Saturday, October 27, 2018

"Humans are also not like cats, or dogs, or even apes"

I was driving down the road, heading to teach an 8:00 class about a decade ago. For some reason I was listening to NPR and heard the following comments on a segment entitled "Think You're Multitasking? Think Again":

"These are the things that make us the most human," Weissman said. "We are not like jellyfish — it's not like when you poke us, we always do the same thing."

Humans are also not like cats, or dogs, or even apes, when it comes to controlling how our brain responds, and what it responds to.
Here is yet again data that points to the fact that we are not like any other animal because we were not created to be like them. Unfortunately, many in the evolutionary biology community will look at this data and use their presuppositions to reinterpret the data from an evolutionary perspective. Weissman, didn't miss a beat ...:
Weissman says this skill probably evolved to help humans — who are pretty vulnerable, physically — to do things like hunt animals that are bigger and stronger.
It is true: evolution is a religion!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Beautiful weather and politely living in society - a letter to my students

As a professor I have always seen my students as my little children. As dean of the Balthasar Hubmaier School of Theology and Missions at TMU, I see all of our students as my chil'lens. Because of that, I often see it as my job to help them grown in faith and wisdom. I thought I'd share my latest letter with them.

Dear Chil’lens:

I pray you have been enjoying the fall weather, I sure have. Cooler weather is invigorating, and given the fact that I am follically challenged, brings back one my favorite accoutrements: hats! I know that some of you love hats too, but unfortunately, given my generations’ need for rebellion, we have done a bad job at teaching people societal rules associated with hats (as a matter of fact, it seems that we have done a bad job at teaching civics altogether if you look at how many in your generation are behaving these days).

So, here is me doing my duty to help you live in polite society, so that one day you will not make social faux pas that might hamper your ability to share the gospel. BTW – for men, these rules apply to ALL hats, including baseball caps, skullies, and casual hats.

1)     Hats are to be removed when inside, therefore a gentleman should remove his hat as he enters a building. In case you were wondering, this includes: restaurants, homes, classrooms, theaters, and church buildings.
2)     The exceptions to the above rule are places that are akin to public streets. This includes places like lobbies, corridors, and public elevators. So, for example, as you enter Miller hall you can leave your hat on, but when you enter an office or classroom, your hat should come off.
3)     Gentlemen are also expected to remove their hats during the playing of the National Anthem, for the passing of the Flag, at funeral processions, and during prayers (see 1 Cor 11, but be forewarned that in rabbinical Judaism, your head should be covered when you pray, and in Muslim mosques and Sikh temples, your head is often expected to be covered).
4)     Removed hats should be held in hand in such a way that the lining is not visible (for example, you could hold the opening of the hat against your body).
5)     Gentlemen should tip their hats (slightly lifting the hat off your forehead) when meeting a lady. If you stop to talk to a lady, you should remove your hat. If the weather is frigid, you can ask the lady if she minds if you put your hat back on. Since the tipping of the hat is a gesture of politeness, hats are also tipped to say: thank you, hello, goodbye, you're welcome, or how do you do.
6)     None of these rules apply to cancer patients, for many of them need their hats on to keep warm due to the side effects of the chemotherapy and radiation.

For more information on male and female hat etiquette, you can consult the following sites among many:

I’m sure some of you are rolling your eyes about now, but let me remind you that living in society requires following the rules of that society, especially since we, as believers, seek, like Paul, to be able to say “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor 9:22). So why not impress the people you meet by showing politeness; you never know, it might open up a door to share the gospel.

In Christ, mldsd

Friday, June 2, 2017

TMU's Felix Manz School of Music

I thought I would continue to highlight some of TMU's schools and some of the history of the people that they have been named after.

TMU's Felix Manz School of Music currently offers a BA in Music with a concentration in General Music, a BA in Music with a concentration in Worship and Church Music, and a BS in Music Education.

The life of Felix Manz, the illegitimate son of a Roman Catholic priest in Zürich, could have been unworthy of notice. Yet, as God would have it, it was full of firsts, amongst which was the penning of what is thought to be the first Anabaptist hymn: “With Pleasure I Will Sing.”
Not much is known of the early life of Felix Manz except that he had the privilege of an education with training in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin; he was known early on as an accomplished Hebraist. In 1522, he joined Zwingli’s circle of New Testament students, but by 1523 he was already starting to be dissatisfied with the nature and pace of the reforms happening in Zürich.

