theology

This category contains 114 posts

Practical Lutheranism: Luther on the 5th Commandment and Refugees

I have been reading through the Book of Concord, which is a collection of the Lutheran Confessions. I think it is vitally important for one who, like me, claiming to be Lutheran to be familiar with these documents. They are, after all, what we believe and confess. I decided to start a series of posts as I’m reading through the Book of Concord to highlight various areas I think are important.

The Fifth Commandment and Refugees

There is much fear in the world today over the question of Syrian Refugees. I’ve been reading through the Book of Concord and I ran into the section on the Fifth Commandment. I was taken back by how lucid Luther’s interpretation is there, and it has some serious application for today:

Therefore it is God’s ultimate purpose that we suffer harm to befall no [hu]man, but show [them] all good and love; and, as we have said, it is specially directed toward those who are our enemies. For to do good to our friends is but an ordinary heathen virtue, as Christ says Matt. 5:46.

One can see these same thoughts echoed in the discussion of the seventh commandment:

…we are commanded to promote and further our neighbors’ interests, and when they suffer any want, we are to help, share, and lend to both friends and foes (251-252)

What is particularly uncomfortable about these words is the word of law that is contained within them: “both friends and foes” are included in these commands. We ought to further their interests, “help, share, and lend to” them “when they suffer any want,” and show them “all good and love.” Luther is abundantly clear on this point: “it is specially directed toward those who are our enemies.”

Could more prophetic words have been written by Luther? Surely, the times in which we fear our enemies and wish to do nothing but avoid them are legion. Today is but one example of human injustice to fellow humans. But the words of the Commandments brook no argument, and Luther’s interpretation makes this abundantly clear: “to do good to our friends is but an ordinary heathen virtue…” and we are given a higher calling.

Those objections that would point to individual instances of violence, those who would alleged terrorists sneaking into our borders, and the like: the word of the law is spoken, and it is a powerful one: Christ’s calling is higher. When they suffer–even when our enemies suffer–we ought help them. If that means letting in the Syrian refugee fleeing from the violence in their homeland, if that means the “illegal immigrant” running from poverty and destitution, then so be it. There is no question here. There is no exception for fear that they will “steal our jobs” or that they speak a different language or have a different skin color or a different religion or anything of the sort. The words Luther writes here are clear: “it is God’s ultimate purpose that we suffer harm to befall no” one.

Source

Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2000).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Adhering to the Book of Concord “In So Far As” or “Because” it Agrees with Scripture?– I argue that Lutherans must hold the position that we adhere to the Book of Concord In So Far As it Agrees with Scripture.

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Bonhoeffer’s Troubling Theology? – A response to an article on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theological perspectives

dietrich_bonhoeffer

Recently, Richard Weikart wrote an article entitled “The Troubling Truth About Bonhoeffer’s Theology.” Not surprisingly, this article called attention to some aspects of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology which would be considered, well, troubling to evangelicals.

The article has much to commend it: it shows that we ought not to make any theologian into an idol or endorse everything anyone writes. Indeed, the conclusion of the article has little to question in it: “What then should we make of Bonhoeffer? While recognizing his many admirable traits—compassion, courage, commitment, and integrity—we should be wary of many elements of his theology.” I think this kind of critical perspective is something evangelicals–and Christians generally–ought to take to heart. We should always test theologians by what Scripture teaches us.

All of that said, there are some aspects I wanted to respond to in the article, particularly to give some more context for Bonhoeffer as well as his Lutheran theology. I’m sure Weikart is more studied on Bonhoeffer than I am, and I don’t claim to be an expert on Bonhoeffer’s thought. What I do know, however, is a good amount about Lutheran theology, and what I have read of and about Bonhoeffer. And all of that, I think, is enough to allow me to offer some areas of criticism regarding the article.

The Bible and Apologetics

There is no question that Bonhoeffer’s view of the Bible was heavily influenced by Karl Barth. Weikart is correct to note that this means that, for Bonhoeffer, Scripture is not inerrant. Indeed, he believes the Bible scientifically silly at points (see his Creation and Fall, for example). Scripture was, for both Barth and Bonhoeffer, important more for conveying truths about Christ than it is for being verbally inspired. Scripture conveys the revelation of Christ, rather than itself being revelation, according to both. This is, indeed, a weakness in their theology.

Later, Weikart critiques Bonhoeffer for his view of apologetics: “[Bonhoeffer] thought that the historical accuracy of Scripture was irrelevant. Barth (and Bonhoeffer) considered apologetics misguided, because it transgressed the boundaries separating the empirical and religious realms.”

I’m not sure about the first part of this claim. If, by “historical accuracy,” Weikart means the individual details of how events happened, or specific views of creationism and the like, then the statement is true. But the brush seems to be a bit too broad here; given Bonhoeffer’s view of the importance of Christ, the cross, and the Resurrection, to broadly say that none of these were seen as historical or were in fact irrelevant is to speak too strongly. Did Bonhoeffer think things like the length of creation days, the exact words spoken by the serpent at the Fall, and the like were historically irrelevant? Yes, pretty much. But that doesn’t mean he thought there was nothing of historical value therein, nor does it mean he rejected the usefulness of Scripture. This is a common error evangelicals make regarding the views of Christians who do not affirm inerrancy. Admittedly, it’s one I have made at times. Just because someone doesn’t affirm a form of verbal inspiration does not entail they think everything in the Bible is false or questionable.

Regarding the second part of the claim, it is easy to assume someone like Barth or Bonhoeffer completely rejected apologetics, and indeed each makes statements to that effect; but what they mean by apologetics largely means a kind of apologetics that puts humanity in judgment of God. Barth and Bonhoeffer would not completely reject any form of defense of the faith, but they would reject those that rely on natural theology and the like. Bowman and Boa’s book, Faith Has Its Reasons categorizes Barth as a “fideist” apologist. Delving into those issues would take too long, but it is safe to say that Bonhoeffer would not have been completely against any form of apologetics whatsoever. His own apologetic would have been personal and existential, and apologists ought not to dismiss this aspect of a holistic view of Christianity.

“Conversion Experience”?

