September 2, 2014

Guest Book Review: Miguel Discusses “Broken”

brokenBroken: 7 ”Christian” Rules That Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible
by Jonathan Fisk
Concordia Publishing House (2012)

Reviewed by Miguel Ruiz

* * *

Broken: 7 “Christian” Rules That Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible by Jonathan Fisk is a spirited romp through the circus of American Christianity taking aim at the sorts of things that drive Evangelicals into the wilderness. But it is so much more than another “the problem with the church today is…” type of book, because it does not offer any new secret or silver bullet for the answer. Instead, Fisk points us back to an ancient understanding of the nature and power of God’s Word as the source of the Christian’s faith and knowledge.

The book is a popular level explication of the distinction between Law and Gospel modeled after The Quest for Holiness by Adolf Köberle. Let the reader be warned: this book is unabashedly Lutheran, yet somehow I believe it fails to mention that. The reason is that joining the Lutheran church is not the answer, and by no means are LCMS congregations above his critique. Law and Gospel are presented here in terms that can be understood, appreciated, and applied by all manner of Christians, and he does so with all the style and flair that keep the attention deficit returning for his 20 minute vlog lectures on Greek etymology and syntax. Never before has straight up Lutheran doctrine been written in the lingo of surfer dudes (the book features a “Whatup” instead of a foreword, preface, or introduction).

One particular feature of this publication that sets it apart from others of similar theme or style is the doctrinal review process. Most popular level theology books written by celebrity pastors are ultimately accountable to corporate boards interested in selling copies. Being published by Concordia Publishing House means that it is accountable to the LCMS for its theological integrity and professional church workers have had the opportunity to review the teaching it presents for conformity to Scripture and the Lutheran confessions. (You can learn more about the process at: http://www.cph.org/t-about-doctrinal-review.aspx) There is nothing new being said here.

revfisk-webBroken explores seven lies that infiltrate churches and cause the core of Christianity to be displaced with things that divert attention from Christ. His inventory of the theological bankruptcy crisis we are facing goes straight after the Christian publishing industry, the trendiness of celebrity fads, and the kind of naive idealism that keeps stringing along burnt out volunteers to keep stacking chairs. Those who have experienced high levels of frustration with the evangelical church will find much to relate to here. Fisk’s guided tour of the church du Soleil in our day is quite comprehensive in scope and leaves us beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt that there are major problems with the way that Christianity is presented in America that must be addressed. He is ruthless in going after the systemic idolatries that make circuses out of churches, to the point of naming names and giving specific examples (complete with web links!).

Barbecue sacred cow is seldom well received, but Fisk serves a full buffet of seven well done heifers that have never tasted better. His hard hitting and fast paced rhetoric is often in black and white terms, which means this book is not for the easily offended. If you can take sweeping generalizations of entire historical movements with a grain of salt, there are points being made that are well worth your consideration. His extensive use of metaphor some might find distracting, but I find their hyperbolic humor helps balance the heavy ideas being scrutinized with some lighthearted comic relief. With an average of seven type fonts per page and an abundance of illustrations crowding the margins that range from creative to bizarre, there are plenty of quirks and oddities to propel you through its pages, and he saves the five syllable theological words until at least chapter five.

The word “inerrancy” gets thrown around a bit, but keep in mind that Lutherans mean something a bit different than most Baptists, Evangelicals, or Fundamentalists who use the term. In fact, the whole book is, in a sense, an exposition of the Lutheran doctrine of God’s Word (which was, for me, the most exciting post-conversion discovery). In a culture where the faith of many is broken by the deceptions of mysticism, moralism, rationalism, prosperity, pragmatism, lawlessness, and the impetus to justify self, Fisk brings us back to a Christianity that is all about a living Word who comes to us through the written word which we receive through a visible word.

The youth are leaving the church, and it most certainly is not because we haven’t tried hard enough to be cool. This dilemma is highlighted in Broken as it follows the story of “Punk Rock John” through a journey of getting his misplaced faith dashed on the rocks of critical thinking. Fisk has no secret trick for getting this generation to come flooding back into the pews, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why they’re leaving. His examples and descriptions of the struggles that doubting young believers face hold a mirror up to contemporary cultural assumptions about the way we do church while he calls us back to a tradition of prioritizing faithfulness to the Word of God over what seems relevant now. A wise man once said, “If Christianity is not a dying word to dying men, it is not the message of the Bible that gives hope now.” Let’s get back to those words.

This is a rather difficult review for me to write with much objectivity. I have not looked forward to a publication this much since Mere Churchianity, and I’ve gotta say, it has exceeded my expectations. Those interested in understanding the Law and Gospel distinction better or curious what lies down the Wittenberg trail could find no better starting point.

I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this Miguel. Helpful review.

  2. As I noted in the comments to a couple other threads, it hits all the main themes iMonk, Chaplain Mike, and Jeff have been making for years. I don’t recall anything in the book that would be a huge turn-off for any non-Lutheran, except for hardcore charismatics who totally love their megachurch. There’s not a lot of discussion of conservative Lutheran distinctives, like the sacraments, which I found surprising. Everybody gets dinged though, including himself. His own story was one of the more interesting parts of the book.

