Friday, 25 April 2008


I wonder how Luther would have scored if he could have done Scott McKnight's quiz? He certainly could not be called a fundamentalist! His reading of scripture was a truly liberating experience especially after trying to gain heaven by his own works, then discovering from it that 'the just will live by faith'. He then read Scripture in this light and any part of it that did not seem to give weight to this view, which he believed to be the central part, he was prepared to reject.He even went as far as to call the letter of James 'an epistle of straw' with Hebrews and Revelation not faring much better.He once wrote 'without doubt the whole of Scripture is orientated to Christ alone'.He therefore did not believe that scriptural texts were absolute truth but when they were read they could be questioned whether they truly 'proclaimed Christ crucified and risen from the dead for the salvation of all people,as well as the doctrine of justification by faith alone'(H.P.Grosshans'Luther').

This fine article by Eric Swensson will provide, for those interested,details on how the great Church Reformer interpreted Scripure and I leave it up to you whether you think he was conservative, moderate or progressive according to Scott McKnight's quiz.Answers on a postcard please. AK

Martin Luther (1483-1546) is best known as the reformer who said, "Here I stand," to Pope and Emperor, but he understood his vocation to be a Doctor of Biblical Studies at University, and the majority of the 55 volumes of his works in English are commentaries on Scripture. In Luther's approach to understanding Scripture, the Word and Spirit create an event in which the reader participates. As the Holy Spirit used a human to write it, the Holy Spirit uses the Word and helps the human enter into Scripture. The impression one gets from Lutheras he writes about figures and scenes in Scripture is that he is describing an actual landscape that he had visited. Luther would say that interpretation is a Word-event available to all readers though the Holy Spirit.
Kenneth Hagen explains how Luther gave explicit "rules," for his method of interpretation in his 1539 Preface to his works in German. Luther's rules are an integration of the intellectual into the spiritual: Oratio (prayer), Meditatio (meditation), and Tentatio (temptation), the latter term best translated as "life-experience" (Oswald Bayer). This is existential, understood as experiential but not as "discovery of the self" since the goal of temptation is humility. Luther preferred experience-oriented wisdom theology, hence these three existential rules are helps to achieve wisdom (sapientia) rather than knowledge (scientia). He used rules derived from Scripture, as did Augustine, for training in theology because they are consistent with Scripture as its own interpreter. These rules correspond to the marks of the church--Word (Meditatio), Prayer (Oratio), Cross (Tentatio). Significantly, though he used his grammatical skills in a continuous effort for more accurate translations in his German Bible, Luther understood that critical grammatical skills were secondary to a prayerful approach when attempting to discern the meaning of Scripture. These three experiential rules serve as lenses for a fresh look at what are commonly understood as the main features of Luther's approach to Scripture.

1. Scripture alone is authoritative. "No doctrine be taught except the pure Word of God."
Scripture as the sole authority for the rule of the life of the Church can be found in the writings of the earliest church Fathers. Augustine wrote, "For Holy Scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine, lest we dare to be wiser than we ought. Therefore, I should not teach you anything else except to expound to you the words of the Teacher." Sola scriptura came into wide usage after Luther existentially made it a hermeneutical guideline at Worms in 1521: "Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason ? I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God ? May God help me. Amen."

While Luther believed there was an inseparable bond between Scripture, the Fathers, and the teachings of the Church, he disagreed that tradition was equal to Scripture; rather Scripture is the judge of the Church. Luther's insistence that Scripture is the sole authority did not make him a radical in the sense that he was suggesting something new, because in many ways he was an "obedient rebel," he was a radical in the sense of "proceeding directly from the root." Luther sums up his position stating, "When everything that is said and done is said and done in accord with God's Word, then the glory of Christ and God will be done to all eternity."

