Theological All-Stars

By Bob Hiller

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Tuesday night the best of the best in Major League Baseball played in the annual All-Star game. A record low number of viewers watched back-to-back MVP Mike Trout and the American League lock up home field advantage for the World Series with a 6-3 win over the National League (though, if Cincinnati makes the Fall Classic with Aroldis Chapman closing out games, home field may mean nothing…dude threw fourteen pitches and the slowest was clocked at 98 mph…that is just disgusting!).

All-Star games are great fodder for barroom debates. One of my favorite pastimes is grabbing some beers with my buddies and debating the accomplishments of various players and teams: Who is the best player in baseball (Mike Trout makes this a short conversation)? If X team were around today, how would they fair? Who would you pick for your all-time NBA roster? Who are the five best sports-casters on TV? Who are the worst? On and on the talks go.

So, since it is the slowest sports week of the year, I thought we’d have our own Jagged Word round-table discussion. Now, I don’t assume that everyone who reads the ol’ blog is a sports fan, and since I can never expand my library too much, I thought we’d put together a theological All-Star Ballot of sorts. (Was the “theological All-Star Ballot” angle too cheesy? Sorry.) So, here is what I am looking for: give me three theologians you think the church most needs to hear from today. Here are the rules:

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1)  You must pick three.  No more, no less.

2) Your theologians must be from the 20th or 21st Century.  Look, we already know we should read Augustine and Luther.  I am willing to bet most of us have.  Bring something new to the table for this conversation.  Show some effort here!

3) Defend/promote your answer.  Why is this particular thinker helpful? How do they contribute to the church’s life today? How have they helped you understand the Word more clearly?  For example, “Rob Bell has taught me that you can be a great communicator and have a sweet hair-do for Jesus.”

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4) You must suggest an article or book that will give us an opportunity to access this particular theologian’s thinking.

5) You may engage and debate the suggestions of others and the theological perspectives they bring, but no insulting comments or cheap shots can be taken at the one posting.  For example: “You think Rob Bell is an important voice because you are an idiot, liberal, idiot face.”  That will disqualify you from posting.

6) No pathetic Rob Bell Jokes.

Got it?  Great.  Now, grab a beer and join the fun!  Here are my picks:

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1) Oswald Bayer. Bayer is a German Luther scholar. Reading Bayer has shown me that God’s primary way in dealing with humanity is by means of the spoken word of promise (proclamation) and our primary way of dealing with God is passively receiving that word in our ears (faith). Bayer is helpful in reminding us that justification is not one doctrine among many, but it is the boundary which gives shape to how we speak of all doctrines, from creation to sanctification to the resurrection. All of this is promised to one, and thus given to one, in the creative and redemptive Word of absolution. The “I forgive your sins” creates faith out of nothing, makes a new man, and raises the dead. He helps us view the Christian life in light of Luther’s Catechisms and the Divine Service. (I also got to have breakfast with him once and he snapped at my brother…that’s a story for another time.) Pick up Martin Luther: A Contemporary Interpretation for a good view of his theology (in Luther’s name) and his marvelous Living By Faith: Justification and Sanctification.

2) Gerhard Forde. This is the obvious choice on my list. This is a guy who creates quite a stir when you bring him up among Lutherans. Folks love him or hate him. I love him. No one better emphasizes the centrality of preaching as a means by which God gives us Christ. Forde reminds us that the aim of theology is not getting God right, as though God can be scientifically dissected into systematic parts, but rather to unleash God’s wrath on sinners through the preaching of the Law and raise them to life with the deliverance of Jesus in the Gospel. Forde does tend to have a negative view of the Law, however, he is right in reminding us how the preaching of Christ must silence the Law’s loud thunder and how we must not allow that dog, the old Adam, to return to the vomit of his self-righteousness. He is also a great writer who is just enjoyable to read. (To the Forde haters: Yes, his stuff on the atonement is wrong and he is a bit misguided on the third use.  But, before you destroy him for this, it is worth asking why he is saying what he is saying. Perhaps he is not so opposed to, say, substitutionary atonement as he is to the way it is taught…). Get On Being a Theologian of the Cross and Where God Meets ManAlso see his contribution to Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification (“Sanctification is…simply the art of getting used to justification.”) and his essay “What Ever Happened to God: God Not Preached”  The Preached God: Proclamation in Word and Sacrament.

3) Bo Giertz. Giertz was a Swedish Lutheran pastor in the last century. I am working through his Christ’s Church: Her Biblical Roots, Her Dramatic History, Her Glorious Future. This book is a clinic on how to do theology. His ability to interweave biblical, systematic, historical, and practical theology together is utterly astounding. His sermons for seminary graduates in Then Fell the Lord’s Fire should be required for all pastors. But, the book I must recommend, and you must read, is The Hammer of God . In this fictional novel, he examines the ministries of various pastors in one Swedish parish over the course of three generations. And, he makes it interesting (which is no small feat)! I can’t recommend this book enough if you want to grasp how God’s Word actually does its job.

Those are mine. What’ve you got?

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