The Lutheran Study Bible to release on Reformation Day

October 31 seems too far away.  I just got the promotional kit in the mail today from Concordia Publishing House (CPH). It says that this new upcoming release of The Lutheran Study Bible (TLSB) in the ESV translation is to be released on Reformation Day, October 31.   I can’t wait.  This really is something I am really looking forward to as a Lutheran.

I know some of you out there are not too keen on the ESV but I still like it, despite some of the rough spots.  But the study notes in this study bible are going to be amazing. I’ve only seen a sampler and it looks very good from what I can see so far. I guess the old NIV Lutheran Self-Study Bible is on the way out.

Some of the features will include:

• 26,500-plus uniquely Lutheran study notes.
• Over 2,000 application notes and prayers for every part of the Bible.
• 80,000 center column cross-references.
• Over 900 cross-references to 120 full or half-page maps, charts, and diagrams.
• 220-plus articles and introductions to biblical books and topics.
• Insights from early church, medieval and Reformation era church fathers.
• Uses the English Standard Version translation, one of the most precise English translations available.
• Durable Smyth-sewn binding.

The promotional DVD is slick…I mean totally slick.  They have two young post-moderns in their twenties talking up the new TLSB.  This campaign is really geared for the younger generations.  Take a look at this video. I have to hand it to Concordia. They’re really doing a top-notch marketing campaign–one of the best I’ve seen, at least in the Lutheran world.

The ELCA approves ministry for pastors in same-sex relationships

The church has been broken and needs fixing.  On Friday, August 21, 2009, the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) have voted to approve for ministry those who are practicing homosexual pastors.  The vote passed 559-451 with 1,045 eligible voting members. It was by a margin of 108.  No longer do people with same-sex attraction (SSA) have to remain celibate.  As long as they are in an “accountable life-long, monogamous, same gender relationship”, the church will recognize, support and uphold them for ministry.

I think this signals the end of the church, as we know it.  Many in disagreement with this new church policy will probably see no hope of a reversal of it.  Once it is implemented, another churchwide assembly to reverse this is unlikely.  It also signals where the leadership of the church is.  I suspect that an overwhelming majority of the church leadership is on-board with this new policy.  However, if one were to take a grassroots poll, I don’t feel that the majority would approve of this.  But  this is what happens in a representative type of democracy.  The majority opinion is not heard.

Who is eligible to vote in the ELCA?  The documents of the ELCA states that each synod “shall elect one voting member … for every 5,800 baptized members in the synod” and “one voting member for every 50 congregations in the synod.”  Sixty percent of the voting members must be lay persons, 50% male, 50% female, 10% of color whose primary language is other than English.  The structure of the ELCA is like a representative democracy.  Not every pastor has a vote, nor does every member.  Is this democratic?  Not really. I feel an overwhelming majority of the grassroots membership in the church would not approve of this policy. [see some reactions and videos here. ]

This signals what has already been happening within the undercurrents in the church—a disregard for obedience to biblical teaching.  The teachings of St. Paul the Apostle in Romans 1:26-27 clearly states that homosexual practice does not meet God’s approval but we have gone against God’s written word and approved this.  The teachings of the church have its source in holy scripture and when scripture is disregarded in favor of human policies, the church will ultimately move into a wrong direction.  This week’s voting results is an example of this human policy.

Gender identity and sexual orientation should be based on biological reality.  To tear this down and reconstruct this goes against reality.  I believe that all of humanity were created for heterosexuality.  If one were to honestly answer this question: “How could a man be designed for anal sex?”  It’s clear that there is no other way to answer this but to say that a man is not designed for anal sex.  If God meant for humankind to have anal sex, God might be an absurd God.

For those men and women who want to reverse their same-sex attraction (and there are many), there is no more justice for them in the ELCA.  Hope has been removed in the name of justice for those who desire to ordain ministers with same-sex attraction.

