Monday, December 25, 2017

New Book Presents Evidence Christmas Story of Visit by Wise Men Was ‘Historically True’

For many years, skeptical scholars have tended to dismiss the Christmas story of the “wise men from the East” as pious legend.  Matthew’s gospel offers few details, but imaginative Christians filled out the story early on, giving us the three kings guided by a magical star who join the adoring shepherds in every Christmas crèche.

For many scholars, then, there is no reason to take the gospel story seriously.  But are they right?  Are the wise men no more than a poetic fancy?

In an impressive feat of detective work, Dwight Longenecker makes a powerful case that the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem really happened.  Piecing together the evidence from biblical studies, history, archeology, and astronomy, he goes further, uncovering where they came from, why they came, and what might have happened to them after eluding the murderous King Herod.

In the process, he provides a new and fascinating view of the time and place in which Jesus Christ chose to enter the world.

The evidence is clear and compelling.  According to Longenecker's research, the mysterious Magi from the East were astrologers and counselors from the court of the Nabatean king at Petra, where the Hebrew messianic prophecies were well known.  The “star” that inspired their journey was a particular planetary alignment―confirmed by computer models―that in the astrological lore of the time portended the birth of a Jewish king.

The visitors whose arrival troubled Herod “and all Jerusalem with him” may not have been the turbaned oriental kings of the Christmas carol, but they were real; and by demonstrating that the wise men were no fairy tale, Mystery of the Magi demands a new level of respect for the historical claims of the gospel.

Purchase Mystery of the Magi on Amazon.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Apocalypse Now?

You would’ve thought they were preparing for the apocalypse.

Former Obama White House Ethics Chief, Walter Shaub, tweeted that he was “stocking up” on gear to “take the streets.”  In his words, it was supposed to be a “defining moment for the Republic.”

Actor-turned-activist George Takei tweeted that Americans should “shut the country down.”

Cenk Uygur, the founder and CEO of far-left online news show “The Young Turks” prophesied that this should be an “uprising like we’ve never seen in America.”

Former Attorney General Eric Holder drew what he called an “absolute red line.”

Their message was clear: if President Trump fires special counsel Robert Mueller, the American people should act as if this country's 241-year-old experiment in democracy has come to an end.

But unfortunately for them, when asked about the firing on Sunday night, the president shut down all of the rumors (and all of their plans) by simply declaring, “no, I’m not.”  In an instant, he vanquished all the left’s dreams of sparking a “Tahrir Square like uprising” and made their hysterics over the potential firing appear foolish.

Make no mistake.  The left will soon find another issue (or rumor of an issue) to incense their base and stir up outrage in our country.  Eventually, they’ll draw a new red line and then pray that the president crosses it.  Their dream of widespread panic isn’t going away—it’s just deferred for a little while.

The real problem is this:

First, regardless of their empty assurances that their uprising will be peaceful—their rhetoric says otherwise.  They pay lip service to holding a peaceful protest while using inflammatory language like “stock up on gear” and “shut down the country.”  But if there is anything that “Antifa” has taught the United States, it’s that there are plenty members of the far-left with no intentions of keeping the peace.

You can’t spew alarmist, end-of-the-world rhetoric and then expect your base to respond with careful, dignified street protests.  It doesn’t work that way.  Leaders have a unique duty to dial down their followers’ radical impulses.  Instead, it seems that some culture leaders prefer to do exactly the opposite.

Second, the liberals’ selective outrage is appalling., the organization behind the protests, made their motto “nobody is above the law.”  Ostensibly, that’s an idea that both sides of the aisle could support.  Patriotic Americans would agree that all citizens are equal under the law.  But to many who hold progressive political views, that idea only applies to one end of the political spectrum.

These same activists made no calls for mass protests after former FBI Director James Comey cleared Hillary Clinton of criminal charges a year ago.  There was no indignation from these folks after it came to light that the FBI altered the language in Comey’s statement in Clinton's favor.  They have no outrage about a so-called "independent" prosecutor who employs team members who worked for the Clinton campaign and FBI agents whose e-mails reveal they had a plan to take down candidate Trump in case he was elected.  That’s why it’s difficult to believe that these activists are genuinely motivated to uphold the rule of law, and not just their own political ideologies.

One thing is true: the President’s words may have temporarily halted what the left saw as a “defining moment for the republic.”  But they will find new opportunities.  New pots to stir.  And new calls for chaos.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Bigoted Progressive Church of Sweden Refuses To Call God By His Preferred Gender Pronouns

Last week, the Babylon Bee (a satirical website) ran an article entitled, "Bigoted Progressive Christian Refuses To Call God By His Preferred Pronouns."  Well, life didn't waste any time imitating art, with this (real) news from the Church of Sweden: "Priests to be banned from calling God 'he' or 'the Lord' in bid to be gender neutral."

