Out and About
The Inaugural Lectures of the Gustafson Lectureship
I was impressed when I learned that Krister Stendahl would inaugurate the Gustafson Lectureship at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. I was eager for the lectures to come. When David and Susan Hawkinson said they were inviting folks to stop by on Monday evening after the first lecture, the evening became doubly promising
Krister Stendahl, Chaplain of Harvard Divinity School, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Divinity Emeritus at Harvard Divinity School, and former Bishop of Stockholm, did not disappoint me or anyone I talked to about the lectures.
Chaplain Stendahl gave two lectures: "Sufficient for Salvation: On the Dangers of Overinterpretation" and "Sufficient for Salvation: The Art of Preaching."
There is the temptation, Dr. Stendahl observed, for believers [Christians] to overstate the answers to life issues as if we can prove or understand everything because we are Christians and have a Bible. The temptation is especially great, he observe, for preachers who feel the need to explain away the tragic. Stendahl thinks that, though understandable, this is a big mistake.
We try to squeeze more juice out of the "Holy Orange," he said, than is there. He reminded us of the restraint of the Apostle Paul who acknowledged, when he had no word from the Lord, that he was offering his own opinion for what it was worth (1 Cor. 7:12 and 25).
We need to learn to be satisfied or at least clear about what is sufficient — Christ is our friend. To trust this is a more important act of faith than to believe and trust a theology.
Dr. Stendahl signed one of his books that I purchased, Paul Among Jews and Gentiles, with the notation: "A Pietist at heart." The truth of that statement I do not doubt. It can be seen in the way he cherishes personal life as the heart of reality and claims that praise and thanks are the true, central, and sufficient language of faith.
Bishop Stendahl warned against the overstatement involved in Christian claims for the uniqueness of Christ. Talk about Christ's uniqueness does more for my ego than for God's, he remarked. If one has a good doctor, there is no need to speak badly of other doctors. We need not say negative things about others or other beliefs and practices to make ours valid.
In the second lecture, he put it this way: "Jesus shines bright." That is sufficient. We don't need to lord it over people by trying to establish that Jesus shines brightest, Jesus shines bright and that is sufficient.
I think this is an important point. Jesus did not lord it over people. His humility is a reason his light was and is so bright. In this respect, his actual life as portrayed in the Gospels stands in contrast to lordly, hierachical descriptions of him, like in the Hebrews text in this issue. Such descriptions intend to reflect his standing in the cosmos, but can overshadow his love and divine humility while among us.
Stendahl understands the passage "no one comes to the Father, but by me" (John 14:6) as pastoral reassurance to his frightened friends, the disciples. He thinks it is a mistake to understand this as a missionary commission. For perspective we need to keep 14:2 in mind. "In my Father's house are many rooms."
Usually when I go to lectures like these, I think of myself as a preacher. I suppose that is because I have been one and because, wherever I am, I usually want in on the game. Stendahl's lecture on the art of preaching was made to order for me to think of myself as a preacher. For some reason this did not happen, though I was a little envious of those who were preachers. Preacher or not, I was interested and appreciative because Dr. Stendahl spoke in a good, lively, interesting, and humorous way, and his subject was important to me.
Dr. Stendahl spoke of the mission of Jesus in terms of mending the creation. He called pastors and the church to the follow Jesus in this way, which includes healing the sick, caring for souls, and tending the earth.
He observed that many people are tempted to spiritualize the stories of Jesus' healings. Often the healings are taken as proof of Jesus' divinity, which means, if that were the case, that the people healed were primarily raw material for Jesus to demonstrate his skill to the masses rather than individual persons upon whom he had compassion. Frequently, the healing stories are reinterpreted spiritually rather than taken as actual healings of bodies.
Dr. Stendahl thinks otherwise: the healings are some of the works by which Jesus is mending the creation. "Jesus makes space for a little redeemed world by healing." The analogy for us, he said, as we cannot heal by miracle, is to heal by legislation — institute national medicine.
He said that one of the most difficult things about returning to the United States was to see once again how difficult it is for many people to get decent health care in this country. He noted that there are 19 countries which have lower infant mortality rates than the U.S.
United Theological Seminary and the Gustafson Lectures committee deserve thanks for arranging such a sterling event. These lectures were established following Dr . Henry Gustafson's retirement (see Pietisten, Summer, 1989 for an account of Dr. Gustafson's farewell lectures). Dr. Gustafson taught New Testament at United Seminary from 1968 to 1989. Prior to that he taught at North Park Seminary, beginning there in 1952.
When I attended United Seminary in the mid 1960s — just before Dr. Gustafson's tenure, biblical studies were not at the center of the curriculum — especially in the minds of students who were more interested in social relevance and political protest.
Dr. Gustafson, as this observer sees it, was exactly the right addition to United's already excellent faculty. The fact that this lectureship has been established through the generosity of a few major donors and a number of small contributors is testimony to the elevation of biblical studies at United.
Krister Stendahl has been a pre-eminent person in the life of the church and in New Testament studies for years. Twice previously, I have had the privilege of hearing him personally. The first time was in the basement of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Worcester, Massachusetts in either 1963 or 1964. He led a discussion centered on the New Testament for a gathering of Worcester area ministers. I no longer remember the content but I do remember the enlightenment and inspiration I experienced.
The second time was in 1985 when then Bishop Stendahl addressed the 100th Anniversary of the Evangelical Covenant Church at the Convention Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Many people remember his address as a very good word, most appropriate for the occasion. I do not remember the title of his address, but I do remember one important peripheral remark he made. He tweaked us for flying the flag and opening the assembly with an armed honor guard. He noted that even though the Church of Sweden is established by the nation, Christians, including the established Lutherans, in Sweden would never think of such a nationalistic demonstration at a church meeting.
