Book Review: A Martyr’s Faith in a Faithless World

September 9, 2019

A Martyr’s Faith in a Faithless World by Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller

I ordered this thinking it was a spin on Foxe’s Book of Martyr’s, perhaps updated a bit, or some other form of martyrology.  It is not.  There are accounts of five martyrs in the book, the most recent being the third century and the oldest being the account of St. Stephen in Acts 7.  Although it is billed as a starting theological text for the curious, it is really more of a devotional.  Around the unifying theme of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, each section begins with the account of a martyr and then contains several short devotionals or homilies.

They’re probably very good.

But I’m not very good at reading them.  It’s a default in my character, that very rarely will a devotional from someone else stir me.  I’m grateful that they exist, aware that a great many people – perhaps everyone else but me – really enjoys them and gets a lot out of them.  I don’t.

So I’m not going to evaluate this book.  The devotionals I did read (the first 4-5) were very fine.  They are theologically oriented, asking the reader to consider various theological aspects of the parable of the sower.  And it is well-grounded in Lutheran theology.   Lord knows we all need more inspiration and grounding in our lives of faith, and this may be a wonderful resource for you.

Reading Ramblings – September 15, 2019

September 8, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 15, 2019

Texts: Ezekiel 34:11-24; Psalm 119:169-176; 1 Timothy 1:(5-11)12-17; Luke 15:1-10

Context: This week’s theme seems to be that of restoring the people of God when they go astray. This does not mean going astray in terms of apostasy or denial of the faith, necessarily, but in correcting their understandings and practices when they are still people of God. Christians are prone to false understandings and practices that don’t take them outside of the faith, but are yet inappropriate or even harmful to their brothers and sisters within the faith. Ezekiel’s message is one of judgment among the sheep, who will still have one shepherd over them but some are abusing their brothers and sisters. Likewise the two starting parables in the Gospel lesson presume that the hearers are not sinners outside the people of God but are in fact the 99 sheep and the nine coins still in possession of the shepherd and the woman – both metaphors for God. Just because we have faith in Jesus does not mean there is not a continual need for pruning by the vinedresser (John 15).

Ezekiel 34:11-24 – Ezekiel has prophesied harsh words to the people of Judah (Chapter 33), to the shepherds of Judah (34:1-10), here to be understood as likely both political and religious leadership, kings, princes, priests, and prophets, and now to the people themselves. First there are reassuring words of how the Lord will regather his scattered flock no matter how far they have been taken or wandered astray. But then there are rebukes within the flock. God can and will hold accountable his people who are careless or selfish or greedy in their relationships with others of his people. Saving faith in Jesus Christ does not justify everything we do, and God expects us to take seriously the Commandments not only to love him but to love our neighbor. Only when God sends the perfect shepherd will such sinfulness cease and will true peace be possible for all of God’s people.

Psalm 119:169-176 – The psalmist cries to the Lord for wisdom and understanding. Already within the fold of faith, there is still more to learn, more guidance necessary. We meditate on the Word of God not as those who have already been perfected by it but as those who are still being shaped and pruned by it, our ways guided and adjusted continually through our lives. We may feel it enough that we are free from major sins, but the Word of God continues to shape us for perfection in eternity. We are always to give God praise that He is not content to leave us as we are, partially finished, but to continue working on and with and in and despite us until we reach perfection in the day of our Lord’s return.

1 Timothy 1:5-17 – Verses 5-12 are optional but I think they mesh well with the remainder of the readings. Paul needs Timothy to deal with a situation where there are people in the Church – Christians – who are teaching incorrect things. Timothy is to be strong in this – charging them, demanding of the that they stop these things, speculative theologies and theories that detract from the central message of Christ crucified. The point of demanding they cease such things is that they may better express love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Their current teachings undermine these things, casting doubt and division instead of building up in love. These seeming simple things – not nearly as exciting as dubious teachings and philosophies and speculations in the faith – have been the source of misguided pride as people who really don’t know what they’re talking about desire to be recognized as teachers of others. This is dangerous folly. These are not non-Christians, but they are Christians who are mistaken in their faith and must be sternly warned against it for their own good and the good of the community. The Law is necessary first and foremost to restrain the sinful and guide them in their awareness of sin and need for a Savior. The Law can never be the means by which we save ourselves or one another, even when Paul is charging Timothy to call these erroneous Christians to account by the Law of Jesus Christ.

This may sound harsh, but it’s nothing less than what Jesus did to Paul himself. Jesus crushed Paul with the knowledge of his error and sinfulness as he sought to serve God, so that Paul might rightly receive the Son of God Jesus of Nazareth. Paul was changed wholly and completely. He wasn’t just warned about one aspect of his faith as he wants Timothy to do with these people in the church, he was shown how his entire understanding and relationship with God was flawed. Paul in humility subjected himself to this correction. He is grateful for the correction as it saved him from his error and allowed God to be honored and glorified by all who saw the change in him. So we should be grateful when we are shown the error of our ways!

Luke 15:1-10 – Presumably this passage is connected to the latter half of Luke 14, so that it is in the context of great crowds that part and allow the religious leaders of the day closer access to Jesus. But even as they listen to him, they discount his teachings because of his associations with sinful people. Surely a holy man would never allow himself to be contaminated by base sinners!

Jesus addresses these probably unvoiced criticisms head on. He has come to seek the lost, the overlooked, the forgotten, the neglected, the discarded. The implication is He did not come for those already following the Word of God (even if they are applying it improperly!). Rather, He has come for those the Pharisees and scribes have no interest in. They are secure in their own purity, and do not care whether the broken and sinful are healed and brought into the kingdom or not. So it is necessary for Jesus to do this, to extend grace and mercy where only judgment, condemnation and derision are received from the religious leadership.

We might wonder if the Pharisees are really in the Kingdom of God or not, but Jesus’ parables make it sound as though they are. They are like 99 sheep in a pasture, safe and sound and gathered together. They are like nine coins held in the nervous hand of a woman. Jesus has not come to find them, because they are already found. But He has come so that all might be included, so that the lost sheep is not left behind and so the lost coin might be found. Only when everyone who is to be in the Kingdom is safely home can there be a true and complete celebration.

Once again, the clear teaching here is that saving faith does not equate to perfect righteousness particularly towards one another. There is always the sinfulness that excludes passively if not actively, that grumbles when those we deem less deserving are given attention we think better spent on ourselves, like fat, sleek sheep who shove others aside.

Book Review: Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles

September 7, 2019

Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles

From the Witherspoon Institute

I’m positive I’ve read this before but I was too impatient to search out more carefully if I’ve blogged about it.  This is a pamphlet more than a book, only about 50 pages.  And it reads like something out of a time capsule, from the ancient past.  However in this case the ancient past is 2008, before the sweeping judicial decisions that rushed same-sex marriage into public law across our country.

This is a fantastic resource.  It reads very easily, and lays out the basic argument for the primacy of marriage in a democratic and free society, and specifically a traditional understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman for life.  This is not a religious argument, but an argument grounded in research and science.  Research pertaining to the health and welfare of children, and research related to the health and well-being of men and women, married and unmarried.

Against the clamor of  it will be just fine! if we radically redefine marriage stands this brief summary soberly warning that it will not be fine.  A good body of research over considerable periods of time bears witness to the fact that men, women, children, and therefore the society they are a part of are all better off when marriage is upheld, supported and encouraged both privately and in public policy.

I strongly encourage you to consider having this resource on hand.  It’s a reminder that traditional marriage definitions are not simply a religious preference but a time-tested means of ensuring the best for as many people as possible in our society.

 

 

 

Honesty

September 6, 2019

I like honesty.

I say that fully admitting that I am incapable of it.  That in the entire history of the human race there have only been three people perfectly capable of it and two of them threw that ability away pretty much right out of the starting gate.  None of the rest of us can be perfectly, absolutely honest all of the time.  But we can try, and trying makes all the difference sometimes.

And for me the hallmark of honesty is the willingness, the humility to admit that you might be wrong.  That you might be deceived yourself or trying to deceive others.  If there is that humility there is room for discussion.  Room to really hear other people and really be heard by others.  If there isn’t that humility, there is no discussion and ultimately there can’t be growth.

I like intellectual honesty, grappling with reality as we know it and experience it and trying to make sense of it.  I’m reading Justin Martyr’s First Apology, and I love his willingness to tackle the prejudices and ideas of his day head on with the assumption that truth can be found and honesty will lead to that truth.  He wasn’t afraid to present a demand for honesty to the Roman Emperor himself and all those who claimed or desired to be purveyors of intellectual honesty.  Justin was convinced that Christianity and the Bible could fare well in that sort of encounter.

But we have to recognize that in these confrontations Christianity is a threat to other people.  It threatens what they know or believe, or what they prefer to know or believe.  It threatens these things by insisting that there is an objective truth and reality that can be known and that knowing is life-changing.  Not simply an intellectual assent to a propositional statement but something that penetrates to the very heart and spirit of us to transform us.  To bring life from death.  So it’s a threat.

This morning I met with a young man in an addiction recovery program.  We’ve been meeting for three weeks  or so now, each week, as part of the program’s option to provide clients with a spiritual mentor.  While I don’t like the title, I’m willing to spend time with guys who want to search out the spiritual aspect of their recovery and lives further.  More honestly.

After several weeks of running around in philosophical circles about what can or can’t be known, as he was preparing to get out of my car today he said I think I want Christianity to be untrue, or I want to convince myself it isn’t a reasonable option because it would challenge my identity, and I don’t know what I’ll have to give up if I accept it as true.

Honesty.

A recognition that  the call to follow Christ is a call to self-denial.  A call to transformation.  A call to allow God to use us as He chooses rather than as we prefer.  A call to fully acknowledge the depth of our depravity and brokenness, that we might better praise and exalt the God who delivers us up and out of these things.

The Gospel reading for Sunday is Luke 14:25-35.

Jesus clearly does not understand our influencer social media culture.  Here he is with thousands of people following him and hanging on his every word.  Imagine how rich he could have become with a few well-placed product placements!  But instead, Jesus’ response is to turn around and challenge those people.  Do you really want to follow me?  Because following me is going to cost you everything.  Are you willing to give it all up?  Are you willing – more accurately – to live as though it isn’t yours in the first place? 

I think many Christians think this sacrifice comes when they enter the faith, which for many means as an infant.  I think many Christians presume there won’t be any further sacrifices demanded of them.  That they are entitled to live the rest of their lives more or less like the larger culture.

But Jesus’ words directly contradict this.  Because if we’re going to be honest about who we are as fallen and sinful creatures, we have to embrace a humility, a recognition that we might be wrong on any given matter and therefore open to being guided.  Open to growth and learning.  Conviction is fine – I’m convinced of the truth of the Bible and the real identity of Jesus of Nazareth as the incarnate Son of God who defeated the powers of sin, death, and Satan on my behalf through his death and resurrection.  Being humble and listening doesn’t mean everything is up for grabs.  But it should mean I’m listening.  That I’m willing to engage in the discussion like Justin Martyr or Josh this morning.  And that I’m understanding that this may lead to changes in me personal.  How I like to think of myself.  The things I enjoy.  Even some of my convictions.

It may, in fact, lead not to the general approval of the people around me but to my death.  Don’t think Jesus’ use of the cross is metaphorical or symbolic.  His hearers knew all too well what the cross meant, as did Jesus.  And we are called to that level of humility, if necessary.  To being branded a criminal when we are not, as Justin Martyr insisted.  On being convicted by an unfair double-standard, as Justin pointed out.  To suffering and dying in acceptance not of the truth as stated by our world, but as defined by God, as Justin ultimately was willing to do.

Sometimes I think Christians are more willing to embrace and affirm the idea of martyrdom rather than be open to the possibility of the Holy Spirit changing their opinions about things here and now, in the safety of their own routines and lives.  Then again, theoretical martyrdom is far more romantic and exotic than the unpleasant business of dealing with other people.

I pray for honesty.  For the blinders to be revealed and removed whenever and wherever necessary from my eyes.  I pray that knowing full well it might be highly uncomfortable.  And so when I pray for that kind of honesty and engagement for and from others, it hopefully isn’t under the assumption that I’ll get what I want that way.  But Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. (Ephesians 4:15)

Borrowing the Words

September 4, 2019

We sat last night in a bar watching a pool tournament.  Neither of us were playing – he because he didn’t qualify, myself because I ended the season near the top of my division and therefore will be playing in an all-stars tournament next week.  We were there to watch, to relax, to cheer on friends and team mates.  He’s a good ol’ boy from Oklahoma and Georgia, with some additional stops  around the world courtesy a decade in the Army.  He talked a lot about that decade last night.

But as things sometimes do, the conversation took a right turn into theology.  He’s in upper management for a major national retail chain and he knows what I do.  But as part of his sharing of his story, we suddenly had the covers pulled of the theology that underpins everything we do and who we are.  I’m not religious, he began, I just believe in being a good person.

Theological conversations with an intoxicated person are always a landmine.  They’re often very fruitful in the moment, but if the person remembers it later, they might be upset about something or other.  The honesty that alcohol can lead some people to is sometimes a difficult thing to handle after the fact.

And if you tell me that if I don’t believe in God then I’m going to hell, then f*** you.  Said more as a general statement than directly to me.  But still.

I’m just going to be a good person and that’s it.  Some people need to be afraid of hell to be a good person.  Others don’t.

It sounds like a compelling argument.  Until you try to start figuring out what terms like good mean.  Clearly, when he was telling me about a younger sister’s abusive boyfriend years ago, he felt what that guy did to her was badEvilWicked.  As opposed to how my buddy attempts to live his life.  GoodUpstanding.

But outside of some transcendent center, some unchanging baseline, those words are pointless.  At best, they can attempt to capture some general level of consensus in the moment about what is appropriate or inappropriate.  At worst, they’re purely subjective labels  without any inherent meaning beyond what I choose to give to them.  So abusing a girlfriend is good to one person, but not to me.  Who is right?  Who gets to decide?  Me?  The abuser?  On what basis?  Majority opinion?  Which majority?

I pointed out to my buddy that when he starts tossing around words like good and evil, he’s borrowing the vocabulary of religion.  He was willing to acknowledge that.  But it’s a pretty important point.  People like the idea of relative morality on the one hand, but not on the other.  Relative morality says that 200 years  ago, slavery was just fine.  Yet there are still people trying to get reparations for the  slavery of their ancestors way back then.  On what basis, though, if not a transcendent definition of good and bad that can be applied in a unilateral fashion across time and geography?

The conversation ended shortly after.   I doubt he’ll remember any of it, and that’s fine.  I learned a little more about him and where he comes from, and maybe the Holy Spirit will use that knowledge at some point in the future in our interactions.  Or maybe he’ll remember the point he conceded last night, and it will nag at him and maybe spawn another conversation down the road.  Time will tell, but I hope  so.

 

 

Book Review: Environment & Arts in Catholic Worship

September 3, 2019

Environment & Art in Catholic Worship from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy

The second of my (current) forays into Roman Catholic theological materials.  This is a short statement on art and environment in Catholic worship released in 1977.  In the wake of Vatican II, it became necessary to clarify and guide the increased freedoms available to congregations and worship leaders & planners.   What does it mean – in terms of worship environment and art – to interact as Roman Catholics with the modern world?

This is a very brief (under 50 pages, not including photos) introductory guide to considerations for  worship space and the use of art.  This includes the design of a worship space, the kinds of objects within it, artistic embellishments, etc.  As might be expected from a statement on the topic to a worldwide organization, the guide is rather thin, you might say.  It doesn’t make proclamations about what can and can’t be done, as planning a worship space in Africa is probably a lot different than planning one in Finland, as  far as aesthetics  go.  But there are underlying principles applicable to both environments.