I predict that there will be a large exodus in the future of the church. Some have already left, but many more will begin to leave the ELCA, and there will be no stopping the floodgates because the gauntlet has already come down.  Well, the church is, after all, just a human institution, full of faults and errors.  But God is already fully aware of this.  A prophetic sound from outside the ELCA, through Pastor John Piper, has spoken out about our tendencies toward disobedience.  Take a look at the photo of the broken steeple at Central Lutheran that broke at 2:00PM on August 19, 2009.  The church has been broken and needs fixing.

For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. (Romans 1:26-28, NRSV).

Lutheran Study Bible: NRSV by Augsburg Fortress

Lutheran Study Bible: NRSV
Augsburg Fortress
ISBN:  9780806680590

I wish to thank the good people at Augsburg Fortress for sending me this copy to review. 

The Lutheran Study Bible: NRSV is the first study bible published by Augsburg Fortress.  This was a fruit of the Book of Faith Initiative in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which is designed to encourage members of the church to dig deeper into the bible.  Through this initiative, Augsburg Fortress has inadvertently entered the study bible market. I don’t think it was meant to compete with the upcoming Lutheran Study Bible, which is soon to be released in October by Concordia Publishing House.  These are entirely two different study bibles and are based on different translations.

The NRSV is the translation that is most widely used in the ELCA.  As a result, it was the obvious choice for the Lutheran Study Bible.  The NRSV is one of my favorite translations because it is very accurate, dependable, and uses gender inclusive language.

Upon my opening of the bible, the first thing I noticed was that the study notes were situated on the side of the page instead of the traditional place at the bottom.  I found this easy to locate the study notes because I could just look horizontally and right next to the passage is the corresponding notes.  There doesn’t seem to be an abundance of study notes but since this is Augsburg’s first study bible, it’s a good start already.  Perhaps the next edition in the future will be more notes.  It also surprised me to find that some of the articles were located in between the books of Nahum and Habakkuk. It would be so much easier to locate them if they were all placed at the beginning of the bible, including the subject guide and the bible reading plan.

Added to this critique would be my recommendation to either increase the font size of the biblical text from a 10 point font to an 11 point font, or to change the font to something easier to read, but preferably both.  Keep the study notes located on the side.  It’s a great approach to layout.  I also like the single-column layout because it is much easier to read than a two-column layout.

On a note of personal preference, I prefer something other than baby blue for the chapter headings and cover.  A darker and more visible color would be easier on the eyes.  But since this is also the theme color of the Book of Faith initiative, I guess I could go for that, but I say: “Buck the theme color and go against the grain!”  Give it a nice richer and fuller color in the future.  I’d also like to note the nice art work at the beginning of each book.  That’s a nice addition.

The forty-nine contributors of the study notes with individual book introductions are Lutheran scholars almost entirely from the ELCA. However, as a Lutheran, I’d also like to see some commentary by Martin Luther himself.  If that were to be included in the future editions, it would really make it a ‘Lutheran Study Bible.’ So add some more of Luther. 

The study notes use four icons to indicate:
• World of the Bible: people, places, events and artifacts;
• Bible Concepts: ideas and theological insights;
• Lutheran Perspectives: asks a question about a bible verse or passage from a uniquely Lutheran theological perspective;
• Faith Reflection: asks a question to cause one to think about and discuss the meaning of the text.

The other main feature of this study bible is all the articles throughout the bible.  All the contributors are ELCA scholars and pastors.  I will comment in more detail what I think about my four favourite articles below.  However, regarding the other five articles, they range from okay to good. Moreover, there is some overlap between these other articles. I appreciate their scholarly background, however, I found some of the contributors to the articles being overly-defensive about the Lutheran perspective, which need not be.

Among my top favourites are the Old and New Testament Overview and Section Introductions.  The two articles written by Walter C. Bouzard (O.T.) and Arland J. Hultgren (N.T.) provide a top-notch scholarly perspective on the Old and New Testaments. 