    He makes his points by building characters to show how kids get turned off and burned by the church when it does its typical thing of pointing them to their own moral efforts, or their own emotions, or one of the other 7 broken rules. He also anthropomorphisizes these 7 rules themselves into characters to show how they became so prevalent in the American church. So for example, the current incarnations of the rules of Prosperity and Pragmatism are siblings, and they are the children of two other, older rules. There are a couple places where the metaphors falter, but it’s a good and interesting way to explain history to Christians who don’t know any history before Billy Graham. It also makes it totally unlike any other pop-Christianity book I’ve read and makes it easy to skim through and finish (and I hardly ever finish a book).

    What’s also refreshing is he offers no “program” to fix things. He doesn’t claim to have any answer except to identify the things to which the church wrongly points people to find hope and comfort, things that will ultimately fail. The last chapter is the best when he ties it all together. I’ve been listening to his videos for awhile and knew where he was going, but the ending still came as a nice twist I wasn’t really expecting.

    • I also don’t remember any discussion on inerrancy, but I read it in one sitting, so maybe I skimmed over it.

  3. …so what are the 7 rules?

    • I can’t remember them the way he phrased them, but essentially, the rules to break are moralism, enthusiasm (charismaticism), rationalism, pragmatism (serving prosperity), a better-faster-stronger church institution, a no-rules rule (antinomianism), and the final rule to tie them all together.

      • The website gives a pretty good flavor of the book:

        http://sites.cph.org/broken/#&panel1-1

        There’s a study guide (of course):
        http://sites.cph.org/broken/downloads/Broken_DiscussionGuide.pdf

      • “…and the final rule to tie them all together.”

        That made me smile…”and one ring to rule them.”

        T

        • One Rule to rule them all,
          One Rule to find them,
          One Rule to bring them all,
          And in the darkness bind them.

          Here it is,

          Each attempt to find God is an attempt at self-justification, or the “righting” of
          oneself, either in one’s own eyes, or in the eyes of God. This is the great lie and
          the great temptation, “to be like God,” to prove to God that we are good
          enough, or even “better” than He says or believes. Adam chose this error, and
          we inherit it. The seven rules are only “spins” on this one, ongoing error that
          takes our eyes off God, off Jesus, and off our neighbors, placing them squarely
          back “incurvatis” into ourselves.

          (from the study guide)

    • One review lists them as:

      “…moralism, mysticism, rationalism, prosperity, IfWeCanJust, Lawlessness and the idea that we can find God on our own.”

  4. Matt Purdum says:

    “the book features a “Whatup” instead of a foreword, preface, or introduction”

    That’s all I need to know, thanks.

    • I would have said the same thing if I didn’t know the guy ahead of time.

    • I’m not sure if I see what you’re getting at with that, but it seems like you are asserting that there can be no difference between style and substance.

      • At first, it comes off as a lame, faux hipness. But it’s part of the schtick, and it disappears quickly as he gets into his arguments.

  5. I’m not too crazy about the videos he puts out (a little too ‘cool’ and ‘hip’ for me), but maybe the book is better when it comes to that kind of thing.

  6. Miguel,
    Can you give me an idea of what Lutherans mean when they use the word “inerrancy,” in contradistinction to the way others use it?

    • Daegwyd Bymsthyd says:

      Errancy.

      • Yes, well, this is what I tend to think, too, Dagwood Bumstead; but I’m keeping an open mind as I hope Miguel will reply.

        • For my part, I think inerrancy is a silly idea because it means “without error”, a negative formulation. But of course, an error is relative to a standard. If, for example, your standard is contemporary zoology, then of course the Bible is errant – rabbits don’t chew their cud.

          I much prefer to say that I believe the word is true and trustworthy. It may not be such in a way that I might formulate or fathom, and I may never totally understand it or come to terms with it, but God will use it just as he pleases to do just as he pleases.

    • Inerrancy means that every jot and tittle is correct.” If the text said (as one LCMS woman said at a meeting) that Jonah swallowed the whale, then that is exactly the way it happened.”

      It is a Southern Baptist understanding of the Word.

      And the LCMS has painted themselves into a corner because of it.

      Not that ALL LCMS believe it. The ones with a BIGGER God, do not.

      • Keep in mind that the old LCMS lady who watches Charles Stanley on TBN is hardly definitive of our theology. There are two extremes represented by the SBC and mainline progressives: One says that you must not consider the findings of science, archaeology, or literary genre when reflecting on the significance of the text. The other presupposes that the supernatural is impossible, therefore anything that seems fanciful must be. We reject the latter completely, and need to finesse our handling of the former. But where you have robust confessionalism that holds fast to traditional theology, the fundamentalists are going to join it with us over the doctrinal innovators. But you will find many of us do have a “BIGGER God” and are not afraid to read liberal Anglicans like Capon and Wright.

        Fisk gives a glowing recommendation to one of Wright’s books. Ironically, it comes just a few pages after a robust defense of objective justification and imputed righteousness.

        • Miguel,

          I have been at this with just about every single LCMS pastor that I know (more than several).

          Not only that, it is official doctrine of the LCMS that the text of the Bible is inerrant. Is it not?

          __

          Here’s how the REAL Lutherans view the Bible (as opposed to the almost but not quite Lutherans) :D

          ‘The infinite does not need to be contained in the infinite only’ (a small god).

          ‘But the finite (the Bible, a real man, bread and wine, the poor words of the preacher) CAN contain and DOES contain the infinite.’

          That’s how us Lutherans who do not have a Southern Baptist doctrine of the Word see it.

          • We say the original manuscripts were inerrant because they were the Word of God, and the church has always called the teachings of Christ and the Apostles and prophets the Word of God, and it would be hard to build faith on errant teachings. A lot of folks would just call it “the Word of God” or inspired instead of the word “inerrant” because baptists and fundamentalists use the word in various goofy ways.