The after-meeting of the Gustafson first lecture, hosted by the Hawkinsons, was a delight and helped carry my enthusiasm into the next day for the second lecture.
After the second lecture, David Hawkinson and I presented Dr. Stendahl with a Pietisten T-shirt. He immediately donned it over his clerical shirt and wore it until he left the assembly. Need I say that we were pleased?
North Park Philosophy Academy, 1990
We are pleased to report that, in spite of the retirement of Drs. Lindahl and Soneson, the North Park Philosophy Academy continues to function. Friday evening, October 12, 20 philosophy graduates, undergraduates, faculty, and interested parties gathered in the Garden Room of the Campus Center (only slightly less commodious then the President's Room, scene of previous meetings) for dinner, a paper, and discussion.
The paper "Metaphysics of Mystery" was presented by the author of this column. Dr. Mel Soneson, passionate as ever, was the respondent.
The paper dealt with the thinking of Walker Percy (d. 1990 — see Pietisten, Summer, 1990). Percy provides a foundation for the spiritual life of humans. This is beyond the capacity of the natural sciences to understand because they arc limited to cause and effect — dyadic thinking. Human speech and language involve, he demonstrates (conclusively, in my opinion) three factors at least, and actually four.
To illustrate, when a person looks at a ball and says that is a ball, there is the person, the ball, and the word ball by which the speaker knows, or "couples," the particular ball with an understanding of all balls — including the basketball I recently lost. The presence of the word along with the person and the object, ball, creates an irreducible triad. At times Percy reminds us that there are really four factors. The fourth is another person with whom we communicate.
Ignoring the unique human factors results in the confusion that exists as we, in the interests of knowledge and science, try to understand ourselves only dyadically — that is as a flow of chemicals, DNA, synapses and the like. This information is illuminating and may be important but by itself, it ignores what is essential. Percy thinks that this sort of thinking that is limited to cause and effect results in the current confusing theories of the human and has much to do with what ails humans in our time.
The symposium speaker, basing his attempt upon Percy, though without Percy's assent, ventured a metaphysical position by presumptuously offering a story of "The Birth of God." The discussion was lively, lasting until after 11 pm when the symposium began to thin out and finally everyone ran out of gas.
The Academy was delighted to welcome Steve BowmanPrediger, newly appointed Associate Professor of Philosophy at North Park, who is completing his doctoral thesis for the University of Chicago, and Dr. Daniel Hanks, the interim philosophy teacher who is from South Carolina and a shirt-tail relative of Charles Sanders Pierce, the American thinker who was important to Percy and who was the subject of the paper presented at our 1989 meeting (see Winter, 1989).
For those who are interested, I recommend the essays of Walker Percy, which arc collected in the volume The Message in the Bottle. If any of you would like a copy of the paper that was presented, it is yours for the asking. PJ
Text: "Bodily exercise profiteth little." Paul of Tarsus
Motto: The real game is the game you are in.
A more miserable uncertainty then anticipated has prevailed. "Hope deferred is like a raisin in the sun." The Vikings, the hope of the upper Mississippi Valley, have dried up like a raisin in the sun. Despondent fans found themselves blindsided by another hope to chase, After three Big Ten games, the unlikely Minnesota Gophers were 3-0 and tied for first in the conference.
This, of course, did not last, though the Gophers gave a good account of themselves. Then came the Viking resurgence tempting fans to hope once more. How much can we bear?
Also, the long-time winless North Park Viking football team arose to defeat Elmhurst College at Homecoming. It has been so long since NPC has pulled out a Homecoming victory, that the score was announced from the pulpit of North Park Church. The congregation's response left no doubt that the news was Gospel. It all goes to show that scripture holds: "But many that are first will be last, and the last first."
The Game Goes On
Several issues ago, I wrote about "Keeping the Game Alive," noting that sometimes — especially with little kids — it's tough to keep the game alive. Not so with men who play pick-up basketball.
On a recent Saturday this characteristic was brought to my attention again. We were playing in our little old second floor gym on the where we have played 4-on-4 for years — some of us for more than 25 years. Suddenly the action stopped. Steve was hurt. What was the injury? Before I found out, Steve had headed for the men's room. Howard replaced Steve for the rest of the first-to-seven-baskets game. When it was time for the next game, someone said, "Where's Steve?"
At that moment Steve showed up.
"What's the matter?" we asked.
"I poked myself in the eye," he said with chagrin. "I'm through for the day."
Then I saw that his eyeball was red with blood and the skin around it was turning black and blue. It looked awful.
"Take care of it," I said.
"Yeh. That looks pretty bad," said another.
All the time that could be afforded an injury in which the injured party could take care of himself had been spent. We were here to play. The game goes on, if humanly possible when you come to play.
The Pietist Vikings
Keeping you informed on another front, we are happy to report that the Pietist Vikings of Bethlehem Covenant are eager to take the court.
The expanding of their Angolan Airforce by adding Eduardo Machado from Luanda presents interesting prospects. Eduardo joins Paulo Diarra, the Airborne Angolan, also from Luanda, who has played for Bethlehem the past two seasons.
Eduardo is the only known newcomer to the squad. Player Coach Jim Clausen will be looking, as in the past, to the stellar, extremely outstanding play of Lance Johnson to make Bethlehem a contender for the City-Wide Championship. Lance, brother Tim, Bill Hunstock, Big Jerry Noreen, Ken Carlson, Phil Johnson, Tim Nelson, and Gordie Anderson will be back along with Paulo and Coach Clausen. These players are veterans of the team that captured the City-Wide Championship the season before last. They look for a boost from the play of Eduardo. We'll keep you posted. PJ