Monday, February 28, 2011

A Seminary In Crisis: The Inside Story of the Preus Fact Finding Committee by Paul Zimmerman

My pastor lent me his copy of A Seminary In Crisis: The Inside Story of the Preus Fact Finding Committee by Paul Zimmerman. This book tells of the events that led to the 1974 walkout at Concordia Seminary. I previously reviewed a book by James C. Burkee about the same events. There is surprisingly little overlap between the two books. Zimmerman's book focuses almost exclusively on the theological divisions while Burkee focuses almost exclusively on the political divisions and political maneuvering. Herman Otten takes center stage in Burkee's book but is barely even mentioned in Zimmerman's book. J.A.O. Preus is prominently featured in both books but each book paints a completely different picture of him. In Burkee's book, Preus is the duplicitous, Nixonesque politician. In Zimmerman's book, Preus is the steadfast defender of the true religion. I don't think either Zimmerman or Burkee are being dishonest. They both provide ample evidence to support their portraits of Preus. But they're coming at Preus from completely different angles. Both are necessary to get a full picture both of what happened and who Preus was. There are times that I think Zimmerman may have overlooked some of Preus' faults and I really think that Burkee de-emphasized the theological issues. Zimmerman says that the lay people played a prominent role in ousting the liberals but doesn't provide evidence. Burkee seems to provide a substantial amount of evidence to show that it was mostly clergy that got involved in the controversy.

Zimmerman is very fair to the liberals throughout the book. He regards them as sincere and is quick to point to areas of agreement that he shared with them. He even mentions friendly conversation that occurred during the controversy. He doesn't demonize anyone. He lays out the theological issues in a matter of fact sort of way and shows the different positions held by various faculty members. Less than half of the book is composed by Zimmerman. The vast majority of the book contains primary source documents from the interviews done by the fact finding committee. There is documentation to the point of insanity. I think Zimmerman has done the church a great service by providing this. But if you read through all of it, it gets very redundant. However, I think it's necessary to have it all laid out there. Lots of summaries and transcripts. I found the transcripts to be the most interesting but I wish they had provided names. From reading articles by some of these people, I think I have a pretty good idea who some of them are.

On occasion, I noticed by comparing the reports in the back to what Zimmerman wrote in the front, that it seems Zimmerman takes a more extreme position than the Synod does on some issues. Zimmerman seems to think that professors should be bound to interpret every passage in the exact same way that the confessions do. This does not seem to be the position of the Synod and seems to be an overreaction to those who would argue that "the narrative of the fall of Adam and Eve into sin discussed in the Confessions is not a doctrinal question, but merely an exegetical question that one is free to debate." (p. 50) It seems like there are other ways of dealing with this problem than trying to bind everyone to every interpretation that the Confessions make.

Also, in reaction to professors who denied that passages historically regarded as messianic are actually about Jesus, Zimmerman takes a very extreme rectilinear approach and seems to want to rule out even the idea that the prophecies may in many cases have an initial fulfillment but that they are only fully fulfilled in Christ.

There was some controversy over the term "inerrancy" and I'm not convinced that is was really helpful in the debate. Zimmerman seems to agree with the position of he Synod. But as I have discussed elsewhere, I think it is actually counterproductive once someone starts thinking deeply about it because it puts authority in original autographs that nobody has.

The main controversy seemed to center around two things: the use of the historical-critical method and standards for fellowship. A small number of professors really went off into crazy town with the historical-critical method. The majority did not go off into crazy town but were open to others going off into crazy town and thought that people in crazy town should be open to take communion and even preach in the churches.