During this time, it was in Manz’s home on Neustadt Street, a stone’s throw away from the Grossmünster, that the nascent Brethren movement started meeting, and it was here that in 1525 the first Anabaptist baptism took place. In the early days of the movement, Manz and Blaurock mainly focused on converting farmers and artisans in the Zürich area, but eventually they expanded their efforts to the wide region between the Lake Zürich and the Lake Constance in the northeast corner of Switzerland. It was not long before Manz and the others were arrested and imprisoned, first in the castle at Grüningen and then in the Witch’s Tower in Zürich. Yet, after having escaped the latter, Manz returned to minister in the same corner of Switzerland in which he had been ministering. Eventually he was recaptured, almost exactly a year later, and while he was soon afterward released, he was arrested again, for the last time, two months later. On January 5th, 1527, only two years after the start of the Anabaptist movement, Manz was sentenced to death, and on that cold winter day, he was executed by drowning in the Limmat River, making him the first Anabaptist martyr. While he walked from Wellenberg prison to his place of execution, Manz proclaimed the gospel to the people whom he passed and praised God for the opportunity to die for the truth. In the background a solitary voice could be heard, the one of his mother urging him to remain true to Christ in this hour of testing. His final words on this earth were: “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

Not much has been left by Manz in the way of writings, yet the little that we have conveys a picture of one focused on his Lord and on Scripture. In his Declaration and Defense, he paints the picture of a Christ follower as one: who loves God through Christ, is full of charity, is merciful, is devoid of hatred, and trusts the one “who knows my every distress, and is mighty to deliver.”

As Manz was penning his hymn, while imprisoned in Grüningen or possibly just before his death while in Wellenberg, he probably did not realize that he would be the first among many in a glorious tradition of Anabaptist hymn writers. Like many who would follow him, Manz wrote and sang praises to God the Father and Christ as Lord. His hymn, as would many others, also proclaimed radical obedience to Christ and God’s justice toward the unrepentant sinners and grace to the humble. To this day it is immortalized in the Ausbund and in the first three hymns of the Anabaptist Hymnal

In Felix Manz, therefore, we have the embodiment of what I think our school of music seeks to produce: Christ followers who proclaim their Savior in all humility, centered on Scripture, rejoicing in God Himself and in His grace, and willing to follow Him, wherever He will take them.

Atwood, Preston Lee. “The Martyrs’ Song: The Hymnody of the Early Swiss Brethren Anabaptists.” Artistic Theologian 2 (2013): 64–92.
Estep, William Roscoe. The Anabaptist Story: An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism, 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans, 1996.

“With Pleasure I Will Sing” (Mit Lust so will ich singen)
Ausbund, No. 6 (18 stanzas)
Adaptations appear in Nos. 1 (“With Pleasure I Will Sing”), 2 (“I Will Delight in
Singing”), and 3 (“All Praise to Jesus Christ Our Lord”) of the Anabaptist Hymnal

I will delight in singing,
In God o’er-joys my heart;
For grace He is me bringing,
That I from death depart
Which lasting ever, hath no end;
I praise Thee Christ from heaven,
Who dost my grief attend.
Him God to me sending,
Example and true light,
Who me, e’er my life’s ending,
Doth to His kingdom cite;
That I with Him have endless bliss,
And from my heart may love Him,
And all His righteousness.
Christ, then, would I be praising,
Who patience shows to all,
With friendship us embracing,
Moved by His grace withal;
His love to all men shows He, too,
In likeness to His Father,
Which no one false will do.
Christ no one is co-ercing
His glory-world to share;
They heaven are traversing
Who willingly prepare,
Through faith and baptism rightly wrought,
Repentance, with hearts holy;
For them is heaven bought.
Christ, in His blood thus shedding,
Which He did willingly,
And His great task not dreading,
This would He have us see,
Us with His holy power endows;
For who Christ’s love constraineth,
In holy likeness grows.
Where Christ’s love is abiding,
Is spared the enemy,
And Christ proclaims this tiding
To all who heirs would be;
That who shows mercy lovingly
And keeps His Lord’s clear teaching,
Is glad eternally.
All shall be judged by Jesus Christ,
Yet none does He accuse,
Who falsely hate the life of love,
The Word of God confuse;
Until the final judgment day,
When those who scorn He will repay,
Their hope of heav’n refuse.
All love abides in Jesus Christ.
He knows no scorn or hate.
His servants follow in His steps,
And daily demonstrate
His life of light, His life of love,
His wondrous joy, the witness of
A heart compassionate.
Those hate and envy harb’ring,
Cannot true Christians be;
And those who evil, inj’ring,
Fists strike enmity;
Before our Lord to kill and thieve,
Blood innocent they’re shedding
In base hypocrisy.
Thus shall men be apprizing
Those who with Christ are not,
Who Christian rules despising,
With Belial’s kind do plot,
Ev’n as did Cain in sin o’erthrow,
When God owned Abel’s offering;
And hence must suffer woe.
Herewith shall I be closing;
Observe, saints, one and all,
It is not indisposing
To notice Adam’s fall,
Who, too, received the tempter’s voice,
His God was disobedient,
And death became His choice.
So those who Christ withstanding,
Whom worldly lust ensnares,
Shall likewise find their ending;
No godly love is theirs.
So closet here this hymn, indeed;
With Christ I am remaining,
Who knows and meets my need. Amen.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

TMU's Pilgram Marpeck School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics

I thought I would highlight some of TMU's schools and some of the history of the people that they have been named after.

