The Bible’s physical form

We Lutherans believe in the supernatural efficacy of “Word and Sacrament.”  Other Christians believe in the power of God’s Word, but deny that water, bread, and wine, when joined to God’s Word, can have any more than a symbolic significance.  After all, how can the physical convey what is spiritual?  Part of my answer has always been that the Word too is a physical thing–ink on paper, sound waves in the air–that God uses sacramentally to bring us His grace.

David Neff of Christianity Today has written an interesting piece on the physical form of Bibles from the middle ages to our present-day “Bible apps.”

The default meaning of Bible for Christians in my group was the King James Version. The default physical form was a black leather binding.

The physical form of the Bible matters because it influences the way Christians use their sacred book. In the countercultural 1960s, for example, publishers shucked the black leather uniform in favor of more contemporary dress. The aim was to reach those who might not otherwise pick up the Scriptures. The American Bible Society’s Good News for Modern Man resembled a mass market paperback, and Tyndale House’s Reach Out: The Living New Testament looked just plain “groovy.”

Three centuries before Luther’s New Testament first came off the press in 1522, workshops in Paris produced one-volume Bibles called pandects. Unlike the large multivolume Bibles that sat in churches, monasteries, and rich men’s libraries, these could be conveniently carried by Sor-bonne students and mendicant preachers. Thus began the revolutionary shift from communal reading of Scripture to its private, individual consumption.

In 1735, the Bible emerged in another physical form—the family Bible. An English publisher named William Rayner produced The Compleat History of the Old and New Testament or a Family Bible. This was the first time that phrase was used, according to Liana Lupas, curator of the American Bible Society’s collection of rare Bibles.

The purpose of these Bibles, says Lupas, who curated a current exhibition of family Bibles for the Bible Society’s MOBIA gallery, was to provide study helps to answer questions that readers might have, and also to stimulate families to center their common devotions on the Bible.

People soon found other uses for these Bibles, pressing flowers, preserving locks of hair, and protecting other keepsakes. Families had already used the blank pages at the beginning or end of large Bibles to preserve genealogical information, recording births, marriages, and deaths. Dedicated family history pages were a natural development. And so in 1791, Isaiah Thomas published the first American Bible to contain pages dedicated to this purpose.

Placing the family Bible at the physical center of the ideal American home helped entrench the idea of the family as the main training ground in Christian living.Both Catholic families and Eastern Seaboard Protestants traditionally enshrined their family histories in parish registers and churchyard burial plots. But the American family became mobile, and American faith became more baptistic and individualized. Families who moved west left their family networks behind, and the family Bible became a portable shrine, recording the family as a sacred institution. . . .

Placing the family Bible at the physical center of the idealized American home also helped entrench the Puritan ideal of the family as the main training ground in Christian living. . . .

Today, many of us use Bibles with no physical properties of their own. They borrow their frame from computers, iPads, and smartphones—also markers of middle class existence—but created for individual use. Will this digital revolution cement the decline of family spirituality that was once fostered by the family Bible? God knows.

via How the Physical Form of a Bible Shapes Us | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Of course, the Word of God is living and active, even as it exists on an iPhone screen.  Just as the Blood of our Lord can be conveyed in plastic cups no less than in a silver chalice.  And yet, do you think the physical form of a Bible can have significance?  If people know the Word mainly as electronic information flashing across a screen, might that contribute to the Gnostic tendency we are seeing today, wherein faith is reduced to “knowledge” by way of “information” and the physical realm of creation, incarnation, sacrament, body, world,  and vocation are giving way to a less-than-Christian hyperspiritualism?  Or will reading it online lead to taking it in just short bits and pieces, in accord with much online reading, as opposed to extensive, sustained reading and study?  On the other hand, might reading the Bible on a Kindle, say, or other e-reader, mean a return to the continuous unfolding text of the ancient scrolls, rather than the chapter and verse breakdowns of the bound volume?  Or what?

Nothing distinctly Christian about the Lord’s Prayer?

Arguing for Christian observances to the point of denying they are Christian:

A lawsuit against the Sussex County Council in Delaware alleges that by reciting the Lord’s Prayer before meetings, the council “has publicly aligned itself with a single faith” in violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause. During a hearing in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, however, the county’s attorney argued that the prayer isn’t necessarily just a Christian one.

Attorney J. Scott Shannon told U.S. District Court Judge Leonard P. Stark that although the Lord’s Prayer is mostly associated with Christianity it was first spoken by a Jew, Delaware Online reports.

“[Jesus] was not offering a Christian prayer in the Christian tradition because no Christian tradition existed,” Shannon said. He also argued that the prayer, which contains no specific mention of Jesus Christ in it, contains language that is fitting for other faiths, and is not required to be “inoffensive to all” or “all-inclusive,that ” anyways.

