Friday, January 30, 2015

Pastor Peter Lange's Formative Booklist

The January guest of the month is Pastor Peter Lange (St. John’s Lutheran Church, Topeka), who agreed to tackle the following assignment: Identify three books that have been most formative in your work as a pastor.

Not surprisingly, when I showed up in Pastor Lange’s office to talk to him about his picks, he had pulled 18 books off his shelves, not 3 (and he added a 19th later). “It’s kind of a tough call,” he said, noting all the books he left out of the mix—devotionals, language books, some New Testament studies.

Despite the challenge, he did choose a “Top 3,” which I’m presenting here chronologically, in the order in which Pastor Lange read them. Following each title are Pastor Lange’s comments on the book (i.e., excerpts from our conversation), set off in italics. As for the other 16 books, I’ve included a list at the end of the post.

Minister’s Prayer Book, John W. Doberstein
I have a different edition of this book at home—a very thin one with super thin paper, and that was the one that I used for the first 10 or 15 years of my ministry. What I especially appreciate about the book is the anthology, which takes up about half of the book. Each day of the week is different. Sunday, for example, is “The Divine Institution and Commission of the Ministry,” Monday is “The Promise and Responsibility of the Ministry.” It moves through the minister’s life. As part of my devotion, I would read at least one entry for the day—sometimes several—and I would read them until one of them really struck me. When that happened, I just stopped and let that sit with me for the day. Then I made a list of my favorites. So, at seven different points in this book I penciled in those favorites. At one point, I typed up a little index of favorites and would give it to the vicars and anyone who asked. There are just some real nuggets that I loved.

The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, Eugene H. Peterson

Eugene Peterson is not a Lutheran, but has “been there, done that” as far as the idea of “church as business” and “pastor as CEO.” Through the crucible of trials, Peterson came to a very pastoral and laser-like theological understanding of the pastoral office. He’s written quite a few books, and this is my favorite. I used to have my vicars read this one. One of the chapter titles that I would especially direct them to is Chapter 2: “The Unbusy Pastor.” Peterson makes a wonderful case to keep first things first, to set your own agenda and not take pride in busyness. Another one is “The Subversive Pastor.” And he’s talking about positive subversion, through subtle things that you preach and teach and say, subverting people’s picture of what their pastor ought to be. That’s a big part of it—to create a new expectation. Another is “Curing Souls: The Forgotten Art.” Another one: “Lashed to the Mast”—basically, stick in there when you’re enduring the cross—the vocational cross as a pastor. There’s one on sabbatical stories—he’s big on sabbaticals. And—I’ve never been able to do this—take a weekly Sabbath Day, and do nothing. It’s really radical, but very good, in a lot of respects.

The Problem of Suffering: A Father’s Hope, Gregory P. Schulz

This author, Gregory Schulz, is a professor of philosophy at Concordia University Wisconsin. He’s got an earned doctorate from Concordia Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from Marquette. He disagrees with C. S. Lewis, so this book is contra The Problem of Pain. He would say that C. S. Lewis made a nice start, but this is a Lutheran view of suffering. He and his wife have lost two children—a daughter and a son. I think in a nutshell Schulz says, “God does this. God becomes your enemy. He does this to you. But this is why it’s good for you to know that.” It’s pretty radical. I should reread this one.

And now, here are the remaining 16 books, which Pastor Lange found useful at particular times in his career—e.g., in the seminary (when “church growth” was a fairly new idea), during his STM years, and more recently, in various study groups. Like the Top 3, the titles are arranged chronologically, from early reads to more recent.
The Hammer of God, Bo Giertz
Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Dining with the Devil: The Megachurch Movement Flirts with Modernity, Os Guinness
Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture, Gene Edward Vieth, Jr.
Sanctification: Christ in Action, Harold L. Senkbeil
Dying to Live: The Power of Forgiveness, Harold L. Senkbeil
The Birth of the New Testament, C. F. D. Moule
Reclaiming the Bible for the Church, ed. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson
Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America, Gene Edward Vieth, Jr. and Andrew Kern
Law, Life, and the Living God: The Third Use of the Law in Modern American Lutheranism, Scott R. Murray
Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, David Bentley Hart
Preaching without Notes, Joseph M. Webb
The Fire and the Staff: Lutheran Theology in Practice, Klemet I. Preus
Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig, Gunther Stiller
On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518, Gerhard O. Forde
Faith and Act: The Survival of Medieval Ceremonies in the Lutheran Reformation, Ernst Walter Zeeden

