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Concordia Journal

COncordia Journal

Summer 2009 volume 35 | number 3

Summer 2009 volume 35 | number 3

How Many Seminaries? The Stars and the Stripes John Calvin’s Five Hundredth Birthday Reaching Out Without Losing Balance Self-Righteousness Through Popular Science

COncordia Journal (ISSN 0145-7233)


Dale A. Meyer President Executive EDITOR

William W. Schumacher Dean of Theological Research and Publication EDITOR

Travis J. Scholl Managing Editor of Theological Publications EDITORial assistant

Melanie Appelbaum assistants

Christopher Born Carol Geisler Theodore Luebkeman James Prothro


David Adams Charles Arand Andrew Bacon Andrew Bartelt David Berger Joel Biermann Gerhard Bode James Brauer Kent Burreson William Carr, Jr. Anthony Cook Timothy Dost Thomas Egger Jeffrey Gibbs Bruce Hartung

Erik Herrmann Jeffrey Kloha Robert Kolb Reed Lessing David Lewis Thomas Manteufel Richard Marrs David Maxwell Dale Meyer Glenn Nielsen Joel Okamoto Jeffrey Oschwald David Peter Paul Raabe Victor Raj

Paul Robinson Robert Rosin Henry Rowold Timothy Saleska Leopoldo Sánchez M. David Schmitt Bruce Schuchard William Schumacher William Utech James Voelz Robert Weise Quentin Wesselschmidt David Wollenburg

All correspondence should be sent to:

Rev. Travis Scholl CONCORDIA JOURNAL 801 Seminary Place St. Louis, Missouri 63105

Issued by the faculty of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, the Concordia Journal is the successor of Lehre und Wehre (1855-1929), begun by C. F. W. Walther, a founder of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Lehre und Wehre was absorbed by the Concordia Theological Monthly (1930-1972) which was also published by the faculty of Concordia Seminary as the official theological periodical of the Synod. The Concordia Journal is abstracted in Internationale Zeitschriftenschau für Bibelwissenschaft unde Grenzgebiete, New Testament Abstracts.Old Testament Abstracts, and Religious and Theological Abstracts. It is indexed in Repertoire Bibliographique des Institutions Chretiennes and Religion Index One: Periodicals. Article and issue photocopies in 16mm microfilm, 35mm microfilm, and 105mm microfiche are available from University Microfilms International, 300 North Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1346. Books submitted for review should be sent to the editor. Manuscripts submitted for publication should conform to a standard manual of style. They will be returned to authors only when accompanied by selfaddressed stamped envelopes. The Concordia Journal (ISSN 0145-7233) is published quarterly (Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall). The annual subscription rate is $15 U.S.A., $20 for Canada and $25 for foreign countries. Periodicals postage paid at St. Louis, MO and additional mailing offices. Postmaster: Send address changes to Concordia Journal, Concordia Seminary, 801 Seminary Place, St. Louis, MO 63105-3199 Cover art: “After Resurrection” by Dr. He Qi ( © Copyright by Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri 2009

COncordia J ournal CONTENTS


Editor’s Note


How Many Seminaries? Dale A. Meyer


The Stars and the Stripes Victor Raj


John Calvin’s Five Hundredth Birthday Robert Kolb


Encomia for Six Teachers of the Faith


Reaching Out Without Losing Balance: Maintaining a Theological Center of Gravity in Preaching David J. Peter


Self-Righteousness Through Popular Science: Our Culture’s Romance with Naturalism James V. Bachman






Summer 2009 volume 35 | number 3


COncordia Journal

Editor’s Note

After Resurrection Times and seasons. Much of what you will find in these pages is sensitive to this time and this season. And considering that we are in the ordinary liturgical time “after resurrection,” He Qi’s artwork above seems to capture both the exhilaration and the vigilance of these days. Times and seasons. President Dale Meyer continues to give his reflections on what this time and this season mean for theological education and the church. Victor Raj speaks to this patriotic season with reflections on his journey to becoming a citizen of the United States. What you find here is just a preview: a fuller ver-

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sion of Dr. Raj’s essay can be found at And Robert Kolb speaks to this month’s 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth in an editorial that could alternatively be titled “Why Lutherans Should Care about Calvin.” In academic communities, this is often a time of retirement and reflection, and Concordia Seminary is no different. Thus, we have also published here the encomia that were presented to six distinguished retiring faculty, knowing that many of you had one, some, or all of these professors as your own teachers in the faith. Times and seasons. Summer is a good time for preachers to hone their craft. David Peter addresses the “horizontal and vertical dimensions” of the preacher’s craft, and how to keep balance as preachers walk both of those fine lines. And, of course, the Homiletical Helps continue to explore the Gospel of Mark (with interjections here and there from the other gospels) in this season of Pentecost. But summer is also a good time to prepare for what’s ahead. Concordia University, Irvine, Professor James Bachman’s work on science and religion, and in particular the misunderstanding of science in popular culture, serves as an excellent entry into the issues of a fast-approaching season, Concordia Seminary’s 20th Annual Theological Symposium, “Science and Theology: New Questions, New Conversations” (September 22–23). Times and seasons. Allow me to reflect upon a season of my past. This issue of Concordia Journal features a review of Francis “Rev” Rossow’s Gospel Patterns in Literature by Pepperdine University Professor Paul Contino. I sat in the classrooms of both Dr. Contino and Dr. Bachman during my undergraduate days at Valparaiso University. Professor Contino introduced me to the profundities of Fyodor Dostoevsky with deep insight and the care of a mentor. Professor Bachman introduced me to “ancient and medieval philosophy”—Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas—with an erudition that is second to none. Working with them in the here and now has been a sheer joy. Of course, these times have brought upon Concordia Seminary, the church, and this world changes that have been difficult. So, like any other time or season, we cling ever so closely to the promises of God: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.” (Daniel 2:20–22) Travis J. Scholl Managing Editor of Theological Publications 226

How Many Seminaries? “I hesitate to bring this up,” said a friend from Idaho, “but do we need two seminaries?” What he almost whispered in secret is now, well, if not shouted from the housetops at least published throughout the church. Thanks to Paul Robert Sauer for his article “The Best of Times, the Worst of Times for the LCMS Seminaries” in the Summer 2009 issue of Lutheran Forum. He wrote, “It may be time to close one of the seminaries of the LCMS.” Less noticed throughout the church but a real conversation starter on both seminary campuses was the following: The board [of directors of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod] also took an action, in the interest of cost reductions, achievement of savings, and improvement of quality, to request the Board for Pastoral Education to make “a comprehensive study of the facilities, personnel, and efficiencies of present seminary education,” also requesting a final report at the earliest possible date (Reporter, “Board Briefs,” July, 2009, p. 2). In this editorial I will suggest that clarity about three words is critical to answering the question, “How many seminaries?” The first word is “synod.” What does that mean? Is it the building at 1333 South Kirkwood, the administrators who work there, the Board of Directors? Is it the Concordia Plans, the LCMS Foundation, or the Lutheran Church Extension Fund? Does conventional usage lump all those entities located in St. Louis together as “synod” in contrast to districts, circuits, congregations, auxiliaries and RSOs? Or when we say “synod” do we think of only those who are technically members? Membership in the Synod is held and may be acquired by congregations, ministers of religion… and a list of rostered workers, but not laypeople, who belong to LCMS congregations (Handbook, Constitution, Article V). Is “synod” our church assembled in convention? Or does “synod” mean all 2.4 million people who are baptized members of this denomination? The word is not clearly used and the devil is in the details. Years ago I was privileged to serve as a vice president of the Southern Illinois District. At that time our district was remitting over 50% of our receipts from SID congregations on to the national office. In one board meeting we received an official from St. Louis who urged us to increase our remittance to “synod.” Those were days when we were still recovering from the Seminex event and talk about “walking together” was common. Young and brash, I asked the visiting official, “If we’re all walking together as ‘synod,’ why can’t we cut our remittance to the national office and use it locally? After all, aren’t we the ‘synod’ in this place?” The question was not well received. Decades later the slippery definition of “synod” is still confusing our life together. So, does “synod” support its seminaries? Yes and no. If the word refers to “corporate synod” and the subsidy given by the Board of Directors to St. Louis and Fort Wayne, the answer is closer to “no” than “yes.” In the new fiscal year Concordia, St. Louis, will receive subsidy of $374,000 toward our budget of $18.5 million (about 2%) and Concordia, Fort Wayne, will receive $280,000 toward its Concordia Journal/Summer 2009


budget of about $10.5 million (about 2.7%). Both seminaries are grateful. But both seminaries have cut their budgets in response to the recession, Concordia, St. Louis, by 22.6%. Ouch! If we include in “synod” the work of the Joint Seminary Fund, we move farther away from “no” but still a long way from a definite “yes.” The Joint Seminary Fund solicits and receives donor funds for both seminaries and this year will distribute to both seminaries a total of about $7 million. Expand the meaning of “synod” to include services provided by Concordia Plans and the Foundation, the meter moves closer to “yes” because they have an indirect but positive influence on seminary finances, although we pay for those services. The meter moves closest to “Yes, the ‘synod’ supports its seminaries” when we think of “synod” as 2.4 million baptized Christians, of which, speaking now only of Concordia, St. Louis, some 30,000 go beyond their congregational offerings and send special donations and some 700 congregations include us as a line item in their budgets. Even then, we’re not 100% supported by the “synod.” Foundations help both seminaries reach about 60% of needed annual revenue. The rest comes from tuition income after student aid is given, unrestricted bequests, auxiliary enterprises, and from endowment, though the recession dried that up. The bottom line is stated in Concordia, St. Louis’ “Strategic Plan 2009–2011”: We are responsible for our own funding. So does “synod” support its seminaries? Can “synod” continue to support two seminaries? The answer depends upon how the speaker is using the word. Words matter. The second word that needs more clarity is “seminary.” My conversations with people throughout the “synod” tell me “seminary” is not accurately understood. The word comes from the Latin word seminarium, meaning a plantation or nursery. The popular understanding is that our seminaries are “nurseries” for future pastors. True enough, that is the dominant function Ft. Wayne and St. Louis fulfill for The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, but that is a limited understanding of the roles both seminaries presently fill. As I write this editorial, my inbox has an email telling about an international church leader who will be coming to St. Louis for graduate theological studies, another about a St. Louis project to equip seminaries in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, another about our professors deployed around the world for shorter or longer term work with the World Mission department of the LCMS. Away from my inbox, I will soon be sitting in a forum for a pastor from another denomination who will receive his Ph.D. from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Seminary professors regularly speak to national LCMS gatherings and to district and circuit pastoral conferences. And they write! Look at the bookshelves of pastors and you will see blue clad volumes of the new Concordia Commentary Series, many written by seminary faculty members. Those commentaries and the other published works of our faculties will influence the church for a generation and more. One of our professors just returned from making a major scholarly pres-


entation in Scotland, the only LCMS professor presenting to a gathering whose participants profoundly influence the thinking of churches around the world. Our professors regularly participate in scholarly theological associations where ideas are planted that show up in universities, seminaries, and eventually congregations of many denominations. Shouldn’t the clear voice of our theology be heard at those gatherings? Bare-bones pastor factories or robust intellectual centers challenging people with the truth of the Gospel: which understanding of “seminary” better serves the Great Commission of our Savior? In these tight financial times, allow me to note just some of the ways the seminaries financially help the “synod.” Both schools pay the salaries and benefits for their directors of placement. Placement is a responsibility of the “synod” accomplished through the Council of Presidents acting as the Board of Assignments, but the seminaries have long provided that service to the COP. On behalf of the “synod,” all rostered pastors of the LCMS receive this Concordia Journal courtesy of the Seminary. And if you were to calculate all the hours that seminary professors give to the boards and commissions of the LCMS (e.g. the Commission on Theology and Church Relations, Commission on Worship, Doctrinal Review, Board for Mission Services), you have countless hours that are compensated by the faculty salaries paid by the seminaries. So envisioning the future depends in part upon how we understand the word “seminary.” Some sharpened pencils have combined the budgets of the two seminaries, divided that sum by the number of yearly graduates into pastoral ministry, and concluded that our expenses are exorbitant. On the other hand, if we understand “seminary” in the broader sense, then the expense will be more but the mission of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod will be more strongly supported. In the past we had it both ways. “Practical” Springfield was the nursery for getting needed pastors into the field and St. Louis formed pastors with a more classical “theoretical” pedagogy. Personally, I like the idea of each seminary developing its own significant niche for the twenty-first century. That won’t happen quickly, but you can be sure it will happen much sooner than synodical wrangling could consolidate the two schools. Tempus fugit. A third word that matters is “church.” What does “church” mean, how does it relate to The Lutheran Church–Missouri “Synod,” and does an understanding of the two words have helpful implications for our seminaries? We learned in confirmation class that the word “church” can refer to the building in which we worship, to the congregation with whom we worship, to our denomination, but in its greatest sense, to the “one, holy, catholic/Christian, and apostolic church.” Without severing it from its localization in the congregation, Martin Luther has this grandest meaning in mind in the Small Catechism when he teaches us “in which Christian Church [the Holy Spirit] daily and richly forgives all sins to me and all believers.” In the Smalcald Articles he writes, “Thank God, a seven-year-old child knows what

Concordia Journal/Summer 2009


the church is, namely holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd.” (III, 12). That is something greater than The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod but that also does not lead us to ecu-mania. Long ago Franz Pieper led off Christian Dogmatics with an assertion that is still true. “This, then, is the sad situation: The overwhelming majority of modern theologians refuse to identify Scripture and the Word of God; and accordingly they do not make Scripture but their own heart the source and judge of Christian doctrine. And this false principle does not merely disturb the order of things in the Christian Church, but it turns it upside down. It is an outright revolt against the divine order” (vol. 1, p. 3). To act as if our denomination is the one, holy, catholic/Christian church and that no one outside our synod has saving faith in God’s grace through Christ is not what “synod” denotes. To embrace ecumenism without discerning doctrinal disagreements and engaging in doctrinal discussions is not what “church” connotes. The LCMS Handbook assigns ecumenical church relations to the president of the Synod with the assistance of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (Bylaw Besides contributing to the work of the CTCR, seminaries as institutions of higher education regularly relate at a faculty level to other theological institutions with whom LCMS conventions may or may not have established altar and pulpit fellowship. As noted above, our faculty members regularly rub shoulders in professional scholarly societies with scholars of other denominations. Many of our faculty members have received their terminal degrees from institutions of churches with whom the LCMS does not have fellowship, like St. Louis University or Notre Dame. The greatest help to me in learning my job as president of Concordia Seminary has been getting together with other presidents from the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), most of whom, by the way, are struggling with the same funding and governance issues facing St. Louis and Ft. Wayne. The day of staying in our own log cabin in Perry County is long gone. The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod requires doctrinal fidelity from all its rostered members and certainly from its seminary faculties. But that aspect of “synod” does not preclude its institutions of higher education relating to comparable institutions in the broader Christian “church” in ways that do not compromise our confession. Words matter. Words matter and God’s Word matters most. The conventional wisdom says seminary graduates know their theology but lack “people skills.” I don’t agree. Yes, some lack interpersonal and leadership skills, but I believe the greater danger is that they have been graduating with a specific theological lack. To be sure, our graduates know orthodox Lutheranism, but they don’t all know how to apply it to today’s culture. Not too long ago our American culture was biblically literate. Young pastors could talk about sin, grace, the Bible as God’s Word, and so on, and be understood. Not so today. All pastors, young and old, are engaging a culture that is post-church and biblically illiterate. That is why Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, is putting a premium on cross-cultural formation experiences. 230

In early June I was returning to St. Louis from a meeting of the American Bible Society. (By the way, I borrowed “words matter and God’s word matters most” from the ABS.) I got to gate D7 at LaGuardia and found myself surrounded by about ten Concordia, St. Louis, seminarians. I have never, never seen a group of seminarians so enthused about what they had learned in a class. For two weeks they had taken an intensive course with Dr. Dien Taylor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Bronx. They eagerly told me about their experience, about meeting an imam, meeting the local rabbi, about social ministry experiences, about walking the neighborhood with Pastor Taylor. If you could have seen their excitement for ministry, you’d feel good about what the Seminary is doing. Then I asked them the question I ask any cross-cultural participant: “Will this experience change the way you study theology back on that 72-acre Gothic campus?” The answer was, and is always, a resounding “yes.” They now see pastoral theology through new eyes. Formation of pastors needs contexts because our theology is incarnational, not gnostic, taking the eternal Word into flesh-and-blood, here-and-now situations. The missional pastor needs to be familiar with a worldly context—urban, rural, institutional, you name it—but also at home in the context of immersion in the Word of God and our confessional theology. That’s why a residential seminary campus is not a problem but a great help. Words matter; words spoken in those specific worldly contexts need to be heard and internalized. But God’s Word matters most. Returning from cross-cultural experiences, from resident field education, and from vicarage to a residential campus with a faculty steeped in theology is the second context for forming missional and incarnational pastors. Distance formation programs (e.g. the Specific Ministry Pastor program, Center for Hispanic Studies, Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology, Deaf Institute of Theology) are strong on the first context but ultimately can’t match what a residential program offers in a context of immersion in the Word of God. Words like “synod,” “seminary,” and “church” matter very much, but in looking toward the future of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod nothing matters as much as the Word of God. Please, please pay attention to the next sentence. I’m not just talking about upholding the Bible as the verbally inspired, infallible, inerrant revelation of God’s will. I’m especially talking about it as the powerful and efficacious Word of God. It’s a lively and active word…if it is handled rightly. Right handling is not only the proper distinction of Law and Gospel but also getting it into a person’s mind in a way that person can understand. If we don’t meet people at their level of understanding, we are binding the Word and the work of the Spirit, not giving the Word “free course.” People in America’s biblically illiterate cultures don’t understand the classic formulations of Lutheran orthodoxy that worked only a few decades ago. We have to plunge our seminarians into the Bronx, into Belize, into Hong Kong, into L.A. (some of the many places where CSL students have gone) so that they are stimulated to find in lost souls, and saved souls as well, that point where the Word can engage the context in which they live. A friend Concordia Journal/Summer 2009


outside the LCMS joked that his denomination was ready for any theological question that might arise…in 1953. The number of seminary campuses is not as important as learning how to wield the Spirit’s sword today. Personally, I don’t see how we can continue to sustain two seminary campuses in the Midwest if current demographics, membership losses, and giving patterns continue. But combining the schools is not the answer. At the other extreme, some say we should increase the number of seminaries, dispersing the present faculties throughout the country so that we might be closer to areas outside the Midwest. But those smaller regional seminaries could never benefit the church in the way that our two large seminaries do, and you need to know that in the world of ATS our seminaries are large and strong. (The things we can learn outside of the log cabin!) Between the two extremes there are many possibilities, like finding a niche for each seminary and like short-term deployments of faculty to Concordia University System institutions for seminary-level teaching. Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, is already doing that…in Texas and in California…including formation programs in Spanish. So welcome to the conversation! Your seminary presidents and boards of regents have been wrestling with viability for a long time. Because we fear uninformed tinkering, we’re glad that the question “How many seminaries?” has been raised so that we can share what we’re doing with you. Dale A. Meyer President


The Stars and the Stripes This theological-observer editorial is condensed from Dr. Raj’s full essay, which can be found at In a congratulatory message addressed to the new citizens of the United States, former President George W. Bush has stated that Americans are united across the generations by grand and enduring ideals. “The grandest of these ideals,” Bush said, “is an unfolding promise that everyone belongs, that everyone deserves a chance, and that no insignificant person was ever born. Our country has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by principles that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests, and teach us what it means to be citizens.” I first came to the United States thirty-four years ago as a graduate student at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. In 1981 my family and I returned to India and served the India Evangelical Lutheran Church, the first overseas mission and, since 1958, a partner church of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. We returned to the United Sates in 1990 when I was called to the faculty of Concordia University, Wisconsin, and then in 1995 to Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. All these years, we have enjoyed the rights and privileges this nation of immigrants has promised all law-abiding and taxpaying residents, with the exception of the right to vote. This January we have become citizens, having taken the solemn oath and publicly pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands. We have come full circle. India ranks fourth among the first one hundred immigrant-sending nations to the United States. Perhaps next only to the Japanese, a majority of immigrants to this country from India are professionals, many holding advanced degrees in their disciplines of specialty. Correspondingly, more than 60,000 of the 1.5 million Indians who have come to the United States in our generation are medical doctors. Yet another 10,000 American physicians are children of Indian immigrants. Rarely do we see in the United States Asian Indians pushing carts in a grocery store parking lot or working their fingers to the bone at a checkout counter, except perhaps in metropolitan Chicago or New York where they actually own the business in which they are working. As close-knit a community as India has been, Indians have over the years immigrated in the thousands and tens of thousands to no less than 162 countries all over the world, congregating in all of them as closeknit communities. Diversity is the incubator for pluralism. Whether it is language, religion, culture, or politics, India has the ingredients that make pluralism and inclusivism lived realities for everyone. The inherent diversity among peoples within India has given

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rise to peaceful coexistence as a necessity within the nation. This challenge makes community living at the same time insolent and stimulating, and not infrequently audacious and tumultuous. While friction and violence erupt occasionally consequent in belligerent demonstrations of particularism, respect and tolerance for others and their views are of necessity learned and practiced as people live together as friends and neighbors. The remarkable presence and the audacious participation of a variety of religious leaders in President Barack Obama’s inauguration exemplify a new face of America that parallels India’s religious pluralism and inclusivism. Religious leadership of the inaugural ceremonies included those who openly oppose gay marriage as well as the first openly gay Episcopal bishop. The first woman president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was the homilist. The first woman president of the Islamic Society of North America offered prayers at the National Cathedral. Three rabbis representing the Reformed, Conservative, and Orthodox branches of American Judaism were invited to say a prayer each. The United States has become more diverse than ever before, and the faiths of minorities and new immigrants are being recognized as fully American. Rabbi James Rudin, veteran leader of the interreligious outreach for the American Jewish Committee, was quick to note that “in the past, minority groups within Christianity and minority religions on the American scene were not as vocal or as sure-footed and therefore didn’t pay as much attention to the inauguration event itself or didn’t feel the need to. That’s no longer true.” Small wonder, America has already become the third largest mission field in our world. Scripture characterizes Christians as temporary residents on earth pursuing their heaven-bound pilgrimage. Thanks to Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the new world, a century later the Mayflower brought to North America European pilgrims fleeing unabated ‘religious’ persecution in their homeland. Arguably, along with Gospel proclamation mobility and systematic education have been two major life-changing contributions Christian mission has made to the whole world. The innovative missionary spirit of the Great Mission Century had contributed to the operation of 20% of India’s educational institutions, while Christians in India consisted of barely 2.5% of the population. Schools and colleges were instrumental in making India a mobile community. Large-scale boarding schools that excelled in educational methods, and the ensuing job opportunities they created in other parts of the country and abroad, equipped many Indians to join the ranks of world travelers. America is the land of opportunity. This country is the home of the brave and the land of the free. This nation of great and enduring values is a model for other nations in the world to emulate. Holding a US passport, as I do now, is like having a passport to the world. It helps a person connect with the rest of the world with relative ease and great efficiency. The more I live here with my family (I have


seven siblings who are well settled in India, none of whom have expressed a desire to move stateside) the more I am convinced that the citizenship that matters the most is the one we have in heaven. And, if for some strange reason any citizen, immigrant, or one who plans to immigrate to this country might be thinking that the United States is heaven, I would have no part of it. Whether citizens of India or the United States, in the apostle Paul’s words Christians live in this world as aliens, fully engaging the world, yet not being of it; having fixed their eyes firmly on Jesus Christ and looking forward to the full actualization their heavenward calling. This is a ‘tall order’ for Christians living in twentyfirst century America. Amidst the culture of pluralism and hybrid-spirituality, those who bear the mark of Christ on their forehead must remember that Joseph’s sheave stood upright and all other sheaves bowed down to it, and the sun and the moon and the stars bowed down before the star of Joseph. As in the days of Daniel, postmodern minds too have a tendency to believe that some people have in them ‘the spirit of the holy gods’ and even appoint such ordinary people as magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners because they think they have keen minds and the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve difficult problems. Little do they acknowledge that American neo-spirituality is replete with ancient Greek paganism seasoned with eastern salt. The constellation of stars and the arrangement of the stripes in the flag of the United States are symbolic of this nation’s history and the republic for which it stands. The stripes are reminders of the early origins of this country. The fabric of America has been changing particularly in the last fifty years, projecting before the rest of the world a new texture, a new pattern that intentionally demonstrates unity in diversity and solidarity among people of innumerable cultures and languages who have made this country their home. America today is not a melting pot or a smorgasbord; it is perhaps more a quilted fabric, the various colors not blending but shining forth their own distinctiveness. Amidst all this, the star that counts is the Bright Morning Star and the stripes that matter are the ones by which we are healed. Victor Raj