The Bible tells us that God has a name (YHWH).  But the Jews had such reverence for God's name that they refused to use it, though they had other names for God: Adonai, El Shaddai, etc. that reflected his Personhood.  Jesus taught his followers to call God "Father."  And Jesus couldn't call God "Mother" because he had a mother, and she wasn't God.  The YHWH of the Old Testament was/is Jesus' Father; and, the precious truth of the Gospel and the New Testament is that, if we are in Christ, his Father becomes our Father.

But more recently, especially in the West, we simply refer to God as "God."  And when you do that, you can invest that rather ambiguous name with any content (or gender) of your choosing.  You can create a god to fit your liking or your perceived needs.  But that is the very essence of idolatry.  (Side note: The god of philosophy is not the Christian God.)

But in order for God to be God--in fact, and not merely in our imagination, he has to have an objective existence and identity.  (The late Francis Schaeffer had that right: the two most essential things a person must know about God are summed up in two of Schaeffer's books: The God Who is There; and He is There and He Is Not Silent.) 

God has an objectively real identity; and in order for us to know God, he has to have revealed himself to us, which he has done in the words of the Bible.  The Bible is God's Word written, just as Jesus of Nazareth is the Word of God Incarnate.  So, either we stick to the imagery and identity of God as he has revealed himself in the Bible and in the Person of Jesus Christ, or else we are just making it all up.  And this, apparently, is what the Church of Sweden and other theological liberals in our day want to do.

From The Mirror (UK) [with my comments added in bold type and brackets]:
The Church of Sweden, which is headed by a woman, made the decision during an eight-day meeting but not everyone is happy with the new rules.

Church clergy have been told to refer to God using gender-neutral language, dropping masculine words such as He and Lord.

The order came after more than 250 members of The Church of Sweden, which is a Evangelical Lutheran church, met to discuss ways of updating a 31-year-old handbook that sets out how services should be conducted.  [Just wait until the Episcopal Church (USA) comes out wth its new Prayer Book, possibly as early as next year's General Convention.]

The church is headed by a woman, Archbishop Antje Jackelen, who told Sweden’s TT news agency the church had been discussing using more inclusive language since its 1986 conference. [Because if you have been talking about it for a long time, that makes it okay.]

She said: “Theologically, for instance, we know that God is beyond our gender determinations, God is not human.”  [God is not human, but God is a Person.  And personhood requires gender, which is why God chose to reveal himself to us in personal language and, ultimately, in the Person of Jesus Christ.  ("He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).]

But not everyone is happy with the decision.

Christer Pahlmblad, an associate theology professor with Sweden’s Lund University, told Danish newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad the move was “undermining the doctrine of the Trinity and the community with the other Christian churches.”

He added: “It really isn’t smart if the Church of Sweden becomes known as a church that does not respect the common theology heritage.”  [And, more importantly, when you face God at the Last Day, he isn't going to be very happy either.]

The meeting lasted eight days and the decision was one of many made by the church’s 251-member decision-making body.

The new rules will come into affect on May 20 next year, which is the Christian holiday of Pentecost.

The Church of Sweden is known for its liberal position on many issues, particularly homosexuality.

When Eva Brunne became Bishop of Stockholm in 2009, she was the first openly lesbian bishop in the world.

The church has 6.1 million baptised members out of a country of 10 million people. [Because it is a state church and they baptize everyone who doesn't say no; yet they still only get about 200,000 people in church on the average Sunday.]

A Church of England spokesman told The Mirror its clergy will continue to refer to God as male. [For now.]

He said: “The Church of England has always used masculine language when speaking about God, for example in the words of the Lord’s Prayer – ‘our Father, who art in Heaven’ – and in referring to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and continues to do so."

However, the spokesman said the C of E uses “inclusive” language when referring to people and, earlier this month, published guidelines on helping children “explore the possibilities of who they might be", including their gender identity.  [This is how it begins.]

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

That Pesky Women's Ordination Issue

From its inception in 2009, the Anglican Church in North America has included individuals on both sides of the issue of the ordination of women to the priesthood.  Some observers, including those who did not wish the newly-formed entity well, predicted that the ACNA would eventually split over the issue.  Nevertheless, nearly nine years later, the ACNA remains as one Church, sometimes ignoring and sometimes bumping into what could rightly be called, "the elephant in the room."

