So this Theological Terrorist Holds a Gun to My Head and Says I Must Choose Between Good Friday and Easter… by Pr. Rossow

March 29th, 2013 Post by

One can imagine all sorts of interesting BJS headlines when one is sitting in his study on Good Friday waiting to hear confessions. Like the Maytag repairman, I am experiencing a bit of dead time.

Each year we schedule time for members to come in for confession and absolution on Good Friday. We also hear confessions throughout the year. The number of people knowing the joy of hearing the pastor speak forgiveness into their ear personally is growing here at Bethany Lutheran but we still have a long way to go before it becomes routine.

With a little bit of time on my hands I thought I would pose to the BJS nation a question that Dr. Norman Nagel proposed to a bunch of us ambitious fourth year seminarians. Unbeknown to us there was a hidden Calvinistic tendency lurking in us, born of pop Christian culture already some 25 years ago.

The question came to mind as I drove to church this morning and saw a curious banner in front of the local Presbyterian version of the church-of-what’s-happening-now. It was advertising their Good Friday service but the headline was “He is Risen.” I also saw a banner hanging in a dentist’s office window yesterday that said “He is Risen!” And for the trifecta, I got an email this morning from some conservative blog and in the title the editor announced “He is Risen!” That was an odd email to get on Good Friday. I’ll offer more on that below but for now let’s return to the main question.

So this theological terrorist holds a gun to my head and says that unless I want to make his day and enter my eternal day, I must choose between Good Friday and Easter, which is better? Having been properly catechized by “the Nagler” I did not miss a beat and promptly responded:  “Good Friday without a doubt!” Fortunately for me the terrorist is a Lutheran (probably a BJS reader since he is so theologically aggressive) and he says, “Right you are. Now go hear some confessions and speak absolution.”

Twenty-five years ago, rambunctiously chomping at the yoke to get out into the parish, I and my twenty other classmates had it wrong. We had been immersed in the Calvinist play land of Larry Norman, Second Chapter of Acts, Phil Keaggy and even Noel Paul Stookey and just like the dentist, happy-clappy Presbyterian Church, and conservative blogger mentioned above, we would have all chosen Easter as the big day. We were wrong.

Before you blow a fuse don’t think that I am committing the error of choosing one over the other. Remember, it’s a gun-to-the-head, imaginary question for the sake of theological fine-tuning. I know and confess that you cannot tear Jesus’ death and resurrection apart. They are one piece, one cake. They go together. However, our infatuation with Easter, our members’ infatuation with Easter and the whole reformed world of theology’s infatuation with Easter betray a harmful theology of glory. Here is how Dr. Nagel argued the matter.

If you had to choose one over the other your choose Good Friday. That is when everything got finished. Easter is icing on the cake or that distasteful coconut frosting on the bunny mold dessert if you will. (I don’t like coconut.) It is on Good Friday that Jesus says “It is finished.” That is the really hard day of work for God. Raising people from the dead he can do in his spare time on his day off, but for God to take on human flesh and die on the cross, now that takes some genius and some ingenuity.

Dr. Nagel quoted I Corinthians 15 on this matter. Verse 56 says that death is not the issue. Sin and the law are the issues. The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. Sin and the law were defeated on the cross.

For sure, earlier in that chapter Paul says that if Christ is not raised from the dead our faith is in vain (they are one cake). If you read that section carefully it is clear that our faith is in vain because then our preaching is a lie. Paul is refuting those who say that there is no resurrection. His point is that if we preach that Christ was crucified, died, was buried and rose from the dead, but there is no resurrection then our preaching of the cross is nothing but a deception as well. But thankfully this is not the case. Jesus died to pay for our sins and the Father verified that death by raising him from the dead.

As long as we are on the subject, it is not only the Calvinists who like to hold the glory of Easter over the death of Good Friday. There is also a liberal strain of this as well. It likes to highlight the Christus Victor over the “crucified victor.” The victorious Christ (popularized by Gustaf Aulen and others) is certainly a message that has some merit but some use it to overshadow what they consider to be the archaic and invented notion of blood atonement. Yes Christ was crucified they say, but the real deal is that he rose victorious and is a model for our victory.

This approach to the gun-to-the-head question has been brought into confessional Lutheranism via the liturgical movement with such interesting themes as the eighth day theology. Like Aulen’s Christus Victor, the teaching of a dawning eighth day of new creation has its place but it often overshadows the preaching of Christ crucified.

Don’t get me wrong. I am “eternally” grateful for the liturgical movement in confessional Lutheranism. I am not sure that without it I would be a real Lutheran and not just a Phil Keaggy pietist. But I am even more grateful, if that is possible, to Dr. Nagel, who knocked that surprisingly large piece of the theology of glory out of many of us, with his famous question, at the last second, just before we all entered the Holy Ministry, to preach Christ crucified.






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  1. April 6th, 2013 at 09:13 | #1

    Joe,

    I do not understand your contention over the original post nor your agreement with FLT.

