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Book Review-Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (1999)

 

 

 

Grenz, Stanley, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling. Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms.  Downers Grove, IL:  Intervarsity Press,  1999.

“This Pocket Dictionary attempts to provide a basic understanding of the three hundred or so significant words and concepts you are most likely to encounter in the theological books and articles you are reading” (p5).   This work has met this attempt.  It is a very “basic understanding” of various words encountered in various theological works or shorter or longer kind.  Though by no means exhaustive, either in the number of terms defined or in the definitions themselves, this work can be helpful to those who wish to have a general meaning of this or that term.

As a Pocket Dictionary, this brief work is an introduction to theological terms and their meanings.  For more in-depth study, it is quite necessary to research further.  It can indeed be profitable as a prelude to continued reading, but its usefulness is limited.  On the back cover, the claim is made that the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms “is the perfect companion to your theological studies.”     Though I would not say of that it is “the perfect companion,” I would say that it is “helpful.”

The books “broadly evangelical, Protestant perspective is clearly evident” and I would say more than from “time to time” (p5).  Such a perspective doesn’t diminish at all its value, but it does suggest reading with a critical eye.

I found this Pocket Dictionary to be a quite accessible reminder of the numerous words used in the area of theology and philosophy and to what they referred, albeit in a very cursory manner.  The writer’s intention was not to offer an exhaustive tome of theological vocabulary, and this is why I found it beneficial.  Its brevity I also found appealing.

Having read it, I seek further engagement with theological works and clearer understanding of the same.  The book has flamed the spark to continue the study of theology and Holy Scripture in answer to life’s most fundamental and crucial questions.

 ———————————————————————————

 On a concluding note, Intervarsity Press offers a few other works with the prefatory title, Pocket Dictionary of…, including Church History, Denominationalism, and Biblical Studies.  In a similar format, these works also serve as “companions” for their respective areas.

 

 

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Do we know our theology?

Recently, I came across the following statement, “We in the LCMS, frankly, were always taught it’s ‘all about theology,’ and theology is one of the bases which hold us together, for sure.  But most of us know our theology inside/out.  We are ‘experts’ in that area!  But what can often be improved in the LCMS is ‘relationships.’”

The writer of such words was commenting about a past LFL National Conference held in Dallas earlier this year.  Though it is certainly true that we in the LCMS can always seek to improve with concern to ‘relationships’ (Love towards neighbor, 2nd table of the Law, Commandments 4-10), I would beg to differ with the belief that “most of us know our theology inside/out.” (Love towards God, 1st Table of the Law, Commandments 1-3)

If knowing means simply to use certain words and say that one understands the theology (generally), I would partially agree.  Many in the LCMS are indeed able to use LCMS theological words and phrases.  Some have even coined the phrase, “Christianese.”  You might even be able to speak of “Lutheranese” as well.

We can talk the talk.  Even nominal Lutherans “know” their theology.  I was recently told of a “Lutheran” who knew her catechism “inside and out,” with the ability to recite the various parts, yet rarely attended church, has not had her out of wedlock baby baptized, and has not repented of her sins.  If this is “knowing” our theology inside/out, then this is not knowing.

Nor is it “knowing” the theology when pastors confuse Law and Gospel in their preaching; when laypeople fail to hear the Word preached by the pastor because they do not like how he preaches or because of how he says.  It is not knowing theology when we hear the bitterness of the Law and seek to avoid and excuse ourselves from confessing our sins and seeking the Good News of the sweet Gospel; when we give lip service to the Christian faith and judge others, yet fail to see the plank in our own eye (Matthew 7:1-5); when we put our own desires and opinions, feelings and experiences, above God and His Word.  When we seek, not what God says, but what would make us feel better about ourselves, our church, our whatever, this is not truly knowing our theology.

If we in the LCMS truly knew our theology, there would be unceasing repentance, bold confession of Jesus Christ, unwavering confidence of God’s mercy, and fixation on only the true doctrine for faith and life.  The life would then truly follow.

Where there is the assumption that we know our theology “inside/out,” there is nothing but danger of losing that which is true, even losing Christ.