Those who would like to go on ignoring the elephant will have a much harder time doing so now that the Bishop of Fort Worth, the Rt. Rev. Jack L. Iker, has declared that a state of "impaired communion" exists in the ACNA over the issue.  In his address to the Diocese of Fort Worth convention last weekend, Bishop Iker commented on the ACNA's current dilemma:
So where are we?  Most ACNA bishops and dioceses are opposed to women priests, but as it presently stands, the ACNA Constitution says each diocese can decide if it will ordain women priests or not.  We now need to work with other dioceses to amend the Constitution to remove this provision.  As you know, women bishops are not permitted in any diocese, and no bishop wants to change that prohibition.
Earlier in his address, Bishop Iker had observed:
...when Archbishop Robert Duncan appointed the Task Force [in 2012], he charged them with doing a study of the issue of women in holy orders, but instructed them not to come to a conclusion or to make any recommendation as to how to resolve the debate.  The report simply summarizes the arguments for and against.  This is in stark contrast to a similar study done by the Anglican Mission in America several years ago, known as the Rodgers Report, which concluded that women cannot be ordained bishops or priests, while leaving open the door to the possibility of women deacons.  Those of us who agreed to the formation of the ACNA in 2009 did so with the clear understanding that a serious theological study would be done and that a decision would be made at that time.
I made the observation at the time the Task Force was appointed that the composition of this group seemed to be designed to arrive at a stalemate and, consequently to preserve the status quo of dioceses each following their own chosen position.  To some extent, that design was understandable: the last thing this newly-formed alliance of orthodox Anglicans from a variety of backgrounds needed was to have a potentially fatal schism so early in its life.

The problem is that this status quo is only tenable as long as: (1) Dioceses go about their business and ignore what is going on in other dioceses in terms of ordination; and (2) Dioceses continue to exist on the basis of affinity, allowing congregations to affiliate with a diocese not based on their geographical location, but on allegiance to a particular bishop, a particular style of churchmanship, and a particular position on the issue of the ordination of women.  For instance, the parish where I am rector is in Colorado but has, since before the formation of the ACNA, belonged to the Diocese of Quincy, based in Illinois.  The Diocese of Quincy ordains women to the diaconate but not the priesthood and includes congregations from Florida to Hawaii and from Wisconsin to Texas.  (And let me say, parenthetically, it is a good and wonderful diocese.)

On the other hand, there is the Diocese of Pittsburgh, which also includes parishes outside its former geographical boundaries and has, since before the formation of the ACNA, described itself as a diocese that embraces both positions on the ordination of women.  I have argued for years that, strictly speaking, this is not accurate.  The Diocese of Pittsburgh is a diocese that has an ordination process and a bishop that ordains women to the priesthood.  It merely includes some congregations that disagree with that position and will continue to do so until those congregations come to accept the prevailing position of the Diocese.  Don't misunderstand me, the Diocese of Pittsburgh is an amicable diocese, but once the diocesan processes and the Bishop are oriented toward the ordination of women to the priesthood, the atmosphere of the diocese puts an irresistible, if unintentional, pressure on those congregations that do not accept women priests; and it really can't be described as a diocese that embraces both positions.

The ACNA's problem is this: How can a Church that is divided over the definition of what it is to be a priest consider itself to be in unity?  And, in particular, what does it mean for a woman who is considered to be a priest in one part of the Church, but whose ministry is not recognized in another?  Those of us who spent years in the Episcopal Church are used to things being messier than this, which is perhaps why we have been able to live with the dissonance for so long.  But for a Church seeking to be faithful to the teachings of Christ, the implications of this disunity for the Church as a whole and for the women who have been ordained are huge.

So what is the ACNA to do?  First, from one end to the other, in every congregation, the ACNA needs to commit itself to a season of prayer and seek God's will regarding this issue.  People need to set aside their preconceived notions, however firmly held, and simply seek God's will for the good of the Church.  I say this so that we do not end up praying for our position to be victorious or "praying against" each other.  We are committing ourselves to seek God's will and nothing else.  This will require extreme humility and self-denial.  It will be especially hard for women who have already been ordained to the priesthood and have perhaps spent a significant part of their lives in this ministry.  We need to recognize this fact and maintain the highest possible respect for our sisters in Christ as we work through this issue.

Second, the Anglican Church in North America needs to come to a uniform understanding of what it means to be a catholic church.  We aren't making up church as we go along.  We are heirs of the Church Jesus founded on the apostles; we are compelled to stand in and conform ourselves to that tradition.  We need to come to an authentic Anglican understanding of the use of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.

As I said in my essay, A Stool or a Tower, You Decide, I believe we need "to view Scripture, Tradition, and Reason as three ascending levels of a tower.  Scripture is the foundation.  Tradition rests on Scripture and is built upon it but cannot go where there is no foundation.  Reason rests on Scripture and Tradition and builds upon it but, again, cannot go where there is no supporting foundation."
Thus, Scripture provides the matter upon which our faith is based.  Tradition is the guide to our interpretation of Scripture.  It makes certain that our understanding of Scripture is not a matter of private interpretation but is, as in the canon laid down by Vincent of Lerins, in line with that which has been believed “everywhere, always, and by all”—the test of true catholicity.

