Thursday, January 31, 2008

Alexander Schmemann's 'Introduction to Liturgical Theology': an Amazon review

My latest review on, of Schmemann's Introduction to Liturgical Theology:

"This is an introduction to liturgical theology.

Which is not a "theology of liturgy," as important as that is.

No, Fr. Schmemann here tries to introduce us to theology as we learn it from the liturgy, how the church's liturgies have taught us about our Savior, and how the Liturgy brings us into God's Kingdom.

Schmemann was Russian Orthodox, and this book reflects that background, and most of the book deals with the liturgies of Eastern Christianity. There are occasional references to Western liturgies and Western theology, but that's not the focus of the book. But this book is a fine introduction for anyone, western or eastern.

But if you're Western (like me) here's a warning: the book can be hard to understand, just because he's dealing with topics and aspects that were unfamiliar to me. But it bears careful reading, and a thoughtful reading rewards the reader. I've just completed my third reading of the book, and found treasures here that eluded me the first 2 readings. Future readings will probably bear similar fruit.

An earlier reviewer mentioned the author's use of Greek. I don't read Greek either, but the few instances here aren't difficult to parse out for anyone who has a passing acquaintance with the Greek alphabet. I, too, would have appreciated a bibliography, but I suspect Schmemann expected to write more, and perhaps left this book's references in a somewhat unfinished state. But almost anything that Schmemann wrote is worth reading, and this book is no exception."

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Undoubtedly true

Ever notice that when someone uses the word "undoubtedly," what they really mean is, "I don't have evidence for this, so I'm claiming no one can doubt it, and I'm hoping you won't question it."

Same with words and phrases such as "everyone knows," "it's common knowledge," or "common sense tells us."

In history, the dictum is "no document, no history." Which means that if there's no document (used in the broader sense of the word) there's no historical veracity. You may have informed speculation, a reasoned guess, whatever -- but without the document, you have no history.

Even more so in the church. If you can't find the biblical, confessional, liturgical or patristic (preferably all 4) evidence for something you're teaching, don't teach it. You may be right. But give the matter some rest until you know for sure. Pray, study, read, ask your mentor, but above all, make sure there's evidence for what you're setting forth.

If it's a sermon, does the appointed pericope teach what you are wanting to teach? Or are you using the text as a jumping off point for a hobby horse you're currently riding?

Even better, just preach the text. God's word is there to bring His people into the kingdom. Let the word do the job it's there to do. You're a mouthpiece. That's all. It's not an exalted job title, but it's the one God gives you. Be honored to be what God has called you to be.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The assurance of salvation: thesis 52

In Luther's day -- and throughout all of church history -- folks have sought a solid assurance of their salvation. In Luther's time, one of the false means sought was by trusting in letters of pardon from the Pope. That's what thesis 52 is addressing:

52. The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain, even though the commissary, nay, even though the pope himself, were to stake his soul upon it.

The reality is that we are assured of trusting in the word of God. Most particularly, we trust in the words spoken to us in the Lord's Supper: "the Body of Christ, given for you," "the Blood of Christ, shed for you."

For you: that's where we stake our salvation. Knowing that on that Friday afternoon when our Savior died, it was for you, for me, for each Christian. Was it for the sins of the whole world? Of course. But we hear the words "for you," to assure us that when we despair of our sins, and when we imagine that our sins are different, that we have come one time too many for forgiveness, that even when our sins are grievous, our Savior's love and mercy is greater.

Friday, January 25, 2008

What Christians are to be taught: Luthers theses, 49-51

49. Christians are to be taught that the pope's pardons are useful, if they do not put their trust in them; but altogether harmful, if through them they lose their fear of God.

50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St. Peter's church should go to ashes, than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep.

51. Christians are to be taught that it would be the pope's wish, as it is his duty, to give of his own money to very many of those from whom certain hawkers of pardons cajole money, even though the church of St. Peter might have to be sold.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What does this mean? "we are by nature sinful and unclean"

In logic, all it takes is one single contrary to negate an assertion.

If I make the statement, "all cheese is green," and you hand me a slice of Velveeta, you've proven me wrong.

