What does a Concordia Seminary professor do over the summer?
Today is the first day of class in the 178th academic year of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Since this marks the official end of summer for our campus community, a few professors offered up what they were reading and thinking about this summer…when they weren’t teaching summer classes, leading workshops, speaking at pastors’ conferences, etc, etc, etc.
I spent the first part of the summer thinking about and reading about Christology—because I was teaching a course in Christology at Mekane Yesus Seminary in Addis. The rest of my summer has been occupied with thoughts and readings on the early church and liturgy (in preparation for an upcoming Fall paper), reading Germanus of Constantinople’s On the Divine Liturgy along with Cyril of Jerusalem’s Procatechesis and his Mystagogical Lectures. They did some very deep thinking about the significance of the various parts of the liturgy especially in relation to the sacraments—which makes me wonder if there is any help they might provide as the church engages in its worship wars today. I also continue to look into and write articles on early African Christianity for an encyclopedia project I’m writing. The rest of my spare time has been developing coping strategies for dealing with the summer heat in St. Louis and looking forward to the next Jason Bourne movie release.
I have been working my way through a fantastic monograph (Humboldt-Uni Habilitationsschrift; Wendebourg, Beutler, Lohmann) by Andreas Stegmann on Luther’s conception of the Christian life—Stegmann prefers this designation to “ethics” for both historical and theological reasons. He traces the development of Luther’s understanding of it from childhood all the way through to the 1520’s writings. The work covers the Reformational turn in Luther’s thought from the perspective of Christian living, much along the lines of the Bizer-Bayer-promissio interpretation of it (which Stegmann largely affirms), but with many independent judgments. (Sorry, we have to wait until 2018 to celebrate the Reformation!) The engagement with both the primary and secondary literature is remarkable. How much and in what way is the humilitias theology of the Dictata super Psalterium and the Romans lectures carried over into Luther’s reformational thought? I am waiting to see what Stegmann does with it all.
For a break, I put on my Bavarian baseball cap (I actually have one), and read Ludwig Thoma, an Ur-Bayer if there ever was one. Born in Oberammergau, 1867. Down-to-earth, clear observations about the life and characters of Bavarian villages and, before all else, the forest reserve near Tirol, where his father was state forester (the situation and the outlaws were much like the Wild West). I love him! And Bavaria, too!
To balance it out, I have been memorizing Heinrich Heine’s poem “Belsatzar,” which (I hope you will forgive me) somehow seems appropriate during this political season. I commend it.
Due to the essays that I have been writing I have been thinking about the remarkable conjunction between the universality of the Gospel and the particularity of God’s dealings with the Jewish people that appears in Paul’s letters, especially Romans. This conjunction has long been a problem for Christian theology. In the 19th century, it became a burning issue in biblical studies, because of the historical turn that theology had taken. F. C. Baur attempts his own resolution of the problem in a well-known essay on the purpose of Romans. In the end, however, universalism wins out. Judaism and paganism find their resolution in Christianity ideally conceived. I wonder if the current attraction to story-lines (especially that of N. T. Wright) does not lead to the same abstract, and unjustified, result. The problem, as I see it, is that we would like to resolve the question in a formula or higher idea, when in fact there is no resolution, nor do we need one. Jew and Gentile find their way to one another only through the One who remains Son of David according to the flesh and yet who has been designated as Son of God by the Spirit through the resurrection from among the dead. This meeting of the particular and universal has broad implications for theology and ethics—or Christian living—I think.
As to the question, “What are you thinking about?” I recommend this video:
In addition to expected authors like James K.A. Smith, William Cavanaugh, Daniel Bell, and John Howard Yoder, my summer reading list also included a book by Henry Hazlitt. I doubt that his name would appear on many reading lists in any theology department or seminary. But I think that he likely should—at least somewhere. In 1946, Hazlitt wrote a book titled, Economics in One Lesson. Keenly aware of my own deficiencies whenever it came to any sort of discussion about macro-economics, I followed a trusted recommendation and picked up a reprint edition of the text. It was a delight to read, and surprised me often. Never having taken any sort of course on economics, I didn’t know what to expect from Hazlitt. What he delivered was a bracing and engaging review of the fundamental rules that undergird and rule all economic reality. Interspersed throughout the text was a stinging critique of ideas and policies that defy those rules, and yet often find loud and widespread support in the governments of the world—especially America. Essentially, Hazlitt demonstrates that every rule that applies to your own household economic life applies with equal validity to the economies of nations. In other words, the sort of basic common sense ideas that most of us think should dictate government policy and action are exactly right. The norming truths and realities that guide all economic activity are not nearly as complicated as we are often led to believe. Layers of bureaucracy and astronomically immense budgets and economies don’t alter the basic rules about money.
I finished the book with a much better understanding of why what is true is true, and with a renewed appreciation for the necessity and rarity of sound economic policy at the national and international level. Hazlitt likes to remind the reader that there is a strong tendency among policy makers to focus on the obvious need of group A by enlisting the action or more likely contribution of group B, but all the while ignoring the impact on the “unseen group C.” Hazlitt is right, of course. But, Hazlitt and his truths can still be too easily obscured or dismissed by those bent on defying economic truths in the name of social engineering and reconstructive “progress.” Perhaps of greatest relevance for readers prone to be critical of the “inherent evils” of capitalism, myself included, Hazlitt makes a remarkable case for the wisdom of rewarding good behavior and the benefits that come to all when truth and not sentiment carries the day. That is to say, perhaps we should not so quickly dismiss the idea that the best way to help the downtrodden and disadvantaged is not with another scheme of redistribution of wealth, but by equipping them to know and follow the basic economic truths that are always in force. No one ever escapes the reach of natural law, not even the natural law that rules over the economy. Hazlitt is a worthy read for anyone interested in bringing God’s truth to people.
I am hard at work on volume two of my Mark commentary for the Concordia Commentary series, but right now we are on an Alaska cruise. But I’m still working! I’ve got my Josephus Antiquities of the Jews with me (see below)!