Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reading the Old Testament Story

(Note: This is another in a series of postings of material used in a Confirmation class)

Attempts to read through the Bible, beginning with the creation stories in Genesis and proceeding through the inspirational and perhaps comforting accounts of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel, Joseph, and Moses often get bogged down in the book of Leviticus which immediately follows. Here is my suggestion: For the time being, skip Leviticus which is all about the Priesthood and seemingly mysterious religious laws, sometimes prescribing the death penalty, and proceed to Numbers which focuses on what happened to the people during their wilderness wanderings. Of course some of these events will seem very mysterious also, but, just remember, it was a long time ago. Two themes will ring true even today, and those are the theme of complaining by the people and the theme of the steadfast love and faithfulness of God.

I suggest skipping Deuteronomy, lots of review of the past and speech making by Moses. Just make a note to come back and read it later and proceed to Joshua which describes the crossing of the Jordan River into the “Promised Land,” the defeat of Jericho, and the struggles which followed. Then read the book of Judges, about the early years in the new land before the people demanded a king.

Skip Ruth for now and read through 1st and 2nd Samuel and 1st and 2nd Kings for the stories of Samuel, Saul, David, Solomon, and the political upheaval and series of mostly infamous kings who followed Solomon. These books end in the defeat and occupation or exile of the Jews by Assyria and Babylon.

Skip 1st and 2nd Chronicles, a recap of the whole story written much later and with a different slant, and read Ezra and Nehemiah which tell the story of the release and return of the Jews to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple.

This chronological arrangement of the books Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Ezra, and Nehemiah shows up at the bottom of the chart above, just above the arrow spanning the 1700 years from Abraham to Jesus. Other Old Testament books are positioned on the timeline to show the approximate setting, not necessarily the time during which they were written.

Maybe someday I will get around to positioning the Deuterocanonical books on the chart.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Division, Civil War, Defeat, Exile, and Return

After the death of King Solomon, the Kingdom of Israel divided and engaged in civil war, Northern Israel against Southern Judah.  The warnings of Samuel about kingship were validated as both were led by a series of mostly bad kings.  But the Bible story depicts the continuing “steadfast love” of God throughout their trials and tribulations. 

The Northern Kingdom survived 201 years and 19 kings before being defeated by the Assyrians who infiltrated and settled among the people.  Thus originated the infamous Samaritans, a mixed race with dubious religious practices. 

The Southern Kingdom, Judah, including the dynasty of King David, survived 336 years and 20 kings before being defeated and exiled to Baghdad by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.  A remnant of Jews, the poorest people, were left in the homeland “to be vinedressers and tillers of the soil.”  What a difference between the effects of infiltration and exile.

After 47 years in captivity, God “stirred up the spirit” of King Cyrus of Persia so that he released the Jewish captives to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple his predecessor had destroyed.

If you don’t read anything else in the lists below, be sure to check out the ancient stories of the theft of Naboth’s vineyard and the healing of Naaman’s leprosy.

Note: This is another in a series of simple outlines of Old Testament history suitable for an introductory Bible course or for a Confirmation Class.  Others in the series are:

Primeval History in the Bible

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Samuel, Saul, David, and Solomon

Everybody who grew up going to Sunday School in a Christian church knows the stories of the boy Samuel being called by God three times but thinking the calls were from the priest Eli, of Saul being anointed by Samuel as the first king of Israel, of David slaying Goliath, and of Solomon solving a dispute over a child by ordering that the child be cut in half with each claimant getting a portion. But those offer just a glimpse of the richness that can be found in the Old Testament accounts of the lives and deaths of these important leaders.

Samuel was the last of the judges of Israel because his sons were not seen as suitable successors and the people were demanding a king. After all, everybody else had a king. Samuel’s warning to the people of what a king would do resonates today as we see kings still failing and falling in the Middle East. His words might even serve as an advance warning to us as we tend to look to presidential candidates as all-powerful solutions to all our problems. Are we looking for a king or a savior?

