Gottesdienst on Concordia Journal

A new Concordia Journal has been released which addresses the issues that caused pastors of both the Wyoming and South Wisconsin Districts to issue public rebukes.  The editors of Gottesdienst have put together this response.

Concordia Journal and Creation: a response to the response

Burnell F Eckardt Jr.

for the editors of Gottesdienst

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At first glance, the reply of Concordia Journal appears promising. On further investigation, we find that is not quite what we had hoped for.

Their latest (Winter 2018) edition carries the subtext of a smarting faculty at the St. Louis seminary.  They were wounded, and perhaps surprised that they were wounded, by the backlash they received over their publication in the Summer 2017 edition of an article by Professor John Jurchen of Concordia University in Seward, Nebraska, that implied day-age theory of creation was an acceptable interpretation of Genesis 1-2. The fact that this was indeed his implication was confirmed by his own admission in his letter that was published in the Winter edition: “I was in error to imply that the LCMS has acknowledged Day-Age theory as an acceptable exegesis of the Creation account of Genesis 1 & 2” (14). This implication in his report was already self-evident, but the admission comes in the form of an apology and retraction. The journal leads with a reprinting of the seminary’s December 2017 blog response to this kerfuffle by Charles Arand, the Dean of Theological Research and Publication and by an editorial from Dale Meyer, President of the seminary.

The tone of the Arand piece gives some evidence of a subservient willingness to submit to the pious sensitivities of critics, coming with an apology for the lack of clarity, though not without suggesting that the article in question was misinterpreted: “Some even concluded that the article was opening the door to theistic evolution, even though the article made clear that ‘old-earth creationists’ reject theistic evolution” (7). Still, Dr. Arand seeks to assure his readers that today’s seminary is not reverting to the mindset of the seminary that once became Seminex, declaring, ”we will not promote or advocate or defend any teaching that runs counter to the doctrinal position of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod” (8, italics original), and then, presumably for good effect, going as far as to quote (yet again) from that old bastion of orthodoxy, the Brief Statement, on the matter, and then, finally insisting “unequivocally  . . . that not a single person on our faculty (as well as Dr. Jurchen for that matter) advocates for a ‘day-age’ interpretation of Genesis 1. We all believe that the most natural and plain reading of ‘day’ (especially in light of Exodus 20:8) is to regard it as an ordinary day” (9).

Interestingly, Dr. Arand’s quotation of the Brief Statement includes this: “We reject every doctrine which denies or limits the work of creation as taught in Scripture. In our days it is denied or limited by those who assert, ostensibly in deference to science, that the world came into existence through a process of evolution; that is, that it has, in immense periods of time, developed more or less of itself” (8).

Dr. Arand follows his editorial with a statement regarding the editorial process of the journal in which he (conveniently?) indicates that since Dr. Jurchen has requested that his article be withdrawn, and that the article was therefore retracted, “that decision obligates us . . . to no longer comment on the specifics of his article, since it is no longer part of the public discourse” (10).

But here’s the problem: if we are to take seriously the “unequivocal” statement that Dr. Jurchen does not advocate for a day-age interpretation, we must ask whether the reasons he gave for its withdrawal are sufficient for us or, for that matter, for the St. Louis faculty. There are two addenda to Dr. Arand’s remarks. The first, a letter from Nebraska District President Richard Snow, indicates “fruitful and God-pleasing” conversations that led to Dr. Jurchen’s “letter of confession” and a resultant offer of “God’s Holy Absolution.” The second is the letter of confession itself, which, for a couple of reasons, is disappointing. First, he calls it “a confession of my personal faith and beliefs” (13), which is not the same as a confession of sin for which Holy Absolution is appropriately given.  No absolution is needed for a confession of faith, and any district president should know the difference. But the letter does contain an apology, and asks “forgiveness for any confusion I might have caused” (14), though not without several paragraphs in which he tries to explain himself. Most disappointingly, he does not say that he had changed his mind (which would be another matter), or indeed admit anything more than that he was in error to imply that the LCMS has acknowledged day-age theory as an acceptable exegesis (14).