TMU's Pilgram Marpeck School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics currently offers BS in Biology, with concentrations in General Biology and Pre-Health Sciences, and a BS in Exercise Science. Starting Fall 2016, our STEM school will also be offering a MS in Biology.

Pilgram Marpeck was born to a noble family in the city of Rattenberg in the Austrian Tyrol, Pilgram Marpeck followed in his father’s footsteps and became active in the civil, economic, and political life of the city. He most probably began his religious journey as a Roman catholic, for his latter writings show his familiarity with the doctrines of the Trinity, Christology, and councils like Chalcedon, yet he had no formal theological training. In 1520, around the age of 25, after having married Sophia Harrer, Marpeck enrolled in the Brotherhood of Mining Workers and began his career as an engineer. During his tenure in Rattenberg, he held the office of mining director (1525-1528), a very prestigious position where he represented the king directly in matters of commerce and law. At some point, before the death of Sophia in 1528, the Marpecks had a daughter, Margareth.

Civic duty led Marpeck to be Rattenberg’s representative as he interceded on behalf of a Lutheran pastor, Stephen Agricola. Many speculate that this incident led Marpeck away from the Roman church and its “system composed of ‘human intentions’ that enslaved a person” with human accretions to the gospel, and towards a newfound Lutheran freedom. As he would later narrate in his Exposé of the Babylonian Whore, he “came to the truth partly through [the evangelicals’] writing, teaching, and preaching,” but he quickly grew dissatisfied with a lifestyle of fleshly freedom which he observed in many of them. So, while they were instrumental in liberating him from “the Babylonian captivity,” they failed to lead him “through the narrow gate through which the flesh … could once again be led into the liberty of Jerusalem.” Furthermore, he grew disturbed that those who did proclaim the Biblical message were “persecuted by these teachers, who become their betrayers and executioners.” It is not known when Marpeck joined the Anabaptist ranks, but it is most likely that he was introduced to Anabaptist preaching in the Inn Valley in early 1527 and was attracted by their “primitivist vision of a restored New Testament Christianity.” It is also during this period that Marpeck was pressured to police the miners’ religious affiliations so that the Anabaptists might be apprehended and punished. After protesting this mandate, Marpeck promised to uphold it as part of his office. Two days later, Leonhart Scheimer was beheaded and burned, and five days later, January of 1528, Marpeck resigned from his post. As a consequence, he and his new wife, Anna, were banished from Rattenberg. Between their marriage and their banishment, the Marpecks adopted three orphans of miner(s), who eventually remained in Rattenberg with portions of the Marpeck estate.

It is uncertain what happened in the interlude; some oral traditions have the Marpecks traveling to Moravia and being commissioned by the Moravian brethren to go to “Strasbourg to baptize.” What we know for sure is that Marpeck was listed as a citizen of Strasbourg in September of 1528. Here he used his engineering skills and worked as the engineer of the city’s forests, probably bringing to Alsace some of the Tyrolian engineering methods. This allowed him to build a “water system for the city and wood-floating flumes in the surrounding valleys.” Here, he also became an honored member of the religious community. Reformers Wolfgang Capito and Martin Bucer spoke highly of him, initially even referring to him as being “of unblamable conduct.” Strasbourg was a home to many dissenters, such as Caspar Schwenckfeld and eventually Melchior Hofmann, among others. In this setting, Marpeck quickly became prominent among the Anabaptists, eventually holding meetings in his home, and became instrumental in a parting of ways among the dissenters dealing with issues of apocalyptic eschatology and Christology. It was also here where Marpeck refined his theology of the incarnation and “grounded the authenticity of the Anabaptism in ecclesiology, its theology as well as its practice.” Eventually, though, Marpeck was thrown in prison by Bucer. Given his record as a public servant and Capito’s intercession, he was freed. In December of 1531, he requested a public debate with the clergy of the city mainly over the issue of infant baptism, which he lost, resulting in the request from the city council that he leave the city. Before departing, Marpeck appeared in front of the council one more time and assured “them that he never had any intentions of changing the political order in Strasbourg, but only desired to have freedom in the spiritual realm.” After a second disputation in January 1532, he eventually left the city.

The following years are usually considered the itinerant years of his life and were most probably spent primarily in Switzerland and Moravia. During this period, cities like St. Gall continued to benefit from Marpeck’s engineering skills which he used working with municipal forests and water supplies. Eventually, he ended up in Augsburg, where again he was recognized as an asset to the city. Here he continued his Anabaptist work, both with the local congregation and with the pen. He eventually died of natural causes in 1556.