If someone wanted a single book to help them understand what the controversy was all about, Zimmerman's book is what I recommend. But they would probably get a fuller picture if they read Burkee's book second.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

I Won the Coveted Issues Etc. Blog of the Week Award

I won the Issues Etc. Blog of the Week Award. My shameless attempt worked. For those who may have missed it on iTunes here you go:

video


The original post can be found here. Here are the full lyrics (sung to the Tune of Dr. Hook's "Cover of the Rolling Stone"):

The Issues Etc. Blog of the Week

Well, I'm a Lutheran blogger, I've got golden fingers.
And I'm a pariah everywhere I go.
I blog about Jesus, and I blog about truth,
At zero dollars a show.
I review all kinds of books,
That give me all kind of thrills.
But the thrill I've never known,
Is the thrill that'll gitcha,
When you get your blog,
On the Issues Etc. Blog of the Week.

(Blog of the Week.) Wanna hear my blog on the podcast.
(Issues Etc.) Wanna send five copies of the mp3 to my mother. (Yes.)
(Issues Etc.) Wanna hear my Lutheran blog,
On the Issues Etc. Blog of the Week.

I got a loving wife name a-Laura,
Who washes all my jeans.
I got my little, itty-bitty kids,
Proving original sin.
Now it's all designed to blow my mind,
But my mind won't really be blown.
Like the blow that'll gitcha,
When you get your blog,
On the Issues Etc. Blog of the Week.

(Blog of the Week.) Wanna hear my blog on the podcast.
(Issues Etc.) Wanna send five copies of the mp3 to my mother. (Yes.)
(Issues Etc.) Wanna hear my Lutheran blog,
On the Issues Etc. Blog of the Week.

I got a lot of theological books,
That help me know what to say.
I got a genuine Book of Concord,
That's teachin' me a better way.
I got all the friends that Facebook can give me,
So I never have to be alone. (No.)
And I keep gettin' more "likes,"
But I can't get my blog,
On the Issues Etc. Blog of the Week.

(Blog of the Week.) Wanna hear my blog on the podcast.
(Issues Etc.) Wanna send five copies of the mp3 to my mother. (Yes.)
(Issues Etc.) Wanna hear my Lutheran blog,
On the Issues Etc. Blog of the Week...
(Blog of the Week.) Wanna hear my blog on the podcast.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Minister: Teacher or Delivery Man?

Within Protestantdom, there seems to be a good deal of debate over what a pastor should teach but a general consensus that the pastor is primarily a teacher. One group wants a "dynamic" teacher. There is no Scriptural requirement that a pastor be dynamic and there is nothing inherently good in being dynamic. Hitler was a very dynamic speaker. Another group wants a "sincere" teacher. We should hope that the pastor is sincere in what he tells us but even this is not an absolute requirement. Paul says in Philippians that even when people preach for the wrong reasons it is still effective. It also raises the question of how you can ever really know if another person is sincere or not. People have different personalities and different ways of expressing themselves. Somebody may appear to you to just be going through the motions but you are not Jesus and so you cannot know what is going on inside of them. Somebody else may have mastered the art of appearing sincere.Another group wants a teacher that they can relate to. But this centers the Christian church on a particular personality from a particular demographic.

Another group wants a "Biblical" teacher. This sounds good. But the Pharisees were Biblical teachers and made people children of hell through their teachings. There have been lots of Biblical teachers who have taught all kinds of contradictory things. Some people say that they want someone who will "preach the word" or "preach the whole counsel of God" and what they mean is that they want someone who will provide a verse by verse commentary in his preaching. But to preach the Word according to the Scriptures is not to provide a verse by verse commentary on a text. Jesus is the Word. To preach the Word means to preach Jesus. The sermon should be tied to the text but it does not explain the text correctly if it does not preach Jesus. Jesus said that all of the Scriptures are about Him. If the minister does not preach Christ from the text he has not understood the text and is not a Christian minister. He may be serving as Jewish rabbi, but he is not serving as a Christian minister.

The pastor should be able to teach as Paul says in 2 Timothy. There is no excuse for a pastor who says that he is no theologian. If he is not a theologian he no business serving as a pastor. When somebody objects to something that the pastor is teaching and he says "I'm just an unlearned man." the proper response is "Why are you trying to pretend to be a pastor?" But the teaching is not the goal. The teaching is the means to the goal. Unfortunately the teaching is seen as the goal among many pastors and congregations.

