The Grateful Christian

Essays, opinions, and works-in-progress by a conservative Lutheran pastor.

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Location: West Michigan, United States

In order of importance, I am a: Husband, father, pastor, hobby programmer, writer. Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust instead
Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.

--C.S.Lewis, The Apologist's Evening Prayer

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

They Got Mojo

Haven't been blogging much lately. Sorry, I got busy with RL (Real Life). Lots to do, and little time for the computer; and when I do plunk my arse down in front of it, just haven't had much energy for creative expression lately.

I'd like to thank Ryan from Backward Kingdom (formerly Wretched of the Earth) for coming out a week ago to Good Shepherd and speaking to us, and to Holy Cross in Belding, about his mission experiences in Thailand. It was an honor to have him visit us--an engaging and articulate young man. I'll tell you what I told him: the reason I am such a fan is the same reason my heart is encouraged by the Rev. Matt Harrison of LC-MS World Relief/Human Care. These are guys who love theology, but they also have heart. It just thrills me to see brains turned on by Lutheran (i.e., Bible-based) theology, and hearts on fire with Lutheran (i.e., Christ-centered, grace-based)... umm.... what? What do you call it?

Brain : Theology :: Heart : ?????
"Cardiology"? hmmm
"Passion for people"? Puh-LEEEze. Gag me with a Church Growth graph!
"Missiology"? Naw, too theoretical.
Aw, heck. Call it "Mojo". Yeah, that'll do.

Brain : Theology :: Heart : Mojo

Well, maybe not. Anyway, these guys have it in spades, and it just makes me beam with joy to see it. God bless it, whatever it is, and send its increase!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Diagramming Sentences

HAT TIP to Carl Vehse for directing me to this site on diagramming sentences.

Although, I didn't really understand what he meant in the comment he made, which was to a cool post by the ever-insightful Rev. Paul T. McCain at Cyberbrethren.

But anyway, I too am one who laments the loss of this important grammar skill; and I remedy it in my Confirmation classes by teaching the kids the rudiments of sentence diagramming.

Christian faith, in reflection (which is commanded to us when we are told to love the Lord our God with all our mind) is language-intensive. We are born again by the Word of God. So we'd better be able to tell a verb from a noun, and be able to parse a sentence to tell who's the Actor, and what the action is.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Why Is Doctrine Important?

Ryan over at Wretched of the Earth blogs about "Emergent doctrine (or lack thereof)" in which he asks the question that I used for my title.

I tried to comment, but I couldn't make it short enough to be called a comment, and I have learned what that means: there's an essay inside that wants to get out. (I am gradually learning that the comment space is best used for comments, and not as a place to blog my own editorial effort.)

So here goes. Ryan's blog entry is about some guys in the "emergent church" who are discussing the merit of having or not having a "statement of faith" (for the movement, apparently).

I don't know anything about "emergent church." I have an inkling that it is some kind of a movement; if it is, then it is destined to become passé. But anyway.

If one is not making propositions, then what is it exactly one is doing? The word "doctrine" means "teaching."


When I lived in the Bible Belt, I was constantly amazed at the way people (heavily influenced by Southern Baptist anti-creedalism) enthusiastically embraced this-or-that person's teaching, but when I asked them "is his doctrine available in a book or a tract?" they would answer, "Oh, no, it's not doctrine, it's a teaching."

If you are not saying things (communicating content) about God, how can it be theology? And if it's not theology, why would anyone want to be in this "conversation"?

It reminds me of something David Gerrold described in The Trouble With Tribbles: The Birth, Sale, and Final Production of One Episode. (By the way, you can read it here. Hooray! I've been wanting to read this one again for years.) The footnote on p. 49 explains "nattering and grommishing":

Being theatre arts students, we were conscious of what all the extras—-or “atmosphere people”—-in any shot were doing. We had come to the conclusion that they were “nattering” and “grommishing.” That is, in order to fake a conversation in the background, you mumble softly: “natter, natter, natter…” And your partner replies: “grommish, grommish, grommish…”

If you are seriously interested in this phenomenon, google the phrase "natter grommish". It turns up some quite diverting sites!

So why is doctrine important? More specifically, why is it useful and important to have a formal summary of basic teachings?

1. It Avoids Wasted Time. I don't watch commercials if I can help it. If I am watching broadcast TV, I want to see the program, not the commercials. So I videotape everything and watch it later (skipping the commercials). I use Firefox as my browser so I can block the distracting animated ads that make it hard for my poor ADD brain to digest the material I went looking for. I don't give email spam more than a glance before I delete it. I throw out junk mail unopened. It's not that I'm prejudiced; but there just isn't time to listen to all the messages that people want to send me. I have to be selective. Life's too short, and the channels are too cluttered.

All of this presupposes that it is possible to tell, with a little effort, the difference between content sought and channel clutter. So the presence of a doctrinal statement identifies this communication as theology. It's like the thing in the corner of the newspaper that says, "Section G - Sports" that allows me to know instantly that I won't find editorials on foreign policy in this section. I appreciate it; it keeps me from wasting my time looking in the wrong place.

If there is no formal or informal statement of what KIND of content is going to be carried here, how is a person supposed to decide whether to try it? Oh, right, I forgot. It's all about personality now, and not ideas. Therefore, the consumer is thought to be here because he's a fan of this speaker/writer/performer. Therefore, delivering content to fans of Dr. Gilead Farqwinkle not only involves his life-changing teaching on Pre-Millenial Mid-Tribulationist Perseverance of the Saints, but also his views on rock music, Democrats, childhood education, and why fruit does not belong on pizza. It's all good! (cynical rant mode off)

I wish the mainstream video media were as clear about delineating their entertainment section from their "news" reporting. But wait, that comment doesn't belong here, because when I borrowed Ryan's question for the title of this thing, I led you to get the impression that I was going to talk about theology, not rant about my disenchantment with the infotainment "industry," right? There, I proved my own point! And I gave myself a neat segue into my next point...

2. It Helps The Shopper. No, I don't really support "church-shopping," but people do, sometimes for valid reasons. When you move into a new area, or when a new church is formed, you want to be able to tell something about that place from the outside.

I used to sit in class at seminary and fantasize about the church I was going to have. The sign outside would say GRACE CHURCH in great big letters, and then in much smaller print below, it would say (Lutheran). In really tiny print below that: (Missouri Synod). (Feel free to speculate on what in my background led to this. Basically, I felt that the whole Lutheran thing was some sort of arrogant triumphalism.)

But as I thought about it over a period of time, I realized that such a display would be like a can on a grocery store shelf. The label says,


(String Beans)

(French cut)

Ugh, I hate it when they do that to string beans!

Actually, as I played with this labeling metaphor some more, I realized this is what had always bothered me when I pass a church that has this sign: CALVARY BIBLE CHURCH. Hey, a lot of us claim to be "Bible churches"! This is like a can that just says, BEANS. No fine print whatever. You have no idea if it’s kidney beans or string beans. You have to open the can to see. Its lack of resolution is unfair to the shopper. Moreover, there is an underlying arrogance in the implicit claim: 100% Bible, No Additives.

If lack of detail is confusing, there is also the problem of false advertising. A church that advertises that it is “Non-denominational” is almost certainly going to be Baptist in its theology, but without the decency to declare which operating system it’s running. It’s dishonest. Stand up for truth-in-labeling!

So I no longer cringe to describe myself, and my church, as “Lutheran,” even though in the present milieu, there are precious few who know what that label means. That’s why I even use LC-MS in the label, because there are disagreements in the marketplace of ideas of what belongs in the concept “Lutheran.” It’s all a matter of truth in labeling, which is for the good of the customer.

I have dealt with this in terms of churches, because that’s what I know, and have had occasion to think about. I suspect the whole “emergent church” thing is supposed to be different from such old-school institutions. But I fail to see why that makes any difference. Whether you’re talking about a chat room, or a church, or a book discussion club that meets at a local coffeehouse, the principles of intelligent classification and truth-in-labeling are sufficiently general to apply. If you’ve got an open-mike night going for people to share their opinions, hey, that’s great: please label it so. But if the label says “theology,” there will be propositional content, statements about God that can be compared to the common stock of knowledge revealed in His word. Or there will be discussions about whether there is another source, or a better source, for information about God. It's still theology, though no longer deserves the label "Christian," but rather "Speculative."

Anything else is just nattering and grommishing, the background chatter of extras, emotionally expressive but devoid of content. Nobody but a drama student would enjoy a room full of that!

Friday, May 05, 2006

On The Use Of Quotes

What does it mean when an essayist uses quotes?

Don't get me wrong, I know that they are fun to gather and read. But I am intimidated when an essayist, or someone who writes a book on a subject, peppers it with lots of interesting quotes from other authors.

I used to think, "Wow, this guy is SO well-read! Organized, too! He must do his reading with a box of 3x5 cards by his side! How can he get through so many books when he stops every six pages or so, copies the quote, and files it under the appropriate heading?"

Then somebody gave me a gift: Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. I thought, "Oh. THAT's how he does it." But I was disappointed. Isn't that like cheating, or something?


And that's why I rarely use the book, because I always felt like it would be dishonest.

I ran into a discussion on a blog one time recently where they were talking about Intelligent Design, and some critics were vehemently attacking some of the ID proponents, in reference to the way they quoted scientists. "It's quote mining!" one of them fumed. Hmm. "Quote mining"--I guess that's a bad thing.

It got me thinking: Suppose I find a great quote from, say, Marshall McLuhan, in somebody else's book. I believe it to be presented in the proper context, and it serves my purpose, so I quote it. If I don't attribute the source I found it in "(Quoted in Flanigan & Holladay, Developing Style: An Extension of Personality)," do I dishonestly convey the impression that I have read the McLuhan book in which it appeared?

In short, does the presence of quotes in a book say, "I read these books by these guys, and they said these things that support my thesis"? Or does it simply say, "I found some great quotes by different guys that support my thesis"?

What do you think?