Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Divide away

I have seen God use good theology to liberate lives. But I have also seen people misuse theology, resulting in abuse, hard hearts and pain. One thing that I have become concerned about in theological studies is the temptation to make overly strong divisions: between academics and the church, between theology and life, between truth and love.—A Little Book for New Theologians, page 9

<idle musing>
New book started today. I had read about this book multiple times and it sounded intriguing. So I finally broke down and got it (via interlibrary loan, of course!). Let's see what we can learn as we go through it.
</idle musing>

Monday, June 29, 2015

The cross beckons us

The Sermon on the Mount is not law that can save us; it is, rather, the texture of the life of those who have died with Christ and are now made alive with him through resurrection (e.g., blessed are those who mourn, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who turn the other cheek, etc.). The disciple is called to the cross, to come and follow Jesus into death. And this is not because Jesus’s call seeks masochism, but rather because Jesus’s call is the gift of giving us new life through the Stellvertretung (the place-sharing) of Jesus’s very person. The disciple is called to the cross because it is from the cross that Jesus calls us, calling us to carry our cross, calling us to love the person of our neighbor in and through suffering of the cross that they bear.—Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker, page 189

Saturday, June 27, 2015

What would the early church do?

Yesterday SCOTUS decided that same-sex marriages were legal. So, I ask, "What would the early church have done if the emperor had allowed same-sex marriages?"

You think this is unique to the United States and a few other countries? That we have (depending on your perspective) advanced/declined beyond any other civilization?

Hardly! The ancient world knew a good bit about sexuality—the sexual revolution of the 1960s has nothing on them. Why did Achilles in the Iliad get so mad about the death of Patrocles? It certainly wasn't because they were merely comrades! They were lovers. Or, have you heard of the Theban Band of 300? They were gay lovers who formed the core of the Theban army that dominated Greece for a while. Or what about Alexander the Great? He had his male lover. Or Julius Caesar? His troops had him as the butt of a joke about infamia—the passive role in homosexual sex. Or Marcus Arurelius? Or...well the list is long.

OK. Those are relationships. But what about marriage? Well, that wasn't all that uncommon either. Check out the wiki article, which seems pretty accurate.

OK. But what would the apostles say? Surely Paul—or Peter especially—would call down judgment on the emperor if he declared same-sex marriages legal! Guess what? Nero, you know the emperor who beheaded Paul and crucified Peter, was married to another man, not once, but twice! Once as the groom, and again as the bride. And probably at the same time. So, bigamy besides. You can read about it in Suetonius here, chapter XXIX.

And what do we hear from the apostles? No especial condemnation, just the generic condemnation of sexual sins of all types. There isn't any wringing of hands, worries that the world as we know it is ending. Just a proclamation of the Good News that God in Christ has come to redeem us and set us free from sin. All sin. Sexual sins. Greed. Lying. Cheating. Murder. Envy. Gluttony. All of them.

As for whether or not homosexuality is a sin, the Bible is very clear about it. It is. Period. But it isn't listed as any worse than lying, cheating, stealing, divorce, etc. All are sins. And Christ came to set us free from them.

So our response should be the same. The world needs the freedom from self that only Christ can bring. As Christians, we have the responsibility to live in that freedom ourselves and proclaim it by our lives and words to those around us. And, above all, to love others with a selfless love.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Costly Grace

Grace is costly, then, not because it is an idea; it is no principle, program, or doctrine. Grace is costly because it is a person; it is the very Christ who calls us. Jesus’s person is the living reality of grace itself. And because it is a person who calls us to come and follow, it is not base in our own works, it is not based in the power of the human will to create for itself. Grace is based solely on the encounter with the person who lives and calls us to himself through love and life.

Christian faith is no “idea”; it is, at its core, first and finally, a person. Christian faith exists not through its ideas, institutional programs, principles, and doctrines, but only because the person of Jesus Christ lives and continues to call us, even today, Bonhoeffer would say, beckoning our young people to come and Nachfolgen, to come and follow. Christian faith is not believing in the ideas of Christianity, but following the person of the living Christ.—Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker, page 182

Thursday, June 25, 2015

More than head knowledge

Bonhoeffer was aware that the situation in which these young pastors would find themselves in the future would be one of great challenge, a test that could be met not by sheer intellectual book knowledge but only through a deep theological commitment that formed in them a rich spirituality. Bonhoeffer pushed them academically, bringing to bear the full weight of his academic credentials. But he did not do so outside of prayer, meditation, and confession. The student needed to encounter the living Christ as much as learn about him. Bonhoeffer would not settle for theology in his school but demanded a move into the theological, into concrete spiritual experiences of the living Christ.—Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker, pages 140-141

<idle musing>
And that is one of the reasons I like Bonhoeffer so much. His theology is rooted and grounded in the practical.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Invite them to dinner

Youth workers are like plumbers called in to fix a leak, to fill the gap, but rarely do we invite the plumber fixing the gap in our bathroom waterline to dinner, into the heart of our communion. We appreciate the technical work of solving the problem of the gap but are not sure outside this technical know-how what purpose they have in our family. So we appreciate the technical ends the plumber wins for us but keep him from the center of our family life.—Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker, page 126

<idle musing>
And I would argue that the same could be said of biblical scholars...
</idle musing>

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

But where is he?

He [Bonhoeffer] asserted in his dissertation and embodied in his ministry that it is not in the institution of the church that Jesus Christ is found, but in the communion of persons that we encounter the living Christ among us. Jesus is not found in the bricks and mortar of the church, or even in its ideologies and positions. Jesus Christ is found in the meeting and sharing in persons; we encounter the living Christ concretely in the life-community of the church.—Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker, page 123

Monday, June 22, 2015

Fear not!

Anxiety, as neuropsychologists today tell us, is toxic; our brains are wired to avoid anxiety. Anxiety corrupts the chemistry of the brain and leads us to depart (emotionally or physically) from the others to protect ourselves. Jesus’s words to his disciples “to fear not” (Luke 8:50 NRSV) become of utmost significance. Anxiety is so acidic that it is nearly impossible to have relationship, to be a place-sharer, where the air is poisoned with it.—Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker, page 100

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Institution or community?

In our own day children’s and youth ministers seem to be working so hard to include children in the church, debating issues like children in worship, because for decades or more children have been either directly or functionally moved to the periphery. Yet Bonhoeffer would remind us that such a move only shows that the church has sought to operate more as a society than as a life-community. We have organized ourselves around religious functions and productivity, seeking to build institutions. Against this backdrop, children have little to no value.—Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker, page 51

<idle musing>
Yep. Appropriate follow on from the last excerpt of the previous book I was posting from. Market-driven Christianity right into institution building Christianity. Both wrong. Both extremely common. Neither focusing on building a community of believers. One wants a brand, the other wants a building. Christ wants a community. But that's much harder! It requires that we listen and respond. Too hard. Forget it. Let's go back to our watered-down version that only requires an intellectual nod. "These aren't the droids we want. Carry on."

And a watching world, that had hoped there really was good news in the gospel, sighs and looks for the next option.
</idle musing>

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Tired of the market-oriented approach to Christianity?

Today we see broad evidence of Christians seeking these historic Christian experiences in worship. Tired of market-oriented approaches that seem to focus on self-improvement of finances, relationships and self-image, many cry out to be held near by the transcendent God, to experience a piece of what they can never fully experience here, and to be transformed into what God created them to become.—Why Church History Matters, page 177

<idle musing>
A fit ending to the book, I think. Of course, a knowledge of church history isn't necessary for transformation to happen. But I would argue, as did Rea in the book, that your Christian walk will be deeper the more you are aware of the saints who went before. And, I would further argue, you shouldn't stop at the Reformation; there are many saints in the 2000 year history of the church who would serve well as role models. (Of course, the obverse is true as well!)

Next book up: Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker. Should be an interesting read...
</idle musing>

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What exactly does sola scriptura mean, anyway?

Recent scholars have pointed out that for most historic and contemporary Protestants, sola scriptura does not mean that the Scriptures are the only source of theological truth. They do not see Scripture as sole resource, sole source, sole authority or material sufficiency. Rather, sola scriptura means that nothing other than Scripture properly understood is the final authority or norm for Christian belief. The fact that the Reformers not only appealed to ancient creeds but also wrote creeds to which their constituents must adhere demonstrates that for them there are other sources of authority, but only insofar as they reflect accurately the teaching of Scripture.—Why Church History Matters, page 143

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


I have not been a fan of Microsoft Word since version 1, way back in 1983. I always preferred either WordPerfect or WordStar (or more specialized word processors, such as WatchWord). But the version of Word I'm using now is driving me crazy (Word for Mac 2011)! It reformats at the drop of a hat, silently! Especially Hebrew or Syriac (or any other R-L language). The words will suddenly be backwards, or the letters will. Frustrating! This was especially a problem with the HBCE Proverbs. In fact, for that, I worked off of PDF generated hard-copy to prevent it.

But in the book I'm editing now, a book on the wisdom tradition, Word has started doing something even more devious. It will reformat a sentence by moving words to the next line, but then not rewrite the preceding line. The result is that it looks like there is a double occurrence of the word, but there isn't! Arghh!

So, if you happen to read a book on the wisdom tradition and find a missing word in a sentence, it isn't the editor! It's MS Word!

And I still hate it, 30+ years later! But I have to use it, because it has functions that the open source alternatives don't do properly...Arghh indeed!

Zwingli was right, for a change!

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) emphasized that the Spirit of God empowers Christians to understand the Bible, and he taught that an uneducated peasant who had the Spirit could understand the Scripture. Although at times he cites the fathers, he challenges students of Scripture to judge the decisions of popes, fathers and contemporaries by the Scriptures.—Why Church History Matters, page 142

<idle musing>
A double-edged sword, no doubt...it definitely led to the production of masses of denominations. Too bad, that. But, I firmly believe it is true.

The problem is, that rather than discuss the differences of opinion in a humble and prayerful way, the ruling party would simply anathematize the one disagreeing—and the disagreeing party would simply start another denomination (unless, of course, they were killed before they could!).
</idle musing>

Monday, June 15, 2015

This is wrong

Even conversion among Bible-focused Christians is understood to be individual: one individual has a “personal experience,” connecting the person directly with God. Subsequent fellowship in the church is treated as an optional by-product of this personal conversion—helpful, but not necessary. The real goal is to sustain, repeat, maximize or supplement this individual experience. Again, there is loss of community.—Why Church History Matters, pages 98-99

Friday, June 12, 2015

Sola? or prima?

The Reformers insisted on sola scriptura, though we have already seen that they often cited the church fathers as they discussed Scripture. As a result, many Bible-focused Christians today still see the tradition as the primary problem. Their foundational paradigm pursues church history to show how the church failed and to rediscover what the church should be. They see the past as a source of deception, a failure that lost or hid the truth. So rather than considering the tradition as a rich resource for contemporary Christians, they are suspicious of the tradition.—Why Church History Matters, page 93

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

One church?

The notion of one church in one world, still held by East and West even after their separation in 1054, gave way to a variety of denominational commitments, depending for authority upon leading theologians and the support of their political princes. Protestants still appealed to the tradition, but many viewed the tradition with a strong sense of suspicion.—Why Church History Matters, page 51

<idle musing>
And that's where we are today: Tradition is still important, but it is redefined as choosing your favorite theologian/denomination, calling it biblical, and then calling the rest tradition and throwing it away. In other words, tradition is anything that doesn't fit my preconceived ideas of what the Bible says! OK, I'm being a bit cynical here, but I don't think I'm too far off, sadly.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Umm, your heroes used it! Tradition, that is

The mainline Reformers, therefore, did not reject the tradition, but rather the abuse of tradition that exalted the papacy and the magisterium above the Scripture or threatened the doctrine of justification by faith as they understood it. In fact, they often appealed to the tradition to justify their own reading of Scripture.—Why Church History Matters, page 49

Monday, June 08, 2015

Listen to Aquinas

Nevertheless sacred doctrine makes use of these authorities [Church Fathers and tradition] as extrinsic and probably arguments, but properly uses the authority of canonical Scriptures as a necessary demonstration and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that may properly be used, yet merely as probable. For our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets, who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors—Thomas Aquinas as quoted in Why Church History Matters, page 44

Friday, June 05, 2015

Huh? Say that again slowly

We see here the developing belief that the Scripture extends to items outside of itself, though the canon of Scripture does not. The canon of Scripture is closed, but the teaching of Scripture includes writings outside the canon of Scripture, which therefore share the inspirational power of Scripture.—Why Church History Matters, page 43

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Who can intercede?

From a forthcoming SBL book, Is There a Wisdom Tradition? New Prospects in Israelite Wisdom Studies, chapter 10, "How Wisdom Texts Became Part of the Canon of the Hebrew Bible" by Raik Heckl:
The pious sufferer who keeps his relationship with God in spite of his suffering is alone able to perform the intercession that Eli thinks to be impossible [I Sam 2:25]. The characterization of Job follows the manner of Eli as well as of Samuel. But Job outrivals not only Eli but also Samuel, if we take the later development of the Samuel story (1 Sam 8) into account. The pious sufferer alone is able to intercede effectively for others to God.

Thought for a cloudy Thursday and a link or two

God’s will is that your lives are dedicated to him. This means that you stay away from sexual immorality and learn how to control your own body in a pure and respectable way. Don’t be controlled by your sexual urges like the Gentiles who don’t know God. No one should mistreat or take advantage of their brother or sister in this issue. The Lord punishes people for all these things, as we told you before and sternly warned you. God didn’t call us to be immoral but to be dedicated to him. Therefore, whoever rejects these instructions isn’t rejecting a human authority. They are rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 CEB)

<idle musing>
In a related incident, I ran across this article by that great Aussie, Michael Bird. Here's an interesting snippet, which immediately follows his quoting of the above verses:

I know that infidelity happens and some celebrity couples have “open marriages” because of a male movie star’s over-active libido, but most of us have cringed at that because we see the value and virtue of faithful life-long partnerships. But when the virtues of exclusivity and fidelity are portrayed as a toxic relic of the Victorian era that people should not have to hear about because it’s very statement is offensive, then the game has changed. Far from ushering in some kind of sexual revolution with newly found freedoms, I think we’re going to see society degenerate further towards the perversity of ancient paganism, where sex becomes about the use of others, the gratification of the self, the pornification of women, and the worship of desire. It will lead to a generation of men and women who find sex and relationships hurtful, confusing, manipulative, and wonder what true love really is. The darker the darkness of the surrounding sexual culture, the more Christian marriages – I mean true and authentic Christian marriages – will stand out. That is because Christians will claim that sex is a gift to be enjoyed in a committed relationship and love is about giving rather than gratifying. It gives Christians the opportunity to show that love can have both eros and agape. Then suddenly the mono-normativity of Christianity might not seem like such a bad option.

And then this showed up in my RSS feed about putting your pro-life money where you wife is. Read the whole thing, please. He pushes hard on how much we really trust God. Here's a snippet, but please read it all. Really! Do read it!

Now, I’m not a doctor nor the son of a doctor. I’m not qualified to give medical advice and neither do I want to. But what I do want to say is that there is another Factor that the world chooses to ignore, but that we as believers must figure into the equation.

You see, God has no place in secular science or in philosophy. From a strictly medical perspective, the doctors were right. We should have aborted. Maybe it is true that babies that are in the situation that my daughter was in have no hope for a normal healthy life. But again, we believers play by a different set of rules. We live in a different kingdom. We believe that there is a God who is all powerful, who can and does, work in our lives. Now, maybe we can forgive non-Christians for failing to take into account the fact that God can (notice that I didn’t say “will”) do the impossible. But if truth be told, the God-factor has no place in the everyday life of many believers in Jesus either. Sadly, God is abstract for them. He’s merely someone that you talk about, sing to on Sunday mornings for 45 minutes, but don’t really trust in. He’s theoretical. He’s simply the distant foundation for our political views.

But let me encourage all of you readers out there: God’s not theoretical. He does see the situations we face, he is involved in our lives, and sometimes (not every time) he even does the impossible. (emphasis original)

Yes. How much does the "God-factor" change the way you and I live day-to-day? Not enough, I fear.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

The early church's use of tradition

With few exceptions, Christians in the early period saw Scripture and apostolic tradition as one great rule of truth. By the end of the early period it had become evident that there could be contradictory and competing traditions, sometimes with each position supported by widespread acceptance and long–standing practice. This caused a number of problems. Yet most Christians, supported by evidence or despite evidence, continued to believe that these disputes would be settled, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church, by careful appeal to the single source, which was Scripture and tradition. Scripture was sufficient, they believed, but only when interpreted properly.—Why Church History Matters, pages 41-42

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

What about tradition? What do we do with it?

[A]lthough Protestants often have declared their distaste for tradition, they have nonetheless developed traditions that are necessary to their ability to implement Christian faith and practice. Tradition helps them preach the gospel.—Why Church History Matters, page 31


At the same time, we must recognize the dangers of tradition. Past Christians have had good reason to suspect the tradition, as we will see. Blind following of tradition has led to many travesties among Christians, as all Christian groups would admit. Jesus decried traditions that impede obedience to the very commands of God.—Why Church History Matters, page 32

<idle musing>
Indeed! I recall reading Clark Pinnock many years ago where he asked how one could use tradition without becoming Roman Catholic, and yet how one could ignore tradition without becoming a flaming liberal. A difficult balancing act, isn't it?
</idle musing>

Monday, June 01, 2015

About that garden thing

Last week was a busy one for gardening. I finally finished the third bed that I've been meaning to make for two years now. And I put up the hoop house. I don't have a place on the property that gets sun in December–January; the sun is too low on the horizon, even an eight foot fence projects a twenty foot shadow for about eight weeks. Kinda hard to get anything to survive, let alone grow, when you don't get any sun! So, this is a bit of a compromise. Debbie didn't like it in the backyard—and I don't blame her; it's 12' x 16' and 7' tall. That pretty much takes up our backyard and blocks any view of the rabbits. So, I put it on the north side of Cedar (the log cabin). It gets excellent sun from about April to the end of September. So, that's where I'll put the warm weather crops like tomatoes, squash, and peppers.

I put up the PVC frame, screwing it to the beds as added stability. We get some pretty strong winds coming down off the ridge; I found that out when I put the one in the backyard 2 years ago. The wind demolished it because I thought the fence would protect it. It didn't! Next I put the plastic over the top and on the west end. The last step was building the doors on the east end. I have three beds inside the house, so I need two doors. They are only 24" doors, so a bit narrow, but I can get tomato cages in and that's what counts.

After building it, I let it sit empty for a few days. Then, on Saturday, I planted 24 tomato plants—3 Roma, 3 Oregon Spring, 3 Cosmonaut Volkov, 6 Glacier, and 9 Beefsteak. The middle three are cold weather tomatoes, in fact Volkov supposedly will set fruit as cold as 39ºF.

I also planted 18 peppers of the bell variety—4 California Wonder, 6 New Ace, and 8 King of the North. The latter two are new to me, but are supposed to do well in northern climates. We'll see! I also planted 4 chile peppers, removed a bit from the others, I don't want all my peppers to be hot : )

Oh, and I planted 5 hills of Delicata in the north bed. I still need to plant cukes and summer squash, but they won't be in the hoop house. I'll cover them with row cover until they flower; that should keep them warm enough to do well.

I also planted 3 cherry tomatoes. Two in a wooden planter on the deck and one in a self-watering container made out of 2 five-gallon buckets (food grade, of course!). Finally, I planted Fortext, Provider, and Scarlet Runner green beans. Oh, and Oregon Giant Snow Peas. Not too shabby a week, no?

All that was done by Saturday afternoon. Just in time for it to freeze Saturday and Sunday nights! But I was ready! I had row cover over the tomatoes and peppers in the hoop house, so they were protected down to about 25ºF and I covered the cherries with old sheets—that's one advantage of the cabins, we always have plenty of old sheets! It only got down to about 30ºF, so everything was fine both nights...

Now, off to clean a couple of cabins, sort the recycle, and put up the Eisenbrauns monthly sale...

Oh, did I mention that we hiked in Judge C.R. Magney, Temperance, Cascade, and Oberg Mountain last week?

A wide perspective

When we consult resources to help us understand history and theology, we must be careful not to limit our resources to authors who share our cultural perspectives and intellectual commitments. We need the point of view offered by contemporaries of various perspectives and various cultures. But also, we cannot hope to approach “objective enough” unless we also consider the points of view offered by historical figures who lived godly Christian lives and who endeavored to understand the truth with open hearts in times and cultures very different from our own. Only then can we expand our own limited understandings to approach a fuller and fairer analysis of the past in order to understand the present and improve the future.—Why Church History Matters, pages 27-28

<idle musing>
Indeed! If we only read people from our own time and/or tradition, we will become even more convinced that outside of that tradition, God just isn't doing anything—and never has. Sound familiar?
</idle musing>