The mysterious encounter between Samuel and Saul whom he anoints as the first king and whom he helps find some missing donkeys, ending with Saul in a “prophetic frenzy,” is not typical Bible story material. The X rated encounter of David and Bathsheba, ending in the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, is as racy as modern TV shows and movies. And, we don’t spend a lot of time talking about God’s anger with Solomon, led astray by his seven hundred princesses and 300 concubines, and Solomon’s final failure as a King.

The outline below highlights key points of the stories of these four leading characters in Jewish and Christian history. Read and enjoy. Pay special attention to the story of Samuel’s mother, Hannah, and Samuel’s birth and upbringing. There are interesting parallels between Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2 and the prayer of Mary the mother of Jesus in Luke 1.  Click on it for a high-resolution view.

Note: This is another in a series of Old Testament story outlines that were developed for and used in a confirmation class for middle school students. Earlier outlines posted are these:

Primeval History in the Bible

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Israel's Judges

There is that old Bible trivia question: Who in the Bible (besides Adam and Eve, of course) had no parents?  Why, Joshua, the son of Nun, of course.  Joshua took over from Moses and led the people in some degree of conquest of the Promised Land. Then Joshua died, and things got pretty messy with no powerful leader in charge. According to the book of Judges, The LORD raised up Judges who seem to have been tribal and military leaders. Twelve are mentioned, but the best known are Deborah, Gideon, and Samson. Their's are provocative and interesting stories including an incident of a tent peg driven through somebody's head, an army thinned down to only a few good men, and the first known suicide pillar puller. This period of the judges last about 200 years and was a time when "all the people did what was right in their own eyes." You'd think that would have made them happy.  You can click on this chart for a high resolution view.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Moses, Miriam, Aaron, and Joshua

Moses, his prophetess sister Miriam, his spokesman Aaron, and his successor Joshua are the dominant characters of the Old Testament books of Exodus through Joshua. Abraham had just gotten up and gone when God told him to do so, but Moses started a new tradition by explaining why God had made a bad choice and why His plan might not work. Finally he was persuaded and rose to the occasion by leading the people out of Egyptian slavery and dealing with their complaints in the wilderness for forty years.

The name of Moses, an important character in Christian tradition, shows up 79 times in the New Testament, and he appears with Jesus and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration. He did a lot of preaching near the end, advising the people to “choose life,” and died at age 120, “his eye undimmed, his vigour unimpaired.” Not a bad way to go.

Miriam is famous for leading all the women in a song of praise to God after their escape from Egypt and for angering God by criticizing Moses, “the humblest man on earth,” over his choice of a mate. Aaron was an able staff assistant to Moses but set a new standard for blame dodging with his statement that he had collected gold from the people and thrown it in the fire “and out came this calf!

Joshua started as an assistant to Moses, did some spying in the Promised Land, and then took over leadership when Moses was denied the joy of leading the people across the Jordan River. He is best known for that battle at Jericho. A famous and oft-quoted phrase from Joshua is, “…for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

The stories of these people are entertaining, sobering, and inspiring. The exhibit below outlines the major events and tells where to find them in the Bible.  Click on it for a high resolution view

Friday, October 7, 2011

Three Patriarchs, Three Matriarchs, and a Favorite Son

Once Abraham shows up at the end of Genesis 11, the rest of the 50 chapters cover his life and the lives of the other patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people including his wife Sarah, their son Isaac and his wife Rebecca, and their troublesome twins, Jacob and Esau. Jacob, with minimal and non-exclusive, help from his wife Rachel, fathers the twelve heads of the tribes of Israel including Joseph whose story occupies the last 16 chapters. It’s a great story, recounted briefly by Stephen, the first Christian martyr, in Acts 7 just before being killed by stoning.

