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Posts tagged "Simeon Zahl"


Four Points About Martin Luther on 31 October 2017

Prof. Simeon Zahl weighs in:

I’ve spent so much of the past ten years reading, thinking with, and writing about Martin Luther’s theology, and teaching his thought at three universities. But I confess at this point I have very little interest in the idea of Luther, or in hagiography, or in his specific denominational legacy, or in his personality, or in his politics, or in his insults or his beer or whatever. And I disagree with quite a few of his main insights, and that’s before we even get to the hateful stuff.

But there remains no theologian I learn more from or I am more keen to teach. In the end if I am honest I am interested in Luther as a kind of artist who at his best transmuted his personal sufferings into theological ideas that can inform an utterly compassionate vision of Christianity as a religion of honesty and mercy for suffering and screwed up human beings. At his best – and he was very often not at his best – Luther remains unsurpassed here.

If I wanted to boil what I think has been most worthwhile for me down to a few points, on this quincentennial day, they would be these:

1. As a theologian, I return again and again to Luther’s theological method, especially his highly dynamic and creative way of transmuting his own sufferings and experiences into theological insight on behalf of others, in dialogue with Scripture. In this again I think he is usefully understood as a kind of artist or poet rather than simply as a thinker or exegete, and I think this is part of what Kierkegaard meant in his journals when he called Luther an ‘extremely important patient for Christianity’. As Luther puts it, ‘in tribulation [the exegete] learns many things which he did not know before; [likewise,] many things he already knew in theory he grasps more firmly through experience’ (WA 3:44; LW 10:49). We can seek to follow this method without having to agree with what Luther actually concluded at any given point. And I do personally think that a dose of this kind of experientialism, done well, is what theology today needs more than anything.

2. Luther’s account of the persistence of sin in the Christian in the later parts of Against Latomus is probably the darkest such account we have anywhere in the tradition, and in this it is enduringly profound. ‘[T]he motion of anger and evil is exactly the same in the godly and the godless, the same before grace and after grace’ (WA 8:91; LW 32:207). Luther argues at one point here that the way that sin persists in Christians is quite precisely analogous to the way that physical death persists: its ‘reality’ and ‘substance’ is unchanged, but its ‘sting’ is taken away. In this he is taking a major strand of Christian tradition and turning it up to eleven. In practice, the account in Against Latomus can and should function as a kind of firewall of divine mercy for Christians who feel like failures; there is no circumstance it cannot encompass. These bits of Against Latomus are not all that Luther had to say on the subject of the Christian life but they are the parts that have stood out the most to me over the years.

3. Luther’s distinction between Law and Gospel, loosely held and experientially/affectively understood, remains one of the most powerful diagnostic tools for making sense of what people I see around me actually do in their lives – all the anxious striving – and why it so rarely feels like ‘enough’, and for explaining the power of Christianity as a clear-eyed but utterly compassionate response to this. It is a shame that this aspect of his thought which pastorally-speaking has dated so little in 500 years (in our cultural moment of performancism and overwork) has been so misunderstood in recent theology.

4. The theology of the cross, as expressed with such simplicity and depth in the Heidelberg Disputation, seems to me to match the reality of life as it is very often experienced by human beings in the world, better than any other such category I have come across. ‘God can be found only in suffering and the cross’ (proof of thesis 21). Whatever their tradition (or anti-tradition), students always respond to this extraordinary text, which (with the Disp. Against Scholastic Theology) is I think the paradigmatic example of Luther’s art.

Other people can talk about his theology of the Bible, his view of the sacraments, his relationship to modernity and authority and all the rest, but for me these are the reasons I continue to be interested in the legacy of Martin Luther in 2017.

Hiding in Plain Sight: The Lost Doctrine of Sin ~ Simeon Zahl from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

Hiding in Plain Sight: The Lost Doctrine of Sin – Simeon Zahl

Another wonderful talk from this year’s NYC conference: theologian  Simeon Zahl examines the inconvenient but foundational doctrine of sin.

Hiding in Plain Sight: The Lost Doctrine of Sin ~ Simeon Zahl from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

Hopelessly Devoted: John Chapter Sixteen Verses Seven through Fifteen

Hopelessly Devoted: John Chapter Sixteen Verses Seven through Fifteen

We hope it was a fantastic Labor Day off yesterday. Here’s this morning’s devotion, from Simeon Zahl. 

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment…” (John 16:7-15, NRSV)

In this chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus is explaining to the disciples why it is better for him to go away than to stay. We can all relate to…

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The Spirit of Play (and the Lack of Self-Addressed Envelopes)

The Spirit of Play (and the Lack of Self-Addressed Envelopes)

A beautiful section from pages 183-184 of the new book by theologian Nimi Wariboko, entitled The Pentecostal Principle. Contains more than a few echoes of a recent post on ‘play to order and the gamification of parenting’, not to mention the talk Simeon Zahl gave at our NYC Conference way back in 2010. Brackets are ours, but parentheses are from the text:

“Grace is a negation of work. But play is its style of negation… The greatest proof of divine graciousness is that grace is repeated again and again. For those under grace, for every act, every day it is available….