The goal is to deliver Christ to people. The goal is to deliver the forgiveness of sins to people. In John 20, after the resurrection, Jesus absolved his disciples. Then he gave them the Holy Spirit and told them that they now had the power to forgive sins. The minister's job is to administer--not administer in the sense of manage but in sense of dispense. The minister's job is to dispense Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. The reason the minister is there is to give you Jesus in the Word and in baptism and in the Lord's Supper. The reason the minister is there is to give you the forgiveness of sins in the Word and in baptism and in the Lord's Supper.

He uses teaching to do this but teaching is not the goal. Teaching would be fine for a works-based religion where the goal is to teach people how to adhere to the moral tenets of the religion. But Christianity is no such religion. The pastor's job is to kill you and resurrect you through the power of the Word. The pastor's job is to tell you that you have not kept the law and that you are worthy of God's temporal and eternal punishment. The pastor's job is to tell you that Jesus kept the Law for you and to give you Jesus. The pastor's job is to tell you that your sins are forgiven and give you the forgiveness of sins.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Issues Etc. Blog of the Week

I wrote this song as a shameless attempt to get my blog on the Issues Etc. Blog of the Week. I would sing it but I don't sing very well. It is sung to the tune of "The Cover of the Rolling Stone" by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show.


The Issues Etc. Blog of the Week

Well, I'm a Lutheran blogger, I've got golden fingers.
And I'm a pariah everywhere I go.
I blog about Jesus, and I blog about truth,
At zero dollars a show.
I review all kinds of books,
That give me all kind of thrills.
But the thrill I've never known,
Is the thrill that'll gitcha,
When you get your blog,
On the Issues Etc. Blog of the Week.

(Blog of the Week.) Wanna hear my blog on the podcast.
(Issues Etc.) Wanna send five copies of the mp3 to my mother. (Yes.)
(Issues Etc.) Wanna hear my Lutheran blog,
On the Issues Etc. Blog of the Week.

I got a loving wife name a-Laura,
Who washes all my jeans.
I got my little, itty-bitty kids,
Proving original sin.
Now it's all designed to blow my mind,
But my mind won't really be blown.
Like the blow that'll gitcha,
When you get your blog,
On the Issues Etc. Blog of the Week.

(Blog of the Week.) Wanna hear my blog on the podcast.
(Issues Etc.) Wanna send five copies of the mp3 to my mother. (Yes.)
(Issues Etc.) Wanna hear my Lutheran blog,
On the Issues Etc. Blog of the Week.

I got a lot of theological books,
That help me know what to say.
I got a genuine Book of Concord,
That's teachin' me a better way.
I got all the friends that Facebook can give me,
So I never have to be alone. (No.)
And I keep gettin' more "likes,"
But I can't get my blog,
On the Issues Etc. Blog of the Week.

(Blog of the Week.) Wanna hear my blog on the podcast.
(Issues Etc.) Wanna send five copies of the mp3 to my mother. (Yes.)
(Issues Etc.) Wanna hear my Lutheran blog,
On the Issues Etc. Blog of the Week...
(Blog of the Week.) Wanna hear my blog on the podcast.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ron Hanko on "The Revelation of Jesus Christ": An Example of Reformed Preaching

A friend of mine is a member of the Protestant Reformed Churches and posted a link on Facebook to a sermon by Ron Hanko on how to interpret the book of Revelation. I am a former member of the Protestant Reformed Churches and I thought that this sermon provided an excellent example of the basic problem in much Reformed preaching.

Ron Hanko spends the bulk of his time speaking of the interpretive key to the book of Revelation. The book of Revelation is from Christ and about Christ as the very first verse of Revelation makes plain. On this point he is absolutely right. The key to Revelation is not the newspaper or mathematical formulas. So far so good.