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John Calvin’s Five Hundredth Birthday This year Christians around the world are celebrating the five hundredth anniversary of John Calvin’s birth. As Luther’s five hundredth was celebrated in 1983 by many more than just those who claim his name, so Calvin’s birthday is occasioning reflection on his many contributions to the life of the church in many lands, from his native France and Switzerland, where he worked, to places as diverse as South Africa and Scotland, Korea and Hungary, as well as the Americas. The French disciple of Luther was born on July 10, 1509, in Noyon in Picardy. Many Lutherans do not think of him as a disciple of Luther, but he did. He wrote to Heinrich Bullinger in 1544 of Luther’s “greatness as a man and his outstanding gifts: the stoutheartedness and steadfastness, the skillfulness, and the effectiveness of teaching with which he has labored to destroy the kingdom of antichrist and spread abroad the doctrine of salvation.” Calvin added, “If he should call me a devil, I should still pay him the honor of acknowledging him as an illustrious servant of God,” although Calvin also noted that he did not fully approve of all Luther did and taught.1 He defended Luther’s views on the bondage of human choice in coming to God and made himself the target of sharp Roman Catholic criticism in doing so.2 Nonetheless, many Lutherans criticize Calvin, usually without the benefit of having read his work. Sometimes their criticism is just from a Lutheran perspective, sometimes not, based on misinformation and misimpression. Lutheran critique of Calvin’s thought began in the 1550s when Joachim Westphal began a debate with the Genevan reformer because, Westphal believed, Calvin had abandoned an earlier way of treating the Lord’s Supper that was closer to Luther than what he embraced in his agreement with Heinrich Bullinger and the church of Zurich in 1549 (the Zurich Consensus).3 Westphal may have been too optimistic about that earlier view. In fact, Calvin clearly rejected Luther’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper, misinterpreting it as consubstantiation and a retention of medieval superstitious use of the sacrament. The two men were separated by a significant gulf when it came to their basic understanding of the nature of reality. This was due to their metaphysical instruction at university. Calvin was steeped in the renascent Platonism of the educational reform of his time, and although he did not use the scholastic dictum “the finite is not capable of conveying the infinite” in the way later followers would, he did not believe, as Luther did on the basis of his training in the school of William of Ockham, that God could select elements of his material creation to actually bestow his favor upon his chosen people and deliver his forgiveness to them. This failure to develop a sense of what later Lutherans would label “the means of grace” caused more than disagreement over the Lord’s Supper and baptism between those faithful to these two reformers. But the difficulties caused by transporting a Platonic metaphysics into the interpretation of Luther is not always recognized, even in our day, for instance by those who use the neoPlatonic concept of “theosis” in speaking of Luther’s doctrine of justification. 236

Calvin also failed to catch the way in which Luther practiced the pastoral application of the distinction of law and Gospel because the Wittenberg reformer believed that the tension between law and Gospel remains a tension, never brought into a logical harmony. For Luther the mystery of the continuation of sin and evil in the lives of the baptized made it necessary to keep God’s condemning demands in the law always in tension with God’s re-creative word of forgiveness in Christ. Calvin tried to reach some satisfactory resolution of the tension. For instance, Calvin did not emphasize reprobation of unbelievers in the way some of his followers did, but he did believe that the assurance of the unconditionality of God’s grace, which he had learned from Luther, was not secure if he could not affirm the opposite of God’s unconditioned and unconditional bestowal of his favor on the elect. Because he did not have Luther’s law-Gospel approach to election and because he could not look in the same way to the means of grace as God’s assurance of his love and forgiveness, Calvin did depart from Luther’s approach to pastoral consolation of stricken consciences. But the two reformers shared the same concern for the care of sinners called by the Gospel to faith. The two men did share many convictions. They both strove to change European Christianity from a medieval form that in too many ways reflected the pagan past of the European peoples. That form, these reformers perceived, had conformed to the practice of a ritualistic religion. It depended on human performance of sacred rituals to win God’s favor—in the phrase to which the reformers never ceased to object—ex opere operato. They both taught that sinners are justified solely on the basis of God’s gracious choice of them and his work of salvation in Christ’s death and resurrection. Both were deeply concerned about the new obedience of Christians. Luther’s sermons often sound just as “Calvinistic” when they are offering instruction in Christian living as does his On Bound Choice, in which he affirmed (for the last time in his life—twenty years before his death, it must be noted) that God determines all things “by absolute necessity.”4 The two both believed firmly in biblical authority as the only determinant of public teaching. Lutherans too easily concede certain concepts to Calvin. Calvin called God sovereign; Luther called God almighty. But the function of the two concepts in the two men was very similar, even though it might be argued that their emphasis or accent comes out different. Lutherans sometimes think of the doctrine of providence as Calvin’s more or less exclusive provenance, but only when they have not read much of Luther’s own writing. For good reasons Calvinists and Lutherans have disagreed on vital topics in Christian teaching. But that should not prevent Lutherans from giving thanks to God in this anniversary year for the many good things that this year’s five-time centenarian, John Calvin, a man of God who regarded himself as the beneficiary of Luther’s rediscovery of the Gospel, taught and accomplished in the coming of Christ’s kingdom in many parts of the world. We appreciate many servants of the Word as great gifts of God even though we do not subscribe to every line they Concordia Journal/Summer 2009


wrote, and thus we see the Holy Spirit at work in the proclamation of life and salvation in Christ that Calvin has brought to the church and the world. For all those who have been aided in coming to faith in Christ and finding there consolation and hope, forgiveness and life, through Calvin’s proclamation of the Gospel, we praise the Lord of the church. Robert Kolb

Endnotes 1

John Calvin, Calvini Opera, vol. 11, Corpus Reformatorum, 774–75, quoted in Brian A. Gerrish, “John Calvin on Luther,” in Interpreters of Luther: Essays in Honor of Wilhelm Pauck, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968), 74. 2 Matthew C. Heckel, “‘His Spear Through My Side into Luther’: Calvin’s Relationship to Luther’s Doctrine of the Will” (Ph.D. diss., Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, 2005). See also Timothy J. Wengert, “‘We Will Feast Together in Heaven Forever’: The Epistolary Friendship of John Calvin and Philip Melanchthon,” in Melanchthon in Europe, His Work and Influence beyond Wittenberg, ed. Karin Maag , Texts and Studies in Reformation and Post-Reformation Thought (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 26–33. 3 Wim Jansse, “Joachim Westphal’s Sacramentology,” Lutheran Quarterly 22 (2008):137–60. 4 Robert Kolb, Bound Choice, Election, and Wittenberg Theological Method From Martin Luther to the Formula of Concord (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 52–55.


Encomia for Six Teachers of the Faith On Wednesday morning, May 20, 2009, after celebrating the Eucharist together, the faculty, staff, and students of Concordia Seminary feted the careers of six professors who later that week at the Seminary’s Commencement were granted the title of emeritus. Taken together, their years of service to the church number in the hundreds, and will continue into the future. But the total of their contributions is significantly greater than the sum of their individual careers. This fact was poignantly displayed that day by the following encomia of their colleagues, most of whom also had the honor of being their respective students. We have published the encomia here as a tribute to their scholarly achievement, churchly service, and living witness to faith in Jesus Christ. They are listed in ascending order of tenure to Concordia Seminary. Arthur “Andy” Bacon By Anthony A. Cook The accomplishments of a true educator are not found in the papers of his curriculum vitae, but in the lives of his students. Andy, I have the privilege of standing before you today as one of those pages from your living vitae. I first met you when I was your student in the course, “Pastor as Educator.” Your love for Christian education and discipleship slowly won me over to the importance of educational theory and theologically sound pedagogy as it was applied to education in the parish. After taking P120, I almost dropped out of seminary, not because I was discouraged or because of your teaching style, but because you were so effective in teaching me the love of education and those we are called to educate. This new found love for Christian education led me to consider that maybe a career as a Lutheran school teacher might be the vocation I truly desired. But you also taught me that I didn’t have to change my vocation: being a good parish pastor means being a good educator. This would not be the last time that you influenced my development as a young seminarian and future pastor of God’s flock. I remember visiting with you as you were preparing to take a call to Concordia College, River Forest, Illinois. You gave me an orange binder about three inches thick. You explained that it contained a collection of confirmation lessons that you had written and had hoped to one day publish. That gesture changed the course of my ministry. Due to your influence, confirmation became one of my passions. This, combined with your instruction in curriculum development, helped me in my initial efforts as a curriculum designer in the parish and it is the reason why I chose to pursue a PhD in curriculum and instruction—following in the footsteps of my mentor. Your loving guidance made it possible for me to return to Concordia Seminary as the director of educational technology and ultimately as an assistant proConcordia Journal/Summer 2009


fessor of practical theology. It is with great humility and honor that I now teach courses on confirmation and education. This is a direct result of your ministry and a testimony to your skill as an educator. I hope that during my time as an educator, I can pass on, even in a small way, what you have passed on to me—the love of God, the love of God’s Word, and the love of those whom I teach. I am but one of thousands of students you have influenced over your academic career. Because of your love for your students and for God’s Word, you will have influenced generations of educators to come. I can only imagine how many others you have influenced in your service as a teacher, pastor, professor, dean, army chaplain, director of continuing education, and president of Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton. You are a model of what it means to be a pastor, educator, mentor, and friend. I look forward to your continued service and what we will learn from you in the years to come. David W. Wollenburg By Andrew H. Bartelt When Rev. David Wollenburg was first called to Concordia Seminary, I was about to graduate, back in 1975. After his own graduation in 1971 and parish service in Grayling, Michigan and Quincy, Illinois, Pastor Wollenburg answered God’s call to “come back to the seminary and help us” at a time of significant need and rebuilding. As admissions counselor, he was responsible for students coming in, and I was heading out, but not far away. By 1977, Chaplain Wollenburg had answered God’s call through his left-hand realm and entered active military duty within the United States Air Force. But David came back to St. Louis in 1980 as pastor at Timothy Lutheran Church and soon he was engaged again in work at the seminary, as a graduate student (finishing his S.T.M. in 1984) and serving as guest instructor. Your life of ministry, good brother, pro deo et patria, is a fitting tribute to both your own lineage of pastoral ministry and that of your dear wife, Jerry, as the daughter of one of those soldiers, faithful, true and bold, not only of the cross but also of our armed forces—rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel—and whose eternal homegoing we just celebrated last week. In 1987, Chaplain Wollenburg returned to active duty for a nine year stint, and then answered the call back to parish ministry in Crossville, Tennessee in 1996. What better preparation for a return to Concordia Seminary, as the “capstone” of your career, now as a professor in practical pastoral theology! Dave, you have brought your wonderful pastoral heart and keen theological mind, especially grounded in our understandings of Law and Gospel, not only in preaching but also in pastoral care and counseling. It is all seasoned with a humble sense of service and churchmanship and supported by wife and family. And, Jerry, you know well


the importance of your support, service, and leadership throughout your life together and even in this community these past years. When you came back to Concordia Seminary in 2001, our work and synodical leadership regarding distance education was ready to turn a significant corner, and you often quipped how you felt that you were grabbing onto a moving train that was already speeding down the track. But you wrestled yourself into the driver’s seat, and these past eight years you have served this seminary and our church extraordinarily well, first in DELTO and other distance initiatives, and now especially with the Specific Ministry Pastoral program authorized by our synodical convention two years ago. I dare say that this new program would not be where it is today without the commitment, leadership, and hard work that you have modeled. I know personally what an investment you have made, including countless hours as secretary to the synodical DELTO and now SMP committee, and in your work in developing these programs, with an eye both to theological integrity and to front-line pastoral ministry that meets the needs of our church on the cutting edge of the mission challenges that face us today. Most of all, Dave, you are a dear friend and brother, and your collegiality within this faculty has left its mark on us all, including countless students who go forth from this place. So now, with a sense of timing perhaps unexpected, through circumstances in large part beyond our control, yet in a humble spirit of service that has characterized your life and ministry throughout your career, even as we know it will continue into future service to the mission of this seminary and the life of Christ’s church, we pause to commemorate and to celebrate. To that great cause and to our great calling, we give all glory to God even as we honor you, Jerry, and your entire family, for the gifts God has given and that you have used so well in his name and service. Henry L. Rowold Jeffrey A. Oschwald A Romance of Three Kingdoms I knew our next honoree by reputation long before I met him, but I suspect he gets that a lot. My pastor in Mishawaka, Indiana, is both an M.Div. and S.T.M. classmate of Dr. Henry Lawrence Rowold, and he told me to look for Hank when I arrived in Taiwan. Thinking back over all that has happened between that day and today, I’m wondering if perhaps I misunderstood: I thought my pastor said “look.” I’m thinking now that he said, “look out!” Since Dr. Rowold has spent much of his life and ministry working in Chinese and since he is himself a genuine classic, I thought this brief encomium should take its name from one of the Chinese classics. 酉遊記 (Journey to the West) Concordia Journal/Summer 2009


seemedsingularly inappropriate, although we do always fly west to get to the East. And though one could change 紅樓夢 to 紫宮夢 (The Dream of the Red Chamber) to The Dream of the Purple Palace it would be hard to say whether such a change would do greater violence to 曹雪芹’s story or to Hank’s. The perfect choice finally presented itself in:三國演義 (The Romance of the Three Kingdoms). When I reflect on our institution’s mission statement in light of the lives of the men being honored here this morning, I am not struck by how times have changed and how the demands on seminary professors have suddenly become legion. Rather, I wonder if any of us still here will ever be able to catch up to them in terms of service to church and world in forming pastors, missionaries, and leaders. Dr. Henry Rowold (羅恆理牧師 as he is known to most of the world) is no exception to the rule that these men are exceptional. His story, of course, begins in the first kingdom, Zion on the Mississippi, where Hank grew up attending Lutheran schools before heading off to St. Paul, Concordia, Missouri, graduating in the class of 1958 (along with one Phyllis Miller, who would come to put the “romance” into our Romance of the Three Kingdoms). After that, it seems that Hank simply couldn’t stop the letters from piling up behind his name, including the Doctor of Laws degree from Concordia University, Portland. We know Hank best as a citizen of our own little kingdom of Concordia here, where he has been Professor since 2007. (I got that from the catalog. I guess I should add that he has been Missionary Professor of Practical Theology here since 1995.) Hank’s life, like Luke’s Gospel, may have come full circle to where the story began, but there is a long travel narrative in between. The years 1965–1984 were spent in the second kingdom, the Republic of China, the province of Taiwan, to be specific. Hank challenged the leaders of the China Evangelical Lutheran Church to become a church in and for Taiwan, not a church on hold waiting for some future return to the mainland, not a church stranded, but a church living out its life in this new home. And, correct me if I’m wrong, Hank, but I believe you may be the only one who taught at all three LCMS seminaries in the history of our seminary education on the island: in 嘉義 , 台中, and 新竹 (Chiayi, Taichung, and Hsinchu). The third kingdom may, in fact, be closer to a hemisphere, for though we think especially of Hank’s work in Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China, the years since 1984 have included travels throughout most of Southeast Asia. It was on the mainland that I first really got to know Hank better. He invited me, the new guy in Taiwan, to join a team that would retrace the steps of the early LCMS mission in China, looking for any traces of it that had not been erased by the tumultuous history of the second half of the twentieth century. One of my happiest China memories is of those few days floating down the Yangtze River, such a peaceful and serene voyage. And so the Romance continues, with Hank doing what he has always done, dispensing wisdom and inciting to mission—wherever he finds himself. His publi242

cations are extensive—ranging from wisdom literature to the prophets, from the church in China to the Chinese church in North America, from missions around the world to missions here at home. In fact, when reflecting on Hank’s career, the thought occurred to me that he is a living oxymoron, a practical exegete. Though his publications are extensive, I have little doubt it will be Hank’s imitable teaching style that will be remembered longest. How could anyone forget watching Hank carry Jeremiah’s yoke back and forth across the front of the chapel—especially when “Jeremiah” was shouting his warnings to King Zedekiah in Mandarin! There is a saying (of course there is a saying) in Chinese: 一日為師, 終身為父 (“Even if a man has been my teacher only for one day, I will respect him as my father for my whole life”). Hank, your wit and wisdom, your words and your life, your love for brother, sister, and Lord, have filled the world with those who will respect you as a father for the rest of their lives, and I am proud to be numbered among them. Please let me close with a blessing, the blessing that always concludes the Eucharist at China Lutheran Seminary in Hsinchu: 願主看顧你、願主賜恩與你、 願主面上的榮光照你、 願主賜福與你、賜你平安、阿們。

(The encomium concluded with Dr. Oschwald singing the Aaronic Benediction in Mandarin to a tune by Mabel Wu.) Robert Kolb By Charles P. Arand I lack the stature to properly honor Bob as he deserves, but I will do my best. Now we all know what a wonderful teacher, colleague, friend, and fellow human creature Bob is. But I’m not so sure that we as a church or a seminary are aware of, much less fully appreciate, the impact and influence that Bob has had on the church and scholarly community outside of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. Outside our small circles, Bob is without question the most well-regarded and highly respected theologian, historian, and scholar that the Missouri Synod has raised up in the last thirty years. Non-Missouri Synod publishers seek his books and publish them at the drop of the hat. These include such publishers as Oxford, Cambridge, Brill, Eerdmans, and Baker, to name but a few. Non-Missouri Synod schools regularly invite him to teach, lecture, or serve as a reader on doctoral dissertations. These range from evangelical schools like Fuller Seminary, to Reformed schools such as Calvin Seminary, to Lutheran schools like Luther Seminary or Lutheran Theological

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Seminary at Philadelphia. Emerging scholars and established scholars from around the world look to him for guidance, direction, and approval with regard to their own work. When I was younger, the giants in Reformation studies were people like Lou Spitz at Stanford, Jim Kittelson at Ohio State, and David Steinmetz at Duke— to name a few. Today, Bob Kolb stands alone as the giant in Reformation studies both here in the States as well as in Europe, South America, and Asia. He provides leadership and direction for the International Luther Conference and numerous other conferences, journals, and projects. In the process, Bob has not only exercised a strong influence upon the theological world outside our doors, he has enhanced the reputation and image of Concordia Seminary and the Missouri Synod around the world. Because of Bob, the Missouri Synod and Concordia Seminary are known as places where the “vigorous life of the mind” (to use Will Schumacher’s phrase) is alive and well. Because of Bob, Concordia Seminary is known as a place where the vigorous life of the mind is put into the service of the Gospel for the sake of the unity of church and the mission of the church within the wider world. Finally, Bob, I cannot thank you enough for all you’ve done for me. For your guidance and for your friendship. Bob epitomizes what it means to be a pastor, a theologian, a churchman, a scholar, a teacher, a colleague, a friend, and a loveable teddy bear! Bob, I look forward to our continued conversation and work together! Thomas E. Manteufel By Joel P. Okamoto We’ll begin by talking about “home.” Dr. Manteufel was born in 1942 in Truman, Minnesota, and to this day he considers Minnesota “home,” even though he has lived in St. Louis longer than in Minnesota. But Minnesota is “home” for Tom in another way. He was not only born and raised there, but he was born again through water and the Spirit and raised in the faith in Minnesota. As some of you know, I think it can be important and helpful to ask yourself about the church you call “home,” that is, the congregation that you think did the most to shape your sense of what a church should be and your understanding of what the pastoral ministry is all about. For Tom, the answer is simple: St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Truman. He was baptized and confirmed there, and he says that he has continued to return there over the years. Moreover, it was there that he first began consciously to consider being a pastor, when his own pastor saw that he had “religious inclinations,” as Tom put it, in catechism class. This led Tom to enter high school in St. Paul, Minnesota. After his first two years of college, also in St. Paul, he went to the senior college in Fort Wayne, then Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. He received his M.Div. in 1968, and he stayed for another year to work toward the S.T.M. degree. He was ordained into the office of


the holy ministry on July 27, 1969, and served as pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Elma, Iowa. Not long into his ministry Tom met Berdeen, a teacher and organist, in Kansas. In Berdeen’s words, theirs was “a romance carried out mostly by post.” They were married in 1971. They have a son and two grandchildren. In 1977, with the encouragement and support of Concordia Seminary, Tom left the parish ministry and began doctoral studies at the University of Iowa. His dissertation was supervised by George Forell, the noted Luther scholar, and Tom, naturally, wrote on Luther—Luther’s understanding of the concept of opus operatum. In 1979, after his coursework was completed, he returned to Concordia Seminary to teach, first as guest instructor, then promoted to assistant professor in 1983. He has been Associate Professor of Systematic Theology since 1994. With Prof. Manteufel, it is about as easy to list courses in systematic theology that he hasn’t taught as those he has. Just among the required courses he has taught (pardon me for the seminary shorthand): Confessions I and II; Systematics I, II, and III; World Religions; and, of course, Religious Bodies of America. On top of these, there have been elective courses, graduate courses, distance education courses, and in addition to that, graduate students to advise and supervise. This means that you will pretty much have to have Dr. Manteufel somewhere in your seminary education. So he has been the teacher of many pastors in the Missouri Synod, and of a pretty good portion of this faculty. I am one of them. I reminded Tom the other day that I had him during my first quarter as a student here, for Confessions I. What I saw then I have always seen in Tom: faith in Christ; joy in his justification; commitment to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Symbols; deep, thorough knowledge in treating topics and issues; sincerity, honesty, and humility; and what I’ll call a “sly” sense of humor that comes out at unexpected times. Tom has been active in other ways in Concordia Seminary. For example, he has long served as both coordinator of the correspondence school and as coordinator of international seminary exchange programs. On top of that there have been essays, presentations, articles, reviews, and translations. For several years, he has worked on updating F. E. Mayer’s The Religious Bodies of America. The last edition was edited by Arthur Carl Piepkorn and published in 1961. Since then, of course, the American religious scene has changed dramatically and an up-to-date version of this reference work will serve all of us well. When I asked Tom how he came to teach the religious bodies course and of his interest in denominations in America, he said first that he had been assigned the course. But then he added that he had been interested in the different denominations and traditions and religious bodies since he was a student—what they were really up to, why they thought and acted as they did, and what it meant for Lutherans to deal appropriately with them.

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That remark, in turn, caused me to think about my own seminary experience and the way in which Tom fit into that. I remember during my second year, before going on vicarage, thinking to myself how valuable all I had learned had been. It wasn’t just that I knew more stuff, but my understanding and ability to think about things had grown so much. I knew why we believed what we believed, and I knew much better how to answer the question, “Why?” Tom didn’t come out and say that we should think about “why.” He just did it, and made us do it too. So I speak not only for us here but many who are not here: Thank you, Tom. And thank you for all you’ve done. I know this is not “Farewell” or even “Auf Wiedersehen.” Nevertheless, your retirement, along with the retirements of so many faithful friends here, marks a real change for our lives here at Concordia Seminary. So, again, thank you: for your long and faithful service to the Lord and his church, for your commitment to faithful theology and sound theological education, and for your friendship and support. May our gracious God continue always to bless you. Quentin F. Wesselschmidt By William W. Schumacher I have the honor of saying a few words to recognize and salute the career of service of my colleague, Quentin F. Wesselschmidt, who unfortunately is not able to be with us today. Quentin studied theology at St. Paul’s College in Concordia, Missouri, at Concordia Senior College, and here at Concordia Seminary, where he earned his M.Div. degree in 1963. His further studies took him to Marquette University (M.A. 1969) and the University of Iowa (Ph.D. 1979). His first call was into parish ministry, at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Hillsboro, Illinois, but in 1965 he was called to serve in the classroom, where our Lord has used him ever since: Concordia College, Milwaukee; Milwaukee Lutheran High School; stints as a teaching assistant at the University of Iowa; and as a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. In 1977 he was called to this faculty, where he has taught in the area of historical theology, including 14 years as chairman of that department. All of us who studied here in the last thirty years have known him as our teacher. A few of us have been privileged to know him also as a colleague. Quentin guided and oversaw the Concordia Journal as chairman of the editorial committee for 25 years. The sheer magnitude of his service is impressive. With Dr. Wesselschmidt at the helm, the Concordia Journal published more than 400 articles and 1,200 book reviews—a grand total in excess of 10,000 pages. He has always exercised this leadership with competence, consistent diligence, Christian humility, attention to detail, and cordial collegiality. He made the task look easy—and I can testify emphatically that it is not. 246

It is the fate of editors that their own scholarship must take a back seat to the publication of others, yet we are pleased to note that Dr. Wesselschmidt’s volume on Psalms 51–150 in The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series (InterVarsity Press) was recently celebrated among our faculty publications. We hope that his retirement may offer him further opportunities for his own writing. A couple of years ago I was in Cameroon, West Africa, to meet with Lutheran church leaders involved in theological education. Their church body has not had a historic relationship with the LCMS, and to the best of my knowledge no one from our synod (let alone Concordia Seminary) had ever visited there before. But in a sense, they knew us—they knew Quentin—since the Concordia Journal is regularly received and eagerly read at their seminary, where it constitutes an important resource in their theological library. I am happy to acknowledge and celebrate Quentin’s important role in making the Concordia Journal such a significant part of the public face of our seminary and our synod, here at home and around the world. His influence as both a teacher and an editor is lasting, and far wider than he might imagine.

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COncordia Journal

Reaching Out Without Losing Balance Maintaining a Theological Center of Gravity in Preaching David J. Peter1

During the presidential campaign of 1996, after Senator Bob Dole made a campaign speech, the Republican candidate attempted to correct his image of being cold, impersonal, and disconnected from the people by making physical contact with the audience. He moved to the edge of the platform on which he had been speaking, leaned over the railing, and reached out his hand to the crowd below. In an effort to connect with his audience, he stretched beyond the guard rail. As he reached out the rail gave way and Senator Dole came tumbling down into the crowd and onto the ground. Fortunately, neither he nor those under him were seriously hurt by this incident, although a few minor bruises were sustained.2 Senator Dole’s intentions were good. He sought to reach out and connect with the people and repudiate his reputation of being cold and aloof. But the resulting accident didn’t benefit him or those on whom he fell. Many preachers have a similar good intention. They make a heartfelt effort to reach out in their sermons to people and their needs. They go to great lengths to connect with their hearers and impress upon them the relevance of the sermon. This desire is laudable. Preaching that does not connect with the audience is not effective preaching. Much preaching remains aloof, austere, impractical, impersonal, irrelevant, and overly transcendent. Such preaching is disconnected from the people for whom it is delivered. In contrast, the preacher who loves and cares for his flock will seek to present sermons that touch the lives and the personal needs of people. Sometimes the preacher’s passion to connect with those who are listening to him, however, may cause him to lose his balance, so to speak. He overextends horizontally. This is not in a physical sense, as in leaning too far out of the pulpit so that he falls out! Instead, his loss of balance is in the content of the sermon. He overextends the human focus or horizontal reach so that the vertical dimension of the sermon is eclipsed. When this happens the sermon becomes more anthropocentric than theocentric. The result is that the preacher hurts both his own minDavid J. Peter is Associate Professor of Practical Theology, and Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri.

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istry and the spiritual lives of those for whom he is called to care. And that is indeed a tragedy far worse than the physical misstep Bob Dole experienced. The Horizontal and Vertical Dimensions of Preaching Every sermon should have a vertical aspect and a horizontal aspect.3 Furthermore, these dimensions should be in balance in the homily. The vertical dimension refers to the theocentric focus of the sermon. Thus it is heavily theological. In the vertical dimension, attention is given to God’s work of creation, salvation, and sanctification. It focuses on who God is and on what he has done and continues to do for us. It presents for us the relationship God has established with his people. In this sense it is vertical, in that it communicates the relationship of God with humanity, especially of God coming to us in Jesus Christ to redeem us from sin and reconcile us to himself. This vertical dimension to preaching is evident in all faithful Law-Gospel preaching. The vertical emphasis is especially distinctive of the Reformation and of the preachers who are heirs of this tradition. It is preaching that centers on the Gospel message of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. This vertical dimension is unabashedly theological, theocentric, Christocentric, and doctrinal. However, the vertical dimension does not exclude concern for human beings. On the contrary, this concern is inherent to the vertical axis of theology. The Gospel does not transcend the realm of human creatures but transforms it. In the incarnation God invades the human realm, and through baptism the Holy Spirit indwells God’s creatures. Humanity stands at the bottom of the vertical axis, for the vertical relationship is one between God and human creatures. Thus we should not think of the vertical dimension as relating only to God to the exclusion of humans, since at its very heart it is the message of God relating to human beings. The horizontal dimension of preaching is more human-oriented, more anthropological in nature. This dimension concerns itself with relationships between human beings. Attention is given to people’s conditions and needs. The horizontal dimension focuses on who we are as humans and on how we relate to one another— our behavior towards each other as created beings. There is a very salutary use of the horizontal dimension in preaching. Indeed, it is a necessary aspect of preaching. There is a proper place in the sermon for addressing horizontal relationships coram hominibus. Every sermon should have a vertical aspect and a horizontal aspect which are in balance. A more Lutheran way of putting this is to say that there is a proper and necessary place for the two kinds of righteousness in preaching. The distinction between the two kinds of righteousness is a distinction well articulated in the Lutheran Confessions.4 This distinction has been aptly explained by Charles Arand using the spatial imagery of a perpendicular matrix (of vertical and horizontal axes). Arand writes:


The distinction between two kinds of righteousness rests upon the observation that there are two dimensions to being a human creature. One is a vertical dimension that involves our life with God, especially in the matters of death and salvation. The other is a horizontal dimension that involves our life with God’s creatures and our activity in this world. It serves the maintenance and furtherance of life in this world. In the former, we discover our humanity, that is, receive righteousness in the eyes of God through faith on account of Christ. It is a passive righteousness. In the latter, we realize our humanity, that is, achieve righteousness in the eyes of the world by works when we carry out our God-given responsibilities. It is an active righteousness based upon our adherence to the standards of law and reason. The vertical deals with our identity, the horizontal with our character.5 Arand does not apply this understanding of the vertical and horizontal kinds of righteousness specifically to the preaching task. However, the application is appropriate, because the distinction between horizontal righteousness and vertical righteousness interplays with the purpose of preaching to address hearers about their relationship with God and their responsibilities to other people. Arand continues: The critical point to be made here is that the Christian seeks both kinds of righteousness, but for different reasons and different purposes. One kind of righteousness establishes life with God. The other kind of righteousness establishes and promotes life in the human community. But they must be distinguished from one another. The key is to distinguish between them so that the horizontal is not turned on its head and becomes the basis of our righteousness before God. Nor should the vertical dimension of our lives be focused on at the expense of the horizontal.6 Thus both dimensions are needed in faithful preaching. The problem that will now be demonstrated, however, is that one dimension increasingly is eclipsing the other in contemporary preaching. The horizontal dimension has become magisterial while the vertical has been marginalized. The result is that the theological center of gravity is forfeited and the preacher loses his theological balance. Losing Our Balance: Overextending into the Horizontal Dimension The concern of this paper is the trend in preaching toward that which is predominantly or exclusively horizontal. It has been said that heterodoxy and even heresy arises when truth is taken to an extreme.7 In this case, the truth of the need for a horizontal dimension in preaching is taken to an extreme when sermons neg-

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lect the vertical dimension. Assuredly, there is the need for the horizontal aspect of communicating to human beings. The pastor who loves his flock will not disregard his hearers’ personal, psychological, and social needs, as they perceive them to be. He will seek to speak in a way that is relevant to people’s life situations and personal relationships. But he will not want to do that only. Indeed, that will not even be his primary objective in preaching. The contemporary landscape of preaching displays a trend toward overextending into the horizontal dimension. The danger arises when the preacher, in his effort to make his sermons relevant and meaningful to the people, reaches out horizontally to the neglect of the vertical dimension. This temptation to flatten out the message oftentimes derives from the salutary intention to connect with the people and their needs. The result is that the sermon’s content is virtually all human and little divine, much anthropocentric and little theocentric, mostly secular and scarcely sacred. Using imagery reminiscent of Robert Dole’s tumble, William Willimon opines, “In leaning over to speak to the modern world, I fear that we [Christian preachers] may have fallen in.”8 My suspicion of such a trend began several years ago when, in an effort to stimulate improvement in my own preaching, I subscribed to an audiotape series. This series was touted as presenting the best sermons on the contemporary landscape. These messages were promoted as models for preaching. Although the speakers in this series were outstanding orators, highly gifted in the skills of public communication, most of them focused on the horizontal aspect of felt needs and interpersonal relationships rather than on theology. In some cases the sermon was virtually devoid of theological content, except for a few apparently token references to God. A current example of such preaching is that of perhaps the most widelyheard preacher in America today, Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. The content of his messages is at best analogous to wisdom literature which seeks to equip his listeners to achieve “their best life now.”9 Another anecdotal witness to this trend appeared in a letter to the editor submitted to the Reporter, a periodical distributed to the professional church workers of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. This letter was written by a Lutheran pastor, the Rev. Roger Reckling, who was on candidate status and thus not serving a parish. He writes: Not having a congregation has afforded me the opportunity to visit other congregations. I’m distressed by a change that I’ve seen over the years I’ve been without a congregation. Jesus is disappearing from the church. In fact, yesterday the only thing I heard about Jesus came from the liturgy and hymns that we sang. Not once was Jesus or the love or power of God mentioned during the entire sermon. Although I certainly agreed with the theme of the sermon, I think it would have been


more appropriate in another setting, perhaps in a self-help group. What’s happening to Jesus?10 One might counter that this anecdotal evidence is hardly indicative of a larger trend in preaching. However, keen observers of the homiletic scene have made similar assessment. Paul Scott Wilson writes: “It is as surprising as it is discouraging to discover how many sermons across denominational boundaries encourage trust in human resources and how few focus on God or encourage faith in God in more than minimal ways.”11 We even have documentation of the preponderance of anthropological over theological content on a broad scale. David Wells, in his book No Place for Truth, highlights this trend in his analysis of 200 “model” sermons taken from leading journals on homiletics during the latter part of the twentieth century.12 Wells reports that only about one quarter (24.5 percent) of the sermons reflect both content and organization based upon the biblical passage used as the sermons’ texts. Some sermons, he maintains, are not even discernibly Christian. Only 19.5 percent “were grounded in or related in any way to the nature, character, and will of God...The overwhelming proportion of the sermons analyzed—more than 80 percent—were anthropocentric.”13 In other words, in the vast majority of these “model” sermons, the horizontal dimension predominated over the vertical. About the same time that Wells undertook his research, Marsha Witten conducted a study of 47 sermons on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11–31. These sermons were delivered by pastors from two major American denominations, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Southern Baptist Convention. Witten’s observations are presented in her book entitled All is Forgiven: The Secular Message in American Protestantism. The title reveals the findings of her study. Simply put, Witten reports a tendency in preaching to neglect what the text says about redemption—a theological and vertical message that is clearly the intent of Jesus’ parable. Instead the sermons reflect a secularizing and socializing of the message—a “horizontalizing” of it—that is quite distant from the intended meaning of the text. She concludes that “modern Protestantism in the United States has been greatly influenced by general trends toward secularity, specifically by tendencies toward individualism, trust in psychotherapy, ideological relativism, and reliance on rational procedures that mark our culture as a whole.”14 Similarly Richard Thulin, Professor Emeritus of Preaching at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, studied what he describes as “a relatively large number of published sermons across denominational lines” regarding doctrinal content, especially treatment of the Persons of the Trinity and the nature of the Church.15 Thulin concludes: I may not have read widely enough, but I think I read sufficiently to generalize fairly. I understand that sermons cannot, and should not, attempt to include “everything.” I know that preaching is not doing Concordia Journal/Summer 2009


systematic theology in the pulpit. But I could not help wondering: How can one preach a living Christ apart from His church; how can one preach either a living Christ, or the church as community in Christ, apart form the Holy Spirit; and how can one preach either a living Christ or a living Spirit apart from the Triune Being of God?16 Other observers have noted this movement in contemporary preaching. Leander Keck argues that “theology has become anthropology” not only among many modern theologians but also among many contemporary preachers.17 In his historical analysis of religion in the United States, James Turner speaks of the contribution that preachers have made to the culture of unbelief in America. He writes: They had spoken mostly of morality rather than spirituality, of religion’s uses in the palpable human world rather than its difficult and tenuous straining toward some purported other realm...With this strategy church leaders kept religion in tune with the secular world, but sometimes at the price of allowing this world to call the tune for God.18 Marva Dawn credits the decline of God-centered preaching on postChristian American culture which has influenced the church. In previous eras, when practices in mainline churches were dictated by the heritage of the denominations and the culture was more foundationally Christian, there was less possibility of moving away from “God as the Infinite Center.” In our times of famous celebrities in the media, less structured worship, and less support for the identity of Christianity in the culture, such a move is far more likely. As a result, too much of what is happening these days in worship pulls us away from centering on God—or does not have enough substance to hint at the infinity of God’s splendor.19 Finally, David Larsen, in his massive historical survey of Christian preachers, laments the pervasive horizontal focus of preaching today. In his reflections on the history of Christian preaching, Larsen identifies the greatest threat to faithful preaching in our day with this trend. He observes, “The widespread focus on humanity’s horizontal relationships and psychological experience in the preaching of our time reflects the increasingly pervasive banishment and exile of God from Western culture—even in the enclaves of conservative Christianity.”20 Each of these observers of contemporary preaching recognizes a significant trend towards the marginalization of theology (and thus of God) in sermons. This, in turn, reflects an over-extension of the horizontal aspect of preaching at the expense of the vertical. As I reflect on this trend, I distinguish three streams in which the phenomenon has manifested itself: 1) sermons that adopt a relativistic epistemology (“hearer based” preaching), 2) consumer sermons (“felt needs based” preaching), and 3)


self-help sermons (“solution based” preaching). Each of these trends is worthy of examination. Sermons that Adopt a Hearer-based Epistemology An epistemology of relativism and tolerance pervades American culture. At the center of this relativistic epistemology is the self. In other words, one determines what is true, what is real, what is authoritative for oneself. The typical American acknowledges little absolute truth independent of what he ascertains is true for himself. The result of this epistemological relativism is a practical tolerance: “If it’s true for you, that’s okay, even if it isn’t true for me.” When this anthropocentric epistemology emerges in preaching, the focus is on the hearer—what he hears determines the meaning. Thus the listener does not hear the truth from the text of scripture or the message of the sermon. Rather he hears his truth. It is not so much what the sermon means, but what it means to him. Truth is understood to be relative, subjective, and personal. Such an epistemology influences not only the hearing of a sermon (i.e., by the audience), but also the composition and proclamation of a sermon (i.e., by the preacher). In each case the main referent point is the self. Obviously, this referent point of self dominates on the horizontal plane. Since the vertical plane is the domain of speech about God and for God, vertical preaching is not conducive to hearer-centered epistemology. But horizontal preaching certainly is! Admittedly there are some insights accented by hearer-based epistemology (oftentimes associated with the postmodern mindset) that are congenial to both hermeneutics and homiletics.21 Who one is and what he has experienced determines to some extent how he hears a message. Hearers bring biases and filters through which they interpret a message and define its meaning. The Christian preacher must be aware of these realities, and seek to maximize listener involvement and understanding. However, the faithful preacher will also recognize that it is God’s Spirit working through his active Word that ultimately creates meaning by delivering the Truth. As he does so he effects the transformation from death to life in those who listen to a sermon. The Gospel—the good news that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor 5:19)—is clearly located on the vertical dimension. It is the Gospel that is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16), not the interpretive filter of the parishioner. Glenn Nielsen warns about preaching that conforms to a hearer-based ethos: “... there is much reason to be concerned about this abdication of authority, including the authority of God’s Word, to the listener.”22 Similarly, Richard Lischer affirms that the “listener isn’t king; God is.”23 Taken to its extreme, a hearer-based epistemology is a dead end street. David Wells writes:

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Is it not the case that the radical individualism that inhabits most churches and which, in its therapeutic form, collapses all reality into the self, is also an expression of the collapse of any functioning, overarching meaning in life? Meaning, in the absence of such purpose, simply becomes privatized and internalized. Is it therefore surprising that the overwhelming majority of the American public do not believe that there are truths which are absolute? The disposition, as we have seen, is now reverberating around the churches. So is it surprising if preaching begins to cater to this disposition and reduces the meaning of Christian faith simply to what is “practical,” to techniques for surviving in a baffling and painful world?24 Wells’ rhetorical questions trace the pathway that a relativistic epistemology leads to when adopted by the preaching church. Its destination is a horizontal reductionism that leaves preaching devoid of timeless truth, life devoid of ultimate meaning, and people devoid of lasting hope. The danger in adopting a hearer-based epistemology in preaching is that the locus, the center of gravity in the sermon, is with the hearer, not with the Gospel. This hearer-based locus clearly falls within the horizontal dimension. Such preaching becomes existentialist, experiential, personalized, and privatized. Although there may be some “God talk” in this kind of preaching which superficially appears theological and vertical, the engine that drives it is human-centered and thus horizontal. One’s image of God—his understanding of God—is created by one’s own intuitions, which are by sinful nature flawed and in fact opposed to God. Edward Grimenstein observes, “When this emphasis [upon the hearers] is coupled with our idolatrous culture’s desire to give itching ears what they want to hear, then a situation arises that is ripe for the merging of the idolatrous with the sacred.”25 Taken to its extreme, in this epistemology one determines for himself in a delusional manner who God is and how God relates to him, instead of the Holy Spirit enlightening through the Word to reveal the God who is otherwise hidden. When God appears in such hearer-based preaching, essentially he is created in the image of man, the hearer.26 In preaching that conforms to relativistic thinking the hearer dictates the understanding of God. Anthropology forms theology. The horizontal dimension drives the vertical dimension. Consumer Satisfying Sermons Another phenomenon current in our contemporary (especially American) culture is a pervasive consumer mentality. This mindset has influenced the life of the church to the degree that much of the church’s activity has become a market commodity. This market mentality has contributed significantly to the trend toward sermons which are predominantly or even exclusively horizontal. 258

American Christians live in a consumer culture. The church must engage even this aspect of culture, rather than totally eschewing it. Congregational programming is frequently guided by what will best meet the “felt needs” of the members or potential members of the church. Attention to people’s felt needs, whether through the congregation’s programs or in its preaching, is salutary when this plays a ministerial role to direct the people’s attention ultimately to their greatest need, which is forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus Christ. The church responds to people’s perceived needs as an entry point to move them to recognize their supreme need for Christ. In these sermons the message of Christ predominates, and the horizontal dimension serves the vertical dimension. Such an approach to preaching is desirable.27 The danger arises when attention to felt needs becomes unbalanced and eclipses the message “that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself ” (2 Cor 5:19). This unhealthy influence of the consumer mentality upon the church has affected worship design and sermon content. Marsha Witten argues: “As religious speakers accept the need to market their pronouncements, they tacitly ratify the capitalist notion of consumer choice.”28 Consumer satisfying sermons are recognizable in that they are based on the audience’s needs. In these sermons, the engine that drives the subject, content, and direction of the message is the “felt needs” of the people (and indirectly of the popular culture). Marva Dawn observes that many preachers who have adopted this approach “have believed the notion that sermons must appeal to people by meeting their ‘felt needs’ rather than by giving them the Word of God that actually meets their genuine needs.”29 This kind of needs based preaching is on the ascendancy in the church today. David Larsen writes, “Evidence does exist of a paradigm shift underway in evangelical preaching from text-driven and text-dependent preaching to need-driven and market-driven preaching.”30 Note the shift here. The change is in the prepositions. Historically, Christian preachers have preached from—from the text of scripture. That has been their beginning point. Today, however, increasing numbers of preachers are preaching to—to the felt needs of the people. Lutherans highlight another preposition: of. Lutheran preaching should be a proclamation of the Gospel (objective genitive). This repositioning of the starting point for sermons means that the sermon’s theme derives from the horizontal dimension of consumer needs, psychology, and sociology, instead of from the vertical dimension of theology and more specifically the Gospel. Already in 1968 Philip Rieff described the shift from the vertical emphasis to the horizontal in this way: “Christian man was born to be saved; psychological man is born to be pleased.”31 In her study of 47 Protestant sermons, Marsha Witten documents the trend towards secularization and horizontal emphases in these sermons. She attributes much of this trend to the church’s attempt to accommodate the “felt needs” of the

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hearers. One result is that the message of the Law is softened in order to avoid causing offense to the audience, the “consuming public” that might not return after hearing a discomforting message. Witten writes: As potential adherents are positioned as voluntary consumers, we would expect to see the persuasive marketing of religious ideologies. Indeed, positive inducements far outweigh threats for noncompliance in the sermons. Consonant with contemporary marketing practices, religion (the “product”) is posed as an answer to consumer needs; religious adherence is seen as solving problems that arise in the psychological or practical everyday experience of men and women.32 The “threats for noncompliance” to which Witten refers are the threats of the Law. This message, essential to true evangelical preaching, is being jettisoned in many sermons because it doesn’t resonate with the consuming audience.33 Similarly, the call to costly discipleship and sacrifice that are inherent to sanctified living is unspoken because it is an unpopular message. The comfortable message that replaces it is more palatable to consumers. David Mills observes: Some will make a commitment to Christianity because they will now believe that Christianity “works,” that “it meets my needs,” that “it speaks to me.” Some will make that commitment because in the gospel preached in relevant terms they recognize, if unconsciously, a tamed and denatured Christianity, in which they can get the benefits of religion without most of the costs.34 Another result of the consumer-driven sermon is that it promotes a privatizing of religion. Religion exists to satisfy the personal desires and needs of the individual self. Witten maintains that this needs-driven preaching “accepts the exile of religion into the region of private life, in its concerns largely for the psychology and affect of the individual. The solutions that are posed here to consumer ‘needs’ are privatized counterbalances to modern life, minor irruptions in the overall secularity of the social world.”35 The concern here is not that sermons should be inattentive to the human condition and need, even if those needs are “felt.” Unbalanced preaching addresses the human need with satisfactions that derive solely from the horizontal dimension. If the solutions offered in a sermon are primarily psychological, sociological, anthropological, or simply utilitarian, then the sermon has neglected the vertical and theological heart of Christian proclamation. Ultimately, this reality poses the greatest danger which results from sermons that seek to satisfy the audience’s felt needs. Such needs-driven sermons can lead in the wrong direction, away from the theological. The preacher overextends horizontally in an effort to reach out to people and their needs, and in the process the ver260

tical dimension of the sermon collapses. As long ago as 1982 John Stott voiced this concern: If we become exclusively preoccupied with answering the questions people are asking, we may overlook the fact that they often ask the wrong questions and need to be helped to ask the right ones. If we acquiesce uncritically in the world’s own self-understanding, we may find ourselves the servants rather of fashion than of God. So, in order to avoid the snare of being a “populist” or a modern false prophet, the type of bridge to be built must be determined more by the biblical revelation than by the zeitgeist or spirit of the age. The Church’s calling is to challenge secularism, not to surrender to it. Nevertheless, there is great need for more understanding of, and sensitivity to, the modern world around us.36 The solution is to be found in balance—by balancing the vertical and horizontal aspects of preaching. Yet the vertical aspect—the biblical, theo-centric, and evangelical message—must be established as the sound center of gravity in the sermon. “Self-help” Sermons The third force contributing to the predominance of the horizontal dimension in preaching is the trend toward “self-help” sermons. These sermons have as their themes subjects such as “how to overcome stress” and “how to be a good spouse or parent.” If the relativistic sermon is hearer based, and the consumer sermon is felt needs based, then the self-help sermon is solution based. Once again, as with the other two forces, the issue is extremism. Nothing is inherently wrong with a solution based message. Every sermon should present the solution to humanity’s sinful condition, a solution that is found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This solution-based message is clearly in the vertical dimension. There is also a salutary place for explicating horizontal righteousness in sound theological preaching. As the Holy Spirit works sanctification in the lives of his saints, those saints will benefit from the preaching of God’s Word to guide them to “live a life worthy of their calling” which they have received by virtue of their identity in Christ (Ephesians 4:1). Some “how to” sermons will assist them to do so, while remaining theologically sound.37 Many “how to” messages become predominantly horizontal. The preacher bases the solution to people’s predicament in the human dimension instead of in the vertical and theological dimension. He finds the locus for solving the problems of the hearers in the hearers, instead of in God. That is why they are “self-help” sermons—they prescribe to the listener how he can solve the problems in his life by his own actions and efforts.38 “Many preachers,” Marva Dawn observes, “offer Concordia Journal/Summer 2009


therapeutic self-help instead of keeping God as the subject and object of their sermons.”39 Oftentimes these self-help sermons imitate the self-help manuals that are so popular (and lucrative) in the book selling and digital recording market.40 There is no doubt that the influence here derives from the secular culture, and not from the heritage of the Church, certainly not from any biblical ethos. “Society’s technicization,” notes Dawn, “... invades sermons in the form of directions to become technicians of the inner life for the purpose of self-improvement.”41 Marsha Witten argues that this mentality, which pervades the culture of popular books (including those of a religious nature), has now affected popular preaching, manifesting itself in the “how to” emphasis of many contemporary preachers. She states: In these texts, behavioral precepts are organized in a series of steps, or items on a list, which call for the reader’s systematic compliance; one’s progress toward spirituality is thus measured on an ascending scale. In addition, the form of this talk mirrors its popular, secular counterpart, the “how to” book. The talk may be framed as a series of self-referring, self-justifying, rules, “steps,” or “principles,” adherence to which induces personal growth and fulfillment. Taken to the extreme, this talk constitutes a “do-it-yourself ” guide for personal satisfaction, with a few mentions of God or faith or prayer tossed in to mark itself as “religious.”42 The result is that the sermon becomes essentially a “do it yourself ” guide that is potently horizontal (i.e., anthropocentric) in nature and noticeably lacking in the vertical (i.e., theo-centric) dimension. The danger here is that solutions in the horizontal dimension are then transferred to the vertical dimension. In such a case the solution to the deepest human problem, the problem of sin which alienates one from God in the vertical relationship, is identified as existing intra nos—inside the person, instead of extra nos—in God who is other than the person. Self-help is by its very definition self-dependent and not contingent on God’s rescue. Thus the “how to” format may be conducive to a horizontally designed sermon that attributes the empowerment for improvement to the self, but then extends that self-engendered power to improving one’s standing before God.43 The preacher should encourage his hearers to produce good works in service to others as the fruit of faith in the sanctified life of the Christian. Such activity of caring for others in the love of Christ is located in the horizontal dimension since it involves relationships between people. Yet its source is in the vertical relationship with God, resulting from one’s identity established in the Gospel and empowered


by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Joel Biermann observes that this horizontal righteousness is directly connected to the vertical righteousness delivered through faith in Christ: Righteousness 3, sanctifying, grows out of the divine monergism action of righteousness 2 [justifying righteousness] and must be joined to it. The third kind of righteousness is uniquely Christian and driven by the truths of the Second Article, yet led back into the created world of the First Article. Here the Christian pursues a virtuous life coram hominibus, but one that is also certainly God pleasing. Love of God and the need of neighbor are both source and motivation.44 The sanctifying righteousness which is lived in the horizontal dimension derives from the justifying righteousness of the vertical dimension. The help for this living comes not from the self but from God.45 Thus even when preaching “the sanctified life,” the Gospel message must provide the dominant dynamic. Preaching self-help solutions to the challenges of the Christian life of faith leads to futility or Pharisaism because it is devoid of the vertical power from God. In self-help preaching is that the horizontal dimension is promoted at the expense of the vertical. The transforming power of God through the Holy Spirit is minimized (if even mentioned at all), and the self-improving ability of man is maximized. This approach may appear eminently practical and helpful, but it is in actuality devastating to the spiritual condition. The objective work of Christ, the sole source of salvation, is negated. The sanctifying work of the Spirit, the sole source of transformation, is eclipsed. Marva Dawn provides this piercing critique of the self-help message: Sermons cannot form the character of believers when sin is treated merely as an addiction and redemption is only therapy. The believer’s new life in Christ must be based on Christ’s objective work of redemption, not on our experience of it, nor on a process of self-improvement or self-actualization.46 Summary There exists a demonstrable trend in contemporary preaching towards flattening out a sermon so that the human aspect dominates and the divine aspect is diminished. More and more preaching is characterized by a horizontal, anthropocentric focus, rather than a vertical, theocentric one. Three contemporary forces contribute significantly to this trend: sermons that conform to a relativistic epistemology (hearer based), sermons that conform to a consumer ethos (felt needs based), and self–help sermons that present stepped directions for self–improvement (solution based).

