Monday, June 30, 2008

Pew Forum's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey

The survey (breathtaking in scope) was released last week. You can view all kinds of interesting stats and download the whole thing here.

I created a little spreadsheet to compare various denomination's results on questions that I was particularly interested in. There are some interesting trends. The questions I looked at in particular were:

Belief in God

Importance of Religion in One's Life
Frequency of Attendance at Religious Services
Frequency of Prayer
Frequency of receiving answers to prayers
Literal Interpretation of Scripture
Interpretation of Religious teachings
View of One's religion as the One True Faith
Views about Abortion
Views about Homosexuality

The LCMS, ELCA, and Catholic response rates for the various views on each question are about the same--usually within a few percentage points of each other. The Southern Baptist responses are significantly different than the others--sometimes by 20 percentage points or more on certain responses to questions.

There were a few exceptions, for instance, on the question of how the literalness of the Bible, the LCMS responses were somewhere between the ELCA/Catholic and the SBC.

If you want to see for yourself, get the report, or download my spreadsheet here.

Is This Too Much To Ask?

Via Lutherpunk, via someone else:

All I want is a happy little anglo-catholic [editorial note: read Evangelical Catholic for LP] parish. I don’t want a multi-media extravaganza. I don’t want a praise band. I don’t want to sing U2. I don’t need to talk theology over beers. I really just want a parish that follows the lectionary, observes the rhythms of the church year and holds traditional worship on holy days of obligation. Is that too much to ask? Can I also maybe request that we not remove essential parts of the liturgy in order to make the service shorter? Because that’s not cool. At all. If you can’t hang with the J man for a full 90 minutes, just stay home.

If you are looking for a cool, trendy, good looking pastor who oozes charisma and charm and tells great jokes all while leading a service that looks more like American Idol than the Divine Service, then I am not your man. There’s a huge non-denominational church down the street. Enjoy.

It Will Answer Questions...If We Survive

A new atomic supercollider's construction is nearing completion in Europe and will be turned on in August. Scientists are hopeful that the collider, billed as the largest scientific experiment in history, will solve long-unanswered questions about subatomic physics.

Scientists also hope that the experiment will not destroy the world.

An AP report says this:

The safety of the collider, which will generate energies seven times higher than its most powerful rival, at Fermilab near Chicago, has been debated for years. The physicist Martin Rees has estimated the chance of an accelerator producing a global catastrophe at one in 50 million — long odds, to be sure, but about the same as winning some lotteries.

By contrast, a CERN team this month issued a report concluding that there is "no conceivable danger" of a cataclysmic event. The report essentially confirmed the findings of a 2003 CERN safety report, and a panel of five prominent scientists not affiliated with CERN, including one Nobel laureate, endorsed its conclusions.

Critics of the LHC filed a lawsuit in a Hawaiian court in March seeking to block its startup, alleging that there was "a significant risk that ... operation of the Collider may have unintended consequences which could ultimately result in the destruction of our planet."

Read the rest here

Thursday, June 26, 2008

How I Answer

Brute Squad: What Seminary did you go to?
Answer: St. Louis. But I could have gone to either.

Brute Squad: Ok then, Who were your favorite professors?
Answer: I liked them all.

Brute Squad: Seriously, you must have had some that were better than others?
Answer: Oh yeah. But I don't like to speak ill of the dead.

Brute Squad, thinking furiously: So some of your least favorite professors died?
Answer: Probably. Or they will. We all will.

Brute Squad: Do we know any of the same people? Who were your classmates?
Answer: Probably. It's a small Synod. We know each other.

And so it goes. Reflecting upon this I suppose I'm a jerk. I guess I shouldn't wonder why I have few friends. But I refuse to play the game. I've got enough labels already.

In all fairness once I make the point, I usually answer their questions.

True Answers:
Feuerhahn, Nagel, Voelz, Robinson.

I won't answer here the question of who my friends are. I don't want to drop names, enrage people or leave others out. But as much as it sounds like something Mr. Rogers would say, in a true sense you readers are my true friends. You are the people most willing to put up with my ravings and waste your good time here. Thank you.