There are lots of good suggestions here for all of you book lovers. As for me, the book on suffering has my attention. I see a future post coming on Schulz and C. S. Lewis.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Walking with Bonhoeffer

Life Together. The Cost of Discipleship. Letters and Papers from Prison. Ethics.

The books of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer are familiar to many, as is his basic story—courageous Lutheran pastor participates in an unsuccessful plot to assassinate Hitler and is executed at a concentration camp.

That basically sums up the state of my Bonhoeffer knowledge prior to reading this month’s book selection, Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance (2010, T & T Clark International), by Ferdinand Schlingensiepen. If you don’t know much about Bonhoeffer, this is an excellent introduction.

As Schlingensiepen notes in his preface, the project was suggested back in the 1960s by Bonhoeffer’s friend Eberhard Bethge, who thought his own 1080-page biography of Bonhoeffer “was too long for most readers” (xvi).

Schlingensiepen’s book is less than half as long, but be forewarned: it’s not a quick read, especially if you aren’t familiar with the various players (people and organizations) involved in the “church struggle” in Hitler-era Germany. Despite the challenge of keeping track of who’s who, the wealth of well-chosen details, especially from Bonhoeffer’s own writings, are a real strength of this book.

Having read the book, I no longer picture Bonhoeffer serving quietly in a Lutheran parish, doing some writing on the side, preaching Martin Lutherisms every Sunday and hatching a plan with his circuit winkel to overthrow the Führer on his next trip through town.

Instead, I think of a thoughtful, well-traveled, well-connected Protestant theologian reflecting on the nature of Christianity, particularly with respect to the Christian’s place in the world.  Of particular importance here is Bonhoeffer’s belief that “Christianity entails decision” (206), a theme that recurs throughout the book.

I think of Bonhoeffer's unique theological beliefs, in some ways familiar (e.g., justification by grace through faith) and in other ways foreign (e.g., his revolutionary ideas about “religionless Christianity,” which Schlingensiepen says is better understood as “a new way of being religious” [355]).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, far right
I think of the extraordinary challenges that Bonhoeffer faced as he resisted the Nazi regime, at a time when, as Eberhard Bethge points out, “the true patriot had to speak unpatriotically to show his patriotism”—a reference to Bonhoeffer’s prayer that his country be defeated in order to end the injustice there (269).   

Finally, I think of the words of Bishop George Bell, an ally of the Confessing Church in Germany, at the memorial service after Bonhoeffer’s death:

As one of a noble company of martyrs of differing traditions, he represents both the resistance of the believing soul, in the name of God, to the assault of evil, and also the moral and political revolt of the human conscience against injustice and cruelty. (380)

On the cover of this book, there’s an invitation, taken from a review by the Methodist Recorder: “Read this book and walk with him.”

What a fascinating walk it is.

IMAGE: Westminster Abbey, West Door, Four of the Ten 20th-Century Martyrs: Mother Elizabeth of Russia, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. By photographer T.Taylor (Public sculpture), 19 April 2011, via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Friday Figure: Anaphora

With style and invention as a focus this week, it’s the perfect time to introduce a new monthly feature here on the blog: “The Friday Figure” (of speech, that is).

Why figures? you might ask.

Oh, so many reasons. Let me give you just a couple.

First, figures are fascinating. Sure, there are the old standards that everyone learns in English class: metaphor, simile, alliteration, personification. But there are so many other ways to turn a phrase. (Zeugma, anyone? Antistrophe? Chiasmus?)

Second, figures have important functions. They can add beauty, interest, and rhythm to a message. They can make ideas memorable. They can also affect meaning. Scripture is full of figured language. What’s the function of those figures? Why a figure and not just plain speech?

You may have answers to those questions, but for now, let's get on to the figure of the day. With all of the Friday Figures, I’ll provide a definition and a couple of examples, and if you're feeling inspired, you can add an example of your own in the comments (either an original creation or something you've heard or read).

Our first Friday Figure: Anaphora.

If any of you learned this one in middle school, five stars for your teacher. The name isn’t as familiar as “simile,” but this figure is everywhere.

Definition (from R. Lanham’s Handlist of Rhetorical Terms): Repetition of the same word [or words] at the beginning of successive clauses or verses. 

Example 1: The 2015 State of the Union Address (Pres. Barack Obama, Jan. 20, 2015):

A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears.
 A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues, and values, and principles, and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives.
 A better politics is one where we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter, and spend more time lifting young people up, with a sense of purpose and possibility, and asking them to join in the great mission of building America.

Example 2: The Sermon on the Mount (The Beatitudes; Matt. 5:3-10)

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

I'll leave it at that, with the word "Blessed" ringing in your ears.

IMAGE: Sermon on the Mount window at Herzebogensee. By Dougjenkinson (own work), July 8, 2014 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Beyond the Style/Substance Divide

Back in college, I received the following feedback from one of my professors: “You’re lucky this presentation was graded by your peers. It was all style and no substance.”


My peers gave me high marks, largely for keeping them entertained for 10 minutes (“Thanks for not boring us”), but admittedly, I didn’t say much about the book I was supposed to present. 

I bring up this not-so-proud moment to illustrate a long-standing view of style and substance, one that I see echoed in comments about sermons, worship practices, and discussions.

“We’re talking about substance, not style.”

“Stick to the ideas, not tone.”

“Styles may change, but the substance is the same.”

Comments like this are consistent with a traditional view of style and substance: style is one thing, and substance is another (more important) thing. Perhaps you’ve heard style defined as “the dress of thought” (i.e., an ornamental add-on, intended to make ideas more attractive). Or you might have seen style defined as “manner of expression” (as opposed to thoughts, meaning, or ideas).

I think like this myself, especially when I’m teaching public speaking. There’s a canon of invention and a canon of style, a division reinforced in textbooks. There are chapters on invention—e.g., research, persuasion, argumentation, informative strategies—and typically a single chapter on style.

That sharp dividing line gets blurry, however, when it comes to assessment. If a speaker is unclear or inaccessible, is that a matter of invention or style? If the speaker is brilliant and memorable, is that a matter of invention or style?

The two are often hard to differentiate. A change in style often brings a change in substance (and with “substance” I’m thinking here of multiple possible meanings in any given message, not just one.) One of my favorite anecdotes along these lines comes from the book What I Saw at the Revolution (1990), by former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan:  

In the Reagan administration there was an unending attempt to separate the words from the policy. A bureaucrat from State who was assigned to work with the NSC on the annual economic summits used to come into speechwriting and refer to himself and his colleagues as “we substantive types” and to the speechwriters as “you wordsmiths.” He was saying, We do policy and you dance around with the words. We would smile back. Our smiles said, The dancer is the dance. (72)

The State bureaucrat’s position is understandable, but Noonan makes a powerful point. Style is often underestimated, particularly with respect to its relationship to substance.

“The dancer is the dance”—something worth keeping in mind the next time you see a comment about style and substance.

Friday, January 16, 2015

What's Your Liturgical IQ?

If you had to name the parts of the liturgy and put them in order, how would you do? If you had to explain why the historic liturgy looks the way it does, what would you say? If you heard the term Agnus Dei, could you define it, sing it, and explain where it fits in the liturgy? And what does liturgy mean, anyway?

I’ve been thinking about questions like these a lot lately, ever since seeing the following comment from Rebecca DeGarmeaux on Facebook: “We need to do a better job of teaching the liturgy, and teaching about the liturgy.”

I agree completely. And I agree even more now having read the article to which DeGarmeaux was responding: T. R. Halvorson’s “Historic Liturgy: Affirmations Prompted by Putdowns” on Brothers of John the Steadfast

In his informative article, Halvorson identifies four affirmations about the historic liturgy: 1) everyone has liturgy, 2) the historic liturgy is scriptural, 3) the historic liturgy enacts Law and Gospel, and 4) the historic liturgy moves from God to sinners before it moves from saints to God.

The article is full of helpful reminders of things that I’ve heard before but often seem unaware of as I’m participating in the liturgy. Granted, the liturgy moves fast (as Halvorson pointed out to me), and I’m not thinking like a rhetorical critic when I’m saying, “And also with you.”

No doubt I’ve absorbed a lot of lessons about liturgy just from participating. The liturgy is a powerful teacher, and the core lessons about sin and forgiveness, Law and Gospel, Word and Sacrament are hard to miss. But are they easy to articulate? Not always.

My experience typically goes something like this. I look at my hymnal, take note of some label in the Divine Service (e.g., Kyrie), and say (for the umpteenth time): “Huh. Why can’t I ever remember what this is called?”

Other questions follow. Why is the Kyrie here in the service? Why are we singing some words and not others? Why does the “Salutation” appear midway in the service (and more than once) instead of at the very beginning, which is where you’d expect to see a salutation? And who came up with this thing, anyway?

I don’t recall being taught anything formally about the liturgy. Whatever I’ve learned has come via conversations, reading (e.g., the LC-MS description of liturgy), and participation. That’s a pretty haphazard path, and I still have a lot to learn. 

The lessons of the liturgy are important enough, it seems, to warrant something more intentional. Two questions to consider: Where do we want to be with our “Liturgical IQ,” and what teaching strategies would get us there?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Divide and Amplify: Hendiadys

A few weeks ago in Bible study, we were studying 1 Timothy 2:12: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” (ESV)

In the course of the conversation, our pastor switched into Greek mode, saying, “Some people argue that what we have here is a hendiaduoin (ἓν διὰ δυοῖν). It’s a figure of speech called hendiadys. What’s a good example of hendiadys? Let me think. . . Kris, do you have a good example?

I remained quiet.

I would have spoken up, but my mind was a blank. Of the hundreds of figures of speech that have been identified, hendiadys (hen-DIE-a-dis) probably isn’t on anyone’s Top 40 list.

But it’s an interesting little critter. A hendiadys, according to Silva Rhetoricae, involves “expressing a single idea by two nouns instead of a noun and its qualifier.” (Verbs and adjectives also work.) This act of division—dividing one idea into two words—amplifies the force of the expression. Hendiadys: hen (one)-dia (through)-duoin (two)—one meaning through two words.

A few examples: “sound and fury” (meaning furious sound), “nice and warm” (meaning nicely warm), and from Psalms, “He hath heard my voice and my supplications” (meaning supplicating voice). Note the word “and” here; every definition of hendiadys that I’ve seen specifies the use of “and” as the conjunction.

These examples are clear enough, but labeling something a hendiadys can be tricky business (so tricky that in 1922, E.A. Hahn published an article in Classical World called, “Hendiadys: Does It Exist?”). If you look at enough examples (as in E.W. Bullinger’s Figures of Speech Used in the Bible), you’ll probably see that some of those examples can be read in more than one way.

Consider “the power and the glory.” It makes sense as a hendiadys, with the two nouns (power and glory) having one meaning (glorious power), but it also makes sense as an expression of two related but distinct ideas, neither modifying the other (power being one thing, glory another).

What, then, makes something a hendiadys? Among other things, it depends on context, patterns of word usage, grammatical structure, and authorial intent.

And that brings us back to 1 Tim. 2:12. Is it a hendiadys? If it isn’t, Paul would seem to be prohibiting two distinct activities: teaching and having authority. If it is, Paul is likely prohibiting one activity, authoritative teaching.

I’ve read interesting arguments on both sides, but at this point, I’m skeptical that the line is a hendiadys, largely for grammatical reasons. The definitions and examples of hendiadys emphasize “and” consistently. 1 Tim. 2:12, in contrast, uses “or” (oude) to join the verbs didaskein (to teach) and authentein (to have authority).

This doesn’t mean that a hendiadys with “or” can’t or doesn’t exist, and maybe 1 Tim. 2:12 is a rare example (much like the word authentein, which occurs only once in the New Testament).

Fame and glory be to the reader who can find another.