Out and About

by Phil Johnson

The Gustafson Lectures

After an auspicious inaugural featuring Bishop Krister Stendahl in the Fall of 1990 (see Pietisten Winter, 1990), it was hard to imagine how the Gustafson Lectures at United Theological Semin-ary of the Twin Cities could maintain the pace. Now the pressure is on the third of the series because James Sanders’ lectures, “How Luke Read Scripture,” on October 7 and 8 in the Library Court of United Seminary were simply outstanding.

Perhaps Dr. Sanders’ lectures had especially great impact on me because I have not kept up with New Testament studies and because I have been, I now think, on a wayward path with respect to scripture. (I will return to this subject later.)

Here is some of what Dr. Sanders said:

1. Luke’s congregation, of which Luke may have been a teaching elder, lived in some Hellenistic town in the Mediterranean area. This community had a problem. They were people who could not re-assimilate into the dominant culture after the fall of Jerusalem (CE 70) and the failure of the Parousia—Christ’s second coming. Christ’s return did not come as expected, and this raised serious questions among the members of the congregation. It was a major disappointment for Christians in the early 70s. This is the main problem, said Dr. Sanders, that Luke addressed. Luke addressed this problem in the conviction that the answers to the apparent failure in the present situation were to be found in scripture.

2. Scripture for Luke and his community was the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible. Greek was the common language of the day (according to Dr. Sanders, Jesus was trilingual—Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). Luke (whether Jew or gentile, Dr. Sanders does not know) laced his account with a mosaic of scriptural quotations transliterated into the Koine Greek spoken by his community.

It is likely that a majority of Luke’s congregation could not read. Scripture was read aloud by those who could. The discussion among the readers and listeners was an important part of the “source” material that Luke took to his study when he composed his contribution to the New Testament.

3. The reason scripture is used so extensively by Luke, said Dr. Sanders, is the same reason that so much Jewish literature was and is written in scriptural style and with scriptural allusions—because what is being said is important.

4. Luke is an account of the announcement by Jesus that the Jubilee has arrived—the ultimate 49th year. It was in the 49th year, Dr. Sanders reminded us, that everything went back to being equal. Slaves were released, debts were forgiven, and property was repatriated.

The instructions for the year of Jubilee were part of God’s commandments, but apparently the acts called for were seldom enacted in Israel’s history. Dr. Sanders told us that there were two ways of getting out of this command: One was to get a waiver that would exempt one from the requirements; the other was to “eschatologize the year of Jubilee to the time when the messiah comes.” This is precisely what Jesus said has happened. The Jubilee is here in fact. The messiah has come. Jesus of Nazareth was he and he said so. This offended the people of Nazareth, and it offends me as well, except in faith. How could Jesus, whose life they knew, think he deserved to be the messiah?

I had never thought of Luke this way or made this connection before. What is shocking about this is that, if Jesus inaugurated Jubilee, we are living in Jubilee now! A fact which should, it seems, make a difference in how I live, or at least in how I respond to life.

5. Dr. Sanders stated that Luke read scripture theocentricly. Like scripture, Luke’s story, too, is a theocentric story of God. Sanders said that we must theologize before we moralize, and he supported that point with the story of the uninvited woman in Luke 7. Several times he stressed this point of theologizing before moralizing. Indeed, I gathered, moralizing may have little if any place in our understanding of God.

In the story (Luke 7:36-50), Jesus host, Simon, moralizes. He says to himself (how Luke knew this we are not told), “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is touching him, for she is a sinner.” Simon bases his judgment of Jesus on at least one moral assumption. If Jesus knew about this person he would, at the very least, stop her attentions to him. A prophet would know and would not allow it.

It may not have required as much prophetic power as Jesus clearly had to detect what Simon was thinking. In my imagination, the scene of this woman “fawning” on Jesus must have been embarrassing to those present and it is likely that everybody could detect what Simon said to himself.

What would you do if you were in the situation—say as one of the other guests? I would probably try to distract myself in a conversation with someone, pretending this was not going on, waiting for the embarrassing time to pass. Surely this activity was embarrassing and trying to the patience of the host, Simon. Jesus was sensitive enough to know this without being told, but not so sensitive as a guest to keep his thoughts to himself.

Jesus describes to Simon what the woman is doing for him and how kind it is for her to do so. He does “know” her, and he appreciates her and ignores the “moral” element. The only clue he gives to his insight into this woman’s “sinful” life is his comment, ‘‘Therefore, I tell you, her sins which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.

The words “loved much” said Dr. Sanders, are “delightfully ambiguous.” I take it that he meant that, in so saying, Jesus acknowledged that her loving—though not always within moral restraints, in fact, usually acts of adultery—was redemptive, came from God, and was the source of her readiness for forgiveness. God’s grace, said Sanders, is “shockingly deep.”