Reason is the guide to our contemporary application of Scripture and Tradition.  This is a significant point: Reason is not an independent source of authority that is the arbiter of truth, it is the tool and the method by which we apply the truth (based in Scripture and interpreted by Tradition) to our contemporary experience.
Why is this important?  Because it is not the Church's business to make things up as we go along.  We are either the Church Jesus founded or we aren't.  As the 19th century Anglican theologian Charles Gore, by no means a conservative in matters of theology, pointed out:
First, let it be clear that the Church’s function is not to reveal truth.  The revelation given once for all to the Apostles cannot be either diminished or added to.  It is a faith “once for all delivered,” and the New Testament emphasizes the Church’s duty as simply that of “holding fast” and teaching what she has “received.”  The apostle St. Paul claims that his converts should repudiate even him—should treat him as anathema—if he were to teach anything else than what he taught at first.  It is thus of the very essence of the Christian revelation that, as originally given, it is final.  Whatever is new to Christian theology in substance, is by that very fact, proved not to be of the faith….
Gore then goes on to cite a number of patristic sources and then concludes:
It is not then a matter which needs proving, that novelty in revelation is equivalent to error, according to the fathers.  But this evident proposition leads to an important conclusion.  It follows that the authority of the Church is of a more secondary character than is sometimes supposed.  She is not a perpetual oracle of divine truth, an open organ of continuous revelation: she is not so much a “living voice” as a living witness to a “once-spoken voice.”
Gore made these comments in his book, Roman Catholic Claims (pp. 38-40) in which he argues that, in contrast with the Roman Catholic Church, which had departed from the faith and invented many dogmas, it is the Anglican Church that is truly biblical, apostolic, and catholic—believing that which the Church founded by Christ had believed from the beginning.

Third, the ACNA needs to undertake a new study of the ordination of women, with a task force of disinterested (not uninterested, but impartial) parties who, like the task force that undertook the study for the Anglican Mission in America in 2002, are prepared to look objectively at arguments from Scripture, Tradition, and Reason regarding the role of women in ministry.

Fourth, the ACNA needs to commit itself to live according to the results of this study.  And if, ultimately, that is not possible, then the ACNA needs to divide into two entities that remain under the Anglican umbrella, in much the same way as the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) and the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) live under the ACNA umbrella now.  Their bishops would meet in two separate colleges (as well as together as they see fit).  They would acknowledge that a state of impaired communion exists, as Bishop Iker has indicated; and perhaps this separation will compel them to seek the unity they have been unable to find thus far.

Finally, It is imperative that, if it comes to it, that the two entities remain in relationship with each other to the greatest extent possible.  A schism in the ACNA could be fatal for the burgeoning movement, with disastrous effects on orthodox Anglicanism around the globe.  There are some expressions within the ACNA that, without the influence of the whole, could forget what it is to be Anglican.  Then there are other expressions within the ACNA that could, left to their own, become just another continuing Anglican Church only using a newer Prayer Book.  It must not come to this.  Jesus expects better of us.  We are the Church that has Scripture, Tradition, and Reason as our guide.  We are the Church that has the Sacraments our Lord gave us.  We are the Body of Christ that has the Holy Spirit indwelling us and leading us.  We can and we must do better, for the glory of Christ's Name.

I offer these observations with fervent prayer for the welfare of orthodox Anglicanism and the unity of the Church for which Jesus prayed (John 17).

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Stool or a Tower? You Decide

The following is an article that I wrote in 2005 and was published in a number of places, but not on my own blog. I am publishing it here for the first time because I will refer to it in my next post.

The classic Anglican theologian to whom later Anglicans have looked in speaking of sources of authority in the Church is Richard Hooker.  Hooker listed the sources of authority as Scripture, tradition, and reason [not necessarily in that order, but that is a subject for another day].

Later writers have, by way of analogy, described these three sources as a “three-legged stool.”  This analogy has led some people to speculate (sometimes tongue-in-cheek) on the relative length of the three legs, and in so doing, to treat the sources as independent entities of differing value, or even to pit them against each other.  Thus, while I agree absolutely with Hooker on the three sources, I find the later analogy to be flawed and open to misinterpretation.  (The reference to Hooker’s sources as the “three-legged stool” is so ubiquitous in Anglican circles that even the analogy is often mistakenly attributed to Hooker himself.)

It would, I believe, be better to view Scripture, Tradition, and Reason as three ascending levels of a tower.  Scripture is the foundation.  Tradition rests on Scripture and is built upon it but cannot go where there is no foundation.  Reason rests on Scripture and Tradition and builds upon it but, again, cannot go where there is no supporting foundation.

Thus, Scripture provides the matter upon which our faith is based.  Tradition is the guide to our interpretation of Scripture.  It makes certain that our understanding of Scripture is not a matter of private interpretation but is, as in the canon laid down by Vincent of Lerins, in line with that which has been believed “everywhere, always, and by all”—the test of true catholicity.