Weikart writes, “Though he experienced some kind of conversion around 1931, he hardly ever mentioned it. Later he expressed distaste for Christians talking or writing about their conversions.” Later, he makes his aversion to Bonhoeffer’s Lutheranism plain: “Aside from his faulty view of Scripture, Bonhoeffer’s doctrine of salvation was also problematic. As a Lutheran he embraced baptismal regeneration.”

The multiple mentions about Bonhoeffer’s “conversion” reveal more about the author of the article than about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was, like myself, a Lutheran and ought to be evaluated as such. Unless Weikart wants to dismiss all Lutherans as unsaved heretics–or at least as affirming “troubling” theology–he cannot simply dismiss Bonhoeffer’s view because he didn’t talk about his “conversion experience.”

The fact that Weikart continues to emphasize this makes me wonder just how inclusive his definition of “evangelical” is supposed to be. Lutherans do not have an emphasis on finding some specific event, date, or time that signify we converted to Christianity. Because of the emphasis in Lutheran theology on predestination and baptism, such language seems to us to imply a kind of work of conversion being done by the individual rather than by God. Indeed, for many Lutherans, if pressed to pick a moment of conversion, that would be whatever time they were baptized as an infant. This is not the place to delve into the debate over baptism, infant baptism, and the like. Instead, I’m giving context to Bonhoeffer’s theology and experience. Martin Luther himself affirmed vehemently that infants can have faith, and however absurd this might seem to many non-Lutherans, the reason is because faith is the act of the Holy Spirit–it is pure grace, not tied to some specific synergistic act or affirmation by a human. To critique Bonhoeffer because he wasn’t speaking to the expectations of whatever brand of evangelicalism Weikart subscribes to is to decontextualize his theology and, indeed, to effectively dismiss Lutheran confessions of faith.

Weikart most likely does disagree with much of the Lutheran Confessions, but this does not mean it is acceptable to critique someone like Bonhoeffer as though he is some kind of mainstream evangelical instead of being a Lutheran.

“Religionless Christianity”

Weikart quotes the somewhat infamous passage Bonhoeffer wrote of his resistance to “everything ‘religious.'” Such words tend to rile those who adhere to a narrative of a “culture war” between Christianity and… everything else. But, like Kierkegaard, who gets lumped in by Weikart along with other apparently “troubling” theologians, Bonhoeffer’s comments on religion must be read contextually. Eric Metaxas writes about this very same quote in his lengthy biography (and sometimes controversial) on Bonhoeffer, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy:

The most tortured interpretations [of Bonhoeffer] have fixed on his reference to “religionless Christianity”… [Bonhoeffer] saw a situation so bleak… that he was rethinking some basic things and wondered whether modern man had moved beyond religion. What Bonhoeffer meant by “religion” was not true Christianity, but the ersatz and abbreviated Christianity that he spent his life working against. This “religious” Christianity had failed Germany and the West during this great time of crisis…. and he wondered whether it wasn’t finally time for the lordship of Jesus Christ to move past Sunday mornings and churches and into the whole world. (466-467, cited below)

The crisis, of course, was Germany in World War II–the same Nazi Germany which executed Bonhoeffer shortly before the end of the war. Weikart’s warnings about Bonhoeffer’s comments on “religion,” it seems, fall into the same trap that many fall into when discussing Kierkegaard–failing to take the historical context and particular usage of the term seriously. Though some have objected to Metaxas’ portrayal of Bonhoeffer, the historical context provided here can hardly be questioned, because it is exactly what Bonhoeffer was rejecting against.

Evangelical Lutheran Hero?

Did Bonhoeffer have some aspects of his theology that evangelicals will find troubling? Absolutely, and Weikart does a good job highlighting some of these. But the point I’m trying to make is that none of this means that Bonhoeffer needs to be rejected or thrown out as an evangelical (and/or Lutheran) hero. Indeed, for the Lutheran in particular, Bonhoeffer’s theology shows us how true it is that we are all but sinner-saints. Though chosen by God and saved by grace alone, that does not mean we will be perfect now, and it means that we may have ideas that will be mistaken throughout our lives.

Many of the greatest theologians of all time have aspects of their theology that evangelicals will find troubling. Obvious examples would include Calvin (who would be troubling to Arminians) and Arminius (whose theology is troubling to Calvinists). But, alas, no human is perfect, and even greats like Augustine, Aquinas, Mother Theresa, and the like will not withstand scrutiny to determine whether they were perfect or affirmed a perfect theology.

Conclusion

Go ahead, enjoy Bonhoeffer’s works, note how he was a hero, and talk about his legacy. But read his works as you would any others: with a critical eye. As far as this article is concerned, as a Lutheran I found it somewhat troubling myself. Does Weikart genuinely mean to imply that all Lutherans must be excluded from the fold of evangelicalism? I’m not sure, but at least some of his criticism leveled at Bonhoeffer would just as easily be applied to Lutheran theology, generally speaking. And that, as I said above, seems to reveal more about the author than about Bonhoeffer.

Sources

Richard Weikart, The Troubling Truth about Bonhoeffer’s Theology (http://www.equip.org/article/troubling-truth-bonhoeffers-theology/) accessed 1/24/16.

Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyrd, Prophet, Spy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Another Problem for Book of Concord Inerrantists

A title page of the Book of Concord

A title page of the Book of Concord

I have argued before that the stance of “confessional” Lutherans of having 100% agreement with the book of concord is unable to be maintained in the face of the evidence within the Book of Concord itself. That is, I believe that one must adhere to the Book of Concord “in so far as” it agrees with the Bible as opposed to “because” it agrees with the Bible. See my post on the topic for in-depth discussion of this distinction and its importance. I argued there, also, that the “because” position largely leads to a kind of inerrancy of the Book of Concord. After all, if the Book of Concord is to be agreed with because it agrees with the Bible, and the Bible is inerrant, it follows that anything that agrees with Scriptures 100% of the time will be without error.