In Marpeck we find an engineering theologian who “was not so much concerned with precise theological definitions as he was with sincere and entire obedience to God, whose will was revealed in Scripture.” Like an engineer who applies the learned principles of physics and chemistry to his craft, Marpeck took his thirst for theology and applied it as he “sought a church which could provide sustenance for engineers and housewives.” We have in him, therefore, the embodiment of what I think our school of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics seeks to produce: a Christian leader in the sciences who serves his/her community with his/her knowledge of science, yet stays passionate to the Lord and His church by thinking biblically and living a sacrificial life to enhance the Kingdom of God.

Klassen, William. Covenant and Community: The Life, Writings, and Hermeneutics of Pilgram Marpeck. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1968.

Marpeck, Pilgram, Walter Klaassen, Werner O. Packull, and John D. Rempel. Later Writings by Pilgram Marpeck and His Circle. Anabaptist Texts in Translation, vol. 1. Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 1999.

Marpeck, Pilgram. The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck. Classics of the Radical Reformation, vol. 2. Edited by William Klassen and Walter Klaassen. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2000.

Yarnell, Malcolm B. The Formation of Christian Doctrine. Nashville: B&H, 2007.

Monday, October 31, 2016

On this reformation day ...

It's been 499 years since the famous day when Luther nailed his 95 theses in Wittenberg. On this day I wanted to remind us of some words of Luther form his 1526 work The German Mass and Order of Divine Service.

... But the third sort [of Divine Service], which the true type of Evangelical Order should embrace, must not be celebrated so publicly in the square amongst all and sundry. Those, however, who are desirous of being Christians in earnest, and are ready to profess the Gospel with hand and mouth, should register their names and assemble by themselves in some house to pray, to read, to baptize and to receive the sacrament and practice other Christian works. In this Order, those whose conduct was not such as befits Christians could be recognized, reproved, reformed, rejected, or excommunicated, according to the rule of Christ in Matt. xviii. Here, too, a general giving of alms could be imposed on Christians, to be willingly given and divided among the poor, after the example of St. Paul in 2 Cor. ix. Here there would not be need of much fine singing. Here we could have baptism and the sacrament in short and simple fashion: and direct everything towards the Word and prayer and love. Here we should have a good short Catechism about the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer. In one word, if we only had people who longed to be Christians in earnest, Form and Order would soon shape itself. But I cannot and would not order or arrange such a community or congregation at present. I have not the requisite persons for it, nor do I see many who are urgent for it. But should it come to pass that I must do it, and that such pressure is put upon me as that I find myself unable with a good conscience to leave it undone, then I will gladly do my part to secure it, and will help it on as best I can. ... (1)

Such a sad statement: "But I cannot and would not order or arrange such a community or congregation at present. I have not the requisite persons for it, nor do I see many who are urgent for it." ... and even more sad is the fact that, years later, when some came who were "urgent for it," Luther opted to persecute the Anabaptists instead of "help[ing] it on."


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Homosexuality: is it genetic ... or does it matter?

As one looks at the current culture and the politicization of social issue, one is struck by the fact that evidence is often lacking or contradicting. Recently, one of the american presidential front runners stated that he thought that "sexual preference is something that people are born with" (one could argue then that it is not a preference, but a predetermined fact ... but that is not the train of thought that I want to follow today: this post is not inherently about politics, vocabulary, or logic). Facebook, which is always oh so helpful, had several links under the above post. One to an article that claims that "Identical Twin Studies Prove Homosexuality is Not Genetic," and one which essentially claimed the opposite by purporting to present the strongest evidence yet that homosexuality is genetic.

As I was thinking about these two diametrically opposed views, I was reminded that we live in a fallen world and that at the end of the day, our genetic predispositions are no excuse for our actions. As sentient beings who have free will, we are not bound to our fleshly desires. We have a choice to indulge in them or resist them. As a follower of Christ, God often calls me no to act the way I am, but to be transformed. For example, as someone who is inherently lazy, I am called to work; others who love alcohol are called not the get drunk; adulterers are called to be faithful; complainers are called to rejoice; and so on and so forth.

Ultimately, it seems to me that our genome does not define us, our choices do, and I choose Christ. If He tells me that homosexuality is not His plan for humanity, then that is what I follow, no matter what my genetic predisposition is. I recently heard Wesley Hill (Professor at Trinity School for Ministry and author of Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality) speak of his experience as a same sex attracted man who understands that marriage (and inherently sexual relations, which God reserves for marriage) is only meant to be between a man and a woman. As a follower of Christ, he has therefore committed to a life of celibacy, realizing that God has called him to be different that what he is (whether genetically or preferentially, I don't think he ever said what he believed in his plenary session at ETS).

So, at the end of the day, I don't think it matters whether homosexuality if genetic or not, if our source of truth is Scripture, then homosexuality is outside of God's will and for the ones of us who strive to be in God's will, it is never an option, just as drunkenness, adultery, and so many other things are never an option. May we be found faithful to follow Him, not our fallen genome.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

An interesting thought ...

That the member of every Church or Congregation should know one another so that they may perform all the duties of love one towards another both to soul and body. Matthew 18:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 1 Corinthians 12:15. And especially the Elders should know the whole flock, of which the HILY GHOST has made them overseers. Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2, 3. And therefore a Church should not consists of such a multitude that they cannot have particular knowledge of one another.

