Monday, November 26, 2007

"Being the Church in the Midst of Empire" Now Available for Purchase!

"Being the Church in the Midst of Empire: Trinitarian Reflections," ed. by Karen L. Bloomquist, is now available for purchase from Lutheran University Press! [Note: This book came out of the Lutheran World Federation seminar, "Confessing and Living Faith in the Triune God: Being the Church in the Midst of Empire," in which I was invited to participate this past June and which I further blogged about here and here.]

A book launching event was held on Friday evening, November 18, at First Lutheran Church in San Diego, where several of the authors were in town to attend the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion. Bishop Murray Finck, bishop of the Pacifica Synod, and several area Lutheran clergy joined us for the book launching event, which began with a dinner that was identical to one served earlier in the day to the homeless by First Lutheran (click here to learn about their ministry to the homeless and underserved). After dinner, each author was asked to share a word about what we had written and then we joined in conversation with the pastors about the realities of "being the church in the midst of empire" with regard to their ministry settings. It was a wonderful evening. Many thanks to Karen Bloomquist and Pastor Wilk Miller for organizing a fine event to launch this book!

Vatican joins historic talks to end 950-year rift with Orthodox church

Thanks to Bob Abrams for notifying me of this important story, which incidentally appeared in the New York Times on the day I was en route to the American Academy of Religion and various pre-meetings in San Diego--surprisingly, no one at the meeting mentioned this!!

Click here for the English text of the Ravenna document.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Jared Wicks on the Vatican Document

Yesterday I received two articles addressing the "CDF intervention" in June. The articles were written by my colleague on the U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue, Jared Wicks, SJ and were published last month. Wicks taught for many years at the Gregorian University in Rome and is currently at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. He began his academic career as a Luther scholar but is perhaps now best known as an ecumenist. He is one of two members of the U.S. Dialogue who also serve on the International Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue. The articles are helpful and clarifying in terms of the Roman Catholic position and the specifically the disputes within Roman Catholicism that the Vatican document intended to address. Both articles are available on-line so I am posting the links here:

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Help me raise money for hunger!

This Sunday, September 23, I am walking in the CROP Hunger Walk with my alma mater, Wittenberg University. This August marks the 60th anniversay of CROP (Communities Responding to Overcome Poverty)--the community hunger appeal of Church World Service--and the beginning of the CROP Hunger Walk season, in which tens of thousands of people in communities across the U.S. walk to to raise money and show solidarity with those who are impoverished. The motto of the CROP Walker is: We walk because they walk!

Each year more than 2.5 million CROP Walkers, volunteers, and sponsors raise over $16 million per year to help stop hunger around the world -- and in their own communities

If you are not already walking for hunger or supporting another walker, would you please consider making a donation in support of my efforts? Your donation supports programs that work to solve the world-wide challenge of hunger. You can help me by making a donation online. Follow this link to my personal donation page where you can make a secure online credit card donation.

Luther and Lutheran Identity

Trinity Lutheran Seminary is now on the semester system! This has meant that some courses have been combined with others. One example of this is "Lutheran Identity in America" which I am teaching this semester. This new 14 week course is a combination of "Lutheran Identity" (known as "Lutheran Confessions" in many seminaries) and parts of "Being Lutheran in America" -- the parts that treated theological issues and debates over the Confessions in the U.S., especially in the 19th century, as well as contemporary challenges to American Lutheran identity. To put all this together in one semester has been challenging!

One of the perennial complaints about such a course is that we do not read enough Luther. We do read some Luther! We read his writings that appear in the Book of Concord: the Small and Large Catechism, and the oft-overlooked Smalcald Articles, which, according to William Russell, provides a "neglected key to the theology of Martin Luther." Those who took Systematic Theology with me last year read "On the Freedom of a Christian," and I think it is the goal of the new Church History II class for students to read all three of Luther's 1520 treatises. But to read more Luther at Trinity, one also needs to take an elective class such as "Readings in Luther" (which many students do).

Of course, in "Lutheran Identity in America," I remind the students that when they are ordained or commissioned, they will promise to teach and preach in accordance with the Lutheran Confessions, and not Luther's corpus. Helmut Lehman (one of the translators of Luther's Works: American Edition), in a piece he wrote several years ago entitled "Luther on the Study of Luther," reminds us of Luther's own estimation of his works and thus suggests a perspective to keep in mind when we study them:
In a variety of formulations and settings Luther speaks of wanting his books to perish lest they, like previous works, detract from studying the Holy Scriptures. Because all sorts of writings by church fathers, councils, and teachers have been collected and stored in libraries, “the divine Word is lost,” and the “Bible lies forgotten in the dust under the bench.” Already in 1528 Luther said he had sought to accomplish nothing else with his writing than to bring Holy Scripture and divine truth to light. He thought he had succeeded in this endeavor to such a degree that divine truth “praise God, shines forth so brightly and powerfully everywhere” that one could now get along without his writings and those of others who shared his views. John the Baptizer is Luther’s model. Through his writings Luther wants to “point toward the Scriptures, as John the Baptist did toward Christ, saying, ‘He must increase, but I must decrease’” [John 3:30]. Thus the purpose of the study of Luther’s writings is to point to the study of the Holy Scriptures and to Christ.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bishop Sklba on the Vatican Document