Another example of defining Lutheranism according to strict adherence to the Book of Concord may be found in a recent post by Christopher Maronde entitled “What does the name ‘Lutheran’ mean?”:

Its meaning is simple: The name Lutheran refers to a person, congregation, or church body who unconditionally holds to the teachings contained within the Book of Concord, first published in 1580. A Lutheran is someone who declares that these specific documents rightly confess the truth of the Scriptures. It’s that simple; if you want to know what a Lutheran believes, if you want to know what that label means, you go to the Book of Concord. If you want to know if someone is using the label properly, you evaluate what they believe, teach, and confess according to the Book of Concord. (here)

These positions are generally considered to have a monopoly on the term “Confessional Lutheran” because they teach 100% affirmation of the Book of Concord and restrict any notion of Lutheran to that same adherence. My position, however, is that such a position cannot be maintained, nor should it have a monopoly on the term “Confessional Lutheran.”

Maronde’s definition above seems to provide a small loophole: it states that the Lutheran is to “unconditionally [hold] to the teachings contained within the book of Concord.” The key term here is “teachings.” At this point, if we grant this definition, one could argue that some purported errors in the Book of Concord may not be what the Book of Concord is teaching. However, later in the same quote, we see Maronde writes, “[I]f you want to know what that label means, you go to the Book of Concord…” which once again implies adherence to the totality, word-for-word truth of the Book of Concord. Yet the fact is the Book of Concord is not 100% true in every word-for-word instance.

I ran across another example of this in my readings the other day. In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther wrote,

This, I think, is why we Germans from ancient times have called God by a name more elegant and worthy than found in any other language, a name derived from the word ‘good,’ because he is an eternal fountain who overflows with pure goodness… [The Large Catechism, Part I, 25]

As Kolb and Wengert, editors of the critical edition of the Book of Concord published by Fortress Press note, the words for God and good in German (Gott and gut) are not derived from the same etymological root after all- “German: gut. This derivation is etymologically incorrect. The words for ‘God’… and ‘good’.. are not related in either Gothic or in Middle High German” (footnote 41 on page 389, cited below). Thus, within the very text of the Book of Concord, we have a clear error. Indeed, one that cannot be skirted around by arguing it is not something being taught therein; instead, it is clear that Luther is trying to teach about the meaning of God from an etymological derivation which is non-existent.

Therefore, it seems to me that the position of so-called “Confessional Lutheranism” and those who, like them, define Lutheranism narrowly to mean 100% adherence to the Book of Concord is clearly and demonstrably mistaken. The burden falls upon them to demonstrate that their position is actually viable in light of real, taught errors within the Book of Concord itself.

What does this mean for Lutherans–and indeed, Lutheranism? It certainly doesn’t mean we should all go chuck our Book of Concord editions in the trash. What it means is that, like any book, we should read the Book of Concord with a critical eye, checking it against God’s Word as found in the Scriptures and against the facts that we can discover in other studies as well. The Book of Concord is not inerrant, but that doesn’t mean a Lutheran cannot confess agreement with it so far as it agrees with Scripture, and, in doing so, remain a Confessional Lutheran.

Source

Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2000).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Adhering to the Book of Concord “In So Far As” or “Because” it Agrees with Scripture?– I argue that Lutherans must hold the position that we adhere to the Book of Concord In So Far As it Agrees with Scripture.

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

Problems with the “Slippery Slope” argument for Inerrancy

question-week2I believe the Bible is true in all that it teaches, and that this is what is meant by inerrancy. The Bible teaches no error. There is much debate over the meaning of inerrancy, and I’m not going to enter into that debate now (though I have written on it, if you’d like to see my opinion). What is important is that I want to start by saying that I affirm inerrancy, but I think one common argument in favor of the doctrine is mistaken.

The Slippery Slope Argument for Inerrancy

The argument I’m referring to is what I shall dub the “Slippery Slope” argument. Basically, it asserts that if someone doubts that one part of the Bible is true, doubt about the rest of the Bible unerringly follows [see what I did there?]. One example of this can be found in a recent webcomic from Adam Ford. We might write out the argument in syllogistic form as something like:

1. If one part of the Bible is in thought to be an error, other parts are thrown into doubt
2. Person A believes the Bible has an error.
3. Therefore, person A has reason to believe other parts are thrown into doubt.

The syllogism as I have written it is surely not the only way to put this argument. I am providing it largely as an illustration of how the argument might be stated. The core of the argument, however, is that if one thinks part of the Bible is an error, the rest of it is made at least possibly dubious.

Analyzing the Argument

There are several difficulties that immediately come up, ranging from concrete to obscure. On the obscure end, we might question what is meant by “an error” and whether that error is said to be theological, scientific, medical, or something else. We could then debate whether an alleged scientific error in the Bible is grounds for stating that there is “an error” in the Bible to begin with, by debating different views Christians hold about the Bible’s relationship with science (or medicine, or whatever). I’m not going to delve into obscurities here, however interesting they may be (and, in my opinion, they are very interesting).

Instead, I want to focus on some major difficulties with the argument. For one, it assumes that the interlocutor, person A, views the entirety of the Bible as on the same evidential plain. That is, for the argument to hold any weight, person A would have to believe that the Bible is linked together so intricately that a belief that Genesis 34:17 [I arbitrarily chose this verse] is an error (however defined) would entail that John 3:16 is possibly an error as well. Clearly, for the argument to be sound, Premise 1 must be correct, and it seems to be obviously false.

The reason I say this is because the possible errancy of John 3:16 does not follow from belief that there is an error in Genesis 34:17. Suppose you are reading a history textbook and you see that it states the date of General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox to be April 9, 1864. You, being a proud history buff, know that the date was actually April 9, 1865. However, the year is only off by one. You may proceed more carefully through the rest of the book, but you would not have any reason to think that the book was mistaken when it said that General Patton was a United States general in World War II.

The argument therefore assumes a unity of the text such that the entire Bible stands or falls together. Now, that might be a perfectly correct position to hold–and I do hold to the unity of Scripture myself–but that is not an obligatory or necessary view. That is, someone might deny that the Bible is a unified text and therefore need not ascribe to the view that if one part is in error, another must be.