- Thomas Helwys, A Declaration of Faith of English People Remaining in Amsterdam in Holland, 1611

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The “Love point” and similar punctuation marks

I came across these here and thought: hum, it would be interesting to adopt these new punctuation marks ... what do y'all think?

  • the “love point” (point d’amour: Point d'amour.svg
  • the “irony point“ or ”irony mark” (point d'ironie: ψ
  • the “certitude point” (point de conviction: Point de certitude.svg
  • the “authority point” (point d’autorité: Point d'autorité.svg
  • the “acclamation point” (point d’acclamation: Point d'acclamation.svg
  • the “doubt point” (point de doute: Point de doute.svg)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Privileges and Responsibilities.

"If it is part of the privilege and duty of each Christian to study scripture, and to read it devotionally, it is important that the wider church should be able to hear what individual readers are discovering in the text. Of course, not all private readings will come up with significant new insights; but many will. The church needs to facilitate, through small groups and other means, this bringing of particular viewpoints to the attention of the whole body, both so that the larger community may be enriched and so that maverick or clearly misleading readings can be gently and appropriately corrected."

from N. T. Wright, The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture, 1st ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), 134.

Monday, May 20, 2013

GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How? - Concluding Remarks

Two questions were asked at the beginning of this series of posts. First: how can or should hermeneutics be done in community? Second, but conceptually needing to precede the first: what characterizes this community in which and by which hermeneutics is being done? Through our conversations with various historical groups, the following conclusions were drawn. A hermeneutical community is one that necessarily brings together Scripture, Spirit, and a discerning body. This community has come into existence by the proclamation of the Gospel, is sustained by the proclamation of the Gospel, and sustains the proclamation of the Gospel. It is inherently centered on Scripture and Scripture is at the genesis of said community. While this community is centered on a text, this fact does not preclude the possibility that illiteracy is present within the community. Tradition provides a good hermeneutical safeguard but is not a hermeneutical community in itself. The participants' sinfulness requires the working of the Holy Spirit, and requires a communal platform to make sure that the work of the Spirit is being interpreted correctly. All of this precludes a close knit believing community that practices repentance and forgiveness and that does not isolate itself from other communities. This community is composed of people possessing a diversity of knowledge, and it appropriately uses all the gifts with which it has been endowed. What has just been described, then, is a community that is created from the authorial intent of the author of Scripture and that has for its scope the correct understanding of the authorial intent of the author of Scripture.
In addition, four vignettes were presented of possible hermeneutical communities. Two of the vignettes were deemed not to match the three elements of Scripture, Spirit, and a discerning community as described above. The other two communities, the community holding the pastor accountable and the community with congregational participation, did match the criteria for a hermeneutical community and represent two families of possible applications for community hermeneutics.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Vignettes of Community Hermeneutics - Congregational Participation, but What of Divisions?; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

When discussing such a model, the topic of disagreement often is broached.[1] As Fowl claims, disagreement is to be expected, but charity needs to be the governing trait of the participants involved. The community "provides part of the context in which disagreement can best be articulated, debated and, at least provisionally, resolved, so that Christians can live and worship faithfully in the situations in which they find themselves."[2] Ultimately, unity is the work of the Spirit of God, and therefore should be entrusted to Him.

[1]See: Roth, "Community as Conversation," 45.
[2]Fowl, Engaging Scripture, 87. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Vignettes of Community Hermeneutics - Congregational Participation; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

This vignette could have multiple expressions. It is the one that is most fully participatory and which truly requires the threefold characteristic community described above. Murray claims that this type of communal hermeneutics would have distinguished Anabaptists from state churches, Spiritualists, and Catholics. "Given what Anabaptists believed about the nature of the church, the work of the Spirit, and the ability of all to interpret," it is not surprising that many among them seemed to assume the need for a communal process. This can be seen in The Swiss Order, which circulated with the Schleitheim confession and was also known as the Congregational Order. In it, Article 2 states that "when the brothers and sisters are together, they shall take up something to read together. The one to whom God has given the best understanding shall explain it, the others should be still and listen, so that there are not two or three carrying on a private conversation, bothering the others."[1] This also is attested in some tracts where the listener, "bound by Christian love," is compelled to share with the congregation "if something to edification is given or revealed to him." The contributions might "include reading texts of Scripture, expounding them, asking and answering questions, prophesying, and discussing what has been said."[2]
In this model of hermeneutical community, individualism is criticized since due to it "consensus is seldom sought; discussions are mere forums, and in most cases are not intended to lead to binding commitments; controversial issues are avoided."[3] In opposition to this, Burkholder introduces some structural lines describing the framework of what he refers to as a discerning community. First, congregationalism and the congregational meeting (which could take the form of open forums) should be the basic decision-making instrument. Second, discussion should "be considered just as 'spiritual' as preaching and no less central to the congregation's life." Dialogue should "be conceived as an avenue through which the Holy Spirit speaks." Third, "the congregation would live 'under' the Bible, while employing critical methods of interpretation." Ultimately, these discerning communities would need to seek to 'listen' to the Spirit.[4]