The Most Rev. Richard J. Sklba, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee of the Roman Catholic Church, was one of several distinguished guests who spoke in honor of Secretary Lowell Almen when he received the Servus Dei Medal at the recent ELCA Assembly. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel interviewed him on August 3, 2007, noting that just one month after the publication of the recent Vatican document asserting that the Catholic Church is the one true church, Sklba "is about to find himself in what some might assume would be an uncomfortable position - addressing more than 1,000 Lutherans. Bishop Sklba, who is the co-chair of the U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue, noted that the tenth round of the dialogue (The Church as Koinonia of Salvation, 2004) proposed that "Catholic judgment on the authenticity of Lutheran ministry need not be all or nothing." The report quoted a 1993 letter from then Cardinal Ratzinger: "I count among the most important results of the ecumenical dialogues the insight that the issue of the Eucharist cannot be narrowed to the problem of validity. Even a theology oriented to the concept of succession . . . need not in any way deny the salvation granting presence of the Lord in the Lutheran Lord's Supper."

George Tavard, 1922-2007

George Tavard, a giant in the ecumenical movement, died expectedly on Monday, August 13, 2007. He was named by Pope John XXIII to attend Vatican Council II as a "peritus conciliaris" and he served on the U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue from the beginning. Many of my colleagues from Trinity will remember George from his tenure at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio here in central Ohio, from where he retired in 1990. I was privileged to serve with him on the latest round of the dialogue ("The Hope of Eternal Life"). His gentle spirit and deep wisdom will be missed by all who knew him.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Racism, Classism, Sexism and Heterosexism

In one of my first posts, I wrote about racism and the need for white theologians to deal with it. This January, I will be leading an interim seminar that is a study of the issues of racism, classism, sexism and heterosexism in urban ministry with a focus on the city of Detroit. The class will meet for two days at Trinity where I will introduce the students theoretically to these problems and then we will spend approximately 10 days in Detroit where they will be instructed by pastors engaged in city ministry in Detroit -- "Acts in Common" -- and myself.

I have been doing some research in order to determine what the students should read for this course. The pastors of Acts in Common will help shape the reading list. I probably will show most (if not all) of the excellent PBS series, "Race: The Power of an Illusion" during the two days in Columbus.

Students who took the course previously read The Autobiography of Malclom X and White Women's Christ, Black Women's Jesus by Womanist theologian Jacquelyn Grant.

I just came across this interview in The Other Journal in which second generation Black theologian Dwight Hopkins offers an excellent (and at times personal) introduction to Black Theology [as an aside, his piece, "The Religion of Globalization" appeared in a previous issue of The Other Journal]. He also discusses his latest book (which has since been published by Fortress): Being Human: Race, Culture and Religion. I will probably use at least one chapter from his book in the reader I put together for this new course.

I also hope to include readings by White theologians who are addressing racism and White privilege, such as James Perkinson (who teaches at Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit) who has written White Theology: Outing Supremacy in Modernity. On-line articles by Perkinson include "Theology and the City: Learning to Cry, Struggling to See" and "Like a Thief in the Night: Black Theology and White Church in the Third Millennium."

I welcome suggestions with regard to resources (books and other media) from those of you who have taught (or taken) courses on racism, classism, sexism, and heterosexism.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Metaphors for Spirit

Debra Bendis blogs on "Metaphors for Spirit" on Theolog--the weblog of the weekly magazine Christian Century.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Vatican Document on the Nature of the Church

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) of the Roman Catholic Church recently issued a document entitled "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church." This document has elicited strong reactions from many Protestant communions, including the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Lutheran World Federation. ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, in his response to the CDF document, reaffirmed the ELCA's commitment to on-going dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church particularly with regard to the difficult questions of ecclesiology and ministry.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council on Christian Unity, in a Vatican Radio address, sought to reassure Protestants that the Roman Catholic Church is still committed to ecumenical dialogue. He stated that the "declaration is not taking back anything of the ecumenical progress already reached, but drawing attention to the ecumenical task that still lies ahead." Ann Riggs of the National Council of Churches, in her official response to the statement, reminds Protestants that this was an "in-house" document, i.e. written for Catholics, not for Protestants. Even so, she argued that "it affords us all an opportunity for more dialogue and more insight. This reaffirms that the ecumenical nature and purpose of the Second Vatican Council is still very much alive within and outside Catholic circles."

John Allen, of the National Catholic Reporter, offers a less sanguine perspective in this piece: "Struggle to Reassert Traditional Catholic Identity Scores Two Wins." The Catholic News Service, in its story on the document, also raised the question of why it was released at this particular moment. "The Vatican said it was because of possible confusion in theological and ecumenical circles. Those who see a grand design in Vatican actions, however, suspected it may have been another olive branch to the breakaway traditionalist followers of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre -- just three days after the Tridentine Mass decree. In this reading, the Vatican has delivered a double demonstration, liturgical and doctrinal, that answers some of the Lefebvrites' strongest objections about the modern church."

