Liturgy and Theology

My wife and I are searching for a new church. We appreciate high liturgy and good theology. Needless to say, we haven't found one yet. But hopefully our web surfing will help.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Cardinal Newman

The link above is to an excellent series on the life and thought of the venerable Cardinal Newman. He was a high profile convert from Angilcanism to Catholicism during the 1800's. He graduated from Oxford and his thought has influenced Vatican II and how the Catholic church thinks of the progress of doctrine. Besides being a theologian he also wrote poetry and even a novel entitled "Callista". Most (if not all) of his works are available online. Check out this prolific and provocative thinker.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Stanley Fish and Objective Truth

This is a follow up to my last post on Sola Scriptura. Not everyone is familiar with Stanley Fish and his views. I know that I wasn't until my wife suggested I read his book. The above link is an article he wrote about how Post-Modernism has been dragged into the culture wars. I myself am not one to jump on the post-modern bandwagon. The church has never been at its best when it has tried to keep pace with culture. I also think that much of what is called post-modernism is really high modernism (a friend of mine who teaches Humanities brought this point to my attention). But the article does present Fish's views on truth even though no one can claim to have "objective" truth. He mainly has in his sights the elightenment concept of truth and its attempt to gain the "view from nowhere". All person's are rooted in communities and our views of truth cannot be divorced fromt he communities that we are a part of. The question becomes, how is one to decide amongst the various Christian communities that exist. To simply assert that the correct community is the one that most lines up with scripture merely side steps the issue. Every tradition claims to be following scripture. The real issue is how am I to know how to interpret scripture? That is the question that is hot on my mind at the moment.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Sola Scriptura and Private Judgment

Sorry about being so absent from the blog lately. I have been working on my master's thesis and have not been cruising the internet as much lately. But I have been thinking about the idea of Sola Scriptura. This way of viewing scripture asserts that the text alone is the final authority in all interpretation. A correlative concept with this view is the priority of the individual to arrive at the meaning of the scriptures. On the sola scriptura model there can be no privileged group of Christians (i.e. a magesterium) to provide a bounds or norm for interpretation. I ran across the link above from a Roman Catholic convert who discusses some of the short comings of this view. For anyone who has journeyed like my family has from American Evangelicalism towards some of the more ancient church bodies (Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox) his essay will have a peculiar ring of truth to it. I myself have gone through the steps of coming into conflict with my church bodies interpretation of the scriptures and then going on a search for another body of believers who better fits what God has lead me to believe. Not finding such a body, my family was involved in planting a liturgical Baptist church (I know, its seems like an oxymoron) in SoCal. When that did not work out it caused us to question some of the assumptions we held up to that point. Should we continue to make it up as we go, or is there credence in identifying with one of the historic church bodies. As a Baptist you have to read church history like a buffet in which you pick and choose what you like. You emphasize discontinuity. But being Catholic or Orthodox you can read church history and own it. It doesn't mean that you overlook the bad parts, but you acknowledge that God has kept his promise that the gates of hell would not prevail over his church. I am not fully convinced by the Catholic or Orthodox arguments, but I can see the appeal. It is hard as a Protestant to have all the weight of interpretation fall on you. What makes such a view even more persuasive is the fact that my wife has me reading Stanley Fish who emphasizes "interpretative communities". He rejects the idea that the meaning is in the text itself. Most Sola Scriptura adherents believe that the meaning is in the text itself. If a person just applies the right method (historical-grammatical-theological-and-on-and-on) and uses the right tools (BAGD Greek lexicon and a Bible dictionary) they will arrive at the meaning of the text. But on such a view, Fish asserts that there will be as many interpretations as there are interpreters (which matches the 20,000 denominations we see in Christendom today). There will always be some new historical data, or new Greek dictionary, or the latest commentary, which will produce a new meaning for the text. The very fact that there are so many interpretations, Fish argues, shows that texts don't have the objective status we think they have. Rather texts are the function of particular "interpretive communities" who employ "interpretive strategies". To suggest that meaning is located "outside" the text of course works against Sola Scriptura and argues more for a scripture and tradition approach. Now of course Fish comes on this side of Kant (the turn towards the subject) and has debts to phenomenology, but it is hard to argue against his description of what happens when we "read" texts. And so as I contemplate where God would have my family plant our feet spiritually, these are some of the issues we are thinking through. I would welcome any comments.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Lutherans and Liturgy