Bouzard provides the reader with a simple explanation of JEPD.  He also describes God’s involvement in the life of Israel as a picture, in stating: “virtually all agree that the Penteteuch is made up of multiple literary strands. Thus, the Penteteuch is like a mosaic created of many colored stones or pieces of glass.” I also like his explanation of the Penteteuch:

“Jews refer to these books as the Torah, a word that is too narrowly translated as ‘law,’ as in the ‘books of the law.’  That translation is unfortunate, because torah cannot be summed up in the single word law.  Torah also includes ideas like direction, instruction, and teaching.  Moreover, thinking of the content of the Penteteuch only as law is not helpful.  It is true that many of the chapters in these books are filled with legal material, but they include much more than that.  Between Genesis and Deuteronomy we find stories, poems, genealogies, folk tales, and other types of literature” (p. 45).

Hultgren takes a stand on the authenticity of Paul’s authorship for at least seven of the thirteen epistles that have been traditionally seen as authored by Paul. Of these are: Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon.  I like his admittance to Paul’s use of secretaries or scribes to help write his letters.  I have always thought that this was done by Paul in writing his epistles.  Some scholars don’t admit to this.  To not consider this as a real possibility denies the circumstances of Paul’s days.  Regarding the other six epistles, Hultgren states:

“The other six letters attributed to Paul may not have been written or dictated by him in a literal sense. Many scholars believe that their authors were associates of Paul who felt authorized to speak for him and who may have continued to speak and write in his name for some years after his death.  This would explain why these six letters are so different from the other seven letters of Paul in vocabulary and style….and why some major concepts found in the seven letters certainly written by Paul are missing from these six” (p. 1850).

My third favourite article is the Introduction to the Bible, written by Hans Dahl, discusses how the bible came to be, beginning from an oral tradition and leading up to the culmination of various manuscripts over centuries, and eventually forming the canon.  I like how Dahl leaves room for the various interpretations of the inspiration of Scripture: “…the Bible does not explain how this inspiration occurred.  Some believe the Bible’s words were communicated directly by God to its authors, and the authors wrote them down as if listening to recording.  Others argue that the message of the Bible is what God inspired, but the actual words were the work of the authors.  Still others believe the authors themselves were inspired by God, but not necessarily the words” (p. 20).

This leaves room for the learner to make up their minds for themselves, which is what I like.  Dahl also mentions that Martin Luther wrestled with four books—Jude, James, Hebrews, and Revelation—which were included in the canon.  I also like his mention of Luther’s idea of a canon within a canon.

“Luther also promoted the idea that the Bible contains a “canon within a canon.”  He recognized that within the biblical canon there are books, such as the letters of Paul and the Gospel of John, that hold greater authority than others because they convey more clearly who Christ is and what Christ came to do” (p. 23).

My fourth favourite article is the Small Catechism: A Simple Guide for the Book of Faith written by Timothy J. Wengert (who is also co-translator of the Book of Concord).  Wengert ably explains the doctrine of law and gospel par excellence.

“The law—in addition to providing good order in this world and its institutions and restraining evil—breaks down, strips bare, destroys, terrifies, and puts to death by unmasking our lust for control of God and salvation.  The gospel, as God’s answer to our human predicament, builds up, clothes in righteousness, creates, comforts, and brings new life by announcing God’s unconditional promise.”

Wengert explains that our human condition is not that we ought to feel guilty, but rather, we are guilty and ashamed by our sins.  Our weaknesses in our sinful condition trap us into manufacturing the proper spiritual feelings.  He states:

“The Holy Spirit (not the preacher, teacher, or reader) then takes those very truths and does what only God can do—destroys the unbelieving Old Creature and creates the New Creature of faith by revealing the truth about God: that God is gracious and merciful” (p. 1531).

When the Holy Spirit does the work, it removes any possibility of glory due to our our human efforts.  We are left without any choice but to give God all the praise and glory.

I recommend the Lutheran Study Bible for any Lutheran pastors, lay leaders, and learners who are searching the Scriptures and desire to reflect more deeply upon Lutheran perspectives as they read the Holy Scriptures. This first edition of the Lutheran Study Bible: NRSV is wonderful.  I am sure Augsburg Fortress will see that many Lutherans will also be highly appreciative of this.

Facebook in violation of privacy laws

The national newspaper, The National Post, reports that Facebook may face a court challenge in Canada.  Personally, I don’t like to keep any of my private information on Facebook and have removed all of it. That would be a smart thing to do.  I don’t keep real birthdates.  Provide a fake one. I put April 1st with a fake year, like 1901 or something. Facebook has a right to all of it so why would you want to give them a real one?  Who knows what they might do with the information?

“Time is up for Facebook to find a way to live up to Canada’s privacy law after this country’s privacy watchdog gave the social-networking website one month to close its “serious privacy gaps…..And if Jennifer Stoddart, Canada’s privacy commissioner, isn’t satisfied with Facebook’s final response Monday, she has two weeks to take the California-based company to Federal Court in Ottawa to try and get a court order requiring it to change its business practices to comply with Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, the country’s private-sector privacy law….. In order to download popular games and quizzes, Facebook users must consent to share all their personal information, except their contact details. These companies, totalling nearly one million, operate in 180 countries.”

Facebook must satisfy privacy commissioner by Monday

Sarah Schmidt, Canwest News Service Published: Sunday, August 16, 2009

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Canada's Privacy Commissioner has serious concerns about Facebook’s ability to protect the personal information of its 12 million Canadians users. Kier Gilmour/Canwest News Service Canada’s Privacy Commissioner has serious concerns about Facebook’s ability to protect the personal information of its 12 million Canadians users.

OTTAWA — Time is up for Facebook to find a way to live up to Canada’s privacy law after this country’s privacy watchdog gave the social-networking website one month to close its “serious privacy gaps.”

And if Jennifer Stoddart, Canada’s privacy commissioner, isn’t satisfied with Facebook’s final response Monday, she has two weeks to take the California-based company to Federal Court in Ottawa to try and get a court order requiring it to change its business practices to comply with Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, the country’s private-sector privacy law.

New book: “A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church”

I’ve been blogging about the evangelical church recently. Here’s a related post.

Tim Challies recently commented on the new book (see his post here): A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church.  It might be a good book we should pay more attention to because it offers constructive criticism and advice for those who have been disenchanted with the evangelical church. Challies states:

This book comes from a man who has been an insider, an evangelical, for several decades. And it comes from a man who loves the church, not one who wants to phase it out or move on to the next thing. He spends the bulk of this book diagnosing problems within evangelicalism saying that once we are able to name a problem, we are equipped to deal with it. He begins by dismantling evangelical myths (bigger is better, being the foremost of these) and then turns to his description of The New Provincialism. This is a term he coined to describe evangelicalism’s obsession with now at the expense of the past and the future.

New posts on gender-inclusiveness on the blogosphere

Am I a fence-sitter? a dualist? or a hypocrite?

In a few recent posts on the blogosphere, Suzanne McCarthy blogged about the the masculine pronoun in 1 Timothy 3:4 (the word “his” . . . a man) as a heresy, saying:

There is no “his” in the Greek. There is no word at all that underlies “his” – nada, nothing, blank space. If you tell one person this, the next person still doesn’t know. The masculine pronoun has become the biggest urban legend in the Christian community for this decade, maybe this century.

    τοῦ ἰδίουοἴκουκαλῶςπροϊστάμενον,τέκναἔχονταἐνὑποταγῇμετὰπάσηςσεμνότητος:

Here we see the heresy of the masculine pronoun at work.