    To the latter, your agreement gives away too much. FLT does not like “theology” period because theology means taking a stand and asserting something positive which excludes some. FLT wants to include all.

    To the former consider the following. It is an insult to call this post “counting angels on pinheads.” You do know what that phrase means, yes? It means that it is useless.

    I can’t remember what your vocation is, but in the academic side of my ultmately practical vocation, questions are sometimes posed for the sake of better understanding. You missed that point.

    I stated clearly that ultimately you cannot tear the cross and the tomb apart but that for the sake of understanding and for the increased surety of the salvation of the souls it is a helpful question to ask.

    There are countless Christians, even Lutherans who wrongly think that the key to the faith is an Easter apart from Good Friday. (As proof of my thesis all you have to do is measure Good Friday church attendance to Easter church attendance at any parish, Lutheran or not.)

    One does this at the peril of one’s faith. Many Christians see Good Friday as a speed bump. It is not. It is not. It is the foundation of the faith. It is where our sins are forgiven. It is where Christ says “it is finished.”

    There are further implications of this error. It is the basis for the garbage theology of victorious living. It is also fundamentally connected to COWO. One who prefers the victorious overtones of pop Christian tunes has a poor handle on the theology of teh cross and is a victim of the siren call of the theology of glory.

    So, please do not consider this a matter the innane counting of angels dancing on pinheads. Thanks.

  2. Carl Vehse
    April 6th, 2013 at 09:35 | #2

    @Joe Strieter #50

    I fail to see how quoting Luther conveys license to anyone to indulge in ad hominem attacks, or patent nastiness.

    So do I. The quotes from Luther on the pope were in response to an excerpted quote, “Yeah, so the pope isn’t moral. He’s a thief, a liar, and a pervert” taken from another thread “talking about false doctrine, and the papacy as the antichrist.”

    That excerpted quote was in answer to my earlier question, “… just what exactly would it take here on BJS (or anywhere) for criticism of false doctrine itself to be classified as uncharitable?!?”

    That question was in response to your statement, “Yes, sometimes we here at BJS do go “over the top” with our criticism of false doctrine, occasionally uncharitably,” which addressed Former Lutheran Teacher’s claim, “It sounds to me like the purpose of preaching for some people is, first and foremost, to rebuke/reject the false teachings of others, rather than proclaim the Gospel to the faithful. (shrug).”

    Nothing has been said in all this about a license to indulge in ad hominem attacks, or patent nastiness.

    As for the dilemma posed in the thread’s title, it’s just a conversation starter. And while there are right or wrong reasons for either answer given by a person with a (hypotherical) gun to his head, Marquart’s statement (in Post #25) addresses the dilemma.

  3. April 6th, 2013 at 09:39 | #3

    Carl,

    It’s not a dilemna. As advertised, it’s a useful academic excercise.

  4. Carl Vehse
    April 6th, 2013 at 10:27 | #4

    @Pastor Tim Rossow #3: Carl,
    It’s not a dilemna. As advertised, it’s a useful academic excercise.

    Well, I said ” it’s just a conversation starter,” but I’ll go along with “a useful academic exercise.”

    However, as I noted, the thread’s title, “So this Theological Terrorist Holds a Gun to My Head and Says I Must Choose Between Good Friday and Easter,” does have a “dilemma posed,” at least according to the common definition (dilemma: a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives).

  5. George in Wheaton
    April 6th, 2013 at 10:44 | #5

    “…. There are further implications of this error. It is the basis for the garbage theology of victorious living. It is also fundamentally connected to COWO. One who prefers the victorious overtones of pop Christian tunes has a poor handle on the theology of the cross and is a victim of the siren call of the theology of glory …”

    Man, this is a truthful statement if I ever read one. All one has to do is walk into the worship service of any run-of-the-mill “American evangelical” church to experience the self-appointed tendencies of living the “victorious Christian life.” (AKA pietism) Both the first and second “Pretty Good” Awakening revivals created the conditions for this attitude and icing on the cake was the so-called “Jesus Movement” of the early 70′s. This is one of the main reasons why e-e-e-evangelicals can’t stand to walk into a church and see a crucifix with a statue of Christ still on it – to them he has risen victorious and we, in our “union with Christ” ought to be living victoriously, as well. A complete skip past Romans 7 and on to chapter 8.

  6. Carol Broome
    April 6th, 2013 at 11:56 | #6

    My answer to the OP is, “Go ahead and shoot me. I will not choose between recognizing two completely Biblical events, both essential and fundamental to the faith. We are Lutheran. We teach the whole counsel of God.”

  7. Carl Vehse
    April 6th, 2013 at 12:28 | #7

    In addition to the answer, “Go ahead and shoot me,” there are a number of other possible answers to a question posed with a gun to one’s head, including this one (for those suitably inclined).

  8. April 6th, 2013 at 13:42 | #8

    OK Carol and others who refuse to consider the dilema, I mean academic exercise, will you at least consider answering the following.

