Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Poem on the Resurrection

Author John Updike died quite recently.  I am really not familiar with his work.  However, I thought this poem from 1961 was good enough to make me think about reading some modern poetry.  It's posted at Dr. Gene Edward Veith's blog.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Book Review - Kingdom, Grace, Judgment

Capon, Robert Farrar, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus.  Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2002.

Capon's book, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment (originally published as three separate volumes) walks through Jesus' parabolic actions and statements in Scripture.  The thrust of the book is that Jesus came to save through death, both his own and the death of those who follow him.  Capon frequently talks about how Jesus came to save the last, the little, the least, the lost, and the dead.  It is when we die to ourselves that we are able to live to Christ.  It is when we realize our lostness that we see we are found.  It is when we see that we are the least important that we realize we are the treasure buried in the field, purchased by Christ.  It is when we realize we are the last person on earth who deserves the blessing of God that we see God's blessing poured out on us.

From beginning to end of this lengthy volume (over 500 pages) Capon points relentlessly to Jesus' proclamation of himself as the savior of the world.  He has come to redeem what was lost, breaking down the wall of separation between God and man.  Jesus proclaims his work as effective.  The gospel is the power of God to salvation.  And Jesus himself is the gospel.  He has redeemed the world and is the power to salvation for all who believe.  Counter to this we see human relentless efforts to prove ourselves the savior, to be the first, the big, the great, the found, and the living.  It is only when we lay down those efforts that we become partakers of the salvation Jesus has provided for us.  If we do not lay down those efforts and realize that we are in fact the last, the little, the least, the lost, and the dead then Jesus will eventually leave us to work out our own salvation, earning our own merit before God.  Of course, we realize we cannot do so.

Capon's conversational style is attractive to some, discouraging to others.  He has a tendency to fall into colloquialisms using language which I fear will seem quite dated and unfamiliar within a few decades.  Some of his illustrations use rather earthy parallels to express his interpretation of what Jesus is saying.  I don't recommend the book as reading for a young audience.  But a mature reader will find that Capon takes a very fresh and striking look at the parables.

Dave Spotts
blogging at and

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Book Review - Oops! I Forgot My Wife by Doyle Roth

Roth, Doyle, Oops! I Forgot My Wife, Lewis and Roth Publishers, Colorado Springs, 2004.

(There, see?  I can learn a more "modren" bibliography style.)

I picked this book up at a biblical counseling training conference several years ago, largely because of the interesting title and the very intelligent cover art.  Yes, I judged a book by its cover, at least in part.  The book is intended to give guidance in marital counseling through an extended case study.  This case study is presented in the guise of an e-mail exchange between a marriage counselor, a couple on the brink of divorce, and another couple who are helping the first couple.  In the scenario presented, the counselor lives in the city where the two couples formerly lived.  He helped the second couple with a marital problem before.  Now the two couples have both moved to a different city and have maintained their friendship.

What can I say about this book?  It's as engaging as the cover art.  The way the author presents the marriage counselor illustrating issues such as self-centeredness, self-deceit, and the underlying messages in what seem to be routine actions is very humorous.  And the periodic illustrations of life at the Lazy U ranch are quite to the point.  Roth lays out a lot of good principles, building a biblical case for them.  It's not a bad book at all in that regard.  The downfall, I think, is in the decision theology which runs throughout the book.  It becomes more clear toward the end of the book, as the counselor reminds the man whose marriage is in trouble that he needs to take the initiative and make his personal decision to receive Christ as his personal savior, letting him be the Lord.  And the woman whose marriage is in trouble talks about the fact that she had already made Jesus her personal savior but didn't think he was changing her well.  Maybe her decision was not good enough or she didn't act in enough faith.  The only response anyone ever gives is that we have to try harder to live a sanctified life and that we have to make sure we are believing as well as we can.  This is a gospel that is not good news.  It has no power except the power the individual believer is able to give it.  It is not the power of God.

So, the book?  I guess I'll put it on my shelf.  Not a bad read, especially if you like theology and training presented in the form of a case study.  But I don't think it's one I'd want to recommend too strongly.  The weak theological foundation is a great disappointment.  The principles laid out are quite basic, so won't generally be helpful to someone who has the theological underpinning to deal with the weak theology.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Book Review - God at Work by Gene Edard Veith, Jr.

People keep giving me books to read!  It's not a problem, as I love reading.  I think I've got my "read it now" stack down under a dozen books, many of them pretty serious theological titles.  But I'll try to post some reviews or summaries of different materials on my blog.  For that matter, since a lot of my wish list at Amazon consists of reading lists pulled from the Concordia Seminary bookstore class texts, I should really be reading quite carefully.  So when I'm reading books like that, I'll post summaries and reviews chapter by chapter rather than just an overview of the whole book.  I guess that will be all right.  Of course, it's my blog, so I can fill it with whatever I want to.

What is this doctrine of vocation?  I remember early in my Christian walk being taught that there some Christians have Christian callings to "vocational ministry" and some don't.  There was this big distinction between people who had missions which seriously honored God and those who didn't.  Basically, if you were serious about honoring God with all your life, you would pursue biblical training in order to serve God as a pastor or, better yet, a missionary.  For everyone else, the day's employment was simply a way of paying the bills and managing to afford to engage in real ministry, which was carried on during time off from work or, for a few adventurous people, through bearing witness for Christ in the workplace, sometimes at the expense of doing the job for which you were hired.  Does this sound familiar to anyone?  I expect so.

Veith explains vocation in a quite different way.  Each person, he says, has multiple vocations all the time.  They are the callings of God to serve our neighbor, whoever that neighbor might be.   I might have a job which lets me serve my neighbor who is my employer by helping to keep the company in business.  I'll imagine that I am really desperate for paid employment so I go to a telemarketing firm to get a job, not what I would do of my own accord, but it will serve as an example.  Whom do I serve there?  I serve the employer by making the calls I am contracted to make.  I serve the person I'm trying to call by accurately displaying the service we are trying to sell, helping that person make an actual reasoned decision about whether or not it is a service he needs.  I serve my immediate supervisor by being pleasant in the workplace.  I serve my fellow employees in the same way and by encouraging them in their work.  I serve my family by bringing home a paycheck.  I serve the people who are employed by companies that sell me utilities, groceries, garden rakes, and sandwich bags by using some of the paycheck to purchase the things that keep my household running.  This allows them in turn to pay for their utilities, groceries, garden rakes, and sandwich bags.  This sounds more complicated than our earlier scenario.  But that is not the whole of a doctrine of vocation.

In the final analysis, Veith says, vocation is not only about our serving.  It is about God working in this world through us.  In fact, when we pray that the Lord will give us our daily bread, we give him thanks because he has used countless people, working in their vocations, to put that sandwich in our sandwich bag.  When I go to work, God is providing through me for many other people as well.  All the work I do is a service originating in God's love and expressed to this world.  That applies to my employment, to my volunteer work, to the fact that I took out the trash on the morning of the weekly trash pickup, and to the fact that I made a pot of coffee this morning.  For that matter, even the things I don't necessarily do express God's love to the world.  How about the person I hire to come complete a homeowner project which I didn't do?  Is that a way the Lord provides that other person's daily bread?  It most certainly is.

I highly recommend Veith's book to all.  His clear expression of the way our Lord is working in this world is striking.  Shall we be academic here and provide a nice bibliographic reference?  Veith, Gene Edward, Jr. (2002).  God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.  ISBN 1-58134-403-1.  My technical writing is a little rough, but way back when I knew how to do APA citations, that's how we did it.  Maybe I'd better look up a more modern format sometime.

The Divine Service 02 - the start of the Service of the Word

This is the second installment in a bush league introduction to the divine service.  In the first installment we ran into first element of the divine service, confession and absolution.  God confronted us with our sin, we responded by confessing, and God responded by proclaiming forgiveness of confessed sin through His divinely appointed messenger, the pastor.  Now we move into the second element of the divine service, the service of the Word.

It is typical at this time in a service to have an introit, a psalm, or a hymn.  In any case, what is happening is that the congregation is responding to the Lord yet again, asking his presence among us in grace.  After the hymn or psalm, we would expect to move into a Kyrie, the historic part of the Mass in which we ask the Lord to have mercy on his people.  For history buffs, it's interesting to note that this is the only part of the traditional Mass which was sung in Greek as opposed to Latin, even up to the 20th Century.  The content of the Kyrie is something we can all stand to remember.  We pray the Lord will have mercy on us, giving us peace, bringing peace and salvation to the world, nurturing the Church, bringing us into unity in Christ.

After the Kyrie, during most seasons the church sings another hymn before singing a Gloria - "Glory in the highest to God" in which we reflect on Christ's work to take away our sin.  Then as a congregation we pray a prayer which is tailored to the particular Sunday in the Church calendar.  It goes along with the Bible readings for the day and asks God's presence with his people.

If you have been watching the general up and down arrow pattern of the divine service, you're seeing that this rather lengthy portion of the service has had a strong flow from congregation to God, singing His praises and asking Him to be with us in mercy.  We haven't really read Scripture, though we have possibly proclaimed the Scripture in a Psalm.  But most everything has been directed from the congregation toward God rather than consisting of a lot of proclamation from God to man.  We're all working together to call upon God for his merciful gifts.

In the next installment of these posts we'll get to the Bible reading in the divine service, so we'll see God speaking to man again.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Book Review - Treasury of Daily Prayer

We recently purchased a copy of Concordia's new book, Treasury of Daily Prayer.  This book is mostly composed of the readings from the lectionary, presented in large and clear type in the English Standard Version.  With the daily readings you also find a brief devotional which normally pertains to the historic significance of that day in Church history.  There is a selection from the Psalms, as well as a verse from a hymn found in the Lutheran Service Book.  In the middle of the book are some of the outlines and music for worship services.  Near the back of the book is a copy of all 150 Psalms, pointed for chanting.

I initially didn't want a copy of the book.  In fact, I bought it as a present for Martha.  And while I'm quite happy messing around with the Lutheran Service Book and a Bible, there are some features of the Treasury of Daily Prayer that I really like.  The complete book of Psalms is a big plus.  The readings commenting on the days in the Church calendar  are very nice.

So what's my review?  The book is a keeper, definitely.  If you want a very handy lectionary with helpful supplements, this is the book for you.  But if you like singing hymns in your devotions you will still want a hymnal to supplement it.  The price is not bad for a comprehensive and well made book produced for a relatively limited market.  Yet it's a little high when not on sale.  So keep your eyes out for a sale or for used copies to come available on the resale market.

Dave Spotts
blogging at and