I feel compelled to mention one other name: Steve Anderson, pastor in Chicago. At the Seminary he helped me move from one dorm room to another (several times, as I recall) and finally out of the dorm altogether. He's shown true friendship in countless other ways as well through the years. But a friend who helps you move is one that deserves public recognition. He's a better friend to me than I am to him. Cheers, Steve!

I Would Be Remiss...

if I didn't mention that "Issues, Etc." is going back on the air...but not in any way affiliated with the LCMS. Amazing that such an expensive program could find sponsors and support.

You can find it here. If you've never listened, please consider doing so. For those of you under my spiritual care, please be aware that I found its previous incarnation to be very one-sided as to what "True Lutheranism" is to the point that it could give the impression that Lutheranism is about Being Right! (tm). There were also factual errors and "spin" applied to discussions of other denominations at times.

For those who've not experienced much of what Lutheranism is like outside of your parish or LWML, listening can be an educational experience, if one is willing to listen with an open mind and ignore some of the closed minded attitudes that may be expressed on the show.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Just Who Are Your Friends?

A culture of suspicion--that's what really bugs me about the Confessionals in the LCMS. Always has. There was once a Confessional group I knew of who insisted on quizzing me about what Seminary I went to and what "professors I liked," about what I thought of certain prominent people in the Synod, about who my friends were before I was allowed to visit with them at a conference. I was suspect of something until I could prove otherwise. It's happened other times too. In all fairness, it's not just the confessionals that do this. Liberals drop bait in conversation as well, asking some of the same questions about which Seminary one attended and so forth.

I suppose as our Synod grows more divided it's somewhat necessary to know where people stand, to use Shibboleths to figure it out.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Why Do They Not Swim the Mississippi?

Why is it that we hear few accounts of Lutheran pastors going Baptist or Pentecostal or Presbyterian? I know they do. I've heard accounts...but one must listen closely and dig a bit to find them.

I don't think that many Lutheran pastors covert to become Methodists or Presbyterian or Pentecostals because they don't have to. They can "convert" by using Bible studies, worship styles and everything and do it right in front of everybody and few will notice or care. In fact, this has already happened on a large scale when one considers how many non-Lutheran Bible studies, VBS programs, worship resources, and evangelism programs are used everywhere in the Synod. A Lutheran can be as Methodist or Pentecostal as they wish and the only thing that would be lacking is a connection with ecclesiastical structures within these other confessions. If it is really important for an otherwise Methodist-Lutheran pastor to be under the authority of a Methodist Bishop, then he will have to leave. But Methodist Bishops do not usually advertise the necessity of being under their authority that often.

So here's a toast to all who do leave to form a new Pentecostal congregation or Baptist or Independent! I'm sorry that you and I don't agree. I'm sad that you no longer affirm the Truth we confess within the LCMS. But, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for having integrity and following your conscience, for being honest with everybody.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Article Online

In working on another project I discovered my article "Baby Pew Sitters" published in Touchstone is now available online. Take a look and read some of their other articles. Better yet, subscribe too! Despite publishing me, it is a fine journal--stimulating but accessible reading as well.

Favorite Spam Email Subject

I've been having problems with my email account at church. Seems that legitimate emails are being blocked, at least some of the time. So I reset my spam filter, turning it off for the time being.

Since then I've been deluged with the usual suspects. The good news is that most of it is already being blocked by my security software and arrives in the "Junk" folder, but I'm having to scan those subjects myself to make sure that Outlook and Norton are not being too aggressive. The subjects range from offers of unmentionable things to "Luxury Watches" and outrageous deals on pirated software. But then there's this subject:

"[Norton AntiSpam] You look really stupid pastor"

The body of the email is simply a link I'm not willing to follow, but the subject cracks me up.

Who needs enemies to keep you humble when you have spam?

Blogging Block and Reader Exercise

I've got four or five posts I've been messing with for weeks now that I can't just seem to get in the right shape to publish. Most deal with "controversial" matters, so perhaps this is an indication to leave them alone for now.