[1]Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 161. This practice was often referred to as lex sedentium, the Latin for the "law of sitting." The practice was historically connected to the school of prophets instituted by Zwingli, and biblically connected to 1 Cor 14. See: Yarnell, The Formation of Christian Doctrine, 101.
[2]Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 161. Also see Ens, "The Hermeneutical Community," 76-86.
[3]J. Lawrence Burkholder, "The Peace Churches as Communities of Discernment," Christian Century 80, no. 36 (1963): 1072. Dumais and Richard, in M. Dumais and J. Richard, Église et Communauté (Anjou, QC: Fides, 2007), 95-96, connect an individualistic relationship with God, due to Calvinism in France, with a loss of communal identity and the exiling of one's religious identity to individual consciences. One can see then why individualism (which is a plight in Western culture) is antithetical to communal hermeneutics. It is not possible to have an individualistic outlook on life and want to participate in a hermeneutical community. Ultimately, the former will inhibit true community formation, rendering the latter impossible.
[4]Burkholder, "The Peace Churches as Communities of Discernment," 73, 75.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Vignettes of Community Hermeneutics - The Community Holding the Preacher Accountable; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

Probably the next simplest type of community hermeneutics is the one where the community serves as an accountability tool for the official teacher. Holder refers to this as a "community of discourse,"[1] and tries to identify it in the hermeneutics of Calvin. Similarly, this mode of community hermeneutics was practiced among some strands of Anabaptism,[2] and is suggested as a viable contemporary model by Westphal.[3]
While John Calvin often is seen as placing the "whole interpretive authority in the hands of the preacher," and as not always accepting criticism and correction there is evidence, according to Holder, in Calvin's writings (including the Institutes) and in the life of the Genevan community to indicate that Calvin saw the church as a discerning community. This communal aspect of interpretation manifested itself in two ways. First, by insisting on a scripturally literate congregation, Calvin "implicitly acknowledges that the understanding of the Scripture by the laity allows, or forces, scriptural sermons to be preached." Therefore, the congregation serves at a minimum as an accountability partner, holding the teacher responsible for correct teaching and therefore for a correct exegesis of the text. This implies the second, closely akin point: the community sits in a place of judgment, judging the exegesis of the text. Calvin warns against "easy credulity, which does not test teachings by what is known of the Word of God," and "specifically warns the congregation against a too-passive reception of the words of the preacher and bids them to test the words of men by the Word of God."[4]
Westphal, after arguing that hermeneutics "cannot be the exclusive task of an ecclesiastical elite, namely, theologians and pastors," points to the claims of the reformation to argue for the involvement of the entire congregation. "If we take seriously the Reformation theme of the priesthood of all believers, we will have to acknowledge that hermeneutical conversation is the privilege and responsibility of the laity as well." By postulating that "to read is to interpret," Westphal asserts that there are therefore three levels of interpretation in which the laity partakes: individual, family, and congregation. It is at this point that Westphal postulates that one aspect of the congregational interpretation is keeping the pastor in check because of his knowledge that others have looked at and thought about the text that he is teaching.[5] Unlike the preceding vignette, this community does fit all three aspects of the threefold description presented above: Scripture, Spirit, and a believing community.

[1]Holder, in Holder, "Church as Discerning Community in Calvin," 277n22, notes that the terminology "community of discourse" is a concept he drew from modern hermeneutics, especially the writings of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur. He also is indebted to Stock for his notion of a "textual community." In the article, Holder defines this "community of discourse" is several ways. At first, he defines it as the "the communal context in which particular textual readings come to have meaning" (277). He then defines it as the "community without which the interpretive project makes no sense–being shorn both of the community to whom the message is addressed and the community of joined interpreters" (277-78). In his conclusion he more specifically defines it as a community which "is consciously and existentially formed by the desire to live by the dictates of the interpretation of this central text, God's Word" (288).
[2]Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 17.
[3]Westphal, Whose Community? Which Interpretation?, 146.
[4]Holder, "Church as Discerning Community in Calvin," 275, 277-79, 281. Holder does hedge his argument by warning his reader not to read too much into the texts that he presented and claiming that "Calvin may well have been offering up the task of arbitration to the congregation. He may instead have been attempting to teach it enough so that it would give an educated 'Amen' to his exposition" (287).
[5]Westphal, Whose Community? Which Interpretation?, 143, 146. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Vignettes of Community Hermeneutics - Tradition; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