According to court documents, the Lord’s Prayer has been the invocation of choice at Sussex County Council meetings since 1971.

Alex Luchenitser, an attorney for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, spoke on behalf of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit – four Delaware residents who feel that the saying of the Lord’s Prayer at Sussex County Council meetings is offensive.

Luchenitser argued that the opening words of the prayer – “Our Father” – indicate that it is a Christian prayer because it implicitly refers to Jesus.

“That’s a Christian way of referring to Jesus,” Luchenitser said, according to Delaware Online. “This is not something reasonable people disagree over.”

via The Lord’s Prayer Is Not Exclusively Christian, Attorney Tells Judge, Christian News.

The other side also knows not of what it speaks.   The Father is NOT a reference to Jesus!  The Son is NOT the Father.  That’s a denial of the Trinity.

The “Lord” of the Lord’s Prayer, though is Jesus, according to the Holy Spirit.  And the Father He addresses is His Father, who is the Christian deity.  And the prayer is in the New Testament, the Christian Scripture.  And it’s a staple of Christian worship and devotion.  So, yes, it’s a Christian prayer.

If the pro-prayer faction wins, would it be worth it, if victory involves denying the meaning of what is being prayed?  This principle applies to those who insist on putting up Christian symbols–nativity scenes, Christmas trees– on public property during Christmas with the argument that Christmas is a secular holiday.  In cases like these, to win is to lose.

Confessing churches in Canada

In the Reformation, the catalytic issue was the sale of indulgences, but the underlying issue was the authority of the Word of God.  Today the catalytic issue has to do with sexuality, but the underlying issue, again, is the authority of the Word of God.  So says Matthew Block, Communications Manager for the Lutheran Church-Canada and editor of The Canadian Lutheran.   (He comments sometimes here as “Captain Thin”!)

He has written an interesting article about how this is playing out in Canada, specifically in the Anglican Church of that nation, which, as here, has split over the issue.  Matthew also notes the new affinity that is being explored between the new conservative Anglican bodies in Canada and the USA and conservative Lutheran church bodies (the LCMS and the LCC).

See Standing firm: The cost of confessing the Word of God.

Matthew also has an interview with J. I. Packer, the evangelical Anglican (I bet a lot of you didn’t know this popular writer is both Anglican and Canadian) whose church was one of the first to break away.   Note the distinction he makes between “ecumenism” and the possibilities of “partnership” among “confessing” church bodies: J. I. Packer on Biblical Authority, World Anglicanism, and Ecumenism.

I do like the terminology:  “confessing churches” is better than “conservative churches.”   “Confessing” means that they confess their faith rather than change or downplay it.  We Lutherans speak of being “confessional,” meaning adhering to our Lutheran confessions of faith.  I suppose “confessing” can refer to various churches that confess their own various theologies–Anglican, Calvinist, etc.–as opposed to those that have no particular theology.

Theologians of the Cross

Another non-Lutheran discovers a Lutheran insight.  Carl Trueman, professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, posts about theologians of the cross as opposed to theologians of glory.  He explains it pretty well, I think:

One of the things that is so striking about the current revival of interest in Reformation theology, broadly conceived, is the absence of perhaps the most glorious contribution of Martin Luther to theological discourse: the notion of the theologian of the cross. . . .

At the heart of this new theology was the notion that God reveals himself under his opposite; or, to express this another way, God achieves his intended purposes by doing the exact opposite of that which humans might expect. The supreme example of this is the cross itself: God triumphs over sin and evil by allowing sin and evil to triumph (apparently) over him. His real strength is demonstrated through apparent weakness. This was the way a theologian of the cross thought about God.

The opposite to this was the theologian of glory. In simple terms, the theologian of glory assumed that there was basic continuity between the way the world is and the way God is: if strength is demonstrated through raw power on earth, then God’s strength must be the same, only extended to infinity. To such a theologian, the cross is simply foolishness, a piece of nonsense.

Now, some will respond: But the theology of the cross has not been forgotten; it is often talked about and discussed and even preached. But here’s the rub: in the Heidelberg Disputation Luther actually refers not to a theology of the cross but to theologians of the cross, underscoring the idea that he is not talking about some abstract theological technique or process but rather a personal, existential, real way that real flesh-and-blood theologians thought about, and related to, God. A person’s theology, whether true or false, good or bad, is inseparable from the individual’s personal faith.

At this Reformation season, we should not reduce the insights of Luther simply to justification by grace through faith. In fact, this insight is itself inseparable from the notion of that of the theologians of the cross. Sad to say, it is often hard to discern where these theologians of the cross are to be found. Yes, many talk about the cross, but the cultural norms of many churches seem no different to the cultural norms of — well, the culture. They often indicate an attitude to power and influence that sees these things as directly related to size, market share, consumerist packaging, aesthetics, youth culture, media appearances, swagger and the all-round noise and pyrotechnics we associate with modern cinema rather than New Testament Christianity. These are surely more akin to what Luther would have regarded as symptomatic of the presence and influence of theologians of glory rather than the cross. An abstract theology of the cross can quite easily be packaged and marketed by a theologian of glory. And this is not to point the finger at `them’: in fact, if we are honest, most if not all of us feel the attraction of being theologians of glory. Not surprising, given that being a theologian of glory is the default position for fallen human nature.