So here's an exercise for all of us. Think about your weltanschauung (world-view). How tied up is it with the spirit of the age, with modernism, consumerism, choice. How much do you reject the past as outmoded and inferior? How much do you believe people and culture has changed in the last 60 years? In the 60 years before that?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Fascinating Discussion

Take a few minutes to read the comments on "Another Pastor Leaves" below. I appreciate the comment authors' candor, gentleness and insights. I've learned a few things too.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Hollywood Must-Read

Tradtionalism is not Legalism

Here's the intro:

George Carlin once quipped that anyone driving slower than you is an "idiot" and anyone driving faster than you is a "maniac."

Of course, this is because the sinful nature sees itself as, like the third bowl of porridge: "just right."

In the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, especially exacerbated by the multiplicity of electronic media, there is a real culture of trying to bully people into being Just Like Me. You will see it pretty often these days, be it on blogs, in social networking sites, or on e-lists. The self-styled "confessional Lutherans" often berate the emerging movement, the contemporary worship faction, or the church growth industry for not being reverent and traditional enough. Their opponents often reply by playing (in the words of Rev. Todd Wilkin) "the Pharisee card." In other words, the "confessional Lutherans" are denounced by their less liturgical counterparts for "legalism" and for being "Pharisees." Of course, the characterization is unfair and a poor substitute for rational and churchmanly debate and discourse.

But, the game goes the other direction. There is a movement of traditionalism, not only in Lutheran circles, but also among the Roman Catholic, Reformed, and even neo-Evangelical branches of the Church Catholic. Creeds and confessions are being dusted off. Churches that have been hesitant to use the traditional church year and the lectionary are taking them out for a spin. Chasubles and incense are cautiously being reintroduced in liturgical churches - even in America where minimalism and anti-Roman hysteria has skewed Lutheranism and Anglicanism in a more Protestant direction than the confessional writings and tradition of those communions confess on paper.

But the traditionalist movement is being ridiculed as legalism by the "confessional Lutheran" faction in the same way that the "confessional Lutherans" are often mischaracterized by their opponents. And the impersonality of the internet emboldens a sense of rudeness that is far less likely in a more personal forum.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I Suppose the Town Could Have Been in Germany Too

The citizens of a village in Romania knowingly re-elected a dead man as mayor. Those interviewed said they preferred the deceased Neculai Ivascu to his living rival, Gheorghe Dobrescu. (This takes, "That government is best which governs least" to new extremes.)

In addition to the fact that Romania is estimated to be 87 percent Orthodox, one quotation in the article proved this village is, in fact, an Orthodox village. One of the people who voted for the departed told the media, "I know he died, but I don't want change."
HT: Ben Johnson

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Getting Used to the New Temperature

Have you noticed that the furor has died down? All the wailing and action committees and new websites and crying in the wilderness has now simmered down. Heck, it's not even simmering right now, but feels pretty tepid.

A friend of mine pointed out that this is the way in the LCMS...and most bureaucratic controversies. The Bosses raise the temperature a few degrees and everyone begins to cry how boiling hot it is, but pretty soon it feels about normal, and the Bosses throw out a few bones to quiet the masses and problem is solved. But the temperature is never actually lowered and we stew until the next issue, when we shall cook a little more, and slowly but surely we all become boiled.

UPDATE: Would nobody tell me of the glaring typo I had in the Title?

Another Pastor Leaves

Dan Woodring announces his conversion to Roman Catholicism on his blog. Dan was active in Higher Things, a confessional Youth Organization, and somewhat prominent in the Confessional scene within the LCMS.

The story of his conversion is interesting and troublesome. He writes several times of dreading going to another congregation to work to make them Lutheran. That sentiment definitely strikes a chord with me.

I think every Lutheran pastor feels this way at times, and we shouldn't have to. Every congregation has in theory agreed to make the Book of Concord their confessional identity and standard. In theory, one should be able to go to a congregation, show them what the Confessions say and be done with it. Obviously, it's not that easy. People and emotions are involved, personal and family histories, local tradition, biases and prejudices. If District Presidents were concerned about the doctrine and practice of the congregations in their district and supported pastors in reforming the congregations it might be different. Often they do nothing, or even work to undermine the work of the pastor. It is a sad reality for those who take the Lutheran Confessions seriously, and a serious problem we face.