But anyone who has carefully read the article should know that it was not an offhand implication about the LCMS that is at stake, but what is evidently the entire purpose for which the article was written: to let students who “struggle” with the age of the earth be “comforted” by the thought that they may believe, without contradiction to the biblical record, that the age of the earth may well be measured in billions of years.

As long as parishioners are able to accept the historicity of Adam and Eve, the corrupting influence of sin, and the gospel of salvation, they can expand the days of the creation week to encompass unspecified periods. . . .

Old-earth creation (or day-age creation) refers to the general perspective in which the six days of creation are expanded to included geological times (sic) scales, typically of hundreds of millions to billions of years, during which God periodically intervened in creative acts. (Summer 2017, 70-71, italics original, underlining added)

We detect no hint of warning in the article against old-earth creationism, contrary to what Dr. Jurchen implies in his letter: “Beyond exegetical difficulties with such an interpretation, several theological difficulties arise . . . namely the mortality of animals before the Fall and the extent of the Noachian flood, the latter of which is sometimes interpreted as a spectacular regional rather than planet-spanning deluge” (Winter 2018, 14). Is he presenting exegetical and theological difficulties in this letter as a warning to students or readers against following old-age creationism? The letter implies so, but the article itself does just the opposite: “An old-earth creation perspective can offer some latitude for LCMS members who hold to the Lutheran Confessions and yet struggle with a young-earth creation approach” (Summer 2017, 71), and goes on to use the flood and the (supposed) mortality of animal life before the Fall to support this perspective.

The exegetical difficulty he discusses is a comparison of the covering of “all” the high mountains under the whole heaven in the flood (Gen. 7:19) with “all” the earth coming to Joseph to buy grain during the famine (Gen. 41:57), in which he is allowing for the perspective of old-earth creationism which includes “an approach that assumes the standard geological time scale” (71), meaning, presumably, the time scale accepted without question by those whose conception of time past spans billions of years.

The theological difficulty, similarly, presents the “fossil record” (72) of this geological time scale as showing animal organisms that have died before the Fall, a matter that, were it accepted, would present no problems for old-earth creationism, but again, would allow it.

Dr. Jurchen’s conclusion asks whether there is a place in the LCMS for parishioners who “struggle with the age of the earth” (72), and answers at length by saying that “we must not present the appearance that the age of the earth if a ‘litmus test’ for orthodoxy” (73). Old-earth creationism is offered here to “comfort” people who “struggle” with the age of the earth. But such comfort would be without legitimate foundation. Not only so, but any such difficulties, raised as they are by spurious science whose dating methods are full of glaringly baseless presumptions and premises, would be magnified rather than assuaged by this line of thought.

There are some real exegetical and theological difficulties Dr. Jurchen does not address. Exegetically, one can hardly see how an old-earth creationism can obtain without a day-age proposition, unless it is one that rejects the historicity of the account in Genesis 1. This is troubling, because neither Dr. Jurchen nor the St. Louis faculty admit to any change in point of view on this matter. On the one hand, they insist that they do not follow the day-age theory; on the other, the article in question, which unmistakably proposes it as a way to help troubled students, was merely retracted, but with no accompanying indication of a change of heart or mind. Theologically, and briefly, any failure to connect the creation of all things with the creation of man as lord of them, until the Fall, betrays a faulty anthropology and, by extension, a faulty Christology. Genesis 1 is most certainly an historical record, but it is not merely that.

So the seminary’s attempt to set the record straight falls short, in the main because the retraction appears to be of something other than what was really needed.  As Wyoming District President John Hill indicated in his December 2017 reply to the seminary, what is needed is not merely a retraction of this article, but a condemnation of it.