(Which begs the question of whether Velveeta is cheese. But that's for another day).

The phrase "we are by nature sinful and unclean" is used in the confession in several liturgies in the Lutheran Service Book. On its face, the phrase is saying that human nature is by nature sinful. In other words, part of "being human" is to "be sinful."

However, 3 individuals have been human without being sinful. Adam and Eve in their pre-fall state were human, but not sinful.

But more compelling is that Christ has had a human nature from the moment of conception in the Virgin, a nature He still has.

Christ is like us in all ways without sin: a man who was thirsty, tired, sleepy, hungry.

And what's more germane to this discussion is that His being a man did not make Him a sinner, and His not being a sinner didn't make Him less of a man.

Philosophically speaking, sin is an "accident" of human nature, something that we have, but something that's not of the essence of being human. 200 years from now, none of us will be sinner, except as a historical factor. But we will still be fully and completely human.

I think I know what this phrase is trying to say: that we are shot through with sin, that sin isn't just a minor problem, but something that messes up our lives on every level.

All of that is true. But phrased the way it is, this is a very dangerous statement, one which impinges on a correct Christology.

I wish this were an example of what theologians call an "inadvertent error": one that's just crept in accidentally and temporarily. It's not. It's used in several liturgies in an official service book for the LCMS.

What I'm trying to figure out is what this tells us about our confession. Is our anthropology (our doctrine of man) messed up? Even more important, is our Christology messed up?

I'm more and more convinced that what goes on in our services and liturgies and hymns tells us more about our confession than we would care to admit. It doesn't suffice to say that this should be corrected. It should. The bigger question is how such an obvious and dangerous statement got there in the first place.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Monasticism: east and west

I'm working through Fr. Alexander Schmemann's Introduction to Liturgical Theology, and even having read it twice already, this is a valuable work that gives new insights each time.

Now the question lurking in my mind: what role has monasticism played in the church? I am only vaguely familiar with the development of monasticism in the west, and even less so in the eastern churches, but I'm intrigued by some of Schmemann's discussions about early monasticism playing a role of being the "outsider" when the church has had (say, in the years immediately after the Edict of Milan, in 313)to become an insider to the contemporary culture.

A more narrow question to me is whether para-church (usually, but not always, Protestant) are essentially lay monastic groups. I go on the assumption that there's nothing new in history, church history or otherwise. And I wonder if someone were beamed down from Mars, would a group such as Campus Crusade for Christ (now "Power to Change Ministries," the word "crusade" having fallen on hard times of late) look a lot like Rome's Opus Dei?

The crucial difference is the group's relationship with the church. My acquaintance with Campus Crusade in earlier years made me realize that these groups tend to function as church substitutes. I'm sure this is not the leadership's intention, but that's how it seemed to work out in real life. Groups such as Opus Dei, on the other hand, tend to be committed to the church's sacramental life. (The problem for Crusade may have been Protestantism's perennial problem with viewing the church as an academy for learning about the Christian faith, a view which -- historically speaking -- deficient).

Paintball for presidential candidates

If this could be realized, it would surely become overnight the favorite sport of millions of Americans.

Take your least-favorite politician, and have the chance to hit him (or her) in a paintball competition. For once, here's something that could make politicians appealing to the masses.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The measure of a man

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he
stands in moments of comfort and convenience,
but where he stands at times of challenge
and controversy.

--Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

3:10 to Yuma

There's a $2 theater here. One that still has a big screen and big seating and it's kind of a nostalgia trip and the basic rule is that a film comes out simultaneously on DVD when it starts showing there.

And we saw 3:10 to Yuma there last night. It was snowing lightly, a wet and mucky mess, and we weren't sure the theater would even be open. But they were, and maybe 6 other people saw the movie with us.

This is a fine movie: well-acted, good plot, excellent character development, and a good story. I'm not a big fan of violence and this movie borders on too much violence for me. But it's not gratuitous violence, and like me, you can shut your eyes in the few scenes when it gets to be too much.