Ron Hanko then says that Revelation is written to comfort. He's absolutely right. But there are some problems with what he preaches as comforting. Some of these differences can be traced all the way back to differences between Calvin and Luther. Calvin and Luther both confessed a sovereign God who controls all things. Luther referred to this aspect of God as the "hidden God." Calvin would often direct people to the "hidden God" while Luther was always pointing people away from the "hidden God" and to the "revealed God." Muslims believe that God controls all things but they can't really gain any comfort from that. The Christian cannot either. The idea that God controls all things is not comforting in and of itself. God could control all things in such a way to make my temporal and eternal life miserable.

Revelation is certainly intended to comfort  us by telling us that Christ is controlling all events but it is centered upon the Lamb slain on the altar and begins by telling us that Jesus Christ loves us and  has objectively washed our sins away in baptism through His blood. John directs us first and foremost to the revealed God--the revealed God who hung dead and naked on a cross for us. Despite all the horrible things that happen to us we can be confident that God loves us because He bore our sins and suffered for us. Only then is the fact that God controls all things comforting. His ways are not our ways and His thought are not our thoughts. But we can trust that He does love us because He is revealed as the crucified-God. We can be confident that we will be resurrected because He was raised from the dead and we have been united to Him in baptism. The book of Revelation goes on to give us images that show that the church follows in the footsteps of Christ. Christ conquered death by dying. The church conquers the world by dying and becoming partakers of the sufferings of Christ. This does not seem reasonable but we can be confident that this Word is true because the resurrected Word tells us they are. Because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead we can be confident that despite the fact that the church appears defeated and insignificant, absolutely nothing can separate us from God's love.

But despite the inherent problems with focusing our attention upon the hidden God rather than the revealed God, even worse is Ron Hanko's explanation of who receives this comfort. Based on Ron Hanko's explanation absolutely NOBODY receives this comfort. Ron Hanko actually spends quite a bit of time talking about how the comforting words do not apply to everyone (which is true) but only to those who hear, read, and keep the things that are written in the prophecy. Ron Hanko is clearly missing the liturgical references here. The early church and liturgical churches today have lectors or readers and so John is making reference to those who would read this during the liturgical service as being distinct from the hearers. But aside from Ron Hanko's misunderstanding of the liturgical context there is a much greater problem. Ron Hanko defines those who "keep the things" as those who are "faithful to Him (Jesus) in everything." This statement causes the person hearing the sermon to look inward. Have I been faithful to Jesus in everything? Unless you have attained absolute sinlessness--no blessing for you. All you have is a sovereign, all-powerful God with a sword who will destroy you.

The sermon's big problem is a confusion of law and gospel. Herman Hanko has stated explicitly that the Law is the Gospel and I'm guessing that Ron Hanko agrees. This type of preaching produces two basic results--people are either driven to absolute despair or they become self-righteous and thank God that they are not like those sinners over there. There is no stern preaching of the law that would apply to everyone present in Ron Hanko's sermon. There is nothing in the sermon that would lead everyone there to believe that they are worthy of God's temporal and eternal punishment. Instead we find a blessing that is conditional--it is dependent upon being "faithful to Him (Jesus) in everything." This is nothing but law. If we could be faithful to God in everything we would not even need Jesus. No doubt, if I questioned Ron Hanko, he would say that this obedience is worked in us by God but it still sends us looking in the wrong direction and at the end of the day ends up looking a lot like Roman Catholicism or Wesleyanism or Islam.

How should we understand this passage? Throughout the writings of John we find what appear to be contradictory statements. On the one hand, John says that anyone who claims not to have any sin is a liar (1 John 1:8). On the other hand, John says that anyone who has been born of God does not sin at all (1 John 3:6 ff.). This appears to be a no win scenario but fits well within the context of the old man/new man paradigm found in the writings of Paul. Our old man and new man reside with us until our death. The old man does nothing but sin. The new man doesn't sin at all. The new man always keeps "those things which are written." Most of the time our righteousness is even hidden from ourselves. Our own righteousness is a matter of faith. If we look within and see what is really going on in there we will find nothing but sin. The pastor certainly must show us our sin but then go on to show us Jesus as the redemption from our sins. If we keep looking within we will only despair. And there must never be a "but" at the end. Jesus is truly too good to be true and the pastor must resist all urges to put a damper on how good and merciful Jesus is out of fear of antinomianism.