I have been away from the blog again for awhile. During the past month my wife and I had been attending high liturgy lutheran church. It was a Missouri-Synod church (a conservative branch of Lutherans) where the pastor wore all of the regalia and occasionaly parts of the liturgy were sung. Our experience there brings up two points. The first is that the Lutherans are refreshingly on the mark when they emphasize that the phrase "Divine Service" is more about God serving us through the liturgy and less about us serving God. When I was a Baptist my approach to coming to church was hoping to make it through the altar call so that I was sure that I was saved. Singing the worship songs was me trying to stir up enough emotion to show God that I really loved him. I usually found my attention on myself. But the liturgy ought to be God's movement to us and not ours to God. Jesus comes to us in word and sacrament and offers to us the love of the Father. The Spirit draws us to faith in that love through these visible signs of God's grace. The liturgy is more about receiving than giving.

The second point is that why do Lutherans have to do liturgy so badly? A beautiful liturgical lutheran service is hard to find. Nothing is more dull than a liturgy spoken without feeling. And my wife and I have been to two churches so far where there are small, obvious changes to be made and yet they go uncorrected. Such things like having everyone singing together. Or singing on key. The above link contains some principles that should guide Lutheran liturgy. Lutherans should pay special attention to the last point. The number one thing that is keeping us from Lutheranism is the practical ugliness of their services. If I could find one that held to the principles above I would probably be Lutheran tomorrow. Shouldn't the gospel be beautiful? ARRGGHH!

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Ascension - International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

This past Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension. On this day the church celebrates the fact that Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at the right of God the Father, Almighty. When we think of the ascension we need to keep three things in our mind. They can be succinctly put into one sentence: Jesus, the resurrected second Adam, ascends into heaven to begin his kingly and priestly ministry on our behalf. We will begin with Jesus as the second Adam.

Jesus, the Second Adam

Romans chapter five tells us that Jesus takes on the role of the second Adam. All that was undone by the first human beings is restored through the new humanity of Jesus. Just as death came through the disobedience of one man, so life comes through the obedience of one man. This is the doctrine of recapitulation. Jesus walks through each stage of our humanity to heal it at each point.
Adam and Eve were created in the image of God and were to be God’s representatives on earth. All though they were created perfect they were not yet perfected. In other words, Adam and Eve were not lacking any good thing but they still had a task to perform in the garden. They were to offer up all of creation in praise to their maker. In the words of Genesis they were to fill and subdue the creation. God’s goal in creating Adam and Eve was to bring them into his Sabbath rest. This is that seventh day of creation that has no end.
But because of sin Adam and Eve never entered into the rest of God and were banished from the Garden. Jesus as the second Adam redeems all that Adam and Eve had lost and perfects our human nature. Jesus’ ascension into heaven is the reception of our human nature into heaven. In Christ our humanity enters into the rest of God. Christ’s ascension into heaven is the glorification of his human nature which was prefigured in the transfiguration. Humanity reaches its goal of fellowship with God in the vicarious humanity of Jesus.
This also answers a second question often asked in various Christian groups: how do I know that I will go to heaven? While part of the answer is that Jesus died for my sins, the second part of the answer is that Jesus has already ascended into heaven for me. At our baptism we are joined to Christ and are seated together with him in the heaven. Our entrance into heaven is as sure as Christ’s presence there.