But this is not the only difficulty with the argument. Another problem is that it assumes person A has no more reason to believe the portions of the Bible they believe are true than they do for the portions they believe might be errors. Yet this is mistaken, and demonstrably so. Person A may believe there is overwhelming evidence for the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, such that they affirm that without question, while also thinking that the evidence against Israel having been in Egypt is quite weighty as well. Thus, they believe the Bible is perhaps mistaken on the status of Israel in relation to Egypt in Exodus, but they also affirm that it is clearly correct on Jesus’ resurrection. But the slippery slope argument presumes that they cannot hold these beliefs together without at least significant tension. But why? Again, the reason appears to be because the slippery slope argument relies on the assumption that the evidence for one part of the Bible must be exactly on par with the evidence for another. However, that in itself is clearly wrong.

 

Conclusion

Again, I affirm the doctrine of inerrancy. I just think we should not rely on this as one of our arguments. I have used the slippery slope argument myself in the past, but I believe the above analysis shows I was mistaken to do so. I think that others should avoid the argument as well so that we can present the best possible arguments for the truth of the Bible without error.

I suspect many will take issue with the analysis above. I’m not saying that I believe any portion of the Bible is an error. Nor am I denying the unity of Scripture. What I am saying is that it is not logically fallacious to deny that unity. I’m saying that I believe it is logically consistent to believe that the Bible may have an error while still affirming, for example, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Is that something I would recommend? No, but neither is it something I would say is necessarily contradictory. Those who do want to take issue with my analysis must demonstrate how it is mistaken, and thus provide reason to think that the assumptions the slippery slope argument is based upon are sound.

Again, a final note is that I have taken the place of the interlocutor in several instances in this post. My point is simply that someone who did deny these things could come up with effective counters to the slippery-slope argument for inerrancy. Therefore, it seems to me that the argument is ineffective at best and faulty or fallacious at worst. It relies on presupposing that the opponent operates in the same sphere of presuppositions as the one offering the argument, but they need not do so.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

On the “Fuzzification” of Inerrancy– I argue that we have qualified the term “inerrancy” unnecessarily and to the extent that it has become difficult to pin down its actual meaning. I advocate a return to a simple definition of the term.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Adhering to the Book of Concord: “In So Far As” or “Because” it agrees with Scripture?

A title page of the Book of Concord

A title page of the Book of Concord

Lutheran theology is derived from and reflective upon not just Martin Luther but also the Lutheran Confessions, as found in the Book of Concord. Within Lutheranism, there is much debate over exactly how tightly one must adhere to the Book of Concord. On one side, there are those who insist we must affirm the Book of Concord “because” it agrees with the Bible. On the other side, others maintain we should

Because it Agrees

Representative of the view that one must agree with the Book of Concord because it teaches what the Bible teaches is the following:

Authentically Lutheran churches insist on a subscription to the Confessions [The Lutheran Confessions/Book of Concord are used interchangeably] because they agree with the Bible, not merely in so far as they agree with Scripture. Otherwise, there would be no objective way to make sure that there is faithful teaching and preaching of God’s Word. Everything would depend on each pastor’s private opinions, subjective interpretations, and personal feelings, rather than on objective truth as set forth in the Lutheran Confessions. (Book of Concord (.org) FAQ)

Note some important aspects in this quote. First, the Book of Concord just does agree with the Bible. That is insisted upon. Second, the Book of Concord is said to be “objective truth” as opposed to the “subjective interpretations” of the individual. These considerations frame what I’d like to comment on regarding those who hold to the view that we must agree with the book of Concord “because…”

Because? 

I’ll start with the second aspect noted above. There are, of course, all kinds of increasingly detailed issues people on either side of the debate might raise here. For example, how are “objective” and “subjective” being here defined? I’m going to set that kind of issue mostly aside and focus on a few difficulties I see.

The first is that one cannot simply read the words off the pages of the Book of Concord without going through the necessary step of interpreting them. That is, I as a reader of the Book of Concord must try to make sense of the words I am reading, and thus I am participating in the act of interpreting the Book of Concord. If, as the quote above states, the problem is the individual’s subjective nature, then the problem is completely unavoidable. Indeed, even if we grant that the Book of Concord is “objective truth” in its entirety, all we’ve done is moved the problem of subjective interpretation one step back. Now the reader must interpret the Book of Concord in order to get to the objective truth about Scripture found therein.

Another difficulty with this objective/subjective distinction is that it assumes the writers of the Lutheran Confessions were themselves either not subjective (which seems impossible) or explicitly guided by the Spirit to write out objective truth only. I would not dispute that the Holy Spirit could bring about a completely faultless writing, but the question is whether those who affirm the “because” position would like to argue this. The first thing we should do if they do want to argue this would be to see whether the writers of the Book of Concord assert the Holy Spirit did bring about such a completely objective, 100% correct work.

In the Preface to the Book of Concord, we can read:

Finally, with invocation of God Almighty and to his praise and glory and with careful deliberation and meticulous diligence through the particular grace of the Holy Spirit, they wrote down in good order and brought together into one book everything that pertains to and is necessary for this purpose. (Preface, 12)

Later, the Preface makes clear (15) that this Book was “the correct, Christian understanding of the Augsburg Confession…” In the closing of the Preface, we read (23) that those who signed on to it that they “are minded not to manufacture anything new… nor to depart in either substance or expression… from the divine truth… by the grace of the Holy Spirit we intend to persist and remain unanimously in this truth and regulate all religious controversies and their explanations according to it.”

These are all strong statements, and they clearly called upon God the Holy Spirit for guidance in the composition of the various works that make up the Book of Concord. But does it follow that they were explicitly, inerrantly inspired and guided by the Spirit to never once get a single thing wrong in this book? Those who affirm the “because” position must answer yes. There is no wiggle room.

But a close reading of the Preface seems to suggest that although the writers certainly believed everything in the Book of Concord to be without theological error (otherwise they would not have it regulate all controversies, etc.), I have yet to find anywhere that a claim could be made that the book is explicitly inerrant. It would have to be, however, for the “because” position to be true. This human composition would have to be 100% correct in every single minute detail down to the last proof text cited in order for it to be acceptable to affirm that we must agree with it “because” it agrees with Scripture.