I think that this sermon also reveals another problem in much Reformed preaching and evangelical preaching. The pastor views himself primarily as a teacher and believes that his job is to deliver a lecture--perhaps guide his congregation in learning to interpret the Scriptures or teach them some new thing. This results in the more well-read members getting bored during the sermon as well as the less well-read for different reasons. Although teaching is certainly something the pastor should do, it is not his primary role. He is a minister and his job is to administer. In John 20, Jesus visits the disciples after the resurrection and says, "Peace be with you." He forgives their sins. Then he tells them that they have been given the power to forgive sins. The pastor's job is to administer the forgiveness of sins in the preaching of the Word and in the administration of baptism and in the administration of the Lord's body and blood. Every week, his job is to tell everyone what rotten sinners they are, tell them that they are forgiven, and then give them Christ's body and blood.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Feast of the Transfiguration: A Devotional Commentary

Exodus 34:29-35 It happened, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mountain, that Moses didn’t know that the skin of his face shone by reason of his speaking with him. When Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come near him. Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him; and Moses spoke to them. Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them all of the commandments that Yahweh had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses was done speaking with them, he put a veil on his face. But when Moses went in before Yahweh to speak with him, he took the veil off, until he came out; and he came out, and spoke to the children of Israel that which he was commanded. The children of Israel saw Moses’ face, that the skin of Moses’ face shone: and Moses put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.


2 Peter 1:16-21 For we did not follow cunningly devised fables, when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” We heard this voice come out of heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain. We have the more sure word of prophecy; and you do well that you heed it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns, and the morning star arises in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke, being moved by the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 17:1-9 After six days, Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them up into a high mountain by themselves. He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his garments became as white as the light. Behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them talking with him. Peter answered, and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you want, let’s make three tents here: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them. Behold, a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” When the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces, and were very afraid. Jesus came and touched them and said, “Get up, and don’t be afraid.” Lifting up their eyes, they saw no one, except Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Don’t tell anyone what you saw, until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.”

In the Nativity we are shown without a doubt that Jesus is truly a human being. During the time of Epiphany we are shown that Jesus truly is God. Just before His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus gave His disciples a glimpse of His glorious divinity. Jesus' face shown and Moses and Elijah talked with Him. Peter wanted to make three tents--one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Peter could see from the transfiguration that Jesus was a great prophet who was just as important as Moses or Elijah. But Jesus is much more than that. Moses and Elijah cannot save you. Moses can bring you the Law and show you your utter sinfulness but he cannot save you. Elijah can call fire down from heaven upon you but he cannot save you. Only Jesus can save you. Only Jesus fulfills what is written in the Law and the Prophets. Peter was ready to have a symposium with lectures given by Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. But the voice of God the Father said, "Listen to Jesus--He is my beloved Son." Then Jesus told them not to tell anyone what had happened until after He was resurrected. But the disciples did not understand. They thought that Jesus was speaking of some sort of spiritual experience or speaking in allegories. They would only understand after Jesus rose from the dead.

Although, we live in a time where the resurrection of Christ has already occurred we act the same way. We want to gloss over the death and resurrection of Christ and move on to bigger and better things. We want to return to Moses so that we can learn how to live more righteously than our neighbor or use Moses as a set of financial principles to increase our wealth. We want practical advice for our day to day life. We read the Scriptures as if only parts of them are about Jesus. But all the Scriptures are about Jesus. And the Bible is not a moral improvement program or a instruction manual for life. Our old man does not need to be improved. We must kill the old man who constantly distracts us from Christ.

