Reflections on the Claim that God Speaks,[18] Nicholas Wolterstorff makes a helpful distinction between divine revelation and divine speech. According to Wolterstorff, the claim that God reveals something is different than the claim that God speaks. Divine revelation is an act by which God discloses some item of knowledge about himself that was hidden or previously unknown. That is to say, divine revelation is the act of conveying information. This might occur when God uses a written text in order to deliver a message. Or this might occur indirectly through God’s actions in history. In either case, divine revelation is characterized by the communication or transference of some item of knowledge. 

Divine speech, on the other hand, is something quite different. When talking about divine speech, Wolterstorff has in mind here what J. L. Austin calls illocutionary acts, such as asserting, commanding, promising, or asking. According to Wolterstorff’s account of speech, God does not simply convey information to us. God enters into a moral relationship with a person by assuming a normative standing. He explains,

Imagine, for example, a field worker uttering in the hearing of his fellow worker the words, “would you hand me a drink of water,” thereby requesting the other to hand him a drink of water. The standing of having issued that request is now normatively ascribed to him. And part of what thus having that standing entails is that if the addressee understands what was said, and the speaker’s request is not undercut for him, then the addressee is (prima facie) obligated to hand the speaker a drink of water…By uttering that sentence, the speaker has altered the moral relationship between himself and his fellow worker.[19]

One condition that would undercut the speaker’s request would be that the speaker does not have the authority to take such a normative stance. For example, an observer in the stands of a baseball game might declare that the runner was out at first. But the game will go on regardless of what the fan said because only the umpire has the authority to take up such a normative standing.

Divine speech, then, happens when God uses words to enter into an obligating relationship with someone. A principle instance of divine speech is when God makes a promise. Oswald Bayer, commenting on Austin’s work in reference to Luther, helpfully describes what takes place when God makes a promise. “What happens when this is said or heard? I place myself under an obligation. An activity is described, but it is not what is asserted by an uninvolved observer who says, ‘He is making a promise,’ but is rather an activity that actually constitutes a certain state of affairs. A relationship is created thereby that did not exist previously.”[20] So when God speaks, he does not merely use words to transmit knowledge about himself. God uses words to act in the present upon another. God takes a stand over-against us as a living and contemporary person that we have to deal with—a person who addresses us, and by his address obligates himself to us, and us to him.

When preaching aims at proclamation, the preacher will approach the text of scripture as directions on how to speak to his congregation on God’s behalf. Rather than serving as a resource for information, the scriptures authorize the preacher to stand in the pulpit as God’s own spokesperson. The task of the preacher, then, is to discern how God speaks through the scriptures. So the preacher must not simply ask what information about God lies at hand, but how God uses the scriptural text to speak.

How does the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ use the scriptures to speak? I can only sketch an answer to this question, and my basic description will try to follow the account given in the synoptic Gospels and especially Luke and Acts. The God of Israel sent Jesus to bring about God’s eschatological reign. Anointed by the Spirit, Jesus acted and spoke in the stead and by the command of this God. He healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead and he absolved sinners of their sins. But Jesus’ own authority to speak and act on God’s behalf was challenged by the leaders of Israel. When Jesus would not back down from his claims to authority, they crucified him with the help of the Romans as a blasphemer: one who did not have the authority to speak and act on behalf of God. But God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead. Jesus then commissioned his disciples to go into the whole world with Jesus’ own authority to act and speak on his behalf—to forgive sins, to baptize, and to be witnesses to the things that had taken place concerning him so that all who believe in Jesus will be saved from the wrath of God’s final judgment. God sent Jesus to speak on God’s behalf. Jesus sent the apostles to speak on his behalf by bearing witness to the things God had done through Jesus. They considered their own words to be God’s words because just as God had commissioned Jesus, Jesus had commissioned them. The New Testament scriptures, then, are authoritative apostolic divine speech. God uses them to speak to us about his Son, so that we might trust in him and in his words.