This is the approach to Scripture that Luther utilized as an Augustinian monk and continued throughout his productive career, sacra pagina, given by God so that we might have faith, and it needs to be received in faith to be understood, but which was largely forgotten until Kenneth Hagen and Oswald Bayer rediscovered it. This is the tradition of the early Fathers and the monastics to pray, meditate, memorize, and copy the sacred text daily, and is in contrast to scholastics who were primarily concerned with doctrine, and humanists who were devoted to the religious literature for philosophy. "They are worthy of blessing who strive to purify the Holy Scriptures and lead them out of the darkness of scholastic opinions and human reasoning." Article continued as a comment.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

The Hermeneutics Quiz:Your biblical blind spots and what you tend not to see by Scot McKnight

For some reason of late, I have become fascinated with the portions of the Bible we don't tend to read, passages like the story of Jephthah. Or how God was on the verge of killing Moses for not circumcising his son, and his wife stepped in, did what needed to be done, and tossed the foreskin at Moses' feet, and God let him alone.

I'm curious why one of my friends dismisses the Friday-evening-to-Saturday-evening Sabbath observance as "not for us today" but insists that capital punishment can't be dismissed because it's in the Old Testament.

I have become fascinated with what goes on in our heads and our minds and our traditions (and the latter is far more significant than many of us recognize) in making decisions like this.

What decisions? Which passages not to read as normative. The passages we tend not to read at all.

If we're all subject to selective perception, at least to some degree, it's important to recognize what we tend to miss or gloss over, especially if we're church leaders.

This quiz is designed to surface the decisions we make, perhaps without thinking about them, and about how we both read our Bible and don't read our Bible. Some will want to quibble with distinctions or agree with more than one answer. No test like this can reveal all the nuances needed, but broad answers are enough to raise the key issues. On a scale of 1-5, mark the answer that best fits your approach to reading the Bible. (If you fall between response 1 and response 3, give yourself a 2.) Your score will reveal where you land on our hermeneutical scale.

Take the Hermeneutics Quiz

Your score, our findings
I ran this test with about twenty pastors, professors, and former students. No one answered every question with "1" and no one answered every question with "5." I was surprised by the low score of an emergent friend and the high score of a professor at a very conservative Christian college. Some answer progressively on one controversial issue (say, women in ministry), while answering conservatively on others (homosexuality, for example).

The fodder for conversation is how we discern when to be a "1," when to be a "3," and when to be a "5." Broadly speaking, there are three groups here.

First, the conservative hermeneutic group scores 52 or lower. The strength of this view is its emphasis on the authority, ongoing and normative authority, of all of Scripture. It tends to operate with the line many of us learned in Sunday school: "If the Bible says it, that settles it." Such persons let the Bible challenge them with full force. Literal readings lead to rather literal applications. Most of the time.

The problem, of course, is that very few people are completely consistent here. At times one suspects something other than strict interpretation is going on when the conservative is willing to appeal to history to suspend the commandment to observe a Saturday Sabbath, but does not to appeal to history on other issues (e.g., capital punishment or homosexuality).

The moderate hermeneutic might be seen as the voice of reason and open-mindedness. Moderates generally score between 53 to 65. Many are conservative on some issues and progressive on others. It intrigues that conservatives tend to be progressive on the same issues, while progressives tend to be conservative on the same issues. Nonetheless, moderates have a flexible hermeneutic that gives them the freedom to pick and choose on which issues they will be progressive or conservative. For that reason, moderates are more open to the charge of inconsistency. What impresses me most about moderates are the struggles they endure to render judgments on hermeneutical issues.

The progressive is not always progressive. Those who score 66 or more can be seen as leaning toward the progressive side, but the difference between at 66 and 92 is dramatic. Still, the progressive tends to see the Bible as historically shaped and culturally conditioned, and yet most still consider it the Word of God for today. Following a progressive hermeneutic, for the Word to speak in our day, one must interpret what the Bible said in its day and discern its pattern for revelation in order to apply it to our world. The strength, as with the moderate but even more so, is the challenge to examine what the Bible said in its day, and this means the progressives tend to be historians. But the problems for the progressives are predictable: Will the Bible's so-called "plain meaning" be given its due and authoritative force to challenge our world? Or will the Bible be swallowed by a quest to find modern analogies that sometimes minimize what the text clearly says?

Wherever you land on this scale, it is my hope we all will engage the seriousness of how we read the Bible—and don't read the Bible.

Scot McKnight is professor of religious studies at North Park University in Chicago and the author of the upcoming book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (Zondervan, 2008).