            I still haven’t found the discussion of inerrancy. Where in the book is this?

          • ‘But the finite (the Bible, a real man, bread and wine, the poor words of the preacher) CAN contain and DOES contain the infinite.’

            That’s exactly the way I learned it as well (from one of our seminary profs, no less). I would imagine most LCMS pastors agree with that sentiment. I do think we are required to believe the Bible is inerrant, but only to the extent that it is asserted in the Lutheran confessions. I do not believe we are required to accept the Chicago Statement (though I do not necessarily find fault with it).

            The LCMS has strong low-church tendencies, and as such has been susceptible to evangelical trends. We tend to err on the side of theological conservatism. But I can put you in touch with LCMS pastors in your area who are not staunch literalists and reject YEC. Like I said, we mean something considerable different than SBC’ers who use the term. We’re not into doctrinal innovations, we just accept Scripture as truth the way the church always has, and vehemently reject those who would emphasize the nature of human agency in its creation to the diminishment of it’s divine authorship. Also consider we are by far the largest confessional denomination in the US, so of course we’ve got some diversity within our ranks. The next lagest is what, the PCA?

          • “I do think we are required to believe the Bible is inerrant, but only to the extent that it is asserted in the Lutheran confessions. I do not believe we are required to accept the Chicago Statement (though I do not necessarily find fault with it).”

            We actually believe that God uses earthen vessels for His purposes. No add-on’s such as inerrant Bibles…or whatever.

            Inerrant original manuscripts? Where are they? If God wanted us to believe that don’t you think He would have preserved them? Not necessary to have them. Only that we have the Word.

            Thanks, Miguel.

        • David Cornwell says:

          ” The other presupposes that the supernatural is impossible,”

          = generalization

          • How about, it permits skepticism of any claim of the Bible, most often most supernatural claims, like the resurrection, the virgin birth, and anything in the OT.

          • Clay Crouch says:

            Yes, gross generalization and a pinch of smugness. It’s enlightening to watch how LCMSers talk to each other and at the rest of us. Reminds me of my southern baptist friends.

          • David Cornwell says:

            The reasons I say it’s generalization is that unless you have been a part of mainline churches, over a period of years, or unless you have a degree in the field, you probably know very little. Most of my life I was Methodist. Most of the people I know believe in the resurrection, the virgin birth,and miracles. There are many Methodists with conservative or evangelical leanings. I personally believe in miracles because I’ve seen some within my own family.

            Boaz, as to the O.T., I’m not sure where you get your information. But it isn’t true.

            I won’t deny there is liberalism in the church. It mostly resides in seminaries, but of course there are liberal churches also. But even there the definitions are not strict ones. Political and social liberals can be theologically conservative.

            I’m not a Lutheran and probably would never want to be an LCM. But I restrain from most of my criticism because I’m ignorant of your belief system. I grew up in southern Ohio, and West Virginia area. Lutheran churches were few and far between. They were an oddity to other Christians. So if I made a generalized statement, such as “Lutherans are all beer guzzlers” I’m sure it would be wrong. But I did hear this from time to time.

            One of the things I like about this site is the ability to learn about other Christian traditions. But that doesn’t make me an expert on any of them. I think we can learn about each other and from each other. And I consider us to be brothers and sisters in Christ.

            And to Miguel, this isn’t a criticism of your writing. I like the way you write and the excitement you show in it.

          • David, that wasn’t a generalization any more than my straw man of the SBC far right. They are both caricatures that have some basis in reality but by no means are a majority report. There is a halfway point between Marcus Borg and Bart Ehrman who do approach the text with such rationalistic presuppositions that they come away denying the historicity of the resurrection. This group includes ordained clergy – how is that not shameful? Sure, there are tons of regular, orthodox, good guys and gals in the mainlines. I always recognize that, and I can give you a long list of those I still read and benefit from. But it doesn’t take a seminary degree to see where selling out to higher criticism can take you.

            Now, if you were to say “Lutherans are all beer guzzlers,” there’s quite a lot of truth to that :P

            Clay, thank god you’re not as smug as any of those unenlightened theological conservatives. God probably likes you more.

          • Clay Crouch says:

            The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

          • The reason you’ll find churches that presuppose a non-supernatural mindset is because there are people who presuppose a non-supernatural mindset. How do we normally deal with our world? Do we see supernatural stuff going on? I personally don’t. Haven’t throughout my entire life.

            The story of Jesus includes the story of Thomas. Thomas was a rational person and he doubted the accounts he’d heard. He received a supernatural experience so that he would believe. But that stopped with the apostles, so how are doubters supposed to believe today?

          • David Cornwell says:

            Miguel, I can learn from those heretics you mention, even if I disagree with their conclusions. And any theology that is so perfectly knit will develop frazzles, holes, and inconsistencies, even that put forward by LCMS. I’m glad you can put things together so neatly. Even though your neatness of belief differs somewhat from that of Calvinists, Catholics, and Baptists.

            I’ve never really like systematic theology, and part of the reason is because of this neatness. Gregory Mobley talks about this in his book saying “With all the Bible’s tics and stutter, its epic inconsistencies and ethical incredulities, the irony of the rubric popular in Christian interpretation, “systematic theology,’ is a howler…. The Lord is a moving target.”

            I don’t like Borg, but in the end, who knows– when we get to Heaven we might find him sitting at table next to Luther. Maybe not, I have no idea.

