Wednesday, August 28, 2013

LHP Review: ALPB Releases


Jenson, Robert W. On the Inspiration of Scripture. Dehli, NY: American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 2012. 67 Pages. Paper. $TBA. (LHP)  

von Schenk, Berthold. The Presence: An Approach to the Holy Communion. Dehli, NY: American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 2010. (Previously published by New York: Ernst Kaufmann, Inc., 1945, 1946.) 173 Pages. Paper. $12.50. (LHP)

Our friends at American Lutheran Publicity Bureau have new titles in their catalog. Here are two releases we had yet to read and review.

What does it mean that the Bible is inspired?

For many Lutherans, the inspiration of the Scriptures is mostly about why the Bible is rightly the source and norm for the church's teaching.

Robert W. Jenson, a life-long Lutheran and widely respected theologian and teacher, believes that this approach to the subject of the inspiration of the Scriptures obscures more than it illuminates. In this small book he first examines where this traditional approach falls short and then begins the process of constructing something more helpful to our understanding.

What is obscured, according to Jenson? For one thing, the actual "interests" or subjects of the Scripture itself: the stories, liturgies, visions and the rest of what is in the Bible which goes well beyond directives and information. For another, the continuing overarching narrative from Genesis to Revelation of God's action to save the world. For yet another, the actual uses the Spirit makes of Scripture in the church for worship, for preaching and meditation.

In the chapters devoted to building his new approach to the doctrine of biblical inspiration, Jenson considers what a religion's scripture is, how the Spirit's actions in the Old and New Testaments differ, Old Testament prophecy, the Old Testament's concept of inspiration, the Spirit in the Trinity, the Spirit's action in the church, and the narrative of the Scripture.

(Publisher's Website)

I do not see completely eye to eye with Dr. Jenson. We are not in fellowship. And I have concerns about his dogmatics text that deserve their own treatment on an other day.

As I ready On the Inspiration of Scripture, I asked myself, "Who is the intended audience of this little book?" Former students of Professor Jenson are now in multiple Lutheran church bodies, though most likely remain in the ELCA. I can easily believe that this book is a continued conversation with them. I'll leave the LCMS as a body aside for the moment. 

Perhaps Jenson himself is the audience and this unique slender volume is an insight into a conversation within himself, reflecting on his moderately pietist upbringing, his journey to and through the ELCA, to these later life thoughts on how Lutherans should (should have?) speak about Holy Scripture as God's Word. 

I must admit some discomfort moving from familiar terminology and concepts to new constructs or "construals." That's only natural. A healthy skepticism is a good thing in theology. The true value of this text by Jenson will be the discussion it generates in larger Lutheranism. No one can predict where that will lead. Is this on par with Sasse's Letter 14? We'll see.

The more reviews I do, the wearier I get in reading blogs that break the Eighth Commandment while purporting to uphold preservation of pure doctrine as a whole. It reminds me of the "drunk peasant" of Luther's writing who is pushed into the opposite ditch in order to "protect" him from falling in the one nearest to him. Being persecuted does not make one right any more than sinning while warning people against another sin is righteous.

Our next title is The Presence: An Approach to the Holy Communion by Berthold von Schenck. This isn't a brand-new title. It's a reprint of a primary book by a pioneer in liturgial renewal in the Lutheran church.

In Liturgy, Hymnody, & Pulpit Quarterly Book Review         Volume 1, Issue 4, Angels' Tide, 2007, we reviewed von Schenk's autobiography. It is reproduced below for your convenience and comparison.

Liturgy Book Review


Fry, C. George and Joel R. Kurz, editors. Lively Stone: The Autobiography of Berthold von Schenk. Delhi, New York: American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 2006. 152 Pages. Paper. $12.50. (607) 746-7511 (L)



The Church lives under the cross. Such a statement might be surprising to a theologian of glory, but not to a theologian of the cross like the Rev. Berthold von Schenk. The parishes he served (and the condition in which he found them) were all on the brink of closure.


As John Hannah notes in the Forward, "….confessional revival did not extend to parish worship life" (5). This is unfortunate, as is the "Eucharistic minimum" that also prevailed. Upon reading the history of the Saxon migration, one mourns for those who died when the ship Amelia was lost at sea. In addition, one mourns in a different way for what the liturgical life of the LCMS could have been if the vestments and other liturgical traditions aboard had not been lost.


The editors do well to warn the reader about being shocked or infuriated by what he or she may encounter in these pages. (11) I could do without references to the LCMS as an old female dog (101), and unbecoming comments about J.A.O. Preus (104), Walther, Pieper, and others. Luther and Zwingli's disagreement at Marburg was far from nonsense, as von Schenk claimed. (126) Perhaps he may have seen things differently after a conversation with Hermann Sasse, or after reading This Is My Body. Then again, perhaps not. The topic of children's Communion (136) is again a topic of discussion in the LCMS. The author also was critical of what he called "Missouri Biblicism." Maintaining pure doctrine is not loveless legalism. It is not an end in itself, but as a book title teaches us, Theology Is for Proclamation. Personally, I would much rather have the sermons of Oswald Hoffmann and Walter A. Maier and the theology they confessed than those of Von Schenk's heroes, Norman Vincent Peale and Harry Emerson Fosdick. I agree with the author that the Reformation was unfortunate, but disagree with him in that it truly was necessary. (143)


The editors show common cause between von Schenk and his Atlantic district and the Wyoming district in opposing "church growth" techniques, which Von Schenk recognized as "none other than 'the New Measures' of the Old Frontier being readapted in the days of the New Frontier" (17)."Those living along the Willow Creeks have no sympathy for one who prophesied by the Streams of Babylon."