Listen to Him. Jesus Christ says "I died for you." Jesus says, "I am risen for you." In the Holy Supper, Jesus says, "This is my body which is broken for you. This is my blood which is shed for you." In the preaching of the Gospel Jesus says, "Peace be with you." Listen to Jesus.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict That Changed American Christianity by James C. Burkee

Fortress Press sent me a review copy of Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod by James Burkee. The book is very well researched with lots and lots of footnotes. It documents the rise and cooperation of the various conservative parties within the LCMS and how they turned on one another when the liberals were pushed out after the Seminex controversy. The book is full of quotations--the author usually just lets the people speak for themselves. Both the conservatives and liberals are shown to be guilty of duplicity and both sides remain unrepentant for their actions. Both sides used political means to achieve their goals. After the conservatives ousted the liberals through political means they engaged in duplicity with one another and used politics against each other.

The book focuses primarily upon J.A.O. Preus and Hermann Otten. Burkee regards Otten as the single most influential individual in the crisis. Preus would use Otten to do his dirty work. Preus would publicly condemn Otten and privately apologize later. Otten would publish anonymous letters in Christian News but condemn liberal groups for doing the same in their own publications. Otten would condemn liberals who fellowshiped with non-LCMS Lutherans but he would fellowship with non-Lutheran conservative Christians. Otten's means for gathering information was questionable at best.

Burkee successfully compares Preus to Richard Nixon and ties the rise of theological conservatism in the LCMS to the rise of political conservatism in the nation as a whole. Burkee shows that both conservatives and liberals confused political and theological issues. Unfortunately seems to as well. Burkee lumps abortion in with political issues but abortion is not just a political issue--it is deeply theological. Burkee also accuses the conservatives of being racist. I really wish this topic was explored more. It does seem that Otten may have been racist but Burkee doesn't explain what he means very clearly.

Some have made the claim that the laity were responsible for the rise of conservatism in the LCMS but Burkee convincingly argues that this was really a debate among the clergy and that the laity simply weren't that involved.

I wish that the theological issues had been given a little more space. Burkee does provide a very brief explanation of what the conservatives and liberals were debating. The liberals were denying a literal Adam and Eve, teaching some form of theistic evolution, and denying the inerrancy of the Scriptures. The liberals thought that unity could exist among those who believed different things about the presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper and advocated open communion. These are all significant issues. I do not see how these differences could have been resolved through conversation or debate. A split in the synod seemed inevitable. The conservatives saw political action as an evil but as a necessary one to oust the professors. I can understand that, but it seems as though it became far more political and far more underhanded than necessary and the whole process snowballed into a lot of unChristian behavior.

John Warwick Montgomery appears to be the only exception in the book. He was honest and forthright. He knew what his position was and was willing to engage in honest debate. He did not distance himself from Otten in public and then apologize behind closed doors. He spoke of Otten's "kookishness" in public and to his face. He was critical of the confusion of theological conservatism with political conservatism and critical of Otten's racism. Perhaps John Warwick Montgomery will author a book on the Seminex controversy. He appears to be the only one in the whole mess with real integrity.

The book does a good job of showing the evil and unrepentance among both liberals and conservatives but doesn't offer much guidance for the future. I'm not really certain what the lesson to be learned is. Don't trust synodicrats? Don't be too happy? Don't send Herman Otten any correspondence that you don't want published?

The book paints a picture of conservatives who believe that the church should only be involved in preaching the Gospel and not be involved in acts of mercy. Perhaps we have learned a lesson from this. Our current synodical president is certainly not opposed to acts of mercy and does not seem to harbor the racism that Burkee associates with the conservatives in the seminex controversy. As far as I can tell he hasn't been going around the country giving contradictory messages to different groups. Kyrie, eleison!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Piepkorn, Inerrancy, and Historic Christianity

I have not read much by Piepkorn but have intended to for some time. Recently I helped out with a project to type out some of his writings for volume three of his works. There was nothing particularly wonderful or horrible about the article that I typed out and still plan to read more by him. I've also been studying the Seminex controversy and have been reading a book by James Burkee. Burkee references an article by Piepkorn on inerrancy. I found the article online and so I thought I would read it.