I especially call attention to 2 younger actors who do an incredible job. There's Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, but you know they will be good. The ones I'm speaking of are just beginning, and do it well. First is Logan Lerman, as William Evans:

Next is Ben Foster, who plays the darkly haunting role of Charlie Prince.

You probably won't find it at a theater. But if you haven't seen 3:10, get the DVD and check out this finely-crafted movie. And if you've already seen it, watch it again.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Indian Christians under attack

I post this (from African Crisis)in order to remind us of the persecution still going on around the world. This time, in India.

Naive Americans like to think of Hinduism as a religion of peace, and perhaps it often is. But certainly not always. Incidents such as those recounted in this article remind us that Indian Christians (and foreigners there spreading the gospel) are often in danger from violent Hindus.

Date Posted: Wednesday 16-Jan-2008

"Churches have been torched and Christians murdered in waves of brutal attacks by Hindu militants in India. On 24 December, mobs of radical Hindus attacked Christian churches throughout the state of Orissa burning churches, beating Christians, looting homes, schools, medical centres and clinics run by Christians.

According to WorldNetDaily and Compass Direct, the All Indian Christian Council has documented over 1,000 violent attacks on Christians in India during the last year, 2007. In Orissa state�s Kandhamal district another 800 attacks were reported in the last week of 2007. At least 730 homes and 95 churches were burned.

Hindu extremists were reported to have launched simultaneous attacks on many churches and homes in coordinated bombings, destruction and looting, with mobs with guns and knives attacking Christians gathered for worship. The AICC Report revealed that just in one area, around the Barakhama village, 415 of the 450 homes belonging to Christians were burned. One Christian, Bhogra Naik of Barakhama was �cut into three pieces� by the Hindu militants who also destroyed his home.

Babu Joseph, of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, stated: "What is most distressing is the regularity at which these attacks are meticulously, and almost clinically executed in order to hurt the Christians. In all these instances of atrocities against Christians it was proved beyond doubt that some right wing Hindu organizations were behind them; they indulge in unhindered hate campaigns��

Gospel For Asia President, K.P. Johannan reported on the terror campaign against Christians in Orissa state. "This is the same state where missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were martyred. The believers know they will face opposition." Graham Staines was an Australian missionary who was brutally murdered, along with his sons, by a mob of militant Hindus. Gospel For Asia also reported that their missionary leader in Orissa, Matish Junni was attacked. The mob beat Matish and shaved his head. They then mockingly paraded him around the village, shouting slurs against him and other Christians. They also forced Matish to go to their religious temple and vandalized the GFA church building project.

India Gospel Outreach reported widespread mob violence and arson in Brahminigaon. Hindu militants burned Christian schools, medical centres, clinics and churches and attacked congregations with guns, spears, axes and other traditional weapons. Thousands of Christians have lost their homes. Hundreds of Christians are missing. The number of dead is not yet known. The India Gospel Outreach reports that Orissa state has some of India�s strongest anti-conversion laws.

Gospel for Asia reports that GFA missionaries Maliik Hembrom and Anup John were attacked by fanatics, and a teenage girl and her mother were beaten for converting to Christianity. When Sonia Devi, a 14 year-old student in Jharkhand, prayed to the Lord Jesus for the healing of her father, she saw her father, Samsong, miraculously healed. Sonia and her parents committed their lives to Christ and Sonia was baptized on 5 January.

Some Hindu extremists in the village then barged into their home and dragged Sonia and her mother, Vineeta, to the local Hindu temple and subjected them, against their will, to a purification ritual designed to mark a person�s official return to Hinduism. They also attacked the GFA missionaries that they held responsible for this family�s conversion.

Compass Direct News identifies Swami Laxmananda Saraswati, the leader of the World Hindu Council (Vishwa Hindu Parishad�VHP) as a key instigator of the co-ordinated mob attacks on Christians. For over a decade Saraswati has opposed Christians and missionary work in India.

"Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the Word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith." 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2"

What it means to subscribe to the Lutheran confesssions: citations

In response to my posting yesterday "What it means to subscribe to the Lutheran confessions" (the listing of the 18 assertions from the confessions -- and the citations -- is stolen from my friend Fr. William Weedon's website), several people asked for citations of where these things are to be found. Here ya go:

1. Virginity is a higher gift than marriage.

2. Mary prays for the Church

3. Mary is called the most holy virgin

4. Prayer for the dead is not useless

5. It would be wicked thing for private absolution to disappear from the church

6. The bread in the Lord’s Supper is Christ’s body.

7. Pastors do not commune those they have not examined and absolved.

8. Mary is the Mother of God.

9. Justification can mean “to declare righteous” or “to make righteous” because Scripture speaks both ways.

10. 2 Maccabees is Scripture.

11. In the Eucharist the flesh of Christ given for the life of the world is our food and makes us alive by joining us to Christ.

12. We should teach people that church rites (made by humans) are to be kept if they can be observed without sin and contribute to peace and good order.

13. The best way for the Church to be governed is to have one head, Christ, and all the bishops – equal in office – keep diligently together in unity of teaching, faith, sacraments, prayers and works of love.

14. When the church is deprived of valid judicial process, you can’t remove ungodly teachings and impious forms of worship.

15. An ordination performed by a pastor in his own church is valid by divine right.

16. Children should be taught to make the sign of the cross.

17. The baptized children of God have free will and cooperate with the Holy Spirit.

18. After Baptism, the inborn corruption is to daily decrease so that we become increasingly gentle, patient, and meek, breaking away from greed, hatred, envy, and pride.

Answer Key:

1. Apology XXIII (XI), paragraph 38; Apology XXII:10

2. Apology XXI (IX), paragraph 27

3. Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, VIII, paragraph 24

4. Apology XXIV (XII), paragraph 96

5. Apology XII:100

6. SA 3 III:6:1

7. Apology XXIV:1

8. Formula of Concord, Epitome VIII:12

9. Apology, Article IV, par. 71, 72.

10. Apology XXI (IX), paragraph 9

11. Apology XXII:10

12. AC XV:1

13. SA Part II:4:9

14. Treatise on the Primacy and Power of the Pope, par. 51

15. Treatise on the Primacy and Power of the Pope, par. 65

16. Small Catechism, Morning / Evening Prayers, par, 1, 4

17. Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, II:67

18. Large Catechism IV:65-67

Using Google books to find out of print theology books

I have to admit that I'm not ready to read everything online.

Call it a middle-age thing, but I still prefer the feel and portability of an actual book. I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise, but for now I prefer books on paper rather than on a screen.

Which is not to say that I don't find books useful. And particularly when the book is way, way out of print, Google Books is a very useful tool.

As an example, I had long wanted a copy of Charles Porterfield Krauth's The Conservative Reformation. And none were available. The book was long out of print, and when used copies would come up for sale on Amazon, they would fetch astonishing prices. Say, $150. In other words, more than I cared to spend.

Along comes Google Books. Google Books has the modest goal of printing at least a preview of every book ever printed. I can't say how far along they are; there are a lot of books that have been printed. But a book like Krauth's (now actually back in print thanks to CPH) is available, and you can actually read the entire book online if you are so inclined. The secret is that Krauth's book was published before 1922 -- which means that it -- and every book with a pre-1922 publication date -- is out of copyright, and anyone who wishes can print it.

Books go out of print for a variety of reasons. Some very fine books go out of print for long periods. What you will be surprised to find is how many useful books there are out there that are no longer being sold.

Here's how you do it. Go to "" In the search space at the top, type in something: "Lutheran" or "theology" or "liturgy." Now look for "full view" at the top, and click on that. The next page will show books which are available for reading the entire book online. 99% of these will be out of print books.

What I find very useful with this service are finding very narrow, very specialized information. For example, if you're interested in regional church histories, there are congregational histories that were printed in very small press runs, and copies almost impossible to locate. But Google Books gives you the opportunity to read such materials, information that would have been unavailable even 20 years ago.

Friday, January 18, 2008

What it means to subscribe to the Lutheran confesssions

Quia means one subscribes the Lutheran Confessions BECAUSE they are a faithful exposition of Scripture - every Lutheran likes to think he's a quia. The nasty alternative is quatenus - subscribing insofar as the Confessions agree with Scripture.