Added is another editorial, from seminary President Dale Meyer, an exhortation to fear God. Thinly veiled here is another rebuke (the first was directed specifically to the pastors of the Wyoming District on December 1st of last year). He brings up the matter of the controversy (Winter 2018, 15) and, in the same paragraph, notes that God didn’t take sides in the conflict between Job and his friends (read: between people for or against the article that was published), and goes on to warn about such things as the “terrifying day of the Lord” (16), and pride as “a special temptation to pastors” (18). He must have missed the Wyoming District President’s cover letter to the seminary, which states, “I ask that you not mistake the fervor of the Wyoming District pastors for antagonism or pride.” Dr. Meyer concludes his remarks by a reference to older pastors who “look back and say they would have been more compassionate when they were younger” and then by bringing up the eighth commandment and scolding: “Hasty accusations can put a long-lasting cloud over a dear brother’s reputation and life.” (19).

With that last admonition we couldn’t agree more, sir. But we are thinking of people like the Wyoming District pastors and their president whom you hastily accused. And we find it necessary to defend such neighbors and speak well of them, as we did last January when we presented the Sabre of Boldness to a churchman who, far from behaving with insufficient compassion or in haste, acted honorably and with all due diligence and care, in hopes of bringing about a truly God-pleasing resolution to this controversy. In view of the forward, not to say shameless, insinuations we see in your editorial, it is evident that we must continue to pray for that.

About Pastor Joshua Scheer

Pastor Joshua Scheer is the Senior Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is also the Editor-in-chief of Brothers of John the Steadfast. He oversees all of the work done by Steadfast Lutherans. He is a regular host of Concord Matters on KFUO. Pastor Scheer and his lovely wife Holly (who writes and manages the Katie Luther Sisters) have four children and enjoy living in Wyoming.

Comments

Gottesdienst on Concordia Journal — 60 Comments

  1. @St Stephen #50

    Thanks for the apology to me, but I still think you owe one to Dr. Gibbs, Dr. Arand, and the other sem profs.

    “HS science”–why the constant knocking of science? The “origins debate” is just one of many issues where science impacts faith. I agree with a recent commenter here (Pastor Noland?) who applauded the AAAS grant because our seminarians NEED more knowledge of science. Our laity need more training and education about these issues, too!

    “Trolling”–not sure if you mean me, or what. I’m not trying to “troll” anyone. The comments I make are my sincere opinions, as I have said.

  2. I guess I am surprised that no one has addressed Orthodox Jewish teaching on the subject of the Creation and the meaning of some of the Hebrew words. If the Scripture is God’s revealed Word, then ‘science’ will never come before it, and will never be able to refute it.

    Of course we can learn and use science in many things. After all, God created it and gave it to us for our good. But certainly never to disprove Himself. He is not a God of confusion. I can simply take Him at His Word.

    I have heard way too many people begin by saying that it is impossible for God to create all things in 6 days. And then I see them deny everything else God says too. Including His rescue mission for our rebellious souls. Very soon they have no faith at all. I’m sorry for them.

    “After years of agonizing over the literal days of creation in Genesis, I decided to spend time researching this problem at the London School of Jewish Studies in Hendon, England. After all, I thought, why shouldn’t I go to the natural Jewish vine for some answers? (Of course, one should be cautious to distinguish between real exegesis of the Word of God, which must always overrule the ‘traditions of men’ [Mark 7:13], and we’ll see some examples. Although not covered here, it applies especially to modern Judaic revisionism of the Messianic passages after the rise of Christianity.)

    On my arrival, a Yeshiva (religious study group) was in process among the Orthodox students. But I was shown to the library where a bearded Rabbi pulled out the best conservative commentaries on the days of creation, along with the Talmud. This is the code of Jewish oral tradition interpreting the Torah or the Law of Moses, completed in the 5th century AD.

    Eager to study, I took notes from these learned works, which had been compiled by some of the most eminent scholars in Judaism. It was a strange experience being surrounded by Orthodox Jews meticulously scrutinizing ancient books. After days of careful study of the conservative Rabbinical scholars, I had my answer: the days of Genesis were literal.