The exhibit below is a guide to reading and remembering the stories with references given for major events in the lives of all these chosen people. They are worth remembering because six times in the New Testament, God is described as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and we are told by Jesus in Matthew 8:11 that “…many will come from east and west and sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of Heaven.”

This story ends with favorite son Joseph in a position of prominence and authority in Egypt when “there came to power in Egypt a new king who had never heard of Joseph.” (Exodus 1:8)  That is a preface to drama.

Click on the exhibit for a high resolution view.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Primeval History in the Bible

Here is a brief and possibly helpful outline of the four major Biblical events in primeval or ancient or prehistorical times covered in the first eleven chapters of Genesis. Whether these stories are taken as literal truth as some fundamentalist Christians do or as revelation of eternal truths told and eventually written in the genre of myth, the focus must be on what they teach about God and humankind.  

An interesting feature is the first mention of "forty days" as a significant period of time.That is how long the flooding rain lasted in Genesis, it is how long Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, and the tradition survives in the Church today in the forty days of Lent. Some other examples are listed on the exhibit below. There is an interesting summary of Biblical uses and significance of that time period at American Catholic website.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Prophets Prophets Prophets

In the fall of 2003 I took Dr. Lamontte Luker's course in Old Testament Theology at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.  A good portion of that course was on the thread of prophecy that runs from the first hint of messengers as prophets in Genesis 32 and first use of the Hebrew word for prophet, nabi, in Exodus 7 through Malachi, the last of the classical prophets.

I have commented earlier on my difficulty remembering details and the need to outline and present information in some way that makes it visually interesting.  The charts below were created to help me remember key points about the history of prophecy and about the prophets themselves.  As I have also said, most of the value of such exhibits is in the creation of them rather than in the use of them by others, but they took a fair amount of work and I hate to just toss them out.  They are not worth much now, but at least they are free.

The background for all the charts is a timeline covering the approximately 1700 years from Abraham to Jesus.  The various prophets are therefore shown in chronological order, which is different from the order in the Bible, and the chart also indicates whether  they prophesied in the Northern or Southern Kingdom, and before or after defeat and captivity.

If you took Dr. Luker's course, or a similar one elsewhere, or if you just want to undertake your own study, these might be a helpful review or study/learning aid.  Probably the most shocking thing students learn from such a course is that the prophets were not primarily people who spent their time going around predicting the future but  were usually focusing their comments on the current situation and what it was likely to lead to if folks didn't change their ways.  

You can click on these charts for high resolution versions.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Old Testament Timeline - Abraham to Jesus

In Genesis 12:1, God told Abram to get up and go, and Abram, setting an example for us all, got up and went, taking his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all their possessions, and headed for the land of Canaan. Abram, later to become Abraham, lived under a promise that God would bless him and make him a great nation and that through him all families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). And that is the beginning, not of theological truth, but of history, in the Bible. And, while the story from that point on is historical, it is theological truth that dominates and is best served by the choices of people and events described and the words used to tell what happened.

The Old Testament story comes to life once the basic framework and timeline are in place and the people and events can be placed in proper context. It is for that reason that the timeline chart below was constructed by me, used in my OT study, and later in confirmation classes. Of course the greatest value is not in the use of such a device but in the construction of it. Nevertheless, here it is to use and/or improve as you see fit.  Click on it for a better view.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Kings, Kings, Kings - Turmoil in the Middle East

It is probably personal frustration with difficulty remembering details that drives my compulsion to gather and organize information visually, preferably on a single page. I did a lot of that during my three years at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. One topic I covered, superficially of course due to limited space, was Old Testament Kings of the Israelites.

The theme of kingship is an interesting one to follow through the Bible all the way from that first demand of the people for a king and Samuel's warning about the problems that would cause to the arrival of the perfect but generally unrecognized and unacknowledged King of Kings, Jesus Christ.

The OT books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles include a wealth of stories about the roughly 600 years from the anointing of the first king, Saul, until the last of the people of Judah, the southern part of the divided kingdom, were defeated by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and taken into captivity.  The diagram below was my attempt to organize the information in a way that would help me remember it.  Maybe you have a Sunday School class or a Confirmation class or other Bible study to lead and would find this helpful.  Feel free to use it and, if you find any mistakes, let me know.  I have a few more diagrams similar to this that I hate to throw away and will probably end up posting here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Literary Structure in The Bible

With rapid expansion of digital communication, we may be losing the capability of constructing informative or inspiring sentences, punctuated and capitalized correctly, composed of carefully chosen and correctly spelled words, and arranged in logically organized and sequenced paragraphs. Apparently the ancient Greeks and Romans didn’t have those skills either, but they seem to have had something much more sophisticated. Take a look at this image of a Greek manuscript from Wikipedia.

Looks like Greek to me!  According to the Wikipedia article, this is the section of the New Testament we now label 2 Corinthians 11:33-12:9 (Chapter and verse designations were added only about 500 years ago.) Here it is in English, New Revised Standard Version, with all our normal grammatical helps removed and without the verse numbers.  Still looks like Greek.

but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped from his hands it is necessary to boast nothing is to be gained by it but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord i know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven whether in the body or out of the body I do not know god knows and I know that such a person whether in the body or out of the body I do not know god knows was caught up into paradise and heard things that are not to be told that no mortal is permitted to repeat on behalf of such a one I will boast but on my own behalf I will not boast except of my weaknesses but if I wish to boast I will not be a fool for I will be speaking the truth but I refrain from it so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me even considering the exceptional character of the revelations therefore to keep me from being too elated a thorn was given me in the flesh a messenger of Satan to torment me to keep me from being too elated three times I appealed to the Lord about this that it would leave me but he said to me my grace is sufficient for you for power is made perfect in weakness so I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in me

In my math and science oriented education, 1948-1964, I missed all study of classical languages.  Had I studied Latin, I would probably know all about chiastic structure or chiasms, but the first I ever heard of them was during Bible courses at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, 2002-2004.

Take a look at these links for a quick introduction or a refresher and some examples.


I played around a bit with the passage above from 2 Corinthians and believe I found a chiastic structure buried therein, in Chapter 12, verses 1-5 (Click for a better view, then "back.":

So, what is the point?  Chiastic structures can be very helpful by pointing out where the writer intended to begin and end a sentence, a paragraph, or a longer passage.  "Boast" in the above section may be considered an inclusio, bracketing the section or perhaps paragraph.  So, whether it is important or not, I do not know, God knows, but it seems to me to be very useful in meditation on and study of Holy Scripture, searching for the deeper meanings.

During one seminary course, I wrote a paper on John 9, the story of the man born blind.  What a great story!  This narrative could be easily expanded into a screen play with interesting and complex characters and multiple underlying themes.  Here is an outline I prepared of the chiastic structure:

And here is the entire text organized in that same form.  I can't claim the professor gave me a superb rating on this structure, but he didn't declare it completely invalid either.  Read and enjoy! (Click for a more readable version, then "back.":

Sunday, July 3, 2011


An interesting way to view the history of The Church is through consideration of the struggle that has gone on through the centuries to understand and explain the unexplainable.  From a Catholic viewpoint, possible explanations that were rejected by the church carry the label, “heresy,” meaning that while we have no full and complete and correct explanations of God, those particular rejected explanations have been judged to be wrong.  I guess it is often easier to be clear about what does not work than about what does.  Here is a list with an approximate timeline of many of the heresies than have been identified.  Click on it for a readable version. The Nicene Creed, which addressed and rejected the major heresies of the time, originated at the Council of Nicaea in 325 and was amended at the First Council of Constantinople in 381.

First was the idea that one had to become a Jew (and be circumcised) before becoming a Christian.  That was rejected at the Council of Jerusalem about 15 years after the resurrection.  Then there were all those questions about Jesus.  Was he divine or human or both?  Was he prophet or savior?  Was he created by the Father, adopted by the Father, just one form of the Father, subordinate to the Father, or equal to and co-existent with the Father?  Did he have one nature or two, one will or two?  Did He come to save the whole world, or all people or just some people or just certain people?  Will he return physically or spiritually, now or later or never?  Did He just come to model the way he wants us to live, or did he establish a Church and leave people in charge of it.  Did he really die on the cross, or did somebody else take his place?

There were questions about God.  Is he involved continually with his creation or did he just set everything in motion at the creation and sit back to see what happens?  Was his creation evil or good or both?  How could he have created evil, and if he didn’t, what is the explanation for evil in the world?  Are there an evil god who created the earth and a good God, represented by Jesus, who rules the world to come?

What about the Church.  Is it just an invisible conglomeration of believers, or is it supposed to take up space and have a voice in the world.  Is it a democracy subject to the social pressures and whims of its members, or is there a teaching authority established by Jesus and handed down through the centuries to serve as a guide for society?  Does the Church do such things as baptism and communion just in obedience to and in memory of Jesus Christ, or is God truly present and primary in such actions?  Does the validity of such “sacraments,” if they are considered to be so, depend on the moral standing of the priest or pastor or only on the Grace of God?

And what about us and our salvation? Are we free and independent agents, choosing between good and evil, or are we totally dependent on God’s grace for anything good to happen.  Or maybe we just need a little nudge from the Almighty to get us headed in the right direction.  Or maybe our destinies have already been determined and we are just pawns.  Are we to read the Bible and interpret it as we see fit, or is there help or even some final word from the Church to assist or perhaps inform our understanding?

If you look through the subjects on the above chart, you will find references to all these questions.  And so far, the best statement we have of what we believe seems to be the Nicene Creed, finalized about 350 years after Christ and surviving now for more than 1600 years.    

Thanks be to God for the gift of The Church, The Body of Christ.

My primary sources for the information in the exhibit were Dissent from the Creed by Richard M. Hogan, The Story of Christianity by Justo L. Gonzalez, and www.newadvent.org.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


April 15, 1951, I was baptized into the Christian faith at First Baptist Church, Maryville, TN.  Today, Pentecost, June 12, 2011, I received the Sacrament of Confirmation at St. Peter's Catholic Church, Columbia, SC.  Thank you, Jesus, for this special manifestation of the gift of The Holy Spirit.


1285 Baptism, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Confirmation together constitute the "sacraments of Christian initiation," whose unity must be safeguarded. It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. For by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed. - From Catechism of the Catholic Church

Acts 8:12-17  But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.  Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.  Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:  Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:  (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)  Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Judge Not!

Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. - Mark 10:18

That is the response of Jesus to a man who had just knelt before him, addressed him as "Good teacher," and asked about eternal life.  I always have trouble identifying irony (I'm a chemical engineer, after all.), but I think this example of God asking a man why he is being called good because only God is good might qualify.  It is difficult to be sure what is going on.  Maybe Jesus recognized that the man seemed to know that He was God.  Or maybe Jesus simply saw the occasion as a teachable moment about judging.  Or, perhaps as suggested by commentator Pheme Perkins in The Interpreter’s Bible, Jesus was just trying to keep the focus on God alone and avoid any shift of attention from God to himself.

We have a more explicit and much more widely quoted statement about judging in Matthew 7:1.   "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged."  That's confusing because we seem to be promised in scripture that we will be judged (Hebrews 9:27 for example).  Perhaps that is the reason that many read Matthew 7:1 as "Don't condemn so that you may not be condemned."  That doesn't help because we also know from scripture that whether we are condemned is not a function simply of whether or not we condemn (John 3:18 for example).  It is sometimes assumed that Jesus’ following statement, “in the same way you judge others, you will be judged,” refers to the final judgment, but it is hard for me to believe that God is going to adjust His standards of judgment to match ours.  So it seems more reasonable to me to see this Matthew 7:1 commandment as applying to earthly life, the way we are to live with each other, than to the final judgment.

I humbly offer my simple and unauthoritative solution to this question of what we are to do about judging each other.  Maybe the two verses, the warning against calling anyone good and the warning against judging, can be considered together to mean that we are not to be either approving or disapproving each other but rather to just be loving unconditionally in accord with the second greatest commandment (Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. - Mark 12:31).  Surely we can accept and live with and care for others without making personal judgments about them.  After all, we know that our basis for making such personal judgments, either positive or negative, is limited because, "...the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7

Well, the realization that the Lord is looking on our hearts should really give pause.  Putting up a good front won’t make any difference in that case.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Going to Church

Now that regular church attendance is no longer default behavior for responsible citizens as it was when I was growing up in a small East Tennessee town, much is being written about how and why the remaining regular attendees choose the particular churches they attend. Denomination choices may well be based either on sticking with, or avoiding, the denomination of one’s parents, but congregation choices seem too often to be based on liking the pastor, the sermons, the music, the food, the fun, or the fellowship. Sometimes proximity and convenience may play a role. Opportunities for service and ministry could play a role for serious believers, because, for them, personal involvement is essential. And perhaps some are just looking for confirmation of whatever theological or social positions they have adopted as their own over time though it does seem that few are interested in theology while many are interested in social issues.

But, not all denominations and churches are losing ground. While there is concern about loss of members and drooping attendance at so-called mainline denominations in the US, Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists have kept up pretty well with growth in the population.

The table above, data from Demographia, shows that, while 54% of the population claimed church membership in 1960, only 27% of the 110 million person increase over the next 40+ years joined up. This is old data, but I think the trends have generally continued during the last six or eight years.  Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists have shown the biggest absolute increases. The shrinking of some groups, at the expense of others, wouldn’t really matter except that organized churches get caught up in worldly things such as expensive and lightly used structures, headquarters operations, staffs, and utility bills. Such obligations spark a bit of competitiveness in efforts to keep enough funds coming in to avoid the pain of shrinkage and sometimes distract attention from the essential focus of Christianity: Jesus Christ.

Whether our personal theologies are best expressed by the singing of Blessed Assurance  or of Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence  and whether we prefer the democracy of congregationalism or the structure and authority of Catholicism, there are two things we can be sure of: 
  1. Any successful search for eternal things will lead eventually to “one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father.” 
  2. His Great Commission and two Great Commandments apply equally to all of us.
So, we might as well work together and help each other out. After all, it’s not all about us. And, if we did that, we might see a reversal of that decline in total participation.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Theology of Salvation - Not an Easy Subject

I have been reading, for the second time, The Catechism of the Catholic Church and am now in Part Three - Life in Christ. The reading reminded me of one of the most challenging courses I took during three years at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Theology of Salvation, taught by Professor David Yeago. That was in the fall of 2003. The focus was on Lutheran theology and absence from it, in recent decades, of emphasis on sanctification and spirituality.

My notes from Dr. Yeago's lecture state the problem this way: "What it means to be saved has been reduced to something very subjective - something in our mindsets, feelings, and attitudes. No emphasis on a "new being" so all Christian life has become explainable by reason. Christianity has been redefined as something inward, private, and subjective. It has become an issue of what Jesus means to me, rather than any objective statement about Jesus." My apologies to Dr. Yeago if I have miss-interpreted, but that is what I wrote down.

The agenda of the course was to read works of some early Lutheran theologians seeking an understanding of "newness of life" and "growth in holiness" and a concept of sanctification that would extend beyond "the subjective effect of hearing the word of forgiveness." My particular assignment was to read and summarize for the class an excerpt from an 1875 paper by Heinrich Schmid, who addressed what he saw as a weakness in the contemporary theology of his church, a general belief that Word and Sacrament comprised God’s part in salvation and that faith, good works, and penitence were the responsibility of individuals for their own salvation. God did His part; now we must do ours. In an attempt to correct that misunderstanding, Schmid undertook the task of more fully describing and renewing interest in the Lutheran reformation perspective of Biblical salvation theology.