Jesus, Our High Priest

We now turn to our second point. Upon his ascension into heaven Jesus fulfills his priestly ministry on our behalf. This is discussed in great detail in the book of Hebrews. You may have not noticed it before, but the book of Hebrews more than a few times mentions Jesus’ ascension into heaven. In chapter one we read

1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

The author of Hebrews goes on to say that the ascension of Jesus fulfills the dominion that Adam was to have over all of creation. That will be our next point. But later on in chapter nine of the book the author describes the articles of the temple, its service, and its offerings. Just as the temple was cleansed with the shedding of blood, so too we are cleansed with the shedding of Christ’s blood. In verse twenty-four Christ’s heavenly ministry is described

24 For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another—— 26 He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.

Christ’s ascension into heaven completes his atoning work on the cross. When he enters the heavenly tabernacle, Jesus brings the fruits of his atonement into the very presence of God. He always stands in the presence of God for us, interceding for us and serving as our advocate. He forever bears the marks of his reconciliation for us in heaven. If you want to get a glimpse of Jesus’ intercessory ministry just read John seventeen.

Jesus, Pantokrator

Jesus not only fulfills his priestly ministry in his ascension, but he also ascends into heaven to reign as King. That is what the language of being seated at the right hand of the Father signifies. Christ is seated at the right of hand of the Father above all rule, power, and authority. He has received the name that is above all names and to him every knee shall bow.
The fact that Christ reigns in heaven is a cause for great joy as our Psalm reading pointed out. With Christ as our king we do not have to fear any power on earth. First and foremost, Jesus has conquered over Satan who held us in fear through sin and death. Having removed their sting, Jesus’ reign brings life to all those who believe in him.
Jesus is also different from other rulers. He does not rule with coercion are force. Rather he rules with mercy and grace. Again, the author of Hebrews tells us that he sits on a throne of grace. This fact gives us boldness to approach that throne in time of need. With Jesus reigning on the throne we know that we can ask anything in his name and he will answer us.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

What has Vienna to do with Jerusalem? Barth, Brahms, and Bernstein’s Unanswered Question

As the last post mentioned, music has an impact on us. Begbie discusses the emotional affect music has and argues for the redemptive impact church music can have. In a different but related vein, Kevin Vanhoozer gave a lecture a few years back at Westminster Seminary about the relationship between theology and music. He admits music's affect on us but he also asks the provocative question, can it be true? Can music reflect the way things are? Vanhoozer argues that music can reflect reality and express Christian theological truths. Listen to this thoughtful lecture for the whole story.

As a side note: A comment about my last post asked about the role of liturgical music. This is a good question. Neither Begbie or Vanhoozer directly address the place of chant in the life of the church. Both of them talk more about modern worship and less about ancient forms of singing. Does the music of the ancient church in some reflect the truths expressed in the liturgy? For example, are the tones used by the Eastern Orthodox especially suited to Christian truth? This may be a wrongheaded way of asking the question, but it points to the fact that I don't know how to relate Bach to the Benedictines.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

The January Series of Calvin College - The Archives

I have been away from the blog for awhile. Life has been busy. I think I am going to start posting again but probably more on a weekly basis.

The site above, run by Calvin college, in a excellent resource for considering theological issues. This excellent lecture series which began in 1997 has lectures by such theologians as Jeremy Begbie, N.T. Wright, Stanley Hauerwas, and a whole host of others. I record them using my MP3 player and listen to them on my 45 minute commute to work.

I want to draw your attention to one in particular done by Jeremy Begbie in 2004. It attempts to answer the question of what role music plays in worship. There has been a constant fear in the west of the influence music can have an a person. This fear originates with Plato and threads all the way up to a person like Calvin. Music plays on our emotions and can influence us in ways that we are not aware of. It has the power to lead us to focus on our emotions and not on God. But Begbie presents a view that music in the church actually redeems our emotions and leads us to true worship. With Christ our mediator being at the center of liturgical life, the worship of the church can actually help us feel rightly. An interesting study which has a lot of interesting implications. Look forward to another link on the role of music and theology to come.