Among other things, what follows from that is that anyone who subscribes to the Book of Concord “because” position must have read the entirety, looked up every citation, and assured themselves that every single interpretation, doctrinal position, and the like is 100% correct, lest they be saying that it is a human-made book without error on God’s Word without actually knowing every detail it contains.

The first issue raised above will be addressed in the section named “A Case Study,” below.

In So Far As

A supporting argument for the “In So Far As” position is that we should always only affirm that which is true. If we can agree that the Bible is true in all it teaches, then we should only agree with other writings about the Bible so far as they agree with the Bible. This seems like an obvious conclusion, but the whole debate centers on whether this argument is sound. It is difficult for me to figure out how to support this argument, not because I think it is a poor argument, but because it seems just intuitively clear.

It may help to use an analogy. Historians have debated how to write history and whether writers of history can ever fully get at the “true” history as it happened. Yet very few would deny that there is such a thing as a “true” history. There must be some absolutely correct sequence in which events occurred such that if we had a complete set of writings that simply reported those events, that would be the “true” history. Thus, there is an objectively true history, against which historians can be measured. Granting some of the hand waving involved in this thought experiment, suppose we had a book, The True History of the World, and we looked up the John F. Kennedy assassination therein. We would then have the objectively true report of that hotly-debated historical event as it really did happen. Now suppose I wanted to write a book about the JFK assassination based upon The True History of the World. However careful a historian I am, however excellent and detailed my mind is, however much guidance I may have had, would it be reasonable to say that you agree with my book, The Objective JFK Assassination “because” it agrees with The True History of the World or “in so far as” it does? It seems that the reasonable conclusion would be “in so far as” it does, because we know that The True History of the World is objectively true.

Though imperfect, this analogy gets at the argument written above. We can agree the Bible is inerrant. Thus, if I were to write a book entitled The Objective Bible, I think we can agree that we should only agree with my book so far as it agrees with the Bible, right? No matter how detailed I am, no matter how meticulous, no matter how large a group of thoughtful interpreters I got together to vet my work, it would be entirely reasonable to only affirm agreement with my book so far as it is biblical. Then why would such a standard not also apply to the Book of Concord? I see no reason why that standard would not.

Indeed, to argue against those who affirm the Book of Concord only “in so far as” it agrees with the Bible would mean that one would have to assert that the caution and respect for God’s word implicit in that position–that I would not want to affirm anything, even by mistake, as biblical if it is even possibly in error anywhere–are mistaken. That the care and caution necessary to say “I will only agree with any book in so far as it agrees with the Word of God” is mistaken, and that that the Book of Concord must also be included under the umbrella of books against which all others must be judged.

For the “because” position ultimately, unswervingly leads to the conclusion that we should only affirm any other book “in so far as” it agrees with the Book of Concord. After all, if it is true that the Book of Concord is affirmed because it agrees with Scripture, then it follows that the authority of the Bible is effectively equivalent to the authority of the Book of Concord. The Bible is God’s word, and the Book of Concord is the objective teaching of God’s word without even possible error. That is not simply rhetoric; it is what must follow from the “because” position. Any interpretation of the Bible must be judged against the Book of Concord; hence, any reading of the Bible must also be judged against it.

A Case Study

Finally, we are in position to ask whether the Book of Concord does indeed have any error therein. That is a crucial question, of course, and one not easily resolved by those who remain faithful Lutherans. If, however, there is even one incorrect use of a proof text in the Book of Concord, the “because” position fails.

In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIII (XI) on the Marriage of Priests, section 25, we read:

Therefore this law concerning perpetual celibacy is peculiar to this new pontifical despotism. Nor is it without a reason. For Daniel 11:37, ascribes to the kingdom of Antichrist this mark, namely, the contempt of women.

Daniel 11:37 reads (ESV) “He shall pay no attention to the gods of his fathers, or to the one beloved by women. He shall not pay attention to any other god, for he shall magnify himself above all.”

The whole passage is difficult to interpret given its prophetic message about the Kings of the North and the South. I’m not going to enter into whether this is specifically referencing “Antichrist” or “the kingdom of Antichrist” or anything of the sort. Instead, the issue is with the reading as “contempt of women.” The Reformers were obviously not using the ESV or anything in English. But older English editions like the KJV might support this text as a proof for contempt of women: “Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all.”

But the problem is that critical editions of the Old Testament don’t support a reading as contempt of women. Without going into depths of detail, and because I’m not a Hebrew scholar by any measure, I would just point out that the Hebrew does seem to clearly state “the one desired by women.” So if we are to read 11:37 as a proof text for contempt of women, it doesn’t seem to be a right reading. It’s a minor difficulty, but one nevertheless. Did the citation above from the Book of Concord properly exegete the Bible? I would assert that the use of this proof text is mistaken. If we are to take “paying no attention” as “contempt”–itself a move that could be disputed, then the subject remains “the one desired by women” not “women.”

Now, if the Book of Concord should be agreed with because it agrees with the Bible, then how are we to take this? I don’t know. It seems to me that this is more an example of the way people read the Bible at the time and used proof texts–often stripped of context–in defense of their positions. A single dispute over a citation is not a paradigm shift; indeed, I think that the authors of the Apology were correct on this notion about the marriage of priests. But that doesn’t mean everything they wrote is correct.

Conclusion

I agree with and affirm the Book of Concord in so far as it agrees with Scripture. I think it is correct on a huge amount of the things it teaches. I am currently re-reading it (slowly) and checking citations as I go. I have found it to be edifying and a source of profound theological insight. But it is not the Bible, and I do not think that to be Lutheran–or even a confessing Lutheran–I need to affirm that the Book of Concord is without possible error.

Source

Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. with Charles P. Arand, translator, The Book of Concord.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Sojourner in your Land” – A Christian perspective on immigration and refugees

The issue of immigration has been turned into a political meme. Refugees flee from Syria and other nations in the wake of violence. There are some who treat the plight of the refugee and immigrant, however, as a blight to be extinguished. What does the Bible have to tell us about these issues? A great deal. Here I will briefly draw out a few ways the Bible discusses these topics.

All Humans Share Equal Dignity

The Bible makes it extremely clear that all humans share the image of God (Genesis 2), and that the divisions we make of nation and race have no place in the body of Christ (Galatians 3:28).

