Tag Archives: theology

A German Pope at the Erfurt Agustinian Monastery

Benedict XVI, a German, is on a trip to Germany. One of his stops is in Erfurt at the monastery that trained and sheltered Luther. Here is the link to the full text of his comments. The full comments are short, but this is a clip. Benedict has clearly been formed in some way by Luther’s thoughts. He doesn’t mention Law and Gospel, but he talks about the revealed God/(hidden god) and talks about the deep question of how does God interact with me. You don’t get more Lutheran. Especially coming from the Anti-Christ whore of babylon Roman Pontiff. Interesting through-out….

As the Bishop of Rome, it is deeply moving for me to be meeting representatives of Council of the EKD here in the ancient Augustinian convent in Erfurt. This is where Luther studied theology. This is where he was ordained a priest in 1507. Against his father’s wishes, he did not continue the study of Law, but instead he studied theology and set off on the path towards priesthood in the Order of Saint Augustine. On this path, he was not simply concerned with this or that. What constantly exercised him was the question of God, the deep passion and driving force of his whole life’s journey. “How do I receive the grace of God?”: this question struck him in the heart and lay at the foundation of all his theological searching and inner struggle. For him theology was no mere academic pursuit, but the struggle for oneself, which in turn was a struggle for and with God.

“How do I receive the grace of God?” The fact that this question was the driving force of his whole life never ceases to make an impression on me. For who is actually concerned about this today – even among Christians? What does the question of God mean in our lives? In our preaching? Most people today, even Christians, set out from the presupposition that God is not fundamentally interested in our sins and virtues. He knows that we are all mere flesh. Insofar as people today believe in an afterlife and a divine judgement at all, nearly everyone presumes for all practical purposes that God is bound to be magnanimous and that ultimately he mercifully overlooks our small failings. But are they really so small, our failings? Is not the world laid waste through the corruption of the great, but also of the small, who think only of their own advantage? Is it not laid waste through the power of drugs, which thrives on the one hand on greed and avarice, and on the other hand on the craving for pleasure of those who become addicted? Is the world not threatened by the growing readiness to use violence, frequently masking itself with claims to religious motivation? Could hunger and poverty so devastate parts of the world if love for God and godly love of neighbour – of his creatures, of men and women – were more alive in us? I could go on. No, evil is no small matter. Were we truly to place God at the centre of our lives, it could not be so powerful. The question: what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God? – this burning question of Martin Luther must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too. In my view, this is the first summons we should attend to in our encounter with Martin Luther.

Another important point: God, the one God, creator of heaven and earth, is no mere philosophical hypothesis regarding the origins of the universe. This God has a face, and he has spoken to us. He became one of us in the man Jesus Christ – who is both true God and true man. Luther’s thinking, his whole spirituality, was thoroughly Christocentric: “What promotes Christ’s cause” was for Luther the decisive hermeneutical criterion for the exegesis of sacred Scripture. This presupposes, however, that Christ is at the heart of our spirituality and that love for him, living in communion with him, is what guides our life.

Can you have a culture without the cult?

Here are two items that caught my attention.

This link uses the Sherwood Baptist movie franchise as a jumping off point. If you’ve seen Fireproof, Flywheel or Facing the Giants you have the idea. Lots of pointy headed types (like me) might find the story-lines trite, but what I would say is that they’ve gotten a lot better a lot faster than I thought they would. And they’ve done it without giving up their moral core. Where Flywheel was almost enough to make me wince, the second two were at least as good as any of the secular professional stuff shown on THE Family Channel. (Let me just say that it should be the non-family channel, or the how to redefine The Family Channel. This show, which infuriatingly parson’s wife actually watches, it the most trite unreal dangerous piece of propaganda I’ve seen in a long time.) I don’t exactly like things being sold as “christian”, but you’ve got to start somewhere. What I share or like is this vision:

Will the day ever come when a church produces a film that wins an Academy Award? Or a musical that wins a Tony? Or a collection of poems or short stories that wins a Pulitzer? I pray that day will come. But the point, of course, is to change the world and not to win its applause. For believers, there is always an audience of One, and that One is pleased when we honor him with the best of our talents and efforts and also when we participate in the redemption and re-creation of all things.