Monday, 7 April 2008

Luther the Movie

I really enjoyed this film of Luther having read many of his writings and several biographies of him in the last 30+ years. He is a real hero type character who delivers ordinary people as well as men of influence from the bondage of the authoritarian manipulative church of the time. He had his share of sufferings, he had a real problem with constipation among other troubles. But he also had his joys: he loved music, preaching and of course his wife Katie and family.
I hope this will inspire people to read some of the great biographies of him, in particular 'Here I stand ' the classic book by Roland are selling the DVD for about £6/$10. Thanks to Thomas Scarborough a minister of a Congregational Church in Sea Point, Cape Town who has written the review.

The influences on the life of Luther are particularly interesting, and I shall highlight just a few of the more important relationships, and draw some conclusions at the end. All quotations are from the film.

The most important early influence on Martin Luther was undoubtedly his father Hans. Hans was an ambitious, self-assertive peasant, who rose to the status of entrepreneur. It was his ambition to have Martin educated in law -- a career which was on the ascendancy at that time. He actively encouraged Martin's early intellectual development towards this end. As it happened, however, this was ultimately used by God to enable Martin to engage with crucial issues in the Church. On learning of his decision to enter a monastery, Martin's father was bitterly disappointed, and opposed his call: "We scraped to save you for the law, to elevate you to a noble profession . . . Is that how you interpret the commandment, to honour your father and mother?"

The most important spiritual influence on Martin Luther was his supervisor John von Staupitz. Rather than being prescriptive, Von Staupitz listened well, and gave Martin crucial pointers at critical times: "Have you ever read the New Testament, Martin? . . . I am sending you to the source, the Scriptures, Christ Himself." He further encouraged Martin to review his attitude towards God: "God isn't angry with you, you are angry with God . . . Bind yourself to Christ, and you will know God's love." He sponsored Martin's career path, which included a life-changing diplomatic mission to Rome, and doctoral studies -- sometimes pressing against Martin's own sense of unworthiness. Eventually, of necessity, Von Staupitz famously released Martin from his authority: "In the name of Christ I release you . . . I am no longer your father!" Yet the love between them remained, and ultimately Von Staupitz referred to himself as Martin Luther's "servant".

A crucial influence in Martin Luther's life was, needless to say, the Elector Frederick. Although the two only had a personal meeting at a relatively late stage in the Reformation, Frederick observed events quietly from the sidelines, and afforded Martin crucial protection, without making himself too obvious. His abduction of Martin Luther was a famous turning point of the Reformation.

An important influence, not to be underestimated, is the anonymous printers who recognised the importance of his 95 theses in particular, and saw to their publication. And finally, the German nobility "bought into" the Reformation, and carried it through to its completion. Without the weight of their support, the Reformation would likely have faltered

Broadly speaking, I had the sense that those who exercised an influence on Martin Luther's life had a profound and powerful impact on him in many ways. A central message of the film would seem to be: The potential power of such influence should not be underestimated.

The film further showed that it matters that "incidental" people should take a stand -- provided that this is supported by spiritual vision, and by a recognition of genuinely important ideas. I was surprised how many people did take a stand at that time, which for some was in the face of significant peril.

As the Reformation unfolded, Martin Luther began to see the consequences of his thought. Although these caught him by surprise at first, he saw their significance far sooner than most. It took John von Staupitz longer to understand the significance of what was happening. He said to Martin, "I hoped you'd help reform the Church, not destroy . . . You are tearing the world apart." Martin replied, "That day that you sent me out so boldly to change the world, did you really think there wouldn't be a cost?" Martin Luther understood the reality. In fact the film conveyed that it matters whether one is able to see the future or not -- to see the wider implications, the long-range importance, of thought and action.

All in all, Martin Luther was portrayed as a man who was mostly moderate in his demeanour -- a compassionate and well balanced man -- and it was not originally his intention to sever from the Roman Catholic Church. Such moderation surely is difficult when one comes under great pressure, and many would-be Reformers of the past made the mistake of recklessness. Martin was not a visionary -- at least not at first. However, he did some visionary things as he began to understand the consequences of his thought and action.