    … As I left the London School of Jewish studies and passed a Jewish newsagent on the way back to the tube (London Underground train), I glanced at the Jewish Chronicle. It was dated in the year 5,760 since creation. The Rabbis calculated this date 4,000 years after the event, and a lot of information was missing at the time. With modern knowledge of post-biblical chronology, we now know they were about 250 years short.

    But even so, it is roughly 6,000 years ago with no thought of millions or billions of years. This shows that they must have accepted a straightforward understanding of the creation days in Genesis 1 and the chronologies in Genesis 5 and 11.”

    When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
    The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
    What is man that You are mindful of him,
    And the son of man that You visit him?
    For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
    And You have crowned him with glory and honor.

    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm%208

    https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:3QANJ9sbqj0J:https://creation.com/creation-days-and-orthodox-jewish-tradition+&cd=5&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

  3. @Jeff Stillman #25

    Wow! This thread got kinda bigger than I expected. Anyway…

    Sorry to be so late in a reply, but a few things I want to note; In regards to Ken Ham and the YEC stuff, I really wasn’t considering him as part of you main point. It simply appeared that you said that YEC were heterodox; you clarified this at the end of your comment. No harm, no foul there.

    While footnotes are instructive, they are not the inerrant Word of God; the text itself is. Just because footnotes refer to humanity over and over, doesn’t mean that the text reflects in such a way. The principle reason it has taken me so long to respond to this comment is that I wanted to talk to my pastor about the words of the text in the original Greek. He was pretty adamant that the word used for “World” in the English refers to the entirety of the cosmos in the Greek. The text itself leans in the direction of a young creation, and I would argue we should trust it.

    And yes, I would contend it is important to argue these things. I do not think you intend to denigrate the authority of Holy Scripture, but I argue that this is exactly what happens when we take a text from scripture that is directly informing us of what the past is and we decide to turn it into an allegory. It becomes easier to do this the next time, and so on and so forth. These things at the beginning set the stage for Christ’s redemption of the cosmos.

    Once again, I appreciate the friendly tone. Let me know if I have misread or misrepresented you in any way.

  4. @Alden Erdman #55

    Many thanks for engaging me in civil, productive, christian dialogue.

    I suspect that most lutheran participants in this blog associate with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LC-MS). And I assumed that about you.

    For that reason, in my response to you I used a bible editted, annotated, and published by the LC-MS. I gave it my best shot! And as I suspected, we go from disagreeing about the biblical text to disagreeing about the footnotes.

    I personally do not see this disagreement as an obstacle to christian fellowship or lutheran fellowship.

    An LC-MS clergyman once wrote (as I recall) that a lutheran is someone who believes the truths of scripture as they are explained within the Book of Concord (BoC, aka The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church).

    By that definition I have been a lutheran for over 20 years. I have been a member of LC-MS congregations for about 17 years. In each case when I was received into membership, I was asked to affirm the The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. I did then and still do.

    I own two copies (Fortress Press, Concordia Publishing House). I have read them several times and still refer from time to time.

    My views are not always LC-MS compliant, but I do believe them to be BoC compliant. I do not make waves within the context of my local congregation, but I do occasionally contribute to discussions here at this website, a privilege for which I am grateful to its publisher. So perhaps we will interact again in the future.

    My very best regards,

    Jeff

  5. @James Gibbs #46

    James, my friend…does that sound as passive aggressive as your “pal”…I hope not…I’ve been absent and am late to reply.

    Anyway, yes, purported. I don’t know why you call that into question at the begining, rant for several sentences, then agree okay it is hearsay from the notes of some guy who we believe sat at Luther’s table and recorded what was said. Like much of your comments, it just comes off as disingenuous screeds…and you tell other people to calm down?

