Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Changing the World with Lentil Stew

So, apparently there’s now this new…group..or organization…or something…of “Seminaries that Change the World.”   
Seminaries that Change the World is an invitation to a generation of idealists, activists, volunteers and servant-leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to community service and social justice.”
According to this website (and I should note that mostly the reason I care is that my alma mater, Luther Seminary, is a part of this group), people should consider going to seminary as a route to changing the world.


The leading quote on the website is, “Give me a place to stand, and I will move the earth,” supposedly uttered by Archimedes (about, um, physics, not metaphysics, but whatevs, right?).  Anyway…no quotes from the Bible.  Nothing about the words of Jesus or the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  Not even anything about a generic non-denominational, genderless “God.”  

All, 100%, totally in curvatus se.  So, definitely something Lutherans would want to be involved with.  (For those of you who are sarcasm-impaired, that last sentence includes a gigantic eye roll.)

Now look, if they wanted to throw some Jewish or Muslim seminaries (is that what they’re even called?) on this list, and then they’d need to back away from the Jesus stuff a little, okay.  I get that it is possible to be a trained leader in a non-Christian religion, and I don’t begrudge people that. (I think they’re wrong, but I don’t begrudge them, and I certainly don’t want to take away their religious freedom to believe and practice as they see fit.)  

But.  But.  All of the schools in the group are Christian.  

And Christians know – or at least, they used to – that the only person who has any real power to change the world is Jesus Christ.  Even if you’re operating from the perspective that “changing the world” is coterminous with “God’s mission in the world,” you still have to contend with verses like Phillippians 2:13, “…it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

It’s just not about you.  It’s just not about you.  Say it with me, Christians, it’s just not about you. 

Carl Braaten, in discussing the “Two Kingdoms Theory” says this: 
Historical liberation and eternal salvation are not one and the same thing. They should not be equated. The gospel is not one of the truths we hold to be self-evident; it is not an inalienable right which the best government in the world can do anything about. There are many people fighting valiantly on the frontline of legitimate liberation movements who are not in the least animated by the gospel. The hope for liberation is burning in the hearts of millions of little people struggling to free themselves from the conditions of poverty and tyranny. When they win this freedom, should they be so fortunate, they have not automatically therewith gained the freedom for which Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1).”
This is excellent.  It is utterly, and absolutely, perfectly stated.  Yay, Carl Braaten.  (Why, why, oh why are there no theologians like him left in “this church”?)  “Changing the world” is great, so far as it goes.  But if we learned anything last week from Jesus’ takedown of the Sadducees, it’s that “this world,” and all it has to offer, is not the last word, and it is certainly not the only thing we have to look forward to do.  

“Changing the world,” is, I suppose, a noble task.  But it is not, in and of itself, Christian ministry.  And Christian seminaries should know this.  If the best we can be about is “changing the world,” with a little sprinkle of Jesus on top, then what the hell are we doing????  

“If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied….If the dead are not raised, ‘let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:19, 32)

Should seminaries be encouraging their students to live and practice the faith, and not just hunker down inside their own heads full of knowledge?  Of course.  Go forth, “change the world,” if that’s your thing.  So much good has been done, so much love has been shown, and so much gospel has been proclaimed in the concrete acts of love and mercy done by the Church throughout the ages, and let us pray that these might continue!

But these acts of love and mercy, of “changing the world,” have been done by a Church that was, as Braaten puts it, “animated by the gospel.”  By people who know that the death and resurrection of Jesus has already changed the world, and that we live and move and have our being on the basis of that reality.  Any so-called seminary that can’t see clear to that (and by choosing to associate with this “Seminaries that Change the World” it seems that they can’t) really doesn’t deserve to call itself Christian.  

Not only that, but the mission will ultimately fail.  Because “changing the world” comes from God, at the end of the day.  Because the problem with the world is not just that people aren't nice enough.  The problem with the world is sin, death, and the devil.  And the only - only - fix for that is Christ crucified.  Christ, and only Christ.  “Then the one who is seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’”  Not – “Then the one who is a nice person said ‘go out and make all things new.’” 

A seminary that is teaching its students to paint a veneer of religion over the mission of the Peace Corps is trading its rich heritage for a bowl of lentils, Jacob-and-Esau style.  

May the Lord have mercy upon us, and may He come quickly, to at last, once and for all, “change the world.”   


Ian Wolfe said...

You are exactly right, good Elizabeth of Hungary. BTW your commemoration is coming up this Sunday, will keep you in memory! I think schemes and plans to change the world are born out of progressivism mixed with plagiarism. We can do it! And we are getting better every day to prove how much we can do it! Yet such flights of fancy fail to take seriously Christ and the scriptures. It fails to believe in the reality of sin and the nature of the battle that Christians wage (oh no, war language!!!! AHHHHHHHH). Yet St. Paul puts it plainly, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." If changing the world singularly about people then Michael Jackson, et al should have been able to do that in the 80's to the march of "We are the World." Yet the foe is greater and more crafty than that. We need something more than a lame rally cry to "change the world" or a false humanism. Only Jesus Christ can do that, by the Holy Spirit through the Word and Holy Sacraments. No political platform or economic system or hippie pipe or conservative ideal will change the world. For in the end all things will die, because they are of this world. The only one who can change the fundamental trajectory of the world i.e. death, is the only One who has overcome death.

Anonymous said...

Preach it, dear sister!

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