On a new blog, Aberration, our nameless blogger blogged about the duality of D.A. Carson who takes sides with both “Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” and who also uses the TNIV.  AAdmin states:

CBMW states that the TNIV is “gender-neutral” and suggest that the TNIV is “Ideologically Egalitarian“. D. A. Carson mostly sides with the CBMW in their views of 1 Timothy. What I found to be cataclysmic irony is the Bible translation Carson used for exegesis on 1 Timothy…

His post also made me think about where I stand on this issue.  Initially, I felt a feeling of disdain for duality but then I reflected upon myself.  My pulpit bible is the NRSV. My night table bible is the TNIV. And sometimes, I also refer to, and preach from, the ESV. Is this a duality too (politically-correct term for “hypocrite“)?  In a way, maybe I’ sort of like Carson who doesn’t slam either side but instead shows support for both.

Do you call that fence-sitting? If so, am I a fence-sitter?  Feel free to tell me what you think. (I won’t be offended if you think I’m a hypocrite.  I’m allowing an examination of the crevices within myself)

The evangelical church in the UK is on the rise

In mainline Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian churches, we are seeing a constant and continual drop in church attendance.  Something has got to change!

But when we look at evangelical churches, attendance tend either remain stable or are flourishing.  What is the difference?  What are evangelical churches doing that is different?

In relation to my previous post “Will evangelicalism decline or continue to expand?“, I noticed from an article from the UK newspaper  “The Independent” that the evangelical church in the UK is now growing.  [HatTip: Rachel Marszalek ]

“Church of England pews may be empty, but the fields of Somerset are rocking with a series of evangelical festivals this summer….. As the leaders of Britain’s more mainstream denominations scratch their heads and debate how to revitalise their congregations, evangelical Christianity in Britain is going from strength to strength. The number of evangelical churches in Britain has risen from 2047 to 2,719 since 1998 and their followers now make up 34 per cent of Anglicans, figures show.”

News like this in the UK is very encouraging. I can still remember constantly hearing about how the church in the UK was on the verge of dying but it has seemed to resurrected due to a revival in the evangelical/charismatic movement.  For this, I’d like to say: “Praise God! God is on the move in the UK.”

Some might ponder if it’s just some gimmick.  I have no doubt that there is no gimmick.   I think mainline churches have a lot to learn from evangelical churches.  Evangelical churches are simply more in tune with God’s clear sense of mission and evangelism than mainline churches.  Evangelicals are clear in encouraging that every disciple should engage in personal evangelism.  How evangelism is engaged may vary widely.  Worship may also vary widely.  Not all evangelical congregations use drums or electric guitars. Some are still in the stone age using organs, but the commonality is in the attitude of the believer: everyone is encouraged in the teaching and preaching to have a mindset of fulfilling God’s mission on earth.  For some of you reading this, this is pretty old hat and may seem strange I’m talking about this like as if it was exciting and cutting-edge missional stuff. But for the old church world, evangelism is  like a bad word.

The source of this mindset or attitude, I think, is the experience of God’s love.  When believers experience the love of God in their lives in a spiritual way and also in a tangible way within the congregation, the Holy Spirit transforms the believer into a Christ-loving individual.  When the individual loves the Lord God, one will understand the importance of sharing the love of Christ with others around them.  This might translate into an engagement in some type of evangelistic activity, either on a personal level or congregational level.  That’s how the gospel transforms people and an entire society.

2 Kings 2:23-24 Bald-headed Elisha and the vicious bear mauling

David Ker (Lingamish) has just begun a series called the Bad Boy Bible Study based on a passage from Ship of Fools. The reason for his study series can be capitulated in the first paragraph of his recent post “Exegetical Sketches: Bad Boy Bible Study”.  In his bible study post, David has tagged me in his ship of fools to offer some thoughts about this passage from 2 Kings 2:23-24. He made a great statement that made me really think about this.

The best way to get a handle on interpreting the Old Testament is to repaint the heroes as villains. The Bible is God’s holy word. It is inspired. But we confuse inspiration with inspirational. Just because God wrote the book doesn’t mean he populated it with good guys. On the contrary, and I think this is one of the most amazing aspects of the Bible as a sacred text, you get to read all the dirt on God’s chosen people. His kings were killers and schemers. His prophets were ragers and whackos. It’s as if God is his own hostile witness, daring you to idolize his chosen ones.