As a newly appointed member of the U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue (which is now in Round XI), my first reaction to the release of the CDF document was one of frustration even though it did not state anything new. Mostly, I was frustrated with the way in which the document was presented. Although it was written to Catholics, it was not written in a spirit of ecumenical sensitivity nor in a way that emphasized the real -- though imperfect -- communion that Catholics claim to have with other Christians in spite of our on-going differences in how we each understand "the church."

More Reports on Empire Seminar

The Lutheran World Federation this week issued a press release on our seminar: "Theologians Propose Responses to Counter Empire."

One of participants, Michael Hoy, offers his reflections on the seminar in "Thursday Theology #474: The Confessing Church in the Midst of Empire." Thursday Theology is part of the ministry of the Crossings Community of which Michael is a member.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Being the Church in the Midst of Empire: An Initial Report

I just returned from the LWF Seminar, "Confessing and Living Faith in the Triune God: Being the Church in the Midst of Empire." The impetus for the seminar came in part from the work that the Reformed churches are doing on this issue. Some Lutherans participated in the ecumenical consultation sponsored by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches held in Manila, July 13-15, 2006, that resulted in this document: An Ecumenical Faith Stance Against Global Empire. In the same year, the United Church in Canada issued the statement "Living Faithfully in the Midst of Empire"(also known as "The Empire Report"), that was drawn from background papers by Douglas John Hall ("Christianity and Empire"), Ofelia Ortega ("When the Empire Lies, People Suffer, They are Exploited, and Life Becomes Death"), Nestor O. Miguez ("Jesus and Empire: Then and Now"). [Note: Miguez has also written "The Empire and After: Biblical Hope in the Midst of Oppression."]

One of the topics of conversation, of course, had to do with defining what is meant by "empire." Some members of the seminar cited the book Empire by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri--which stipulates "empire" as a supranational global-network of sovereignty--rather than a single country (e.g. the US). The Global Policy Forum offers many excellent resources on the question of the US as empire; this link examines the concept of empire in political discourse today and provides a general analysis of the unilateralist agenda of the US. A wide range of materials are posted, including articles from pro-imperialists (e.g. The Project for a New American Century) and critics of empire, as well as those that debate whether it is appropriate to attribute the term "empire" to the US. Other perspectives are offered in articles by Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, "American Empire, Not 'If,' But 'What Kind';" and Michael Walzer, "Is there an American Empire?"

However empire is defined, we all agreed that it is important for theologians to wrestle with the disturbing features of this emerging economic and political reality, such as the unlimited quest for power and profit (if not territory) and the avoidance of moral accountability. This is especially important, because as Karen Bloomquist (who convened this seminar) noted, “From the outside, Christians in the US seem mostly silent and complicit with the assumptions and policies of empire, reinforced by expressions of religiosity that are the handmaiden to empire.”

Because of the theme, the seminar met in the U.S. and a number of U.S. scholars were invited to participate; however, those of us from the US were joined by several scholars from the global south which led to a rich conversation on the topic. To give a sense of voices around the table and the variety of perspectives that were heard, I will list the names of the participants and hyperlink an article or book review (if one could be found on-line):

Charles Amjad-Ali (Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN); Evangeline Anderson-Rajkumar (United Theological College, Banglaore, India); Karen Bloomquist (Director of the Department for Theology and Studies, LWF); Hans-Peter Grosshans (Evangelisch-theologische Fakultät Tübingen, Germany--but soon to join the LWF DTS staff); Guillermo (Willy) Hansen (Instituto Superior Evangelico de Estudios Teologicos, Buenos Aires, Argentina); John Hoffmeyer (Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, PA); Michael Hoy (St. Louis, MO); Allen Jorgensen (Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, Waterloo, Ontario); Peter Lodberg (Aarhus Universitet, Denmark); Deenabandhu Manchala (Faith and Order, World Council of Churches); Cynthia Moe-Lobeda (Seattle University); Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer (University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN); Cheryl Peterson (Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, OH); Gary Simpson (Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN); Bill Strehlow (Geneva); Deanna Thompson (Hamline University, St. Paul, MN).

Also participating were several international graduate students: Mary Joy Philip (India) from LSTC, and several from Luther Seminary: Faith Lugazia (Tanzania), Elieshi Mungure (Tanzania), Margaret Obaga (Kenya), and Johannes Swart (South Africa). Unfortunately, two South African scholar/church leaders, Musawenkosi Biyela and Puleng Lenka Bula, who had been invited to participate were not able to attend.