Somewhat surprisingly, those who opposed him were depicted as reasonable and civil people, who were well educated and competent, albeit spiritually mistaken to the extent of doing serious harm. One notable exception was John Tetzel, who is univerally reviled today for his "road-show" which encouraged the purchase of indulgences.

There was an extraordinary convergence in this film -- encompassing Martin Luther's call, his various promotions, the protection of Elector Frederick, the laws of the Holy Roman Empire, the vacillation of Pope Leo X, to name but a few examples. In this sense, the film imparted a sense of God's providence throughout, which might serve as a type, or "picture", for one's own ministry and Church.


I considered this to be a very good film, and would warmly recommend it, both for personal viewing and for showing in Church groups. It takes one back to the roots of modern Protestantism, and does so in an accurate, informative, and lively way.

Friday, 4 April 2008

The Street Evangelist

This is a true story about a street evangelist, and as Romanos my very good Eastern Orthodox friend comments: 'it has all the the hallmarks of authenticity'.I agree with the writer Gary Tresidder,that though this evangelist's name may not be known to men,in heaven he,and those like him, will be well known. May it inspire the readers of this post to be faithful in the ministrythe Lord has given them,however unknown and unrecognised it may be(2 Cor.6.9).

In the beginning days of July 1970, there was a man who lived in Houston, Texas. Though of slight build and shorter than average height, he had been given a tremendous ministry. The Lord had chosen him to be a “street preacher” and he had accepted the calling. But there was to be more involved in this occupation than standing on a corner and handing out tracts. The Lord wanted him to minister to the lost souls that lived and died in the area known as the Houston Underground. This district was located near the center of Houston within viewing distance of the M&M factory.

An area that can be described as the Playground of the Devil would suffice to express the environment where this man was to minister. The remnants of the Hippie counter-culture had drifted here from all points of the compass. Other drifters of more nefarious pasts also were attracted to the area. They brought with themselves their own ingredients. They brought the drugs – barbiturates, amphetamines, the hallucinogenic and heroin. They also brought their gods – Krishna, Santeria (Voodoo), and Astrology. They also carried with them the seeds of their own destruction – violence.

Armed with only his faith that the Lord would protect him and a Bible, he entered into this arena of Hell. Only a believer who is secure in his belief would walk these mean streets at nights carrying an old worn leather covered Bible with thumb-eared edges. His suit was worn and shiny in spots. He wore a white shirt and an out-of-date narrow tie. But shining through this frail frame was a presence that was more than him. The denizens of this dark world never bothered him. They did their best to avoid him – the one they called “The Preacher Man.”

Into this scene of chaos appeared another individual. He was a drifter from many places. In his aimless trek he had seen the climates of the North, East and West. Having allegiance to none and respect for no one, he came seeking what he could take. He was one of the Hippies who had fled the violence that had overtaken the movement in larger cities. His appearance was tall and scraggly like a scarecrow. His clothes looked typical for those in the place he found himself. He wore a pair of jeans with a garrison belt, sandals, and a shirt that had probably hadn’t seen soap and water since it was first purchased. His hair was long and unkempt. His eyes blazed with the fire created from drugs and lack of sleep. This young man was “strung-out” from a series of LSD trips and amphetamine highs. In his present condition it was not even necessary for him to consume any more of those drugs. He could be walking down the street, and just thinking about idle thoughts and in the next moment his daydreaming would turn into the drug induced hallucinations into which he was fond of retreating. This was the condition of the youth the night these two individuals crossed paths.

On the night they met, the street evangelist prepared his path before him. He asked the Lord to set before him those who He wanted to be saved from Destruction. His ministry to the Lost wasn’t to be like a sideshow barker. He wasn’t to stand on a corner and yell about the End of the World. He also wasn’t supposed to walk through the throngs that were on the streets and give the gospel tracts that many want to do and call “witnessing the Gospel”. He was only to approach those that the Lord wanted for His Purpose and to do as the Lord directed. After he received his assurance from the Lord, he set out to perform the Lord’s assignment. At the same time the wild-eyed drifter was headed in the same direction, but with a different purpose in mind. He was going to the Underground to look for what he could beg or scrounge to support his need for drugs and the blissful state of nothingness they brought.