            Miguel, pass that mug of beer please!

          • Note, I said the mainline denominations “PERMIT” skepticism of any fantastical elements. Of course they don’t all reject everything fantastical. But it doesn’t take much googling to find episcopalians and ELCA Lutherans talking about the spiritual resurrection of Jesus and how it doesn’t matter if he didn’t really come back to life, and so on.

          • Regarding churches taking a non-fantastical mindset, the reason it can’t be done is Christ is a fantastical concept. This is where Kierkegaard is so good. Christ is offensive. The church can either embrace the offense and be true to the fantastical nature of its founder, the God-Man, or it can adopt the cultural view of the world to stay relevant, and hide the offensive nature of Christ.

            Which is why I find it ironic the ELCA makes a big deal out of Kierkegaard, and the LCMS ignores him completely.

          • David, I can learn from Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists too. But if they claim the name of Christ, I’m gonna take serious issue with them. It’s one thing to be a heretic. It’s another to embrace blatant heresy and demand that the church accept your not-so-new teaching.

            I agree with you about “tight knit theology.” The utter simplicity of things was something that drew me in this direction. All I have to understand to get a handle on the teaching of my church is a brief document that was written for children. I cannot accept that the Bible is so mysterious that it cannot be rightly understood. It’s one thing to argue nuances of sanctification. But there are also things which should not be on the table for debate. I’m sure these heretics are nice guys. But why some denominations tolerate their doctrine is beyond me.

        • In my experience, more pastors are OEC and don’t pay much attention to the creationism controversies.

    • Really, the difference is worth a book of it’s own. Fisk’s book is worth reading for its statements on the Lutheran approach to Scripture alone. But the term “inerrancy,” as in Chicago statement style, is a recent development. Confessional Lutherans are only bound to this concept to the extent that it is presented in the Lutheran confessions, which are decidedly un-rationalist. At it’s basic core, fundagelicals saying “inerrancy” mean “right wing politics, YEC uber alles, and absolute scientific and historical accuracy in all details.” All Lutherans have to mean is “unquestionably true.” We don’t “believe in the Bible.” We believe in Christ, and we trust in His words, as the Small Catechism says, “above all things.”

      When we say the Bible doesn’t err, we also mean it in a more active sense. Instead of saying “it contains no errors,” we say “it can not make mistakes.” How does a book “do” something? Therein lies the rub: We believe God’s words to be active, actually doing what they say. “Let there be light” is what caused light to exist, and “this is my body” is what institutes the sacrament. See Isaiah 55:11 – God’s Word, we believe, literally accomplishes things, whether incarnate or written.

      Now there’s plenty of other nuances and differences. Aside from the fact that our view of the divine authorship of scripture is rooted in the doctrine of the incarnation, we are also much more presuppositional. A fundagelical appropriating the magisterial use of reason thinks, “I have examined thoroughly this book, and I find no faul with it. I therefore declare, by virtue of my reason, this book to be without error.” Reason (and a decidedly anti-intellectual one) here is the ultimate authority to which Scripture must answer. On the other hand, Lutherans presuppose Scripture to be completely truthful in all it says, whether it jives with our reason or not. Therefore, we are always open to the possibility that we have misunderstood it: To deny our interpretation is not to deny scriptural authority (but it may be denying your cognitive ability to process verbal communication logically :P). Confessional Lutheran’s tend to be very assertive on their interpretation, but we know the difference between somebody who is misunderstanding scripture and somebody who is disagreeing with it.

      And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the type of different theological planet Lutherans and Southern Baptists live on. Believe me, I’ve belonged to both groups.

      • Thanks for this last bit, especially.

      • Yep. The Lutheran view of scripture is not a magical baptist view where it dropped from heaven on golden tablets, and it is not a secular scholarly view that treats the text as though God had nothing to do with and we can speculate and guess about motivations and secret agendas. It’s a recognition that we have no other way to know what Jesus and the Apostles taught than through the historical documentation of their teachings, that is, Scripture, understood in the context of their times, read it in light of Christ’s Godhood and the sending of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles.

        Former baptists make the best Lutherans, I might add.

      • I do not believe that the finite can contain the infinite; I do believe that the perfect can communicate through the imperfect. And I believe that this is an essential difference between Chalcedonian and Lutheran Christologies, and concomitantly an essential difference in their views of inspiration. Its not that the Scriptures are inerrant; it’s that God communicates himself effectively through Scriptures that do contain error. I do not believe that this creates any more threat to the integrity of Scriptural inspiration than does the idea that because we are fallible human beings we may be interpreting Scripture incorrectly even though it is inerrant; after all, if God can convey saving faith to us even in spite of our incorrect interpretations, then he can convey saving faith to us even in spite of an imperfect and errant Scripture. In addition, this approach takes into account the very human and fallible way that Scripture was transmitted by laborious copying through the generations in the history of the church; we do not have access to the original autographs, and any definition of inerrancy, even if true, could only be applied to them.

        • In the incarnation, the finite body of Christ contained the infinite nature of God.

          • No, the finite human nature of Christ dwelt together with the infinite divine nature of Christ in the organic unity of the single Person of the Son, unmixed but inseparable. Read the Chalcedonian definition, which Lutherans supposedly subscribe to.

          • Robert, this may be the one rubber-meets-the-road issue that truly divides Lutheran theology from that of the Reformed/Anglican protestant community. I do believe you are misreading the Definition of Chalcedon, though. If you are saying that the infinite divine of Christ “dwelt together” with with the finite human nature, how is that the meaning of:

            …to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably;
            the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union…

            “Dwelt together,” imo, seems to emphasize the distinction of the two nature to the detriment of their union.
            If you insist that the finite cannot contain the infinite, how is that not Nestorianism? Ultimately, when Christ says “this is my body,” the Lutherans believe Him, but the Reformed say, “well, he can’t have meant that because we know that isn’t possible.” Which approach presupposes the text is true?

            All theology comes back to Christology for us. If you want to say that “God can convey saving faith to us even in spite of our incorrect interpretations, then he can convey saving faith to us even in spite of an imperfect and errant Scripture,” then would you say that God is capable of saving the world through a sinful savior? We believe that just as Christ was fully human, yet without sin, so the Scriptures are a simultaneously fully of divine origin yet through a fully human means, yet without corruption of their content or message. We don’t, however, have to subscribe to a 16 page definition of what does and does not technically constitute an error. We can take some of the historical/scientific details with a grain of salt. God never says, “whoops!,” yet if a census or death toll is off by a head or two, or a genealogy is missing a few years here or there, our entire worldview doesn’t collapse.

          • Ultimately, when Christ says “this is my body,” the Lutherans believe Him, but the Reformed say, “well, he can’t have meant that because we know that isn’t possible.”

            And those of us who view Christ’s remarks in the context of a Passover or Pre-Passover Meal, where the elements of the dinner are representative, as well as the wording in Luke’s account and the Didache, have no problem with the Reformed or similar positions and consider the Orthodox/Catholic/Lutheran/Anglican, etc., teaching regarding the elements becoming or containing Christ’s Body and Blood to be a misunderstanding and misrepresentation of what Jesus (and Paul) said and meant.

          • Right. That would be the dividing line between sacramental and non-sacramental traditions.

            There is a lot of symbolism in the Passover meal. However, where does scripture say that the elements are only symbolic? I propose this comes from reading rationalistic presuppositions into the entire OT. Also, let us not forget the real and present power there is in symbolism. The ancient Hebrew concept of “to remember” involves not just mental re-imagining of previous events, but re-living them in order to bring them into a part of the present reality. …not to mention, but for Pete’s sake, what is the main course? Where did they get the lamb? Why was the lamb killed? They literally ATE the flesh of the sacrifice for their sin. Could this be prefiguring anything?

            I’ve not read the Didache. I don’t consider it authoritative, but I imagine it is hardly irrelevant. However, I was under the impression it is a very Catholic document. I’ll look into it.

            Try this: think of the real presence as a spiritual reality. Not as in “Christ is in heaven and we ascend to him in our hearts by faith,” but that he descends to us through the bread and wine. This doesn’t have to violate our scientific understanding of molecular structure, yet enables us to accept Christ’s words at face value. In, with, under. ;)

            There is no contextual reason to assert “is” should be “represents.” In the debate between what Jesus said and what Jesus meant, I’d rather not take the side that accuses the author of language of linguistic dyslexia. At the same time, I wouldn’t insist that the “how” of it all must be explained. I am content to let it remain a mystery that we accept in faith, placing my trust in “This is my body, which is given for you.”

          • The “remembering” could very well be derived from the Jewish zikkaron (sp?) prayers, in which case Jesus is telling his followers to remember Him and His death to the Father “until He comes,” thereby continually reminding the Father to make the effects of Jesus’ sacrifice effective in their lives and in the Kingdom to come. It’s not rationalism so much as an understanding of Judaism and the Hebrew Scriptures that causes people to reject the sacramental view of the Eucharist.

          • It’s not rationalism so much as an understanding of Judaism and the Hebrew Scriptures that causes people to reject the sacramental view of the Eucharist.

            Funny how we had no knowledge of that until the 16th century. Where does the OT claim the Hebrew rites are merely symbolic?

          • The earliest liturgies have no mention of, or prayers for, the change of the elements. Nor did 1st-century Jews consider the Passover food to change or become other than what it was and “remembered/represented.” It’s not a 16th-century novelty.

          • I am not denying the “Real Presence” of Christ during the Eucharist. We in our non-sacramental gatherings have experienced His Real Presence when we have shared the Lord’s Table, as well as at other times. We just don’t have Scriptural or other reasons to affirm the sacramental churches’ teachings about what the bread and wine are or become. We don’t deny that He is present in a special way during communion, but we don’t insist on it, either. We testify of and to what we have seen and done and experienced and understand/understood.

            Grace and peace.

          • Miguel,
            When Christ says “this is my body,” he is referring to his human body, which is a part of his human nature; he continues to have a human body even to this day, a glorified human body, and he continues to have a human nature. But his divine nature does not have a body, because God is an incorporeal spirit. It is not part of the divine nature to be corporeal. To think otherwise is exactly to confuse the human and divine, to mix thing into a single nature, which is exactly the opposite of what the Ecumenical Councils and Creeds were asserting. And no, what I’m asserting here, which is no different from what the undivided catholic church asserted before the Great Schism, is not Nestorian because it finds the unity between the human nature and divine nature of Christ precisely in his undivided Person. The two natures of Christ find their unity in one Person. How is that Nestorian?

          • Actually, what the New Testament text has Jesus saying at the Last Supper is:

            This–my body

            There is no Greek word equivalent to either “is” or “represents” in the wording; rather, there is an ellipsis exactly in the place where we want definitiveness, precision, as if Divine Providence had intentionally inserted ambiguity where we find it most discomfiting. It reminds me of the places in the New Testament where Jesus refuses to answer a question on the terms of the questioner, but sovereignly takes ownership of the question away from the questioner and orders the answer to his own purposes.

          • Robert F: That is not correct. Matthew, Mark and Luke all have estin (is) with the bread saying, and Matthew and Mark also have it with the cup saying. In Paul’s version in 1 Corinthians 11 “is” occurs with both sayings, but, like Luke, it refers to the cup (Luke, however, omits the word “is”).

          • Robert F:

            Literal word-for-word translations for the above passages showing where “is” (estin) is. From Nestle-Aland 27th Edition (I’d print the Greek text, but the characters don’t display here at iMonk):

            Matthew 26:26 while-eating but them having-taken the Jesus a-loaf and having-blessed he-broke and having-given to-the disciples he-said: Take eat, this *is* (estin) the body my. 27 and having-taken a-cup and having-thanked he-gave to-them saying: Drink out-of it all, 28 this for *is* (estin) the blood my of-the covenant the concerning many poured-out unto forgiveness of-sins.

            Mark 14:22 And while-eating them having-taken a-loaf having-blessed he-broke and he-gave to-them and he-said: Take, this *is* (estin) the body my. 23 And having-taken a-cup having-thanked he-gave to-them, and they-drank out-of it all. 24 And he-said to-them: This *is* (estin) the blood my of-the covenant the poured-out for many.

            Luke 22:19 And having-taken a-loaf having-thanked he-broke and he-gave to-them saying: This *is* (estin) the body my [the for you being-given; this do unto the mine remembrance. 20 And the cup likewise after the to-sup, saying: This the cup the new covenant in the blood my, the for you poured-out].

            1 Corinthians 11:24 and having-thanked he-broke and he-said: This my *is* (estin) the body the for you; this do unto the mine remembrance. 25 Likewise and the cup after the to-sup, saying: This the cup the new covenant *is* (estin) in the mine blood; this do, as-often-as should you-should-drink, unto the mine remembrance.

          • I enjoy the feedback guys. You always keep me on my toes!
            @ EricW:

            The earliest liturgies have no mention of, or prayers for, the change of the elements.

            You mean like the Liturgy of St. James? Many date this to 60 AD. Nobody walks out of that one and says, “Well that wasn’t very sacramental at all.”
            Also, the Lutheran liturgies do not contain an epiclesis. We don’t, by some prayer, invoke the Holy Spirit to do his “hocus pocus.” The words of institution are enough, because we believe the words of Christ do what they say. “This is my body” is sufficient. Even non-sacramental traditions usually include those. :D

            About the passover: The lamb didn’t need to “transubstantiate”. They were literally eating the flesh of their sacrifice already! They did not believe the lamb was a symbol of anything. It was literally its blood that satisfied God’s judgement.

            I’m actually a fan of the “real presence” idea you describe, but I don’t embrace that idea exclusively. To hold a view that renders the bread and wine superfluous seems a bit too gnostic for me. But there is something about the rite that makes US the body of Christ, and marks us as belonging to Him. I just don’t place a lot of weight on my own subjective “experience of the presence of God,” having rejected the Charismatic tenants of my upbringing. I prefer to judge by something I can sink my teeth into, so to speak.

          • @ RobertF:
            As far as the word “is” goes, keep in mind that the words of institution, as included in the historic liturgy, actually predate the writing of the NT. It would seem as if they are an amalgamation of the Biblical accounts, but they actually predate them all and were possibly used as a source for them.

            It is not a part of the divine nature to be corporeal.

            Isn’t it the whole idea behind the incarnation that distinction being abolished? God and man reconciled forever in the person of Christ? The nature of the early heresies was not so much mis-formulation as emphasizing one facet over another. Whether with the Trinity or the hypostatic union, those emphasizing the union or uniqueness of members/natures will tend to minimize the other. The whole point of the councils is that we hold both truths to be equally true, and these mysteries, paradoxes even, are the heart of the orthodox faith. Christ’s humanity and divinity can not be compartmentalized within his person. They are forever joined as we shall be with God in eternity. To say “his divine nature does not have a body” is to completely separate them to the point of implying that God didn’t actually die on the cross, he merely scrapped his avatar. But in Christ, God has taken death into himself in order to swallow it up. What you articulate seems Nestorian to me because it says the two natures are united in one Person, as if they are both inside this container of “person” yet separate from each within this container. I prepose that the two natures are united AS one person. There a distinction between the two natures, but I think it is a blurred distinction, unless you think we can read the Gospels and attribute every word and deed of Christ to its respective nature. And I have a hard time seeing “the finite cannot contain the infinite” as being in continuity with historic orthodoxy; it is in conflict with all the historic churches. It sounds like a conspiracy theory to insist that the prevailing sacramental understanding was a corruption that snuck in during the middle ages. I don’t think there is any scholarship to support it.

            And I do not find that Divine Providence delights in ambiguity (though I find that to be a very Episcopalian comment :P). God communicates to us with words, IMO, in order that we might believe, and in believing, understand. Jesus had no problem taking sides in religious debates either. I don’t claim that Jesus would take the Lutheran side on every issue, but the premise behind our position here is that we are just trusting the words he said, simplistically taking them on face value. We don’t see good reason to do otherwise.

          • Remove the spaces to get the link:

            Miguel:

            Re: oldest liturgies/anaphora: This one: h t t p : / / en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liturgy_of_Addai_and_Mari

            The Liturgy of the Nestorians including The Anaphora of SS. Addai and Mari

            You can read it online here: h t t p : / / archive.org/stream/liturgieseastern01unknuoft#page/n356/mode/1up

            (this page begins the section)

            The bread and wine are considered to be Christ’s body and blood, but I can find nowhere that a change is petitioned for as is done in The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (the epiklesis) and others.

          • EricW,
            I thank you for the correction. It seems I’ve been laboring under a delusion with regard to the Words of Institution due to some incorrect information I received long ago.

          • Miguel,
            God did not die on the cross, but that’s exactly where the idea the the finite can contain the finite leads, to the theology of Thomas J.J. Altizer and his death of God theology. Altizer was an Episcopalian, but he was writing precisely under the influence of the misleading Christology of Luther as he received it at the hands of Hegel and the philosophical tradition he represented. The church Fathers would have been shocked at the idea of God dying; they went so far as to call patripassianism a heterodoxy, because they viewed the divine nature as something that could not be diminished in any way, by death or suffering. The attempt to theologically contain the infinite in the finite results in the collapse of transcendence and the dominance of immanence; once again, see Altizer.

          • Robert: From Othroxwiki:
            “Nestorianism teaches that the human and divine essences of Christ are separate and that there are two persons, the man Jesus Christ and the divine Logos, which dwelt in the man. Thus, Nestorians reject such terminology as “God suffered” or “God was crucified”, because they believe that the man Jesus Christ suffered.”

            You are applying the same argument to the death of Christ that Nestorians did to His birth. They said Mary only bore his humanity and was therefore not the Theotokos. You say we only killed his humanity, therefore the divine Logos did not suffer. This has nothing to do with patripassianism. We are not saying the Trinity died in Christ, only the Son. I have no idea how you could connect this with Nietzsche’s “God is dead” idea. Ironically, I currently live and work walking distance from where Altizer taught. Do you think anybody in my Lutheran congregation has even heard of him? Blaming his philosophy on Lutheran Christology is a stretch, thinks me without reading it :P

            I disagree strongly that confining the infinite within the finite results in the collapse of transcendence. On what are you basing that assertion, Hegel’s philosophy? It is precisely because of the hypostatic union that God can be known as both infinitely transcendent and immanent. By the incarnation very God from God, light from light, was made to become eternally immanent. To deny the death of God leads to his transcendence minimizing his eminence, which is the err of the rationalistic Reformed theologians. Sovereignty uber alles ring any bells?

            From the anathema of St. Cyril against Nestorius: “If anyone does not confess that the Word of God suffered in the flesh and was crucified in the flesh and tasted death in the flesh and became the first born of the dead, although as God He is life and life-giving, let him be anathema.”
            In simpler terms, if God (the Son) did not die, then he merely scrapped his avatar and ejected. He might as well have just projected an illusion.

          • Eric, that is fascinating. I downloaded the book. Actually quite helpful because I’ve been having a bit of a hard time finding good books on liturgical scholarship. Thanks!

            …and I’ll assume you’re not appealing to the Nestorian rite to support your case. :P

          • Miguel:

            That’s Brightman’s work, a revision with translations of Hammond’s original work. You might want to download Hammond as well, which I assume can also be found at that site:

            LITURGIES EASTERN AND WESTERN

            BEING A REPRINT OF THE TEXTS, EITHER ORIGINAL OR TRANSLATED OF THE MOST REPRESENTATIVE LITURGIES OF THE CHURCH, FROM VARIOUS SOURCES
            EDITED with introduction, notes, and a liturgical glossary
            by C. E. HAMMOND, M.A.

          • Miguel,
            Are you trying to put me under St. Cyril’s anathema? Now that’s dirty pool. The sentence you quote above from the anathema does not imply that the divine nature of Jesus Christ died on the cross; the flesh that Cyril refers to is a facet of Jesus’ human nature. Jesus in his human nature was just as much the Word as he was in his divine nature, and Cyril is saying no more than that the humanity of Jesus, the Word, died on the cross.
            Although I asserted twice that what unites Jesus divine and human natures is his Person, you keep putting me together with the Nestorians, who posited two person, one human and one divine. So let me make it clear: the one Person, Jesus Christ, is fully human and fully divine; what unites the two different natures is his single Person. The new thing that God did in Jesus Christ’s Incarnation is that the divine nature in the Son assumed a human nature; there was no mixing of the two natures, something which both the Chalcedonian definition and the Athanasian Creed preclude, the Creed in very strong language that threatens perdition to those who so believe.
            Theotokos is a complicated term freighted with many levels of meaning; what it surely does not mean is that the Son was born of a woman in the same way as he was begotten of the Father. Mary gave birth to a single Person, Jesus Christ, who in his Person united an assumed human nature with his eternally existing divine nature, and so it’s fitting to refer to her as Theotokos. None of this has anything to do with the the involvement of Jesus divine nature with the very human death he suffered on the cross.
            Having said that, I also must say that I think that to the degree that the Father’s believed that God is completely impassible, neither suffering or changing, they were unduly influenced by Greek philosophy; the Bible depicts God as responding passionately to his creatures, and I believe this picture is truer than the picture of a god possessing abstract perfections that is found in Platonism and neo-Platonism. But there is no Biblical justification for the idea that God can die, or that he did die in Jesus sacrifice on the cross. The Word made flesh in the human nature of Jesus was the perfect offering and sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.