There is a strong emphasis on the use of qualified professionals, whether in terms of planning a worship space (architects, etc.) to obtaining or creating the items that will fill that worship space (artists, design experts, etc.).  This guide attempts to reiterate the importance of doing things well, as opposed to doing things quickly or inexpensively.  Worship is a fundamentally different act than any other human act.  It is both individual and corporate, human and divine.  Holding together these various tensions requires careful thought (and prayer), and shouldn’t be plunged into without appropriate forethought.

Again, there is an emphasis on quality and authenticity,  ensuring that those items which fill a worship space are appropriate for such a space and of such a quality to bear their symbolic purposes.  If you’re in the process of designing or redesigning a worship space, or just updating artistic or liturgical elements within that  space, this is a helpful read-through.  It provides good theological reminders of both the gravitas and joy that worship embodies, and the unique attentions necessary to physical objects  in order to facilitate those things.

 

 

Book Review – Liturgy Made Simple

September 2, 2019

Liturgy Made Simple by Mark Searle

 

I recently inherited a small trove of Catholic theological books.  I was able to winnow the boxes down to about a dozen or  so books I thought might be helpful or interesting to look through, and this was the first.

If you’ve never really given much thought to why you do the things you do in worship, this is a great introductory resource to stimulate thought.  It presents the liturgy from the Roman Catholic perspective, which is not too terribly different from my own Protestant denomination’s understanding of it.  There are a few differences that someone with an alternative theological background to Roman Catholicism will pick up on.  And of course, if you aren’t already somewhat familiar with or sympathetic to the centuries-old pattern of worship and liturgical elements, this may be  confusing to you.  But it should provide a good means of thinking through certain things.

I particularly like his emphasis on the importance of authenticity.  This is a word that is getting more traction these days, particularly among younger generations.  Searle questions the propriety of changes made in the  liturgy or Sacraments in the name of convenience.  The one which particularly stood out to me was his criticism of mass-produced Holy Communion wafers.  Those terribly thin and terribly tasteless things that are, technically, a form of bread, but which bear more resemblance in all sensory forms to styrofoam than bread.

Yes, it takes time and effort to bake bread for Communion.   But I argue (having re-instituted actual baked, unleavened bread for our congregation’s Eucharist) that  it is an investment of time and energy more than worth the effort.  For the central celebration of the Christian community, how can we accept mass-produced products as somehow appropriately representative of the Body of Christ?

This is a short (under 100 pages) and easy read with questions for reflection and discussion afterwards.  It was likely used as a classroom resource for a seminary or pre-seminary program and would be ideal in that setting.  Some terms are taken for granted and not defined, but with a minimal amount of Googling, even the most contemporary-oriented, hipster pastor or worship team should be able to make use of this resource.

Reading Ramblings – September 8, 2019

September 1, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 8, 2019

Texts: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-35

Context: American Christians have grown used to the assumption that their faith is not only accepted in their culture, it is actually the guiding moral norm for our culture. As this changes, we are continually faced with drastically different definitions of normal, many of which challenge directly clear Biblical teaching. Remaining faithful to our beliefs now may well require us to stand very awkwardly apart from our culture, refusing to condone or support what it demands us to. While this is new and different for us it has by and large been the norm for most followers of Christ over the past 2000 years, to varying degrees of intensity ranging from a mild social stigmatization to arrests and even execution. We must consider carefully and seriously our faith, ensuring that our faith is not simply a complicity with our surrounding culture that negates the substance of our faith in application and makes us essentially like everyone else. We are called to be salt and light, and this will necessarily set us apart and, sometimes, make us easy targets for persecution and abuse.

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 – These verses are perhaps familiar to us, but perhaps less familiar are the first 14 verses of this chapter. If 15-20 gives us the impression that the law is something we can keep perfectly, the first 14 verses make it clear it is not. God knows full well that both the blessings and the curses of the covenant are going to come into play. God’s people will not remain faithful, but God will. Repentance will lead God’s people back home not by their own renewed obedience but by the faithful grace of God. This is the life being offered in Moses’ eloquent speech. Not a life of constant fear of the Law, but a life looking forward to the grace and goodness of God. The Law is to be taken seriously, but we will fail. God however, never fails. And so it is that God is rightly attributed as the source of life and length of days in v.20, rather than the obedience of his people.

Psalm 1 – This psalm sets the tone for the entire collection of psalms to follow. It sets forth the fundamental premise which will be explored in various ways through the rest of the psalms – the Word of God is the way of life, and all other options only lead to death. The opening two verses simply state this as a reality. The Word of God is the source of blessedness. Anyone or anything that counsels otherwise is wicked by definition. The natural effects of grounding oneself in God’s Word are a depth of strength and resilience that is not affected by the ups and downs of life. This is to be contrasted with the transience and lack of substance of the wicked, who are easily dispersed on the breeze like chaff. Chaff is an integral part of the grain plant, and seems every bit as vibrant and resilient as the grain it protects – until the harvest. At that time it is only the grain that has value, while the chaff dries up and is burned as fuel. This metaphor carries through the final two verses. On the day of judgment, the righteous will be separated from the unrighteous just as grain is separated from chaff during the threshing. It would no more be possible for the wicked to remain with the righteous during judgment than it would be for the dry, brittle chaff to remain with the grain during threshing.

Philemon – What does living by the Law of God look like? It doesn’t always look like we imagine it to. We may picture it as prohibiting us from violence or sexual misconduct, we may picture it as demanding our attendance in worship and guarding our choice of expletives. But the Word of God goes far deeper than this, and penetrates the way we do and approach everything, even our approach to economics. Paul writes to return a slave to his rightful master, and asks the master to be lenient in receiving him back. Some people are angry that Paul does not demand the master free the slave. That’s our understanding of what righteousness looks like. But freeing a slave does not alter the attitude of the master’s heart towards him. It is conceivable that freeing his slave might actually be detrimental to Onesimus – leaving him without a means of supporting himself. Rather, Paul calls both Onesimus and Philemon to a deeper application of God’s Word that demands love of neighbor, overcoming and setting aside personal issues to strive for true reconciliation. As brothers and sisters in Christ we expect to share eternity together – how can we allow anything temporal to affect how we treat one another here and now? The Kingdom of God is not simply a far off thing, but something that is lived out today – imperfectly to be sure, but just as seriously as though the King were on his earthly throne visible already!

Luke 14:25-35 – Following God’s Word, incarnate in the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, is not without cost. It would be much easier at times to do things the way the world does, to allow the world’s understanding of things to guide our own thoughts and actions. Our assumption that the life of faith will be easy and lead to the same sorts of benefits as others around us who aren’t following Christ is dangerous. There may be times when in order to be faithful we need to forego some of the goals or means taken for granted by those around us. This in turn will lead to real repercussions, whether socially or financially or even legally. We need to not only keep this in mind, we need in a very real sense to expect it. It’s easy for “great crowds” to follow Jesus as though on some extended picnic. But what happens when the Roman soldiers show up? What happens when the religious authorities kick them out of the synagogues (John 9:22)? What happens when they encounter persecution from friends and family and their community for their acceptance of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16)?

What happens when the Biblical Word on human life contradicts what our society decides is right? What happens when our friends – or even family members! – quit associating with us because we’re narrow-minded or judgmental or unloving in our refusal to agree with everything society demands of us? Or what about refusing to lie or cheat in order to gain a financial advantage? What about refusing to raise our kids with the same standards of those around us? What about challenging school systems when they attempt to indoctrinate our children and grandchildren with ideas that are clearly contrary to Scripture? What about the need to forego a preferred vocational field because Christians aren’t allowed to follow their religious convictions?

Who can bear these things on their own!? How important it is to have brothers & sisters in Christ around us to encourage us in the midst of suffering and loss. Together we can encourage one another not to simply accept whatever society claims we must. Together we can help one another retain our saltiness, our distinctness from the world around us every bit as much as the Old Testament rules were intended to keep the Hebrews distinct from the surrounding cultures.

Born This Way – Not So Much

August 31, 2019

A large study garnered attention this week.  This study attempted to identify genetic influences on same-sex experiences/behaviors (which I understand to be different than homosexual behavior in terms of frequency).

The study concluded that there is no “gay-gene”, a single genetic marker that determines sexual orientation.  Rather, it asserts that a variety of genes may influence sexual behavior and sexual preferences.  It also asserts what most studies for decades have shown – there are environmental factors that also determine – and likely more heavily determine – same-sex behavior or experiences.

In effect, this study reinforces most of what is already known – environmental factors (nurture as opposed to nature or  genetics) play a big role both in whether someone dabbles or experiments in same-sex encounters or whether they identify as exclusively non-heterosexual.  As such, there have been plenty of responses by LGBTQ people either associated with the study or reviewing  it, claiming that the study might be unnecessary and actually dangerous to LGBTQ causes since it doesn’t affirm a clear genetic determination for sexuality.  They fear  – reasonably – that people will interpret this to mean sexuality is a choice rather than something hard-wired.

Which of course, is what the study is saying.

A complex genetic interaction provides “significant” influence over sexual behavior, but it appears to be far from clear-cut exactly what this means, and by relegating the genetic influence to 8-25% (a pretty impressive spectrum!), my take-away  is non-genetic issues provide the greatest impact on how open a person is to same-sex experiences or – by extension – a same-sex lifestyle and identification.

Sexual behavior is complicated, the study essentially affirms.  And certainly, if there are no guidelines or rules along which to be guided, it would be strange if anything other than the mass confusion characterizing our cultural sexual landscape emerged.   Right now we seem as a culture interested only in normalizing that confusion at whatever cost.  History I think we see this as a curious and unfortunate time, whether in terms of science and how it is allowing itself to be co-opted by a particular sector of the population, or how the mental health and well-being of future generations was sacrificed to justify the decisions of a small segment of the generations before them.

Book Review: A Lutheran Primer for Preaching

August 30, 2019

A Lutheran Primer for Preaching: A Theological and Practical Approach to Sermon Writing

by Edward O. Grimenstein

 

Over the past several years I had the honor of supervising a deacon in our area who was responsible for the majority of preaching and teaching at his small parish about 30 miles from ours.  The irony is that despite him being much older than myself, I was supervising him since I am an ordained pastor and he was a trained deacon – two different roles in our polity.  As part of a process to allow him to be ordained and continue serving his small congregation, he was assigned a rigorous reading and study schedule and I assisted him in that.  One of the books he mentioned he was reading is this one, so I decided maybe I should read it as well.  Belatedly, I have.

I expected it to be a 50-60 year old book, but was pleasantly surprised it was published in 2015.  It is intended for a small group or classroom use, with questions for both in-class and out of class discussion.  Each chapter is very short (3-4 pages) and focused on one particular topic, beginning with the more abstract, theological topics and moving to more practical ones.  Grimenstein’s writing style is very accessible and easy to understand.  His theology is thoroughly Biblical.  His purpose is to guide potential (or current) preachers into doing what preaching should be – allowing people the opportunity to believe Jesus is the Christ and, by believing, have eternal life (p.49).  Considering the many other things that preaching can easily devolve into, this is a worthy goal!  At just over 100 pages this is an easy introduction or brush-up on some of the basics of preaching as Biblical Lutherans approach this sacred task.

Overall  the book is helpful, particularly if you’ve had little to no homiletical training.  There are places where Grimenstein strives to forge theological supports for the homiletical task and falls short, such as Chapter Six as he struggles to relate tangibly the Holy Spirit’s role in homiletical work.  Of course, this is difficult! I also question his assertion on page 74 that sermon preparation should “not be work” for the preacher.  I don’t know many preachers who would agree with this statement.  There are times when things come together easily and nicely and times when they don’t.  Good preparation is of course helpful but no guarantee that when it comes down to writing the sermon it will come together easily.

This is a good resource.  He takes issue (rightly so) with the move in the last 50 years of homiletics to shy away from the Bible as the primary text for sermon writing.  Whether this is a novel concept or not for you will likely depend on your theological training as well as your view of Scripture.  If it’s the authoritative, inspired Word of God there can be no other appropriate book to base Scripture on!