In the past, and even today (i.e. Rick Warren), there is the declaration, “Deeds, not Creeds,” as if deeds (what we do, our action) supersede creeds (the faith).  Such emphasis endangers the true doctrine, for it places the foundation on man, not on God and His Word (upon which the Christian faith is founded and based).

Such presumption that “We in the LCMS know our theology inside/out” and “are ‘experts’ in that area” implies that now we can move on to “other things,” (like relationships), as if we have mastered the teachings of our faith.

However much we “know” of our theology, we will never outgrow the need for doctrine to continually be at the forefront of all that we do, for the doctrine of which we speak is not man’s, but God’s.  Of this we must be vigilant, otherwise, the temptation to complacency will soon overtake us, as it has already for so many in our beloved church body, for many call themselves members of LCMS and LCMS congregations (even pastors), even using the theological words, but grievously are not.  They honor God with their lips, but their hearts (and their theology) are far from the Lord (Matthew 15:8).

From the preface of Luther’s Large Catechism

(para. 5-13)

5 Besides, a shameful and insidious plague of security and boredom has overtaken us. Many regard the Catechism as a simple, silly teaching which they can absorb and master at one reading. After reading it once they toss the book into a corner as if they are ashamed to read it again.  6 Indeed, even among the nobility there are some louts and skinflints who declare that we can do without pastors and preachers from now on because they have everything in books and can learn it all by ourselves. So they blithely let parishes fall into decay, and brazenly allow both pastors and preachers to suffer distress and hunger. This is what one can expect of crazy Germans. We Germans have such disgraceful people among us and must put up with them.

7 As for myself, let me say that I, too, am a doctor and a preacher — yes, and as learned and experienced as any of those who act so high and mighty. Yet I do as a child who is being taught the Catechism. Every morning, and whenever else I have time, I read and recite word for word the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Psalms, etc. 8 I must still read and study the Catechism daily, yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and I do it gladly. These dainty, fastidious fellows would like quickly, with one reading, to become doctors above all doctors, to know all there is to be known. Well, this, too, is a sure sign that they despise both their office and the people’s souls, yes, even God and his Word. They need not fear a fall, for they have already fallen all too horribly. What they need is to become children and begin learning their ABC’s, which they think they have outgrown long ago.

9 Therefore, I beg these lazy-bellies and presumptuous saints, for God’s sake, to get it into their heads that they are not really and truly such learned and great doctors as they think. I implore them not to imagine that they have learned these parts of the Catechism perfectly, or at least sufficiently, even though they think they know them ever so well. Even if their knowledge of Catechism were perfect (though that is impossible in this life), yet it is highly profitable and fruitful daily to read it and make it the subject of meditation and conversation. In such reading, conversation, and meditation the Holy Spirit is present and bestows ever new and greater light and fervor, so that day by day we relish and appreciate the Catechism more greatly. This is according to Christ’s promise in Matt. 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

10 Nothing is so effectual against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts as to occupy oneself with the Word of God, talk about it, and meditate on it. Psalm 1 calls those blessed who “meditate on God’s law day and night.”6 You will never offer up any incense or other savor more potent against the devil than to occupy yourself with God’s commandments and words and to speak, sing, and meditate on them. This, indeed, is the true holy water, the sign which routs the devil and puts him to flight.7

11 For this reason alone you should eagerly read, recite, ponder, and practice the Catechism, even if the only blessing and benefit you obtain from it is to rout the devil and evil thoughts. For he cannot bear to hear God’s Word. God’s Word is not like some empty tale, such as the one about Dietrich of Bern,8 but as St. Paul says in Rom. 1:16, it is “the power of God,” indeed, the power of God which burns the devil and gives us immeasurable strength, comfort, and help.

12 Why should I waste words? Time and paper would fail me if I were to recount all the blessings that flow from God’s Word. The devil is called the master of a thousand arts. What, then, shall we call God’s Word, which routs and destroys this master of a thousand arts with all his wiles and might? It must, indeed, be master of more than a hundred thousand arts. 13 Shall we frivolously despise this might, blessing, power, and fruit — especially we who would be pastors and preachers? If so, we deserve not only to be refused food but also to be chased out by dogs and pelted with dung. Not only do we need God’s Word daily as we need our daily bread; we also must use it daily against the daily, incessant attacks and ambushes of the devil with his thousand arts.