Therefore, preaching will be proclamation when the preacher steps into the pulpit as part of the apostolic mission, speaking the apostolic word as he is commissioned by the scriptural text. Forde describes the mechanics of proclamation when he says, “the proclaimer should attempt to do once again in the living present what the text once did and so authorizes doing again.”[21] Exactly what that deed is will be determined by the individual text and the place it has within God’s purposes of speaking through the apostles to create a people for himself. That speech might be to make a promise concerning Christ. For instance, when Jesus promises in John 6:35 that, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst,” the preacher should aim to make the same promise about Jesus to his hearers. Or, the text might move to elect its hearers on God’s behalf, or to warn them of complacency, or both. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 10:1–13, Paul elects the Corinthians by typologically placing them within the story of Israel. Then he warns them not to put God’s election to the test. Then he promises that despite their unfaithfulness, God will be faithful. A preacher should aim to do the same to his hearers and speak in the present just as Paul spoke as an apostle of Jesus on behalf of God. 

In any case, when the preacher lets the scriptural text place him within the apostolic mission as God’s own spokesperson, God gets the final word. Rather than conforming to our own best ideas, God stands over-against us and speaks his own mind. If the Christian God is to be a living God, then, preachers need to fully embrace the apostolic mission for which they are ordained.



Rev. Joel P. Meyer is pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Kingsland, Georgia


[1] Stanley Hauerwas, Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), x.

[2] Both my account of Nietzsche and my expression of the problem owe much to Martin Heidegger, “The Word of Nietzsche: ‘God Is Dead,’” in The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, ed. William Lovitt (New York: Harper, 1977), 53–112.

[3] See Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelley, All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age (New York: Free Press, 2011), 118–142, in their discussion of Dante.

[4] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, ed. and trans. Walter Kaufman (New York: Vintage Books, 1974),181–182.

[5] Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford: Oxford University, 2005).

[6] Smith, Soul Searching, 130.

[7] Smith, Soul Searching, 154.

[8] Smith, Soul Searching, 162–170.

[9] John W. Wright, Telling God’s Story: Narrative Preaching for Christian Formation (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2007), 129.

[10] Wright, Telling God’s Story, 130.

[11] Wright, Telling God’s Story, 133.

[12] For Luther’s use of the distinction, see Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (1525), in Luther’s Works, vol. 33, ed. Philip S. Watson (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972), 138–140.

[13] Gerhard O. Forde, “Whatever Happened to God? God Not Preached,” in The Preached God: Proclamation in Word and Sacrament, ed. Mark C. Mattes and Steven D. Paulson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 44.

[14] Forde, “Whatever Happened to God,” 46.

[15] Forde, “Whatever Happened to God,” 38.

[16] See Gerhard O. Forde, Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), 152–55, as well as Wright, Telling God’s Story, 24.

[17] Forde, Theology, 147.

[18] Nicholas Wolterstorff, Divine Discourse: Philosophical Reflections on the Claim that God Speaks (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

[19] Wolterstorff, Divine Discourse, 84.

[20] Oswald Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation, trans. Thomas H. Trapp (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 51.

[21] Forde, Theology, 155.


As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy

Hymn Summary: Advent 2

LO! HE COMES WITH CLOUDS DESCENDING (LSB 336)

Advent 2 (1 yr)

The brothers John and Charles Wesley saw that, according to Luther, music teaches the faith and imprints it strongly upon the heart. So he did in this hymn. The tune is new to LSB, but not to the text and a more beautiful pairing to the hymn.  The tune does what the text declares.  As the music descends so the text confesses “. . . with clouds descending.” As the congregation and musicians swell so we sing “Swell the triumph of His train, Alleluia . . .”  It is well worth learning if your parish has not yet undertaken the task. 
 
The hymn primarily pictures through song the words of Revelation 1:7: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.”   Some slight editing has taken place from Wesley’s original which shows theological difference between the Methodists and Lutherans, “once for favored sinners slain,” now reads “Once for every sinner slain.”


