Bonhoeffer on Christmas

Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed for plotting against Hitler, is in vogue today.  Much of what people are so excited about in his writings is simply Lutheran spirituality.  Michael Gerson writes a fine column about Bonhoeffer’s reflections from a Nazi prison on Christmas.  What Bonhoeffer is saying–the inversions, the paradoxes, the repudiation of power (of great interest in a postmodern apologetic)–is an application to Christmas of Luther’s theology of the Cross. [Read more…]

Santa Claus, Confessor

St. Nicholas was the bishop of Myra back in the 4th century.  He has become one of the most popular saints among Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, the patron saint of sailors, children, prisoners, pawnbrokers, to name just a few.  He also mutated into the emblem of Christmas, Santa Claus.  (Say “Saint Nicholas” real fast.)

But what is the connection between the bishop of Myra and Christmas?  Stories about the saint supplying poor women’s dowries by putting money in stockings drying by the fire give us an explanation of the custom of hanging stockings for Santa to fill, but they don’t have a connection to Christmas, as such.

I think the connection is that the bishop was reportedly a member of the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., which affirmed the deity of Jesus Christ and authored the Nicene Creed.  A number of years ago, I wrote a piece for World Magazine about the role that St. Nicholas reportedly played at the Council of Nicaea, including slapping the heretic Arius who insisted that Jesus Christ was merely human and not divine.

The St. Nicholas Center has posted that column on its website, along with other supporting material and everything else you might like to know about St. Nicholas, including a forensic reconstruction of what he looked like. I also need to report that the St. Nicholas center has also posted the song parodies written by you Cranach commenters when we discussed my World column here.  Those songs, playing on the image of Santa Claus slapping heretics, were quite creative and funny.

After the jump is a fuller account of St. Nicholas at Nicaea, which I will then discuss in terms of our need to recast Santa Claus as a Confessor of the church. [Read more…]

Lutheran vs. other traditions’ Christmas songs

The latest Christmas offering from Hans Fiene at Lutheran Satire:

[Read more…]

The claim that Muslims and Christians worship the same God

We Missouri Synod Lutherans went through this controversy some years ago. . . .A professor at Wheaton College, a leading evangelical institution where I was once visiting professor, was suspended for claiming that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.  (The media reports say that it was for wearing the hijab, the Islamic head-covering for women, but the suspension was not for a fashion statement.) [Read more…]

More on the Pope’s openness to communion with Lutherans

As we blogged about, Pope Francis recently visited a Lutheran church in Rome, where, in answer to a question, he expressed openness to allowing Roman Catholics and Lutherans to commune together.  An article on the subject and an interview with the pastor of the Roman Lutheran congregation have been published in the National Catholic Register.  The interview is excerpted here after the jump.

We conservative Lutherans agree with conservative Catholics in being opposed to any kind of intercommunion between the churches.  We both agree that communion requires full doctrinal agreement.  The pastor here is of the Lutheran World Fellowship/ELCA variety, which believes otherwise and that ecumenical unity trumps just about every other consideration.

But I found two things interesting in this discussion.  First, the interviewer does not have a clue about what Lutherans believe about Holy Communion.  He uses “the Real Presence” to describe the Catholic view, assuming that Lutherans don’t believe in that, even though the term is a Lutheran concept!

More significantly, though, the Pope is acknowledging that Lutherans have the true Body and Blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, that the Lutheran sacrament is valid.  I don’t know that a pope has ever acknowledged that before.  And if the Sacrament is valid, that means the Lutheran pastoral office is valid, which, as the pastor says, has long been a key issue. [Read more…]

What are the top books that have influenced YOU?

In the course of the discussion over Christian History’s list of the Top 25 most influential spiritual classics,  it was suggested that we talk about what spiritual classics have been influential to us, personally.  That’s a great idea.  (Thanks, Paul.)  Let’s make it a little easier.  You don’t have to list 25.  The books don’t have to be “spiritual classics,” as such.  Our focus is on faith and theology, but I’m also curious about other kinds of influences.  So I’d also like to hear from those of you for whom politics or philosophy or ideology has been more formative than faith and theology.  What are the top books that have been the most influential in your life?