True or False:

1. Virginity is a higher gift than marriage.

2. Mary prays for the Church

3. Mary is called the most holy virgin

4. Prayer for the dead is not useless

5. It would be wicked thing for private absolution to disappear from the church

6. The bread in the Lord’s Supper is Christ’s body.

7. Pastors do not commune those they have not examined and absolved.

8. Mary is the Mother of God.

9. Justification can mean “to declare righteous” or “to make righteous” because Scripture speaks both ways.

10. 2 Maccabees is Scripture.

11. In the Eucharist the flesh of Christ given for the life of the world is our food and makes us alive by joining us to Christ.

12. We should teach people that church rites (made by humans) are to be kept if they can be observed without sin and contribute to peace and good order.

13. The best way for the Church to be governed is to have one head, Christ, and all the bishops – equal in office – keep diligently together in unity of teaching, faith, sacraments, prayers and works of love.

14. When the church is deprived of valid judicial process, you can’t remove ungodly teachings and impious forms of worship.

15. An ordination performed by a pastor in his own church is valid by divine right.

16. Children should be taught to make the sign of the cross.

17. The baptized children of God have free will and cooperate with the Holy Spirit.

18. After Baptism, the inborn corruption is to daily decrease so that we become increasingly gentle, patient, and meek, breaking away from greed, hatred, envy, and pride.

According to the Lutheran confessions, all 18 of these should be marked "true."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Getting to the heart of the matter: differences between eastern and western liturgies

When Christian liturgies are compared, a fundamental division is east and west.

An oversimplified description is that while eastern liturgies tend to go round and round, to repeat things over and over, western liturgies tend to be lean, to go directly to the point, to be cut and dried. Western churches often think of this as a virtue, feeling that western liturgies get to the heart of the matter quickly and succinctly.

I've argued elsewhere that this may not be as good as some think it is. To me the question comes down to how humans think: are we direct-thinking, logical creatures or are we perhaps more roundabout than we sometimes realize?

The biblical revelation is an example. There's no reason God couldn't have given us a fairly succinct statement of what He had to tell us. A perhaps expanded version of the the Commandments, the Creed, and one book giving in detail the life of Christ.

But He didn't. Instead the Bible can be maddeningly roundabout, going off on tangents, telling us things that seem perplexingly irrelevant and not providing information (such as details on the earthly life of Christ) that believers have wondered about for centuries.

And maybe this is the way we really think (as opposed to our rationalist vision of how our minds (not to mention our spirits) operate.

I think that the problem for western liturgies (especially in church bodies such Lutheran where the liturgy is not fixed) is that those who think themselves rational will often want to lop off even things "because they're not really necessary." Even when things aren't lopped off, there seems to be an obsession with not repeating. So a church which starts a service with a Baptism -- with a confession of the Creed -- will take pains to not use the Creed again later in the Service when it would normally occur. As if somehow our brains might explode if we "had to" confess our faith twice in an hour or so!

Is "necessity" a good criteria for the liturgy? The analogy is whether it's "necessary" to tell my wife that I love her. Of course, I could reason, she "knows" that I love her. But that's just not the way humans operate. Why do we feel like it's how we operate in the Mass?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

There are no uneducated men

"And so, sincerely speaking, there are no uneducated men. They may escape the trivial examinations, but not the tremendous examinations of existence. The dependence of infancy, the enjoyment of animals, the love of woman and the fear of death -- these are more frightful and more fixed than all conceivable forms of the cultivation of the mind. It is idle to complain of schools and colleges being trivial. In no case will a college ever teach the important things. He has learnt them right or wrong, and he has learnt them all alone."

G. K. Chesterton

The importance of the Creed

We are saved not by our correct confession -- as important as that is -- but by our trust in the One in Whom we confess.

The importance of the Creed is that the Creed tells us the nature of the One we trust. And conversely, helps us not to trust in false gods.

A side issue to that is to avoid messing with the Creed. It's a constant temptation to imagine that people are bored with the Creed, that we've heard it enough, that we know everything there is to know.