          • Miguel,
            Here is the way I connect Luther to Altizer: Luther was first Christian theologian to assert that the finite can contain the infinite > Hegel, a not completely orthodox Lutheran but one who nevertheless embraced the idea that the finite can contain the infinite, in his philosophy develops the idea that the infinite expresses itself in and through an ongoing world process, and that the world process contains all that the infinite wills for existence, i.e., he plunges the transcendent into immanence (his thought is a philosophical working out of the English poet William Blake’s aphorism: “Eternity is in love with the Productions of Time.”) > Altizer, under the influence primarily of Hegel, but also Nietzsche, Blake and others, develops his death-of-god theology, which entails a radical but logical embrace of the idea that the finite can contain the infinite: God in Jesus Christ (not just one Person of the Trinity but the entire Godhead) literally dies, thereby evacuating the dimension of transcendence and entering the immanent creation, irreversibly surrendering his divine prerogatives and being immersed in the world process; he does this so that the creation may become fully real, not dependent on any transcendent justification or completion, and so that it may be truly free, i.e., so that his act of creation may become complete, which requires his own non-existence. Although I think this is incorrect philosophically and theologically, once the premise that the finite can contain the infinite is accepted and followed logically to its conclusion, this is the inevitable destination. And it is in a sense prophetic, because, at least in Europe and North America (including outposts of European culture like Australia and New Zealand), society is increasingly under the influence and dominance of what appears to be a radically immanent worldview that claims to find only immanent values acceptable in ordering its existence and conducting its public dialogue. Of course, there is no such thing as an immanent value, and to believe that one is conducting one’s existence on the basis of immanent values is in fact a delusion, because hidden behind the appearance of immanence is always a metaphysical assumption. And yes, I believe Luther bears significant responsibility for the development of this habit of thinking and living in terms of immanence in the West, because ideas have consequences.
            Furthermore, if God the Son could die, as you assert, there is no reason why the entire Godhead couldn’t die, so Altizer’s idea would be plausible; the infinite would be completely contained, and immersed, within the conditions of the finite, “lost in the cosmos,” as it were, and God would no longer exist, while his creation would continue to unfold with all the freedom and autonomy he bequeathed to it by his death. But God cannot die, the finite cannot contain the infinite, and the creature can only continue because the creator sustains and upholds it.

        • Robert F.,

          Have you ever read C.S. Lewis’ essay “Transposition?” In it he struggles as you do with the degree to which the finite can represent the infinite. His immediate focus is the use of words, not flesh or other aspects of creation, but what he says reflects the larger Christian mystery of the nature of revelation — ie, God’s communicate of the infinite through the finite.

          If you’ve read it, I’d be interested in what you think.

          • communication, not communicate.

          • Damaris,
            I’ve read it, but it was some time ago and I don’t have it at hand now; from what you say, though, Lewis uses the language of communication rather than containment, and what I’m saying is that the language of communication rather than containment is more accurate when dealing with the mystery of the Incarnation, and also closer to the patristic understanding as it is worked out in the Ecumenical Councils and Creeds.

          • Interesting distinction. I’ll have to go back over the essay with that in mind — thanks.

      • Thank you, Miguel. That cleared up quite a few of my questions.

      • We don’t “believe in the Bible”. We believe in Christ,and we trust His words “above all things”. Miguel, this statement and what it says about the “different theological planets” different groups of Christians can be living on, is right at the center of one of the most radical changes of direction in my life. A shift away from a doctorate of ministry degree in the nouthetic school of counseling to all that has followed. I have a high view of scripture, but I have learned that the “Bible is the not the answer”, Jesus is the answer. I paid a pretty high price for coming to that belief but it sure has been an interesting ride. Thanks for this excellent article, I have ordered the book.

  7. Hum, burning sacred cows I think I can handle. Not so sure about seven fonts per page though…

  8. Thanks Miguel. Well articulated review. You’ve made me want to read the book!

    Tom

  9. Before you can say that a text has no errors, you first have to have the text, don’t you? And the problem(s) with that when it comes to the Bible is that we don’t have the autographs (and pushing “inerrancy” onto the autographs only seems to me to sidestep, not prove, the claim), and the differences between the Old Greek and the Hebrew texts of the Old Testament, as well as the differences among themselves in the various Greek mss. (of both the OT and the NT) and in the various Hebrew mss., means that it’s impossible to ever know every jot and tittle and letter and word of the autographs in order to have in its completeness and exactness “the Bible” that is claimed to be inerrant.

    On the other hand, if there are no demonstrable errors in any and all of the variants of the disputed/questioned-as-to-their-correct-reading passages in the (re)constructed Bible that we do have, as well as in any and all of the undisputed readings, then it may be fine to assert, with confidence, inerrancy re: the Bible.

  10. Lutheran Chick says:

    [No, the finite human nature of Christ dwelt together with the infinite divine nature of Christ in the organic unity of the single Person of the Son, unmixed but inseparable.]

    Sounds like the Lutheran view of Communion to me!

  11. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    One particular feature of this publication that sets it apart from others of similar theme or style is the doctrinal review process. Most popular level theology books written by celebrity pastors are ultimately accountable to corporate boards interested in selling copies. Being published by Concordia Publishing House means that it is accountable to the LCMS for its theological integrity and professional church workers have had the opportunity to review the teaching it presents for conformity to Scripture and the Lutheran confessions.

    In other words, the Lutheran equivalent of “Imprimatur” and “Nihil Obstat” on Ignatius Press publications.