On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist Cry (LSB 344)

Advent 2 (3 yr)
 
In light of the recent horrible attacks in Paris, our hymn brings specific comfort to those who mourn and pray.  Hear it well in the middle of tragedy and death, “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s cry Announces that the Lord is nigh.”   The author Charles Coffin was a theologian, hymnist, and Frenchman who among other things served as Rector at the University of Paris.  
 
With these things on our minds, of particular note, verse four, “Lay on the sick Thy healing hand And make the fallen strong to stand,” but also verse three “We hail Thee as our Savior Lord, Our refuge and our great reward.”  So the Word of God speaks particularly to those who suffer most horrible things, as we together in song call out with the comfort that only Christ Jesus can give.
 
As the Church Year has different rhythms, John the Baptist is a central character during Advent with his preaching of repentance.   He signals the season’s penitential character, and prepares the Church for a time of joy: for some Christmas, for all Christians Christ’s return.  Certainly one result of tragedy all about us, is the encouragement to repent.  “What shall we do?” many wonder.  Our hymn provides the way,  “Then cleansed be every life from sin; Make straight the way for God within, And let us all our hearts prepare For Christ to come and enter there.” (vs. 2)
 
The great Lutheran composer Michael Praetorius’s hand is at work in the tune.  Charles Coffin also is the author of the first hymn in our hymnal (LSB 331) The Advent of our King.


Rev. Adrian N. Sherrill serves Trinity Lutheran Church, Denver, Colorado. 


As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.

A Bold Church in an Age of Terrorism—Part III

—By Fredrik Sidenvall 

Translated by Bror Erickson 

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a three article series. Find part one here and part two here

Martin Chemnitz, like Martin Luther, has at the heart of his doctrine the discovery of the certainty of salvation. Torbjörn Johannsson explains in his insightful and inspiring doctoral dissertation how Martin Chemnitz in his great work “Examen concilii tridentinii” criticizes the Council of Trent for its decision that says that no one, “with the certainty of faith that cannot be mistaken is able to know that he receives the Grace of God.” The decision of Council of Trent will have the effect that “when men hear that even he who holds to Christ’s promise must remain in uncertainty they will begin to gather together all their works. Not content with the deeds that God orders in his commandments, they will instead turn to others like the invocation of the saints, supererogation, trading in indulgences, masses and merits. When these works still don’t give comfort during temptation, one has purgatory. Chemnitz calls the uncertainty taught by Trent a ‘horrible slaughter of conscience.’”

If we then turn to what Chemnitz expressly writes about the sacrament in his theological handbook, “enchiridion,” we see plainly where he puts the emphasis. This book is formatted like a catechism with questions and answers. Question 215 asks, “What is the essential thing that must be shared for it to be a sacrament of the New Testament?” Chemnitz’s response reads “Two things. First an external visible element or sign in a certain external ceremony or act, established and instituted by Christ through a special word and express command and which is bestowed upon the whole church with the purpose that it should be used to the end of the age. The second thing needed is a word or promise of grace united with the element in this act, namely (the word which says) that the sacrament was instituted by Christ with the purpose and benefit that through them with exterior means and visible witnesses he will hold forth, apply, bestow, confirm and personally seals to those using them in faith the promise of grace that is otherwise proclaimed and offered in the gospel to everyone in general.” Then he continues to describe the sacraments as weapons against spiritual terror in his answer to the question, “For what reason does Christ establish the sacrament of the word?” Answer: “So that our weak faith would be maintained and preserved in this manner, because our senses cannot so easily hold to the bare and naked word and firmly trust in it. For even if one does not mistrust the gospel’s universal promise when one listens to them, so it is yet so with a conscience that is disturbed plagued by temptations, that it usually falls into doubt as to whether the general promises also belong to and encompass him, and if he can and ought to apply them to himself. Therefore Christ who is rich in mercy has instituted external and visible sacraments to help our damage in this area; through these sacraments as such open and conspicuous testimony, he would deal with us and in this way as through such a highly secure seal and declaration testify that he certainly applies, confirms, and seals the gospel promises individually for those who use the sacrament in true faith.”

