Friday, October 29, 2010

I Got Re-posted


I was blog-blocked for a while. I just was not satisfied with anything I wrote. I think the problem was that I had a really snarky little essay that I wanted to write, but it was not appropriate to post here. I finally wrote it just to get it out of the way, and shared it with a few trusted colleagues and relatives.

Before I got that out of my system, I kept trying to write other things. I must have made a half-dozen attempts at writing my last post, the one about the Diakonia Program and Crises of Faith. Even when I got it finished, I was not quite happy with it somehow. Still, I posted it because I thought it was good enough and because a blogpost from me was overdue.

So, I was surprised--delighted, mind you, but still surprised--when I received a request from to re-post that little essay. If you have not seen it yet, is a recently-launched website of the ELCA. Check it out. There is a lot of good content there. Re-posting my piece was the only lapse of judgment I could spot.

Something else you should see, if you haven't yet, is ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson's contribution to the "It Gets Better" project:

Thank you, Bishop Hanson.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010



If you were brought to this post by a link from the Augustana College website, the correct post, the one in which I wrote about Dr. Levin can be found by clicking here.

The Diakonia program is a two-year school of theological education for laypeople. The twelve courses that make up Diakonia each last five weeks and are typically taught by pastors. The subject matter includes the Old and New Testaments, Practical Ministry, Theology, Ethics, Lutheran Confessions and Church History. Classes meet once a week for three hours. Obviously this represents a considerable commitment  on the part of the students.

I am a big supporter of the Diakonia program.

A handful of ELCA synods have a Diakonia program. The Northern Illinois Synod, of which I am a part, has five sites at which Diakonia classes are taught. I have now taught the New Testament course three times. I find it gratifying to teach people who are so interested in exploring their faith more deeply. Most recently I taught at a brand new Diakonia site. Although I did not accomplish all of my teaching goals, I was pleased to watch the eleven students pull together into a community of support.

Our synodical Diakonia director has said that the program can cause a crisis of faith for some students. Looking closely and critically at the Scriptures may lead some students to question things they had previously assumed to be true. Learning that the Bible was written by human beings, and that those human beings did not always agree with one another, comes as news even to some lifelong Christians.

Hearing that Diakonia might cause some students to have a crisis of faith gave me pause. I had to ask myself whether I, as a pastor, should be in the business of causing faith crises. Most often my job involves inculcating faith or shoring it up. After due consideration, and some discussion with my students, I concluded that my mission as a teacher is to tell my students the truth. A crisis of faith, hard as it may be to go through, can lead a person to a stronger and more informed faith.

Of course, a crisis of faith might also lead to a loss of faith. It is hard for me to say this, but, in some cases that, too, might be appropriate. If taking a clear look at the Bible leads someone to lose their faith, then their faith was misplaced to begin with. They were putting their faith in the Bible, not in God.

Diakonia is a Greek word meaning "service." It is the root of our English word "deacon." St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was a deacon, appointed to assist the Apostles in the administration of the church in Jerusalem. His story is told in chapters 6-8 of Acts. I found the picture of St. Stephen above here.

Friday, October 1, 2010

How Many Angels


Dr. Arnold Levin taught in the Religion Department at Augustana College, Rock Island, when I was a student there many years ago. He introduced me to the critical tools that scholars use to study the Bible. I don't think I ever told him thank you.

Though it is probably not fair for me to say it, I sometimes thought that Dr. Levin took a special delight in tormenting Fundamentalist freshmen. I remember a particular class session in which he had us compare the resurrection accounts from Matthew, Mark and Luke. He asked the question, "How many angels did the women encounter at Jesus' empty tomb?"

The Gospel of Mark tells us that the women met "a young man dressed in a white robe." Matthew describes vividly how "an angel of the Lord" whose appearance was "like lightning, and his clothes white as snow" descended from heaven, stunning the guards at the tomb and declaring Jesus' resurrection to the women. Those guards, by the way, only appear in Matthew. Luke's Gospel says that the women met "two men in dazzling clothes."

There are several conclusions to be drawn from this. Since, most likely, Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source for their Gospels, we can conclude that they both felt free to expand on their material. We can conclude that Matthew, Mark and Luke were more interested in proclaiming the resurrection than in giving factual, newspaper-like accounts of the event. We can conclude that the three Synoptic Gospels were not intended to be harmonized.

Students who came from faith traditions that stressed the inerrancy of Scripture often had a hard time with Dr. Levin. Some of them thought that Dr. Levin was the devil, or at least one of his minions, come to destroy faith. Those students must not have attended chapel on Wednesday evenings.

I used to see Dr. Levin in campus church, paying close attention to the sermons, sometimes jotting notes, occasionally preaching himself, standing to sing the hymns loudly and lustily. Dr. Levin was a person of faith. Perhaps without intending it, Dr. Levin taught me that one can read the Bible critically, carefully, closely, intelligently and even question its facticity and still be a person of faith. I don't think I ever thanked him for that either.

So, let this blogpost stand as my belated appreciation for Dr. Levin with gratitude for the things he taught me.

Danish artist Carl Bloch painted the image of the resurrection accompanying this post. He apparently agreed with Luke (contra Matthew and Mark) that there were two angels at the empty tomb.  The Gospel of John, we may note, also agrees with Luke and Bloch.