The way to move from being a theologian of glory to a theologian of the cross is not an easy one, not simply a question of mastering techniques, reading books or learning a new vocabulary. It is repentance.

via The Forgotten Insight – Reformation21 Blog.

What are some other applications?  If there is no “basic continuity between the way the world is and the way God is,” what happens to natural law?  natural theology?  How would this factor into various theological controversies today?

HT:  Joe Carter

The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church–for free

Rod Rosenbladt, emeritus professor at Concordia-Irvine and a co-host at the White Horse Inn radio program, has a presentation that has become a classic, with tapes and transcripts passed from hand to hand like samizdat novels in the former Soviet Union.  It’s called “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church.”   Many, MANY have found it a lifesaver, indeed, a proclamation of the Gospel that is so powerful that they have come to faith.  Even long-time veterans–and casualties–of churches have come to understand through this presentation the full magnitude of the Gospel, with many embracing it for the first time.  It’s featured in a sidebar on this blog as being available from New Reformation Press.

Well, now New Reformation Press, with the support of South Orange County Outreach and Faith Lutheran Church in Capistrano, California, is making this this presentation available FOR FREE.   You can download it as an mp3 file, as a written transcript, or as a video!

I’ve heard Dr. Rosenbladt give this message in person and it blew me away, so hard-hitting and effective and pastoral it is, giving such comfort to troubled souls and making so real the full implications of Christ’s Gospel.  You want an example of evangelism?  Here it is.  It is addressed specifically to the casualties of American Christianity, to those who have become burnt out, disillusioned, and despairing due to the pressures, expectations, and culture of so many of our churches.

Listening to this presentation would be an excellent Reformation day observance.  In both its proclamation of the all-sufficient work of Christ and in its critique of churches that neglect that message, it captures what the Reformation was–and is–all about.

Get it or view the video here:   New Reformation Press » The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church.

Happy birthday, C. F. W. Walther

Belated birthday wishes, that is.  Yesterday, October 25, would have been the 200th birthday of C. F. W. Walther, the pastor/theologian who led a small band of persecuted confessional Lutherans away from the arch-liberal state church in Germany to religious freedom in America, whereupon he founded the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

Rev. Joshua Scheer pays him a tribute with a quotation showing that not all that much has changed theologically since 1856:

“We are well aware that thereby we set our course against the stream of what is currently popular. People want to be entertained rather than instructed. They repeat Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” and deride as a fool anyone who dares to assert that he had found the truth and is proclaiming it. The current taste wants to nothing but “views,” nothing but thoughts “without prejudice,” expressed in attractive form. The man of today wants his age to be celebrated as the age of maturity and enlightenment, but past centuries to be smiled at as times of childish simplicity, darkness, and superstition. What was proclaimed as truth in a former day must now be relegated to a pigeonhole of history. Let us hear no more about people or about a church that always possessed the truth.

But if the current taste wants nothing to do with teaching, it is even more averse to defense. It thinks that it is all right to wage war for things that have reality, like land, money, honor, and the like, but fight for the truth? – folly! Who would and should fight for a phantom, for something that no one has and that no one can conquer? The spirit of the age believes that truth is the riddle of a sphinx that has not yet found an Oedipus. What truth there is on earth is parceled out, if not among the different chief religions, at least among the various parties in Christendom. All the various s0-called churches are regarded as different branches of one tree, and the varieties of teaching in these churches are simply different refractions of the one sun, merely different colors of the one rainbow. They are all sisters, and only lovelessness and spiritual pride can stoke the fires of discord among them.

But however prevalent these principles have become in our day and however commonly they are expressed sometimes in veiled, sometimes in unveiled form, we cannot subscribe to them. By a divine conviction we believe that there is a truth here on earth and that this truth is contained in God’s Word, that is, in the divinely inspired writings of the apostles and prophets. We also believe that these sacred writings have the purpose of imparting the light of this one complete truth to man sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, and that therefore these writings are so clear that a human being is able to recognize and draw this one complete truth from them.

From “Selected Writings of C.F.W. Walther: Editorials from Lehre und Wehre” translated by Herbert J.A. Bouman, pages 11-12 – available from CPH here.

via Steadfast Lutherans » Walther proves our arrogance wrong….

I wonder, though, how many of us today would consider our church and our theology so important that we would pull up our roots, leave our extended families, and abandon our property to go to the other side of the world to live in a wilderness and start all over, just to be free to practice our faith.


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