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The Dangers of Overextending into the Horizontal Dimension The dangers of overextending into the horizontal aspects are significant. Many of those dangers have already been presented. But the threat that this horizontal phenomenon in contemporary preaching places upon the life of the Church can be summarized in the following five points: Predominance in the horizontal dimension leads to God-less preaching. Overextending the human dimension of the sermon minimizes the role of God as the subject of the sermon. God is marginalized to such a point that the deity becomes for all practical purposes irrelevant to the message.47 “It seems to me,” Richard Lischer writes, “that the modern preachers are retelling the story in such a way as to reduce God’s role in it. God is there as the back-lighting for the set.”48 This reduction of the divine transforms the sermon into psychological, sociological, or purely utilitarian insights devoid of God-centered content. The secularization of preaching becomes a fait accompli and sermons become functionally atheistic. Such preaching, Thomas Long observes, “is basically condemned to the possibilities already present in the human prospect. It is finally a form of pragmatic atheism, and the God who intrudes upon the closed system of the present tense is the most missed of all missing persons.”49 With this approach preachers have unwittingly contributed to the prevailing culture of unbelief in our society. James Turner argues, “God’s official agents had helped to arrange for His displacement.”50 As sermons have become more a-theological (and thus more atheistic) they have become less nourishing to the spirit. Indeed, a-theological sermons (if they can even be called sermons) are deadly in the fullest sense of the term. “A minister without theology,” comments Earl Lautenslager, “is like an engineer without physics or a doctor without anatomy. He’ll kill you.”51 Overextension in the horizontal dimension leads to idolatrous preaching. By concentrating on the self, whether that be the self ’s role in determining meaning (as in relativistic epistemology), the self ’s insistence that “felt needs” be met (as in the consumer satisfying emphasis), or the self ’s improvement through “how to” techniques (as in the solution-based sermon model), the self is elevated to an idolatrous position. The emphasis on self-help replaces the dynamis of the Gospel. God’s power is displaced with self-actualization. The self forms a god to its liking. Turner maintains that the presentation of God in contemporary preaching has “plunged more deeply into the needs and wishes of human beings—or a God sculpted more closely to the image of man.”52 Martin Luther writes in the Large Catechism, “Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is


really your God.”53 Predominantly horizontal preaching directs its hearers to rely and depend upon their own understanding (relativistic epistemology), their own choices (consumer ethos), and their own solutions (self-help). Ultimately, this kind of preaching elevates the self to godhood. Simply put, one’s God is that which has first place—priority—in one’s life. Similarly, one could say that what is truly God in the sermon is that which has priority in the message. Richard Lischer observes that much contemporary preaching places the priority of the sermon with the listener. He writes, “In recent decades homiletics has been uniformly critical of sermons that begin with the priority of the Word of God, preferring instead to build the sermon on the authority of the needs, capacities, and experiences of the listener.”54 As preachers undertake to serve the hearers more than to serve God, they also fear and love the hearers more than God and so make the hearer into an idol. Edward Grimenstein observes: The stimulus for many idolatrous practices in preaching stems from preachers’ misguided fear. Pastors are afraid to speak, so they reach out for whatever will give validation and credence to their “weak” words. Idolatry in preaching begins with the preacher and the preacher’s inability fully to trust the actions of Christ as being efficacious for the people. Idolatry stems from a lack of loving Christ and Christ alone rather than loving praise from parishioners for another good sermon. The cause for idolatry in preaching is with the idolater, the pastor, who deep down refuses to fear, love, and trust Christ’s actions alone to make the sermon truly excellent.55 In predominantly horizontal preaching the focus is on the human and not the divine, except that ironically the human is elevated to the divine. Over-extension in the horizontal dimension makes for idolatrous preaching. The Church must dethrone the self in preaching and confess that God is God. David Wells states, “What distinquishes the Church from this [consumer satisfaction] industry is truth. It is truth about God and about ourselves that displaces the consumer from his or her current perch of sovereignty in the Church and places God in the place where he should be.”56 Predominantly horizontal preaching is law-oriented preaching. Preaching that is predominantly utilitarian is essentially legalistic. It is deficient if not devoid of the Gospel. It focuses on what we do, not on what God does through the Gospel. It is at best synergistic (i.e., humans cooperating with God to achieve righteousness). At times it is even monergistic on the wrong side of the theological equation (i.e., humans achieving their own righteousness exclusive of God). Sermons that espouse purely psychological, social, or practical principles may indeed possess an appearance of being religious since they espouse morality. But Concordia Journal/Summer 2009


morality is not the Gospel. Kurt Hamsum, a Nobel Prize winner from Norway, commented that sermons he heard in his visit to America “did not contain theology but morality...they do not develop the mind, though they are entertaining.”57 Such a verdict could be made of a growing number of sermons today. They do not contain much theology which delivers the Gospel but only morality which delivers the Law. Exclusively horizontal preaching is hopeless preaching. This consequence derives from the three previously described consequences of horizontal preaching. If such preaching is God-less, then it is also devoid of the ultimate hope which God alone provides. If the message is idolatrous, it fails to deliver eternal hope, since it directs the listener to gods—such as the god of self— which are incapable of delivering from sin. If the horizontal preaching is law-oriented, it offers no hope for reconciliation with God (humanity’s greatest need), since the only means for delivering that hope, the Gospel, is absent. Martin Luther recognized that eternal hope derives from the vertical aspect of preaching, not from the horizontal. United with the voice of scripture, he maintained that such hope rests not on human merit or on self-advancement, but rather on God’s mercy. He states, “Hope arises only from the fact that God has mercy upon us and instills it into us, and it never has any other object (obiectum) or matter (materiam) or foundation than the simple mercy of God, not our works, which are rather the object (obiectum) and the source whence despair arises.”58 Notice how Luther argues that this kind of hope never has any other object or matter or foundation than God’s mercy. Horizontal preaching has as its object and matter and foundation the needs, experiences, and solutions of man. Consequently, horizontal preaching is hopeless preaching with regard to humanity’s greatest need, the forgiveness of sins. For only in the Gospel—that vertical message of what God has done for us in Christ to redeem us from our sin—is there hope to deliver us from our destiny in damnation. Russell Moore asserts: Where anything other than Christ is preached, there is no truth offered, and thus, there is no freedom proclaimed. There may be shouts of affirmation or silently nodding heads, there may be left-wing politics or right-wing politics, there may be culturally liberal psychotherapy or culturally conservative psychotherapy, there may be almost anything people think they want, but there’s nothing but judgment in the air.59 Principally horizontal preaching leads to irrelevant preaching. At first glance it appears contradictory to claim that preaching which dominates in the horizontal dimension is irrelevant. This means that it may appear immediately relevant, but it will not be ultimately and eternally relevant.


To be relevant means to relate to something. Preachers who seek to be relevant endeavor to relate the Word of God to the real life experiences of their listeners. They attempt to address the contextual issues of the day. This is desirable and even necessary for effective preaching to take place. Relevance is essential to communication, and communication is integral to preaching.60 The Apostle Paul sought to contextualize his message to engage various audiences with the goal of converting them: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor 9:22, see also vv. 19–21). This he did “for the sake of the Gospel,” that is, in service to it (1 Cor 9:23). Translating the Gospel (which by its very nature resides in the vertical dimension) into words and images that contemporary people can understand and relate to is an important part of good preaching. Practical application of biblical truth is also desired. The evangelical preacher seeks to proclaim the Evangel in order to deliver God’s absolution to sinners. The herald announces God’s forgiveness to the repentant. He declares that God’s grace is “for you”—personally and tangibly. He relates Christ’s work to the sinner and his need for forgiveness. This vertical preaching is the highest form of relevance. But preaching that dominates in the horizontal sphere misses that mark. The preacher who does so sells his birthright for a pot of porridge. A steady diet of such sermons may appear immediately relevant—touching upon immediate needs and concerns of people, such as the friends with whom they associate, the ways they interact with family members, even the manner in which they serve others. But since it neglects the sinner’s greatest need for the righteousness of Christ, this pattern of horizontal preaching is ultimately and eternally irrelevant. Preaching that corresponds to a relativistic epistemology is ultimately irrelevant because it denies absolute truth, which in reality is the standard for what is and is not relevant. Os Guinness reasons: …relevance is a question-begging concept when invoked by itself. And when absolutized, it becomes lethal to truth. Properly speaking, relevance assumes and requires the answer to such questions as: Relevance for what? Relevant to whom? If these questions are left unasked, a constant appeal to relevance becomes a way of riding roughshod over truth and corralling opinion coercively. People are thinking or doing something simply “because it is relevant” without knowing why. But it is in fact truth that gives relevance to “relevance,” just as “relevance” becomes irrelevance if it is not related to truth. Without truth, relevance is meaningless and dangerous.61 Of course, the highest form of truth is theological truth—truth about God and from God who is the Truth (Jn 14:6). This truth is proclaimed in the vertical dimension. Thus to diminish or completely miss the vertical axis in preaching is to deliver a supremely irrelevant sermon. Concordia Journal/Summer 2009


Consumer satisfying preaching is ultimately irrelevant because it fails to dispatch to the hearer that which is most needed, righteousness propter Christum. “The preacher’s problem,” states David Mills, “is that relevance is decided not only by what the hearer can and will hear, but what he needs to hear whether or not he wants to….”62 Those who are complacent in their sin will not want to hear the message of the Law. Those who are self-sufficient will not care to hear the message of the Gospel. But that doesn’t mean that these messages are irrelevant to them. Indeed these messages are eminently relevant! There is nothing they need to hear more! So to neglect proclaiming this vertical message because it is not satisfying to the consumer is to omit that which is of the highest relevance. It is to commit oneself to preaching which is not relevant for eternity. Indeed, there is the need for the preacher to connect with the real-life conditions and concerns of people, such as raising children, engaging in vocation, living ethically, etc. This kind of relevant preaching which relates to and reflects hearers’ experience in the here and now is not to be neglected. Frequently the biblical text addresses these everyday creaturely activities and circumstances, and so should the preacher who expounds that text! But it is those matters which are relevant for eternity which are supremely relevant. Most sermons in which the horizontal dimension is dominant focus on subjects and topics which are temporal and transitory. They have little lasting value, and certainly are devoid of value which endures into eternity. Os Guinness observes: In addition, relevance has a false allure that masks both its built-in transience and its catch-22 demand. Dean Inge captured the transience in his celebrated line “He who marries the spirit of the age soon becomes a widower.” But it was Simone Weil who highlighted the catch-22: “To be always relevant, you have to say things which are eternal.”63 The preacher who says things which are eternal will be speaking in the vertical dimension, and so will be always relevant. Conversely, words from a preacher who only speaks in the horizontal dimension may seem relevant for the moment, but eventually—and eternally—they will be irrelevant. Truly relevant preaching addresses eternal matters about the Eternal One and from the Eternal One. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes: Can the preacher have an authoritative, concrete word for a concrete situation? God alone is concrete … The final word is not what has validity, but who has validity … The so-called concrete historical situation is ambiguous. Both God and the devil are at work in it. It cannot become the source of our understanding and proclamation of the Word of God. The concrete situation is the situation to which the Word of God speaks.64 268

It is appropriate and necessary for the preacher to relate the message to the concrete situation of the hearers. Yet the message itself is not the concrete situation. The message is the Word of Christ (Rom 10:17). There is no more relevant message that this! Maintaining Balance The answer to the problem here described is not to expunge preaching of all horizontal elements. The answer is to maintain balance between the vertical and horizontal aspects of preaching. We would err to insist upon sermons that are exclusively vertical, proclaiming a transcendent God without guiding people to live out the call of God in their interactions with others. We would be truly unfaithful to promote predominantly horizontal sermons that are psychological, sociological, or merely utilitarian in content but lacking in theological substance. It is not a matter of “either/or”—the false dichotomy of “either vertical or horizontal” preaching. It is instead a matter of “both/and”—proclaiming both the vertical relationship between God and man and addressing the way in which this vertical relationship impacts the horizontal dimension of interpersonal relationships and needs. When both the vertical and the horizontal aspects are present in a sermon— and balanced appropriately—then the design of the sermon is, in one sense, cruciform.65 The image of the cross is formed by the balanced intersection of a vertical post and a horizontal beam. Likewise, a theologically sound sermon that connects with the hearers is formed by the balanced interaction of vertical and horizontal aspects. Although both the vertical and horizontal dimensions must be present and balanced in preaching, the vertical must always have priority.66 In ancient times the vertical beam of the cross was secured in the ground before the horizontal beam was attached. Likewise in preaching, the theological foundation is to be grounded in order that the human interpersonal application may be properly connected. Marva Dawn argues that, first and foremost, God is to be “the subject and object of preaching.”67 The faithful Christian preacher first proclaims a right relationship with God made possible through Christ’s salvific work (the vertical), and then he guides the hearers to relate to other people based on this right relationship with God (the horizontal). This is the approach that Paul and other apostles used in the writing of their epistles. In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul spends the first three chapters addressing the vertical relationship God has established with us by his grace. The last three chapters then describe how we are to “live the life worthy of the calling” (Eph 4:1) we have received in our horizontal relationships with each other. This same kind of vertical and then horizontal movement is also evident in Romans, Galatians, Colossians, and 1 Peter.

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One way of maintaining this vertical-horizontal balance is to make sure, as D. Stewart Briscoe puts it, that one’s sermon is “God centered and people related,” not people centered and God related.68 Briscoe argues: Two things must be kept in balance. While preaching must always be people related, it cannot qualify as preaching unless it is God centered...I see a current preaching trend that has me concerned. It has to do with what may become a lack of proper balance between these two elements....There are all kinds of starting points and there are many valid ways of communicating the truth. But for there to be a proper balance we must insist on the centrality of God in all our preaching...On the other hand, if our preaching is not people related it will fail to measure up to the standard set by Ezra and his colleagues, but more importantly it will fail abysmally to accomplish what preaching is intended to accomplish. If it does not deal with life situations by presenting the Lord of life as the key to life, it is not adequate preaching.69 Preaching that displays a balance of the vertical and horizontal dimensions remains theocentric and Christocentric while also addressing the condition, needs, and interpersonal relationships of the hearers. Indeed, it focuses on God’s grand purpose in Christ to provide for our greatest need—the forgiveness of sins. That same divine forgiveness empowers us to live in reconciliation and harmony with each other. The right vertical relationship with God (based on the righteousness of Christ given freely by his grace) enables the right horizontal relationships to exist between people (as Christ’s life is lived in and through us to others by the presence and power of his Spirit). It is an identity grounded in the vertical dimension which moves someone to live according to God’s will in the horizontal dimension. Robert Kolb and Charles Arand write: Once we recover our core identity coram Deo (as children and heirs), we can embrace our roles and responsibilities coram mundo (as parents, citizens, and neighbors) and carry out the tasks they entail. As Luther put it, “A person is justified without works—although he does not remain without works when he has been justified.” 70 Resources for Balancing the Vertical and Horizontal Aspects Fortunately, God has provided to his Church resources that will aid in maintaining this balance in preaching. The foremost resource is none other than God’s own Spirit, which is more accurately identified as the source for faithful preaching than as a resource for it. And there are other resources, including the biblical text and the Lutheran hermeneutic of properly distinguishing between Law and Gospel. Obviously these resources are not innovations. They are treasures that have been


utilized by faithful preachers down through the history of the Church. These are now increasingly neglected. A movement away from these resources has accompanied a movement away from preaching in the vertical dimension. Preaching which is dependent upon the Holy Spirit. The preacher who relies on the Holy Spirit for inspiration and power for preaching most likely will be in tune to the vertical dimension, and it will show in his preaching. A reliance on the Holy Spirit through devoted reception of the means of grace in personal Bible reading and reflection, in careful exegetical study, and in regular reception of the Lord’s Supper will support preaching that properly balances the vertical and horizontal dimensions. Persistent prayer which petitions the Holy Spirit to enlighten one’s proclamation (both in its preparation and presentation) will also guide the preacher into all truth and bring glory to Christ (Jn 16:13–15). Preaching which derives from the Scriptures. The preacher who carefully exposits the written Word of God—the biblical text— will more likely make God the subject and object of his preaching. This is because God is the subject and object of the Bible. The preacher who expounds the whole of a biblical passage, not just using the passage as a springboard to explore his own personal issues and insights, will by virtue of the guidance of Scripture remain balanced in the two dimensions. There is no more vertically oriented book than the Bible. By remaining a servant to the Bible, the expositor will be strengthened to resist the horizontalizing influences that surround him in popular culture. The preacher must be a servant of the Word foremost, even before being a servant of the people (in the sense of following their dictates or addressing their felt needs). William Willimon writes: Too often the term “servant leader” is code for servility to the congregation. We can’t be faithful servants of our congregations, as Christian congregations, without being (in Luther’s favorite designation for pastors) ministeri verbi divini, “servants of the Word.” One reason the preaching office is primary is that it is a primary means of forming us preachers into the sort of people who take God more seriously than ourselves or our congregations. To be a preacher is to be trained and formed by the weekly disciplines of bending our interests to the countercultural concerns of the Word. I’m concerned that too many recent books on preaching are mostly about our listeners, analyzing the limits and the interests of our congregations and their ability to hear, when they ought to be most interested in what the Trinity is able to speak.71

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Preachers who endeavor to be faithful “servants of the Word” will maintain a solid theological center of gravity in their sermons. In this regard, one valuable aid is the lectionary. This resource guides the pastor to preach on texts that the broader wisdom of the Church has recognized as balancing the vertical and horizontal dimensions. Instead of letting the hearers, “felt needs,” or popular culture dictate the subject of the sermon, the pericopal system allows God to speak to the issues that are really relevant and significant. These issues are primarily in the vertical dimension—issues such as the forgiveness of sins, justification by divine grace, and the renewing work of the Holy Spirit. This is not a call to slavish adherence to the lectionary. Periodic usage of free texts for individual sermons and for sermon series can be beneficial to a congregation. Certainly homilies based on free texts can appropriately balance the vertical and horizontal dimensions. But over the long haul preachers who utilize the appointed readings recognize that the lectionary can be a sturdy guard rail which prevents them from falling into anthropocentric preaching. Preaching which properly distinguishes between the uses of Law and Gospel. Finally, the Lutheran tradition has emphasized a resource that truly balances the vertical and horizontal aspects of preaching and keeps them in proper relationship. This is the hermeneutic of the proper distinction between the uses of Law and Gospel. This distinction recognizes that people’s greatest need is the forgiveness of sins. As sinners, they must come to recognize this need. However, this is not a selfevident “felt need.” It will not ordinarily be perceived through hearer-based hermeneutics. It is best revealed by the message of the Law addressed to sinners’ fallen condition. Likewise, the Gospel is the only solution to this ultimate need, delivering the righteousness of Christ which is extra nos to sinful human beings. Thus the best “solution based” sermon is not a “how to” message that directs the hearer inward to his own self-improvement. Instead it is that message that directs him outside of himself to the Savior Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Maintaining this emphasis assures the primacy of the vertical dimension in the sermon. The dialectic of Law/Gospel distinction also plays itself out in the horizontal dimension. The Law serves various functions, frequently categorized into three—the first, second, and third uses of the Law.72 The second use is that described in the previous paragraph which reveals sinners’ guilt before God and their need for forgiveness. In this regard, it is vertical as it points the sinner to a broken relationship with God. Yet this use does not exclude the horizontal dimension, since much of the guilt revealed by the Law regards how one has sinned against one’s neighbors.


The other two uses of the Law are typically more horizontal in their orientation. According to its first use, the Law directs the behavior of people as they live together in society and protects them from the violence of others (and deters them from directing undue violence toward others). This function of the Law should not be a primary goal of Lutheran preaching, but it may still have effect. The third use of the Law follows the proclamation of the Gospel and “helps [Christians] channel their new Spirit-given energies and impulses into the world.”73 Frequently the biblical text which is being exposited has as its intended goal the love of neighbors and thus the fulfilling of the second table of the Decalog.74 So also the sermon, in faithfulness to the text, exhorts and encourages the hearers to love and serve their neighbors (horizontal aspect) because they are new creations in Christ (vertical aspect). This new identity derives from the Gospel, and the indwelling Holy Spirit works these fruits of faith which align with God’s Law. This is where the proper distinction between the uses of Law and Gospel is so critical. As Kolb and Arand affirm: …we must distinguish the instructions for our living as God’s children from the motivation for our new obedience. That which moves us to do good works is rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel alone provides power for Christians to act out God’s expectations for his creatures.75 Thus the proclamation of the Gospel must predominate in a sermon; the vertical dimension cannot be neglected. Yet the horizontal dimension may manifest itself in the preacher’s employment of the second (condemning) and third (guiding) uses of the Law.76 The Law-Gospel dialectic enables the preacher to achieve supremely balanced vertical-horizontal preaching. Conclusion On the campaign trail in 1996, Bob Dole would not have fallen from the elevated stage and suffered the mishap he did if he had maintained physical balance. If he had sustained a reasonable vertical center of gravity, he could have safely reached out to shake hands with the people attending his speech. No harm would have been done to anyone. If Dole had maintained a balance of both his vertical and horizontal posture, he would have reached out to the people without losing his equilibrium. This image is relevant to the preaching minister as well. While reaching out to the people via the horizontal dimension of preaching, the pastor seeks to maintain a center of gravity in the vertical dimension of the Gospel. Indeed, the vertical dimension forms the foundation of the horizontal concern for people’s needs. In every case the sermon must be firmly grounded in Gospel-centered theology or else it will collapse into horizontal manifestations of moralism and utilitarianism. Concordia Journal/Summer 2009


William Willimon reminds preachers of their calling: We are to be ‘God people,’ those who ‘interject Jesus into the conversation’ in a world that would rather think in exclusively anthropological categories. To be a preacher is to be trained to talk about what God wants to talk about and to talk in the way that God talks (i.e., Scripture).77 The argument of this essay is not for a polarity of vertical preaching versus horizontal preaching. It does not promote a false dichotomy of “either/or.” Instead, a “both/and” approach is advocated—both vertical and horizontal. Sermons are to be vertical in that they are theological—a word (logos) about and from God (theos). Yet such sermons also will demonstrate a horizontal orientation (which is also theological) by connecting the messages of Law and Gospel to the everyday lives of people, especially as they interact with others in their various vocations and relationships. The faithful pastor will seek to balance the horizontal dimension of his preaching by maintaining a theological center of gravity. In this way he will reach out to his hearers without losing his balance. Endnotes 1 I am indebted to Dr. Glenn Nielsen for providing helpful recommendations for improving this essay. 2 A video of this incident may be viewed on 3 These designations of the vertical and horizontal aspects have been employed by a number of commentators on preaching. Two recent examples are Michael Horton in A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 74, 216; and Timothy Saleska in “The Two Kinds of Righteousness!: What’s a Preacher to Do?,” Concordia Journal 33:2 (April 2007), 136–145. 4 Charles Arand, “Two Kinds of Righteousness as a Framework for Law and Gospel in the Apology,” Lutheran Quarterly 15:4 (Winter 2001): 417–439. See also Charles Arand and Joel Biermann, “Why the Two Kinds of Righteousness?,” Concordia Journal 33:2 (April 2007): 116–135. 5 Charles Arand, “Moving Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Church and Ministry in the 21st Century.” Unpublished paper, December 2001, 1–2. 6 Arand, “Moving Between Two Worlds,” 2. 7 Robert Kolb provides the following relevant insight: “The life which the voice of the Gospel takes on in our own speech must always spring from and be disciplined by the voice of God in the Scriptures. We must make scriptural words as clear and understandable as possible to people who do not share Luke’s experiences or Isaiah’s view of the world. But there is also a danger here. The Christian bridge-builder is most often tempted to balance the bridge on the side of the culture in which we live. The Christian priest is always liable to be lured into trying to explain the biblical message so clearly in the terms of the rationality of our culture that the message of the Scriptures becomes twisted and out of focus at best, or, at worst, is totally denied and lost. Most heretics in the history of the church have been people of good will who fell as they bent over backwards trying to refashion the message of God in their own cultural terms.” (Robert Kolb, Speaking the Gospel Today, revised edition [St. Louis: Concordia, 1995], 17.) 8 William Willimon, “This Culture is Overrated,” Leadership Journal (Winter 1997), 29.


9 Joel Osteen, Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential (Houston: FaithWords, 2007). The editorial review from Publishers Weekly has this to say about Osteen’s book: “Houston megachurch pastor and inspirational TV host Osteen offers an overblown and redundant debut. Many Christian readers will undoubtedly be put off by the book’s shallow name-it-and-claim-it theology; although the first chapter claims that ‘we serve the God that created the universe,’ the book as a rule suggests the reverse: it’s a treatise on how to get God to serve the demands of self-centered individuals. Osteen tells readers that God wants them to prosper, offering examples of obtaining an elegant mansion or a larger salary (‘don’t ever get satisfied with where you are,’ he cautions). In seven parts, he details how readers should enlarge their vision, develop self-esteem, discover the power of thought, let go of the past, find strength through adversity, give back to others and choose to be happy. The section on giving comes as too little, too late—Osteen’s message to remember others and ‘get your mind off yourself ’ flies in the face of the previous 200 pages…Theologically, its materialism and superficial portrayal of God as the granter of earthly wishes will alienate many Christian readers who can imagine a much bigger God.” (, December 12, 2008). However, apparently the book has attracted, not alienated, many Christians since it has sold over four million copies. 10 Roger Reckling, “Letters to the Editor,” Reporter, July 1999, 11. 11 Paul Scott Wilson, The Four Pages of the Sermon: A Guide to Biblical Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999), 12. 12 David Wells, No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmanns Publishing Co., 1993), 251–52. 100 of these sermons came from Pulpit Digest and 100 came from the journal entitled Preaching, dated from 1981 to 1991. 13 Wells, 251–52. 14 Marsha Witten, All is Forgiven: The Secular Message in American Protestantism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 5. 15 Richard L. Thulin, “The Missing Church,” Homiletic 25:2 (Winter 2000): 9. 16 Thulin, 9. 17 Leander Keck, The Church Confident (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993), 47–48. 18 James Turner, Without God, Without Creed: The Origins of Unbelief in America (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), 245. 19 Marva J. Dawn, A Royal “Waste” of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 155. 20 David Larsen, The Company of the Preachers: A History of Biblical Preaching from the Old Testament to the Modern Era (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1998), 11. Larsen relates a parallel concern in an op-ed piece in the periodical Preaching, stating that “...the alarm must be sounded in our time as we see a massive move away from fidelity to the text in evangelical preaching. The move is undeniably away from text-driven, text-delivered preaching to audience-centered, need-driven, problem-solving preaching.” “The Decline of the Text,” Preaching (March–April 2003), 27. 21 An examination of this in the realm of hermeneutics is found in James Voelz, What Does this Mean? (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1997), 208–216. An analysis of it in the arena of homiletics is provided in Glenn Nielsen, “Preaching Doctrine in a Postmodern Age,” Concordia Journal 27:1 (January 2001): 17–29. 22 Glenn Nielsen, “No Longer Dinosaurs: Relating Lutheran Homiletics and Communication Practice,” in Concordia Journal 25:1 (January 1999): 17. 23 Richard Lischer, A Theology of Preaching: The Dynamics of the Gospel (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1981), 93. 24 David F. Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 304. 25 Edward O. Grimenstein, “Secularism, Idolatry, and Preaching,” Logia 12:3 (2001): 25.

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26 Robert Kolb cites Helmut Thielicke in directing us to a helpful distinction for scriptural interpretation: “Helmut Thielicke’s distinction between our actualization of God’s Word and our temptation to accommodate it to the cultural world view around us must be kept in mind. Actualization of God’s Word is the readdressing of His message to the circumstances of our day; ‘the truth itself remains intact…the hearer is summoned and called “under the truth” in his own name and situation.’ Accommodation, by contrast, ‘calls the truth “under me” and lets me be its norm. It is pragmatic to the extent that it assigns truth the function of being the means whereby I master life.’” Kolb, 17. 27 It must also be affirmed that Christians (including those involved in the formal programmatic efforts of a congregation) address the needs of others because God calls them to serve others. Thus a Christian cares for another human being regardless of whether or not the Christian will deliver the Gospel message. Yet a most caring activity is in fact to share the message of the forgiving love of Christ. 28 Witten, 133. 29 Dawn, 222. 30 Larsen, 16. 31 Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), x–xii. 32 Witten, 133. 33 Russell Moore contends: “Preachers will always be tempted to bypass the problem behind the problems: captivity to sin, bondage to the accusations of the demonic powers, the sentence of death. That’s why so many of our Christian superstars smile at crowds of thousands, reassuring them that they don’t like to talk about sin. That’s why other Christian celebrities are seen to be courageous for fighting their culture wars, while they carefully leave out sins most likely to be endemic to the people paying the bills in their congregations.” Russell Moore, “The Messiah Channel,” Touchstone 21:6 (July/August 2008): 17. 34 David Mills, “Preaching Without Reaching,” Touchstone 20:6 (July/August 2007): 28. 35 Witten, 134. 36 John Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1982), 139–40. 37 Henry Simon, “How to Preach a Lutheran ‘How To’ Sermon,” Concordia Pulpit Resources 10:4 (October 1–November 26, 2000). If the intended meaning of a text is to show how to behave, function, or live, then that meaning should be presented in the sermon, but always with the Gospel (the vertical!) predominating and empowering the life of sanctification. 38 Self-help sermons are attractive because they fit the sinful nature’s quest to be in control, essentially to be God. “Often this cry for more practical preaching is the call of the old Adam for more self-help.” Horton, 70. Yet “practical preaching” is desirable, even necessary. When the Gospel (in the vertical dimension) dominates in a sermon, then it is appropriate that the preacher also provide guidance for sanctified living which involves a didactic use of the Law and which falls within the horizontal dimension. 39 Dawn, 303. 40 It must be acknowledged that there is a salutary use of some resources, even “self-help manuals,” which guide people to order their lives so that they become more productive, healthy, and even—properly understood—autonomous. But these are appropriate only in the horizontal dimension of active righteousness. When they substitute for the passive righteousness of faith, they are spiritually toxic. 41 Dawn, 209. 42 Witten, 24. 43 This emphasis on self-actualization is evident even in some “how to” sermons that explicitly address one’s relationship with God. Technically speaking, these are not horizontally oriented ser-


mons but those in which the vertical dimension predominates. But it is in this vertical dimension that the error becomes most acute. Many of these types of sermons provide prescriptions and step-bystep methodologies for improving one’s spirituality and relatedness to the divine. But the initiative that establishes and the effort which maintains the human-divine relationship rests supremely with the creature, not with the Creator. This is the grossest form of theological error. 44 Joel Biermann, “Virtue Ethics and the Place of Character Formation within Lutheran Theology,” Ph.D. diss., Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, 2002. 201–202. 45 Robert Kolb and Charles Arand affirm: “The gospel alone provides the power for Christians to act out God’s expectations for his creatures. Thus, the motivation arises out of God assuming the burden for us and liberating us from our idolatry and sinfulness. The expectations of God squarely place the burden on us and describe the actions he has designed to be the expression of our humanity. Motivation reflects and arises from faith in Christ and is a matter of attitude and orientation. Performance meets the needs of neighbors with deeds, perhaps identical to the deeds of those moved by something other than the gospel of Christ.” Robert Kolb and Charles Arand, The Genius of Luther’s Theology: A Wittenburg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008). 158. 46 Dawn, 210. 47 Paul Scott Wilson observes that God-less preaching frequently develops in preachers who have neglected to nurture their own faith in God: “God is missing in many of our sermons. It may be that God is missing from the center of our own lives at times and we need to pay more attention to caring for our mind, body, and spirit in the midst of daily life.” Wilson, 20. 48 Lischer, “Cross and Craft: Two Elements of a Lutheran Homiletic,” Concordia Journal 25:1 (Richard January 1999): 10. 49 Thomas Long, “Imagine There’s No Heaven: The Loss of Eschatology in American Preaching,” Journal for Preachers 30:1 (Advent 2006), 26. 50 Turner, 301. Craig Gay labels this phenomenon the “gravedigger dilemma,” in which “Christianity—and in particular Protestant Christianity—is ultimately (albeit unintentionally) responsible for sowing the seeds of its own destruction within modern secular society and culture.” Craig M. Gay, The Way of the (Modern) World: Or, Why It’s Tempting to Live as if God Doesn’t Exist (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 256. 51 Cited in Horton, 38. 52 Turner, 113. 53 LC II, 3; The Book of Concord, ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), 386. 54 Lischer, “Cross and Craft,” 9. 55 Grimenstein, 25. 56 Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs, 303. 57 Larsen, 851. 58 Martin Luther, in What Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian, ed. Ewald Plass (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 668–69. 59 Moore, 17. 60 Os Guinness offers this insight: “As stated earlier, relevance is a prerequisite for communication. Without it, there is no communication, only a one-sided sending of messages addressed to no one, nowhere.” Os Guinness, “Sounding Out the Idols of Church Growth,” No God But God, ed. Os Guinness and John Seel (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 159–160. 61 Guinness, 169. 62 Mills, 2. 63 Guinness, 169. Os Guiness provides a thoroughly expanded treatment of this subject in another book, Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2003). Concordia Journal/Summer 2009


64 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, quoted in Clyde E. Fant, Bonhoeffer: Worldly Preaching (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1975), 141. 65 Robert Kolb describes the posture which is evoked by this design of a sermon: “Human life is cruciform—eyes lifted to focus on God, feet firmly planted on his earth, arms stretched out in mutual support of those God has placed around us. Having the focus of our lives directed toward Christ inevitably extends our arms to our neighbors.” “Luther on Two Kinds of Righteousness: Reflections on His Two Dimensional Definition of Humanity at the Heart of His Theology,” Lutheran Quarterly 13 (1999): 455–456. 66 Os Guinness affirms the priority of the vertical dimension in stating: “The church of Christ is more than spiritual and theological, but never less. Only when first things are truly first, over even the best and most attractive of second things, will the church be free of idols, free to let God be God, free to be itself, and free to experience the growth that matters.” Guinness, “Sounding Out the Idols of Church Growth,” 159–160. 67 Dawn, 206. 68 D. Stuart Briscoe, Fresh Air in the Pulpit: Challenges and Encouragement from a Seasoned Preacher (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994), 124–25. 69 Ibid., 125. 70 Robert Kolb and Charles Arand, The Genius of Luther’s Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), p. 104. 71 William Willimon, “Pastors Who Won’t Be Preachers: A Polemic Against Homiletical Accommodation to the Culture of Contentment,” Journal for Preachers 29:4 (2006): 40. 72 The Epitome of the Formula of Concord aptly summarizes these uses: “The law has been given to people for three reasons: first, that through it external discipline may be maintained against the unruly and disobedient; second, that people may be brought to a recognition of their sins; third, after they have been reborn—since nevertheless the flesh still clings to them—that precisely because of the flesh they may have a sure guide, according to which they can orient and conduct their entire life.” Ep VI, 1; The Book of Concord, ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), 502. 73 Kolb and Arand, 114. 74 Paul R. Raabe, “The Law and Christian Sanctification: A Look at Romans,” Concordia Journal 22:2 (April 1996): 178–185. 75 Kolb and Arand, 158. 76 Tim Saleska describes how the Gospel and both uses of the Law are employed by the preacher to produce tsaddikim, righteous people. “The Two Kinds of Righteousness!: What’s a Preacher to Do?” Concordia Journal 33:2 (April 2007): 136–145. 77 Willimon, “Pastors Who Won’t Be Preachers,” 38–39.


Self-Righteousness Through Popular Science Our Culture’s Romance with Naturalism James V. Bachman

Editor’s Note: The following essay by James V. Bachman is welcomed and timely. Our readers will remember that Concordia Seminary’s 20th Annual Theological Symposium (September 22–23, 2009) will engage the theme “Science and Theology: New Questions, New Conversations.” Connected with that theme, we invited our alumni (and others who are interested in this conversation) to read John Polkinghorne’s Science and Theology: An Introduction. Polkinghorne is generally recognized as one of the world’s leading voices in a renewed and lively conversation between theology and science which has emerged over the past twenty or thirty years. He had a brilliant career as a particle physicist (he had a significant role in the discovery of the quark), before turning to theology and entering the priesthood of the Church of England. In that sense, he speaks as an insider to both scientists and theologians. But of course, he is no Lutheran, and many have pointed out that he concedes more to current scientific theories (in matters such as the age of the universe and evolution) than an orthodox Christian should. A review of Polkinghorne will be appearing online at, as an invitation to our readers to participate in an online discussion there. In the following piece, Bachman, a theologian and a philosopher, engages another related topic which will be vital to the “new conversations” we seek to foster between science and theology, also in Lutheran circles. Bachman does not engage Polkinghorne directly, but his discussion of what science actually is will resonate helpfully with those familiar with Polkinghorne’s approach. Bachman also pushes the dialogue further, with his critique of the naturalistic assumptions which undergird most modern science—and especially popular notions and discussions of science. That naturalism is reductionistic, and Bachman explains here the theological implications of reducing our view of the world to naturalistic data. Such trenchant theological reflection will not settle every debate that arises between science and theology (as Bachman himself points out). But this essay will be invaluable reading for all of us who seek connections between scientific observation and reasoning on the one hand, and faith-filled study of God’s self-revelation in Christ on the other. We hope it may serve as an intellectual appetizer for our upcoming Symposium. Bon appétit! William W. Schumacher

James V. Bachman is Professor of Philosophy and Ethics and Dean of Graduate Studies, Christ College, at Concordia University, Irvine, California. He has previously been a parish pastor, campus pastor, and professor at Florida State University and Valparaiso University, and visiting professor at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Concordia Journal/Summer 2009


Introduction My thesis is that contemporary culture’s romance with scientific naturalism leads to a serious misunderstanding of science and springs from deadly moral and spiritual roots. I begin with a puzzle about the difference between the openness and intellectual curiosity to be seen in actual scientists and the stultifying dogma of naturalism so often portrayed in popular accounts of science. My own romance with science and math goes way back. Uncle Gerry was a radio engineer and taught me how to make a crystal radio, scavenging foil for the capacitor from my father’s cigarette packs. Aspiring pre-seminary students were not supposed to take much theology in their undergraduate years, so I took a Bachelor of Science in math and toiled in the physics labs. I’m an amateur radio operator and once was paid for code for a software game program in the days before Apples and PCs. My three children hold degrees in science and math, and one earns his living as a teacher of math and science in a Lutheran school, while another earns his living as a PhD research physicist. God has led me to four main places of ministry, and in each place I have been blessed to minister to a variety of scientists and engineers in both industry and academia. Most recently I have enjoyed sustained dialog and team teaching opportunities with professors of science at Concordia University Irvine where I serve as a professor of philosophy. I also work with state university scientists on the stem cell research oversight committee at the University of California Irvine. In all these interactions I have found men and women of science mostly to be confident, open, and willing to enter into complex debates with keen intellectual verve—this is true even of my children! So I am perplexed by the monochrome naturalistic dogmatism that we so often encounter in science programs on television and in popular news media reports. The uniform picture in these media is that naturalistic explanations in science have already pierced through to a complete and satisfying account of the origins of the universe and of life on earth. In these reports, religious beliefs have nothing substantive to add to the naturalistic picture and can only serve as a sort of speculative hobby for people who haven’t the courage to face well-established naturalistic truth that has no room for God. Perplexity increases when I discover that many professional scientists, including some in our congregations, argue that science has no need to reply to the recent claims of some courageous renegade scientists to the effect that science must give sustained attention to the possibility of intelligent design in the natural world. I could understand if arguments were offered to refute claims about intelligent design, but I am puzzled when, in place of arguments, lame claims are made that science has no need to enter into the debate. My goal is to shed some light on the dynamics of this surprising unwillingness to enter into debate. I turn to the challenge of marking off the difference between science and other human endeavors.


What is Science? Philosopher of science, Larry Lauden claims that “it can be said fairly uncontroversially that there is no demarcation line between science and non-science, or between science and pseudo-science, which would win assent from a majority of philosophers.”1 When we consider all the many “sciences” in the modern world, we can understand that no one demarcation line would successfully and consistently mark off physics and chemistry, biology, forensic science, social science, computer science, information science, etc., from all the other human ways of thought. My concern, however, is with popular dogma about science, and I think we can describe key features of the popular understanding of science. I develop this description by examining popular accounts of science in the media. Consider, for example, a January 2008 cover story in Time magazine on “The Science of Romance.” The reporter tells us that “the more scientists look, the more they’re able to tease romance apart into its individual strands—the visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, neurochemical processes that make it possible.”2 This report fits with a definition of science provided by 72 Nobel Laureates, 17 State Academies of Science, and 7 other scientific organizations in an amicus curiae brief for the Supreme Court in 1986. They told the High Court that Science is devoted to formulating and testing naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. It is a process for systematically collecting and recording data about the physical world, then categorizing and studying the collected data in an effort to infer the principles of nature that best explain the observed phenomena.3 Naturalistic Explanations in Science In this account of science two features predominate. First, science’s domain is observable, natural phenomena. Second, science is defined by commitment to “naturalistic explanations” of the observed phenomena by reference to “the principles of nature” that best explain the phenomena. The Time article on science and romance shows the popular meaning of observed, natural phenomena. They are “visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, neurochemical processes.”4 The article also reveals the popular understanding of “naturalistic explanations.” Naturalistic explanations trace impersonal interactions of processes that lie beneath and account for the appearance of personal meaning. In this view the appearance of personal meaning is only an appearance. According to the article on science and romance, the underlying processes impersonally serve the survival of our species. “Romance may be nothing more than reproductive filigree, a bit of decoration that makes us want to perpetuate the species and ensures that we do it right.” The Time reporter laments that “survival of a species is a ruthless and reductionist matter,” and resists the “scientific” account of romance by opining that Concordia Journal/Summer 2009


“nothing could convince a person in love that there isn’t something more at work—and the fact is, none of us would want to be convinced. That’s a nut science may never fully crack.”5 In this popular depiction of science, science’s commitment to naturalistic explanations of natural processes means leaving out an analysis of anything more that might be at work beyond the observable, impersonal natural processes. I have several times used the word “impersonal,” because I think it is a key to the popular understanding of scientific work. The words “natural” and “naturalistic” tend to be cashed out as pointing to explanations that make no use of categories of personal agency like intention, purpose, plan, goal, personal interaction, anger, love, hate, etc. Some more examples further illustrate this feature of the popular understanding of science. Peter Atkins is an Oxford chemist and writer of college textbooks. In his provocatively titled essay, “Purposeless People,” he speaks of the “bedrock of scientific explanation” and asserts that “the chaotic dispersal of energy and matter is interconnected in an intricate web . . . [and] science can perform its elucidation without appealing to the shroud of obscurity of man-made artifice.”6 Two steps are to be observed both in the Time article and in Atkins’ thesis. The first step is to say that scientific explanation is concerned all and only with impersonal, material processes. The second step is to say that the impersonal, material processes explain everything. The appearance of personal attributes like love, hate, purpose, plan, and goal is simply and merely an appearance. The reality lies all and only in the naturalistic, material processes. I analyze this second step in more detail below. Coburn and Loving sum up the first step, the commitment to naturalistic explanation in the popular understanding of science, in their descriptive essay, “Defining ‘Science’ in a Multicultural World.” “[S]cientific explanations are not about the spiritual, emotional, economic, aesthetic, and social aspects of human experience.”7 Before I take up the truly dangerous second step, the absolutizing of naturalistic explanation, we must survey the genuine benefits that come from the first step, the commitment to naturalistic explanation. Greek Philosophy and the Bible Recommend Naturalistic Explanations for Natural Phenomena The exclusion of categories of personal agency in explaining nature has a long and distinguished history. Among the ancient Greeks, Pythagoras and Plato pioneered the use of mathematics to find regular, impersonal patterns at work in the universe. Aristotle improved on Plato in regard to natural philosophy by including hyle, matter, in his system for explaining the world of nature by reference to matter and form. In Greek thought, the human tendency to anthropomorphize, divinize, and personalize natural phenomena began to be held in check. When biblical faith encountered Greek thought, a significant partnership developed. No matter how Christians read Genesis 1, we all recognize that the text


demystifies the natural world by taking personal benevolence and malevolence out of the account of sun and moon. The Psalmist knew that people worried about how the Sun might strike you by day or the Moon by night (Psalm 121:6). But Genesis 1 refuses to personalize these massive and troubling natural phenomena. God waits until the fourth day before getting around to hanging up the Sun and Moon, and the inspired author doesn’t even dignify them by their names that evoked awe and fear among ancient peoples. And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. (Genesis 1:14-19) Greek philosophers and biblical theologians together urge us to eliminate the idolatry that finds personal agency behind every rock and tree. Get rid of the genies, sprites, demons, and false gods. Give down-to-earth, impersonal explanations for down-to-earth phenomena. One of the great gifts of western culture is to make the natural world available for human use and manipulation. Much of the power of scientific method comes from its exclusion of personal elements from the ways it explains phenomena. The elimination of the personal makes it possible to repeat observations, expecting uniformity; to repeat experiments, expecting uniformity; to pursue methods of precise measurement, expecting uniformity; and to use sophisticated mathematical tools, expecting uniformity. The Bible Contrasts Natural Knowledge with Personal Knowledge Science puts stock in repeatability of impersonal, material processes. Knowledge of persons in everyday life is not so easily connected with a requirement of repeatability. We seek trustworthiness and faithfulness in our relationships with other persons, but that is not the same as seeking precise repeatability. Personal interactions are often characterized by creativity and surprise. We do not treasure a friend less because he or she surprises us. Indeed, we value the element of surprise and the unexpected. Yes, we want the other person to act consistently within her or his character, but that is different from wanting the other person to be utterly predictable.

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The Bible urges the demystifying of natural phenomena, but the Bible equally urges us to recognize the reality of the personal in each other, and above all, the reality of the three Persons in one God. “To know” and “to be known” in Scripture is often not about getting impersonal information. “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord’” (Genesis 4:1). “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities” (Amos 3:2). “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God” (1 Corinthians 8:2-3). “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). The Popular Claim that Naturalistic Explanations Explain Everything The Bible countenances impersonal, naturalistic explanations when they are appropriate, but these explanations do not get to the heart of our life with God and with each other. Popular faith in science, however, pushes toward the claim that naturalistic explanations fully account for everything in life. We have already seen Peter Atkins assert that “science can perform its elucidation without appealing to the shroud of obscurity” that he claims comes with personalizing explanations.8 Some outspoken scientists like Atkins or Richard Dawkins assert that everything can be explained through impersonal, naturalistic explanations. Paul Bloom, writing in Atlantic Monthly, offers to explain why people mistakenly think that personal elements of intention and purpose are real. In “Is God an Accident?” he argues that a distinction between the physical and the psychological is fundamental to human thought. Purely physical things, such as rocks and trees, are subject to the pitiless laws of Newton. Throw a rock, and it will fly through space on a certain path; if you put a branch on the ground, it will not disappear, scamper away, or fly into space. Psychological things, such as people, possess minds, intentions, beliefs, goals, and desires. They move unexpectedly, according to volition and whim; they can chase or run away. There is a moral difference as well: a rock cannot be evil or kind; a person can. . . . Human beings come into the world with a predisposition to believe in supernatural phenomena. . . . this predisposition is an incidental by-product of cognitive functioning gone awry.9 Bloom thinks we are seduced by shorthand processes of our mental equipment into thinking that psychological things transcend and cannot be reduced to physical things. But he asserts that the psychological definitely can be reduced to the physical, and only our failure to face this fact leads us fruitlessly to speculate


about the meaning of personhood and the reality of God. Talk about “God” and about “persons” is an accident thrown up by evolutionary, psychologizing shorthand. Because popular accounts of science love to portray science’s limitless explanatory power right along with its supposedly bracing, reductionist view of persons, I provide Peter Atkins’ account of all-encompassing naturalistic reductionism in his own words: The bare bones of the scientific explanation of the emergence, existence, and temporary persistence of persons are that the universe is sinking into chaos. . . . God, an afterlife, the concept of purpose, are merely attempts to ameliorate the prospect of death, to unload the burden of guilt, and to soften the hardships of life. There is not one iota of justification for them beyond assertion, wishful thinking, and hallucination. In the end there will be only dead flat space-time, our castles will have gone, as well as our libraries, our achievements, our selves. We, who will no longer be, will then listen in vain in the void for the Last Trumpet.10 I leave aside Atkins’ complacent self satisfaction betrayed by his belief that his account is a courageous facing up to hard, if meaningless, reality. People like Atkins think they are being courageous when in fact they arrange a badly argued account of life that frees them to think and do whatever they want in the midst of a supposedly meaningless void. Why would people want to reduce everything to naturalistic explanation? The Time reporter thought that people in love would not want to reduce romance to impersonal natural processes. Atkins says it’s about Occam’s Razor. He argues that “when confronted with the analysis of any concept, however complex, the only intellectually honest approach is to explore the extent to which an absolutely minimal explanation can account for the reliable evidence.”11 But Occam’s Razor doesn’t explain the rush to accept ill-founded passion on both sides of the popular debates over whether naturalistic science can explain everything. The popular imagination doesn’t worry itself too much about economy of explanation. I will offer a somewhat more complicated and better explanation for the popular fascination with reductionist naturalism in science. Popular accounts of science can once again help us see what is happening. Newsweek for 6 April, 2009, reports on recent attempts to give an evolutionary account of human artistic creativity. Jeremy McCarter reports that scientists are “explaining more and more aspects of the natural world as products of evolution by natural selection, the process by which some features, because they enhance survival and reproduction, become more prevalent over the generations.”12 McCarter provides a charming reconstruction of how humans came to be creative. Concordia Journal/Summer 2009


On those long, dull savanna nights after the day’s hunting and/or gathering was done, a big vocabulary and a creative streak would have improved a man’s chances of wooing a lover (and thereby passing on his genes to a child)—just as an amusing woman would have been more likely to entice the guy to stay (thereby boosting the child’s odds of survival).13 The popular mind enjoys the game of finding an impersonal evolutionary account for every significant feature of human life. Altruism becomes a complex adaptation that enhances species survival. Artistic creativity is a clever adaptation for passing on information and for keeping sexual partners interested. To his credit, the Newsweek reporter expresses some skepticism and explores contradictory evidence. “All in all, it’s a lovely vision. I just wish somebody could convince me that it’s true. Because, really, who knows?”14 McCarter then turns to an evolutionary biologist who doesn’t enjoy the game. Jerry A. Coyne, a biologist from the University of Chicago, decries the “scientific parlor game” of trying to find Darwinian explanations for every form of behavior. Human life in the Pleistocene is so remote that . . . the resulting picture of our ancestors’ ways is hopelessly blurry. “The fact is,” said Coyne “. . . You cannot give me a human behavior for which I can’t make up a story about why it’s adaptive.” 15 Occam’s Razor does not sufficiently account for the popular fascination with a poorly grounded scientific parlor game. I am convinced that naturalistic explanation provides a conveniently malleable worldview for people who have grown comfortable with explaining human life against a meaningless backdrop. Think how much more easily I can justify what I do with my life if, ultimately, the universe has no personal meaning at any level. When ultimate meaninglessness is the primary “scientific” backdrop for understanding life, you and I can simply create whatever personal meaning we find convenient, and we can tailor our morality and spirituality to suit our tastes. We are free to dream up whatever morality seems suitable and to dabble in spirituality here and mysticism there. Ultimately, no hard truth can intrude to disturb our dreams, because the real truth is that everything is the accidental expression of a meaningless material process. The popular mind does not want a real God looking over our shoulders (the dreaded “supernatural”). More than that, the popular mind does not want real persons, even you, as much as I might like you, looking over my shoulder (the dreaded personal accountability)! Naturalistic explanation frees me to have as much or as little personal accountability as I find convenient. After all, everyone is just playing out the purposeless evolutionary script. Naturalistic Explanation has become a de facto religion for a willing populace. It comforts the comfortable. It promises to heal the sick. It works impressive tech286

nological miracles. It rarely demands my total allegiance. It does, however, impose strict orthodoxy (or at least strict silence) about the doctrine of naturalistic explanation on its priests. And, of course, it gladly receives very large offerings from both public and private funds. When we recognize the big business side of modern science, we begin to see why scientists have little incentive to correct the public’s romantic engagement with what the public thinks are the “assured results” of mindless, naturalistic explanations. Not All Scientists Are Comfortable with the Popular Religion of Naturalistic Explanations Science has made tremendous strides through its commitment to naturalistic explanations of natural phenomena. Can everything be explained through this strategy? Many scientists say no, and they welcome those trained in non-naturalistic strategies for finding accounts of the psychological and personal in human life. For example, in March, 2009, the Templeton Prize was awarded to French physicist and philosopher Bernard d’Espagnat for his work affirming the spiritual dimension of life. D‘Espagnat is a retired senior physicist who worked at the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva and has been a professor at French and American universities. In an interview with Reuters, he comments that “materialists consider that we are explained entirely by combinations of small uninteresting things like atoms or quarks.” His own view is that quantum physics teaches us that “mystery is not something negative that has to be eliminated. On the contrary, it is one of the constitutive elements of being. . . . I believe we ultimately come from a superior entity to which awe and respect is due.” The interviewer also reports him as suggesting that, although they cannot be tested, the intuitions people have when they are moved by great art or by spiritual beliefs help them grasp a bit more of ultimate reality.16 The Discovery Institute is a controversial enterprise that, among many projects, explores “scientific dissent from Darwinism.” They have published the following statement: Public TV programs, educational policy statements, and science textbooks have asserted that Darwin’s theory of evolution fully explains the complexity of living things. The public has been assured, most recently by spokespersons for PBS’s Evolution series, that “all known scientific evidence supports [Darwinian] evolution” as does “virtually every reputable scientist in the world.” The following scientists dispute the first claim and stand as living testimony in contradiction to the second. There is scientific dissent to Darwinism. It deserves to be heard.17 As of August, 2008, the Discovery Institute has collected signatures from over 600 scientists willing to put their names, degrees, and institutional affiliations Concordia Journal/Summer 2009


on an online statement that reads: “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”18 Many competent scientists are participants in Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and other religious communities. They quietly include the personal and the religious in their understanding of life. The question then arises, how can scientists and others who oppose fashioning a religion of naturalistic explanations best argue their case with a populace too much in love with a poorly grounded distortion of science? Two Strategies for Resisting the Popular Religion of Naturalistic Explanations Two different strategies vie for helping a too gullible populace see the limits of an unreflective commitment to naturalistic explanations. The key point of difference between the two strategies involves the problem of defining science and marking it off from other human ways of thought. Strategy One: Work within the dominant definition of science. If science is to be defined by the commitment to naturalistic explanations, then scientists will pursue naturalistic explanations in all their scientific work. Any scientists who hold to this definition but also wish to acknowledge the limits of the method will alternate between teaching and using the method in its proper place, on the one hand, while exploring its limitations when a gullible populace falls for the exaggerations seen in popular accounts. My impression is that most practicing scientists, science teachers, policy makers, etc., tend to take this approach. Some are themselves firm believers in the dogma that naturalistic explanations account for everything. Others simply go about their daily scientific work while also acknowledging and living the reality that life is more than impersonal, naturalistic processes. Many Christians as well as non-Christians say science can only be about best naturalistic explanations of natural phenomena. They say that’s what scientists are trained to pursue and where their expertise lies. Those who acknowledge science’s limits recognize that naturalistic explanations will be incomplete, but they argue that scientists have no choice other than to pursue naturalistic explanations as far as they possibly can. They argue that you can’t redefine science in today’s culture and that you may not want to redefine science lest you confuse different kinds of expertise and open the door to all kinds of quackery. Christians pursuing this strategy urge that the church should help equip Christians who are scientists to work the humility side of science’s limitations when addressing questions of origin. They look for strategies to force aggressive scientism to defend any and every move from a methodological commitment to the religious dogma of naturalism.


Strategy Two: Redefine science. The second strategy rejects the dominant commitment to naturalism and urges science itself to debate non-naturalistic explanations when appropriate. This strategy says, along with Thomas Aquinas and modern-day intelligent design theorists, that we should redefine the scientific method. Why should science confine itself always and only to naturalistic explanations? If science is about knowledge, then a better definition would let science itself seek best explanations wherever they may be found rather than confining science to the limits of naturalistic explanation. Proponents of this strategy claim that science has been stunted and is losing its original roots in wonder and epistemological humility and adventure. They argue that the Enlightenment was wrong to confine science or anybody else to individual (and thus protected!) boxes of “expertise.” Some persons pursuing this line of thought argue more radically that science needs to reclaim an enriched understanding of “what is natural,” or they question whether “naturalistic” can even be adequately defined. In any case, the point is that appropriate debate about “the personal” should take place in science when the evidence seems to point toward the personal. In particular, a number of persons both in and outside of science are claiming that the arguments in favor of non-naturalistic “intelligent design” must be addressed. If science and the popular view rules intelligent design “off limits” without even entering the debate, science shows its intolerant and dogmatic colors. This strategy asserts that science’s temptation (and economic incentive) to go dogmatic about naturalism is too strong, so the best strategy will be to attack the dominant definition. Conclusion My purpose has been to put in context contentious public debates about naturalistic explanations in science, including the curiously sterile exchanges concerning the possibility of explanations that refer to intelligent design. A theological analysis of the debates provides evidence that contemporary culture’s romance with scientific naturalism leads to a serious overestimation of the power of science and springs from deadly moral and spiritual roots. A sinful humanity is itching to hear that the ultimate foundation of all life has no meaning. The analysis does not necessarily show, however, the best way forward. The two opposed strategies that I briefly surveyed here at the end both have their merits. I do think that the main burden lies with scientists, philosophers, and any who want to keep the prevailing, popular definition of science. We have seen good reasons, both ancient and modern, for employing naturalistic explanations in their rightful place. But the popular mind seems unable to resist idolizing naturalistic explanation because it provides an all too human, all too comfortable worldview within which I can function as my own god.

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Many of us rightly defend science within its proper limits. We must also assume the burden of challenging the popular romance that lets distorted science substitute for personal encounters with each other and with God. Endnotes 1 (1983) in “Defining ‘Science’ in a Multicultural World: Implications for Science Education” (SLCSP #148), W. Coburn & C. Loving, Scientific Literacy and Cultural Studies Project at (retrieved 3/22/2006). 2 Time, January 28, 2008, online retrieved 12/2008. 3 (retrieved 3/2006). 4 Time, January 28, 2008, online retrieved 12/2008. 5 Ibid. 6 Peter Atkins, “Purposeless People,” in Persons and Personality, ed. A. Peacocke and G. Gillette (Oxford, 1987), 12–32. 7 “Defining ‘Science’ in a Multicultural World: Implications for Science Education” (SLCSP #148), W. Coburn & C. Loving, Scientific Literacy and Cultural Studies Project at (retrieved 3/22/2006). 8 Atkins, 12–32. 9 Paul Bloom, “Is God an Accident?” Atlantic Monthly, December 2005, retrieved online 12/2005. 10 Ibid. 11 Ibid. 12 Jeremy McCarter, “Rage Against the Art Gene,” Newsweek, 6 April 2009 13 Ibid. 14 Ibid. 15 Ibid. 16 retrieved 3/16/2009. 17 retrieved 2/23/2009. 18 retrieved 6/5/2009.

(The author wishes to thank the many people who heard earlier versions of this paper at conferences and engaged in valuable dialog. These people include colleagues at the LCMS theologians’ conference in North Carolina in March, 2009, participants in the Stanford campus ministry lecture series sponsored by Trinity Lutheran Church in Palo Alto in April, 2009, and colleagues attending the Science and Theology Conference sponsored by the Concordia University System and Concordia University Irvine in May, 2009.)


homiletical helps

COncordia Journal

Homiletical Helps on LSB Series B—Gospels Proper 13 • John 6:22–35 • August 2, 2009 Literary Context Today’s Gospel is the first of a series of three lessons taken from the socalled “Bread of Life Discourse” of John 6:22–71. Here Jesus engages in an extended dialogue first with the crowd (6:25–59) and then with his disciples (6:60–71). At several points, this dialogue shifts to monologue/short speeches (e.g. 6:35–40). It is in this dialogue that Jesus identifies himself with the first of seven statements in John introduced by evgw, eivmi—“I am the Bread of Life” (6:35, 48— see also 6:51). The end result of this dialogue will be that the crowd and most of Jesus’ disciples desert him because of his hard words, and that even among the twelve who remain one is identified as “a devil.” The difficulty of the way in which this entire episode ends with a mass rejection of Jesus and the challenges this presents for the preacher not to soften Jesus’ words for the sake of hearers today is only slightly mitigated by eliminating vv. 70–71 from the final pericope of this series (as the present lectionary does). In John’s narrative this dialogue takes place after Jesus has performed two miraculous signs, the feeding of the 5000 (Jn 6:1–15) and walking on water (Jn 6:16–21). In Series B the three readings from John 6 also follow these same two miracles (but as they are recorded in the Gospel of Mark!). For the crowd as characters in the narrative, this dialogue takes place especially in light of Jesus’ multiplying of the loaves: Because of that miracle they tried to make Jesus king by force (6:15) and it is the reason for why they are still seeking him when today’s lesson begins. Details Verses 22–24. These verses provide the immediate set up for the dialogue/discourse that follows. The same crowd that was fed miraculously comes to realize that Jesus is no longer on that side of the lake, and this even though they saw that he did not depart in the boat with his disciples. Note that even though they do not know how Jesus has disappeared (but the reader/hearer does!), it is evident that something unique has taken place. They go to Capernaum to search for Him. Verses 25–27. The crowd finds Jesus. (It will be noted later in v. 59 that he is in a synagogue.) Note that Jesus does not answer their “when?” question from v. 25 but instead speaks directly to the reason for why they have been looking for him: it is not because of the miraculous signs that they witnessed—thus perhaps indicating that this crowd’s understanding is inferior even to the “faith because of signs”

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found in Jerusalem (2:23)—but because they ate bread and were satisfied. Note again their desire to force Jesus to be king for this same reason. Their understanding is not sufficient: the miraculous signs are meant to point to Jesus as the One who is sent by the Father to do the Father’s will, but this crowd does not believe in Jesus (see 6:36) and only sees him as someone who can feed them with “food that perishes”—even if through miraculous means. In place of this “temporal food” Jesus admonishes the crowd to work for “f ood that remains for eternal life,” food which “the Son of Man will give” them. For the Son of Man was sealed by God the Father. God has made Jesus His agent to give this “eternal food.” This took place at Jesus’ baptism (see 1:32–34). Verses 28–29. Since Jesus has told them to work (evrga,zesqe) for eternal bread, the question of the crowd in v. 28 appears legitimate. Jesus gives a straightforward answer—“This is the work of God, to believe in the One whom he sent.” The genitive “the work of God” (to. e;rgon tou/ qeou/) is best unpacked as “the action that God is expecting from you” (versus “the work God does”) as this fits the context of Jesus admonishing them to work. Note also the present/focus–on–connection subjunctive pisteu,hte—“that you would continue to believe.” Jesus’ response in v. 29 gets to the heart of this discourse. What God seeks from mankind is enduring faith in his Son. This is the proper response to the ministry and proclamation of Jesus, what Paul would call “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5). Later in the dialogue Jesus will show that the origin of such faith itself is in divine action (6:37, 44). Verses 30–33. The crowd’s request for (yet another) sign may seem exasperating—and ultimately it is evidence of unbelief—but it can be explained and so Jesus does give a response. When comparing the miraculous sign Jesus performed the day before with the manna provided in the wilderness, Jesus’ miracle—though wondrous—could arguably pale in comparison. Jesus miraculously fed them one meal with bread from an earthly source; God (through Moses) provided their forefathers with a full day’s sustenance every day for nearly 40 years with bread from heaven. In response Jesus points them to himself—he who comes down from heaven—as the true bread which God is providing. Faith would see in what Jesus has accomplished that there is a divine work greater even than that of the manna provided in wilderness: those who ate the manna still died; through his Son the Father gives eternal life. Verses 34–35. The crowd’s response to Jesus’ appears sincere. Jesus’ response is thus again straightforward—“I am the Bread of Life! Whoever comes to me will certainly not hunger and whoever believes in me will certainly never thirst.” The nominative pronoun evgw, makes this statement emphatic—“I am the Bread of Life!” At this point in the dialogue the idea of “eating this bread” has not been directly introduced. Instead Jesus speaks here of “coming to me.” Still, with talk of “bread,” “hunger,” and “thirst,” one would naturally think of “eating and drinking.” 294

At this point in the dialogue the activities of coming, eating, and drinking are metaphorical: one does these things through faith, by believing in Jesus—which, as noted above, is the response that God is expecting from his people. Note that the pericope ends with Jesus’ statement in v. 35. This is a false place to end the pericope, however, as this statement introduces the first short speech (6:35–40) in this episode. What is more, in the verses that follow Jesus explains that this crowd’s problem is and continues to be unbelief. Perhaps the intention is to close the present lesson on a more “upbeat” note, but the preacher should still interpret v. 35 in light of the larger whole, noting especially the unbelief of the crowd. Considerations for Preaching: 1. The arrangement of John 6:22–71 into three parts might suggest that the preacher present a three week series on this dialogue/discourse. 2. There are several maladies that are suggested by this periscope. One central problem is that of unbelief. This is the problem evidenced in the crowd’s misunderstanding of Jesus’ ministry (and made clear later by Jesus in 6:36). The old stereotype which says of Israel that all they wanted was a “bread king”—though not always applicable—is nevertheless still true of this crowd in John 6. They seek Jesus out because “they ate and were satisfied.” The miraculous signs identify Jesus as the Son of Man sealed and appointed by God to bring eternal life; the crowd does not see or believe this. Various contemporary forms of Christianity that have mass appeal emphasize faith as a means toward temporal life and temporal blessing over and against eternal life. These fall into this same pattern and so amount to other forms of unbelief. Yet another malady is suggested by the fact that God must send his Son to give life to the world in the first place: this fallen world no longer has this immortal divine life but is instead subject to death. 3. It is for the purpose of giving and sustaining eternal life that God sent his Son, here self-identified as “the Bread of Life.” Bread (though not Atkins approved) was the basic source of daily sustenance and life in first century Palestine. It was through miraculous bread that Yahweh fed and sustained his people in the wilderness. And it is now through Jesus that God will supply eternal life both to his people Israel and to the world that lost this life in the fall. John’s Gospel has already shown in 3:14–16 that it is in Jesus’ death on the cross that his life-giving work will reach its climax and fulfillment. This life is now given to those who believe in Jesus Christ. 4. Please beware of the false exegetical move of using John 6:29 to interpret Ephesians 2:10 and so please avoid the antinomian move of dismissing talk of sanctification with the idea that “all God really wants is for us just to believe.” John 6 indeed identifies faith as the proper response to Jesus’ ministry and the means through which God gives eternal life. But in Ephesians 2:10 Paul is assuming such

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faith exists when he speaks of the “good works which God prepared for us to do.” Jesus’ exhortation in John 13–16 also shows that the Christian life is evidenced through good works. The exhortations of Jesus and Paul assume saving faith in those addressed. David I. Lewis

Editor’s Note: the following two homiletical helps are adapted from homiletical helps developed by Joel Okamoto in the July 2003 issue of Concordia Journal. Proper 14 • John 6:35–51 • August 9, 2009 Notes on the text 1. This passage is an excerpt from Christ’s “Bread of Life” discourse, and forms the middle section of a three-lesson series taken from this same chapter. This pericope’s exchange occurred after Jesus fed the 5,000 (vv. 1–13) and after the people failed to discern the sign that he had given in this miracle (vv. 14–15, 26). Jesus urges these people to work for the food that endures to eternal life (v. 27). The people ask for a sign that they might see and so believe in him. They remind Jesus that their fathers received a sign in the manna they ate in the wilderness (vv. 30–31). In his reply Jesus retains the image of bread and tells them that God gives the true bread from heaven that gives life for the world (vv. 32–33). That bread is himself: he is the bread of life (v. 35). Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him will have eternal life (v. 40). (For additional comments on the larger context of this reading, please refer to the notes for Proper 13.) 2. Jesus’ claim to be the bread that came down from heaven causes the Jews to begin to murmur (egogguzon; v. 41). The subjects have changed from the previous section, or at least have become more specific. Jesus had been talking with “the crowd” (ochlos; e.g., v. 22), but now it is “the Jews” whom the Gospel identifies as grumbling. John’s Gospel sometimes refers to Jesus’ opponents as “the Jews” (e.g., 5:16) but not always (e.g., 8:31). These Jews see plainly that Jesus, the son of Joseph, is identifying himself as the Son of God, and it confuses and offends them. This claim is the principal identification made of Jesus in this Gospel (e.g., the prologue, the miracles, the “I Am” sayings, and the evangelist’s summary statement in 20:30–31: “These [things] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”). This claim is also the primary reason that Jesus was rejected, opposed, and killed (e.g., 5:17–18; 8:58–59; 11:45–57; and especially 19:7, where the Jews tell Pilate that Jesus must die because “he made himself the Son of God”). 3. Jesus responds by rebuking his hearers (v. 43: “Don’t murmur…”). His claim to be the bread of life conflicts with experience and reason. But this is a 296

matter of divine initiative and revelation, not of human effort and reason, as is belief in this claim and in the one it is about: “No one is able to come to me except the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God’ ” (vv. 44–45). Therefore, the hearers’ complaints have no foundation. Moreover, Jesus tells them that he is the one God has sent to make himself known (vv. 45–46). Everyone who is truly godly listens to Jesus; everyone who puts his trust in Jesus will be raised on the Last Day and have eternal life. In this way, Jesus is the bread of life. So Jesus promises that anyone who eats of this bread, that is, anyone who believes in Him, will have eternal life (vv. 47–48). 4. Just as he did earlier, Jesus draws a contrast between kinds of food (vv. 49–51). Here Jesus contrasts the manna given in the wilderness to himself as bread of life. The forefathers ate manna and died, but those who eat the bread from heaven will live forever. This distinction should not be understood as one between the material and the immaterial. Speaking about Jesus as “spiritual food” may leave this impression. The “bread of life” is none other than Jesus, the Word made flesh. At the same time, however, earlier verses (especially vv. 26–29 and 35–40) indicate that the “eating” to which Jesus refers in this situation should be understood as faith in Christ. Notes for preaching 1. “Is not my word like fire,” declares Yahweh, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock to pieces” (Jer 23:29)? The words of Jesus in the bread of life discourse are certainly like fire or a hammer: they challenge and offend His hearers. Accordingly, it would be appropriate to seek to kill the hearers of the sermon and then to speak directly to them the saving Word of God. But I expect that Christ’s divinity is taken for granted in the circles in which most readers of this journal operate and so would not be the stumbling block that it was for Jesus’ hearers. Furthermore, the decisive moment occurs later in this episode (vv. 60–69), and it would be more fitting to wait until that pericope comes up. That situation is not ideal, but neither is it unworkable. What, then, might preachers seek to do? I would suggest that they take their lead from this excerpt. Here Jesus explains himself and his mission. In a similar way, a sermon based on this excerpt might seek, first, to explain what Jesus teaches about himself and his mission and then to assure hearers of the truth of Jesus’ words about himself and the salvation he brings. 2. Since the text is an excerpt, it will be necessary to set out its context, even if the sermons on the three connected pericopes are similarly connected as a series. How much discussion of this context is needed will depend in part on the previous and subsequent sermons. In any case, it will be important for this text to speak about Jesus’ claims to be the bread of life from heaven. In particular, the sermon

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should draw attention to the basic issue in this discourse, which is life. Jesus had come not merely to provide for this life by satisfying temporal needs (e.g., the food that spoils) but especially to provide for eternal life by giving “the true bread from heaven.” And the sermon should draw attention to the problem that this claim raises for Jesus’ hearers. Of course, death continues to reign in our time and remains as threatening as ever. Efforts to prolong life and to minimize or isolate ourselves from death and its causes are as prominent as ever. Therefore, even we who say that Jesus is the bread of life may find ourselves “working for the food that spoils” (v. 27). 3. Next, the sermon would observe that Jesus explicitly denies any attempt to make God and his ways conform to human reason. When the people complain about Jesus’ words, he tells them to stop. He also quotes Isaiah 54:13—“They will all be taught by God.” Urge the people to be taught by God, and stress the promises that Jesus himself makes: “Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me” and “He who believes has everlasting life” (vv. 45, 47). 4. Following this line of thought, the sermon might seek to assure hearers of the certainty of Christ’s promises. This could be done by showing that Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God is, on the one hand, basic to John’s witness to Jesus Christ and, on the other hand, the reason (in John’s Gospel) that Jesus was rejected and ultimately killed. Then it should be declared that the resurrection vindicated Jesus’ claims about himself and about salvation through him. In the language of John’s Gospel, the resurrection shows that Jesus “is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31). In terms of this pericope, the resurrection vindicates Jesus’ claim to be the bread of life and the living bread that comes down from heaven. Joel Okamoto Proper 15 • John 6:51–69 • August 16, 2009 Notes on the text 1. For the context, see Propers 13 and 14. 2. At this point Jesus provokes a fresh concern among the people. We might say that their concern shifts from the person of Jesus to his flesh. When Jesus first declares himself the bread of life that came down from heaven, the people wonder: “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph, someone we know? How can he say: ‘I came down from heaven’” (v. 42)? When he responds to their grumbling, Jesus claims to be the “living bread that came down from heaven” and asserts that whoever eats this bread will live forever and that this bread is his own flesh (vv. 50–51). The people now seize on and argue about the call to “eat his flesh” (v. 52). 3. Jesus responds to their complaints by affirming (“Truly, truly, I say to you”) that “except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do


not have life within you” (v. 53). Christ calls his flesh “true food” and his blood “true drink” (v. 55). Eating this food and drinking this drink will give the hearers eternal life, assure them of the resurrection from the dead, and unite them with Christ (vv. 54-56). Jesus further explains that this union with him is like the life he has with God the Father. Just as Jesus was sent by the Father and has his very life through the Father, so also everyone who feeds on Jesus will have the same life. 4. What constitutes “eating” and “drinking” in this context? This question is closely connected to (and therefore should be answered with) the question of whether Christ’s words about eating his flesh and drinking his blood constitute a reference to the Lord’s Supper. Of course, different judgments have been made concerning these matters, but my view may be put this way: Christ’s words do not constitute a direct or a primary reference to the Lord’s Supper. On the one hand, it is consistent with the earlier parts of the discourse to understand eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood as metaphors for believing in Him. As Luther said: “To eat is synonymous here with to believe” (LW 23.135). On the other hand, we should observe that Christ does not institute the sacrament in this passage as he does on the night of his betrayal. He also does not speak about the bread and wine in, with, and under which his body and blood are given to eat and drink in the sacrament. Indirectly, however, Christ does speak about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Earlier he had referred to himself as the bread of life (“I am the bread of life”) that is given to eat. Now, however, he expands on this and speaks of eating his flesh and drinking his blood—speech that, to the readers of the Gospel, obviously suggests the sacrament. That readers should heed the suggestion is indicated by the parallel between this passage and John 3 on baptism, especially in 3:5: “Truly, truly, I say to you, except a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” 5. As this pericope proceeds the “Bread of Life” discourse comes to its climax. Once again, Jesus’ words offend. Earlier the Jews had grumbled when Jesus told them that he was bread that came down from heaven (vv. 41–42). Then they argued about Jesus’ giving his flesh to eat (v. 52). Now even many of Jesus’ own disciples (cf. vv. 16–24) are offended when he insists that eternal life depends upon eating his flesh and drinking his blood. “This is a hard teaching,” they say. It wasn’t hard to understand, but it was hard to accept: “Who can accept it?” (v. 60). Obviously, they could not. In John’s Gospel, “disciples” may refer to followers other than the Twelve, as it clearly does here. Joseph of Arimathea is identified as a disciple (19:38), and Jesus refers to the Jews in Jerusalem who have believed him as disciples (8:31). 6. Jesus does not try to soften this “hard teaching.” As Luther said, “And if flesh and blood is offended here and murmurs, by all means let it murmur” (LW 33.180). Instead, Jesus challenges the disciples further: “Does

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this saying offend you? What if you were to see the Son of Man go up to where he was before” (vv. 61–62)? Earlier Jesus had “offended” by claiming to have come down from heaven. Now he compounds the “offense” by indicating that he will return to the heavens. 7. Then Jesus answers their question. Who can accept his teaching? No one, on their own. On the one hand, Jesus affirms that his words bring the Spirit and bring life: “The Spirit gives life; the flesh avails for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life” (v. 63). On the other hand, without God’s will and work no one will believe these words and so receive life. As Jesus teaches, life is the gift of the Spirit of God, but “the flesh,” that is, the sinful human nature, “counts for nothing” in salvation. Therefore, unless God desires faith for the hearer, there will be unbelief, even in the presence of the truth and with the promise of eternal life. And so, Jesus explains, “Because of this I have told you that no one can come to me except it is given him by the Father” (v. 65; cf. v. 44: “No one is able to come to me except the Father who sent me draws him”). 8. These words of Jesus might be called “the last straw.” “From this time [or “For this reason”—ek toutou] many of his disciples went back and no longer walked with him” (v. 66). Jesus’ words are Spirit and life; nevertheless, they offend and many of his followers no longer follow. Jesus has incited not only his opponents (“the Jews”) but even many of his own disciples. 9. When Jesus sees this, he makes no attempt to keep them with him. Instead, he turns to those who remain, the Twelve, and asks them: “You don’t also want to leave, do you?” (v. 67). Speaking for the Twelve, Peter acknowledges the truth of Jesus’ words and confesses faith in Him: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life, and we have believed and have seen that you are the Holy One of God” (vv. 68–69). Notes for preaching 1. I would suggest once again that the sermon take its lead from this excerpt (for a reason, see the “Notes for preaching” in the study for Proper 14). Here Jesus explains about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. In a similar way, a sermon based on this excerpt might first seek to explain what Jesus teaches about himself, and then to assure hearers of the truth of Jesus’ words about himself and the salvation he brings. 2. The preacher might begin by observing that the confusion continues. In the previous pericope we find the Jews confused and offended by Jesus’ describing himself as the bread from heaven, because this implied that he was claiming to be the Son of God. But Jesus reiterates his claim and calls on his hearers to eat this bread, that is, appropriate or receive it. But this call, as the opening of this pericope details, further confuses and offends his audience. They ask and argue among themselves: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”


3. Next, the sermon could work through Jesus’ response as an explanation of “giving us his flesh to eat” (see above, #3 and #4 in “Notes on the text”). 4. The sermon could then present Christ’s flesh and blood for people today to eat and to drink for eternal life. As readers and hearers of John’s Gospel, we are in a very different position from that of the people portrayed by the Gospel. Jesus, the bread of life, was right in front of the people. He was there as the bread that came down from heaven to be believed upon. But Jesus has now ascended into heaven and is no longer present in the same way. Nevertheless, he still makes himself present for us as true food and drink: in his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.We truly have Christ’s flesh to eat and Christ’s blood to drink. Therefore, for us, eating Christ’s flesh and drinking Christ’s blood no longer comprise only an image for being given Christ as our Savior and for our reception of him by faith. Now it is also a means of grace, i.e., in which Christ, the bread of life, is given to and received by us who are perishing that we may live forever. 5. The disciples were right: Jesus’ teaching was hard. And Jesus’ response to their complaint was just as hard. The teaching and the response were truly like a fire and a hammer (Jer 23:29): they offended the hearers. But as hard as they were, his words were Spirit and life. This text lends itself to the doing of the two chief works of God in human creatures: terrifying, and then justifying the terrified, or making them alive (Ap XII.53). It would be appropriate for a sermon on this text to proclaim Jesus and his words about salvation in a way that challenges today’s hearers and then to speak “the words of eternal life,” that is, the promise of Christ that they are his people, the objects of God’s choosing, the recipients of his grace. 6. After an introduction, the sermon might begin by clarifying the question of the disciples: “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” It wasn’t hard to understand Jesus’ teaching. To be sure, the disciples may not have understood it fully, but they understood it well enough. It was a hard teaching to accept. Jesus’ response is “a hard teaching” in the same way. It was hard to accept. 7. Then the sermon could move on to what is easy enough to explain but hard to accept. Jesus is not hard to understand when he says: “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.” Life and salvation come from the Holy Spirit alone; we can and will do nothing that brings eternal life. Again, Jesus is not hard to understand when he says: “The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life.” Jesus’ message is a Spirit-filled and life-giving Word. Apart from his Word there is no salvation, and apart from believing him and in him there is no salvation. Yet again, Jesus is not hard to understand when he says: “No one can come to me except it is given him by the Father.” Unless God wills one’s salvation, Christ’s Word will not be believed and the Spirit will not give life. 8. The sermon might next show how this teaching is brought out elsewhere in the Scriptures and confessed and taught by the church. For instance, Jesus’ earlier words in verse 44 (“No one is able to come to me except the Father who sent

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me draws him”) are an obvious reference, as are Jesus’ words, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit” (15:16), and the Prologue about becoming children of God, born of God (1:12–13). We confess and teach this in the Small Catechism: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.…” 9. The point of the last suggestion is to deny the possibility of explaining away the scandal of Jesus’ words in the text. One might say that we have no words about God and his salvation through Christ and the Spirit that can remove or relativize the force of the teaching that salvation is by grace alone. 10. The issue, then, is clear. There is no question that salvation is by grace alone. That is a hard teaching, but it is true. In view of this, the question is whether God will save us. Will God save us? Will Christ, his Son, raise us on the last day? Will God give us life? The sermon should turn at this point to the word of salvation, either by reminding hearers that they have the word of eternal life already in baptism or by promising them life and salvation in the name of Jesus Christ, the bread of life. Because of this word, we can say with Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life, and we have believed and have seen that you are the Holy One of God.” This explanation by Luther may be also helpful: Since God has taken my salvation out of my hands into his, making it depend on his choice and not mine, and has promised to save me, not by my own work or exertion but by his grace and mercy, I am assured and certain both that he is faithful and will not lie to me, and also that he is too great and powerful for any demons or adversities to be able to break him or to snatch me from him. “No one,” he says, “shall snatch them out of my hand, because my Father who has given them to me is greater than all” [John 10:28f.] (LW 33.289). Joel Okamoto

Proper 16 • Mark 7:1–13 • August 23, 2009 This week and next week (Proper 17) make up a continuous reading of Mark 7. (Technically, Proper 18 brings the reading of Mark 7 to a close, but there is a thematic and geographic shift that separates it from Propers 16 and 17.) If we were to treat these two readings as two parts of the same whole, we could identify this week’s Gospel as dealing with things external and next week’s


with things internal. That is oversimplifying a bit, but it at least begins to paint a picture of Jesus’ harsh sayings in Mark 7. First, the audience: here, Jesus is speaking directly with “the Pharisees and some of the scribes … from Jerusalem” (v. 1). They seem to have been lying in wait for him as he got off the boat, upon his return to Galilee (6:53). Second, the issue at hand: both this week and next, Jesus is dealing with things clean and unclean, and what makes them so, essentially a controversy over cultic purity. Characteristically, the issue is forced upon him when there seems to be better things for him to do. Mark 6:53 sets this contrast in striking detail: “And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.” Considering this rush of people—and the compassion it inspires in the One from whose very cloak flows healing—makes the Pharisees’ question seem all the more small-minded: “Why do your disciples … eat with defiled hands?” (v. 5). Matter of fact, considering the amazing healings that culminate this chapter (the Syrophoenician daughter and the man healed by the Savior’s saliva), this two-part interlude is almost an intercalation of sorts. Jesus’ ministry of power and healing to the multitudes is interrupted by the legalistic questioning of a few. And yet, the question is no small one. What are the hungry to do with their “defiled hands”? Hearkening to Isaiah, Jesus’ answer is tart: the last thing they should do is use them to “hold to human tradition.” It seems a fitting description for hypocrisy anywhere: “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition” (v. 8). The verb kratéw here (“hold”) can connote violence: to seize, to master over. The consequences are dire, since it “make[s] void the word of God” (v. 13). Preaching the ways we ourselves, in our own localities today, abandon the powerful, creative, healing word of God for human tradition preaches a convicting word of law to any human heart. Today’s Gospel reading, though, breaks off at just that point: “And you do many things like this” (v. 13). Our own hands are still defiled by our hypocrisies. And we’re still hungry. The rest of the Gospel story then is the preacher’s to tell: Jesus treats us—his twenty-first century disciples—in the same way he treated his first-century twelve. He still lets us eat and drink, defiled hands and all. But he does not let us (or even himself) off the hook. His own undefiled hands will be hooked with nails to a beam of wood to suffer and die at the hands of the powerful few. He will endure a horrible human tradition of condemnation and execution, so that “the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles” (v. 4) will seem like so much small potatoes compared to the washing of rebirth and regeneration that cleanses a defiled heart (more about that heart next week). Thus, the bread that is his own body and the wine that is his very blood await the eating and drinking of all those who take the now resurrected Christ at

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his powerful, creative, healing, redemptive word: “This body given for you … This cup shed for you.” Today’s Eucharist celebrates all that Isaiah foresaw in today’s Old Testament reading, a reality that could only be made possible by the raising of God’s own “dead man walking”: “The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel” (Is 29:19). Travis J. Scholl

Proper 17 • Mark 7:14–23 • August 30, 2009 If last week’s Gospel reading dealt with things external (defiled hands), this week deals with things internal (an unclean heart), part two in Jesus’ teaching on what makes things (and people) clean and unclean. The audience has changed: “Then he called the crowd again and said to them …” (v. 14, emphasis mine). Jesus is turning towards those who are closer to his own heart. The stern critique he gave to the religious leaders is now distilled into a simple principle: “there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile” (v. 15). Mark calls it, literally, a parable, although it reads more like a proverb. Perhaps that is part of the disciples’ confusion. When they question him about this whole affair, Jesus has “left the crowd and entered the house” (v. 17). Jesus then gives a basic lesson in gastroenterology: what goes into a person bypasses the heart, into the stomach, flushed out the intestines, into the sewer (v.19). But then the lesson becomes psychosomatic: what defiles is a matter of the heart, and only the heart is a completely internal organ. “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come …” (v. 21). The long list that follows holds a mirror up to us all, since it is hard to read it and not feel implicated somewhere along the line. There’s enough evil to go around to every human heart and then some. Eugene Peterson, in his popular biblical paraphrase The Message, utilizes some keen language to sum up this list: “all these are vomit from your heart. There is the source of your pollution.” Pollution. We tend to think of pollution as something out there, that we breathe in. But, in matters of the heart, pollution is something produced by the internal combustion of evil. Our sin—mine and yours—pollutes the world. And in this sense, we have a truly “green” Savior. His way of dealing with the pollution of sin and evil is not to cap its emissions, but to cut it off at its source. To paraphrase the psalmist, Jesus is in the business of creating clean hearts (Ps 51:10). Which ultimately is a call to repentance: “Rend your heart and not your clothes,” cries the prophet. “Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and


merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…” (Joel 2:13). That cleansing work is completed by the work of the cross, of course, the ultimate purging of the world’s pollution. But Jesus’ whole life and ministry—every single day of it— was taken up in binding up dirty and broken hearts. (Look no further than next week’s Gospel for two vivid examples.) The same goes for every single day of his resurrected life. Every time sins are forgiven, a dirty heart is created clean. And the beautiful thing is this: a clean heart pumps out clean energy. In Galatians 5, Paul’s list of “works of the flesh” echoes Mark’s. But then Paul contrasts it with what comes from a clean heart: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit” (Gal 5:22–25). A clean heart led by the Spirit: I can’t think of a better energy policy for the people of God in this “green” season of Pentecost. Travis J. Scholl

Proper 18 • Mark 7: (24–30) 31–37 • September 6, 2009 Literary Context 1. The pericope continues Mark 7. The near goal of the narrative is Mark 8, skipped in this Markan section of the lectionary, but thematically where the story is headed. So who is this Jesus? Is he the Christ/Messiah? Thus these stories are secondarily about faith and primarily about Jesus. So the friends of the paralytic (2:4), the woman in 5:34, and the humility of the Syrophoenician woman in 7:29: faith always has an object. It is not as much about faith, but faith in Jesus and with it the recognition of His true identity. Thus the healing miracles, as well as the nature miracles, are really about the Creator come as Redeemer (“who is this that wind and wave obey him?” 4:41). Further, these are the activities and “signs” (cf John) that in Jesus the Messiah— and the Messianic Age—has come. Our text is almost a Markan version of Matthew 11:4, fulfilling Isaiah 35:5 (the OT lesson for the Sunday): “he even makes the deaf hear and mute speak!” 2. Jesus’ Galilean ministry includes several forays beyond Israelite territory, most notably the Gerasene demoniac (5:1–20) in the Decapolis region, and here in the encounter with the Syrophoenician woman and with the deaf/mute back in the Decapolis. The geographical details especially in 31 have left many commentators confused, as Sidon is hardly on the way from Tyre to Decapolis via the Sea of Galilee.

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Matthew includes the reference to Sidon along with Tyre at the beginning of the itinerary (Matthew 15:21). Attempts to explain the route as avoiding the territory of Herod Antipas (in the wake of 6:14ff) are speculative but possible. No reason is given in the text, but Jesus clearly is spending time and attention among the Gentile “nations.” His mission both to “all Israel” and beyond Israel is anticipated in the list of those who came to him already in 3:8. 3. Jesus had appointed twelve apostles as the core of the New Israel (3:13), but immediately the tension within Israel regarding the identity of Jesus is highlighted (3:20ff). Later, immediately following Jesus’ rejection in his hometown (6:1–6), those same Twelve are sent out to preach repentance, drive out demons, and heal the sick, all signs that the Messianic Kingdom has come near, but now in tension with Jewish leadership. The immediate context in chapter 7 follows another confrontation with Jewish authorities, regarding clean and unclean ritual eating. Jesus’ refutation of the purely mechanical (ex opere operato) nature of ritual sets the stage for his own encounter with those outside Israel, who will challenge the rigid avoidance of anything “unclean” (cf. Acts 10:9ff). 4. Within this larger framework, our text in 7:24–36 makes two general statements: (1) As Messiah, Jesus brings into human history the eschatological new age of the new creation, and (2) while centered in Israel, as Jesus is the “Jewish Messiah,” the new creation is indeed for all creation, to the Jew first but also to the Greek (Romans 1:16). Indeed, while the “nations” will come to Zion (Isaiah 2:2–4) at Pentecost, the post-Pentecost mission from Jerusalem into all the world is already anticipated, even if Jesus’ entrance was, at this point, quiet and even private. Textual Notes 7:24 The relatively rare use of VEkei/qen and de. suggests a clear break in the story line: Jesus is headed out of Israelite territory into Phoenicia. However, there is no strong “missionary” theme; Jesus ouvde,na h;qelen gnw/nai. Yet his presence cannot be hidden (verse 25); the Markan euvqu.j moves the story onward. 7:25 As with the Jewish leader Jairus, the concern is for a little daughter (quga,trion, only here and 5:23, where the story of Jairus’ daughter surrounds a story of Jesus’ care for a grown “daughter” [5:34]). 7:27 The diminutive is used also for the little dogs (kunari,oij), and, if the interpretative explanation is correct about the Jewish tradition of referring to Gentiles as dogs, then the “little dogs” might conflate the concern about both a Gentile and the Gentile woman’s little daughter. 7:28 The woman replies, “ku,rie” (the “yes” is likely secondary) which reveals her respect and humility (and the only use of this vocative form in Mark) in affirming Jesus’ metaphor and even extending it to her and her cry for help.


7:29–30 The humble recognition of Jesus’ mission, not just to the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew makes this explicit, Mt. 15:24), gives witness to the fact that demons are subject to Jesus, even in Gentile territory. 7:31 The second pericope continues the theme of Isaiah 35 even more explicitly, as the ears of the deaf are unstopped, and the mute shouts for joy (35:5–6). 7:33 Jesus takes the man aside (avpolabo,menoj) and heals by means and by his personal touch, along with the action of prayer and connection with heaven. The little daughter was healed without Jesus even being present with her; here Jesus uses touch and the medium of his spittle. No explanation is given; the focus is on the result and the witness to Jesus. 7:34 htPta (cf. Hebrew htP, with ears, xtP) is Aramaic Ithpeel (cf Hithpael); the use of a passive/reflexive impv. is awkward (cf. Psalm 24:7, be lifted up!) and implies an external power by which the action is accomplished “extra nos.” 7:37 The testimony of the people that Jesus has done all things “well” (kalw/j) may also hearken to the new creation, as God pronounced the first creation “good” and everything “very good” (Gn 1:31). The fulfillment of Isaiah 35 is made explicit by an almost direct citation in the final statement. Homiletical Thoughts With Jesus the Christ, the New Creation has begun. It comes by God’s power and grace, not by our actions, and it can come quite quietly. It is universal, for all creation, first to (and through) the house of Israel but for all, even we, who like the dogs, also receive the children’s bread. At this point, Jesus is not seeking out the Gentiles; but wherever he goes, it is as though the new creation cannot not break in, or break out! Nevertheless, the story is not over. Full recognition and revelation of the Messianic mission is yet to come—with Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection (8:27ff, 31ff), into which we are baptized and receive the “new Adam” of the new creation; saint yet sinner living in the grace of Christ’s redemption and forgiveness. Examples of the fallen creation abound, including infirmities and disabilities and general “groaning” (Rom 8:22). Yet the central—and simple—summary of the whole Biblical story is this: creation → fall → new creation, established in Jesus the Christ, accomplished by atonement and resurrection, and consummated at His Second Coming. Understanding Jesus: who is he is as Creator-Redeemer (and not simply as faith-healer!) is crucial. But even more important is receiving Jesus in the humility of faith, saved by grace, and knowing that our greatest healing, already accomplished and present in our lives, comes through the forgiveness of sins and the first–fruits of the new creation, even as we anticipate the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. Andrew Bartelt Concordia Journal/Summer 2009


Proper 19 • Mark 9:14–29 • September 13, 2009 Sermon Notes The question that presses the characters in this text is the same one that often presses modern Christian readers of this text. It is the question that the preacher himself must face and answer: What authority does Jesus really have? Put more simply: Can Jesus help us or not? The question hangs in the air while Jesus and a desperate father discuss the condition of the child writhing in the dirt in front of them (v. 20). “How long has he been like this?” Jesus asks, doctor-like. “From childhood,” the man answers, and after describing the symptoms he pleads: “. . . If you can do anything, help us! Have compassion on us” (vv. 21–22). The father had his doubts about Jesus. He didn’t know what Jesus could deliver! Jesus’ disciples were powerless (v. 18). The “silent spirit” was the one in control (vv. 17–18). So, in the middle of all the unbelief and strife, Jesus claims authority! He responds to the man’s plea: “’If you can’ (Jesus echoes the man’s utterance to rebuke it, as if to say: ‘Of course I can! Why would you even question that?’)! Everything is possible to the one who believes (this could refer both to Jesus and the father)” (v. 23)! Jesus’ utterance is a bold call to trust him and take him at his word. The father’s paradoxical reply reveals his weakness: “Lord I believe! Help my unbelief ” (v. 24)! In his poignant response, the father was not praying that his faith be helped until it was “strong enough” for Jesus to do something. Rather, he was confessing his weakness and asking that his son would be healed anyway. And Jesus demonstrated that the man’s faith or lack thereof, was no obstacle to him. He commanded the unclean spirit to get out and never come back! And the spirit obeyed (v. 25). (He had no choice.) So, “What authority does Jesus really have?” The father found out that with God all things are possible! And in the NT, this event was not unique. In the NT, Jesus was the “go to guy” for doing the impossible! He was the one in charge. Even Death left a person when Jesus wished it. So, he raised ordinary people like Lazarus from the dead. And he HIMSELF rose! The full significance of the events of the text, especially vv. 26–27, is seen in the light of Christ’s resurrection! There was no “if you are able!” In the NT, Jesus “was able.” But we are a long way from the NT. Things are different now. Jesus doesn’t walk among us now. So the question presses us: “Can Jesus help us or not?” Does he have any authority at all over what most afflicts me, and will he wield his authority in my favor or not? The temptation is for us to doubt. We see few dramatic demonstrations of God’s power. (People die like flies and don’t rise!) The cry of the father is personally familiar: “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” (That is: “Demonstrate your authority! Show us your power!”)


