Word and Sacrament

This tag is associated with 4 posts

Book Review: “Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life” by Stephen J. Nichols

bcl-nicholsBonhoeffer on the Christian Life  by Stephen J. Nichols is part of the “Theologians on the Christian Life” series from Crossway. This volume focuses on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran theologian who was murdered by the Nazis. What is remarkable about this book is the way it successfully shows the interplay between Bonhoeffer’s theology and his life lived, and then demonstrates this is something we, too, can comprehend.

Nichols balances discussion about Bonhoeffer’s theology with discussion of his life. This is more than simply combining biography with theology. Instead, Nichols demonstrates that Bonhoeffer’s theology of Christian life is acted out by Bonhoeffer. Thus, readers are able to read about Bonhoeffer while learning what it means to lead a Christian life. This is fitting, because Bonhoeffer did act out the core of his theology, which, as the subtitle of the book (“From the Cross, For the World”) suggests, is cruciform. For Bonhoeffer, Christian living is living as Christ to the world, and this includes living and dying with Christ.

The book has chapters on ecclesiology, prayer, confession, and more. The chapters noted are particularly insightful. Nichols draws much from Bonhoeffer’s Life Together to show his doctrine of the church, which itself is deeply connected to a life of spiritual discipline, confession to one another, and willingness to suffer for Christ. Nichols notes well, however, that we in the West are not likely to be asked to pay the same cost of discipleship that Bonhoeffer did: execution for his lived faith. But that, Nichols argues, does not mean that we cannot live Christ-like lives. Rather than making Bonhoeffer a hero–and Nichols notes that Bonhoeffer would have rejected that categorization–we ought see him as a Christian living out the life God called him to.

Nichols balances the excitement of learning about Bonhoeffer’s life with the unveiling of deeper thoughts on the way Bonhoeffer points to a Christian life lived. It makes the book quite readable, despite its often complex subject matter.

There is, however, one glaring hole in the treatment of Bonhoeffer’s theology of the Christian life. That is, Bonhoeffer’s Lutheranism, and specifically his view of the proper theology as one of Word and Sacrament. A search of the book reveals but one reference to baptism, and only two references to the Lord’s Supper. However, Bonhoeffer continually held to the importance of these sacraments throughout his theology. For example, in The Cost of Discipleship, he wrote:

How then do we come to participate in the Body of Christ, who did all this for us? …The answer is, through the two sacraments of his Body, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. (239, edition linked above)

From this and many other references, it is clear that sacraments are central to Bonhoeffer’s understanding of ecclesiology. Yet Nichols doesn’t even mention them in the section on ecclesiology, an otherwise richly rewarding section of the book. Only a passing reference is made to the sacraments, despite their centrality to Bonhoeffer’s Lutheran understanding of grace and Christian living. This is a significant difficulty, for it effectively removes Bonhoeffer’s theology from its context.

Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life is an excellent, practical read. It shows how integrated Bonhoeffer’s theology is with his life, and gives many practical examples for readers to apply to their own lives. The book does, however, de-contextualize his theology by ignoring key aspects of his Lutheranism and their impact on Christian living. Readers will get much good from the book, but perhaps not as much good as they could have had it allowed Bonhoeffer’s Lutheranism to shine through.

The Good

+Focused on Bonhoeffer’s practical theology
+Gives insight into Bonhoeffer’s life with applications
+Excellent annotations for further reading

The Bad

-Little attention paid to Bonhoeffer on the sacraments

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher. I was not obligated to write any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Stephen Nichols, Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014).

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!

Bonhoeffer’s Troubling Theology?- A response to an article on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theological perspectives– I look at an argument that Bonhoeffer’s theology is “troubling” to evangelicals and point out how much of it is merely a product of his Lutheran background.

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

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

SDG.

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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.

Sunday Quote: Dietrich Bonhoeffer as Lutheran

dietrich_bonhoefferEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer as Lutheran

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of the most engaging characters of the 20th century as well as an immensely important and popular theologian. As time goes on, more and more people know who he is and acknowledge his influence on their work and lives. I have noticed, however, a strange lack of awareness or acknowledgement of Bonhoeffer’s Lutheranism. That is, many take what he says about discipleship, ecclesiology, prayer, and the like to heart, but divorce those ideas from their Lutheran context in his thought. Yet, for Bonhoeffer, his Lutheran theology was central to his understanding of Christianity. He wrote in The Cost of Discipleship:

How then do we come to participate in the Body of Christ, who did all this for us? It is certain that there can be no fellowship or communion with him except through his Body, baptism and the Lord’s Supper… The sacraments begin and end in the Body of Christ, and it is only the presence of that Body which makes them what they are. The word of preaching is insufficient to make us members of Christ’s body; the sacraments also have to be added. Baptism incorporates us into the unity of the Body of Christ, and the Lord’s Supper fosters and sustains our fellowship and communion… in that Body. (239, cited below)

These words can be found echoed in Bonhoeffer’s writings. His understanding of the universe was a Lutheran understanding, one which teaches Word and Sacrament. To do justice to his legacy, we need to acknowledge the fact that he isn’t just some theologian we can pull individual ideas from; instead, we must see him as Lutheran.

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!

Bonhoeffer’s Troubling Theology?- A response to an article on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theological perspectives– I have argued elsewhere that the broad evangelical understanding of Bonhoeffer may, indeed, be a misunderstanding of the fact that he is Lutheran.

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

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

Source

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Touchstone, 1995).

SDG.

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.

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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.

Sunday Quote! – Infant Baptism and the Imagination?

ia-adEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Infant Baptism and the Imagination?

I was reading through Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition (edited by Andrew Davison) and came upon a quote which I thought exemplified some of the beauty of infant baptism:

A child baptism… is a wonderful argument in itself for the religious dimension. Even apart from the putting on of Christ, dying to sin[,] and regeneration at its heart, the simple fact that a family brings a baby to church is a religious act. They are seeing their child apart from themselves… she is truly real to them. To offer a baby for baptism is to affirm that she is more than a bundle of rosy flesh and a needy mouth. She means more than she seems. In a young infant we encounter reality and it leads us upwards. (42, cited below)

The “imagination” involved in this is not so much a imagination in the sense of “making up” but rather in the sense of experiencing and accessing a different reality. The parents bring their child in to be baptized, thus affirming that this is one who needs God as much as any other; one whom God has called. Infant baptism is an “encounter” with reality which “leads us upwards.” It goes beyond the water and the words and becomes Word and Sacrament. I thought this was a beautiful quote to illustrate the nature of an infant baptism.

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

Alison Milbank, “Apologetics and the Imagination: Making Strange” in Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition edited by Andrew Davison (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011).

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