To this I will add that Christ has given us the sacraments even as weapons against the type of spiritual terror that is exerted by the spirit of lawlessness, he who wants to lull a man into a false security. At the entrance into God’s kingdom and to the Sacrament Christ’s word remains clear: repent and believe in the gospel, Mark 1:15. In Baptism the bubble of false security is burst when a sinner is crucified with Christ and the old man is killed and buried. To be dead is really a very good reason to not work in the service of sin. When our old employer calls us to work, a Christian can calmly answer: I am sorry I can’t work today, you understand I am dead, so I have to stay home with my Savior. In connection with the Sacrament of the Altar the apostles admonish us: “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.  That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world”(1 Corinthians 11:28-32 ESV). Through self-examination and confession the enemies first strategy is fought, and the conditions of false security are broken in repentance. 

Naturally, this should not be understood and applied in such a way that souls believe that degrees of their repentance are a prerequisite for the effect of the Sacraments or for the right to apply the gospel to themselves. It should destroy all. The mere desire to flee God’s wrath and receive God’s blessing instead, the desire receive life instead of death, is indeed sufficient incentive to accept the gospel. Tom Hardt helps us understand this when he writes: 

“When the fathers of the Lutheran Confessions want to summarize the difference in the faith that had arisen, they said,  ‘Leo X’s bull had condemned a very important teaching that all Christians ought to hold fast to and believe, namely that we shall trust that we have been released, not on the basis of our repentance, but upon the basis of Christ’s word:’ “and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19 ESV). Here in this bull, which in fact is the Roman Institution’s condemnation of the Lutheran congregations as heretical, a chasm opens that separates faith from unbelief according to the Lutheran Confessions. Here the Roman teaching lays emphasis on human effectiveness in confession, namely the good works (penance) while for the Lutheran all emphasis is laid upon faith in the sacrament being instituted by Christ, he who gave the authority of the keys to the apostles . . . This Roman instruction that points to preparation must consequently also teach that because no one knows his own position, all forgiveness is also uncertain . . . What Rome never understood, and still doesn’t understand, is that the gospel (in all its forms) is God’s power of salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). In the perfect sacrifice that the gospel proclaims there is an eternal righteousness won once and for all, and when the Gospel comes to us in the Sacrament or in any other means of grace it requires faith and nothing but faith . . . This directs attention to the word that the pastor takes in his mouth and the sacrifice that he holds in his hand, and frees a person from all thoughts of effective preparation, the depth of repentance and a successful communion. The thought of successful communion, successful confession that always leave the individual floating between hope and despair, is replaced by the rock solid word, a sure release and the superabundant atoning sacrifice.” (Reference)

Here we see plainly that the point with the means of grace is certainty of salvation and victory over the monster of uncertainty, the worst of all terrorists. Against this background we can see the importance of first understanding communion in a sacramental manner as God’s perfect gift to us and not primarily in a sacrificial manner as our imperfect gift to God. It also stands clear that truth of Christ’s body and blood actually present in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper can never be emphasized enough, because it has a direct existential impact on the souls, namely this blessed certainty of participation in Christ’s eternal and perfect sacrifice. 

The basis for Luther’s boldness in the area of conscience through faith in grace and the means of grace is his boldness in the area of truth. The boldness in the area of truth has its basis in that scriptures are true and clear. Luther writes: “All the points of Christian doctrine must be such that they are not only fully certain in and of themselves but also confirmed by such clear scriptures that they stop the mouths of all.”

Contrary to many who have argued that Luther was estranged from dogmatic teaching and the authority of scripture, Luther says: I will hold fast for all eternity to what I have taught up to now, and say that whoever teaches otherwise or condemns me, he condemns God himself and must remain a child of hell. For I know that my teaching is not my teaching.” When Martin Luther stepped before the Diet of Worms with the whole world against him and spoke the powerful words “Here I stand, and I can do no other so help me God,” that was the church speaking with boldness.   

This boldness is grounded in the clarity of Scripture, in a pure and clear gospel and objectively effective means of grace.


As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy