Monday, February 05, 2007

McCain and Gottesdienst

This I can’t resist. It’s just too good. Back in late January, Fr. David Petersen, freshman editor at Gottesdienst, put this up on his blog: “Promoting Gottesdienst: Do you subscribe to Gottesdienst? Why? What do you like about it?” and then this enticing little question, “How many of you do not subscribe on purpose? That is, how many of you have read Gottesdienst and thought it not worth the money? Why?” Well, that bait brought out a rather interesting catch, from Rev. Paul McCain:

“Tweeking the nose is one thing, allowing a certain former Lutheran pastor to publish what amounts to near hallucinatory "reviews" and in the process slandering persons and institutions is quite another. In this way, Gottesdienst stands in good company with both Christian News and JesusFirst, but I don't think that is a particularly positive achievement.

“In spite of whatever Gottesdienst wishes to be doing that is good, I can not in good conscience recommend it to anyone. Sometimes I can't help but wonder if the little magazine is not more a forum for the pecularities and quirks of its editors who do appear to enjoy amusing themselves with their little quips and such than a magazine that provides a responsible churchly forum for healthy discussion about matters liturgical.”

Now just what, you may ask, is that all about? Well, it turns out that there was a disapproving review in Gottesdienst about a year ago of Concordia, the newest edition, with notes, of the Book of Concord. The review, by former Missouri Synod pastor Michael J. Hill, takes McCain to task for some of the editorial decisions he made. It turns out that Hill’s review was not only thoughtful but prescient, as some time afterwards the LCMS Board of Doctrinal Review had second thoughts and revoked its certification for the book, requiring that changes be made (and as I recall there was another review by Concordia Seminary in St. Louis which expressed some similar sentiments). I guess that might have bothered McCain a bit, and Concordia Publishing House, which had already printed a gazillion copies. Oops. Meanwhile a review also came from Jesus First, a journal of LCMS “moderates” (who, I think, like to think of themselves as “conservative” but actually behave like liberals, if you’re into political labels), which also panned the book, but for entirely different reasons (as Hill explained succinctly in a follow-up article—see what you’re missing, all you non-subscribers? To subscribe, click here).

So now McCain says he feels justified in throwing Gottesdienst in the same trash can as he throws Jesus First and Christian News, but of course, there’s a difference. We send out a few complimentary copies here and there, but generally you aren’t going to get it if you don’t subscribe. I wonder who gave him a copy in the first place.

But what I find particularly rich is this: “I can not in good conscience recommend it to anyone.” Holy cow, in good conscience? Wow, there’s something serious going on there. Like, that Gottesdiesnt must have some real bad stuff in there that might lead people astray. Hmmm, what stuff, I wonder? Is there some error we need to retract somewhere? I mean, he speaks of slander too. Who was slandered? McCain? Or . . . (you be the judge).

I wonder why it bothers him so much if, as he says, Gottesdienst is a “little magazine . . . for the pecularities and quirks of its editors who do appear to enjoy amusing themselves with their little quips and such.” No doubt that’s the pejorative “little,” rather than a reference to the conciseness of our journal. What a hoot.

But for all this exchange we owe a debt of gratitude not only to Fr. Petersen, but to Rev. McCain himself, because ever since, well, we’ve been getting a slew of new subscribers. Way to go, Paul!


Paul T. McCain said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul T. McCain said...

I suppose that a distribution of nearly 60,000 copies of the Book of Concord with the "Concordia" edition doesn't necessarily mean anything, but people who know of Hill, and his situation, know full well what's really going on here, and it's a pity that your titanic ego, Fritz, leads you to be a participant in this nonsense.

Thanks for clarifying precisely with whom you are willing to stand in order to advance your agenda. I find it very instructive, to say the least. It's good to know that no matter what anyone tries to do to advance confessional Lutheranism, Gottesdienst will be there ready to tear it down and attack, in order to gratify the personal issues the editors feel some need to work through.

I'm reminded of Teddy Roosevelt's words:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

In my experience, those who can, do, those who can't, sit around and criticize. Gottesdienst is doing well in that effort.

A seminary professor said to me at church the other Sunday when we were reviewing the interesting situation with Concordia that he seemed to recall a play about the whole incident. "Much Ado About Nothing" and that rather nicely also captures my sentiments about Gottesdienst, a sentiment shared by many people I know, who, were it not for Hill's absurdities, might be willing to give Gottesdienst more than a cursory look.

Paul T. McCain said...

Oh, by the way, when I referred to hallucinatory reviews, I was referring also his review of the Luther CD recording project we did. We spent nearly 80,000 dollars doing the most complete recording of the hymns of Martin Luther, using period instruments. Hill "figured out" that we were actually trying to push a contemporary worship agenda on the Synod in so doing, due to our quotations from Martin Luther where he refers to singing new songs, on a variety of instruments. Rats! He foiled our plot. Nuts? You bet.