The Sojourner in Your Land

The Old Testament has much to say regarding sojourners or exiles. There is no comment about the legality of the sojourner or exile, but rather the focus is on the plight of those who flee from their own lands.

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:33-34 (ESV)

The argument might be made that these are specific commands to a specific people: the Israelites. After all, we read the reasoning: for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. We were never in Egypt! we might cry. The teaching, however, seems to be binding and universal.To point out that the latter part does not apply to Christians is like the teachers of the Law saying they were slaves to no one, despite being Abraham’s descendants (John 8:33).

Moreover, when we consider a verse like Exodus 22:21- ““You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (ESV), we note that the reasoning provided is not necessary for the command. You shall not wrong or oppress a sojourner; next clause: here’s a reason why. But the command itself stands whether or not the reason given directly applies to us or not. Of course, even if you don’t buy into this reasoning, there are plenty of verses that simply command us to care for the sojourner.

Malachi 3:5 states “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.”

God issues dire warnings “against those who thrust aside the sojourner.”

The letter to the Hebrews applies this from a New Testament perspective: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (13:2).

Commands to help the needy and poor are found throughout Scripture, such as in Proverbs: “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (31:8-9)

It would be difficult to discount that “illegal immigrants” are often among the poor and needy, or that refugees could not be counted among that number.

Hope for all nations is preached throughout the Bible, calling people from all directions to God.

An Eschatological Perspective

Christians are told by Peter that we are all exiles in this world (1 Peter 2:11). We are in this world, and not of it. Such verses speaking of the nature of Christians as exiles on earth tie the thread, and bring us full circle. The reasoning that applied to the Israelites because they were sojourners in Egypt applies to us, because we are sojourners on Earth. Care for the poor and needy, do not turn aside the sojourner, for we are exiles as they are.

Drawing Conclusions

Christians have no wiggle room: the plight of the sojourner, the refugee, and/or the exile are not to be ignored. We are to care for them as we would be cared for. How exactly does this play out in a practical fashion? That is up for some debate. However, any perspective cannot be called Christian which ignores the Bible’s clear teaching and command to care for others.

It is also clear that there is nowhere in the Bible where provisions are made for some of the arguments commonly used in the political sphere. For example, there is no exception stating that if people do not want to pay higher taxes, they are allowed to turn aside the sojourner. Neither does it prescribe a specific system for providing assistance, or say that a specific form of government should be established to do so. One thing that is excluded explicitly would be any demeaning of others made in the image of God. One thing that is required is that we do care for those in need.

We are called to help the sojourner. Whether that is the refugee from Syria, the young neighbor boy who ran away from an abusive home, or an “illegal” seeking to escape from systemic poverty: no exceptions are made. We as Christians should remember that we, too, are exiles seeking scraps from the Master’s table.

Grace and peace.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Egalitarian Music?

worship-in-churchI often find myself cringing at the lyrics that pass for contemporary Christian music as I listen to the radio (which, admittedly, I rarely do). From songs like “Courageous,” which makes it sound like only men can have courage… or at least that only they were “made to be” that way; to those like “Lead Me,” which encourages co-dependence in relationships, I find myself wondering if there are any egalitarian Christian musicians out there making music that shares that message. I know of none.

 

Anyone know of any?

The question, of course, is whether the concept of gender “roles” even needs to be an issue for egalitarian musicians. Moreover, how might an egalitarian theme be put forward meaningfully through music? I’m interested to know if anyone has thoughts on this.

Of course, all of this may just be another displayed symptom of the problem I’ve mentioned before with having a distinct genre of “Christian” music over and against other types of music.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Christian Discernment Regarding Music: A reflection and response– Here I react to a post encouraging discernment when thinking about the category of Christian music.

On Christian Music– I reflect on the category of “Christian Music” and whether it is even a functionally helpful tool.

Engaging Culture: Demon Hunter’s “Extremist” and the Apologetic Task– I discuss the latest album from Demon Hunter and how music may act as an apologetic endeavor.

SDG.

Women, Emotions, and Apologetics: A Response to “Apologetically Blonde”

clur-copancraigI recently came upon Come Let Us Reason: New Essays in Christian Apologetics, a book I’d been meaning to read for some time. I decided to take a break from the unpacking I was doing to do a little browsing as my son crawled around on my lap. I turned to the index to discover an article entitled: “Apologetically Blonde: The Struggle of Women to Defend Their Faith and What They Should Do about It” by Toni Allen (full citation below- all references to this text). As I browsed the article I knew I needed to write a response, because–with apologies to Toni Allen–I felt much of it was misguided.

Emotional Reasoning

The first critique I have of Allen’s article is the continued references to emotional reasoning and its apparent lack of justification for knowledge. Writes Allen:

…I find that women often depend on their experience and emotional connection with God as the primary justification for the beliefs they hold. In other words, women tend to perceive meaningful experiences and their corresponding emotions to be validation that what they believe is accurate. (40)

She goes on to say:

Yes, the gospel is for the whole person, and this includes existential reasons (including personal experience as well as our deepest emotions and longings)… However, a well-rounded defense of the gospel will include rational reasons and evidences. (40)

Throughout this section, Allen affirms the reality of personal experience and emotions as a basis for believing, but continually asserts that rational reasons are required in the public defense of Christianity. It is difficult to pin down exactly what Allen’s critique is in this section, because the wording is such that it could allow any number of exceptions. Words like “typically,” “often,” “includes,” and the like allow for broad interpretations of her meaning. But it does seem like the whole tone of the article as a whole is that emotions are somehow inadequate as a defense of the faith or that they are opposite or opposed to reason. This latter point is particularly problematic, and it seems like it is closest to the way Allen is leaning throughout the essay.

The reason I say this is because emotions are set up not alongside reasons and rationality, but rather as something separate from them. But this is itself mistaken. As any number of authors have pointed out, emotions themselves are part of the reasoning process and indeed can be integral or even essential to rationality. For example, Daniel Westberg argues in Renewing Moral Theology, a Thomistic approach to ethical theology, that emotions are a central part of the process of reasoning and judgment (see especially 40-43; see also my review of the book here). If Westberg is right, then for Thomists–a formidable bunch of philosophers indeed–emotions are a central aspect of reasoning; not something separate from and possibly antithetical to it. But even if he’s wrong, his case is fairly persuasive that emotions should not be dismissed from the reasoning process, and philosophers of several other flavors have agreed.

Thus, one of the major points of Allen’s assessment is itself mistaken because it operates from a false understanding of the relationship between emotions and reasoning.

As an aside, Allen’s assertion that “we must realize that appeals to religious experience typically do not function as a decisive apologetic” (41) is shifty in its wording (“typically”) while also being mistaken, as philosophers like Richard Swinburne, Caroline Franks Davis, Keith Yandell, and the like have made the argument from religious experience a powerful apologetic tool. Moreover, people like Alvin Plantinga have argued (persuasively, in my opinion), that we can have a rational basis for belief in God through properly basic belief and religious experience.

Can Women Do Apologetics?

Alongside Allen’s constant stream of arguing that women think more emotionally, there is the question of what exactly that is supposed to mean. Again and again we are treated to quotes like the one shared above and those below:

“[W]omen are naturally more cognizant of their emotions… depending on them as the primary validation for our beliefs directly affects our judgment.” (42)
“[I]n mentoring many women over the years, I have found it very common that rather than evaluate an idea on its merits, they are instead more reluctant to adopt an idea if it actuates negative feelings, or more eager to accept it because of positive ones.” (42)
“As women, we should welcome the challenge of defending our faith, even if this pushes us out of our comfort zone.” (45)

Lines like these are found throughout the essay with little supporting evidence other than personal experience–itself a great irony given the previous analysis. But apart from this, it fails to take into account that men and women operate on bell curves in regard to emotional–and other–reasoning skills and so making broad statements like these fails to reflect the reality of the spectrum of capacities for either gender.

Women, according to Allen, also are hamstrung in their attempts to do apologetics through “their natural inclination to avoid conflict” (37). But again, what does this say about men and women essentially (in the philosophical sense)? Do men who have an inclination to avoid conflict somehow become women or more feminine because of this? If so, in what fashion? And what biblical basis do we have for these kinds of assertions?

These and other issues betray a primary underlying presupposition of Allen’s article: gender essentialism. This is a deep topic that I cannot explore thoroughly here, but basically what Allen has–consciously or not–bought into is the notion that men and women operate in largely different spheres with clearly defined cognitive and other barriers between them. That’s why lines like “Women are naturally more cognizant of their emotions…” manage to sneak into the text. But these lines find little argumentative support and again fail to take into account the aforementioned reality that men and women do not operate in entirely different planes of existence–or even emotions. Although Allen generally included lines that allowed for some wiggle room, the overall message was clearly based on this presupposed and unfounded adherence to gender essentialism.

Apologetically Blonde?

A final issue I wanted to mention with the article is the title itself. Although “blonde jokes” have become part of our culture, I think that we as Christians are called to a higher standard. “Blonde” jokes select a specific portion of the population for the sake of ridicule. Though these are often “in good fun” the question is whether such jokes are taken that way and what kind of impact that might have on the people who are, well, blonde. I am not, but it’s easy to see how the use of “blonde” in the title as a synonym for “challenged” could be taken poorly and works against the gentleness and respect we need to display as Christian case-makers.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Toni Allen, “Apologetically Blonde: The Struggle of Women to Defend Their Faith and What They Should Do about It” in Come Let Us Reason: New Essays in Christian Apologetics eds. Paul Copan & William Lane Craig (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2012).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

A Sacramental/Lutheran Response to Women in Church Leadership

785px-Bible_and_Lord's_Cup_and_BreadThe debate over women in the church–and particularly in church leadership–often has a different tenor when it is carried out in those church bodies which are sacramental in nature. A recent post over at The Junia Project entitled “Women & Leadership in Sacramental Churches” written by Tim Peck highlighted some of the different issues that come up in these church bodies. Here, I will present a few objections that often come up to women in leadership in sacramental churches, using Peck’s post for some insights. Then, I will note how from a Lutheran perspective, the notion that women cannot perform the sacraments is unfounded.

In the Place of Christ

One common objection to women serving in the office of the pastor has been that the pastor is to serve in the place of Christ when presiding over the sacraments. Thus, it is inferred that because Christ is a man, the pastor must also be a man. A similar objection is that Christ is the bridegroom of the church, and the pastor acts as Christ to the church. Thus, the pastor must be male, it is argued, because of the union of bride (church) and groom (Christ/pastor). As one complementarian I spoke with on this issue asserted, if the pastor were a woman, it would mean the church is in a homosexual relationship with the pastor (the inference being that the bride [church] would then be ‘married’ to the woman pastor).

The first part of the objection is answered fairly easily by pointing out, as Peck does, that:

Jesus was ethnically specific (Jewish), gender specific (male) and class specific (poor). To focus on just one and ignore the other two for the presider to function sacramentally seems arbitrary.

The second, similar objection can be answered by pointing out that the literal interpretation being used to exclude women from the pastoral office should also exclude any number of others from the office as well. After all, to turn the analogy the complementarian used above, if the pastor were married, then the pastor would be in a polygamous relationship with the church! But of course this is absurd. The reason it is absurd is because an analogy–the pastor being as Christ to the church–is being pressed into service literally. But this literalism is selective at best.

The Levitical Priesthood

Another argument I’ve heard a number of times is that pastors are analogous to the Levitical priesthood and, since no women were in the Levitical priesthood, women cannot serve as pastors. Peck again answers this argument:

[T]he New Testament itself insists that any priesthood existing among Christians would differ significantly from the old covenant priesthood. This should be obvious, since the old covenant priesthood was passed on by heredity. Moreover, men who suffered disabilities such as deformities, blindness, or mutilation were forbidden from serving as priests in the old covenant.

He offers other reasons to undermine this argument as well, but I think this one pretty much clinches it already: there is, again, a selectively literal reading happening. When it’s helpful for the complementarian argument, texts are taken literally, but even in the same contexts the literalism is not applied consistently.

A Lutheran Appeal

The Lutheran Confessions and the Administration of the Sacraments

From a confessional Lutheran perspective, the documents contained in the Book of Concord are binding. Yet, the types of arguments already analyzed above are often presented alongside the notion that a woman cannot perform the sacraments by virtue of being a woman. The reason this is true often varies from person to person, but the core of the reasoning is that women are excluded from the pastoral office and so by necessity cannot perform the sacraments. This reasoning reveals a presupposition: the sacraments, if performed by a woman, are made invalid.

The Augsburg Confession in Article VIII, states “Both the sacraments and the Word are efficacious because of the ordinance and command of Christ, even when offered by evil people.” In The Large Catechism, Fifth Part, “The Sacrament of the Altar,” Martin Luther states “Our conclusion is: Even though a scoundrel receives or administers the sacrament, it is the true sacrament… just as truly as when one uses it most worthily. For it is not founded on human holiness but on the Word of God.”

Thus, we find the unified teaching of the Book of Concord is that the efficacy of the sacraments is not based upon the person performing them. Indeed, if they were, then surely our confidence in the sacraments would be destroyed, for what pastor has no sin? The sacraments, then, cannot be made invalid because they are performed by a woman.

Responses to the Argument Above

The most likely response to this kind of reasoning would be to appeal to the biblical text to argue that women shouldn’t be pastors. However, this type of response would be a red herring. A discussion of the biblical texts is both necessary and valuable, but the argument that Lutheran complementarians have presented suggests that somehow the sacrament cannot be performed by a woman. Yet, as was demonstrated above, the Lutheran confessions themselves contradict this. The efficacy of the sacrament is not–thank God–dependent upon the one performing the sacrament. Thus, to argue that women would somehow invalidate the sacrament would be to deny the confessions of faith that we hold most dear and, indeed, undermine the very basis for our confidence in the validity of sacraments to begin with.

No human is without sin; none has no blemish. Our confidence in the sacraments is found not in the person performing them but in the unfailing word of God.

Another possible response is to appeal to, for example, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XIV, section 1 in which it states that “no one should be allowed to administer the Word and sacraments unless they are duly called…” The appeal would then go on to suggest that no woman, by virtue of being a woman, can be “duly called” into the administration of the Word and Sacrament. This counter-argument begs the question from the beginning. Rather than offering an argument as to why women cannot be duly called, the complementarian has here simply assumed that women cannot be called and then applied this backwards to exclude women from performing sacraments.

If the appeal is then, again, made to the biblical text, then that is where the debate must play out. But notice that if one moves in this direction, they have already conceded the invalidity of the reasoning the argument began with. Instead, they must continually retreat from the reasoning used above and try to argue from proof texts through specific–often unquestioned–exegetical methods.

Conclusion

There are many arguments put forward in sacramental churches against the possibility of women being in the role of the pastor. An analysis of two primary arguments have shown they are faulty in that they are selectively literal. From a Lutheran perspective, we find that the Lutheran Confessions themselves actually work against anyone suggesting that the sacraments are invalid when performed by any variety of people. It is God working, not some magical formula that the human must perform.

We must instead go back to the texts and approach them with a cautious eye towards the fact that we have selectively taken parts literally that cannot, when pressed, hold up. The conversation within Lutheran circles–and indeed, within sacramental circles generally–should continue, but the arguments analyzed herein have been shown to be wanting.

Sources

Tim Peck, “Women & Leadership in Sacramental Churches” 2015, online at http://juniaproject.com/women-leadership-in-sacramental-churches/.

All citations of the Lutheran Confessions are from:

The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008).

The Image in this post is from Wikimedia Commons and published under Creative Commons licensing. It was created by John Snyder and may be found here. Please appropriate cite if re-used.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Bound for the Promised Land” by Oren Martin

bpl-martin

Oren Martin’s Bound for the Promised Land is a canonical-perspective look at the land promise throughout the Bible. His central thesis is that “the land promised to Abraham advances the place of the kingdom that was lost in Eden and serves as a type throughout Israel’s history that anticipates the even greater land… that will… find… fulfillment in the new heaven and new earth won by Christ” (17).

The book advances a broad argument for this thesis by surveying what the Bible has to say about the land promise and its fulfillment. Martin does not offer a comprehensive look at every verse in the Bible that deals with the land promise, but rather puts forward a canonical view in which he surveys what various books of the Bible say about the promise and puts them in perspective alongside each other. He thus develops the promise from Eden in Genesis through Abraham, into Canaan, exile, through prophetic hope of return, the ushering in through Christ, and the ultimate consummation in the New Creation.

The book isn’t going to blow readers away with stunning insights. Frankly, that can be a good thing when it comes to theology texts. Martin’s exegesis is sound, based on firm principles and clearly drawn from the texts themselves. By connecting these verses to wider canonical strands, he demonstrates that his position is capable of dealing with the whole teaching of the Bible on the land promise rather than isolating it and trying to trump these threads with individual out-of-context verses.

Though not stunning or necessarily new, the insights Martin puts forward provide a great resource for those interested in eschatology and the issues raised by dispensationalists regarding the land promise. Martin does not support the dispensational view and argues cogently that it cannot be supported by the texts that teach on the land promise. The notion that we must take the land promise “literally” does not do full justice to the texts themselves and cannot account for the broadness of teaching on the topic.

Bound for the Promised Land is an insightful work that will lead to much flipping back and forth in readers’ Bibles as they go through it. I enjoyed making some new notes and re-highlighting some key points. Martin’s exegesis is solid, and the work is great for those interested in eschatology and biblical prophecy. By putting together a book focused exclusively on the land promise from a perspective that takes seriously the whole of biblical teaching on the topic, Martin has done a service for those interested in eschatology. I recommend it as a worthy read.

The Good

+Clearly outlines presuppositions the author maintains throughout the study
+Solid exegesis
+Canonical view gives picture of whole teaching of Bible on topic
+Applicable insights put forward

The Bad

-Skims over arguments very briefly at points

Disclaimer: InterVarsity Press provided me with a copy of the book for review. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever, nor did they request changes or edit this review in any way. 

Source

Oren Martin, Bound for the Promised Land (Downers Grove, IL: Apollos/InterVarsity Press, 2015).

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SDG.

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