Piepkorn does make some valid points but also makes some serious blunders. Piepkorn is correct that the doctrine of "inerrancy" is a relatively new doctrine and accurately traces the historic use of the word as a scientific (non-theological) term for fixed stars. But then he goes on to talk about passages of Scripture which use figures of speech in regards to things such as a man's heart to prove that the Bible is not a scientific textbook. I would certainly agree that the Bible is not a scientific textbook but the use of different types of speech does not equal error and it does not follow that we need to read the Scriptures through the lens of scientific theory (which seems to be a related but different topic). Then Piepkorn goes on to list a number of discrepancies in the Biblical text. To be honest, the list reminded me of the types of arguments that I've heard Muslims use to discredit the Scriptures. Some of the passages seem very easy to harmonize with just a little common sense. It seems like it would have made more sense if Piepkorn chose a few of what he considered to be the hardest passages to harmonize rather than just providing a random list.

Piepkorn does make one point that is worth listening to. Piepkorn points out that the doctrine of inerrancy really only has reference to the original autographs which nobody has and therefore the doctrine of inerrancy is meaningless. Since the time B.B. Warfield popularized the doctrine of inerrancy in reaction to liberalism, discrepancies in the Scriptures have been explained as copyist errors that are not found in the original autographs (which conveniently nobody has). All authority is shifted to something nobody has even if by the blessing of inconsistency we manage to place authority in the Scriptures we actually have. For further reading on this I highly recommend The Ecclesiastical Text by Dr. Theodore Letis. Letis was an absolute jerk of a human being and had some liberal tendencies of his own which are also evident in this book but he does an excellent job on this topic.

I am certainly in favor of evangelical catholicity but the liberal doubt of Piepkorn is neither evangelical nor catholic. But neither is the doctrine of inerrancy. Inerrancy is not the historic position of the church but a modern reaction to liberalism. When all authority is placed in something nobody has, you end up in approximately the same place as liberalism if you take things to their logical conclusions. You both end up at the Jesus seminar with some colored balls voting on who the historical Jesus really is.

What is the evangelical catholic answer? (I am going to depart a bit from Letis here. Letis would have us all using the KJV and regarding "Textus Receptus" and Masoretic texts as the infallible standard.) The evangelical catholic answer is to stop speaking of inerrant original autographs and instead speak of infallible apographa (manuscripts we actually have). The texts that have lived and breathed in the church, that have been preserved in the church--these ought to be considered authoritative. When Jesus and the Apostles quoted the Scriptures they were not concerned about the original autographs. They regarded the manuscripts that they had, the manuscripts that were actually being used in the synagogues, as being the Word of God. They quoted freely from the Septuagint. As Piepkorn points out, when Paul told Timothy that all Scripture is God-breathed he most likely had the Septuagint in mind. The 1904 Antoniades edition of the Greek New Testament is probably the best representation of the text that has lived and breathed in the church. The Jerusalem Crown edition of the Hebrew Old Testament is probably the best representation of the Hebrew Old Testament text. However, I think a case can be made that we should follow in the footsteps of Jesus and the Apostles and the vast majority of the early church and place authority in the Septuagint used by the Eastern Orthodox.

Epiphany 5: A Devotional Commentary

Genesis 18:20-33 Yahweh said, “Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous, I will go down now, and see whether their deeds are as bad as the reports which have come to me. If not, I will know.” The men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, but Abraham stood yet before Yahweh. Abraham drew near, and said, “Will you consume the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous within the city? Will you consume and not spare the place for the fifty righteous who are in it? Be it far from you to do things like that, to kill the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be like the wicked. May that be far from you. Shouldn’t the Judge of all the earth do right?” Yahweh said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “See now, I have taken it on myself to speak to the Lord, who am but dust and ashes. What if there will lack five of the fifty righteous? Will you destroy all the city for lack of five?” He said, “I will not destroy it, if I find forty-five there.” He spoke to him yet again, and said, “What if there are forty found there?” He said, “I will not do it for the forty’s sake.” He said, “Oh don’t let the Lord be angry, and I will speak. What if there are thirty found there?” He said, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “See now, I have taken it on myself to speak to the Lord. What if there are twenty found there?” He said, “I will not destroy it for the twenty’s sake.” He said, “Oh don’t let the Lord be angry, and I will speak just once more. What if ten are found there?” He said, “I will not destroy it for the ten’s sake.” Yahweh went his way, as soon as he had finished communing with Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.