We discussed our papers for the first two days and on the third day we explored how our papers relate to one another and suggested revisions, in preparation for an LWF book that is anticipated for publication later this year.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Holy Spirit in the Church

Each July, the Ecumenical Institute at Strasbourg hosts an Ecumenical Summer Seminar. This year, the topic is "Church-State Relations as an Ecumenical Issue." The topic last year (the 40th anniversary of the seminar) was "The Holy Spirit and the Church." In his paper, "Breathed, Justified, Anointed, Enlightened, Filled: The Churches' Life, Separation, and Hope in the Spirit," theologian Telford Work offers an interesting typology of the Church's distinct relationships with the Spirit. Other papers from last summer's seminar can be found by clicking on the "Summer Seminar" link to the left and scrolling to the bottom of the page.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Bishops in the Church

This was the theme of the 2007 Convention of the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) which I joined a couple of years ago. In spite of the name, membership in this professional organization is open to Protestant as well as Catholic theologians. Although the flavor of the conversation is decidedly Catholic, there is also a clear commitment to ecumenical theology and dialogue (not to mention reform and renewal--which has not always been appreciated by all members of the church hierarchy. Click here for an anti-CTSA editorial written in June 1997 by Cardinal Bernard Law and here for a forum on the Cardinal's criticism.) For an idea of what topics were addressed at the 2007 convention, check out John Allen's "Daily Column" at the National Catholic Reporter.

One of the plenary addresses was given by Michael Root, Professor of Systematic Theology and Dean of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary and fellow member of the U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue. His presentation was entitled: “Bishops, Ministry, and the Unity of the Church in Ecumenical Dialogue: Deadlock, Breakthrough, or Both?” [As an aside, the person who introduced him quoted Bishop Richard Sklba (Auxiliary Bishop of Milwaukee and co-chair of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue) who quipped to her that "Professor Root knows more about indulgences than most Catholics do." For those interested in a primer, check out Root's article, "Indulgences, Again."]

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Being the Church in the Midst of Empire

I am working on a paper for a seminar of the Lutheran World Federation that will meet in St. Paul, Minnesota at the end of June. The theme of the seminar is "Confessing and Living out Faith in the Triune God: Being the Church in the Midst of Empire." This consultation is part of the larger theological initiative of the LWF, "Theology in the Life of the Church: Confessing and Living out Faith in the Triune God."

The purpose of this seminar is "to probe and further develop key theological motifs (especially as interpreted through Lutheran lenses) that are counter to the assumptions, power dynamics, and outcomes operating under empire and can nurture resistance to such, especially in and through local churches." Approximately 15 Lutheran theologians will participate, at least six from outside the U.S. My paper will focus on the subtitle "being the church in the midst of empire." Up this this point, my work on ecclesiology has focused more on mission and witness in terms of evangelistic outreach. These concerns, of course, are not unrelated to "being the church" in the midst of empire; even so, I am glad for the opportunity to think about ecclesiology more explicitly in light of this reality.

There is an increasing amount of material available on the theme of empire, much of it by biblical scholars. A couple of background articles were suggested to us in preparation for the seminar, including "Paul's Gospel and Caesar's Empire" by N.T. Wright and "Up Against Caesar: Jesus and Paul against Empire" by John Dart.

In my research for my paper, I also found this piece by William Cavanaugh: "The Empire of the Empty Shrine: American Imperialism and the Church." This was his keynote address to the 2005 annual gathering of the Ekklesia Project. [For those unfamiliar with Cavanaugh, he is part of the newer theological movement called "Radical Orthodoxy." Several of his articles can be found on-line via this link.]

Monday, May 14, 2007

More of what's new in pneumatology

In a recent article, "Poured out on all Flesh," Pentecostal scholar Amos Yong suggests that "Christian systematic theology itself can benefit from a pneumatological (as opposed to creational or christological) reframing, a ‘starting with the Spirit’, as it were." This move to "start with the Spirit" is not an idea that originated with him; he notes that it has been suggested in the works of Henry van Dusen (Spirit, Son and Father: Christian Faith in the Light of the Holy Spirit, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958), J.V. Taylor (The Go-between God: The Holy Spirit and the Christian Mission, Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1973), Clark Pinnock (Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit, Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1996), and my dissertation advisor, Lyle Dabney (Starting with the Spirit: Task of Theology Today II, ed. Gordon Preece and Stephen Pickard, Adelaide, Australia: Australia Theological Forum, Inc., 2001).

A name that should be added to that list is Stephen Bevans, who in "God Inside Out: Notes Toward a Missionary Theology of the Holy Spirit," writes "I’ve come to see that it is indeed the Spirit that we know first, who precedes Jesus not only in our own lives but in the history of the world and in cultures which have not known him." [Props to Kelly Fryer for pointing me toward this article when I met her at the recent Southeast Michigan Synod Assembly where she was the keynote speaker].

Congratulations, Pastor Phetsamone Vannavong!

Two weeks ago, it was my honor to preach at the ordination and installation of Phetsamone Vannavong, who has been called to serve as pastor (alongside of Pastor Donna Brown--who is pictured to the right of Phetsamone and his wife, Inthaly in the photo) of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I served from 2000-2005.