We don't. But that's not the point. The Creed not only tells us about the nature of the One we are to trust, but about the nature of the world, the unity and diversity of reality, the source of creedal knowledge, the end of time, and eternity.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Does American weather affect our theology?

Writer Camille Paglia recently suggested that the extremes of American weather may be part of the cause of the apocalypticism that bedevils American culture. She specifically contrasted American weather with the relatively placid weather on the European landmass.

I think Paglia may be on to something. The continental US is a place of violent weather extremes. Europeans have no comparable phenomenon to our hurricanes, which regularly wreak havoc. Hurricane Katrina, for example, was one of those once-a-century storms, as was the unnamed storm that hit Galveston in 1900, killing some 6,000 people. Likewise, some 99% of all tornadoes occur in the continental US, not to mention the extremes of cold and heat that occur almost every day of the year on our land. "Lesser" weather issues -- such as the extreme drought now gripping the southeastern US, or the firestorms that regularly hit southern California -- are with us so regularly that we tend not to think about them. Anyone who has never lived through a tornado storm -- I've been through 2, and I live in North Carolina, which isn't even a heavy area for tornadoes -- probably cannot understand the sudden ferocity with which such storms hit. (I wonder how folks in other parts of the world see the film The Wizard of Oz, centering as it does around a catastrophic storm, a type of storm found almost nowhere else). Not to mention the end-of-time feel that a monster storm like Katrina can generate in millions of people living in its path.

Apocalypticism in theology is my concern, but an apocalyptic strain runs through American culture in general. Think, for example, about how Americans tend to resolve conflict by violence. We began in a revolution, we needed a war to end chattel slavery -- unlike every other western hemispheric country with a history of slavery -- and we tend to be far more violent as a people than most countries.

Our apocalyptic, end of time theological trends shape a lot of how Americans think. A large number of Americans -- perhaps a majority -- expect a literal, physical, cataclysmic battle between Christ and Satan within our lifetimes, and I suspect that that expectation shapes how these Christians view not only theology but politics.

We like to imagine that our theology is purely a product of thinking and reflection. It's not. A lot of factors play into what we "hear" theologically, and what we throw away. Factors such as weather, climate, history, geography, and our family dynamics can conspire to affect how we talk about God. Knowing that those factors are there -- and trying to understand how they affect us -- are important to right thinking about theology.

Review: Alexander Schmemann's 'Liturgy and Tradition'

A review today on

"Over 20 years ago, I was studying the theological writings of a young Presbyterian writer. That man recommended Fr. Schmemann's 'For the Life of the World.' I read the book, and it changed my life. What better recommendation can one give to a writer?

I am not Eastern Orthodox, and I am not Russian. But the truly ecumenical nature of Fr. Schmemann's work is that an American Lutheran layman like myself can grow, be challenged by, and profit from this man's writings. 'Liturgy and Tradition' is a collection of essays by (and several about) Fr. Schmemann and his work studying the nature of the church's liturgy and how our faith and theology grow from that liturgy. Published after Schmemann's untimely death in 1983, several of the essays here are slightly fragmentary, but the book is worthwhile and thought-provoking.

The book challenges the way most of us do theology, since we start with theoretical constructs and work toward the liturgy. Schmemann suggests that we would better work from the liturgy, and let our theology grow from that. I don't always think he's right, but one can't walk away from his work without being provoked to think through our conceptions of the church and God's word. I'd also encourage (in conjunction with this book) reading Schmemann's 'Introduction to Liturgical Theology,' which helps to flesh out and explain some of the material here."

Review: Nigel Barley's 'The Innocent Anthropologist'

my review from

"If you've ever suffered through an anthropology course, you know that "suffering" is the proper word. Anthropology should be totally, completely fascinating -- it's the study of human cultures, for heaven's sake -- but it's often a dry-as-dust class for college students.

This book is not dry. In fact, it's probably the only anthropology book that can bring the reader to tears of laughter.