Schmid surveyed and summarized what some 16th and 17th century Lutheran Theologians had written about faith, justification, vocation, illumination, regeneration, conversion, mystical union, renovation, and good works, all Biblical elements of salvation. Renovation is not a word we hear in the church today, but may include sanctification, redemption, and penitence, three key words missing from Schmid’s paper. The results of his study were published in The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Part III, Chapter III.

Here are Schmid’s descriptions of the terms he researched:
Faith: Means by which one partakes of salvation, accomplished only by the power of God
Justification: Act of God whereby He declares the believer “just”
Vocation: Act of Grace from the Holy Spirit by means of the Word
Illumination: An operation of the Holy Spirit addressed to the will and intellect
Regeneration: Act of Grace by which the Holy Spirit gives a sinner power to exercise faith
Conversion: Act by which the Holy Spirit turns the sinner from sin to God
Mystical Union: Act by which God makes his abode in the justified and regenerate person
Renovation: Ongoing process of leading, day by day, a more holy life before God

Beginning with the fundamental truth that Christ is the agent of salvation, faith is the means of salvation, and justification is the effect of salvation, Schmid defined and described faith and justification. Both are attributed to God. A person’s natural lack of faith can “be overcome only by God Himself. If, therefore, a man believes, this faith is to be regarded as a work of God in him…” Justification likewise has nothing to do with any action or decision on the part of the individual or with any moral change in the individual, but is “only a judgment pronounced upon man, by which his relation to God is reversed.” Faith and justification occur simultaneously and are both totally attributable to God.

Faith and justification, at a very high level, may be understood to fully describe the theology of Christian salvation. By faith, we are justified! However, they do not explain what happens in the life of an individual experiencing faith and justification or being saved. How does being saved look and feel to the person being saved, and what changes will such a person experience in his or her life? What does it mean for us to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling?” Schmid attempted to describe “the internal conditions and the moral change which occur in a person at the same time with and after justification.” In other words, how and when and in what order does the person being saved through faith and justification experience vocation, illumination, regeneration, conversion, mystical union, renovation, and good works?

Of course the difficulty of explaining the unexplainable would all disappear if we were to focus all our attention on God rather than on whether or not we have salvation and when and where we got it. Given our inherent selfishness, that is not easily achieved. As Schmid suggests, the key indicator for an individual may be “…the strength or weakness of the confidence with which he embraces the offered salvation.”

To illustrate Schmid’s points, and to spark classroom discussion, I constructed a diagram, in the shape of a cross, in an attempt to link the salvation-related words in some kind of process beginning with Vocation or Call, the beginning of Salvation, and ending with Good Works, which are the fruits of Salvation. My first version of the diagram didn't pass muster with Dr. Yeago because it ignored the simultaneity or at least overlapping of several of the elements. So the double ended yellow arrows in the diagram below were added in an attempt to express the uncertainty of the process linking those elements.

One impression I have after reviewing the Theology of Salvation course material while in the process of reading The Catechism is that those early Lutheran theologians might be more comfortable in the 21st century Catholic Church than in the 21st Century Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Sampling of Relevant Scripture Verses (NRSV):

Romans 6:4 - Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

2 Corinthians 5:17 - So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

Ephesians 1:4 - ...just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.

Ephesians 2:8-10 - For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God--not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Romans 5:18 - Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.

Ephesians 4:1 - I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling (vocation?) to which you have been called

1 Corinthians 2:12-13 - Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. (illumination)

John 3:5-6 - Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. (regeneration)

Matthew 4:17 - From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." (conversion)

John 6:56 - Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. (mystical union?)

1 Corinthians 6:17 - But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.

Romans 6:22 - But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. (Renovation)

James 2:26 - For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

Philippians 2:12-13 - Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.