Phetsamone came to St. Paul's in the fall of 2001 with the desire to reach out with the gospel to the Lao immigrant population in Milwaukee. In 2002, St. Paul's voted to establish a Lao Ministry as part of their neighborhood outreach. Phetsamone was hired as part-time minister to the Lao community in Milwaukee while preparing for ordination in the ELCA through the TEEM (Theological Education for Emerging Ministries) process. It was wonderful to be a part of the beginning of this ministry at St. Paul's which under Phetsamone's leadership is steadily growing. My prayers are with him, Inthaly, Donna, and the Lao- and English-speaking members of St. Paul's as they continue to respond in faith to Jesus' command to "Go and make disciples of all nations!"

Sunday, May 6, 2007

What's new in pneumatology

In the recent issue of Trinity's alumni magazine, Te Deum, I was the featured faculty member to offer some theological book recommendations. Two of my recommendations were in the area of pneumatology--an often neglected topic in Lutheran theology and one of my particular scholarly interests. One is the important work by Michael Welker, God as Spirit. The basic outline of Welker's book can be found in his earlier article in Theology Today, "The Holy Spirit." The other is the excellent resource Advents of the Spirit: An Introduction to the Current Study of Pneumatology, ed. by Bradford Hinze and Lyle Dabney. Dabney was my dissertation director at Marquette University. For an introduction to his concept of a "theology of the third article," check out these on-line articles and papers: "Jürgen Moltmann and John Wesley's Third Article Theology," "The Church as a Community of (Un)Common Grace: Toward a Postmodern Ecclesiology," and "The Possibility of God: The Spirit in God’s Creation and in God."

For a helpful review of what is new in pneumatology, check out "Current Trends in Pneumatology" by LeRon Shults, professor of theology at Adger University in Kristiansand, Norway. This is a draft of a paper he gave at the Nordic Conference in Systematic Theology in January 2007. Shults is a prolific Reformed theologian whom I met at the Future of Lutheran Theology Conference in Aarhus, Denmark back in January 2003. I also recommend checking out his blog where you can read what he is working on (and much, much, more!). For a survey of feminist pneumatologies, check out "Feminist Voices on the Spirit of God" by Helen Bergin.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Suggested reading for Holy Week

As we enter into the mystery of Holy Week, it seems appropriate to be thinking about atonement theories (that, and I've been teaching them in my systematic theology class!). Most seminarians are familiar with Gustaf Aulen's typology of atonement theories (the Latin theory (debt or penal satisfaction), the subjective theory (moral example) and the classic theory (ransom or Christus Victor); however, there are many newer theories vying for consideration. I've been interested to learn more about the non-violent atonement theory of Dennis Weaver and S. Mark Heim's interpretation of the Girardian scapegoat theory [and his critique of the classic theories]. Both authors have also published book-length treatments of their theories. Several other recent contributions are reviewed by David Heim in "Rethinking the Death of Jesus: Cross Purposes." One of the reviewed authors, Hans Boersma, offers a reappraisal of the penal substitutional theory. Anselm's debt satisfaction theory also is defended against its feminist critiques by Flora Keshgegian.

I have always thought Abelard's theory is worth revisiting, if for no other reason than it has been unfairly characterized as being "merely subjective." Richard A. Weingert, who while acknowledging a subjective element to Abelard’s understanding of the atonement, defends him against charges that his understanding is Pelagian in that it is merely subjective or exemplarist. He writes, “Abailard’s stress on reconciliation, the New Testament metaphor which best summarizes his consideration of Christ’s work, refutes both the charge of Pelagianism and any interpretation which makes his teaching Pelagian in character. . . It is God who reconciles men to himself, God who has eternally loved man, and acts in Jesus Christ to overcome the alienation that separates man from himself.” Cf. Weingart, The Logic of Divine Love: A Critical Analysis of the Soteriology of Peter Abailard (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), 203. Thomas Williams makes the same point in his forthcoming entry, "Sin, Redemption and Grace in Abelard" in the new Cambridge Companion to Abelard.

Abelard's critique is that Anselm seems to emphasize God’s justice at the expense of his love and mercy. Abelard wants to see the cross as a revelation of God’s love—a love that changed the very fabric of the universe and thereby changing us. It has always struck me that Ablelard at his best is very Johannine. Let me illustrate what I mean with this sermon I preached last year in Gloria Dei on the Fifth Sunday in Lent (John 12:20-33).

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our gospel lesson today begins with what appears to be an evangelism opportunity. Some Greeks want to meet Jesus so they seek out one of his disciples, Philip, with their request. What follows seems, well, a bit odd, as these seekers fall into the background (we’re not even sure they get to see Jesus!) and Jesus says what feels at first like a bunch of non-sequiturs.

And yet his words evoke all the major themes we’ve heard already in this season of Lent: discipleship and self-giving (“whoever serves me must follow me,” “those who love their life will lose it”), and the necessity of his death (“unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies”), even to the point of describing his death on the cross as “being lifted up” just as he did in the conversation with Nicodemus that we heard in last week’s gospel lesson.

But Jesus’ words are more than a summary: something new is happening here. This is a turning point in John’s gospel. The key is in Jesus’ statement: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Several times in John’s gospel, Jesus states that his house has not yet come, three times in fact: in chapter 2 (when his mother asks him for help at the wedding of Cana), and then later on in chapters 7 and 8, Jesus gets into trouble with the authorities but avoids arrest in each case because “his hour had not yet come.”

But now, Jesus says, his hour is here. His hour, of course, refers to the hour of his death—for he has just entered the city of Jerusalem, where he will be crucified. Although we don’t observe the event of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem until next Sunday (as we too, acclaim him with palms and shouts of “Hosanna!”), in John’s gospel, this happens right before the verses we read for today.

Jesus has entered the city of Jerusalem in order to die and it is at this point that some Greeks—outsiders to the Jewish faith—approach his disciples, wishing to see him. Now as I said a moment ago, at first it does not seem like he answers their question—that is, until you get to the last verse: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” It is as if Jesus is saying, “So they want to see me? Tell them to look at the cross. Tell them to watch me suffer and die for the world. THAT is where I will be glorified. That is how I will draw all people to myself.”

Jesus describes his death as “drawing people” to himself. The Greek word for “draw” does not mean “draw” in the sense of attracting someone by beauty or power. It is much more forceful than that. It means physically compelling someone to go where they may not want to do (like the doctor’s office). It is used of “hauling” in nets full of fish (John 21:6, 11) and of “dragging” Paul and Silas before the authorities (Acts 16:19).

So how does Jesus’ death “draw” us to him? Being “drawn” to Jesus is probably not how most of us interpret the event of the cross. Most of us grew up learning an interpretation of Jesus’ death that goes something like this: when Jesus died on the cross, he took the punishment for our sins, he paid the penalty, so we would not have to. Salvation is defined in the negative—it means you WON’T get something (what you rightly deserve for your sin!)—sort of a “get out of jail free” card (only it’s hell, not jail, that you are spared!). That is still the most prevalent theory of Jesus’ death, as you probably know—theologians call it the penal substitutionary theory—Jesus stands as our “substitute,” taking our just punishment upon himself.

As you may have guessed by now, I have never liked this particular theory of Jesus’ death and so it seems, neither does the Evangelist John. There is no mention in John’s gospel of Jesus’ death being some sort of payment that buys us sinners freedom from the penalty of sin. Jesus is not presented as a victim whose death is understood as the sacrifice necessary to atone for human guilt.

Jesus speaks of his death in a very different way in John’s gospel. His death draws all people to himself. On the cross, Jesus draws to himself NOT our sins, not the punishment we deserve, but US. We are drawn (hauled, if you will!) to the cross, but for what, you ask? So that we—our whole selves—could die with him.

As St. Paul says in Romans chapter 6, “All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death. Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

We are buried with him, not as an end in itself, but so that we might experience a new life. Kind of like the seed of grain Jesus talked about. “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” What is buried? Our old selves—including the sin that separates us from God and each other—but so for the purpose of being “put to death,” NOT punished. Salvation is not about being “off the hook” for wrongs we have done; it is about being given a chance to experience a new self and a new life in spite of our sin!

And yet something IS buried—our old self, our old way of doing things. The seed that does not fall into the earth and die stays pretty much the same. An attitude of many people (not to mention congregations!) is that they want things to get better, but nothing to change (thus fulfilling the old saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting different results”). But lest you think I am proposing that being a Christian is about “self-improvement,” let me share tell you a story.

A London businessman was trying to sell a warehouse property. The building had been vacant for months and was sorely in need of repair. Vandals had damaged the doors, smashed the windows, and strewn trash around the interior. As the businessman showed a prospective buyer the property, he took pains to say that he would replace the broken windows, bring in a crew to correct any structural damage, and clean out the garbage. “Forget about the repairs,” the buyer said, “When I buy this place, I am going to build something completely different. I don’t want the building. I want the site.”

The good news, sisters and brothers, is that because we have been buried with Christ by baptism, we already belong to God. We already have been given a new life. We don’t need to go looking for one. We don’t need to write up a list of things we might do to improve our lives. We have been given the blueprint in Jesus’ own life, death, and resurrection: it’s called forgiveness.

What was put to death on the cross was the old way of keeping track of grudges, the way of retaliation, the way of an eye for an eye. What is offered to us on the cross is a new life that we can experience by being forgiven by God and learning to forgive others as we ourselves have been forgiven. THIS is what we are “drawn into” – and it is much more than “seeing Jesus.” It is receiving new life in him. Amen.

Friday, March 2, 2007

The Suffering God?

In my systematic theology class last week, we had a rousing discussion about theopachism. This topic arose during my presentation of the two natures of Christ and the communicatio idiomatum (communication of attributes.).

The Lutheran Confessions clearly affirm that "the Son of God suffered" because of the communication of attributes; yet at the same time, is reticent to speak of divine suffering. Because of the hypostatic union, "not only the bare human nature (which possesses the characteristics of suffering and dying) suffered for the sins of the entire world, but the Son of God himself suffered (according to the assumed human nature) and, according to our simple Christian creed, truly died--though the divine nature can neither suffer nor die" (The Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article VIII).

Since the mid-twentieth century, however, a whole spate of theologians--Catholic and Protestant--have reconsidered the traditional teaching of the impassibility of God and affirmed theopaschism. In an article entitled, "The Suffering of God: A New Orthodoxy," Ronald Goetz remarked that after the atrocities of World War II, "talk about an impassible, immutable God was for many simply inconceivable. How could God be love and not lay wounded on the battlefields of France? Only a God who suffered with the victims of the war could speak to the disillusionments created by the war."

A counter-perspective was recently offered by Thomas Weinandy in "Does God Suffer?" Weinandy thinks this "new orthodoxy" leads down a dangerous road theologically. He states that while "we may intellectually grapple with the mystery of God in the midst of our suffering," theologians must resist the idea of theopachism and reaffirm God's impassibility. He writes,

In the Church’s most important public task of communicating the gospel, speaking of the God who does not suffer as we suffer may go against the cultural grain, but such is the God of Scripture and normative Christian tradition. As I have tried to show, the truth that God does not suffer is at the heart of the gospel, making it truly good news. This is especially in contrast to the bad news, which has become something like a “new orthodoxy,” that God is in as much trouble as we are.
I admit that my own perspective has been shaped more by perspective of the "new orthodoxy," but I also believe that Weinandy's concern warrants some serious reflection and response. Though written well before Weinandy's piece, Richard Bauckham (a Moltmann disciple) offers these intial thoughts in response to the kind of concerns that Weinandy raises. In "Only the Suffering God Can Help: Divine Passibility in Modern Theology," Bauckham writes:

It seems increasingly obvious that the Greek philosophical inheritance in traditional theology was adopted without the necessary critical effect of the central Christian insight into the divine nature: the love of God revealed in the cross of Christ. For the Greeks, suffering implied deficiency of being, weakness, subjection, instability. But the cross shows us a God who suffers out of the fullness of his being because he is love. He does not suffer against his will, but willingly undertakes to suffer with and for those he loves. His suffering does not deflect him from his purpose, but accomplishes his purpose. His transcendence does not keep him aloof from the world, but as transcendent love appears in the depth of his self-sacrificing involvement in the world. Finally, if Christians know anything about God from the cross, it is that 'the weakness of God is stronger than men' (1 Cor. 1:25). The cross does not make God a helpless victim of evil, but is the secret of his power and his triumph over evil. This is why 'only the suffering God can help.'

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A New Vision for Marriage?

The February 2007 issue of The Journal of Lutheran Ethics focuses on human sexuality. Laurie A. Jungling joins other Lutheran theologians and ethicists who are finding resources in the Lutheran tradition (such as Jacqueline Bussie's "Scarred Epistemologies: What a Theology of the Cross has to Say About the Gay Marriage Ban") to support same-sex marriage. In her article, "A 'New' Vision for Marriage as Vocation in the Lutheran Tradition," Jungling argues:
During this time of discernment for the Lutheran church as it attempts to define and understand the various social and sexual relationships from which Christians follow their vocational call, Lutherans need to consider alternatives to form-based definitions of marriage and sexuality. Instead, a better criterion is the call itself – the call to serve life with and for the neighbor – as the fundamental criterion for defining marriage. Definitions and understandings of marriage that use "appropriate to form" as the primary criterion in defining marriage not only exclude certain relationships from being a legitimate support to society for little reason other than physical form and its humanly constructed meanings, but they also construct a social order that is often hierarchical, exclusionary, and oppressive to those who do not fit certain forms.
For awhile now, I have been convinced that the theological debate over same-sex marriage needs to engage more robustly questions of theological anthropology (in particular, what it means to be created imago dei). A couple of years ago, I came across this article in the Christian Century that is helpful in this regard: "An Argument for Gay Marriage" written by Eugene Rogers from an Orthodox perspective in which he takes on the "complementarity" argument against same-sex couples held by Karl Barth and others.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

Yesterday I attended the installation of the Rev. Elizbaeth A. Eaton as the Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She was elected to this office on December 2, 2006, the first woman to be elected bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod and the first in Region 6 (which includes six synods covering Ohio, the lower peninsula of Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky). Her election brings the total of female bishops in the ELCA to nine (out of sixty-five), two of whom were elected last year. This is a hopeful sign that the "stained glass ceiling" is beginning to crack, but there is much to suggest that women still have a way to go to achieve equity with their male colleagues in ministry.

The installation was poignant for its historical signficance, but in my case, it was also poignant for its personal significance. In the fall of 1980, Liz arrived at my home congregation, All Saints Lutheran Church in Worthington, Ohio, to be our intern (she ended up being called as assistant pastor and stayed another 10 years)! I was a member of her high school youth group that year and she became an important mentor for me, eventually serving as the sponsor at my ordination. Until I met her, I didn't even know that women could be pastors. She has been a model for me and my pastoral ministry in many ways. It was an honor to be at her service and to have been among those asked to participate in the service (I read the second lesson). [Note: The picture of us above is from her 25th Ordination Anniversary Celebration this past June, at Messiah Lutheran in Ashtabula. For pictures from the installation, click here].

I know that the Northeastern Ohio Synod will be led ably by Bishop Eaton, who will bring energy, compassion, wisdom, a love for the whole church, and a clear passion for sharing the good news and speaking out for the poor and marginalized to her new office (not to mention a killer sense of humor). Godspeed to you, Liz, and the people of the Northeastern Ohio Synod, as you begin your new call and ministry!

Faith as a Way of Life--A Vision for Pastoral Leadership

One of the neat things about the blogosphere is that you never know who you will "meet" on it. Christian Scharen, a fellow Lutheran theologian and pastor, posted a response to my first post. He is the director of the Faith as a Way of Life Project, an initiative of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. He is also in the process of revising a book on this topic, entitled "Faith as Way of Life: A Vision for Pastoral Leadership" (Eerdmans Publishing Company, due out in fall 2007).

Here is what he says about the project and book (and those who know me will see why I am excited about it):

The Christian faith is a coherent vision for a way of life in response to Jesus' invitation to “follow me.” The life of faith lived in response to Jesus’ invitation--and the leadership called to guide and foster faithful lives—follows a basic pattern. That pattern is one of gathering and scattering; gathered into the life of God in Christ the life of God in Christ through the power of the Spirit and scattered for the sake of witness and service in daily life. In an era when many churches focus almost exclusively on gathering, the reassertion of this pattern has very real power.

Yet simply pointing to this pattern isn’t enough. It needs to be further said that the new way of life this pattern implies finds its intellectual and moral content in God's action for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is, faith is a shorthand way of saying the creedal orthodoxy of the Christian faith--the beliefs summarized at the climax of Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts of the Apostles 2:38 “God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” The story of Jesus Christ as gospel is the faith we confess and that faith, rather than some conglomeration of vague beliefs, is the shaping force orienting Christian faith.

Yet our way of life is not simply an interconnected set of beliefs, either. We must go one step further to finally get the necessary picture. The Christian faith as belief gives shape to a life lived daily in and for the sake of God’s reconciling work in the world. Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, who wrote the proposal for the FWL Project, argues that “the core task of pastoral leadership today—and a signal mark of its excellence—is the task of shaping persons and communities for living faith as a way of life in the world.” Christian discipleship, and the life of the Christian ministry that serves such discipleship, is, as Volf so plainly states, a way of life not for its own sake, as if sectarian purity were the goal, but for the sake of the world. Christian ministry is deeply concerned with connecting faith to the daily lives of

Pastors will be able to impart this vision of faith only if they themselves are compelled by it and if their parishioners find that the model helps them make sense of life as a whole. One of the most pressing needs of pastoral ministry is therefore to develop, sustain, and legitimize reflection on Christian faith not simply as a set of propositions to believe, commandments to obey, or rituals to perform but as an orienting force that impacts every aspect of daily life."

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Religious Cancer of Racism

Almost two weeks ago, our country observed Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I attended an MLK event at my alma mater, Wittenberg University. Michael Eric Dyson--pastor, professor, author, NPR commentator, and cultural critic--was the keynote speaker. As expected, he was both inspiring and provocative (yes, he went after Bill Cosby). His message to the white people in the audience was to stop investing in the psychological privilege of whiteness.

Dyson's challenge brought to mind an article by James Cone that I first read a few years ago called "The Religious Cancer of Racism". In this piece, Cone calls on white theologians to study racism as seriously as they study the historical Jesus. "From Jonathan Edwards to Walter Rauschenbusch and Reinhold Niebuhr to the present, progressive white theologians, with few exceptions, write and teach as if they do not need to address the radical contradiction that racism creates for Christian theology," states Cone.

He continues, "Race criticism is just as crucial for the integrity of Christian theology as any critique in the modern world. Christianity was blatantly used to justify slavery, colonialism, and segregation for nearly five hundred years. Yet this great contradiction is consistently neglected by the same white male theologians who would never ignore the problem that critical reason poses for faith in a secular world. They still do theology as if white supremacy created no serious problem for Christian belief. Their silence on race is so conspicuous that I sometimes wonder why they are not greatly embarrassed by it. "

I have made it a goal to address racism in all of my theology courses. I also am committed to doing what I can to work for long term anti-racist tranformation in the institutions in which I work and do ministry--with the help of organizations such as Lutheran Human Relations Association and Crossroads Ministry. Would you join me?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Finally up and running!

Last spring, the students in my "Being Lutheran in America" course told me that I needed to create a blog so that I could share theological resources with them once they graduated. Since then, I have been pondering what name to give this blog. I almost went with "Blogylonian Captivity" (my spouse's contribution) but I decided that was a bit arcane. So I am calling my blog "Theology for the Church" because that describes how I understand my own call as assistant professor of systematic theology at Trinity Lutheran Seminary. The seminary's mission is to "form leaders for Christ's church at work in the world." I understand my call as teaching theology for the church, that is, to help the church reflect critically on what it believes, as it is sent out to bear witness to the gospel. So, as promised, I will post thoughts, book and article suggestions, links to resources for doing ministry and mission, and anything else I can think of that could help Trinity graduates and anyone else serving in Christ's church at work in the world!