Commenting upon his seminary training, Von Schenk speaks about Theodore Graebner's opinion of liturgical theology. "His original judgment was that liturgical practices were adiaphoristic. There were many others who, like him, looked upon the liturgical revival only as a restoration of traditional ceremonies." (30). Why ceremonies? He answers, "The primary reason I introduced ceremonies, liturgical vestments, and so forth, was not because they were intrinsically important—their introduction had the purpose of bringing color and beauty into the lives of people who lived in the ugly environment of the slums. Why should the Church not be concerned about beauty? Most of my members belonged to the disinherited class. By nature I am not a ceremonialist and ritualist, yet there must be form. It was natural that I should give thought to the form of the liturgy. I had to give my people beauty of form and worship, but sadly, this was misjudged by others" (47). When he needed a new vestment, he thought, "Why not purchase a cassock an surplice with stoles?"


Walter E Buszin and Arthur Carl Piepkorn both appear on page 116. Both played significant roles in the worship life of the LCMS. (Piepkorn's gold cope was still in occasional use at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis when I graduated.)


Von Schenk had a passion for stewardship (64) and Evangelism (123). He saw leitourgia, missio, and diakonia as marks of the church. Consider "Do this in remembrance of Me," "Preach the Gospel of the Kingdom," and "serving all who need Him, especially the socially and economically disinherited" on pages 97ff and 124ff.


For an example of a "simple liturgy," see 128, what Von Schenk considered to be "the most important contribution which I made."


I am grateful to the ALPB for the publication of this book and welcome similar books in the future that highlight our Lutheran liturgical heritage as Christians, and those like Berthold von Schenk who retained, restored, and patiently taught others to love the gifts the Lord delivers to the people He gathers around Word and Sacrament. Even though not everything is said in the kindest way, this autobiographical volume is worthwhile, though a book to be read while putting the best construction on everything.



Disagree with von Schenk if you need to. Let's not be disagreeable about it.

Would you believe that under the LCMS Koinonia Project there is a plan underway for two conferences between the pastors of the Wyoming District and the Atlantic District? It's true! And I propose that The Presence be one of the books for pastors of both districts to read before we get together next Spring.

Berthold von Schenk (1895 - 1974) was a gifted parish pastor of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. The Presence, originally published in 1945, brought to a wider audience what he had been meditating on and teaching his congregation for years about the meaning of Holy Communion for them and for all Christians.

What von Schenk believed about Holy Communion was thoroughly grounded in the Bible and in the historical Confessions of the Lutheran Church. But it led him toward, not away from, other Christians. Holy Communion was the way that Jesus kept his promise to be with his Church always, even unto the end of the world. "Do this," he had said, "in remembrance of me." Holy Communion therefore ought to be celebrated not just occasionally but on every Sunday and feast day of the year.

God did not just become incarnate long ago at Christmas; Holy Communion brings God incarnate to us today. Jesus did not give himself for us only long ago on Calvary; in Holy Communion Christ gives himself to us today. Pastor von Schenk shows how all the events of Christ's life confessed in the Apostles' Creed-his birth, his death, his resurrection, his ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit-are all present for us in the Holy Sacrament he gave us.

Paul Robert Sauer is the editor of this new edition. He is today the pastor of the same church that von Schenk served in the Bronx from 1940 - 1961. He found a copy of The Presence at the church. "Some books change your mind," he told a group in a talk about von Schenk. "This one changed my life." He has provided an Introduction and many helpful footnotes for modern readers.

(Publisher's Website)

More frequent celebrations of Holy Communion.

Cassock and surplice with stole.

More widespread use of eucharistic vestments.

An appreciation of the Sacrament as high as Missouri's for the preached Word.

The reminder of the cross "For you, for you."

These are among the reasons to read and appreciate The Presence. 

As I have written recently, 

I have this strange idea that one can learn from the mistakes of others.


It is possible to learn something from someone with whom you don't fully agree.

It is also possible for many to avoid thinking and doing theology by avoiding difficult subjects.

Because of seeming differences of opinion on those topics, I have seen others therefore disregard the works of C. S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hermann Sasse, and Berthold von Schenk out of hand.


Their loss, I suppose. I pray you would be edified, challenged, and comforted by [this title].

I also appreciated this book (having read his autobiography) as autobiographical. It has devotional language qualities not unlike Gerhard's Meditations on Divine Mercy. And he taught the LCMS to remember our closeness to the host of heaven, including our departed loved ones who died in Christ, at the altar of the Lor (cf. 121, 113).

The Rev. von Schenk has fans and critics today as during his day. Nevertheless, The Presence is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand how and why liturgical and eucharistic practice in the LCMS today is the way it is.

We look forward to new titles from ALPB in the near future.

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, Yellowstone Circuit Visitor (LCMS Wyoming District), a permanent member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.

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