Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Emerging into Better Interpreters

I read a great post a few days ago (and am just now getting around to posting about it) at Scot McKnight's blog McKnight is an NT scholar but has interests that range beyond the academic. He writes often about the Emergent Movement, mostly favorable. For those who aren't familiar with the Emergent Movement I recommend you check out some of the links on McKnights page. At its best, those who are considered "emergent" or "emerging" are socially aware/active believers who emphasize the necessity of community in the Church's life, doctrine, evangelism and mission and provide a necessary corrective to evangelicalism. At its worst, they are theologically negligent, doctrinally evasive and just plain condescending. This, of course, is merely my opinion based on my interactions and readings. I tend to think that many, if not most, fit within the first category rather than the second.

McKnight's post is a letter largely addressing the issue that I've seen pop up periodically in the thoughts and writings of emergents: shouldn't we be more concerned with following Jesus and his teachings than with Paul? Many emergents think that the Church (especially evangelicals) has paid a disproportionate amount of attention to Paul rather than Jesus. Here is McKnight's paragraph explaining the issue with his reader:

Your point seemed to favor one idea: that Jesus is not only “the first one we need to go to” (which your friend advocates) but (what you think) the “only one we really need. After all,” you ask, “what else do we really need besides Jesus’ teaching?” Besides, you observe, Paul’s “so abstract and theoretical and all his stuff about justification doesn’t really make sense to any of us.”

I encourage you to read McKnight's post, it was thoughtful, generous and insightful. My response would probably not be any of these things.

McKnight's conversation partner reflects a common understanding within the Emergent Movement. That is, we should be what some have called "red letter Christians" who avoid the common trap of "reading Jesus through the lens of Paul." This line of thought concerns me (which should be no surprise for those who know me well), I guess for two main reasons.

One, this strikes me as awfully arrogant. What makes us think we can interpret Jesus better than Paul? I mean, wasn't Paul a Jew who lived in the same time frame as Jesus? Wasn't he the one who encountered the risen Christ and had his life radically transformed? Wasn't he the one who risked his life to preach the good news of this Savior to the entire world, and ultimately faced his death because of this? How arrogant would I be to think that I can understand and apply Jesus' teachings better than Paul?

Two, there seems to be a fundamental problem with hermeneutics here (by "hermeneutics" I mean the process of applying an ancient text to today, the basic question is "how do we get from there to here?"). Because we don't grasp the first issue (how Paul applies Jesus' teachings), we don't grasp how to apply Paul. If we studied Paul and asked the questions "how?" (how does Paul apply Jesus?) and "why?" (why does Paul apply it in this way?) we might have a clue to following Jesus' teachings. It seems to me that Paul would be a great case study for us. While our contexts are certainly different, there are striking similarities that could give us a clue how to preach the gospel faithfullly in our context. Both contexts (Paul's and ours) are pluralistic, socially diverse, economically diverse, morally loose, and so on. (It's interesting to note that Jesus ministered in a monotheistic and morally stringent- to the point of legalism in some cases- atmosphere. That doesn't sound too much like modern day America, does it?)

I think this is what bothers me when McKnight's reader says that "all his [Paul's] stuff about justification doesn’t really make sense to any of us." It was this doctrine that Paul used to defend the right of Gentiles to fellowship with Jews. It wasn't abstract or theoretical. It was practical. Justification by faith meant that Gentiles could eat with Jews (making the reverse true as well), worship with Jews, etc, without having to become "Jews" (circumcision being the most obvious issue). It doesn't get much more practical than that. Given that emergents are so concerned with equality between classes/races/cultures/etc (one of their most admirable qualities), justification should be emphasized in their circles, not diminished. I think the movement would be much more powerful and productive if it would spend more time reflecting on these things.

Friday, November 24, 2006

time to make a change (ch-ch-changes)

Well, the blog of danny has undergone a renovation. Maybe it's time for a little spring cleaning, even if it is November. I really liked the white text over the black background, but I realize that it's probably hard on the eyes, especially for a post as long as my last one. Besides, doesn't it feel like a whole new blog now?

More than just the basic look has changed. I've updated the links on the right, it includes some friends, a sports writer, a band, a Bible translation and a philosophizing second cousin. Oh, and some stupid news link that Google provides. I'm sure there are some I have forgotten, I apologize. I basically reserve it for those I'm closest with and a couple other sites of note. There are other web sites I read consistently, maybe I'll get around to putting them on here at some point. For now, this is what I have.

I also added a text to the sidebar, but it doesn't really say anything yet. It took me forever to figure out how to do that (I'm not exactly computer savvy). When I come up with something I'll change it, so be on the lookout. I would put a mini bio, but I figure most of the folks who read this blog already know me. If not, well, ask. I also added a footer (that also took me a while to figure out), I might change that around periodically. Maybe someday I'll progress to the point that I can add pictures or something.

Let me know what you think, if you have further suggestions to improve this blog I'm willing to listen. I'll bend at the whim of the masses, I assure you.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Theological Consistency and Pauline Mathematics: "All Israel" in Romans 11:26

A few years back I set out to understand one of the most complicated passages in the Bible: Romans 11:25-32. In particular, I wanted to figure out what Paul meant by "all Israel" in v26. I had been taught that Paul was referring to a large group of ethnic Jews repenting and turning to their Messiah just before the 2nd coming of Jesus. For a while I accepted this and that was that, but it never really sat right with me. It just seemed to fly in the face of everything Paul had argued up to this point in Romans (and in other letters, notably Galatians and Ephesians): that there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile. Yet, the traditional explanation I had been given seemed to sneak an escape clause for the Jews in the back door.

I suppose there are 4 main views of "all Israel."

1. It refers to every elect Jew throughout history.

2. It refers to every individual Israelite.

3. It refers to a large number of Jews toward the end of history.

4. It refers to both Jew and Gentile believers as the people of God.

For the sake of brevity, I'll discard the first 2 options (my apologies to anyone who holds one of those). The first is so obvious (oh, you mean all elect Jews will be saved!) that it seems weird Paul would be saying that. The second has the simple problem that "all Israel" never actually means every individual Israelite (there are examples of this in Jewish literature, not to mention we frequently say things like "all Boston was there" knowing full well we don't literally mean every individual Bostonian).

The third option is the most common, at least in the world of Biblical scholarship, while the fourth is definitely in the minority (actually, in my studies I've run across 3 proponents on this view: John Calvin, N T Wright and yours truly- if you know anything about the theology of these 3 theological giants [note: sarcastic self-inclusion] you'd understand what an odd grouping we make. I suppose Romans 9-11 makes strange bedfellows).

Let me try to address the main issues briefly to give you an idea of why I take the fourth view. Let's break it down to these 3 exegetical points: the meaning of "mystery" in v25, the meaning of the Greek word houtos ("so") in v26 (I wish I could figure out a Greek font, sorry for all the Hellenists out there), and the OT quotations in vv26-27.

** First is Paul's use of the word "mystery." When I set out to study this passage I never really thought this was all that important, and most scholars barely make mention of its implications for the meaning of "all Israel." Douglas Moo states, "Usually the mystery involves an event or insight associated with Christ's coming and the preaching of the gospel, but here and in 1 Cor. 15:51 it refers to an event at the end of history" (714). As great as I think Moo's commentary is, I'm not sure I could disagree more on this point. Why make the connection between this passage and 1 Corinthians 15? It seems to me that there is a better "mystery" connection, and that is with Ephesians 3. In that chapter, as with Romans 11, Paul is dealing with the issue of Jew and Gentile relations. In Ephesians 3:6 Paul gives us the content of the "mystery" he is talking about, "that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." The connection between Romans 11 and Ephesians 3 is obvious: in both places Paul is dealing with Jews and Gentiles becoming one people of God in Christ Jesus.

Now, the contexts of these passages are not exactly the same. However, it seems that the "mystery" is the same- only it is seen from two different angles. In Ephesians, Paul is reminding the Gentiles that they have been brought into the people of God because of Christ's work on the cross (2:16). In Romans, Paul is reminding the Gentiles that just because they were "grafted in" among the already existing brances of the "rich root of the olive tree" (Romans 11:17) does not mean they are to become arrogant as if they deserved it more than the Jews. The theology which undergirds these passages is the same- that God has brought Jew and Gentile together into "one new man" (Eph 2:15), made them fellow heirs with the Jews (Eph 3:6) and grafted them into one tree (Rom 11:17-24). However, the specific emphasis Paul lays on this theological mystery is dependent on the situation. In the church of Rome, Paul needs to emphasize the rightful place of the Jewish people within the "olive tree." On the other hand, as Peter O'Brien notes, Paul "writes Ephesians to his mainly Gentile Christian readers, for whom he has apostolic responsibilities, with the intention of informing, strengthening, and encouraging them by assuring them of their place within the gracious, saving purpose of God, and urging them to bring their lives into conformity with this divine plan of summing up all things in Christ (1:10)" (57). These different situations call for Paul to present this mystery in two different ways, but the mystery itself stays the same.

My point is this: the mystery Paul is referencing is not something that will be revealed at the end of time, but rather it is something that Christ has accomplished through His death and resurrection. He has made one people out of two. The Jewish-Gentile context in both Romans and Ephesians seems too strong to miss. For some reason, many scholars have overlooked this connection and subsequently have read something completely new in Romans 11:26, something not seen elsewhere.

** The meaning of houtos in v26 is not something that needs to be drawn out, since more and more scholars are tending to agree on its proper translation. I simply want to point out that this is not likely to be a temporal usage. In other words, Paul isn't saying "a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And then all Israel will be saved...." Instead, Paul is saying "a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And thus (or "in this way" or "in this manner") all Israel will be saved...." Most scholars, even those who disagree with my view, understand it this way. It does not necessitate the fourth option mentioned above.

The temporal aspect is important to discuss, however. Some point to the "until" in v25 as noting that Paul must be refering to Christ's second coming. In this case, the partial hardening has come upon Israel, but when the fullness of the Gentiles comes in, that hardening will be lifted and "all Israel" will be saved. But Paul doesn't talk about the lifting of the hardening, only the Gentiles coming in (which can be simultaneous with the Jews receiving mercy, see v31- I'm not sure why so many scholars miss that). Moo insists that "until" must refer to the hardening being lifted because out of the 37 temporal uses of achri ("until") "25 rather clearly denote a period of time that will come to an end and be followed by a change of those circumstances denoted" (717 n30). I have to be honest, I don't understand the logic here. Because a word denotes x roughly 2/3 of the time, it means it should here? This still leaves open 1/3 of the cases, which is no small percentage.

Anyway, my point is this: Paul is not emphasizing the end of the hardening, but rather the manner in which God's people are saved. Both Jews and Gentiles can be hardened and softened (this all throughout chapter 11). Remember that Paul is talking about a partial hardening, not a full scale hardening of the people of Israel (again, I point out v31 and 11:5, which shows that Paul didn't think a total hardening has taken place). Jews and Gentiles are not taking turns being the people of God, they have been made one and are being saved together.

** Finally, let me comment briefly on the OT quotation, which is actually a composite quotation from Isaiah 59:20-21 and 27:9 (with perhaps a little Psalm 14:7 and Jeremiah 31:33-34 thrown in for good measure). I'll make my comments brief and I'll focus mainly on Isaiah 59 (which provides the meat). Isaiah 59 is a restoration passage (actually, Isaiah 40-66 is largely restorative in nature) which Paul quotes elsewhere in Romans: in 3:15-17 he quotes Isaiah 59:7-8. This Isaiah passage talks about the sin of Israel, and Paul quotes it in a long string of such OT passages which serve as an indictment against Israel. The important thing to note is that this problem is sin that Paul sets up in Romans 3 has been solved by the sacrifice of Jesus (Rom 3:21-26). Let me stress this so we don't miss it: the problem of Israel's sin (and for that matter, the whole world) that Isaiah and others address has been answered through Jesus Christ. His life, death and resurrection have provided the atonement for these sins. So, when Paul goes back to those familiar Isaianic restoration passages here in Romans 11, he isn't talking about Christ's second coming. He's talking about the same thing he's always been talking about, that is, Jesus has defeated sin and made the way for His people to come to the Father (both Jew and Gentile, check out Galatians 3).

Surely I think Paul believes that Jesus is coming back (1 Cor 15, 1 Thess 4, etc). But here's what I think (though I need to do more research on this): Paul never quotes from the OT to refer to the second coming of Christ. The restoration promised through the Messiah has happened and still is happening. This can be misunderstood, so I hope I'm being clear. Paul's quotation must refer to Jesus' fist coming. This is consistent with his usage of restoration texts elsewhere and in Romans. This is not to deny that there is a future element to salvation, but it is to show that Paul is intending for his readers to understand that God has remained faithful to His promises. Now is the time for Israel to accept God's mercy. Indeed, they can be grafted back into God's tree precisely because of what Christ has done.

So here is my reading: Paul is telling his readers the same thing he's said all along, that there is a partial hardening on Israel (which means that some are still faithful), Gentiles are coming into the people of God, and this is how the people of God are saved. One of the criticisms against my view is that Paul must change the very definition of "Israel" within one verse, which is a legitimate observation. However, this is what Paul has been doing all along: redefining Israel. As N T Wright notes, "Paul actually began the whole section (9.6) with just such a programmatic disctinction of two 'Israels'" (250). Paul isn't talking about the salvation of one people over another, he is arguing that both are saved by God's grace through the work accomplished by Christ. Remember what he says in Romans 10:13, "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." I wonder if we could define "all Israel" in 11:26 by "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord" in 10:13 (note the parallel "will be saved" in both verses- I think I learned this from someone, but I can't recall who).

If you are still reading at this point, you have accomplished no small feat. If it makes you feel any better, I wrote a paper on this passage that was much longer and much more boring than this. I'd love some feedback, but understand that this is a short defense of my view, not a dissertation. I'm aware of holes that I have not addressed, feel free to poke at them.

Let me end with this: for Paul, 1+1=1. Jewish branches + Gentiles branches = one tree (Rom 11:17-24); believing Jews + believing Gentiles = descendents of Abraham (4:16). There is no magical escape clause or exemption for anyone, faith in Jesus is what justifies a sinner, not physical descent. The problem of changing the meaning of "Israel" abruptly is far less problematic than saying that Paul is here introducing an entirely foreign theological concept, when an explanation that fits the context is readily available.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Yet Another 5.5 Random Things

5.5. This post is dedicated to all those who thought that my last post might have been a not-so-subtle cry for help. I can assure you it was no such thing. I had just finished teaching on confession for a class and we talked about that very thing. On a whim I decided to post it, not really considering whether or not people thought it was about me personally (though it is something I have learned in my life). Perhaps it was poor timing, coming right after my post on Ted Haggard. Sorry for any confusion, hope my parents weren't flipping out.

5. Little tidbit about the upcoming Patriots-Packers game at Green Bay this Sunday. The last time these two teams played a regular season game at Lambeau Field I was 16 days old.

4. Speaking of the Patriots, there is talk here in Boston that Tom Brady is playing hurt. While part of me thinks this is just the local media making excuses for their darling quarterback, they might be on to something. One of the crucial characteristics of Brady's play over the years has been his accurate arm, which has all but left him this year. I have a hard time believing that a man goes from being the best quarterback in football to struggling to hit an open receiver without some cause. An injury may explain it.

3. So the Red Sox forked over $51 million just to have the opportunity to talk with Japanese pitching star Daisuke Matsuzaka. The money doesn't really bother me, simply because they can make that back through increased revenue in Japan. But that only works if he's good (at worst), and that's tougher to tell. There isn't necessarily the greatest track record for pitchers coming over and doing well (anyone remember Hideki Irabu?). Hideo Nomo has had a decent career, but never topped his performance in his rookie year. Matsuzaka apparently dominated in the World Baseball Classic, which is encouraging. If he turns out to be as good as some folks think, this will no doubt strengthen a struggling pitching staff.

2. It's mid-November and I'm still wearing shorts to work (be jealous all you business casual suckers). This is weird. It makes me worry that we'll be punished with an even worse January (which is by far the worst month in Boston). I'll be doing my snow-shoveling stretches just in case.

1. There are some of you out there who are wicked smart, you know who you are. If that's you, do me a favor. Go check out Jeremy's Theories of Knowledge and Reality Series and explain it to me. I studied a little philosophy in undergrad and have picked up a few things along the way, but for the most part it's way over my head. In the meantime, I'll stick to my Greek grammar and baseball. Maybe I'll take a semester and go to Syracuse and audit his class. I promise I won't throw spit balls.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Life Lesson I Have Learned

Unspoken pain is as dangerous as unconfessed sin.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

some late thoughts on the Haggard situation

I realize that Ted Haggard has already become yesterday's news in many circles, but I've been meaning to write something about it for a couple days. Many have voiced their thoughts, and I am hesitant to just be one of the many out there, but here it goes anyway. I apologize if this is old for you already.

It's interesting to see the varying reactions Christians have had (I won't really comment on the reaction of non-Christians for now). Some are heartbroken, some are utterly shocked, and I've even read some comments from folks who seem to feel this whole situation justifies their dislike of the megachurch movement. While I am no fan of megachurches, I'm not sure that's the point we should take from all this.

My feelings were varied, I suppose like many other's. My heart breaks for his family, I can't imagine what this might do to his wife and kids. My heart breaks for his church, and I pray that they haven't put too much stock in their long-time pastor, who is but a man. And my heart breaks for him as well, it's not like he's enjoying this situation, I'm sure. No matter how much of this is his fault (and it is his fault, there's no doubt about that), my heart still breaks for someone who let himself go this far. I don't want to see someone fail, no matter what size church they pastor.

There was another feeling, however, that I still have, but I'm not sure how to describe it. I guess you could call it "gratefulness", clearly not that this happened to him, but that I could be that guy. As I watched this whole thing unfold, I kept thanking the Lord that He has kept me from this. Perhaps people just don't think that something like that could happen to them, but I know it could. It wouldn't be the same type of sin, that's sure, but it would be something. I deserve to have my sins made public for everyone and be ridiculed. I'm not special. But God has been gracious to me.

There are two factors I see behind Haggard's fall. One is being honest about sin. It amazes me how much of the Church overlooks sin in its embryonic form, not realizing how it will in fact grow (I'm also speaking of myself here). So many Christians have trouble calling sin sin, they can't seem to bring themselves to call it evil, which is what it is. We accept way too much of sin in our lives (I might need to get on a Romans 7 kick at some point, but I'll refrain). While I can't accept the Wesleyan "perfection" concept (although that's often misunderstood anyway), I love John Wesley's never ending pursuit of holiness. Some call it legalistic, I call them cowards for not being able to stand before others to account for their actions (and yes, I call myself a coward all the time).

The other factor is what I just hit on, accountability. I realize accountability is not a new concept in the church, and everyone seems to be aware of it and its benefits, but rarely do we practice true accountability. How many people know the dark places of your heart? How many people know the sins that constantly hound you, the thoughts that plague your mind thoughout the day? As for me, I am a master at wording my confessions in a way that "gets me off the hook" at times. But honestly, I have those in my life who don't allow it to happen very often. The truth is I have been kept from sin many times because of the fear of having to look my pastor in the eye and tell him what I did or thought. Again, some would call it legalism. But I don't think so. God has given us people to keep up in line, we ought to use them. The Holy Spirit often convicts us through the words of our brothers and sisters, we must seek that conviction.