David, thanks for the word that causes us to be more honest with ourselves and our theology. I’ve been guilty of whitewashing the sins and faults and weaknesses of my favourite bible characters. After this series of studies, I don’t think I’ll be able to clean-up any of the faults in the upcoming bible characters. The bald-headed Elisha will be a tough text to deal with. It’s almost impossible to whitewash the sins and faults of our biblical hero Elisha.

Here are David’s rules: 1) You’ve been asked to teach or preach on this passage; and 2) What would you say?

Well, I don’t think I have any big theological statements to make.  Perhaps this will be a passage I can preach on some day, but definitely not in the near future. These are just some preliminary thoughts that are not too well-thought through yet so they’re probably full of holes. The law is apparent in this text. I still have to get my head around it and see how and where the gospel can be ushered in.  Here’s my thought on the passage of 2 Kings 2:23-24.

1/God is not a respecter of persons. God is not a respecter of any age, race or economic class. God loves everyone, and “everyone” must include both the young and the aged; people of every color: red, yellow, black and white; and yes, both the rich and the poor. All have a place in the kingdom of God.  That is the justice and righteousness of God.  Romans 2:11-12 says: “For God shows no partiality.  For all who have sinned apart from the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.” (NRSV). The theological hinge is that sin touches people of all ages, all races, and all economic classes, etc. In our tendency to seek retributive justice for the poor and disadvantaged, we have also taken a partial preference to a particular group.  We’ve painted the poor and disadvantaged as the only innocent victims. We have tended to alleviate them from any guilt because it might seem easier to shift all the blame over to the oppressor of the victim.  It unjustly shifts all the blame and alleviates any responsibility from the victim who may have some responsibility to accept at least some of the blame. On the other side of the equation, this is also unjust.

2/ Law and gospel made clear: This text is not preached on very often (and it’s also not in the lectionary). Why isn’t it? Perhaps we have intentionally avoided this tough passage because we don’t see anything that is particularly redeeming and gospel-oriented about Elisha’s wrong-headed thoughts and actions. But reflecting back on my own guilt of whitewashing the biblical text, I’ve found that this prevents me from seeing my own reflection as to who I really am, which an unworthy sinner is. But I’ve found that by leaving the text to speak for itself leaves room for the gospel to be the good news to be effective. In other words, by allowing our heroes look more human with warts and all, the law is able to function effectively when scripture is allowed to interpret scripture. With us humans getting in the way, we often prefer to distort it with our personal interpretation hide the ugly truth. By letting Elisha be who he really is, an imperfect human being, the gospel can be allowed to speak more clearly about God’s grace which cures the ills of our sin.

New quiz: I’m a Congregationalist – United Church of Christ

Just did one of those new what’s your denomination type of quiz (Hat tip: CD-Host). I didn’t know I was a Congregationalist-United Church of Christ.  I also come out high on Lutheran, Reformed and Calvinistic Baptist (surprise?); but genuinely surprised about Eastern Orthodox being high at #6 and Charismatic being low at #7. I don’t take these quizzes very seriously because they’re full of theological-interpretive biases.

(100%) 1: Congregational/United Church of Christ
(97%) 2: Lutheran
(94%) 3: Presbyterian/Reformed
(91%) 4: Baptist (Reformed/Particular/Calvinistic)
(80%) 5: Anglican/Episcopal/Church of England
(75%) 6: Eastern Orthodox
(75%) 7: Pentecostal/Charismatic/Assemblies of God
(66%) 8: Baptist (non-Calvinistic)/Plymouth Brethren/Fundamentalist
(55%) 9: Anabaptist (Mennonite/Quaker etc.)
(55%) 10: Roman Catholic
(52%) 11: Methodist/Wesleyan/Nazarene
(50%) 12: Church of Christ/Campbellite
(44%) 13: Seventh-Day Adventist