The second link is related. I think it is actually the opposite of the first insight. I want you to look at the direction of its argument. It starts out with something that is true – church is the most culturally and ethnically segregated hour in the USA. Some of that is due to church strategies (such as most church growth programing of like attracts like). Some of that is due to the fact of geography – we live where we live. Some of that is culture. Black church culture is strong and different. In the same way liturgical churches and non-liturgical churches are just different. But it starts with something troubling and true, moves to something true but not really troubling (does anyone really want to spend another hour of their life watching a screen?), and then gets to something (the point) really questionable – the real world accepts homosexuality, so the church should also as a means of lessening the culture divide. Then look at the author’s suggestions. You start with something that every pastor should already be doing but then regress into dropping theology (as if doctrine were something trivial) and finally consult the experts – your teenagers. [Yes there is a smidgen of truth in some of the lines – dropping theology is not actually what is advocated, instead moving to story theology, but that is usually done so poorly they are the same thing. Yes, kids can help you at times and you should know what they are reading if just to be sure it is not the cultural arbiter.]

So instead of creating something that interacts with the world, even if it is sub-standard right now, but we are learning, link two says drive all the way to where the culture is at abandoning teachings and principles.

Art interacts with the world and seeks to change it. Christians do not so much want to use culture as to make it. They don’t want to be the iPad people but the people who create the apps used on it.

Summer Theological Project

First, I’ve been a slacker at this site. Confession is good for you. Partly because I just didn’t like what I was writing. Too polemical and not devotional enough. Too intellectual and missing some of the emotional range. We never had that level of traffic here, but I also really didn’t like what was going on elsewhere in the theology internet. Basically I saw echo chambers where people who already believed something gathered to hear others say that back to them or tell them they are right or just to pick fights with straw men. If someone who disagreed stumbled in, it usually got ugly. And these were people who if they met each other at church would never say a cross word to each other. Recently I’ve been reading a couple of sites that are different. Dr. Richard Beck’s, Experimental Theology and Dr. Diane Zemke’s, Community Vitality. They manage to bring something worthwhile. They are dialog in the best sense. They are not debate, they might be discussion sometimes, but they aim at dialog. They say serious things, but in an inviting way.

So, my summer theological project is to try and create that kind of space here. Where something serious can be said, but in an open way. It probably won’t be too topical. That turns into debate. I’m aiming at formational things; nobody is formed in debate. It will be idiosyncratic and experimental – what I’m interested in and think is valuable. I hope it is reflective of real life in all its messiness – and the grace that we at St. Mark’s find in Christ.

What good is theology anyway? A Pastor-Theologian Rant

This link is one of my personal axes.

Melville in Moby Dick writes…

What could be more full of meaning?- for the pulpit is ever this earth’s foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world. From thence it is the storm of God’s quick wrath is first descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is the God of breezes fair or foul is first invoked for favorable winds. Yes, the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.

Now ask yourself when that was last true?

The life of theology is in the pulpit, is in proclamation. If you can’t go proclaim it to God’s people, than it lacks the life giving Spirit. It isn’t the WORD.

There are all kinds of problems: 1) too many Pastors afraid of scaring away what flock they have with deep stuff and so staying in safe calm waters. 2) too many theologians looking for those calm waters in the rarefied air of academic safety. 3) too many itching-ears wanting to hear safe platitudes and forecasts of peaceful waters.

The WORD creates things. It calls people to change (Repent, for the Kingdom is here). It asks people to believe what is not immediately evident. The WORD is dangerous. We arbitrage risk. We insure for risk. We manage risk. Our danger is simulated – bungee cords, roller coasters, cliched rebellion, practicing theology where it doesn’t mean anything directly. When the church is open to danger. When the church has ears to hear the call to pick up the cross and walk toward danger because that is where the Spirit is blowing, then we might find pastor-theologians again. Until then, we will have safe and tame theology.

I’m all for Pastor-Theologians. But the first step is theologians giving up the safety of credentials and the academy for the the church. This guy is a great example.

Calvinist/Arminian, Orthodox/Pietist, Paul meet James

Scott McKnight continues to follow “The New Calvinism” backed up by a Barna group survey.