Which is not to say that the book is a comedy. It's not. The book is a sympathetic and interesting take on the writer's study of the Dowayo people. But the Dowayo people -- like any other ethnic group or people -- have quirks that the people themselves cannot see. Nigel Barley lives among the Dowayo and documents their lives, tells how he does anthropology, and manages to do so in a way that makes the book one I sometimes pick up, open at random, and enjoy."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Information about our brothers and sisters in Christ in Kenya

I recently received the following email, and post it that we might better pray, and that we might give, if we are able.

"Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Some of you received an email from me already concerning my friend
and classmate, Rev. Dennis Meeker, his wife, and the church/medical
clinic that they are serving in Kenya. [I realize that some of you
know Dennis and Lorna, too.] A copy of the email Rev. Meeker sent
is below for those of you who did not get it already. I ask that you
keep them all in your prayers.

As you can imagine, there is much need for monetary help there. I
communicated with Rev. Meeker this afternoon and I have information
on how to get financial aid to them. I am asking you to prayerfully
consider helping God's servants in need. Also, please pass this
information along to others, as the need is great and the more
donations the better. Here's a way you can offer financial help.
Send a check to my church - Trinity Lutheran Church Manito (address
below) with "Missions" written in the memo line. We will collect the
monies and then donate them as one lump sum to an organization that
is offering to match the funds for them - thereby doubling your
donation. All donations are tax deductible and you will receive a
receipt of your donation. Since the need is urgent, please act as
quickly as possible - although any donations will be accepted
regardless of how long they take to come in. If you have questions,
please don't hesitate to ask! Thanks in advance.

Yours, in Christ,

Dan Chambers
Trinity Lutheran Church
110 S. Park Ave
Manito, IL 61546
Dear Brothers in Christ,

In the midst of turmoil caused by the Presidential election I wish to
inform you that Springs of Life Lutheran Church and Medical Clinic
has suffered severe damage as rioters looted everything and then set
it on fire. Our nursery school has also been looted and burned. It
happened in the early afternoon 3rd of January. Please continue to
pray for us. We thank God our faith is not in material possessions.

Our faith will stand firm and we pray God's intervention for the sake
of Kenya. Jesus said: "I will never leave you or forsake you" Lorna
and I are fine in the midst of much sorrow. We live away from the
high tension zone and communicate by phone to our people in the area.
We rejoice in the fact that faith does not burn and the church is
never destroyed.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Dennis Meeker"

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

What the pope needs: theses 47 and 48

47. Christians are to be taught that the buying of pardons is a matter of free will, and not of commandment.

48. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting pardons, needs, and therefore desires, their devout prayer for him more than the money they bring.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Providing for our own: thesis 46

St. Paul is very clear in I Timothy 5.8: "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." Luther is pretty stern in thesis 46 in pointing out the consequences of this: those who are our own come before any purchase of pardons.

And never imagine that this problem has ceased: this also applies to the hucksters of our time who prey on the faithful to get their money.

"46. Christians are to be taught that unless they have more than they need, they are bound to keep back what is necessary for their own families, and by no means to squander it on pardons."

Monday, January 07, 2008

Review: Edward Harrison's 'Darkness at Night: A Riddle of the Universe'

Here's my review, but this is why I post this to a theology blog: I think that Olbers' paradox is one of those clues to a young-earth cosmology that is frequently overlooked. I'm indebted to the astronomer who brought this question to my attention, and obviously found this book to be a well-written overview of the subject. I hasten to add that the author is not a young-earth astronomer.

"I've been something of a minor astronomy geek all of my life, but until a few years ago, I'd never thought of the riddle we usually call "Olbers' paradox": if the universe is infinite, and contains an infinite number of stars, why is the sky dark at night? In other words, why is every spot in the night (or day) sky not filled with stars, if starlight should be coming at us from every point.

I first encountered this when reading a piece by a young-earth astronomer, and have been fascinated by it ever since.

This is a problem that goes back at least to Aristotle. Dr. Olbers (an ophthalmologist who was born in 1758) merely gave a name to this problem. And while if you've never thought about it, the issue may sound trivial, it's not. There are even some who consider this one of the primary concerns for cosmology.

