Thursday, April 17, 2008

Why I Became a Lutheran

I thought this might interest a few people: my personal journey to the LCMS.

I was raised in an evangelical (Baptistic) church. However, as my intellect awakened during my college years, one aspect of evangelicalism began to make me uneasy: the nearly exclusive focus on the subjective and experiential. I knew that my Christianity must stand on firmer ground than that. I must know that Christianity is objectively true, no matter what I feel or seem to experience with my limited sense. Not until then does the subjective response find a place. Emotive response follows a deep understanding of doctrinal truth; certainly both are important, but it seems to me that the intellectual foundations are being ignored in favor of “fuzzy feelings for Jesus,” as a friend of mine puts it.

In my personal experience, I sat in church Sunday after Sunday wondering what was wrong with my emotions, especially when I heard a guilt-inducing tirade chastising us for not loving Jesus enough. Only when God opened my eyes to the fact that my intellect was the channel for informing my heart was I able to have such an emotional response as I desired. I knew I had found the “missing piece” in my Christianity. No longer do I seek for an emotional experience; I know this follows naturally when I hear God’s Word proclaimed in all its glory.

I once heard a sermon by (Presbyterian) Dr. Cairns in which he attacked the highly subjective “what does this verse mean to you?” way of handling Biblical text. “With all due respect,” he shouted, “I don’t care what the verse means to you!” We need to care about the context, the original intent, and objective meaning of the text. Only then can the verse present a proper application to the Christian. Always, a red flag goes up when I hear someone say, “God showed me this,” or “God gave me this song,” as if God whispered in his ear. Then I listen carefully to determine whether he will quote some verse wildly out of context.

Paul praised the Berean Christians who weighed everything they were taught against the objective, written Word of God “to see whether these things were true.” One must always be careful to make the distinction between the speaker's opinion and what actually comes from the Word (assuming Biblical literacy). A great deal of what passes for “devotional writing,” even in the 19th century classics, contains so much opinion, so many tear-jerking tales, and so little doctrine that I will not bother with them. I would rather read the “dry” books by Van Til and Luther and C. F. W. Walther. These books delight with their doctrinal truth, logic and scholarship. (See Kindred Spirits post dealing with Dionysian/Apollonian art.)

Ultimately, the movement known as “pietism” which crept through the Lutheran church in the 1700’s (and found its fullest expression in John Wesley and the consequent growth of Evangelicalism), with its great emphasis on the subjective and personal, subtly undermined the objective foundation of the Word in the minds of many believers. I say subtly, because most of these believers still overtly claim Sola Scriptura as their guiding light.

Yet, many believers are not trained to study the Bible carefully with regard to important literary considerations, such as historical background and context, but rather view the Bible as a horoscope-like, esoteric “guide” from which they take their “verse for the day.” Thus, a great many evangelicals are pathetically confused as to the true teachings of the Word. This happens easily when the words of the Bible are separated from the spirit in which they were intended. I found in conservative Lutheranism a high view of the Bible, which included great respect for good scholarship that handles the Word in a proper manner.

Historic Lutheranism maintains an attitude of proper disdain for poorly educated “clergy” whose sloppy scholarship treats God’s Word in a flippant manner. I believe this is as it should be. I fully appreciate the level of training the LCMS demands of its clergy, and I rejoice in the honest servants of God who have labored long and hard to understand the original languages and historical context of the Bible, who are “apt to teach” and pass their knowledge on to us laypeople.

I believe that God would have us love Him with “all our hearts, all our souls, all our strength, and all our minds,” and that any form of education in worship and art must of necessity reach the whole person. We must not merely manipulate the emotions, not merely feed the intellect, but rather keep all things in balance.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Announcing a Great Accomplishment

A friend of mine, Philip Larson, is celebrating the attainment of an advanced degree, a Doctor of Education (or Ed.D.) in Curriculum and Instruction.

It is now appropriate to refer to him as Dr. Larson.

Hooray! Congratulations!!!!!

Dr. Philip Larson is Head of Secondary Authors (Product Development) at the Bob Jones University Press in Greenville, South Carolina. He titled his dissertation in curriculum theory A Transformational Model of Biblical Integration with Curricular Applications. I started reading last night, and it’s very exciting stuff—a groundbreaking study for Christian thinkers and educators everywhere. His comments regarding the work:

Folks talk about "biblical integration" or the "integration of faith and life," but there is little definition of these expressions. In the 19 years I taught in Christian schools, I cannot recall anyone saying what it was, yet everyone agreed that it was a sine qua non.

