Read “The Self-Evident Proposition, Part 2”
Before sketching out what I mean by a lifelong repetition of the sacred texts, I have another prerequisite proposition. This second prerequisite proposition is from our Lutheran Confessions: “God cannot be treated with, God cannot be apprehended, nisi per verbum, except through the Word.”1 As the apostle Paul prays in the text of his epistle to the Ephesians,
This, then, is what I pray, kneeling before the Father, from whom every fatherhood, in heaven or on earth, takes its name. In the abundance of his glory may he, through his Spirit, enable you to grow firm in power with regard to your inner self, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love, with all God’s holy people you will have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; so that, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond knowledge, you may be filled with the utter fullness of God. Glory be to him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine; glory be to him from generation to generation in the Church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.2
You will notice that the apostle is praying and writing about fatherhood, a contentious, real-life matter in public education and media agendas today. There is also a clear indication in his text of what I will identify as our educational responsibility to communicate from one generation to the next our shared moral judgments and certain eternal truths. This Christian worldview is clearly opposed to the progressive anti-worldview of Dewey, Roosevelt, Wilson and their Progressive proselytizers today.
A close study of verse 18, “knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond knowledge,” shows that Paul is actually deploying terminology from Greek philosophy to show that knowledge of Christ and God is beyond pagan philosophy and science, an awareness of God that He brings to us only in His Word, the Bible (see Colossians 2:8-9). This Scripturally-formed life is the only form of life in which the self-evident reality of the Self-Evident Proposition and the fullness of the Life (see John 1 and 14:6), the Liberty (see John 8:36), the Pursuit of Happiness (see Revelation 7)—the unalienable human rights explicitly recognized in the Declaration as coming from God the Creator—come to fruition.
In the middle of this apostolic prayer, then, there is a real-life abundance of personal relationships and enduring realities, a “life to the full” (John 10:10), because God’s loving work in the Person of Christ the incarnate Word is the center of gravity. This leads us from my second prerequisite proposition in our Apology to Christ Himself.
Since the Latin term verbum is itself a translation of the New Testament Greek term logos, we can agree that God cannot be treated with except in the Person of His only-begotten Son, the Logos “who became flesh and tabernacled among us,” of whose divine glory Saint John and the other apostles were eyewitnesses (John 1:14). We can also agree that verbum and logos identify the entirety of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, which are all about Jesus the Messiah (John 5:39 and Hebrews 1:1-3). In the texts of John 1 and Hebrews 1 we learn that Christ the Son of God is God and the exact and final presentation of God to us. In a word, in order to apprehend or even to treat with the Creator of the Declaration, we are dependent upon what He shows and tells us of Himself in the works and words of Jesus of Nazareth. There is no other way (see John 14:6). In a lesser but undeniable sense, because of the first two senses of logos (Greek) or verbum (Latin), this prerequisite proposition also reminds us of the fellowship of language itself as a given, a gift of God. God the Creator is dialogical. Therefore, we human creatures made in His image are dialogical. We are meant for ongoing, continuing, repetitive dialogues with our God.
It follows from the directly inspired and vetted words of His Scriptures, which are all about Christ the Word, apart from whom God cannot be treated with or apprehended, that we actually cannot recognize the fullest meaning of human life apart from Christ and His words to the human race, which is the entire biblical text. Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it this way:
My life is outside myself, beyond my disposal.…‘I am the Life’—this is the word, the revelation, the proclamation of Jesus Christ. The statement that our life is outside ourselves and in Jesus Christ is in no way the result of our own self-understanding. Instead, it is a claim that encounters us from outside, which we either believe or contradict.”3
Here we find ourselves far beyond the simple self-evidence of the proposition that all men are endowed by their creator with unalienable rights, such as the right to life, to liberty, and to the pursuit of happiness (the genius of the American way of life). Having come to this point, we discover the actual, lived-out kind of life memorialized in the Self-Evident Proposition.
Educationally speaking, this life to the fullest is what the nineteenth-century Lutheran writer Søren Kierkegaard calls Gjentagelsen in his Danish language, “repetition” in most English translations and commentaries. According to Julia Watkin, it can also be rendered as continuity.4 This element of the individual life well lived, an educational philosophy in action, is worked out especially in Kierkegaard’s books Fear and Trembling, Repetition, and Either/Or. In Kierkegaard’s well-known Concluding Unscientific Postscript, repetition is presented as ethical altruism.
While it is not possible to experience repetition briefly and in theory, since it is a phenomenon akin to repenting, a hallmark of the believer’s entire life that is ongoing (see the first of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses), perhaps the easiest introduction to it is Kierkegaard’s philosophical sermon on Job 1:21 in his Edifying Discourses in Various Spirits.5 After the sudden death of his seven sons and three daughters Job says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I shall return again. Yahweh gave, Yahweh has taken back. Blessed be the name of Yahweh!”