On the other hand, show me a congregation that does not require remedial work--in any denomination. If there is a standard, I reckon few congregations in any denomination meet it. This is part of the work of the ministry, in bringing the word of God to bear on people, not systems; on actual congregations, not in theoretical situations. In this respect I wonder if pastors who change church bodies for this reason should not rather simply leave the Lutheran ministry. The grass is not greener somewhere else.

The grass is not greener--but sometimes the conflict is about what is important. If I did not worry about my own members rejecting the liturgy, the confessions--if one morning I woke and all doctrinal and liturgical and practical controversies were miraculously gone...there would still be the hard work of repentance and faith, of leading the people--not to programs and committees, but to the life-giving waters of Christ. This is the real work of the Holy Ministry--bringing Christ and the life-giving Word into the lives of people.

This is not to say doctrine and practice are not important--but they are in a sense secondary to the real life of Christian repentance and faith. If your church is fighting about how often to celebrate communion, how much liturgy, how formal or informal, who to commune or not, then everyone's attention is on these controversies and not on their own sin and forgiveness. Right doctrine and practice are incredibly important--but are not substitutes for repentance and faith. When our attention is on the controversies, the important work of repentance goes neglected. Piety and faith are not found in theological knowledge, discussions of liturgy, history and facts, correct formulations and the more. Piety and faith is found in hearing the Word of God and doing it, receiving the sacraments and living a prayerful Christian life and witness.

Ultimately what Woodring and others have found is that these concerns of practice and problematic congregations are secondary to the Truth. As Woodring relates, he resigned because he could no longer affirm the vows he once made, and could not make them again. He affirmed that one cannot be a good Lutheran within the Catholic Church, not matter what Fr. Neuhaus says. Lutheranism has many problems, and some may be insurmountable. But what is at stake is Truth and salvation. This is what Woodring realized. He believed the fullness of the Truth to be elsewhere: a genuine conversion, like it or not.

I hope he will be happy, though I disagree with his ultimate conclusion.


Contrary to one who posted this comment, I do commend Dan for following his conscience. That is an honorable thing. Too few of us believe in that kind of honor anymore or find the strength to practice it. Keeping our word and integrity often falls to matters of expediency and comfort. Dan did not fall into this trap, thanks be to God.

Monday, June 16, 2008

New Gadget

I've been noticing some hand pain after typing, some of it related to poor form. So I got an ergonomic keyboard last week and am slowly breaking it in. I immediately noticed that my desk is too high, now that my hands are in the right place. I also realized that my touch-typing technique was all wrong. My right hand was usually over too far, and I used the wrong hand for "Y". But the hand pain is gone.

But getting used to this is taking a little longer than I thought it would.

Sunday Off

I completed my "vacation week" last weekend, taking off Saturday and Sunday. We had decided have a weekend away like other people do sometimes, so we hear. The family wrapped up the garage sale...ok, Marjorie wrapped up the garage sale-- while I finished packing at home...ok, Marjorie finished packing at home too. I was strangely listless. Ok, maybe not strangely.

So we went to Oklahoma City (70 miles away) and walked the mall. Marjorie said she felt like the Beverly Hillbillies. That was sad. Olivia bought a "pet" salamander. We ate, went to Sam's Club, got a hotel room, the kids swam and I sat with Jack. A nice afternoon and evening.

But church was strange. You must remember that Marjorie plays organ every Sunday while I preside, so it is very rare that we are able to sit with our kids in worship. We've had some good "foster" grandmas sit with the kids over the years and that has been good. But we don't have a lot of hands on kid-management skills ourselves, nor are they used to mom and dad sitting with them. It didn't go well.

So we came home and we're back to our usual summer schedule. I'm still praying about the whole kids in church thing.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sacreligious People Actually Repent This Time

It was one of those "Odd News" stories you hear from time to time--filler on the evening news, the butt of Leno's jokes and a "sign of the apocalypse" from conservative bloggers: a couple in Italy had...relations in a confessional...and were caught. Police were called, people were outraged, the Bishop came to sanctify the church once again.