Past Elder said...

Gee, I suppose having grown up reading books with Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat at the front, little Board of Doctrinal Review things shouldn't raise my eyebrow.

It's a strange thing indeed when the Book of Concord fails LCMS doctrinal review. Or was it the Book of Concord?

Well here's an idea for those who like me read the free articles on the site but are too cheap to subsribe. I paid $20 for the original Concordia, and now to get the book it supposedly should have been I need to pay $20 again. Maybe those who feel the same could just stick to Tappert, read the notes and so forth in the certifiably revoked edition, and spend the other $20 on a subscription to Gottesdienst (if that covers the price)!

Father Hollywood said...

Obviously, Pr. McCain has personal issues with some of the editors at Gottesdienst, and equally obviously, he takes issue with Dr. Hill's review. Perhaps this is unavoidable.

But it's too bad that this colors his view of Gottesdienst as a whole. What other publication is devoted to the Lutheran liturgy? There is simply nothing else out there that fills this niche - whether an official LCMS publication or unofficial.

Gottesdienst addresses rubrics (which our official organs avoid like the plague). It stands firmly against gimmicks like the Ablaze!(tm) program (er, I mean, movement). It stands up against contemporary worship (again, which of our "official" publications has the stoneware to take such a stand?).

It honors men who have taken lumps for their confessional stand.

Gottesdienst teaches pastors and laymen alike the practical ins and outs of liturgy, of sacramental theology, and even publishes sermons that reflect sound Lutheran proclamation.

I find Fritz's candor, his wit, and his historical knowledge in his columns to be refreshing. I learn something every time I read Gottesdienst. I wish I could say the same for the things that come out of my District. The contrast is so stark as to be utterly comical were we not talking about something as serious as the Gospel.

Obviously, Paul McCain (and everyone else) is entitled to his opinion, and I certainly understand his frustration. However, I find myself in disagreement with him.

I find Gottesdienst to be invaluable and a bargain for what it costs me. It is a port in the storm for traditionalist, confessional, and conservative pastors (and laymen) who feel tossed about by tidal waves of what is going on in our Synod.

I heartily endorse Gottesdienst, and recommend that confessional pastors, laymen, and even congregations not only subscribe, but support Gottesdienst financially (perhaps instead of funding various programs of your district or synod).

I believe Gottesdienst's mission is that important - though others certainly may (and do) disagree.

Please keep up the good work, gents!

Father Eckardt said...

I haven't had this much fun since the Super Bowl (OK I admit it, I am easily amused). I had scarcely pressed the Send key and Paul's ready to rumble.

So now we're supposed to see Hill's "hallucinations" as a mere reference to his *earlier* review, of the Luther CDs. OK, whatever you say.

You know, Paul, in my recollection, Hill never attacked you personally. If I'm forgetting something, show me, and I will gladly take the correction; but I just can't remember a single ad hominem attack. Where's the slander you allege?

Now you come out with some unsavory innuendos against him, and charge that my own involvement in this is all a product of my titanic ego, to which I wonder if I ought to quip, Stop that! You're hurting my titanic ego!

Listen, no one likes it when serious questions are raised about the scholarship of his opus. Where Hill and I especially agree is on the question of the virtual blending of editorial comments with the Book of Concord itself, leaving the less-than-careful reader to think there is no difference. Much good can nonetheless come from the publication of this book, but I do think there is the potential for much harm too, when such editorializing seeps up to the edges of the body of the work. Whether you agree or not, that is a scholarly criticism, deserving of more than a personal retort.

Nor does the number of copies sold serve as a rebuttal, though that should be self-evident.

By the way, I think Hill's follow-up to his review also takes issue with the Doctrinal Review Board, saying some of its reasoning is suspect. See, we're equal-opportunity critics here.

Speaking of critics, you have a nice quote there from your friend Teddy Roosevelt, though I'm not sure it applies, since we do much more than simply criticize stuff, as any fair reader can attest.

I have a quote too, from my friend Winston Churchill. It runs like this: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

Paul T. McCain said...

I regard both of Hill's reviews as hallucinatory, but wanted to make clear where the hallucinations began, and suggest there is just a tad more context to all this than might be gathered by the casual reader. I'm sure you are aware of it. I know I am.

I didn't have fun during the SuperBowl, but just fell asleep around 8:30. This is more fun.

Might be nice for you actually to respond to my point about Hill's nutty review of our Luther CD project. It was, and still is, an embarrassment to Gottesdienst to allow this man to publish his rantings. Perhaps Dave P. can bring some balance, which, in my view, is sorely needed.

I don't care about personal attacks, that would be preferrable, frankly, to using CPH products as a pretext to grind an axe against me, which is what Hill is doing, again, due to other circumstances that I will be glad to describe to anyone who wishes to know about them. Cloaking personal animus under "reviews" is quite contemptible.

The "slander" is in the wild-eyed accusations he makes, first against the Luther CD project and then against the CONCORDIA edition. But at least Hill provided Matthew Becker with an ally in the Gottesdienst community. Interesting bedfellows.

>>Stop that! You're hurting my >>titanic ego!

You are right, that was just a cheap shot. I apologize for it.

And, besides, it is probably inaccurate. Your ego might be larger than the Titanic. I could be wrong. :)

>>Where Hill and I especially agree >>is on the question of the virtual >>blending of editorial comments >>with the Book of Concord itself

Well, that is a valid concern, but:

1) The edition is a reader's edition, not a critical edition.

2) This concern was proven to be a total non-issue in light of the fact that:

a] We heard from next to nobody about this as a "problem." In fact, heard from hundreds of pastors who told me, "I asked my Bible class if they had a problem with it and they all said, "NO." One pastor even told me that his members said, "You would have to be pretty stupid not to see the difference." In other words, it was a non-issue that was but one of many things thrown up at it to try to knock it down.

b] We've had only a very small number of books returned. If there was mass confusion out there to the degree to which Hill and Becker's frantic and shrill comments indicated, I suspect we would have had people ringing the phones off the hooks asking for refunds or replacements. But, 60,000 copies later, it just hasn't happened.

It is a valid concern though and we think that the improvements in Concordia: 2nd edition should clear away any existing cobwebs that there may be, apparently few, but just in case....there you go. But to make such a mountain out of such a molehill was irresponsible and absurd.

>Whether you agree or not, that is >a scholarly criticism, deserving of >more than a personal retort.

If the review was a serious review and not a hatchet job, then it might well have been worthy of more than personal retort.

>Nor does the number of copies >sold serve as a rebuttal, though >that should be self-evident.

Certainly not, is interesting that the degree to which hysterical reviews from DayStar and Gottesdienst might imply, the overwhelmingly vast majority of those who have obtained the book have appreciated it and apparently are not being led into massive chaotic confusion.

>>Courage is also what it takes to >>sit down and listen.

Agreed. Are you listening Fritz?

Pastor Daniel Skillman said...

I'm not going to pretend I know Fr. Eckardt very well.

But I do know this, (1) His journal is wonderful (filling a role none other does in the LCMS). Gottesdienst is worthy of support, financial and other wise, even if one does not agree with each and every article published therein.

(2) Fr. Eckardt has an evangelical spirit and a heart for the lost, and that is precisely why he is passionate about the things he is.

(3) Fr. Eckardt is willing to put his reputation on the line and his money where his mouth is when it comes to defending brothers in the ministry who are under unjust attack from district and synodical hatchet men. I've seen him in action.

I don't know "Hill." But let me say this: His writing should be judged on the merits of his argument. He may have an axe to grind against McCain. But that shouldn't matter. Is what he said true? Where are the flaws, if there be any? That is the issue.

Fr. Paul, maybe what Hill said is nuts. Maybe what he said amounts to whale dung. Tell us why, or point us to where you already told us why.

Finally, please don't slander Gottesdienst, Fr. Paul. You know the saying: "The views expressed herein are not necessarily the views of Gottesdienst, etc..."

I believe Gottesdienst deserves your support and the support of those you can reach.

In Christ,
Fr. Daniel

Pastor Beisel said...

Go ahead and use Tappert, Past Elder, just don't read the little anti-clerical note under AC V, which suggests that AC V is simply speaking about "ministry in abstracto" rather than the "clerical ministry."

Latif Haki Gaba said...

I recommend the Concordia Triglotta, which actually contains the texts to which our ministers and teachers subscribe. CPH will sell it to you for $81.50 (a fair price for the product, but it is also why I have yet to replace the one I lost in our fire). I hasten to add that you can find the English of the Triglot in a separate volume at Repristination Press , for $27.95.

Past Elder said...

I checked your reference, Pastor Beisel -- apparently I highlighted the note when I first read it eleven years ago!

I don't mean to approve or disapprove any of the various versions in all their parts. One of the lines in the Q&A about it on the CPH website seems quite to the point -- they all have their strengths and weaknesses, and none makes any of the others obsolete.

The $20 I spent for the "first" edition I count as among the best $20 I ever spent, and while I don't care for the translation per se, the other materials continue to be of great value to me.

But the whole doctrinal certification thing made us (LCMS) look like fools, frankly, to the very people we're on the other hand trying to set Ablaze! (TM, lest I forget) not to mention those of us already in some degree of combustion. It still seems to me absurd to spend another $20 to get the book my first $20 should have bought, if there's anything to the BDR flap. Maybe I should amend my comment to say stick to Tappert or get the "first" edition on ebay or something!

Anonymous said...

It seems that during the initial promotion of the new Book of Concord, a number of testimonials were offer as encouragement to purchase it. Does anyone remember or have copies of these?