Recent reading has provoked in me two questions of faith:
Question One – What if Jesus is more than simply a historical figure, a holy man of the past, a messiah dating back two millenia? What if (the real) Jesus truly continues to live and act today? This question arose from reading an article by Amy-Jill Levine in Christian Century called "Misusing Jesus," (about which I blogged here) and blog posts by David, Chris, Derek, Lee, and Dr. Platypus (thanks to you all). I will explore this question further by reading Timothy Luke Johnson’s book, The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels. Thanks to Derek and Lee for recommending this work.
Question Two – What if faith and spiritual practice are radically real, tangible, life-defining and life-shaping gifts? This question stems from my reading of Deborah van Heusen Hunsinger’s latest book, Pray without Ceasing: Revitalizing Pastoral Care, in which she argues that faith and the practice of faith are ends in and of themselves rather than means to self-improvement, self-satisfaction, social justice, or any other worthwhile goal (and about which I begin to blog here).
The funny thing, of course, is that these questions might otherwise seem like no-brainers, core beliefs of the Christian faith and particularly of the faith of someone preparing for ordained ministry. Yet even if I would have answered "yes" to the question of whether Jesus lives today, and even if I would have affirmed that faith and faith practices are the Christian’s lifeblood, these readings have caused me to probe these questions deeper, to be unsatisfied with religious platitudes or throw-away pious phrases.
I also want to explore what Luther, the Lutheran Confessions, and other Lutheran voices have to say about these issues. What does my tradition have to say about Jesus, who we understand him to be, and the ways in which Jesus continues to live and act in the church and world? Without yet doing any significant reading on this issue, I’m inclined to suggest that the Lutheran tradition affirms the reality of a radically engaging, active, living Jesus who continues to be Emmanuel to us. But to steal a question from the catechism – "What does this mean?" – well, that’s what I need to explore.
And what does my tradition have to say about faith and its practice, and its relative position vis-a-vis the personal and social priorities of life? As I began commenting in my previous post, I believe that Hunsinger’s argument lacks any significant treatment of sin and thus uncritically assumes that we (fallen) people can choose to make God and God’s gift of faith central to our lives. Furthermore, the subordination of all other life activities under the practice of faith essentially relegates to a lower order the God-blessed work of the Kingdom of the World, and risks making an idol out of pious faith practice (a question of vocation and engagement in the Two Kingdoms, something that our friend Andy wonders about). Nonetheless, what does my Lutheran tradition say about the practice of faith and the role/rank of faith in one’s personal life and social engagement? In responding to this question I will wrestle with two kingdoms, the use of the law, baptism, and vocation, among other Lutheran themes.
Please share your thoughts, and hopefully within a few weeks I’ll have more to say on these questions.