I would have ignored it if they story ended there. Sadly, it's not too uncommon to read stories that stop at this point. But this time there's an epilogue. The couple repented, asking forgiveness from the Bishop. He granted it. Apparently they weren't Satanists, druggies, heathens, nor were they opposed to authority, Church-haters, or even selfish secularists oblivious and insensate to holy things.

They sinned. They apparently have some spiritual issues. They were overcome with lust, drunkenness and general foolishness. But in this they don't differ from any of us who are overcome by our passions and sin--always foolishly, sometimes egregiously. And they were moved to contrition, apologizing and repenting to the Bishop. And like all of us who repent, they were forgiven. It's a good Christian story, apart from the unseemliness of it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Orthodox Study Bible: First Impressions

Back in December I discussed the (then) forthcoming The Orthodox Study Bible. I ordered the leather-bound version and waited. For some reason it was available from other retailers back in February, but Amazon didn't ship mine until this week. I received it last night and spent a good amount of time with it so far.

First things first, it smelled nice. (I'm an enthusiastic book-smeller) I'm also in favor of leather bindings, as they tend to wear better, and I side with the woman with the alabaster flask (Mar. 14:3) when it comes to Holy things. I was impressed with its thickness; it's not nearly as thick as some study Bibles are. But the pages seem very thin, and are a little more translucent than I prefer. I worried that it would be hard to read with the text bleeding-through, but after using it this morning I didn't notice it at all. I still am concerned that the pages may tear, especially if I am flipping pages while teaching. The Bible features some nice color plates of icons interspersed throughout the text. The icons vary a bit in style, being written by different hands and that variation is good.

Study Content
The study helps are excellent for the most part. The introduction provides a short explanation of the text used for the Old Testament and the philosophy behind what kinds of notes and study aids were provided. The purpose of the Study Bible is given too: "The prayer of the editors and that is presents an understandable Bible text and commentary to (1) English-speaking Orthodox Christians the world over and to (2) non-Orthodox readers interested in learning more about the faith of the historic Orthodox Church." Following that is handy chart showing the listings of the books of the Bible in both this edition, Roman Catholic Bibles and Protestant Bibles.

An "Overview of Books of the Bible" follows--brief summaries of the books of the Bible. The author of this essay, Bishop BASIL of Wichita and the Mid-America, takes special care throughout to relate the summaries to Christ. "Introducing the Orthodox Church" follows this, a crash-course in Christian History that could be very helpful to many readers. One should be aware that this section is written in a persuasive style, attempting to convince the reader that the Orthodox Church alone has preserved the apostolic doctrine. Fair enough, given the purpose and prayer of the editors. I do think it goes too far at the conclusion, inviting readers of the Study Bible to attend Orthodox worship. At this point the essay feels more like a Gospel-tract, if you know what I mean.

Throughout the text the Bible includes mini-essays on doctrinal topics with generous quotations from Scripture and Church Fathers. In my limited reading so far, it doesn't seem to include as many quotes from the Fathers as I had hoped, but the notes provided seem quite good so far. One outstanding feature is that every Biblical text used in Orthodox liturgies throughout the church year are noted with a special symbol. The notes below the text tell the reader at what service they are read. The effect this has is to affirm just how much Scripture is used in the Eastern Rite liturgy. It's staggering. I wonder if the forthcoming Lutheran study Bible would benefit from doing this. I also wonder if Lutherans could boast of so much Scripture used!

After Revelation the Study Bible includes two essays, the first entitled "The Bible:God's Revelation to Man," written by Bishop JOSEPH, Bishop of Los Angeles and the West; the second, "How to Read the Bible," by Bishop KALLISTOS, Bishop of Diokleia. I've only read the latter so far and found it delightful. I don't recall any liturgical Christian who would object to this essay. Following that is a Lectionary, arranged roughly according to the Eastern Rite Orthodox liturgical year, an Eastern Rite order for Morning and Evening Prayer, a glossary, index, and the obligatory maps.

The Translation
As I discussed last year, one of the great benefits to this Study Bible is that the text of the Greek (Septuagint) Old Testament. So what is it like reading this? I'm not sure at this point, having only read a few short chapters. So far its hard to tell what differs due to translation and what differs due to a different original text. The language is easy to read, the print is good, the notes are helpful, but in some ways it's almost like seeing your house through a mirror; everything looks familiar, but things seem somehow different. After a few months I may be able to share more.