Where or how else might we apply this? Well, it would be easy for me to moralize that we should be living out the provisions of Jubilee—begin to free slaves and forgive debts and suggest that those who do not are immoral and unable to see how the present approach to economic life will destroy us. It would be easy to conclude that Simon, the host in the story, was an immoral person because of his desire for propriety. If it is moralizing that is wrong or misleading, then it is I, the remoralizer of the story, who is the guilty party. This would, according to this discussion, be a matter of a failure in my faith. A failure to recognize forgiveness as my need, a failure to realize that the Kingdom, Jubilee, salvation, and forgiveness are God’s work, not my work or the work of humans.

This issue of theologizing and moralizing needs more examination. Meanwhile, however, in investigating this story in Luke, I ran into a few surprises. I am reasonably certain that Dr. Sanders was quoting from the RSV, “for she has loved much,” when he said that Jesus comment was delightfully ambiguous and an example of not moralizing. But, the New RSV, (NRSV), of which Dr. Sanders was a part, reads, “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love,” which is a different twist and does not support the ambiguity. The King James Version, like the RSV, reads, “for she loved much,” which does support the ambiguity. The Jerusalem Bible reads, “For this reason I tell you that her sins, her many sins, must have been forgiven her, or she would not have shown such great love,” which supports the ambiguity and adds something more.

At this point I ran into the limit of my authority because I abandoned Greek too quickly in my youth and have remained mono-linguistically handicapped. If I assume that Dr. Sanders works from the Greek, which it seems clear that he does, his choice of “for she loved much” reflects an ambiguity that comes from the source. If so, the NRSV is not a good translation of this phrase. [I invite the help of the scholars of Greek here.]

But, what does it mean in daily life to theologize before (or instead of) moralizing? Does it mean that a critique cannot be made? How can dangerous practices be avoided or halted? There are plenty of concerns and worthwhile causes. Must we not speak up and act?

To take things non-morally, it seems, is to approach matters without making judgments of right and wrong. Judgments of right and wrong are usually prejudgments and are barriers to clear understanding. This was Simon’s problem in the story.

Jubilee does not depend on me, the Church, or the country. It is a fact in which one can participate—a possibility and an opportunity, not an obligation. It is an invitation to live the way of Jubilee in the face of despair.

As Dr. Sanders observed, however, the demands of Jubilee are difficult. The parousia anticipated by the first-generation Christians has not yet come, and there are few signs of Jubilee. There is more slavery in the world today, he said, than there was in 70 CE. Releasing debts on cue is not common practice and does not fit into most economic planning. Repatriation of property stands against the accumulation of capital.

To speak as if Jubilee with its requirements should be seriously considered at this moment in time runs in the face of conventional wisdom. Is this not the time of absolute proof of the wisdom, efficacy, and inherent rightness of a capitalist economy?

As for my waywardness with scripture mentioned at the outset, there are two things. One, I have not been reading scripture much lately, and, if it were not that my mother taught me and made me as a boy read the Bible before I could go out and play, I would be in very bad shape. Two, Dr. Sanders stressed very much the importance of reading scripture intertextually. That is something that the Christians in International Falls did vigorously (and still do, I am confident). Waldenström did this extensively in his commentaries (not without an occasional error, as Tommy Carlson notes in this issue), and it is something I have virtually abandoned, aside from the pericope texts, for years. My discipline, to the extent I have had one, has been to ignore everything I can except the text I am reading. This is a practice that has its merits, but I think Dr. Sanders is right—it is not really enough.

The Gustafson Lectures were outstanding. A perfect record thus far has been established. Congratulations to United Seminary and to Dr. Henry Gustafson.

The North Park Philosophy Academy

Stephen Gerenscer presented a stimulating, timely paper to the meeting of the North Park Philosophy Academy, October 25, 1991. His title: “Should the canon be fired? Politics and Political Philosophy.”

The canon, of course, refers to the accepted body of literature in a given discipline that is regarded as the source material of the discipline. In the case of the Bible, the canon is those writings that are accepted by Christians. At this point, only the books called the apocrypha are in dispute.

The classic texts (or canon) of political philosophy, a case in point, were the subject of discussion at this meeting. Which ones are they? Have we ignored some? Should some be abandoned? Which ones should be read as part of college curricula? The debate is lively on college campuses as white, western texts are increasingly challenged.

Stephen Gerenscer, who teaches at the University of Minnesota and is working on a dissertation, examined the question of classic literature in political science. Steve maintained that there is a canon although it must be flexible and open.

Stephen Bouma-Prediger, philosophy teacher at North Park, was the first respondent. He insightfully pressed the issues very hard. Do we not, he asked, need some ethical norms by which to assess the canon? What is the distinction between what is and is not in the canon?

Elder Lindahl, the second respondent, reported that he was confused by what he saw as Steve Gerenscer’s contention that the canon was both open-ended and fixed. Further, he thought that more attention was needed to the matter of hermeneutics or interpretation.

Attendance was good and the discussion lively. The North Park Philosophy Academy is alive and well. Veteran philosophers Mel Soneson, Elder Lindahl, and Paul Sebestyen attended. So, with Stephen Bouma-Prediger, there were at least four professional philosophers present. Their presence did not daunt their students in whom philosophical fires continue to burn. Insights and questions were exchanged for hours.