I love this fight, because I think it is an example of things we divide over, but the Biblical view is don’t. Here is the short-hand. If you have ever been part of Protestantism not of the Lutheran variety you were probably in a group that is “Reformed”. The reformed have two theological camps: Calvinists who roughly emphasize the sovereignty of God neatly expressed in TULIP and Arminians who emphasize man’s free-will response to God’s grace. (Ok, there is probably a third camp that just says roughly we don’t care about those things, just give us the Spirit and tongues.) Lutherans have roughly the same divide between the high theology of what became known as Lutheran Orthodoxy and the pietists represented by the Moravians, a guy by the name of Spener and I’d go so far as to claim a certain Wesley who “felt a strange warming in his heart” coming away from Aldersgate Moravian meeting. This argument goes all the way back to Paul and James. If you are willing to read the complete Paul and not just selectively – its Paul vs. Paul.

What we are talking about here is theology. These are ways to understand our experience. If you were not a believer, and then one day you heard someone talk about Jesus and “felt a warming in your heart”, said the famous Jesus prayer and changed your life around (ex-President Bush’s alcoholism experience is a great example) – your subjective experience feels like Pietist/Arminian. If you are more intellectual, were baptized as an infant, and have always been part of the church – your subjective experience feels like Calvin/Orthodox. The Calvinists and the Orthodox have all this intellectual firepower. It all makes sense, but it leaves large numbers of people feeling cold. The Arminian/Pietists have all the feelings and the best convert stories and struggles, yet there are times when the feeling leaves before the need and nagging little doubts.

Go read Acts 15 and you’ll read about the first theological encounter and how it worked out. Paul and James agreed to disagree. Why could they do that? They were both following Jesus Christ to the best of their ability. Why does Barna find protestant pastors roughly evenly split? My guess…because as a pastor you’ve got a primary way of thinking, but we aren’t following a theology. We are following Jesus. I may think there are all kinds of problems with thinking as an Arminian, but they have the better songs. Being able to live together in one church – doing what Paul and James did – is important. Orthodox keep everything from being a syrupy mess. Pietists keep the church open to wonder – that we don’t have God in a box. Both are important.

No Ownership of the Future

Maybe a little intellectual, but good philosophy.

Although I think it was said shorter in a couple of places like: Luke 12:23-25 (“who can add a single hour to his span of life?) or Philippians 1:21-23 or Luke 17:33 or Matt 6:11 (daily bread) or Exod 16:18-20 (the manna only lasts one day) or a whole bunch of others.

With great effort, pure reason can get us enough truth to despair or at best a stoic acceptance. What it can’t do is provide the complete picture. That requires revelation. And revelation requires faith. It is not a faith grounded in nothing – the resurrection is not nothing. But it is still faith. Faith that while we do not own our future (or our past, or even our present), there is one who does. And he has promised good to us. Are you not worth more than the grass of the field that is here today and tomorrow tossed into the fire?

The medium is the message

That was of course Marshall McLuhan bemoaning the vast wasteland of TV. The more serious point is that particular mediums (TV, books, radio, talking, letters) are not just tubes to deliver something, but they mold or form the message itself. Books are solitary, serious and heavy. TV is fast and visual. i.e. you can’t capture Moby Dick on TV.

In regard to the Christian life the medium has meaning when THE WORD is a core concept, when by the foolishness of preaching THE WORD is given. Can you find THE WORD in this new medium of blogging, and if so, how does it effect it?

Ben Myers has an interesting post and journal article on the Blog as a place for theology. He is perhaps uniquely qualified to discuss this because of his blog which was one of the first to practice Theology in this new medium.

Two quotes – “One no longer publishes and defends an authoritative statement; instead, one participates in a continuing conversation in a collective enterprise…a process that foregrounds dialogue, accountability and self-correction.”

To me that is hopeful. It means that the blog foregrounds the need for ongoing repentance. It also means learning to live in a community defined by repentance and absolution. Things that are remarkably similar to what the local congregation is supposed to be, a gathering of sinners seeking God’s Word of absolution and attempting to live it out.

Second Quote – “The fact that one’s writing is not understood as a fixed artifact means one is free to write about many things…in this respect, theological discourse begins to inch closer toward the work of pastors and clergy, who are constantly challenged to utilize their theological resources in order to address new, unanticipated problems and solutions.”

Also somewhat hopeful. We all have a theology whether we know it or not. Theology shouldn’t be strictly formal things. I’m thinking of the biblical instruction to talk about these things when you walk and when you sit, when you lie down and when you rise (Duet 6:7). Anything that encourages that and not a stultifying seriousness is a good freedom. Do we get things wrong? Yep. Is that a big problem? Not if we remember the first point – repentance.

There are several other good observations in the paper, but I’ll leave it there.