I was coming from Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture, despite some claims that he is out of date. Niebuhr advocates a transformational approach to culture. Niebuhr was taken to be especially critical of Anabaptist, Lutheran, and Thomist viewpoints. However, contemporary Anabaptists have been able to tweak Niebuhr's scheme in a way that transformational folks would generally approve, and it appears that Lutherans have done the same (although Gene Veith is quite an exception).

Transformationally, I'm defining biblical integration as "the unreserved affirmation of the Bible's authority and the vigorous expansion of its influence in a given academic or cultural endeavor."

The model graphic is a very abbreviated version of what I'm trying to say. I see three components
of culture (nothing novel here): stuff you can touch (tools, including virtual tools), social practices, and social ideals. Presumably everything in culture fits in one of these three categories. In this model, a Level 3 situation exists when discourse can easily switch between the three loci. Unfortunately, we don't have many situations in which people can easily move the discourse between artifacts, social practices, and social ideals. I can't tell you a school system at Level Three; perhaps I'm mistaken.

At Level 3, a metanarrative will coordinate every aspect of the discourse. As a Christian, I suggest that Creation-Fall-Redemption is the biblical metanarrative. So if we can teach our students so that they learn to see everything in terms of these three lenses, we will have done them a great service.

At Level 2, social ideals are reified and pass into the background, yet participants remain serious about social practices such as mathematics, music, literature, etc. What many regard as excellent education fits in this level.

At Level 1, social practices are reified and only artifacts/virtual artifacts remain. In such a mathematics class, the teacher and students would largely focus on algorithms and processes without attending to their purposes and bases. Musically, one would hit all the right notes and perhaps miss the point of the music. Some regard this as excellent education, but it's too focused on rote.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

At the round earth's imagin'd corners

At the round earth's imagin'd corners, blow
Your trumpets, Angells, and arise, arise
From death, you numberlesse infinities
Of soules, and to your scattered bodies goe,
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,
All whom warre, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despaire, law, chance, hath slaine, and you whose eyes,
Shall behold God, and never taste death's woe.
But let them sleepe, Lord, and mee mourne a space,
For, if above all these, my sinnes abound,
'Tis late to aske abundance of thy grace,
When wee are there; here on this lowly ground,
Teach mee how to repent; for that's as good

As if thou hadst seal'd my pardon, with thy blood.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Requiem Aeternum: Thoughts of Eternity

[God] hath made everything beautiful in its time: also he hath set eternity in their hearts, yet so that man cannot find out the work that God hath done from the beginning even to the end (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

A dear friend and former member of my church choir has quietly passed away after a long and painful illness. Blessed as one who has "died in the Lord," she now "rests from her labors."

Bryant and I paid a visit to "Laura" on Easter Sunday, and impressively, she recognized us and remained alert to converse with us for about five minutes before fading back into merciful slumber. I am so grateful we made the effort.

Nearly 4,000 years ago, King Solomon of Israel—styling himself "The Preacher"—offered the most profound thoughts on life, death and eternity the world has ever seen (yes, thoroughly eclipsing Socrates). His major philosophical work, Ecclesiastes, is categorized by biblical scholars as Wisdom Literature. The writing uses stunning metaphors and elegant, sophisticated poetic expression, making it a pleasure to read for one who loves language.

"The Preacher's" keyword is "vanity," (something that seems to have substance but disappoints) and he liberally applies this concept to all earthly values. Rather depressingly, he tramples into the dust our commonly-held ideas of what is important in life—reputation, possessions, family heritage, accomplishments, power, pleasure, mirth and joy—by pointing to the fact that these things ultimately perish, and there's nothing we can do about it. These are all good things with which to concern ourselves, but we need to view them in perspective and recognize where they belong in the grand scheme. Work as hard as you like to obtain possessions, says the king, but when you die, you permanently cease to enjoy the benefit of possessions. You don't even know who will inherit them. By the end of the book, we realize that this life is not about this life, but about the eternity beyond it.

So, does that mean we should "eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die?" Does it follow that we simply live for our own pleasure? No, because the decisions we make in our earthly life affect our eternity. I quote from Ecclesiastes 8:

Though a sinner do evil a hundred times, and prolong his days, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, that fear before him: but it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God.

According to Solomon, the important things in life are walking with God, living righteously in the fear of God, and preparing to live eternity in the presence of God. He intends to remind us that our fleeting earthly life only takes on meaning in the light of Eternity. These are Solomon's concluding thoughts:

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil (Ecc. 12:13-14).