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Hopelessly Devoted: Psalm Chapter Fifty One Verse Twelve

Hopelessly Devoted: Psalm Chapter Fifty One Verse Twelve

This morning’s devotion comes from Simeon Zahl.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:12, NRSV)

The psalmist brings two things to bear here:

First, it is okay to ask God for joy. Joy is good. The reality of sin and of human limitations, and the truth of the cost of atonement, are no excuse for being grim and boring. Quite the reverse! Secure in God and His salvation, the true and natural way is to laugh at ourselves and at this world, and to seek and find the joy in it. God’s world…

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Can God Work in Poetry? Simeon Zahl on Spiritual Experience

Can God Work in Poetry? Simeon Zahl on Spiritual Experience

From the festschrift honoring Paul Zahl, Comfortable Words, son Simeon Zahl argues convincingly that God may work in any avenue of human life, broadening the Holy Spirit’s arena beyond the traditional Word (preaching, Bible) and sacrament:

In Isaiah, we are reminded that “All flesh is grass… The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it”… the communication of this truth, this broad and profound truth about the futility of merely human activities and strivings in light of death, falls under the remit of the Spirit of truth, despite the fact that it does not immediately or directly reference…

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Hopelessly Devoted: First Kings Chapter Nineteen Verses Four through Seven

Hopelessly Devoted: First Kings Chapter Nineteen Verses Four through Seven

Reading from this morning’s daily office reference in The Mockingbird Devotional. It comes from Simeon Zahl.

But [Elijah] went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a…

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Hopelessly Devoted: Acts Chapter Eight Verses Twenty Two through Twenty Four

Hopelessly Devoted: Acts Chapter Eight Verses Twenty Two through Twenty Four

Alright, devoted. This morning’s reading comes from The Mockingbird Devotional, following the “Daily Office Lectionary Guide,” a resource you’ll find in the index of the book that matches each of our devotions to the church calendar. Following this puts us here for this Monday, at Acts 8, with Maestro Simeon Zahl.

As a general reminder, today is the last day we are offering a complimentary Devotional to anyone who signs up for (any amount of) monthly giving. To do so, look no further than here.

“Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of…

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I Can’t Fight This Feeling: The Problem of Emotion in Protestant Christianity – Simeon Zahl

Slightly re-titled but no less, er, plausible (or awesome):

You may download the recording of this talk by clicking here.

2013 NYC Conference Recordings: Good News That Never Gets Old

2013 NYC Conference Recordings: Good News That Never Gets Old

Another heartfelt thank-you to everyone who helped put on this year’s Mockingbird Conference in NYC, especially our friends at Calvary St. George’s Church. It’s a good thing most of the presentations below have to do with grace, as the very thought of trying to top it is incredibly scary…! Speaking of freebies, though, we are once again making the recordings available at no charge; we only ask that those who were not able to attend this year *consider* making a donation to help cover the cost of the event. Download links are followed by an in-line player for each recording….

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Emotional Protestants, Gracious Storytelling, Stressed-Out Athletes, Young Kierkegaardians, Antinomian Unicorns, and Church Basement Addictions

Emotional Protestants, Gracious Storytelling, Stressed-Out Athletes, Young Kierkegaardians, Antinomian Unicorns, and Church Basement Addictions

We asked those who are giving “mini-talks” this Friday (4/19) at our 6th Annual Mockingbird NYC Conference to provide short teasers of what they’ll be speaking about, and they did not disappoint! If you’re looking six and a half more reasons to cancel what you have going on this weekend (or six and a half more reasons to feel silly about not doing so), look no further:

Just Watched — Up There With the Most Grace-Centered Films of the Last Few Years, If Not THE Most

1. What Does Salvation Feel Like? Protestantism and the Problem of Emotion — Simeon Zahl….

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Clowntime Is Over: Decreased Play Equals Increased Anxiety

Clowntime Is Over: Decreased Play Equals Increased Anxiety

Wowza! The Atlantic followed up their recent opus on overparenting-induced anxiety with a report on how decreased playtime is affecting children’s emotional health, “All Work and No Play: Why Your Kids Are More Anxious, Depressed.” It’s sobering, to say the least. There’s not a whole lot to say on the issue that SZ didn’t make pretty clear in his classic post, “Freezing Repetitions and the Spirit of Play in Thornton Wilder’s Theophilus North“ (not to mention the conference talk on which it was based). Only minor note is to say that the authors of the article use the word “control”…

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