Finally, Jack Hade, convener and organizer of the Academy, called our deliberations to a halt.

Dedication of the Nyvall Memorial

Plenty of comments but no complaints was a prominent theme of the dedication of the marker honoring Louise and David Nyvall on a cold, wet Sunday afternoon at Montrose Cemetery in Chicago. No one complained about the miserable weather because everyone knew she or he was there because she or he wanted to be there. No one had to come, but I bet that all who came were glad they did.

In this the centennial year of North Park College, the Covenant Church decided to place a memorial stone on the Nyvalls’ grave site. The stone reads:




Zenos Hawkinson, convener and guiding spirit of the gathering, reported that there was a gracious response from people in all the arrangements. Zenos reminded us that the Lord is good. It could have been yesterday’s weather (a day of steady rain that drenched the North Park Viking football team and its loyal fans while the Vikings, playing valiantly, were edged by Carroll College).

We did celebrate David and Louise Nyvall, and in the process, it was revealed that we have taken their legacy to heart. Covenant President Paul Larsen, before the benediction, reminded us of Nyvall’s Christian spirit and courage during the Alaska Gold Scandal. When many were claiming the gold discovered by missionary Peterson belonged to the Covenant, Nyvall stood firmly saying that the church had no part in this matter—a legacy we can admire and cherish.

At the Nyvall dedication, I neither felt nor detected any reservations in honoring the Nyvalls. I never knew the Nyvalls myself, I have read only some of David’s writings, and I have not been a student of his biography. Yet, I appreciate the man greatly. High among the reasons, I suspect, is that the people who did know him, who have tried to emulate him, and who have spoken about him are people about whom I feel as they felt about David Nyvall. This gathering was rich with such people. But for space and fear of omitting some, I would love to name them. Suffice it to say that there was a wealth of teachers, pastors, and mentors.

David Homer, North Park’s second David president, brightened the afternoon with pleasant, wry comments. His was a pre-welcome, he said, to Zenos’ “Invocation and Welcome.” Between David and Zenos we were warmly welcomed. I think it was about this time that a few of us noticed a deer passing by, near the woods, about 50 yards from our gathering. The deer glanced at us and calmly continued on to the woods certainly a sign of blessing. There are, yet, wild deer in the city of Chicago.

“A strange city in a strange land” for folks like the Nyvalls,” Zenos reminded us. He prayed that in “praising these worthy ones, we praise Thee which is what we are born for.”

After we sang “In Thy Temple Courts Dear Father,” which was written by David Nyvall, former North Park President William Hausman read, in his distinguished voice, Psalm 111 which was central to Nyvall and to North Park. “The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

This brought us to a “Tribute to the Nyvalls” by Karl Olsson. For not too many pleasant moments—for he promised to be brief—Karl told us about the Nyvalls. He quoted P. Mattson (that’s how he referred to him), the far-seeing Covenant missionary to China, who on the occasion of David Nyvall’s 70th birthday proclaimed that Nyvall was a giant.

But, apparently, he was a small, gentle giant whose power came from spirit and intelligence. He was a man of good humor, a man, said Dr. Olsson, who read to his failing wife before teaching a class in the morning, a man who on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Covenant rose to say, “I want to say something good about God,” and did.

Karl told of a visit to their home by Nyvall in 1922. Karl’s father asked Nyvall what he thought about the Scopes Trial and evolution. Nyvall responded, “If God can make a man out of dust, what’s wrong with him making man out of a monkey?” Karl said that ended the discussion.

Ann Charn, the Nyvalls’ grand-daughter, responded for the Nyvall family, expressing appreciation for this event. She thanked everyone and especially Zenos Hawkinson, for a “wonderful reunion.” It was, she said, with both pride and humility that she was present. She spoke of David Nyvall’s dreams and the degree of their fulfillment. He had said, “I didn’t do it but I meant it. I didn’t do it but I dreamt it.” Ms. Charn called for new dreams and visions and blessed us all in that.

After singing a favorite hymn of Nyvall, “See the Shining Dew Drops” (Barbara Hawkinson told me of David Nyvall’s deep response when this was sung for him at one of his last chapel services), the marker was unveiled. Phil Anderson, eminent Covenant Historian and Professor of Church History at North Park Seminary, ably assisted by Tim Johnson, Covenant Archivist—two of the younger living tributes to David Nyvall—did the honor. Phil read the inscription.

In closing, President Larsen noted that it was Nyvall’s conviction that understanding is a resource to faith and that his commitment to that conviction is a legacy that enriches us greatly. With that he pronounced the benediction on us all.

Two other things should be noted. One, members of the North Park College Choir, under the direction of Greg Athnos, sang several songs for the occasion. Two, the litany of dedication was created by John Weborg. He told me that most of it came from Nyvall’s own writing. The following is a central question and response from the litany which sums up the intentions for this marker now dedicated.

LEADER: When our children ask, “What does this stone mean?” What shall we say?

CONGREGATION: It is a memorial to the Lord lest we forget, that to his servant Nyvall, a school was a mission, piety was no substitute for learning, and the idea of a Covenant school was born with the Covenant.