    Should our preaching have more cross or empty tomb in it?

  9. Carol Broome
    April 6th, 2013 at 20:25 | #9

    Carl Vehse :
    In addition to the answer, “Go ahead and shoot me,” there are a number of other possible answers to a question posed with a gun to one’s head, including this one (for those suitably inclined).

    Ha, good point.

  10. Carol Broome
    April 6th, 2013 at 20:31 | #10

    @Pastor Tim Rossow #8
    Hey, you know that answer to that…preach the text. :)

    Seriously, though, doesn’t the question beg for a wrong answer, along the lines of emphasizing one side of a paradox to the exclusion of the other? I know that you don’t mean it that way, but ending up there almost seems unavoidable.

  11. Former Lutheran Teacher
    April 6th, 2013 at 21:03 | #11

    @Pastor Tim Rossow #1

    Really, Tim? I don’t like Theology? Interesting. A typical Ft. Wayne response. By the way, I’ve been an ordained pastor for over 10 years. I may not know as much as you… but I know not to bother arguing with Ft. Wayne guys when they get defensive. Good night.

  12. Joe Strieter
    April 7th, 2013 at 12:17 | #12

    Carol Broome :
    My answer to the OP is, “Go ahead and shoot me. I will not choose between recognizing two completely Biblical events, both essential and fundamental to the faith. We are Lutheran. We teach the whole counsel of God.”

    Yo!

    I get the “exercise” part. And I understand “Carl’s” points in #52 above. I only said that this exercise is “akin” to angels on heads of pins (that’s related, albeit perhaps distantly). I’m also of the opinion that the Luther quotations that “Carl” offered can be construed as “over the top.” There was a lot of RC-bashing in the LCMS back in the 20′s & 30′s (before my time), but I got to hear a huge dose of it at Valpo in ’54 or ’55 when then-SP Behnken soundly trashed the RC’s during a chapel service on Oct. 31. It was gratuitous and embarrassing, as there were a few RC friends there.

    I also like “Carl’s” response to the dilemma/exercise in #02 above. My sentiments exactly.

    Thanks, Carol.

  13. Joe Strieter
    April 7th, 2013 at 12:21 | #13

    Former Lutheran Teacher :
    @Pastor Tim Rossow #1
    Really, Tim? I don’t like Theology? Interesting. A typical Ft. Wayne response. By the way, I’ve been an ordained pastor for over 10 years. I may not know as much as you… but I know not to bother arguing with Ft. Wayne guys when they get defensive. Good night.

    What has FW got to do with it, let alone CSL, for that matter? After all, this is merely a useful exercise, is it not? Or is it dilemma? Whatever…..

    Later, dudes….

  14. Carl Vehse
    April 7th, 2013 at 14:14 | #14

    In this morning’s church service the closing hymn was “This Joyful Eastertide” (LSB 482). Here the hymn is sung by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge.

  15. helen
    April 7th, 2013 at 15:46 | #15

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zw2EIR3rfwA

    This joyful Eastertide…. with text;
    an effective answer to the “academic exercise”! :)

  16. Joe Strieter
    April 7th, 2013 at 20:27 | #16

    @Carl Vehse #14

    @helen #15

    One of the all-time great hymns. As a kid, I knew it as “Awake Thou Wint’ry Earth.”

  17. Carl Vehse
    April 7th, 2013 at 21:45 | #17

    The tune of “Awake Thou Wint’ry Earth” is associated for Lutherans with the hymn “What is the World to Me” (Was frag’ ich nach der Welt“) (TLH, #430; LSB #730).

    In his Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal (CPH, 1942, p. 308), W. G. Polack notes, “For comments on the tune ‘Was frag’ ich nach der Welt’ see Hymn No. 99.” However, for Hymn 99 (“Now are the Days Fulfilled”) Polack states on p. 82, “For comments on the tune ‘Was frag’ ich nach der Welt’ see Hymn No. 430.”

    From Wikipedia:

    Was frag ich nach der Welt (What should I ask of the world), BWV 94, is a church cantata written by Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed the chorale cantata in Leipzig for the ninth Sunday after Trinity and first performed it on 6 August 1724. It is based on the hymn by Balthasar Kindermann (1664) on a melody by Ahasverus Fritsch [in 1679].

  18. Former Lutheran teacher
    April 8th, 2013 at 23:37 | #18

    @Joe Strieter #13
    You’re right, Joe. I shouldn’t have made that comment. I get frustrated when my “brothers” pretend that they are doing theology, when really all they’re doing is “me-ology” (i.e., “here’s what I think… and God’s on my side”). Sadly, there is a stereotype out there- and Tim fits it (which I was attempting to point out to him with that comment).
    I have posted a couple of “theological” comments, but he has chosen not to address them. Instead, he assumes that because I don’t agree with him, I must not like theology.
    Nothing good is coming of this and I am sorry for participating in this “exercise” in the first place.

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