Like the previous vignette, tradition lacks the third characteristic of a hermeneutical community: a close knit believing community. In addition one has to ask questions about interaction. While Westphal, based on Gadamerian theories on conversation, would argue that static texts can be a conversational partner (and admitting that similar terminology has been used metaphorically in the introduction of this series of posts), it is hard to imagine a conversation with a static document. Conversation has to be dialectic. Therefore, tradition, while a good hermeneutical safeguard, does not in itself constitute a hermeneutical community.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Vignettes of Community Hermeneutics - Openness to Correction; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

Some have seen the Anabaptists' openness to correction as the simplest way in which congregational hermeneutics was practiced,[1] for in doing so they opened themselves up to a conversational partner. This community fits two of the threefold descriptions presented above: Scripture and Spirit. Yet, "openness to correction" as a hermeneutical community is not a very good fit when it comes to the community of believers criteria, for it often lacked the tight interconnection and relationships postulated as essential by Fowl.

[1]See the discussion in Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 166-69. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Vignettes of Community Hermeneutics - An Introduction; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

Throughout the last two millennia there have been different embodiments of the concept of the church. Since the concept of the church is integral to our understanding of what a hermeneutical community should look like, it come as no surprise that since the time of Christ there have been different kinds of communal hermeneutics. These might have "family resemblances," but ultimately will still look different.[1] The following vignettes are an attempt at systematizing some of these families of hermeneutical communities as identified in the literature. The list is not exhaustive or prescriptive, just descriptive.

[1]Michael G. Cartwright, "The Practice and Performance of Scripture: Grounding Christian Ethics in a Communal Hermeneutic," Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics  (1988): 49-50. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Characteristics of a Hermeneutical Community - A Believing Community, but a Community Beyond the Local Church?; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

If this community is defined in terms of an independent hermeneutical body of believers, another question poses itself. Is there not a danger in creating such a hermeneutical community that potentially isolates itself from the rest of the world? Fowl understands that there is always the potential that there might be something wrong with how a hermeneutical community interprets Scripture. Consequently, he suggests that the community should be "willing to subject their interpretive practices to scrutiny and criticism." This scrutiny obviously can come from within, but can also come from members of different Christian communities, or even those outside any Christian community.[1] Ens points out that Hubmaier did envision the possibility of the local church erring in its conclusions and therefore was open to the scrutiny of a wider council.[2] Yarnell highlights the fact that the Anabaptists' belief that "the Spirit spoke to the entire community as it read the Scripture together encouraged the Anabaptists to seek conversation with other Christians." This resulted in their willingness to participate in debates even when it resulted in their persecution and execution.[3] In Anabaptist writings, one often can find open pleas for their enemies to correct them if they are wrong, as long as their enemies only used Scripture to do so. So one can say that this community, while independent from other groups, should be open to the scrutiny of other Christians.[4]

[1]Fowl, Engaging Scripture, 82.
[2]Ens, "The Hermeneutical Community," 81-83.                                                                                                    
[3]Yarnell, The Formation of Christian Doctrine, 100.
[4]We see here the traditional pattern of associations seen throughout Baptist history. Churches who are independent, but who associate for the sake of missions, help, and to demonstrate unity amongst Christians.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Characteristics of a Hermeneutical Community - A Believing Community, but a Community of Scholars?; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

Given the last paragraph, one can ask legitimately: what is the role of scholars, if any, in this type of community? While Murray claims that Anabaptists "searched the Bible for themselves and participated in the congregational process of discerning its meaning and application," he also claims that this did not underplay the role of their leaders, especially educated ones. Instead, this created a special dynamic in the hermeneutical process. The leaders' sermons and writings provided "foundational teachings," but "they did not give authoritative answers to every doctrinal question or final interpretation of every biblical text." In addition, the leaders also provided guidelines that "prevented Anabaptists from lapsing into naive subjectivism." On the other hand, since non-leaders were very involved in "exploring and interpreting Scripture," Murray sees their contribution, "which was encouraged and expected," as providing a way to help "prevent leaders from uncritically adopting traditional or Reformed hermeneutics." According to Murray, it was the leader who set the tone as to whether the congregation would operate as a hermeneutical community or not. The ones who did allow it saw themselves as guides, rather than dominating figures, and acted as facilitators, rather than sole participants. Therefore, "their task was to ensure that Scripture was being read and that, through the contributions of all members, it was being understood and applied." This did not prohibit them from still exerting much influence on the congregation by providing "basic teaching and guidance in selecting and interpreting biblical texts." Even if many Anabaptists underplayed the need for education, Murray believes that in practice, the contribution of educated and respected leaders would carry greater weight, "for in congregational hermeneutics, there is no requirement that every contribution carry the same weight, but every contribution must be weighed."[1]
Even the topic of leaders, though, has the potential of being at the genesis of a hermeneutical community. Although among Anabaptists "communal emphasis was well-established in the very early years while the movement still had some scholars and theologians at its head," Murray postulates that there might also have been some pragmatic reasons for the development and continuation of communal hermeneutics. Murray sees the eventual lack of theologians and leaders, due to persecution, as requiring the congregation to "develop ways of operating that could survive the removal of their leaders."[2] He supports this theory among the Hutterites by quoting Oyer's and Miller's conclusions:
It is possible that for the Anabaptists sharing preaching or instruction . . . was a necessity, since many of the educated leaders were killed off. . . . Maybe they made a virtue out of necessity - since there were few strong, literate leaders, everyone needed to help out. . . . This became known as zeugnis, 'witness,' and such commentary was open to anyone, even those who had quite contrary words to speak.[3]