To modern ears Job’s text sounds like an obsolete cliché, perhaps a wise proverb at best. Worse, these words may be the only fragment of dialogue from the entire book of Job that most twenty-first people even recognize. But these fourteen Hebrew words are emblematic of an entire way of life for Job. This confession is, in effect, the creed, the philosophy of life, the theology of Job in the midst of his life of suffering.
In the face of modernity’s vast and demoralizing force [of vast cultural processes and prevalent individual self-deception], repetition stands for the task each individual has of appropriating for his or her own life the faith of old Father Abraham, the wisdom of Job, and the grace of Jesus Christ, each won in extremis. “Going beyond” these simple gifts to something more sophisticated (like Hegel’s wanting to go beyond the primitive images of story to universal concepts systematically displayed in Theory [such as Marx’s dialectical materialism and its violent clash of classes of people, GPS]) is the grand illusion of Kierkegaard’s and our age. In place of our addiction to novelty, our compulsion for progress [as in Wilson’s political progressivism, GPS], our infatuation with theory, Kierkegaard thought it enough that we should strive for a repetition.6
Taking repetition in the sense of continuity, I will say that his repetition of his thoughts is evidence of Job’s integrity (tamim, Hebrew) with the LORD His Redeemer. In fact, I teach that it is best to think of repetition as a person’s integrity with God lived out in the midst of suffering. Furthermore, I teach that this takes place especially in praying the psalms of biblical lament.7 But please note well: neither this one verse from Job himself, nor my sentences of explanation, nor Kierkegaard’s books about repetition—none of these constitute the full life or a fully educated life that we have been given in Christ.
What does make up this life to the full is the ongoing dialogue with Christ’s own words in our lives, His Word and our words—as men endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. The rights are not the end game, nor is the acknowledgment of the Self-Evident Proposition. The endgame, the never-ending endgame according to the Word of our Creator, is living today and everlastingly in dialogue with Christ the Word and the Life (John 1 and 14).
Taking repetition as a way of teaching and learning, we can look at it this way. This endgame of endless conversation with God in Christ, of which the Self-Evident Proposition is one moment, one glorious element, is the distinctive purpose of Lutheran education. You can say that classical education, the kind of education where the repetition of classical texts is underway, is one dimension of the unique kind of education that we strive to provide in our Lutheran day schools, Lutheran home schools, Lutheran high schools, and Lutheran universities and seminaries. The other dimension, the repetition and dialogue with biblical texts in the lives of everyone we can reach, is of course the work of Christ’s Church overall, making Lutheran education part and parcel of our divine commission to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in His name and teaching them by repetition, by continuity, by integrity, by confession (we Lutherans know many apt translations for Kierkegaard’s Gjentagelsen) to obey everything He has commanded us.
After all, we have had over five hundred years of experience in making self-evident truths evident to church members and students, young and old, via the Holy Scriptures. We have also had over half of a millennium’s experience teaching repetition, continuity, and integrity—teaching confessionally, in a word. Both of these dimensions will make Luther Classical College the right school at the right time for commending our sons and daughters to Christ—rather than entrusting them to Caesar. In due time it will not be surprising, I think, if our LCC comes into existence with a ready-made Latin motto, classical but taught anew by our professors, our undergraduates, and our dedicated supporters, to our churches and to our nation: REPETITIO MATER STUDIORUM.
The self-evident shall be made self-evident to everyone. The continuity of life to the full in Christ alone shall be repeated in the lives of your children and your children’s children, Lord willing!
1 Apology to the Augsburg Confession, Article 4. On Justification
2 Ephesians 3:14-21, Jerusalem Bible
3 Bonhoeffer, Ethics, Part One, 213
4 Julia Watkin, Historical Dictionary of Kierkegaard’s Philosophy (Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 2001). See especially her entries “Repetition” and “Fear and Trembling and Repetition.”
5 For a one-chapter introduction to repetition in Kierkegaard, see Timothy Houston Polk, The Biblical Kierkegaard: Reading by the Rule of Faith (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1997), Chapter 5 “The Praise of Job: Edifying Discourse against Theodicy,” 153-200. Hereafter referred to as The Biblical Kierkegaard.
6 The Biblical Kierkegaard, 171-172.
7 See Gregory Schulz, “Our Lamentable Lacuna: How Western Churches have Undermined the Plausibility of Christian Faith” (LOGIA: A Journal of Lutheran Theology, Volume 28, Number 1, Epiphany 2019), 7-14.