Colossians 3:12-17 Put on therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, humility, and perseverance; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, if any man has a complaint against any; even as Christ forgave you, so you also do. Above all these things, walk in love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your heart to the Lord. Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father, through him.


Matthew 13:24-30 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “This man does not cast out demons, except by Beelzebul, the prince of the demons.” Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if I by the Spirit of God cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter into the house of the strong man, and plunder his goods, unless he first bind the strong man? Then he will plunder his house. He who is not with me is against me, and he who doesn’t gather with me, scatters.

We create many idols and none are more abominable than those idols that are created in the name of Christianity. We see disaster come upon a city or perhaps a person and think that those terrible things would never happen to people who are "real" Christians. We conjure up all kinds of false ideas about God and support teachers who teach us false things about God if they quote the Bible and call themselves Christians and tell us the things we like to hear.

The idea of "institution" is neither morally good or bad and will always develop any time more than a single person is involved but it too becomes an idol. Even those denominations that loudly proclaim how important it is to be faithful to the Scriptures have all at times cast the Scriptures away in order to preserve their institution. People arise within them to call them to repentance but the leaders respond my lashing out at the prophet among them just as the Pharisees did. They may look back with sadness on the way their institution treated those in the past who were concerned for truth but then they turn around and do the same thing. This is exactly what happened with Jesus. The Pharisees had given up trying to argue the Scriptures with Jesus. No doubt they told one another that Jesus simply wasn't teachable or that Jesus was just too argumentative. If Joseph's father had died by this time they no doubt would have said that Jesus was just lashing out because He was sad about His father dying.

Our old nature is always denying Christ. Our old nature listens to the lying words of the Devil and tell us that the words of Christ are the words of the Devil and the words of the Devil are the words of Christ. Our old nature hears the promises given in the Scriptures associated with baptism and calls the plain interpretation of these words demonic. Our old nature tells us that belief that Christ really gives us His body and blood in the Lord's Supper is demonic. Our old nature seeks salvation in our works.

But Christ has bound the strong man. Christ has conquered the devil. Christ has freed us from slavery to the devil. Christ feeds us with His Word and with His very body and blood to protect us from the poisons of the Devil. Although by nature we are sinful as Soddom and Gomorrah, God has spared us because of a single righteous man--Jesus Christ.

Friday, February 4, 2011

For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann

I received For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann. The book explains what the Orthodox teach about the sacraments (sort of) and how the liturgical experience of the Orthodox Christian should govern his understanding of the world around him.

I was disappointed in the sections dealing with the Eucharist. Schmemann did a good job showing the problems with all attempts to explain exactly what happens in the Eucharist. He did an excellent job explaining what is wrong with the theory of transubstantiation. But he never gets around to talking about the basic Scriptural teachings regarding the Eucharist--that is for the forgiveness of sins. I expected the author to speak of the Eucharist as the medicine of immortality but I didn't find that either.

On the other hand, what Schmemann does speak of is worth reading. He does an excellent job of showing how the Eucharist is not a distraction or hindrance to the mission of the church but in fact is the mission of the church. He also convincingly argues that the Eucharist should never be considered separate from the liturgy. Probably the best parts of the book deal with secularism. He shows the folly of ecumenical movements that join together to battle secularism. (With things like the Glenn Beck rallys this is especially relevant in our day.) He shows that when these groups cast aside their differences to fight secularism they end up with a set of values that don't look much different from that of secularism. We should not alter are worship to be more secular and attract the secularists. When people realize that there is something wrong with secularism, it doesn't do any good to say, "Hey, I've got more secularism over here for you." We need a rediscovery of the power of historic liturgical worship so we have something to offer that is significantly better than what secularism has to offer.