Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Book of the Month: The Defense Never Rests

Let’s say that you have a friend, Tom, who wants to read up on Lutheranism. Tom’s parents took him to a Christian church semi-regularly when he was young, but he hasn’t attended any church since high school.

What would you recommend to Tom?

Scenarios like this sometimes appear on social media forums, and the same titles come up pretty consistently: Lutheranism 101 (General Editor Scot A. Kinnaman), Spirituality of the Cross (Gene Veith), Why I Am a Lutheran (Daniel Preus), The Lutheran Difference (General Editor Edward A. Engelbrecht), and The Defense Never Rests (Craig A. Parton). (Notice the Concordia Publishing House slant? Makes me curious about non-CPH books that readers might recommend.)

This month, I delved into that last title on the list, the one that, until recently, was least familiar to me: The Defense Never Rests: A Lawyer Among the Theologians (2nd ed., 2015). The book is fairly short, easy to follow, and addresses all of the expected distinctive points of Lutheranism.

So, what would the book do for Tom?

If Tom has an Evangelical background and tends to associate Christianity with being good, doing more, and doing better, chapters 1-4 and chapter 10 will likely resonate. In these chapters, Parton speaks as an Evangelical-turned-Lutheran, offering a personal account of his journey from Campus Crusader to confessional Lutheran.

Within these chapters, Parton critiques not only Evangelical Christianity but also Lutheran churches that have adopted Evangelical practices (e.g., church growth emphasis; subjective, contemporary focus). For readers like Tom, it’s no doubt helpful to know that not all Lutheran churches are alike. Parton tells such readers where to look for clues, noting, “The place that the three books of Lutheranism—Bible, hymnal, and catechism—play in the life of a church can tell you all you need to know about that church’s commitment to, and future in, Lutheranism” (158). (Discuss!)

For those of you saying, “Hey, what about the Book of Concord?” don’t worry. Parton gives the Lutheran Confessions their due within these chapters.

If you’re NOT a reader like Tom, but are a generally curious Lutheran who’s already heard quite a bit about the “Evangelical vs. Lutheran” comparison (complete with that recurring character, the Baby Boomer musician in shorts and sandals), you may want to focus instead on chapters 5-9, which focus on Lutheran apologetics (a defense of the faith).

In these chapters, Parton shifts into lawyer mode, establishing a clear need for apologetics in Lutheranism and showing how the faith can be defended convincingly against the objections of skeptics. If your friend Tom has doubts about the believability of the testimony of the apostles, or the reality of the resurrection, or the existence of God (based on the presence of evil in the world), he’ll get a start on answers here.

Parton’s short book isn’t meant to provide an exhaustive treatment of every objection or intellectual hurdle. Instead, he alerts readers to those objections and provides a wealth of material for handling those objections, including his own lawyerly defense, the sources he cites, and his “Annotated Bibliography of Apologetical and Theological Literature” (Appendix B).

In his conclusion, Parton confirms the dual nature of his book, saying, “In these pages I have traced my own spiritual pilgrimage from Evangelicalism to the Evangel—the Gospel of Jesus Christ as proclaimed and presented in its purest form in the Lutheran Church. I have also described the Christ-centered basis for apologetics” (161).

That’s just what you can expect: two books in one. Read or recommend whichever part is most useful, or read the whole thing. Whatever the case, you’ll get the message that the Lutheran faith is distinctive, and it’s worth defending.

Coming up:

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Friday Figure: Sayings of All Sorts

Out of sight is out of mind. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Brevity is the soul of wit. The law of prayer is the law of belief (lex orandi, lex credendi). Confession is good for the soul.

Can you name that figure? 

Your choices: 1) maxim, 2) proverb, 3) aphorism, 4) gnome, 5) apothegm, 6) adage, and 7) sententia.

Oh, and I’ll throw in “all of the above,” too.

If you already had “all of the above” in mind, give yourself 10 points for the day.

Your 10th-grade English teacher may have taught you some subtle differences between these terms, but they’re largely interchangeable. On the Silva Rhetoricae website, for example, maxim, proverb, gnome, and apothegm are all defined as “one of several words describing short, pithy sayings.” The definitions of adage and sententia follow suit, with the added observation that these figures are “traditional expressions of conventional wisdom.”

Putting it all together: Maxims, etc. are short, pithy statements that express conventional wisdom, or a general truth, or well-established advice.

Richard Lanham reinforces and expands on these ideas in his Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, where he notes that the “proverbial cluster” is united by at least two, if not three, elements: 1) memorability—e.g., short, punchy, and often figured, 2) a claim to cultural authority, and 3) in some cases, witty epigrammatic compression (see pp. 124-126).

