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A Note from Our Editor: Hermann Sasse and Theology vs. Religion

One of the greatest theologians of the 20th century was Hermann Sasse (d. 1976), who taught at Erlangan until the rise of Hitler and then emigrated to Australia .*  Among his perceptive comments was that the trouble with the modern church and contemporary Christians arises from the fact that they “no longer know how to think theologically.”  Note that he did not say “religiously”: people are as religious as ever, as the proliferation of cults and sects and New Age oddities amply demonstrates.  But that is hardly theology. 

The difference between being religious and being theological is simply this:  Religion is an arrow pointing up (cf. the tower of Babel); it focuses on our own personal needs, personal reflections concerning the divine, and personal goodness or efforts to attain it   Theology, however, is an arrow pointing down; it is concerned with what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  “No one has ascended up to heaven, but he who came down from heaven, even the Son of man who is in heaven” (John 3:13).

“The unexamined life,” said Socrates, “is not worth living.”  Perhaps it is high time that we examine our value system, along with that of our churches and Christian fellowships.  What is at the centre?  Is it anthropocentric or is it theocentric?  Are we more concerned with ourselves and our clambering up the sanctification ladder or with the glories of our Redeemer’s cross and the power of His resurrection—and the presentation of that gospel to those outside?  Maybe a little serious theological training wouldn’t hurt -- as a corrective to our ingrown pietism, our substitution of ethics and social concerns for gospel, and our endemic preoccupation with our professional lives.  In short, are we thinking theologically, or only religiously?

*  *  *

Some years ago, your Editor was inducted as one of the fifty living members of the Académie Internationale des Gourmets et des Traditions Gastronomiques (Paris), and he is a Master of the prestigious Alsatian wine society, the Confrérie St-Etienne—all of which did not endear him to certain pietists in the evangelical community, needless to say. 

My inaugural lecture at the Gastronomical Academy dealt with “The Banquets of the Bible,” and its (surreptitious) purpose was evangelism: to point out to the membership that the one banquet of eternal importance is that coming at the end of time when Christ returns, at which time invitations come only to those wearing the wedding garment of His righteousness, not clothing representing their own pseudo-goodness or sophistication.   Said gastronomical interests on the part of the Editor may explain the lead article to grace this issue: “The Messianic Banquet and the Eschatology of Matthew’s Gospel,” by Daniel S. Steffen, Professor of New Testament at the Central American Theological Seminary, Guatemala.

Part Two of Professor Andrew Phang’s essay, “A Passion for Justice: The Natural Law Foundations of Lord Denning’s Thought and Work,” follows—as does the Editor’s obituary for Lord Denning, published by invitation in 1999 in Faith & Thought, the journal of the Victoria Institute, of which the Editor is an Honorary Vice-President. 

Enjoy the feast!

-- Dr. John Warwick Montgomery

* Author of such classics as Here We Stand and This is My Body.  See also:  Hermann Sasse, The Lonely Way: Selected Essays and Letters of Hermann Sasse, Vol. I (1927-1939), Vol. II (1941-1976), trans. Matthew C. Harrison, et al. ( St. Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 2001-2002).

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