[1]Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 16-17, 163-65.
[2]Ibid., 173, 171.
[3]Ibid., 171. Murray also points to other possible reasons that led to the development of communal hermeneutics. According to him, anticlericalism could have been a reason for communal hermeneutics, since in this hermeneutical model the congregation assumed for itself the key clerical responsibility, that of interpreting Scripture. Murray also suggests that the lack of formal meeting places with typical "church architecture" could also have been a probable facilitator of multiple participation. (171-72)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Characteristics of a Hermeneutical Community - A Believing Community; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

This emphasis on the interaction between the community and the Spirit of God points to a community of regenerate believers, indwelled by the Spirit of God, who are disciples of their Lord Jesus Christ.[1] For the Anabaptists, "obedience as a prerequisite for understanding Scripture meant that only a community of would-be disciples could expect illumination." A community of disciples creates a community of obedience and faithfulness, which is essential, as the Anabaptists knew, for "unfaithfulness could make a congregation unable to function properly as a hermeneutical community."[2] This line of thought parallels Fowl's emphasis on a community that recognizes that it is populated by sinners. Fowl argues that this problem of sin can only be solved by creating vigilant communities where individuals are aware of their sinfulness and the sinfulness of others, and where all are single-mindedly focused on Jesus. This requires a community that is actively practicing forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation, and where the goal is for all to grow in virtue, particularly when it comes to interpreting Scripture.[3] Ultimately, "recognizing oneself as a sinner is necessary but it must lead to growth in virtue, particularly growth in virtue as an interpreter of scripture." This growth should produce individuals who have what he calls a Christological density. In a community, this characteristic allows others to be able to judge the interpreter's interpretation. "Unless Christians can offer this sort of christological density to their judgment about the character of any particular interpreter, they will have good reason to be suspicious of that interpreter's counter-conventional interpretation." [4]
This community has to be tight knit so as to be able to judge each other's interpretation and the to judge the work of the Spirit in each other. As a believing community that is wanting to practice communal hermeneutics, this community also has to recognize and value the diversity of gifts that God has given to it.[5] It has to realize that the work of the ministry of the church is the work of the entire body, not of a select few.[6] Like its Anabaptist predecessors, it should believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to the entire community as it reads Scripture together and should believe in the participation of multiple members in its gatherings.[7]

[1]This can be seen as the ideal of many free churches, and some have identified it as the distinctive mark of Baptist churches. See for example: John S. Hammett, "Regenerate Church Membership," in Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches, ed. Thomas White, Jason G. Duesing, and Malcom B. Yarnell (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008). Yet, the free church does not have the corner on this type of community. In many ways, this is the community that is described by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as he describes the communal experiment that he experienced with his seminarians at the seminary and at his home in Finkenwalde. Since such a community is a spiritual community, Bonhoeffer argues that its basis must be "the clear, manifest Word of God in Jesus Christ" and truth. Its essence must be light. It must be a community of called ones who will embody the love of Christ in lives of service. This service is simple and humble and characterized by love: "unsophisticated, nonpsychological, unmethodological, helping love." This community is characterized by order and humble submission to one another. It will be ruled by the Word of God alone, which is binding. In it, all "power, honor, and rule" are surrendered to the Holy Spirit, allowing the Spirit to rule the community. In line with the Pauline emphasis in 1 Corinthians 12, this community recognizes the importance of all its members and therefore does not exclude the "weak and insignificant, the seemingly useless people," for their exclusion may well be the exclusion of Christ. See: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, ed. Geffrey B. Kelly, Gerhard Ludwig Müller, and Albrecht Schönherr, trans., Daniel W. Bloesch and James H. Burtness, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 39-40, 45.
[2]Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 213, 214.
[3]Fowl, Engaging Scripture, 78. In other words, what is envisioned here is a community that practices the "one anothers" of Scripture. For a complete list see: Maël Disseau, Those "one another"s [on-line]; accessed 22 April 2011; available at; Internet.
[4]Ibid., 83, 159.  Cf. Thiselton's similar thoughts about doctrine presented above.
[5]See: Maël Disseau, Hierarchy in the Body of Christ - another small excursus [on-line]; accessed 22 April 2011; available at; Internet.
[6]See: Maël Disseau, The NT Concept of Ministry - a small excursus [on-line]; accessed 22 April 2011; available at; Internet.
[7]Yarnell, The Formation of Christian Doctrine, 101-02. 

Join my blog network
on Facebook