Are all Lutherans the same?

 

 

No.  Not all Lutherans are the same for not all Lutherans teach or practice according to what God says in His Holy Word, the Bible.

The three largest Lutheran Church bodies in North America are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA, www.elca.org), the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS, www.lcms.org), and the Wisconsin Evangelical Synod (WELS, www.wels.net).  Visit their respective Question/Answer pages and you will find a great deal of difference between ELCA and the other two.

ELCA fundamentally has a different understanding of the Gospel, Holy Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, and the Sacraments than do the others.  If the definitions or explanations given by ELCA sound similar, it is only because they use similar words, but with entirely different meanings (meanings and usage which are foreign to Holy Scripture).  In practice, these differences clearly show themselves (i.e. the ordination of unrepentant homosexuals and of women, contrary to the Lord’s mandate; the toleration and acceptance of behavior contrary to God’s will; fellowship with “Christian” church bodies that teach doctrines contrary to God’s Word [open communion];  worship nonChristians [i.e. Jews, muslims, etc.], and not least of all, preaching which is devoid of the vicarious satisfaction of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life through faith in Jesus [the preaching that unrepentant (nonbelieving) sinners are saved is ever increasing].

By far, the doctrine and practices of the ELCA are quite distinct from LCMS and WELS.  However, between the latter two, noticeable differences do exist.

LCMS permits women to vote in congregational assemblies.  WELS does not.  LCMS permits its young people (and even encourages in some cases) to join boy/girl scouts.  WELS encourages it young people to participate in a WELS group somewhat similar to the scouts.  LCMS has military chaplains.  WELS has civilian chaplains, but no military chaplains.  Also, LCMS and the WELS have a different teaching of The Office of the Ministry and its relation to the priesthood of all believers (however, in practice, differences are not so readily recognizable due to the fact that the LCMS seminaries and colleges in the Concordia University system of the LCMS do not consistently teach similarly, nor are pastors and laypeople always so clear on the distinctives).

LCMS and WELS both accept the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) to be God’s Word (and without error) and the only “rule and norm for faith and life.”  Both also subscribe unconditionally to the Lutheran Confessions.  The ELCA does not accept either the Bible or the Lutherans Confessions as the LCMS and WELS do (if the ELCA does in word, then certainly not in practice).

Both LCMS and WELS also clearly teach Christ and Him crucified as the only means of salvation (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 4:5).  The ELCA is not clear on the genuine Gospel of Jesus Christ and fails to distinguish between what is sin before God and what is not.

There will be exceptions to the above comparisons.  ELCA pastors and congregations who seek to be more faithful to the Bible than their church body as a whole do exist.  In the same way, LCMS and WELS pastors and congregations exist who do not teach and practice according Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions (i.e. using worship practices and innovations that are foreign to biblical doctrine).

Simply because someone says that they are a member of an ELCA, LCMS, WELS, or other Lutheran Congregation does not immediately mean that they are genuinely Lutheran.  Nor does the word Lutheran attached to the name of a church body immediately indicate that the church body is genuinely Lutheran.  Only by discerning according to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions is one able to make such a judgment.

The Church’s Confidence

17 But “he who glories, let him glory in the LORD.”  18 For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.

2 Corinthians 10:17-18

These words of our Lord through St. Paul the Apostle are a stark contrast to the ways of the world.  St. Paul writes similar things in his first letter to the Christians in Corinth.  Likely referencing Jeremiah 9,[1] he writes the same thing, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31).

That word “glories” could be translated with the similar word “boasts,” and it is, in various places in the New Testament.  Sometimes the Greek word is translated with the verb “glory” and sometimes not.[2]  It would be worth looking into see if a consistency exists.

If we translate the verse above with “boasts,” the contrast between the way of the God and the way of the world perhaps becomes more clear.

The way of the world is to draw attention to one’s successes, strengths, abilities.  Yet the way of the Lord is to draw one’s attention to the paradox, the reality behind what is seen.

For example, Paul in 1 Corinthians bears this out, where he writes of God’s work in that which is contrary to human reason,:

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” 20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are…(1 Corinthians 1:18-28).

God works differently than the world does.  Where the world praises success, God chastises.  Where man exalts himself, God humbles (Luke 14:11).

These things the Christian might recognize more outside the church than inside it.  Yet human pride, arrogance, and boastfulness stand ready and waiting at the door to make entrance, if not already having an abode.

A phrase that I have seen on a sign for a baptist church reads, “Maximizing, magnifying, multiplying.”  But one might wonder who the actor is!  If it’s God, then why advance what God already knows, as if He needs our recognition.  To remind ourselves that it is God doing these things?  I think not.

On the other hand, and more likely, such phraseology would seem to try to indicate that a church with such a sign is doing these things.  However, if this is the case, an honest question is simply, “Why?”  What is the purpose of such a phrase except to try to give an appearance of activity in the eyes of the world?  And to what end, to say that “the church is doing something?”  Why need it if it actually is?

Should the church ever need to defend her activity before the world, or before one another if she is being faithful to the Lord and preaching the truth?  Should the church ever need to tout its activities to demonstrate its “doingness when it’s not the world’s approval that counts, but God’s?”   Does the church now thrive on (or need) the praise of men?

Should the church seek to please men and the world, she ceases to be a servant of Christ.  Should the Christian pride his or her own activity, humbling is sure to come.

The church finds her confidence in her Lord and Head—not in what she is doing, how many people she reaches, or how many lives are changed as a result of her activity.  She rests her joy in her Lord who bought her, who purchased her with His own blood (Acts 20:28).  What she is to be doing is only what her Lord has given her to do (i.e. Matthew 28).  As she does this, she can only say, “I have only done what was commanded of me” (Luke 17:10).

Should the church find herself doing other than what the Lord has given her to do, and boasting in her own activities and not God’s, then she ceases to be the Lord’s church.  Thus will the bride of Christ and the body of Christ seek to please Him, boast in His grace, and in genuine humility, draw all attention to Christ seek commendation, not from the world, but from God.

It’s not he who commends himself who is approved, but whom the Lord commends.


[1] Jeremiah 9:23-24: 23 Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor let the rich man glory in his riches; 24 But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the LORD.

[2] At least in the New King James Version.

Music & Theology-Jewel’s “Intuition”

Reading the words of a song, even analyzing it for its content, is a good thing to do.  However, it might be a heavy dose of reality, a wake up call of sorts.  Many a popular song has moving melodies, but the words greatly lack genuine substance, let alone the truth, and often contain many a falsehood.

 

Take for example Jewel’s, “Intuition” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rraYK1QgMn0).  I like the melody, though I might here be illiterate when it comes to ‘good’ music in general.  I’m of the populists in this area.

But when it comes to theology, this is a different story.  I admit that I often gloss over the words of the songs that I listen to on the radio.  The music often drowns them out.  But I have to give this kind of practice of ‘not listening’ second thought.  Taking the words of songs for granted and even singing along with them may be more telling than not.

In “Intuition” by Jewel, she sings in part:

“…Follow your heart

Your intuition

It will lead you in the right direction

Let go of your mind

Your intuition is easy to find

Just follow your heart”

Granted, this is a ‘love’ song…but following your heart is a dangerous thing.  In reality, your heart does not “lead you in the right direction.”

Jesus says, for example, “Those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man…” (Matthew 15:18-20).

From these words alone, we have reason not to follow our hearts, but the Word of God, and the Word alone.  “The Holy Scriptures…are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

Even when it comes to love, the Word of the Lord is not deficient.  Led by our sinful hearts, we go by what we want in the moment and not by what God says.  It’s not always genuine love that we seek, but gratification.

We are to keep watch over our hearts, that our sinful desires not come to fruition, as St. Paul writes, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).

And in another place he says, “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).

Note also these words from St. James, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:13-18).

Rather than “follow your heart,” follow what the Lord says.  Hear the preached Word.  Deny yourself.  And hold fast to Christ.

Evolution and the Christian Faith

Believing the theory of evolution, as taught by most science books, really, is the denial of God’s inspired Word. Believing evolution is to say that God’s Word, the Bible, is not God’s Word, nor is it true.

ATP.AboutEvolution.pdf

The Spirituality of the Cross–A study of Lutheran Spirituality

The Spirituality of the Cross–Study.pdf

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