Reason is the guide to our contemporary application of Scripture and Tradition.  This is a significant point: Reason is not an independent source of authority that is the arbiter of truth, it is the tool and the method by which we apply the truth (based in Scripture and interpreted by Tradition) to our contemporary experience.

The 19th century Anglican theologian Charles Gore points out:
First, let it be clear that the Church’s function is not to reveal truth.  The revelation given once for all to the Apostles cannot be either diminished or added to.  It is a faith “once for all delivered,” and the New Testament emphasizes the Church’s duty as simply that of “holding fast” and teaching what she has “received.”  The apostle St. Paul claims that his converts should repudiate even him—should treat him as anathema—if he were to teach anything else than what he taught at first.  It is thus of the very essence of the Christian revelation that, as originally given, it is final.  Whatever is new to Christian theology in substance, is by that very fact, proved not to be of the faith….
Gore then goes on to cite a number of patristic sources and then concludes:
It is not then a matter which needs proving, that novelty in revelation is equivalent to error, according to the fathers.  But this evident proposition leads to an important conclusion.  It follows that the authority of the Church is of a more secondary character than is sometimes supposed.  She is not a perpetual oracle of divine truth, an open organ of continuous revelation: she is not so much a “living voice” as a living witness to a “once-spoken voice.” (Roman Catholic Claims, pp. 38-40.)
Thus, I would have to take issue with John Wesley, who expanded Hooker’s sources of authority to include experience as a fourth source in what has become known as The Wesleyan Quadrilateral.  It must be noted that by “experience” Wesley means godly experience.  And it also must be noted that Hooker used the term “Reason” in the 16th-17th century sense of “Right Reason”—the critical application of the mind to a fixed set of data.  Neither Hooker nor Wesley used reason or experience in the contemporary sense of “what seems good to me.”  Nevertheless, the tendency of contemporary theology has been to use both these categories in highly subjective ways.

The contemporary Anglican theologian, John Macquarrie, goes beyond Wesley’s addition of experience to add “revelation”—the perception of God’s activity in nature (as distinct from Scripture)—as a fifth source of authority.  He then adds culture (as distinct from tradition) as a sixth source of authority.  Thus, increasingly in contemporary theology, we are seeing the pendulum swing very far in the direction of the subjective, as opposed to the objective reference to Scripture and Tradition.

The misapplication of reason in matters of theology may be the legacy of the modern period, just as the subjective misuse of experience and culture may be the legacy of the postmodern period in which we now find ourselves.  The task, then, for those who engage in the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel—and who would keep that proclamation true to the faith “once for all delivered” to the saints—is to help the Church rediscover the “living witness” of catholic tradition to the “once-spoken voice” of God’s Word.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Warning from History for Communist China

Prompted by this:
China Urges Rural Christians to Replace Jesus Images with Xi Jinping

Chinese officials and residents in a rural area of Jiangxi province have revealed a government plan to “melt the hard ice” in the hearts of Christians towards communism by denying them pivotal poverty relief packages if they do not replace images of Jesus in their households with photos of President Xi Jinping.

One official stated that the move was necessary because Christians are “ignorant” and need to be taught to worship the state, not God.

Read the rest.
Totalitarian governments are all the same.  If a country followed the Judeo-Christian tradition (as the US used to do more than it does now) you would have a society that honored their parents, balanced work and rest, and didn't murder, steal, lie, commit sexual immorality, engage in profanity, or covet their neighbors' possessions.  What could be wrong with that?

But then you have the kicker: "You shall have no other gods but me."  And totalitarian governments, whether they are communist, socialist, nazi, or fascist, all want to replace God in the minds and hearts of their people.  They can't be content with merely running a constitutionally limited government, they want to rule every aspect of their people's lives.

So every one of these societies goes up against the Judeo-Christian tradition and ultimately loses—whether it is the ancient Egyptians, the Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Alexander the Great's Greek Empire, the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union—all far more powerful than the Jews and Christians they persecuted—and all gone with the wind.

So it will be for Communist China also.  And the Democratic Party that took God out of their platform had better learn from history too.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Semper Reformanda!

From PJmedia, where there is more:

Anglicans Lead Martin Luther-Style 'Grassroots Protest' Against 'Progressive Christianity'

On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, anonymous evangelical Anglicans posted a 95 Theses-style complaint on the doors of five British cathedrals. The first complaints went up on the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's posting of the 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany, and the documents pinned to the doors referenced Luther in calling for the Church of England to return to following the Bible.

"500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses to a church door in Germany," one document reads. "He did it because the church had become corrupt. Today a Declaration is being fixed to a cathedral door here in England because the Established Church in our land is becoming corrupt."

"The Church of England claims it has not changed its doctrine but its practice on the ground has already changed: clergy are adopting lifestyles which are not biblical and teaching that such lifestyles are holy in the sight of God," the document explained. "This revisionism is causing a crisis not only in Southwark Diocese but across the whole of the Church of England."

The document issued a very hefty charge. "When the church redefines sin and eliminates repentance, it can no longer offer the good news of eternal salvation from sin in Jesus; the church no longer remains distinctly Christian; it is no longer salt and light in the world," the declaration read.

This document ended with a clear Reformation-style challenge. "Where leaders refuse to repent and submit themselves to the Word of God, the Lord raises up new leadership for His church and new structures: just as He did through Martin Luther 500 years ago."

Read the rest.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Einstein note on modest living sells for $1.56 million

[Note: I have a Book that gives me essentially the same advice and a lot more, written by Someone more intelligent than Einstein, and it didn't cost me $1.56 million, even though it is worth a lot more.  Any guesses?]

Jerusalem - October 24 - A note that Albert Einstein gave to a courier in Tokyo briefly describing his theory on happy living sold at auction in Jerusalem on Tuesday for $1.56 million (1.33 million euros), the auction house said.

The winning bid for the note far exceeded the pre-auction estimate of between $5,000 and $8,000, according to the website of Winner's auction house.

"It was an all-time record for an auction of a document in Israel," Winner's spokesman Meni Chadad told AFP.

The buyer was a European who wished to remain anonymous, he said.

The note, on Imperial Hotel Tokyo stationery, says in German that "a quiet and modest life brings more joy than a pursuit of success bound with constant unrest."

Bidding, in person, online and by phone, started at $2,000. A flurry of offers pushed the price rapidly up for about 20 minutes until the final two potential buyers bid against each other by phone.

Applause broke out in the room when the sale was announced.

"I am really happy that there are people out there who are still interested in science and history and timeless deliveries in a world which is developing so fast," the seller told AFP on condition of anonymity after the sale.

A second Einstein note written at the same time that simply reads "where there's a will, there's a way" sold for $240,000, Winner's said.

The German-born physicist, most famous for his theory of relativity, was on a lecture tour in Japan when he handwrote the autographed notes, previously unknown to researchers, in 1922.

He had recently been informed that he was to receive the Nobel Prize for physics, and his fame outside of scientific circles was growing.

A Japanese courier arrived at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo to deliver Einstein a message. The courier either refused to accept a tip, in line with local practice, or Einstein had no small change available..

Either way, Einstein didn't want the me ssenger to leave empty-handed, so he wrote him two notes by hand in German, according to the seller, a relative of the messenger.

"Maybe if you're lucky those notes will become much more valuable than just a regular tip," Einstein told the messenger, according to the seller, a resident of the German city of Hamburg.

- 'Stone in the mosaic' -

Two other letters Einstein wrote in later years were also auctioned on Tuesday, fetching prices of $33,600 and $9,600.

In June, letters written by Einstein about God, Israel and physics sold for nearly $210,000 at a Jerusalem auction.

Roni Grosz, the archivist in charge of the world's largest Einstein collection at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, said the notes shed light on the private thoughts of the great physicist, whose name has become synonymous with genius.

"What we're doing here is painting the portrait of Einstein -- the man, the scientist, his effect on the world -- through his writings," Grosz said.

"This is a stone in the mosaic."

Einstein served as a non-resident governor of Jerusalem's Hebrew University. When he died in 1955, he left the institution his archives, making it the owner of the world's most extensive collection of his documents.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Recipe for a Seminary

  • 1 part Theology, taught as the systematic exposition of God's self-revelation,
  • 1 part Biblical Studies, taught as God's divinely inspired Word,
  • 1 part Church History, because it is important to know how God has acted in history and in the life and ministry of the Church,
  • 1 part Pastoral Ministry, to equip the saints (all God's people) for the work of ministry,
  • 1 part Missions and Evangelism, to make disciples of every people group on earth, at home and abroad,
  • 1 part Godly Discernment, because there is no substitute for it in doing God's will,
  • 1 part Already Prepared Dough, this serves as the base for the rest of the ingredients,
  • 1 part Yeast of the Gospel, because the message and Spirit of Christ's atoning work must permeate all that we do.
Mix all ingredients thoroughly and allow to rise in a warm environment.  Bake until golden.  (Caution: Must not be underdone or half-baked.)


Theology — I have always begun any course I have taught by explaining that there are two ways one can teach theology: Either it is a speculative discipline grounded in philosophy, or it is a dogmatic discipline grounded in Scripture.  The first approach almost inevitably results in heterodoxy.  The second approach actually helps us to get to know the God who has revealed himself in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments—the God Who Is, who exists in reality, and not merely our imagination.

The first approach, that Theology is a speculative discipline grounded in philosophy gives us the Pantheism of a Paul Tillich or the Panentheism of the Process Theologians or a Sallie McFague (often quoted by Katharine Jeffers Schori), who said that "theology is mostly fiction" — a construction, a human creation, a tool to delineate as best we can the nature and limits of our understanding of God.  This is what happens when you have a theology that begins with philosophy, that is, with us instead of a GOD WHO IS THERE, who exists objectively and has a concrete identity, and a God WHO HAS SPOKEN, who has revealed himself to humankind through creation, through the Covenant with Abraham, through the Law given through Moses, through the Prophets who called God's people to repentance and faithfulness, and ultimately through the sending of his eternal Son in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth.

In writing that last sentence, I cannot help but think of two books by Francis Schaeffer that I read ages ago: The God Who Is There and He is There and He is Not Silent.  Schaeffer was correct in identifying these two statements as the great watershed in all human reality.  Either God exists with a distinct identity that is objectively real and knowable, or else McFague is right, we are just making things up as we go along.  And either God has spoken by revealing himself in Holy Scripture and in the Person of Jesus, or else we can never truly know whether he exists and has a will and purpose for us or not.

The second approach, that Theology is a dogmatic discipline grounded in Scripture, gives us a framework that is built on the Solid Rock.  The first approach, that Theology is a speculative discipline grounded in philosophy, ultimately leads us to futility; it is a house built on nothing more than shifting sand.

Biblical Studies — I have always believed that to teach Biblical Studies in seminary, you must do more than teach about the Bible, you must teach the Bible--that is, you must enable students to master the contents of the Old and New Testaments and to have such a love for Scripture and such confidence in its divine inspiration and authority that they can communicate that love, knowledge, and confidence to the people they pastor in a way that is positively contagious.

Church History — It has often be said that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.  We need to be aware of how the Church has read and interpreted Scripture.  We need to be inspired by great heroes of the Faith.  We need to know about Councils and decisions of the Church in ages past so that we can recognize and deal with the heresies that crop up in this and every age.  We need to learn how God has acted in history and what the Church has done, both its failures and its successes, so that we do not repeat its failures (mistakes and heresies) but rather build on its successes.

Pastoral Ministry — We are called to be a caring presence to those whom we pastor.  But we are to be more than that.  We are called to make disciples, to lead others effectively to follow Jesus.  All that we do with parishioners must build them up "until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13).  It takes thoughtful training by skilled teachers to learn how to do this well.

Missions and Evangelism — The ultimate aim of the Church must be to fulfill Christ's Great Commission, to make disciples (learners, followers of Jesus) of every language, tribe and tongue, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe everything that Christ commanded.  And, for that task, Jesus has given us his authority and the assurance of his continued presence with us.  Does every seminary turn out graduates who see that as the aim of their ministries?  Do they turn out graduates who know how to lead others to commit their lives to Jesus as Savior and Lord?  No, sadly, they do not.  Yet Jesus said this is the one thing the Church must do.  We need for this to be of utmost importance in seminary training and the thing toward which our knowledge of theology, the Bible, and history point us.

Godly discernment — Looking back on more than thirty years in theological education, one thing I have been blessed with is an ability to discern what people need to know to be formed as followers of Jesus, how it needs to be taught, and just as importantly, by whom it needs to be taught.  This was the key to building a great faculty at Nashotah House.  The founding Dean of Trinity School for Ministry, Bishop Alfred Stanway, used to say, "Under God, having the right people is the key."  I have always found that to be true.  The key to keeping a school orthodox is, first of all, having faculty and trustees who are committed followers of Jesus Christ and who understand that, as James 4:4 says, "friendship with the world is enmity with God."  That is to say, we recognize that there are worldly values that are in conflict with the Gospel and the teaching of Scripture; and when those values collide, our unswerving allegiance must be to Jesus Christ our Lord, who saved us and "bought us with a price" (1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23).

I could wish that this kind of godly discernment were as widespread as the waters that cover the sea; but it is not.  It is tempting to think that if someone can run a parish, a cathedral, or a diocese, then he can run a seminary.  But these are different vocations and require different skill sets.  One might think that anyone who is articulate and well-versed in a particular subject with an education from a prestigious school can teach; but the formation that goes on in seminary is much more than merely teaching.  In choosing faculty, you have to discern spiritually whom God is calling to be a shepherd and disciple-maker in a given context.  The type of person called for even varies according to the discipline being taught. 

I look at the decisions being made in some seminaries and am aghast: "Why can't you see that this is the wrong person to put in that position?"  Were I to ask the question, I would get the answer, "but he/she had a great resume."  Or "He/she seems like a nice person."  Or worse yet, "He/she will give balance to the faculty."  We all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Either you seek God's will in this matter (and pray until you sweat blood, if necessary) and get this right, or else you sink your own ship.  It is both that hard and that simple.

Already Prepared Dough — The cost of a three year seminary education has risen astronomically in the past 30 years.  In contrast with Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists, Anglicans and Episcopalians have historically provided relatively little financial assistance (other than bequests) to seminaries or students attending seminary.  Anglican parishes, dioceses and jurisdictions still want the best-trained clergy, but they have never gotten into the habit of paying for them.  So we are looking at a financial crisis affecting all theological seminaries today, but it is affecting Anglican/Episcopal seminaries more than most.  (You haven't seen any Methodist or Presbyterian seminaries closing lately, have you?)

Those who can give generously, and that includes people of even modest means who will give sacrificially, need to realize that giving financially in order to train the future leadership of the Church is the most important investment they can make with their giving.  It is an investment in the future of the Church itself.  And it is an investment in making sure we have leaders and equippers who will insure that we fulfill Christ's great commission.

The Yeast of the Gospel — If "having the right people is the key" what makes those people the "right people?"  A seminary must have exceptional teachers who reflect their love for God and for students in what they do.  They must be continually aware of all that the Person and atoning work of Christ mean for their personal lives and ministries, and communicate this humble awareness to their students.  They must be uncompromising in their faithfulness and very committed to seeing that what they teach enables their graduates to go out as priests and leaders who can transform lives and congregations.

So there it is.  It may seem like a simple recipe, but it isn't.  I would venture to say that 9 out of 10 seminaries get it wrong.  It is these seminaries that cause those who are concerned for the renewal of the Church to think that a seminary education is unnecessary or even harmful.  But truly biblically faithful, Spirit-filled, seminary education is not only a beautiful thing, it is indispensable if we are to have wise, knowledgeable, godly leadership for the future of the Church.


POSTSCRIPT: What prompted me to share this recipe was the tragic death this week of Fr. Daniel Westberg, Nashotah House's Professor of Ethics and Moral Theology, who embodied all the exceptional qualities I have mentioned.  In writing it down, I was reminded of an interview about Nashotah House that I had given to David Virtue in 2009, and I was reminded just how tasty the recipe is and how much I enjoyed making it.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Nashotah House Announces Passing of Beloved Professor

Fr. Daniel Westberg in front of Nashotah House's
historic Blue House (1842) with  Upper Nashotah Lake
in the background
I was very saddened today to receive a phone call letting me know that a good friend and former colleague had died tragically.  Father Daniel Westberg, Nashotah House's Professor of Ethics and Moral Theology died while sailing on Upper Nashotah Lake, the first in a chain of clear, spring-fed lakes on which the campus is located.

On Wednesday, Fr. Westberg celebrated and preached at the Eucharist that morning.  It was a sunny day, with the trees on the Nashotah campus displaying their fall colors.  Nashotah House is beautiful at any time, but the fall colors can be truly spectacular.

Fr. Westberg went for a sail on the lake in his own boat, alone.  Apparently he was not wearing a life vest.  Neighbors summoned police and rescuers around 1 p.m. when they heard shouts of distress coming from the lake.  Fr. Westberg became separated from the boat, perhaps trying to swim to shore.  Rescuers searched until dark on Wednesday without locating Fr. Westberg.  The search resumed this morning and his body was found.

Fr. Westberg had been a professor at Nashotah House since 2000.  Previously, he taught at the University of Virginia (1990-98) and Wycliffe College, Toronto (1998-2000).  He earned the DPhil at Oxford, studying under the renowned Anglican ethicist, Oliver O'Donovan, who was Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology, and the Dominican scholar Herbert McCabe, OP.  His dissertation was on Thomas Aquinas and the virtue of prudence.

Fr. Westberg's most recent book was Renewing Moral Theology: Christian Ethics as Action, Character and Grace (InterVarsity Press, 2015).  He co-authored Preaching the Lectionary (3rd ed.; Liturgical Press, 2006) with the late Professor Reginald Fuller.

It was exceedingly gratifying to have served as Fr. Westberg's dean for ten and colleague at Nashotah House for twelve years.  Dan had a brilliant mind and keen sense of humor.  He had a quiet demeanor--a gentle man and a gentleman.  As a professor, he was a friend and mentor who spent time with his students and truly cared about their spiritual as well as their intellectual formation.  But, above all, he was a godly man who truly lived the faith he proclaimed.  Dan's tragic death is a great loss for Nashotah House.  He will be missed by all who knew him, but especially by his wife Lisa, his father, a brother and three sisters, four adult children, and three grandchildren who survive him.

We commend our brother into the loving arms of God.  May he rest in peace and may light perpetual shine upon him.  Our prayers go out for Lisa and Dan's family.
  • Nashotah House's press release is here.
  • Coverage from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is here.
  • WDJT Milwaukee has coverage here.