So I've done a lot of soul searching in this time. Am I the one who stands before God and says, "I'm glad I'm not like Ted Haggard"? Or am I the one who stands before God and says, "I'm more like Ted Haggard than I want to admit. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Articular Infinitives and 1 Corinthians 10:13

Blogger Note: this was originally posted on Saturday, November 4. However, the post was lost by some blogger-problem that I don't understand, but was miraculously saved by Isaac. Thanks Isaac, the blogosphere can now rest well.

About once a month I get together with a few friends on a Saturday morning for what we have come to call "Greek Geek" time. We preselect a text from the NT to translate on our own then come together to work through it. We discuss mostly grammar, some theology and hermeneutics, and even the occasional textual variant. It's a great time for a geek such as myself. There's something about struggling through a text that makes you appreciate it a bit more. I love how it makes me slow down and think about what the author is trying to say. I'm sad to say it, but I've read through parts of the Bible so many times over the years (in English) that I've grown accustomed to the phrasings and teachings. It's easy to skim over something. But when you work with the original languages, it forces you to plod and fight for every inch of understanding. At least it does for me.

For our 1st meeting we had translated 2 John (that's right, an entire book!), for our 2nd it was Matthew 28 (gotta have some narrative in there), and for this morning it was 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 (we'll finish the chapter later). I always learn something new, or I see something that I never noticed before. Such was the case for me in 1 Corinthians 10:13.

Let me give you a woodenly literal translation of the second part of the verse: "...Who will not permit you to be tempted over what you are able but will give with the temptation also the way out to be able to endure." You could smooth it out to the NIV (cf. TNIV, HCSB, NET): "...he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." Notice something different between the two, in the Greek there is an article before "way out" (see NAS, ESV, in those it is translated "way of escape"). Now, Greek articles can mean different things, but we'll get to that in a second.

Let me move on to the point (and title) of this post, the articular infinitive (that is, an infinitive that has an article). These are quite common in Greek, they generally denote purpose or result. In Greek there is an article before the infinitive "to be able." Every translation that I've seen takes this as an articular infinitive denoting purpose, "He will also give with the temptation the way out, in order to be able to endure" is one way to translate it. Anthony Thiselton gives us a nice smooth translation reflecting this grammatical choice, "Now God is faithful: he will not allow you to be tempted beyond your powers, but he will make an exit path alongside the temptation. His purpose in this is for you to bear up under it" (pg 719- I love the internet, instead of typing out all the publication information I can simply link and give the page number!).

This is how I understood it the first time I went through the passage (and we have an articular infinitive with a preposition denoting purpose in v6, by the way). However, as I thought about the article before "way out" I rethought the infinitive here as well. Another grammatical possibility is that it is used as an apposition. Appositives are common in our everyday language, "my Greek Geek friend, Brian" is an example. "Brian" further defines "my Greek Geek friend." There are all sorts of uses, "God's favorite baseball team, the Red Sox, won the World Series in 2004" and so on. Our good friends at gives us this definition of apposition: "Grammar. a syntactic relation between expressions, usually consecutive, that have the same function and the same relation to other elements in the sentence, the second expression identifying or supplementing the first. In Washington, our first president, the phrase our first president is in apposition with Washington." I apologize for the American-centric example here, for those across the pond or up North I hope you can practice your contextualization skills.

So, if we were to read the articular infinitive in this way, it would be something like this "He will also give with the temptation the way out, that is, to be able to endure." The ability to endure is the way out. "To be able to endure" further defines what Paul meant by "the way out."

So what does this have to do with the definite article before "way out"? First, I think there is some importance to Paul using an article here. He didn't have to, but it makes sense given the fact he uses an article with "the temptation" as well. (By the way, I think God giving us temptation is worthy of a post of its own, someone should really take that up). Paul wanted to point out a specific way out for his readers, not just any way out. Hence the use of the article.

My boy Gordon Fee notes this as well, but doesn't say too much about it (461 n57). It seems Fee takes it as nothing more than individualizing the noun- with each temptation there is a corresponding way out. I tend to see it more as kataphoric (I love that word, it simply means "refering to what follows" or something like that). In other words, "the way out" refers to something that will be specified, like with an appositional articular infinitive. The article before "temptation" would be anaphoric (refering to something previously stated, in this the whole discussion of temptation in v13 prior to this). If you're in the mood, check out Daniel Wallace's greek grammar for a good discussion on the Greek article (a mere 85 pages or so!).

I realize this is tedious and largely uninteresting, but the use of the article makes me think about what Paul is trying to say here about the way out of temptation. My suggestions here are certainly grammatically possible, what I'm trying to figure out is if they are likely. Is Paul saying here that the way out of the temptation "common to humankind" is to be able to endure? Anybody have any thoughts on this?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott

While much of our country was celebrating Halloween by dressing up in costumes and contributing to the rise in the obesity rates, a handful of us celebrated October 31 as the 489th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses on the door of the chapel in Wittenburg, Germany. This day is called "Reformation Day." It might not be the most glamorous holiday, but we managed to have fun with it in seminary. And by "have fun" I mean "joke about having school sponsored Reformation-inspired activities like 'Drown the Anabaptist' and 'Burn the Arminian at the Stake'". Just kidding, but it did give the Presbyterians an excuse to go out and drink (like they ever needed one before).

I love this day. To think that the course of the world was changed on October 31, 1517. I'd recommend that you watch the movie Luther to get an idea of Luther's life and motivations for what he did. I'm by no means a church historian, but from what I understand it's a fairly accurate portrayal given the time constraints. There's a few things about Luther I'm not particularly fond of, specifically a couple areas of his theology (like baptism and the Lord's Supper, two fairly important topics). However, when you get down to it, this is a man who zealously defended the gospel. Luther was convinced of the Truth, and was willing to stand up for it no matter the consequence.

I think this is why I was angered a couple months back as I followed a debate on a theology message board between two intelligent and educated men. I can't remember what exactly the debate was about, but I remember it not being a "crucial" issue. But, these two decided to invoke the language of Luther throughout, with such phrasings as "here I stand, I can do no other" appearing after their arguments (I've read that Luther didn't actually say those words, though he certainly could have). What angered me was how they took his words and cheapened them. Their debate was over some relatively minor detail, yet they (dare I say self-righteously) decided to use the language of Luther in order to give themselves the higher moral ground.

Luther, however, stood at the Diet of Worms with his life on the line (literally) and uttered these powerful words of faith:
"Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen."

Here is a man who knew what was at stake, yet his love for the gospel and passion for the truth would not allow him to budge one inch. He wasn't fighting over what instruments to use in worship, maintenance budgets or the size of the pulpit. He saw corruption in the church and the perversion of the gospel and stood to fight against it. Let's not cheapen his sacrifice by using his words as rhetorical devices to win battles over non-essentials. He risked too much for that.

I guess this is why I love Reformation Day: It shows us what happens when someone is convinced of the truth of the gospel and is empowered by the Holy Spirit to stand against any attempt of its perversion. If I had half of Luther's courage and passion I'm convinced I would be a better minister of the gospel.

So, while this isn't technically a Hymn of the Week post, I have decided to post the lyrics to Luther's famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, inspired by Psalm 46. I enjoyed reading through it again last night and singing it quietly to myself at Panera. Let us not forget his closing lyrics, which Luther himself lived out as an example to us: The body they may kill, God's truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever!

A mighty fortress is our God,
A Bulwark never failing;
Our Helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing;
For still our ancient Foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow'r are great,
And armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God's own choosing;
Dost ask who that may be:
Christ Jesus it is He;
Lord Sabbaoth His name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us
We will not fear for God hath willed,
His truth to triumph through us
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him
His rage we can endure,
For lo his doom is sure
One little word shall fell him

That Word above all earthly pow'r,
No thanks to them abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth;
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill;
God's truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever!