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Topics - Brian Stoffregen

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Your Turn / The Hermeneutical Significance of Apology IV
« on: November 23, 2020, 07:27:10 PM »
Robert Bertram wrote an article on The Hermeneutical Significance of Apology IV. It is attached.

The Crossings Community, which he helped start, is planning to discuss this on a zoom meeting in December. I thought it could be fruitful to present it here for our discussion.

One thought I had while reading this: promises can be conditional or unconditional. In an essay by Carolyn Sharp, "Demand and Deliverance: Brueggemann on the Torah," in Disruptive Grace: Reflection on God, Scripture, and the Church, she writes: "… these two traditions of Abraham and Moses. They are there together as the beginning point of covenant. here is God's covenant to Abraham that is unconditional and unilateral. Here is God's covenant with Moses and Israel that is bilateral and conditional. They are there together, and that interface of contradiction may offer us the most work to do but also the most honest disclosure of the truth of our life. The full tradition asserts that all of our relationships, including that with the Holy One, are an unsettled mix of unilateral and bilateral, of conditional and unconditional, …." (p. 21)

For the unconditional covenant with Abram she quotes Genesis 15:18. "That day the Lord cut a covenant with Abram: “To your descendants I give this land, from Egypt’s river to the great Euphrates." There is a covenant with no conditions.

For the conditional covenant with Moses she quotes Exodus 19:5: "So now, if you faithfully obey me and stay true to my covenant, you will be my most precious possession out of all the peoples, since the whole earth belongs to me." There is a conditional, "if."

As much as Bertram and Luther and Melanchthon may talk about unconditional grace. That has never been our practice. We have ifs. God is gracious to you, if you believe. If you are baptized, you are saved. If you are unwilling to receive communion, you shouldn't consider yourself a Christian (Luther in the Large Catechism.)

Your Turn / Turned Off by Jargon
« on: November 15, 2020, 11:15:35 AM »
I saw the following article about how scientific jargon can turn people off towards science.

I wonder if the same can be true with Christianity.

Your Turn / Matthew 25:31-46
« on: November 11, 2020, 07:57:58 PM »
I find this to be one of the most fascinating parables of Jesus; and one of the most challenging. It is an upcoming text in both the Revised Common Lectionary and the one-year lectionary. Below are my notes on this passage. They are presented in the next two posts for discussion as many in this forum will be preparing sermons on this text.

I have a love/hate relationship with this text.
I hate it, because it seems to make works the requirement for being blessed by God. There is no mention of the acts of God that bring salvation: faith or justification or forgiveness or the cross. Rather, the text is all about human actions.
I hate it from a family systems approach, because doing such things for others can create co-dependent relationships between the helper and those in need. We have usually answered the question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” with “Yes.” I recently studied that text in the ancient Greek translation, and the Greek grammar expects an answer of, “No, I am not my brother’s keeper,” At least that’s the answer Cain expected. We don’t receive an answer from God.
We are to take care of our needy brothers and sisters. Our text would support this answer. However, if we look at this answer from another perspective, we may want to change our response. Who of us wants to be “kept”? We “keep” animals in the zoo or pets in a pen. Such “kept” animals are unable to survive on their own. They become dependent upon the caretakers. Sometimes “keeping” people – providing all their needs – can make them dependent. It can make caretakers codependent – in bondage to the needs of the other. So, we need to struggle with how we can best care for the needy as Jesus’ parable says we should. How can we do it in a way that doesn’t put them or us in bondage? How do we avoid creating dependent/codependent relationships?
I love it, because these good works are not really works that earn us heaven because the doers of them don’t realize that they have done anything good. Caring for needy people is such a part of their (redeemed?) nature that the caring acts come naturally, perhaps even unconsciously – like a good tree naturally producing good fruit. A tree doesn’t have to “think” about producing fruit. It just happens. Commanding a good tree, “You will bear fruit,” doesn’t make any sense. The tree will naturally produce fruit without any commands. The production of fruit is part of its nature.
In the same way, the “goats” don’t realize that they have done anything wrong. “The Great Surprise” may be a more appropriate title to this text than “The Final Judgment.” Both groups are surprised when they hear about their good deeds (or lack thereof). They weren’t aware of what they were doing.
David M. Granskou (Preaching on the Parables) picks up on this theme with this brief comment: “More important is the observation of Joachim Jeremias that this is not a typical judgment story insofar as the righteous are surprised at being among the saved.” [p. 124]
The observation of Jeremias (The Parables of Jesus) is:

There are Egyptian and rabbinic parallels which must be considered in relation to the substance of our passage. These similarly lay down the principle that works of mercy will be the decisive factor in the Judgment. But what a difference! Both in the Egyptian Book of the Dead and in the Midrash the dead man boasts self-confidently of his good deeds. ... How differently sounds the surprised question of the righteous in vv. 37-39 of our passage, who are unconscious of having rendered any service, to say nothing of the conception that in the persons of the poor and wretched, men are confronted by the hidden Messiah. [p. 208]

Granskou goes on to suggest that because of the surprised reactions, which breaks the normal pattern of a morality story, Jesus was combating a moralistic view of life and the judgment of God. [p. 125, my emphasis]
Most of us have had a similar type of “surprise”. Someone comes up to us and says, “What you did for me sure helped me a lot.” or “What you said to me had a powerful influence on my life.” While they are saying this, we are trying to remember what we said or did that was so great. Often, we don’t know what good we are doing – and only later discover that we have served Christ in the least of these. On the other hand, if we assume we are doing a great job, we might be surprised to hear about what we haven’t done.
Richard Jensen (Preaching Matthew’s Gospel) carries this idea a bit further. Some comments from his book about this parable:

The righteous are surprised. They don’t know their deeds. They haven’t kept score. Their left hand doesn’t seem to know what their right hand is doing (Matthew 6:3). …
The righteous were righteous because of their deeds and they didn’t know it. They didn’t know their own righteousness. ... The righteousness of the sheep was precisely an alien righteousness. They didn’t even know they possessed it! …
Note that in the story the opposite is also true. The unrighteous ones know their deeds. They have kept score. … The unrighteous are quite confident about their righteousness. It is always so with humanly crafted righteousness. Those who measure their righteousness on human scales are in for a shock at the day of judgment. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven …” (Matthew 7:21).
(pp. 220-222)
Jesus’ vision makes it clear. The life of the Christian is a life given in love to the least of these. But that’s good works, isn’t it? Won’t such good works for our neighbor destroy the “faith alone” foundation of our faith? (We Lutherans actually worry about this at times.) The answer to our question is “No.” Our good works will not destroy our “faith alone” posture. We can do all the loving of the least and little ones we can possibly imagine and not be liable to belief in works-righteousness. We are called to do lots of good works. We are also called not to keep score. When we keep score of our deeds we want to credit our love of neighbor to our heavenly bank account. Loving our neighbor is not the problem. Keeping score of our good deeds of neighbor-love is the problem. The truly righteous don’t keep score. Their left hand doesn’t know what their right hand is doing. Such as these will stand before the Sovereign one day clothed in Christ’s righteousness alone. [p. 222]

Another indication that this is not a works-righteous text is that the righteous don’t earn the kingdom, but they inherit it (v. 34). An inheritance is determined by the giver, not the receiver.
The verb “to inherit” (κληρονομέω - klēronomeō) is used only three times in Matthew, with three different objects:
• The meek inherit the earth (5:5)
• Those who have left everything will inherit eternal life (19:29)
• The righteous inherit the kingdom (25:34)
We might ask if our inheritance is earthly, spiritual, or heavenly. Whatever it is, it is something given to us by the generosity of the giver – not because we earned it.
This final speech of Jesus begins with the disciples asking: “Tell us, when (πότε - pote) will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (24:3b)
Three times in our text, the righteous ask “when” (πότε - pote – vv. 37, 38, 39) and once the “goats” ask “when” (πότε - pote – v. 44).
The only other instance of πότε (pote) is in Matthew 17:17 where it occurs twice:

Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer [lit. until when] must I be with you? How much longer [lit. until when] must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.”

The answer to the question: “When is Jesus coming?” in our text is “Now, when you do it to the least of these.” Jesus, who is coming, is present now in the “least of these”.
THE KINGDOM (βασιλεία - basileia)
Louw and Nida in the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament give this definition of βασιλεύω/βασιλεία (basileuō/basileia) and comment.

to rule as a king, with the implication of complete authority and the possibility of being able to pass on the right to rule to one’s son or near kin – “to rule, to be a king, to reign, rule, reign”. It is generally a serious mistake to translate the phrase βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ (basileia tou theou) with “the kingdom of God” as referring to a particular area in which God rules. The meaning of this phrase in the NT involves not a particular place or special period of time but the fact of ruling. An expression such as “to enter the kingdom of God” thus does not refer to “going to heaven” but should be understood as “accepting God’s rule” or “welcoming God to rule over.” 37.64
When we inherit the kingdom that has been prepared for us from the foundation of the cosmos, it is not a place, but living (now!) with God ruling over our lives. Such acceptance of God’s rule in our lives would lead us to care for the needy. And when we act in accordance with God’s rule, we have inherited the kingdom.
While our passage is the ending of Jesus’ final discourse, the image of Jesus being the outcasts of society leads into the passion (ch. 26-27). Robert Smith (Matthew) picks up this theme:

Indeed that great and final vision (25:31-46) prepares readers for the Passion Narrative (chaps. 26-27). In his vision Jesus speaks about being identified with the world’s outcasts, and in his passion he actively and actually identifies with them. The Son of God (27:40, 43) stands deliberately and voluntarily in the shoes of the powerless, the weak, the defenseless, the hated, the tortured. He began as a refugee and he ends as a condemned criminal. He gave his blood for them and for many (20:28; 26:27). [p. 299]

According to Smith: “Sheep and goats mingle and graze together each day. But when they are moved to fresh pasture or when sheep are due for shearing or goats for milking, or when evening falls and the goats must be sheltered against night’s chill, then they are separated” [p. 297].
The word for “separate” (ἀφορίζω - aphorizō) is a fairly rare word (10 times in the New Testament – 3 in Matthew). It occurs twice in v. 32 of our text and also in 13:49: “So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous.”
It is one of Matthew’s themes that there are sheep and goats, evil and righteous, wheat and weeds (Matthew 13:24-30) in the church (or in the world or within each of us) at the present time. The separation is not our responsibility, but the responsibility of the angels or of the king who comes at the end of the age. Although Matthew does have the discipline section in ch. 18, where a church member sins against another, the purpose of the discipline is not separation, but seeking to restore the wayward one. Until the time that the angels come to do the actual separating, we may have to put up with those stupid jerks in the world (and in the church and our own jerkiness) while we pray earnestly, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”
Jeremias indicates that: “sheep are the more valuable animals; moreover their white colour (in distinction from the black of the goats) makes them a symbol of the righteous.” [p. 206]
However, Lowe and Nida write about goats (ἔριφος - eriphos) in their Lexicon:

In contrast with usage in the Bible, in many parts of the tropical world goats are much more highly prized than sheep, because they can forage well for themselves and are appreciated for their meat. Sheep, on the other hand, are often regarded as scavengers and are much less valued. One should not reverse biblical statements about sheep and goats, but marginal notes and a fuller explanation of cultural differences in a glossary are important.

I’m not sure where I picked up this idea, but I used it in a sermon on this text. Why “sheep and goats”? Why not good sheep and bad sheep or good goats and bad goats? Ezekiel 34:20 does this: “Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them:  I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.” In that chapter, the judgment is between different sheep.
Why two different animals? It is impossible for a goat to become a sheep. Or, more positively, it would take a miracle for a goat to become a sheep. If Jesus can turn water into wine, perhaps turning a goat into a sheep is not impossible for him.
It was common for a shepherd to have both animals in his flock. However, throughout the Bible, including the First Reading (Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24) and Psalms (100 or 95:1-7a) for Christ the King A, God’s people are referred to as sheep. Throughout scriptures the image of sheep and shepherd is used to talk about the relationship between God and God’s people. Goats are not used in the image of this relationship.
So, it may be, that the distinction between sheep and goats refers to people who have a relationship with God and those who don’t – people who are sheep of the Good Shepherd and people who are merely goats.
Perhaps that the most important part of this parable: We are to be sheep under authority of the Good Shepherd. The separation takes place between sheep and goats before either group is told what they have or haven’t done. The sheep are told before they know anything about what they’ve done, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” It is not their “good deeds” that brings the blessing; it is because they are sheep, God’s people, living under authority of the Good Shepherd. But as sheep, they naturally did such good things for the needy and also to Christ.

Your Turn / Biblical Sexual Sins
« on: November 03, 2020, 07:01:23 PM »
In the Old Testament there are two sexual sins denoted by the root words:

na'aph literally, this is the sin of a man having sex with another man's wife (or slave or concubine). It is usually translated "to commit adultery." This was essentially a sin against the woman's husband. The word is used figuratively of Israel or Jerusalem turning to another god, and thus the word refers to "worshipping idols."

zanah literally refers to a woman who "plays a whore" or "is a prostitute." Israelite women were not to engage in this profession (Leviticus 19:29; 21:9; Deuteronomy 23:18). It doesn't seem to be forbidden for other women to be prostitutes. When Israelite spies sneak into Jericho, they spend the night at the house of the prostitute, Rahab, who becomes a model of faithfulness (by lying!) (Joshua 2:1; 6:17, 22, 25). Usually, prostitutes were connected with pagan worship practices. A different word, literally, "dog," was used for temple male prostitutes (Deuteronomy 23:18). Figuratively, it referred to Israel or Jerusalem "prostituting" herself with other gods. They were being unfaithful to their God.

One of these sins centered on the man. He could not have sex with another man's wife (or slave or concubine). Otherwise, the woman's husband wouldn't know if the offspring was his and thus a rightful heir to his property.

The other sin centered on (Israelite) women. They could not be prostitutes, which probably implied being connected with pagan worship. Thus, idolatry. We also recognize that it would have been impossible to know who the father was should the prostitute become pregnant.

Both of the terms were used metaphorically to refer to Israel's unfaithfulness to God.

These two sins are expressed by two groups of words in Greek.

μοιχεύω moicheuō & μοιχάομαι moichaomai & μοιχεία moicheia= "sexual intercourse of a man with a married woman other than his wife," = "to commit adultery," "adultery"

πορνεύω porneuō = originally referred to "being a prostitute" or "making use of a prostitute." The connection with prostitution is still seen in NT times when the related noun πόρνη pornē always refers to "a prostitute" or "a whore." However, the verb and some other cognates in the NT era are expanding their meaning and can refer to any unsanctioned sexual intercourse. They are often translated, "to fornicate" or "fornication." (The Latin origin of these words referred to a "brothel," so the prostitution aspect is behind these words, too.)

Especially earlier, μοιχεία (adultery) and πορνεία (sexual immorality [related to prostitution]) were distinguished, but Sirach 23:23 includes adultery with sexual immorality. The distinction isn't so clear in NT times.

Because πορνεύω and related words were undergoing an expansion of meaning during NT times, we can't be certain what the authors meant when they used these words. At best, two of my Greek-English Lexicon for the New Testament note that the words refer to sexual immorality that is "often" or "frequently" related to prostitution.

Your Turn / The Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical Books
« on: October 30, 2020, 02:26:30 PM »
Rather than continue the thread drift discussion on the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical Books, I'm starting a discussion on those books; and perhaps, more generally, on the Canon.

There is not a uniform Canon of Scriptures. The Protestant Bible has 66 books in the Old Testament. The Roman Catholic Bible has 73 books in the Old Testament. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has 81 books in their Old Testament.

An interesting book about the early history of Christian Scriptures is When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible, by Timothy Michael Law. He argues that we should be studying the Septuagint [LXX] for at least three reasons.

1. It sheds light on the development of Jewish thought between the third century BCE and the first century CE. It helps us understand Hellenistic Judaism which was the world of Jesus and the apostles.

2. While the Old Testament translations of our English Bibles comes from the Hebrew, the writers of the New Testament and the early church most often used the LXX. I add that our order of books follows the order in the LXX rather than the Hebrew Tanakh.

3. Not only was the Septuagint the "Bible" of the early church, but its theology was shaped by it and not by the Hebrew Bible.

We are also recognizing that sometimes the LXX preserves an older form of the Hebrew Text.

The issue of the LXX is important because that's where the additional books come from. They were part of the early church's scriptures from the very beginning.

A shift occurred with Jerome's Latin translation in 391 (to replace the Old Latin translation) where he used the Hebrew (a language he was one of the few Roman clerics to have learned) rather than the Greek. He believed that the Old Latin, based on the LXX was full of contradictions and errors that would be corrected by returning to the truth of the Hebrew. He was the one who used the term "Apocrypha" for those additional books in the LXX. He wanted to put them in a separate section.

Law writes: "Outside of a small population of Christians who had been using the Syriac Peshitta based on the Hebrew Bible, it was the first time in Christian history that a Bible other than or not based on the Septuagint was promoted for use in the church. For four hundred years most Christians had heard and read from the Septuagint and its daughter translations." (p. 161)

Augustine opposed Jerome's approach. He stated that the Hebrew Bible belonged to the Jews and the Septuagint to the church. He didn't believe the LXX's language should be changed to correspond to the Hebrew when there were differences. He also didn't believe Jerome's Hebrew language skills were sufficient to do a proper translation.

It should also be noted that Augustine was in North Africa, the birthplace of the LXX. Jerome was working in Bethlehem, where there were Hebrew resources and rabbinical scholars to help him.

Jerome gave the Western Church an Old Testament based on the Hebrew (with the additional books from the LXX); but perhaps even more importantly, he began an argument about the search for the original text. The Eastern Church didn't get caught up in this debate. They continue to use the LXX as the basis for their Old Testament; and why they have even more Old Testament books than the "Catholic Bibles."

The attached chart shows connections between Old Testament texts. The LXX is closer to the lost original than the Mt, which is the basis for the Hebrew used in translations today.

Your Turn / Pete Souza: The Way I See It
« on: October 26, 2020, 07:50:53 PM »

Pete Souza's movie: The Way I See It was recommended to us. My sister-in-law said that two people recommended it to her. It was on MSNBC. He was a White House photographer under Presidents Reagan and Obama. As a photojournalist he remained neutral. He's neutral no longer. The humanity and openness and respect for the office he saw with the daily lives (and in his photos) of the two presidents he longer sees. He feels that he must speak out.

Some of his photos can be seen here.

Your Turn / killing & murdering in Scriptures
« on: October 13, 2020, 02:38:36 PM »
I decided to do a study of the words and verses for "killing" and "murdering" in scriptures. I began by doing a search for "kill" and "murder" in A search for "kill" also finds "kills," "killing," "killers, etc.; and similarly for "murder."

The search for "kill" in the NRSV came up with a total of 570 verses: 374 OT, 101 NT, and 95 Apoc.
The search for "murder" in the NRSV came up with a total of 125 verses: 77 OT; 31 NT, and 17 Apoc.

I charted which Hebrew and Greek words they used in nearly all 695 verses. (I wasn't able to find the verses in 2 Esdras.) The comments below come from the NRSV.

Before sharing some findings, I also did a comparison of a few other translations. Since a couple of them do not include the Apocrypha, these are the totals for just the OT & NT.

                 NRSV  CEB  ESV  NASB
"kill" OT       374   400  301   221
"kill" NT       101   110    92     80
TOTAL        475  510   393   301
"murder" OT  77     50     30     32
"murder" NT  31     36     29     27
TOTAL        108    86     59     59

While not delving deeply into the differences, I suspect that the great discrepancy in occurrences from the low numbers in NASB to the high in CEB/NRSV is that the NASB and ESV tend to be more literal. That is, one of the Hebrew words means "to pierce." In some contexts, the piercing causes death, so the meaning of the word in that context is "to kill," which is how the CEB and to a lesser extent the NRSV will translate it. In other contexts it means "to wound." Another Hebrew word means, "to strike" or "to smite." In some contexts, it refers to causing the death of a person, so it means to kill in those contexts. The CEB will make that clear in the translation. A phrase like "to strike with the sword," could mean wounding the other person. The NASB is willing to leave the ambiguity about the meaning.

Some observations from the 695 verses in the NRSV.

The most common Hebrew roots translated, "kill" are:

Two observations about these three roots:
1. All are also translated with "murder" in a few contexts. Thus they can refer to both legal and illegal killing; and intentional and unintentional killing. The Torah makes a distinction between intentional and unintentional killing. There were cities of refuge where someone who accidentally killed another could flee and be safe. Those who intentionally killed another (committed murder,) were to be put to death (מות).
2. All three words are used of God killing humans as divine judgment against sin, e.g., the LORD killing the first born sons (Exodus 13:15); or, the statement in Deuteronomy 32:39: "See now that I, even I, am he; there is no god besides me. I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and no one can deliver from my hand." Presumably, such killing by God is justifiable. What these words describe is not always an illegal act.

A different root is the most common one for "murder". It is the one used in the Ten Commandments:
A few times this root is also translated "kill".
It is never used of God causing the death of a person. Thus, it seems to me, this is the preferred word for illegal or immoral killing, i.e., the crime of "murder." God would not be guilty of murdering human beings.

In the NT, the related words: φονεύω, "to murder," φόνος, "murder," and φονεύς "murderer,"  are always used for illegal and intentional killing = "murder," except, perhaps, Hebrews 11:37 where the NRSV, ESV, and NASB don't translate φόνος. The phrase in that verse: ἐν φόνῳ μαχαίρης ἀπέθανον, could be translated, "by murder of a sword they were killed."

Your Turn / Language and Truth
« on: October 07, 2020, 08:05:16 PM »
A number of our discussions have strayed into the idea of "truth." "What is truth?" asked Pilate.

The idea of "language and truth" struck me as I was studying "Lucifer" (in Isaiah 14:12 KJV). The phrase, "Morning Star" or "Day Star" also appears in that verse in some translations for הֵילֵל. These are terms that refer to Venus.

The dictionary (poorly) defines "truth" as: the quality or state of being true.

So, I look at the definition for "true." There are two (of four) that apply to this discussion.
1. in accordance with fact or reality
2. accurate or exact

The use of the language of "Morning Star" or "Day Star" for Venus is not true, because Venus is not a star. Calling it a "star" is not in accordance with fact or reality. It is not accurate.

In a similar way, on the fourth day of creation when God created "the lights in the dome of the sky," and it goes on to say, "God made the stars and two great lights: the larger light to rule over the day and the smaller light to rule over the night" (Genesis 1:14 CEB). This language is not in accordance with fact or reality. It's not accurate. The moon is not a light. In addition, the language of "dome" (or "firmament" or "expanse" - see Job 37:18 for the Jewish understanding of the "dome" as a solid piece of metal spread out like a mirror), is not accordance with fact or reality. It is not accurate.

However, from the understanding of the ancient peoples, all of these terms were true based on their understanding of the facts and reality. They saw Venus in the morning as a Morning Star shining in the sky. They saw the moon in the evening as a lesser light shining in the dark. They saw the sky as a big doom over the earth (supposedly holding back the waters that were above it).

As human understanding of the world changed, so did our understanding of what was true. What they used to think was true (accurately being in accordance with fact or reality) was no longer true for those who now had a different understanding of what was real. As it is, the language remains. Venus may still be called the Morning Star, even though it's not accurate. We can talk about the moon shining in the night, even though it's not quite accurate. We are less inclined to talk about a dome above the earth since we have sent rockets beyond our atmosphere. However, we continue to talk about the sun rising and setting, even though we know it's really the earth turning that gives us the perception that the sun comes up in the east and goes down in the west.

I maintain that when someone says, "That's true," that truth comes from their own understanding of the facts or their sense of reality.

Your Turn / Avoid Congenial Bible Interpretation?
« on: October 02, 2020, 01:46:21 PM »
This subject comes from a statement in the Preface of the Jesus Seminar's The Five Gospels. After listing their "Seven Pillars of Scholarly Wisdom," they conclude with:

In addition, the final test is to ask whether the Jesus we have found is the Jesus we wanted to find. The last temptation is to create Jesus in our own image, to marshal the facts to support preconceived convictions. This fatal pitfall has prompted the Jesus Seminar to adopt as its final general rule of evidence: Beware of finding a Jesus entirely congenial to you. (p. 5, emphasis in original)

I would broaden the advice and also suggest: Beware of finding a theology entirely congenial to you. If we find every biblical passage to be Lutheran (or Pauline) in its theology, I suspect that we have found what we wanted to find. We created the interpretation in our own image; our own preconceived convictions.

For example, I don't think that Matthew has the same theology as Paul. Not once does Matthew talk about grace. Very seldom does he talk about "justification" - and he doesn't use the word in the same sense as Paul.

To state this premise in another way, we should expect God to surprise us or challenge us with something new in a good Bible study rather than just affirm what we already believe?

Your Turn / The Political Divide
« on: September 18, 2020, 01:46:38 PM »
CBS This Morning had the following segment on "The Political Divide." Groups of people watch the same video and come to quite different interpretation of the facts. How can we come together when we can't agree on what the facts are?

Your Turn / Poll: Change of doctors or insurance
« on: September 12, 2020, 08:39:44 PM »
The claim has been made that Obamacare, contrary to then President Obama, forced people to change doctors and insurance companies. I'm wondering how many in this forum had to change (or not) because of this program.

Your Turn / … and rare.
« on: September 03, 2020, 02:30:18 PM »

Some of the voting discussions have centered on abortion. For some, it seems, that is the single issue or most important issue concerning the candidates they will vote for (or against). I'd like to approach it from another angle.

Bill Clinton used this phrase about abortions: "Safe, legal, and rare."

I suspect that no one is in favor of unsafe abortions.

Many seek making abortions illegal, which some experts say will not happen; and others indicate that greater anti-abortion legislation does not reduce the number of abortions.

This leaves working at making abortions rare. Statistics indicate that they are becoming the rarest they have been since Roe v. Wade was passed in 1973.

The following article as well as some others indicate the two key ways of reducing abortions:
1. Proper sex education
2. Free birth control

The following article adds a third:
3. Tackling the subject of rape culture

Rather that arguing pro-life vs. pro-choice positions; I think a discussion about ways of making abortions rarer will be more fruitful.

Some additional issues besides those above.

4. How do we help women turn an unwanted pregnancy into a wanted pregnancy? This would include issues such as paid maternity leaves, adequate health care for the mother and child, salaries that are sufficient not just to live on, but also would pay for child care when needed.

Your Turn / One God, Three Persons
« on: July 18, 2020, 05:20:01 PM »
Once again I was charged with heresy.

In a similar way, I dislike the language: "Jesus rose from the dead." That makes it sound like Jesus made himself rise. If he were truly dead, he could do nothing for himself. I prefer the passive, "Jesus was raised from the dead." The Father, the Creator, who gave life to dirt, was the power behind raising the corpse of Jesus.
The ole Stoffregen heresy gratuitously rears its ugly head again.   ::)

I chose my language very carefully. Our God is three persons: Father, Son/Jesus, Holy Spirit. Jesus is not the Father. Jesus is not the Holy Spirit. The Father is not the Holy Spirit. To mix up these terms for the distinct persons is heresy.

Did Jesus raise himself from the dead? I say, "No." If Jesus had even a minute ability to do something for himself, then he wasn't truly dead. A part of him was still able to function. Then the analogy would be that when we are dead in our trespasses and sins, we still have a smidgeon of ability to bring ourselves back to the new life. I believe that our theology says that we are helpless - as helpless as Lazarus or Jesus being dead in their tombs.

Your Turn / I Am a Liberal
« on: June 13, 2020, 01:42:00 PM »
The following article has appeared on Facebook as coming from actor/director Ron Howard. It did not. The real author's name is included at the end of this post. It pretty much reflects my "liberal" positions.

An open letter to friends and family who are/were shocked to discover I'm a liberal...

This is going to be VERY long, so: TL;DR: I'm a liberal, I've always been a liberal, but that doesn't mean what a lot of you apparently think it does.

Some of you suspected. Some of you were shocked. Many of you have known me for years, even the majority of my life. We either steadfastly avoided political topics, or I carefully steered conversations away from the more incendiary subjects in the name of keeping the peace. "I'm a liberal" isn't really something you broadcast in social circles where "the liberals" can't be said without wrinkling one's nose.

But then the 2016 election happened, and staying quiet wasn't an option anymore. Since then, I've received no shortage of emails and comments from people who were shocked, horrified, disappointed, disgusted, or otherwise displeased to realize I am *wrinkles nose* a liberal. Yep. I'm one of those bleeding heart commies who hates anyone who's white, straight, or conservative, and who wants the government to dictate everything you do while taking your money and giving it to people who don't work.

Or am I?

Let's break it down, shall we? Because quite frankly, I'm getting a little tired of being told what I believe and what I stand for. Spoiler alert: Not every liberal is the same, though the majority of liberals I know think along roughly these same lines.

1. I believe a country should take care of its weakest members. A country cannot call itself civilized when its children, disabled, sick, and elderly are neglected. Period.

2. I believe healthcare is a right, not a privilege. Somehow that's interpreted as "I believe Obamacare is the end-all, be-all." This is not the case. I'm fully aware that the ACA has problems, that a national healthcare system would require everyone to chip in, and that it's impossible to create one that is devoid of flaws, but I have yet to hear an argument against it that makes "let people die because they can't afford healthcare" a better alternative. I believe healthcare should be far cheaper than it is, and that everyone should have access to it. And no, I'm not opposed to paying higher taxes in the name of making that happen.

3. I believe education should be affordable and accessible to everyone. It doesn't necessarily have to be free (though it works in other countries so I'm mystified as to why it can't work in the US), but at the end of the day, there is no excuse for students graduating college saddled with five- or six-figure debt.

4. I don't believe your money should be taken from you and given to people who don't want to work. I have literally never encountered anyone who believes this. Ever. I just have a massive moral problem with a society where a handful of people can possess the majority of the wealth while there are people literally starving to death, freezing to death, or dying because they can't afford to go to the doctor. Fair wages, lower housing costs, universal healthcare, affordable education, and the wealthy actually paying their share would go a long way toward alleviating this. Somehow believing that makes me a communist.

5. I don't throw around "I'm willing to pay higher taxes" lightly. I'm self-employed, so I already pay a shitload of taxes. If I'm suggesting something that involves paying more, that means increasing my already eye-watering tax bill. I'm fine with paying my share as long as it's actually going to something besides lining corporate pockets or bombing other countries while Americans die without healthcare.

6. I believe companies should be required to pay their employees a decent, livable wage. Somehow this is always interpreted as me wanting burger flippers to be able to afford a penthouse apartment and a Mercedes. What it actually means is that no one should have to work three full-time jobs just to keep their head above water. Restaurant servers should not have to rely on tips, multibillion dollar companies should not have employees on food stamps, workers shouldn't have to work themselves into the ground just to barely make ends meet, and minimum wage should be enough for someone to work 40 hours and live.

7. I am not anti-Christian. I have no desire to stop Christians from being Christians, to close churches, to ban the Bible, to forbid prayer in school, etc. (BTW, prayer in school is NOT illegal; *compulsory* prayer in school is - and should be - illegal) All I ask is that Christians recognize *my* right to live according to *my* beliefs. When I get pissed off that a politician is trying to legislate Scripture into law, I'm not "offended by Christianity" -- I'm offended that you're trying to force me to live by your religion's rules. You know how you get really upset at the thought of Muslims imposing Sharia on you? That's how I feel about Christians trying to impose biblical law on me. Be a Christian. Do your thing. Just don't force it on me or mine.

8. I don't believe LGBT people should have more rights than you. I just believe we should have the *same* rights as you.

9. I don't believe illegal immigrants should come to America and have the world at their feet, especially since THIS ISN'T WHAT THEY DO (spoiler: undocumented immigrants are ineligible for all those programs they're supposed to be abusing, and if they're "stealing" your job it's because your employer is hiring illegally.). I'm not opposed to deporting people who are here illegally, but I believe there are far more humane ways to handle undocumented immigration than our current practices (i.e., detaining children, splitting up families, ending DACA, etc).

10. I believe we should take in refugees, or at the very least not turn them away without due consideration. Turning thousands of people away because a terrorist might slip through is inhumane, especially when we consider what has happened historically to refugees who were turned away (see: MS St. Louis). If we're so opposed to taking in refugees, maybe we should consider not causing them to become refugees in the first place. Because we're fooling ourselves if we think that somewhere in the chain of events leading to these people becoming refugees, there isn't a line describing something the US did.

11. I don't believe the government should regulate everything, but since greed is such a driving force in our country, we NEED regulations to prevent cut corners, environmental destruction, tainted food/water, unsafe materials in consumable goods or medical equipment, etc. It's not that I want the government's hands in everything -- I just don't trust people trying to make money to ensure that their products/practices/etc are actually SAFE. Is the government devoid of shadiness? Of course not. But with those regulations in place, consumers have recourse if they're harmed and companies are liable for medical bills, environmental cleanup, etc. Just kind of seems like common sense when the alternative to government regulation is letting companies bring their bottom line into the equation.

12. I believe our current administration is fascist. Not because I dislike them or because I'm butthurt over an election, but because I've spent too many years reading and learning about the Third Reich to miss the similarities. Not because any administration I dislike must be Nazis, but because things are actually mirroring authoritarian and fascist regimes of the past.

13. I believe the systemic racism and misogyny in our society is much worse than many people think, and desperately needs to be addressed. Which means those with privilege -- white, straight, male, economic, etc -- need to start listening, even if you don't like what you're hearing, so we can start dismantling everything that's causing people to be marginalized.

14. I believe in so-called political correctness. Not because everyone is a delicate snowflake, but because as Maya Angelou put it, when we know better, we do better. When someone tells you that a term or phrase is more accurate/less hurtful than the one you're using, you now know better. So why not do better? How does it hurt you to NOT hurt another person? Your refusal to adjust your vocabulary in the name of not being an asshole kind of makes YOU the snowflake.

15. I believe in funding sustainable energy, including offering education to people currently working in coal or oil so they can change jobs. There are too many sustainable options available for us to continue with coal and oil. Sorry, billionaires. Maybe try investing in something else.

I think that about covers it. Bottom line is that I'm a liberal because I think we should take care of each other. That doesn't mean you should work 80 hours a week so your lazy neighbor can get all your money. It just means I don't believe there is any scenario in which preventable suffering is an acceptable outcome as long as money is saved.

So, I'm a liberal.

(c) 2018 Lori Gallagher Witt. Feel free to share, but please give me credit, and if you add or change anything, please note accordingly.

Your Turn / Justice and Forgiveness
« on: June 01, 2020, 12:39:02 PM »
How do we as Christians navigate Jesus’ call to forgive, (not seek revenge; not punish others as their sins deserve); and the call for justice, (to punish others as their crimes warrant)?

This is a more general discuss rather than specifically about justice for George Floyd.

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