    And no, I don’t think, “hey, this guy says something, but I think the Bible says something else” is “condemnation”. Particularly, from Luther, a man we have plenty of writings from where he said much worse about others. You engaged in hyperbole…or at least I thought you were being deliberately hyperbolic. I used hyperbole back by using the same term you seem to favor: “slander”. I can just imagine you fanning yourself to avoid fainting.

    As you’ve said, I think we can all agree that at the time the Ptolemaic model was the scientific consensus and Luther in all likelihood was someone who agreed with the Ptolemaic model. Of course, we can’t all be armchair scientists like you. But you could even say that he had the same theological position then as many of the people you are addressing, i.e., we believe the Holy Scriptures, and that God commanded that the sun stand still. Maybe Luther thought how God did that was wrong, but does that really matter for your argument?

    I think you raise the purported Luther quote because you think it is more important, when speaking to Lutherans, to reference what Luther said as a way to say that we should question the orthodox reading of Genesis because Luther once may have used Joshua 10 as a reference to why the Ptolemaic model was right. I think it is a rhetorical argument that is not logical or true. I think we should all be careful about interpreting into Scripture what is needed to fit our scientific arguments. And yes James, I’m looking at you here.

    I still fail to see the radical change in how we interpret James 10. Admittedly, I’m not a theological scholar that knows the historical exegesis of Joshua 10, but I’m fairly certain and the teaching of geocentrism isn’t part of it. Maybe it briefly became a part of it when the heliocentric model came about, but that rather proves the point that we should be careful about coming up with new interpretations of Scripture based on new scientific models, doesn’t it?

    And I’m a skeptic of science because you gave an argument that “refers” to science? I couldn’t agree more. You aren’t advancing scientific arguments here. And I can’t fault you for that since neither of us is really capable of doing that here. But I will say that I think it is important for scientists to be skeptics. Putting aside the real problems in science, including most importantly the reproducibility crisis, I wouldn’t say I’m a skeptic of science though, but rather a skeptic of how much science can do. Or maybe, as the reproducibility crisis shows, the problem is with the scientists given our nature.

    I’m glad you read the article. I think it is sad that the line you found most interesting was the line that we assume its constant, but really can’t determine whether it was or not. It also mentioned about how gravity changes and affects time. The mysteries are many and deep, and I hope you at least take a minute to ponder that.

    And you should stop waiting for an apology. My comment was a fair one. I commented that “You’ve used the “Luther ascribed to the geocentric model” argument a number of times in a way that seems intended to both undercut Scripture and bolster “science”.” I think that is a fair comment, especially since you’ve since made further comments on the Luther quote that further makes me believe that you are using it purely for rhetorical purposes and not because you actually think it is relevant to your day-age reading of Genesis.

    With that, I don’t intend to revisit this post simply to further the conversation with you, so I wish you well and again hope that you will reconsider your approach here.

  6. @Justin Walker #57

    Mr. Walker, I will admit that “pal” was sarcastic. Other than that, I think I have been civil to you.

    You have repeatedly accused me of intending to undercut Scripture, you’ve said I “bang on” and “rant,” you call me a troll and an “armchair scientist,” you’ve basically called me a liar with your “disingenuous screeds” and “purely for rhetorical purposes” comments, and you mock me for asking for an apology with your “just imagine you fanning yourself” comment.

    Anyone who reads this, judge for yourself.

  7. @James Gibbs #58

    I have read for myself. This is not this first time (not by a long shot) you have come here with your hobby horse. I always com away with the impression that you value science more, to override Scripture. It seems as though you sow doubt upon the clear words of Scripture. It reminds me of patterns I notice in other posters, across the handful Lutheran blogs I read. A pattern fairly liberal minded and a few who are quite Bible denying in their writings. So yeah, to me the moniker “troll” fits my perception. I can almost predict what you will say and how you will say it.

  8. @Jason #59

    Well, if you have truly read a fair sample of my BJS comments, and you are still willing to call me a “troll” (and no one wants to defend me), then I guess I have wasted my time by commenting on this website.

    Sorry to have wasted everyone’s time!

    May God bless and guide you all.

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