Edward Harrison has done a bang-up job in covering this question. Harrison is a professor of physics and astronomy -- fields not noted for their lucid writing style -- but he writes clearly, interestingly, and well. He combines the ability to write well with a thorough (obviously) knowledge of the subject of which he's writing. It's a good read, a good well-written overview, and accessible to even a relatively ignorant lay reader like myself. It's a fun read, too."

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Love and pardons: theses 44 and 45

44. Because love grows by works of love, and man becomes better; but by pardons man does not grow better, only more free from penalty.

45. 45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in need, and passes him by, and gives [his money] for pardons, purchases not the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation of God.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Where the Holy Family lived in Egypt

OK, so maybe you are blessed to not be a complete and total nerd.

Unlike me.

To give you an idea, on the morning of 9/11, with all that sadness going on before our eyes, I remember thinking, "There are people not yet alive who will spend their careers studying the events of this day."

A psychologist would call this projection ...

Nevertheless, one of the nerdy things I think about is this: when Mary and Joseph took the infant Savior into Egypt because of Herod's murderous schemes (Matthew 2.13-19) where did the holy family live?

Scripture gives us no clue. But not surprisingly, these auspicious visitors made an impression, and tradition has recorded their stay as being in Heliopolis.

While reading Jeremias' Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus (reviewed here yesterday) he mentions something I had never heard of: that there was a Jewish temple established in the Egyptian city of Leontopolis, located 180 stadia (= just under 24 miles) from the city of Memphis.

Now there are several reasons given in Jeremias for the extraordinary event of establishing a temple outside of Jerusalem, but the primary one seems to have been practical: there was a large Jewish diaspora in Egypt, and the temple was needed for sacrifices, Passover celebrations, and other liturgical events not possible in a synagogue. This Egyptian temple seems to have had a grudging acceptance in Jewish Palestine, while the other extra-Jerusalem temple was despised: the Samaritan establishment of a temple on Mt. Gerazim. (See John 4.20).

Since the angelic dream instructions (in Matt. 2.13) were non-specific ("flee into Egypt") it would have been logical for St. Joseph to have taken the child into a region where there was an acceptable temple.

But why in Heliopolis and not Leontopolis? The answer to this riddle is that Helopolis is a region of Egypt, while Leontopolis is a city within that region. Like Atlanta (city) being in the state/"region" of Georgia. Thus the Holy Family would have been within a proximate distance of the temple. We can only surmise what their use of the temple might have been, but they were within the general vicinity of the temple. If St. Joseph -- as it seems -- had discretion as to where he should take the family, bringing the infant Savior close to a temple would make sense.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

'Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus,' by Joachim Jeremias: my Amazon review

"You know, I read quickly, but it took me weeks to finish this book.

Because even for a fast reader, this is tough, tough going.

But Jeremias is always worthwhile, and this book is no exception. What he gives us here is a mental picture of the Jerusalem area (which would have included "suburban" areas around the city) in the first century, around the time of Christ. It's not an idealized picture of the city, or a prettied up version, but a landscape grounded in reality, and using source documents to flesh out what the city would have looked like, and what it would have been like to have lived in the city at that time.

Which is what makes it tough going: because Jeremias refuses to do the lazy way of writing such a history, and he deals with the hard questions such as whether certain numbers may be exaggerated, or the biases of various source writers. But I would encourage anyone with a desire to know the time of Jesus better to devote the hard work necessary to going through this book. You will grow in your appreciation not only for the New Testament documents, but for the Lord who makes it important to learn about this city at that time.

I do not agree with everything Jeremias says. For example, he obviously thinks that the gospel writers could err, and John 10.35 and 2 Timothy 3.16 make this an impossible means of dealing with a problem text. But don't let this dissuade you from using Jeremias' invaluable work.

My one other disagreement is that I feel the author on occasion uses examples from 19th and early 20th century Palestine as arguing points about an issue, and the conditions and times from the intervening almost 2000 years make me uncomfortable with such arguments except as, perhaps, tangential illustrations. If the author were writing now (the book is some 75 years old), he might use such illustrations differently."