The young man wandered from place to place on the heavily populated streets of Houston’s Underground district. He avoided the strip joints and other honky-tonks because he didn’t have any money to even pay the cover charge. Besides, they weren’t the people with whom he associated anyway. He preferred the company of like creatures as himself – the hippies and drug abusers. After visiting several of the shops that catered to his type of clientele, he came across a leather shop that made items for tourists and the rich. He walked into the small shop and looked around at the merchandise. Finally he saw a bundle of leather strips and pieces that the shop owner had left over from several of his projects. The young man knew he could fashion some of the pieces into items that he could sell.

“How much you want for that bundle of stuff?” the young man asked.

“Two bucks”, responded the clerk.

“OK”, replied the drifter as he fished two worn-out dollar bills out of his pocket.

As the man was handing the clerk the two dollars, the clerk leaned over the counter and looked out the storefront window. “Oh, no. Here comes that damn street preacher again. I wish he would just get out of here and leave us alone.” The clerk looked up at the drifter and said, “You better make sure he doesn’t get a hold of you.”

The young man ambled to the front door of the shop and started out the door. As he came to the steps that led down from the shop onto the sidewalk, he stopped. It was as if a bolt of lightening had run from his head to the bottom of his feet. He felt as if fear had shaken everything inside him. He had trouble even feeling the fingers of his hand. Everything felt dislocated. The only thought that was coherent is his mind was to look up from the steps below his feet. As he did, he saw the eyes of a skinny little man across the street. Those eyes were looking directly into his eyes. Also seeing the old worn book that the man had pressed to his chest, he knew with certainty that this was the “Preacher Man” he had just been warned about. Inside his mind he also knew with all certainty that this man was purposing to talk to him.

“Damn, I’ve got to get out of here.” This was the next thought that raced through the drifter’s mind. Fear consumed the man as he tried to hurry down the steps. He knew that this was one of the most important things he would ever have to do – flee. All at once a group of partygoers passed in front the stairway, blocking his action. After they passed, he looked to see if his way was clear. But there was one more obstruction in front of him. There standing squarely in front of him stood his enemy – the man with the Bible.

The street evangelist looked up at the tall unkempt man in front of him. He saw the wild and dangerous eyes that now were touched with fear. He knew that without any doubt that this was the man that the Lord had sent him to see.

The street preacher spoke to the man who was trying to bolt like a rabbit in a cage. He said, “ You’re running from God.” Though spoken softly, it was if a hammer had struck the drifter. The young man staggered. Even though he didn’t understand what the little evangelist meant, he knew that it was true. The man looked back up at the drifter and said, “May I talk to you about your need for the Lord?”

Looking down at the street evangelist, the young man thought that this was the craziest little man he had ever met – and maybe the most dangerous he would ever run across. He felt that if he listened to this man, something in his life would change forever. He couldn’t come back to the life he enjoyed. “No.” he responded.

Undaunted in his faith and assured in the conviction that this was the man he was to tell about the Gospel, the little street preacher spoke again. “Then, may I pray for you?” He asked.

Hoping that this would get the weird little man away from him, the drifter responded, “Sure go ahead.”

“Lord”, started the little man, “I lift up this man before Your Throne. He doesn’t know who you are. But I know that he is one that You have chosen for Your Kingdom. I ask that You make his life so miserable that he will come running to You. I pray in Jesus’ Name, Amen.” The short simple prayer asking God to direct the paths of this drifter from the pathway to Hell to the Feet of the Lord was like an arrow striking the heart. The drifter was stone cold sober; he couldn’t feel the effects of any of the drugs that were coursing through his veins. The drifter shook his head as if he was trying to remove a headache. He looked down again – the little man was gone. He started running…

Thirty years have come and gone since that singular event – the crossing of paths between a skinny little street preacher and the Hippie drifter. The intercession of that skinny little street evangelist, insignificant in man’s eyes but great in the Lord’s eyes, came to fruition. His name may never mentioned to the annals of Man’s times, but you may be assured that his name is recorded in the Lord’s book of faithful servants.

As for the drifter and what happened to him. Eventually, he found the peace that comes with knowing the Lord, though it took another year and a half. But that’s another story…

Gary Tresidder