Who Should Have it?

1. Anyone interested in a readable English translation of the Greek OT, used by Christ and the Apostles and generations of Christians since (all the reasons I blogged about before).

2. Those who don't mind receiving some excellent insight and information about Orthodoxy (even at Concordia Seminary we learned vast amounts about Roman Catholicism and other Protestants; the Orthodox Church was virtually ignored!).

3. Those who are using a Protestant Study Bible (such as the Zonervan, Thompson, Life Application, MacArthur, etc) The Orthodox Study Bible is to be greatly preferred, as it shares a similar liturgical, sacramental, Christ-centered reading and understanding of Scripture as Lutherans.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Bible Study Teaching Frenzy

I've got a real problem teaching my adult Bible Study. I have a hard time knowing when to quit, when to hold back on giving information. If I know it, and especially if someone asks a question, I'll give the answer, no matter how complicated and technical it may be.

The result is that I think I loose a lot of people. There I am discussing the Nag Hammadi texts, adoptionism, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (as opposed to the Nicene Creed proper), the rule of faith and Catholicity of the Church--all in a forty-five minute period, and I realize that some are there just want to know about some Bible stories.

I've got a problem.

In my defense, the reason I brought up those somewhat disparate topics was that people asked the questions. I have a very hard time not answering a question posed. A question deserves an answer if there is one. And since we don't have a set schedule or syllabus, I can't say, "We don't have time to discuss that in this class. Take H-340 next semester and your question will be answered."

Plus, I love this stuff. I want people to know what proleptic eschatology is and how the Fathers made use of typology. I want people to know about the Rule of Faith and Athanasius contra mundi.

I suspect some people simply put up with it. It's the pastor's Bible study and they are going to be there whether they like it or not. There are a few who really enjoy it, I know; they're the ones asking the questions.

So, pastors and other teachers in parochial settings, how do you "turn off the floodgates" or do you? How do you manage to keep the subject matter at the appropriate level? Do you intentionally keep it simple, or do you give 'em all you got?

Obama's Creepy Soeteriology

Which is a fancy way of saying, "Some people think B. Hussein Obama is a kind of Messiah." Or The Messiah. Or a New Age "Lightbringer." Most of these people are kooks. This article addresses the latest developments. What is really creepy is how Obama himself uses messianic language in his speeches.

I've nothing more substantive to write. It simply gives me the willies.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Back to the Regularly Scheduled Program

The week off was nice. My parents were in town and it was good to spend time with them. Instead of doing all kinds of projects and wearing ourselves out, Dad and I spent a few days planning projects that will wear ourselves out for their next visit in October.

I've got about 12 sheets of bad siding. After much measuring and calculating, we decided the two of us could do it and set a date in October. We also planned out how to renovate the fence without tearing it all down. You see, a concrete footer had been poured under the existing fence, so replacing the entire fence would not only be expensive, but labor intensive to dig out the footer. Our plan avoids all of that be shifting the fence in about six inches and power-washing the cedar boards. He also showed me how to fix our sagging deck rail.

We visited the Railroad Museum, I took the kids to the local waterpark, and generally had a good time. I was hankering to get back to work on Wednesday, but got over it eventually.

Thanks for sticking around here!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

What Character Am I??

I'm not sure about this one. We do share skinniness...and the convoluted speech sometimes.

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

Judge me by my size, do you? And well you should not - for my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us, and binds us. Luminescent beings are we, not this crude matter! You must feel the Force around you, everywhere.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Vacation this Week

I'm taking a few days off, so the posts will continue to be more infrequent until next week.

Answer to "Who Said it?"

St. Maximos the Confessor.

(From Two Hundred Texts on Theology and the Incarnate Dispensation of the Son of God Written for Thalassios; Philokalia, v.2, II Century, 90)

Obviously St. Maximos, while sounding like Walther, was defining terms differently, speaking in an allegorical fashion, as the context suggests.

Thanks to everyone who guessed!