Ancient sources provide some interesting insights, as well. In the Ad Herennium, the oldest Roman handbook on rhetoric, the anonymous author describes maxims as follows:
A maxim [sententia] is a saying drawn from life, which shows concisely either what happens or ought to happen in life, for example: “Every beginning is difficult.”. . . Again: “Choose the noblest way of living; habit will make it enjoyable.” (4.17.24)
On using maxims, the author, thinking about judicial oratory, says, “We should insert maxims only rarely, that we may looked upon as pleading the case, not preaching morals.”

But if you are preaching morals, maxims should be very useful. (See, e.g., the Book of Proverbs).
As effective as maxims can be, you should be careful not to overuse them (unless, presumably, you’re writing a book of proverbs). As Quintilian points out, when maxims are the focal point, nothing stands out. “Crowded together, sententiae get in one another’s way, just as with all crops and fruit on trees nothing can develop to its proper size if it lacks room to grow” (Institutes of Oratory, 8.5.26).

If you saw the previous post here on Quintilian and Luther, you know that Luther’s Annotations on Matthew (vol. 67 of Luther’s Works) focuses heavily on rhetoric, and that includes several references to maxims. A few examples:
1. “Jesus’ saying here—[‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick,’ Matt. 9:12]—is exceptionally sweet, first, because it contains a maxim, and second, because it bears the authority of Scripture.” Luther goes on to praise Christ for “beautifully applying the science of medicine to religion or faith.” (66)
2. “He [Christ] reinforces this point through the following maxim or epigram: “Whoever is with not with Me [is against me, Matt, 12:30], whoever does not gather with me scatters,’ as if He were saying, ‘Here there is no middle ground; here there are no neuter nouns.’ Rather, we are necessarily under either the strong tyrant, the devil, and in his court or under Christ, the Redeemer, in heaven.” (172)
3. On his discussion of Matthew 15:3, Luther offers a maxim of his own. “We must be bold and oppose them whenever we see the divine authority of the Word being squelched by the authority of human wisdom or piety. For the maxim is sound: there is no one above or beside God, but God is above all things and all things are below Him.” (238)
As these examples point out, maxims can carry serious argumentative weight.

And then there are the lighter ones—sayings intended to make us laugh. Lanham for instance, showcases a yet-to-be-named category of maxims—those with a comic twist. Examples:
The observation, attributed to Winston Churchill, that Clement Atlee was “a sheep in sheep’s clothing.”
From Claire Boothe Luce: “No good deed goes unpunished.”
If you can think of other “parodic proverbs” (as Lanham calls them), add them in the comments.


King Solomon. From Dore's illustrations for the Book of Proverbs. Gustave DorĂ© [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Luther Loves Quintilian (and He's Not Alone)

You probably didn’t hear his name in school. You probably haven’t heard much about him in conversation. And when people talk about classical rhetoric, you might think first about that other Roman, Cicero.

But Quintilian is worth putting on your radar, especially in light of the high praise he’s earned throughout history.

I’m a huge fan myself. Quintilian (born in Calahorra, Spain around 35 A.D.; died after 96 A.D.) was a revered Roman teacher of rhetoric, best known for his Institutio Oratoria, a comprehensive 12-book work on rhetoric that includes his vision of the ideal orator—“the good man skilled in speaking [vir bonus dicendi peritus]” (12.1.1).

My Quintilian books are some of my most dog-eared possessions. I’ve turned to them countless times when working on class lessons, articles, presentations—even posts on this blog.

Know who else was a fan of Quintilian? Martin Luther.

You can read all about that in a new volume of Luther’s Works, which contains Annotations on Matthew, Chapters 1-18 and Sermons on the Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 18 (Concordia Publishing House, 2015, vol. 67).

I flipped through the book when it arrived in the mail last week, and it didn’t take long before I spotted this heading in the introduction: “Rhetoric, Exegesis, and Homiletics in the Annotations.” (Thumbs up!)

And in that section, there was Martin Luther, talking about Quintilian:
Quintilian is the only one capable of turning out the best youth—or, rather, men. . . . I for my part set Quintilian above almost all the other authors, for he at the same time both teaches and provides an example of eloquence; that is, he is the most faithful teacher in word and deed” (Letter to George Spalatin). 
According to editor Christopher Boyd Brown, Luther didn’t make many other direct comments about Quintilian, but he notes that “the indirect evidence of Luther’s citations of rhetorical tropes and figures in the Annotations on Matthew suggests that Quintilian’s influence remained fundamental, if tacit, to Luther’s understanding of rhetorical figures throughout his career” (xl).

It would be fascinating to know if Quintilian’s influence on Luther extended beyond figures, but that’s for another day. (Dissertation idea, anyone?)

For now, it’s enough just to think about how Luther’s thoughts on preaching and exegesis, as expressed in Annotations, might have been different if Quintilian’s Institutes had remained lost forever in the dusty basement of the monastery of St. Gall.

Quintilian in Spain

Have you heard that story? For hundreds of years, only parts of Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria were available. In 1416, Poggio Bracciolini decided to look for old books at St. Gall, and there, in the basement of an old tower, he discovered a complete manuscript of the Institutio.

In a letter to Guarino Guarini, Poggio recounts his discovery of the work of Quintilian, whom he regards as an “outstanding and extraordinary man”:
By good luck - as much ours as his - while we were doing nothing in Constance, an urge came upon us to see the place where [M. Fabius Quintilianus] was being kept prisoner. This is the monastery of St. Gall, about twenty miles from Constance. And so several of us went there, to amuse ourselves and also to collect books of which we heard that they had a great many. There amid a tremendous quantity of books which it would take too long to describe, we found Quintilian still safe and sound, though filthy with mould and dust. For these books were not in the library, as befitted their worth, but in a sort of foul and gloomy dungeon at the bottom of one of the towers, where not even men convicted of a capital offence would have been stuck away.
Kudos to Poggio for giving the complete Quintilian back to us. 

Kudos to Quintilian for writing something of such value in the first place. 

And kudos to Martin Luther for recognizing the usefulness of those ideas for Lutheran preaching.

Calahorra, La Rioja (Spain). Monument to Marco Fabio Quintiliano. April 2009. By Txo (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

High Praise for Higher Things®: Thoughts from a Few Young Lutherans

Every summer, our church takes a group of students to a Higher Things® conference, and those students always come back buzzing.

For those unfamiliar with Higher Things®, it’s a Lutheran youth organization whose mission is “to assist parents, congregations, and pastors in cultivating, encouraging and promoting a distinctively Lutheran identity among their youth and young adults.”

That’s a critically important mission, and HT conferences (held this year in July in Las Vegas, Grand Rapids, MI, and Seward, NE) play a central role. Adult chaperones always have great things to say about the conference (“Confessional! Such solid theology! Great worship services!”), but what about the students? What do they really think about worshiping 3 or 4 times a day? And what about all those informational breakout sessions? What are young Lutherans taking away from HT?

In what follows, three students offer their take on Higher Things®.

Allison Scott (5-time attendee; entering 2nd year of college; on left, pictured with sister Lauren, who also attended HT)

Higher Things is what I often refer to as the best week of my summer. This past HT was my fifth conference. It was held in Seward, NE at Concordia University with the theme of "Te Deum." The church services, held three times a day, are truly inspirational. Sitting in the company of 1100 other LCMS Lutheran youth and pastors is true fellowship. Every service I attend, I get goosebumps at least once. I like to joke that there is no such thing as a tone deaf Lutheran, and that seems obvious at HT. 1100 Lutherans singing hymns to God is what I can only describe as epic. The sound is gorgeous and a pleasure to experience. Youth all over campus are literally telling each other, "I can't wait for Evening Prayer." My experiences at the HT conferences have truly been  invaluable and I will continue to go to as many as I can. It is something I would recommend for every Lutheran youth as a way to grow in faith and hear Lutherans teachings in services and classes.
 Noah Riley (3-time attendee; entering 12th grade)

Higher Things is a fantastic experience. I wish I would’ve known this the first year I was eligible to go. That year I decided not to attend Higher Things because it was in Missouri, and I thought it would be boring because of the location. I’ve learned location has nothing to do with the Higher Things experience!   
The first Higher Things conference I attended was at Purdue University in Indiana. After attending the conference at Purdue, I realized that no matter where the conference was held it would be a blast to go to.
This summer was my third straight year going to a Higher Things conference and it was held in Seward, NE.  Again, I was disappointed about the location but nonetheless each year the conferences seem to get better and better. One of my favorite things was going to communion with over a thousand people! I spent a lot of free time playing ultimate frisbee where I’ve made friends from the past conferences I’ve been to. There was also the awesome breakaway sessions, singing classic Lutheran hymns at the worship services at the top of our lungs so much so that we lose our voices (the organist was exceptional!), and the fellowship with other Lutherans was an experience I will never forget.
If you ever have a chance to go to a Higher Things conference, do it! Don’t ever let location steer you away.  You don’t want to miss out on this awesome conference no matter where it is held!
 Alex Taylor (1st time attendee; entering 9th grade)

I thought Higher Things was super fun, and it taught me a lot of things. My favorite things to do were the 3 worship services. It was really cool to hear over 1,000 people worshiping at once. The sessions were also very informative, and I enjoyed the ones that I went to.
During the Plenary session, we learned how to understand what te deum really means, and how many people today are more of me deum people rather than te deum people. Me deum is more like I'm alone praising God, when it should be te deum, which is everyone praising God. 
In our breakaway sessions, we learned about things like Jesus in a gay world and abusive relationships, which have to do with how God and Christians view these things. For example, one of the sessions I went to was about the book/movie Heaven Is for Real. The pastor teaching us said that many people claim to have gone to heaven, but these claims are usually false. One kid who said he went to heaven actually said that he made it up just for publicity, and it wasn't true. This was just one session out of the many that there were. 
My biggest takeaway from Higher Things is that it was kind of reassuring to see that there are so many Lutherans that come to these conventions and they believe the same things that I do, because the world now tends to shut out religion, and its hard to talk about it with people.  
Alex added one other important point: “I was also very excited that our group got the air conditioned dorm.”

A nice perk, to be sure, but I’m betting that even without AC, the Higher Things®  conference would still be considered “cool.”

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Why I Sing (or Not)

Nancy Taylor, this one’s for you. And it’s for anyone else who has given thought to the matter of singing in church.

A few months ago, Nancy, a fellow churchgoer, sent me a link to an article called “3 Reasons Why You Should Sing Loudly in Church” and suggested it would be a good topic to cover on the blog.

I was reminded of that topic last Friday night, when I attended a Divine Service for the installation of our new Kansas district president and president’s council. The singing at the service took my breath away—figuratively and literally (as I tried to keep up with all the big-voiced pastors around me).

Lutherans are known for their singing (see, e.g., Garrison Keillor’s “Singing with the Lutherans” or the more academic “Why Do Lutherans Sing?”), but THIS was SINGING.

It was delightful to be there, making a joyful noise with 400+ other worshippers. All of those voices, singing in harmony (some even adding a descant), created a real sense of solidarity (which, according to the article Nancy passed along, is one of the 3 reasons to sing loudly).

On occasions like that, when I’m surrounded by enthusiastic singers, it’s easy to sing loudly.

It’s also pretty easy to sing on ordinary Sundays, probably due to habit formed in Lutheran Day School. The only time I become a shrinking violet is during communion, when people empty the pews around me, and I can hear myself a little too well.

Actually, I can think of two other recent occasions when I’ve been reluctant to sing. The first was at a Catholic funeral. There was a singer with a beautiful voice in front, with a mic, leading all the hymns. Very few, if any, people were singing along.

I had heard rumblings about Catholic singing, as addressed, for example, in the First Things article “Catholics Don’t Sing Like Lutherans” and the book Why Catholics Can’t Sing: Revised and Updated with Grand Conclusions and Good Advice. I dont know enough to say much about the arguments in those sources, but the service I attended did give me a first-hand look at the phenomenon. 

As the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” I didn’t sing.

This isn’t just a Catholic thing, though. I observed something similar at a Lutheran contemporary service I attended recently. The service was led by a singer with a mic from the front of the church, with the words of the songs displayed on a screen behind her. I attempted to sing, initially, but I  eventually gave up. The tunes and lyrics were unfamiliar, and I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was attending a performance—a solo concert—with the role of singer already filled. The thought of adding my voice to the projected one in the front just felt awkward. So I didn’t sing, and the rest of the congregational singing was pretty muted.

In fairness, the pews weren’t full, and I don’t think the contemporary service has been around too long at this parish. Once people get used to things, maybe they’ll sing loudly.

I hope so. Congregational singing adds immeasurably to a worship service. There’s nothing like hearing a group of united voices singing the Good News, offering praise, and reinforcing the teachings of the church. There’s also the element of prayer. As St. Augustine says, “He who sings prays twice.”

Garrison Keillor sums things up well in “Singing with the Lutherans”:
I once sang the bass line of Children of the Heavenly Father in a room with about three thousand Lutherans in it; and when we finished, we all had tears in our eyes, partly from the promise that God will not forsake us, partly from the proximity of all those lovely voices. By our joining in harmony, we somehow promise that we will not forsake each other.
That’s just how I felt when we belted out “O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth” last Friday night (LSB 834; you can check out the Higher Things rendition here on YouTube).

Sing loudly? Absolutely.


Luther Making Music in the Circle of His Family, circa 1875. James Steakley; artwork: Gustav Spangenberg (reproduction of a painting) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Singing Angels, Saints John and Matthew the Evangelist (detail). By Francesco d'Antonio di Bartolomeo (1393–1452) (Marie-Lan Nguyen) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.