(Here the preacher begins to move to proclamation. His goal is to speak so as to create faith in hearts filled with doubt. A direction to do that follows.) Well, as the preacher, I need to answer that question—that plea! Remember that I am here on the authority of the resurrected Jesus, the Jesus who now lives and reigns from heaven, in whose name and in whose stead I speak. And so it is his authoritative word I bring when I tell you that he has forgiven your sins! He has the authority to forgive you and he has! You were given that promise in your Baptism, you receive it as from our Lord himself in Holy Communion, and here and now you hear his decision again. So, your sin cannot separate you from God. Jesus has done away with it. That means that your weakness, your troubles, your sorrows, only have a short season to live. They do not reign. Christ reigns. The Lord and King of all, when he returns, will transform your fleshly bodies into spiritual ones (1 Cor 15). “There will be no more death or sorrow or pain . . .” (Rev 21:4). No other authority in heaven or on earth will stop him. This Jesus is Lord. And he is your Lord, Lord for you. “Nothing will separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:37–39). This is the promise of the one who rose from the dead and who has power over all things. Let not your hearts be troubled. Neither let them be afraid! Tim Saleska

Proper 20 • Mark 9:30–37 • September 20, 2009 Literary and Liturgical Setting Our reading is the second of three passion predictions in Mark. In the literary context of Mark, these three passion predictions are held together. First, they span the period between the Galilean ministry of Jesus (1:14–8:30) and his Passion (11:1–15:47), between the revelation of who Jesus is and what Jesus has come to do. Second, they are framed by the only two healings of the blind in Mark (8:22–26 and 10:46–52), suggestive of the disciples’ blindness in following Jesus. Third, they each display a similar pattern of passion prediction (8:31; 9:30–32; 10:32–34), misunderstanding on the part of the disciples (8:32–33; 9:33–34; 10:35–40), and teaching on the nature of discipleship (8:34–9:1; 9:35–37; 10:41–45). While Mark has set these passion predictions together, the lectionary has taken them apart. Earlier in Lent, one encounters the first (Lent 2) and the last (Lent 5) of these passion predictions. Now, in the midst of Ordinary time, the lectionary offers the second for our contemplation and spiritual formation. While this prediction has been separated and displaced from the larger patterns established by

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the literary context of Mark, the lectionary has retained the smaller pattern in where it has opened and ended the reading. The hearers are offered the passion prediction, the misunderstanding, and the teaching on the nature of discipleship. One might be tempted to take any one of these units and preach a sermon on it as an isolated theme, yet holding the three together honors the pattern of Mark and also the focus upon discipleship voiced in the introit, the collect, and the verse for this day. Here, in the literary pattern of the text and the liturgical setting, one sees how the strange work of God (his rule in weakness) is the source of our trust (committing our way to him) and the ground of our service (being willing to serve as least and last of all) in the kingdom of God. Suggested Outline Revealing a Hidden Hope Introduction: Earlier in Mark, Jesus had promised his disciples that “nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light” (4:22). This promise, heard in the context of his parables and the beginning of his ministry in Galilee, raised hope on the part of the disciples. They could anticipate a glorious revelation of the Messianic kingdom and were standing in awe as they witnessed Jesus casting out demons (1:21–28), healing the sick (1:29–34), ruling over creation (4:35–41), and even raising the dead (5:21–43). Now, however, his promise was less obviously associated with hope, for the things that Jesus was revealing to the disciples were things they would rather not see: his death and resurrection (9:31); their quarreling over greatness (9:34); and the servile nature of discipleship (9:35). It is within this difficult and dangerous revelation, however, that Jesus offers the truest hope that anyone could find, for in his death is true life, in littleness is greatness, and in receiving the least is the promise that one receives God himself. 1. Revealing the Will of God: This passion prediction is the shortest of the three that Jesus offers in Mark and yet it contains the widest scope. Whereas, in the other two passion predictions, Jesus names those who kill him with a frightening specificity (“the elders and the chief priests and the scribes” in 8:31 and “the chief priests and the scribes, and . . . the Gentiles” in 10:33), in this passion prediction he uses an even more frightening generality (“be delivered into the hands of men”). Jesus implicates not just the religious leaders or the ruling Gentiles but all humanity in his death. The ways of God are opposed to the ways of humanity and the gracious work of God is hidden in his violent rejection by all. Our world’s fascination with things spiritual tends to identify love with tolerance and replace forgiveness with acceptance. Our Lord’s revelation, however, reveals the depth of the love of God. Jesus does not tolerate sin nor accept it, rather he dies for it that those who kill may be forgiven, those who persecute may be loved, and those who live with superficial


understandings of faith and discipleship may be awakened to the depths of love and life within God’s kingdom. 2. Revealing the Ways of God: Earlier Jesus discerned the hearts of the religious leaders and sought to teach them the ways of the kingdom (2:1–12); here Jesus perceives the hearts of his disciples and again seeks to teach. While they were silent and unwilling to admit it, the disciples had argued with one another about greatness. Using human standards of greatness, they found that they were being driven apart. Jesus, however, brings them together and uses their sinful conversation as an occasion to teach them about the ways of God. The human heart has not changed over the centuries and greatness is still often measured in ways that turn people against one another, even in the church. Our Lord, however, uses this occasion to lead us into the ways of God. He reveals that the search for greatness hidden in the human heart will separate us from one another but the gift of greatness coming from the heart of God brings us closer to one another, inspiring humble service that forms community and builds up the fellowship in love. 3. Revealing a Hidden Hope: Later, Jesus will take children into his arms and bless them, encouraging each disciple to receive the kingdom like a child (10:13–16). The popularity of that scene makes it hard to hear what Jesus is doing in this portion of the text. Here, Jesus is not blessing children or holding children up as examples of faith and he is certainly not tapping into contemporary sentimental notions of the innocence and simplicity of childhood. Rather, Jesus is bringing into the midst of a divisive argument something about which everyone could agree—this child is nothing. While they might argue over who is the greatest, they can all agree that a child is the least. Yet, Jesus identifies with this child, this one valued least, holding the child in his arms, and he promises that others will come to receive God when they receive that which is least in his name. His gestures are puzzling and his words are a mystery until that day when he radically identifies with that which is least in this world, becoming the crucified one, rejected by the world, rejected by religious leaders, rejected by his own heavenly Father, and yet fiercely and faithfully holding on to every last sinner, that his death might be the way that the least of all enter into the kingdom of God. Here, Jesus silences all argument and reveals the radical mercy of God, the hope that lies hidden in his suffering, death, and resurrection and in the suffering service of all who follow in his way. David Schmitt

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Proper 21 • Mark 9:38–50 • September 27, 2009 “Whose Side, Anyway?” Charles simply figured there must be something wrong with his baseball glove. That was the fifth pop-fly in a row that fell straight out of the sky, right into the pocket of his mitt, and sprang out almost as high, landing on the green summer turf. It was a tough day to be an outfielder. Things started to look up, though, at the top of the next inning. Charles batted second and struck the ball with moderate force right between the shortstop and second baseman. It was only a single, but to Charles it gave the utmost sense of victory. He got a little lost in that sense of victory. As he stood firmly planted on that white square bag, he began to daydream himself into the majors. He heard the announcer almost as clearly as reality, “That was some hit hammered into centerfield by Charles P. Smitzhoff. He’s new to the majors, but he is going to go far!” Unfortunately, getting lost in a daydream while on first base at the top of the 7th does not win many little league baseball games, especially when one gets so lost in their daydream that they fail to run to the next base when the ball is hit. Two runners standing on one base just does not work in the sport of baseball. Needless to say, it was an easy out. Charles slowly made his way back to the dugout. His teammates greeted him with silence. Finally, William Ireland spoke up. William “Bud” Ireland always knew what to say, especially at difficult and awkward moments like this one. Bud turned slowly to Charles, and with gentleness and understanding said to Charles, “Charles, there is one thing that I do not understand.” Charles was not much in the mood for conversation, but wanted to be polite. “What is it, Bud?” “Charles, the one thing I have not been able to figure out is why it seems like you are trying so hard to get us to lose. I guess what I am trying to ask is… whose side are you on, anyway?” “Whose side are you on, anyway?” This question seems to be one that is concerning John in today’s text. John recounts an occasion when the twelve witnessed a stranger to them casting out demons in Jesus’ name. What is so wrong about that? Well, who is this guy? He does not follow after “us,” so what business does he have casting out demons in the name by which we are supposed to cast out demons? John is quick to point out that since he does not “follow us,” and is at the same time casting out demons in the name of their Master, they forbade this action. Who does this guy think he is, anyway? Jesus is quick to offer an answer. “But Jesus said, ‘Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in my name can soon afterward speak evil of me. For he who is not against us is on our side (40–41).’” Well, John gets his answer. Jesus gives to the Twelve a straight answer concerning how to identify this “someone” as one who is on their side. This “someone” uses the name!


Whose side are you on? To be brutally honest, it may be hard to tell sometimes. Well, let us try. How do you use the name—this precious name that is above all names, at which every knee should bow? How does this name flow forth from your mouth? In prayer? In praise? In thanksgiving? Do you offer a servant of the Lord a “cup of cold water” in the name? When you are asked how you regularly hear the name of the Lord, do you answer, “In the casting out of Satan, when that name is applied to water?” Or do you use the name when you really need to make people listen, and in your frustration the name comes out of your mouth to damn that which you would never seriously damn? Do you find a good use for the name in using it to add good emphasis to an otherwise dull expression? Maybe people will not listen to you if you do not call upon the name of the Lord to begin a sentence. I bet some of you have heard a hundred different variations of how God and his name can be used in a sentence—none of them good! So, I will ask it again, “Whose side are you on, anyway?” Sometimes it is hard to tell. So, what is so wrong with using God’s name in this way? The answer: You are not using it for all that it is, and can do. You simply cast it out as meaningless rubbish. What does it look like to those “someones” around you who see a child of God treating his name in this fashion? What result does it have for them? They stumble! And Jesus has words for that too! “But whoever causes these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea ”(42). The misuse of the name has serious consequences! Causing one to stumble has serious consequences! But, and this is a big one, oh the joy when that name is used, seen, and received rightly! For by this name demons are cast out! The one who bears this name, “being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross” (Philippians 2:8). Here we have the name for its true purpose: the forgiveness of sins, your sins; life, your life; salvation, your salvation. In today’s text the Greek word for “cause to sin” is skandalon, scandal. However, Jesus introduces into your life a new scandal. This scandal is the scandal of the cross. Christ crucified, the stumbling block to the Jews, is at the same time taking away from you the penalty for your scandals. For the moments in your life that you do not use this name for all that it is, for the times that you cause one to stumble by not showing whose side you really are on, Christ crucified and the scandal of the cross is taking away from you the punishment you have deserved. So what does it look like to be on his side? What does it look like to use his name in the way that it should be used? You know! You tell me! For you are the one who not only has the privilege of using the name of the Lord for all that is good, but you bear his name as one who belongs to him. You have had that name placed on you when sin, death, and the devil were cast out of you by the same

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name at your baptism. This name is the name that you wake up to every morning of your life—you woke up to this name this morning! So rejoice in this name above all names that rests on you, and marks you as one saved from that place “where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” Support and encourage others who are also on the same side and who bear the name of Jesus, using it in prayer, praise, thanksgiving, proclamation, consolation, and all that we have been given to do under this name. Give that cup of cold water. Finally, as Jesus ends this discourse, “have salt in yourselves.” Those who bear and use this name bring to the world the flavor of the Holy Gospel. Think of it, you are the ones who salt the earth with the good news God offers. Whose side are you on anyway? You know! Now show your neighbor! Kyle Castens

Proper 22 • Mark 10:2–12 • October 4, 2009 “Bending the Rules” The question of divorce is what first meets the eye as one reads this text. To be sure, the OT reading for this day, Genesis 2:18–25, attests to it. The epistle lesson, Hebrews 2:13, however, adds a new perspective to our text. There it clearly states that disobedience of God’s law has consequences, and no violator shall escape its just punishment (v.2). It also announces our salvation perfected through Christ’s suffering, as by his obedient death on the cross he paid the price for our sinful imperfection (v.10). Jesus had, by teaching and performing mighty works, demonstrated to those who crowed around him that in him the kingdom of God had indeed drawn closer to human beings. In our text, Jesus gradually left his ministry in Galilee and entered Judea, specifically the territory of Herod Antipas. The Pharisees have habitually been looking for opportunities to put Jesus to the test and trap him in his own words (peira,zontej, see also Mt 22:15). Neither the Pharisees nor the Herodians seem to grasp the actual purpose of Jesus’ mission on earth (8:31–32; 9:31:32). Instead, they see him simply as a threat to their own survival as teachers of the law and as those who influenced the Roman government for political gain. For any and every reason, they enlisted the help of their political enemies to create a front against Jesus, whom they assumed might have an unsettling influence on the people, contrary to their own interests. The Pharisees had in fact built a ‘fence around the law’ in order to establish and preserve their own manmade traditions (Mark 7:9). These stringent ‘tradition of the elders’ imposed strict regulations on the pious and religious, leaving many curious loopholes for the shrewd and meticulous interpreters of the law. Like the


heretics of Colossae, these legalists were taking people captive through hollow and deceptive human tradition and the elemental spirits of this world (Col 2:8). In our text, a question about divorce and the Mosaic provisions for it emerged out of the blue, as the Pharisees tested (peira,zontej) Jesus. These teachers of the law prided themselves on their association with the great lawgiver Moses and invoked his stipulations in their defense (10:4). Jesus cut across the catalog of the Jewish legal tradition with a direct appeal to the law (cf. 7: 1–23; 10: 17–20), pointing out to their callous, cold-heartedness the law’s divine intention. Beyond Moses, Jesus points to the higher law of creation, the divine constitution of marriage as a lifetime union of one man and one woman. Neither man nor woman has a mandate for divorce, and marriage shall remain indissoluble (vv. 5–9). If Moses permitted divorce at all (Dt 24:1–4), it was because he was ‘bending the rules’ as the people were hardening their hearts (sklhrokardi,a) . Moses may have tolerated divorce, but he had not authorized it. Even the Mosaic provisions, if read carefully, would point an accusing finger at those searching for a justifying cause of divorce. Divorce was permitted in accordance with the provisions of Deuteronomy 24:1. It was a protective provision for the woman who had been repudiated by her husband. The Jewish tradition has since built its own fence around the law. The school of Shammai argued that ‘something shameful’ was sufficient cause for divorce. Hillel and his followers watered that down to the extent that anything that caused annoyance or embarrassment to a husband was a legitimate ground for writing a certificate of divorce from his wife. Experts in law can be experts in the art of bending the rules. Nevertheless, the question on divorce the Pharisees posed to Jesus in this context was mere trickery and hostile in its intention (William Lane, The Gospel of Mark, NICNT Eerdmans, 1974). Hardheartedness is a deliberate determination not to abide by the will of God. As in divorce, human selfishness threatens our proper relationship to God and fellow human beings. In this case we have not outgrown the moral and ethical stature of those who gave gone before us. Sin therefore is crouching at our door as well. Jesus is greater than Moses, wiser than Solomon, and greater than the temple. He is the greater interpreter of the great Moses. In him all the law and the prophets find their proper meaning and fulfillment. Jesus Christ has come not to destroy the law but to fulfill it. His coming into our world under the law, and becoming sin before God in our place is evidence that he accepts us as his own. On his merits we enter God’s presence with boldness, and have no need to bend the rules for our convenience. Victor Raj

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Proper 23 • Mark 10:17–22 • October 11, 2009 W.I.I.F.M.? That’s the question we always asked when we were preparing scripts for Lutheran Hour Ministries’ TV show, “On Main Street.” What’s in it for me? What’s in this program for the viewer—or in crafting a sermon, what’s in it for the hearer? The question isn’t intended to cater to the selfishness of people but rather to lead the preacher to prepare a sermon that will make the listener sit up and think, “This is about me! I need to hear this!” “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus rebuts the word, “good,” beginning to humble the rich man before the transcendent greatness of God. He does understand that eternal life is a gift, “inherit,” but has yet to learn that the gift is Jesus. So Jesus draws him into deeper introspection, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” Now the word was working. “The man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” A sermon becomes compelling when it gets into the intersection between God’s word and what’s going on in life. There’s more for the hearer in this text than the traditional line of thought: Jesus teaches that we should not rely on commandment–keeping for eternal life but follow him. Ask W.I.I.F.M.? and that truth can get deep into the hearer’s soul just as Jesus’ word went deep into the rich man. “A Premium Goes with This Pile of Junk” 1. How have you felt during the recession? Last summer when General Motors declared bankruptcy and closed 14 plants, Don Skidmore, president of the United Auto Workers local in Willow Run, Michigan, said, “I was angry at first, then I cried, then I got angry again” (New York Times, June 2; A1). Can you identify with his feelings? But might God use your loss for your eternal life? 2. The rich young man sensed that keeping the commandments wasn’t enough for a spiritually satisfying life. He was right. Jesus told him to sell everything, literally, not figuratively, and follow Jesus. That made the young man sad, just as our losses during the recession have saddened and angered us. In painful loss we look for deliverance, for something more than a spiritualized religious lesson for our souls. We need a flesh and blood deliverer. 3. That deliverer is the Savior who loves us. “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” The Savior’s love is a patient love. He didn’t force a decision from the rich young man. He let him leave in sadness so that he could think through the satisfaction that comes from possessions and the satisfaction found in following Jesus. We can avoid focusing on our Savior by wallowing in the sorrow and anger that come from changes in our circumstances. God will let us do that (Rom 1:26), but God looks patiently through the Spirit who wants to draw us to Christ. “Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my


heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps 73:25–26). “Jesus, priceless treasure!” (LSB 743). “One thing’s needful, Lord, this treasure teach me highly to regard. All else, though it first give pleasure, is a yoke that presses hard” (LSB 536). 4. In The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck describes dust bowl victims selling off their implements to move west. “The men were ruthless because the past had been spoiled, but the women know how the past would cry to them in the coming days. Harness, carts, seeders, little bundles of hoes. Bring ‘em out. Pile ‘em up. Load ‘em in the wagon. Take ‘em to town. Sell ‘em for what you can get. Sell the team and the wagon, too. No more use for anything. There’s a premium goes with this pile of junk … a packet of bitterness to grow in your house and to flower, some day” (chap. 9). 5. A premium that goes with possessions. When they’re taken from us, the Spirit gives us a deeper look into what “savior” means, “We pray … that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from the valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven” (Small Catechism, Lord’s Prayer). Dale Meyer

Proper 24 • Mark 10:23–31 • October 18, 2009 From the Impossible to the Possible of God’s Grace Introduction We live in a world that continues place personal wealth and individualism over and against the word of God and a life a dependent on Christ. Satan tempts us to believe that you can serve two masters: worldly wealth and God’s word. Jesus says: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” The current financial tough times remind us that God’s grace takes all of us, our material concerns, and the seemingly impossible situations that many of us find ourselves in, and moves us to God, with whom all things are possible. He saves the rich and the poor alike by His grace. I. The impossibility of man seeking salvation. A. Rich man and the camel: a journey in priorities (vv. 23–24) Persons of the world who continue to believe that placing the wealth of the world over and against the word of God will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Their trust is a false trust. They forget that God creator preserves them and gives them all that they need for body

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and soul. There is no supplemental diet for entering God’s kingdom of grace. There is no exception ‘to the rule’. B. Priorities of earthly living: a journey that ends in a hellish prison (v. 31) Persons who continue to believe that they can somehow reap a heavenly reward by sowing wealth, rather than living life in Christ and accepting by faith all the blessings that God gives, both physical and spiritual, will not be first when the ‘heavenly gates’ are open. They will be last, that is, outside of the kingdom of God. This is warning that shouldn’t be ignored in a post-modern world that believes that there are many ways to enter the ‘pearly gates’. Remember the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican: get the picture? II. The possibility of God’s grace A. With God, all things are possible (v. 27) We have no ‘natural powers’ to save ourselves. Our hope is not in ‘self ’ for ‘self ’ is god. Our hope is in the one True God, Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. Healing comes new every morning as we arise and see the sun shining. Healing begins with forgiveness of sins. For all things are possible with God. You cannot ask for any greater assurance and hope. As the writer of Hebrews states: “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” B. With God, the gospel never fails to keep its promise (v. 29-31) The Gospel of Jesus Christ gives forgiveness of sins, and where there is forgiveness of sins, there is salvation and eternal life. The glory of heaven will be fully and completely received in Christ by all Christians, past, present, and future. The riches of the world pale into insignificance to the riches of living the life of Christ and the eternal life that is ours now, but not yet. The persecutions that we suffer on behalf of Christ, in a world that seeks to suffocate Christ in our witness, give us renewed perseverance and hope, and hope in Christ does not disappoint us. Conclusion Our sinful flesh continues to seek the material things of this world, setting the priorities of the flesh over the priorities of faith which receives all blessings, both material and spiritual. As we continue to find ourselves tempted by Satan to rest our lives on the wealth of the world, God’s grace is able by its power to remind us that we cannot save ourselves. But by God’s grace all things are possible. He who left the riches of heaven came to seek and to save the lost. We were lost in our


trespasses and sin, living in the illusion that we can somehow have ‘our cake and eat it too.’ Not so. A Christian cannot serve two masters. As we live the life of Christ in this world, we know, by God’s grace through faith alone, that with God, all things are possible. Amen. Robert W. Weise

Reformation Day • John 8:31–36 • October 25, 2009 The assignment of this text for the festival of the Reformation suggests the question: Was the Lutheran Reformation about freedom? Luther’s famous early work, “The Freedom of a Christian,” developed the idea of the paradoxical identity of one who has faith in Christ: both utterly free and completely devoted to service to others. Another writing, “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” describes how Christ’s church is held in bondage when the doctrine of the gospel is obscured or forgotten. Luther saw human freedom in a paradoxical light, and this challenges our individualistic assumptions. There have certainly been attempts to reinterpret the reform of the church sparked by Luther’s discovery of the gospel in terms of the liberation of human beings from all kinds of authority, thus removing the paradox of Christian freedom. Friedrich Schleiermacher, for instance, championed complete human freedom from any religious authority whatsoever, citing 2 Corinthians 3:6 and claiming that any authoritative text “kills” and is opposed to the autonomous freedom of the human spirit. Such a view of freedom, of course, is congenial to the narcissistic hedonism so prevalent in America today, but it has little to do with the words and work of Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of John, the word-group “free/freedom” is used only in this passage. Jesus says that his disciples—those who remain in his word—will know the truth which will set them free (v. 32). Lest we misunderstand this “truth” in simply propositional terms, he repeats that real freedom comes from Him. It is the Son who sets us free (v. 36). Knowing the truth is a synonym for believing in Jesus the Son of God. And believing in Jesus means staying rooted and immersed in his word; being a disciple means living from what Jesus teaches and promises. But the opposite of a free person is a slave, as Jesus’ audience understood well enough. They insisted on their free status as descendants of Abraham, and denied that they stood in any need of being set free (v. 33). They objected to any suggestion that they lacked something which only Jesus could give. They wanted to define their freedom as autonomy or sovereignty, which did not depend on Jesus. As always, Jesus will turn their minds (and ours) away from the trivial and the superficial, and will drive to the heart of the matter. Simply and starkly, sin is slavery. This is the state of fallen human existence expressed in the words of the con-

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fession of sins: “We confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.” When Jesus says that everyone who sins is a slave to sin, he does not remove personal responsibility. He emphasizes that, whether we recognize it or not, what we call liberty is often the worst kind of imprisonment from which we cannot engineer our own escape. It is perhaps remarkable that Jesus spoke these rather sharp words about freedom and slavery, not to his critics or opponents but “to the Jews who had believed in him” (v. 31). Jesus’ words become even harsher in the verses immediately following our text. He tells these same people that they are trying to kill him because his word finds no place in them (v. 37) and even calls them children of the devil (v. 44). This certainly sounds provocative when directed at people who are described as “believers” in verse 31, and Christian pastors will ordinarily not address their congregations in these terms! But there should be no mistake. Jesus intends to force a clear choice between our self-constructed, self-centered ideas of freedom and identity on the one hand, and being his disciple on the other. Every preacher whose Reformation sermon is based on this text will need to take into account what his specific hearers understand and think about freedom and slavery, because Jesus’ words will work on different people in different ways. We live in a society in which there is a broad agreement about civil rights and human rights, and such concepts and efforts to promote them are certainly not to be condemned. They are approximations of justice in the realm of active righteousness, expressions of what we call the “first use” of God’s law at work in the world to protect and preserve life. But they are not ultimate goods. Middle-class Americans, blessed with relative prosperity and political democracy, can easily be tempted to think of “freedom” as something which is their natural birthright and possession, something America does not lack but exports to others. That mistake (and sin) is closely akin to the attitude of the Jews who had believed in Jesus and claimed Abraham as their father. And yet even in our society, there are people whose life experiences lead them to hear these words of Jesus in a rather different way. Their personal and family histories are scarred by bondage, addiction, oppression, victimization, and yes, even slavery. For them the words of Jesus their Liberator are precious gospel promises, because they know what he says about the slavery of sin is true. They are not far from the kingdom, for Jesus, by his words and his saving works, makes them free from every enemy—from sin, death, and the power of the devil. This is a message of freedom which can sound the great theme of the Reformation powerfully and effectively, even though it does not use the familiar forensic vocabulary of justification through faith. Our observance of the Feast of the Reformation must not be allowed to degenerate into a caricature of Luther as the hero who liberated the church. The Son of God is the one who sets us free, and as disciples who remain in his word we will be free indeed. William W. Schumacher 320

All Saints’ Day • Matthew 5:1–12 • November 1, 2009 I would suggest that the preacher not try to “cover” the entirety of the Beatitudes; there’s too much here! For a relatively lengthy exposition, see Gibbs, Matthew 1:1–11:1 (CPH, 2006), 234–56. Below are only a few exegetical and homiletical suggestions. One of the major views regarding the structure of the Beatitudes sees 5:3–6 as a first section and 5:7–10 as the second major section. Matthew 5:11–12, then, repeats the eighth blessing on the persecuted, and also ends the unit and segues into the Salt and Light sayings (15:13–16). I would suggest Matthew 5:3–6 as the text for the sermon. I offer three crucial points of exegetical theology. First, the emphatic adjective “blessed” is the equivalent of “saved” or “redeemed,” as a simple word study of maka,rioj in Matthew shows (11:6; 13:16; 16:17; 24:46). It does not mean merely “happy” or “congratulations.” For people to be “blessed” in this context means they have received God’s salvation that has come into the world in Jesus of Nazareth. Second, the supportive “for” (o[ti) clauses in each of the Beatitudes provides the reason why Jesus pronounces certain kinds of people as truly blessed. The significance of these o[ti clauses is this: that is where Jesus is located. So, the reign of heaven in Jesus belongs to the poor in spirit (5:3), final eschatological comfort will come through Jesus to those who are presently mourning (5:4), Jesus will grant the inheritance of the renewed earth to the lowly (5:5), and in Jesus God will set all things right and so satisfy the hunger and thirst of those who long for God to act (5:6). Third, who are the people named in 5:3–6: the poor in spirit, the mourning, the lowly, and the hungry and thirsty? These are all descriptions of human need, inability, and emptiness; they are not, repeat, not positive virtues! To be poor in spirit is to be in a condition of having nothing to offer God, and no way to save oneself (see “poor” in Mt 11:5 and Is 61:1). To mourn is to acknowledge that the world is broken, and I am poor in spirit! To be lowly (not “meek” or “gentle” in a positive sense) is to be powerless; this is the Greek term (oi` praei/j) that LXX regularly employs to translate the plural of wn[, those who are powerless and must look to God for salvation (Ps 37:11). When people realize that they are powerless to save themselves or redeem the world, then they hunger for God’s righteousness, that is, for God to set the world to rights as he promised he would. In the first four Beatitudes, then, Jesus proclaims that those who have nothing are precisely the ones who receive everything from God. This is true in the present (“the reign of heaven is theirs,” 5:3) and it will be true on the Last Day (“they will be comforted,” “they will inherit,” “they will be satisfied”). To gain access to these promises, then, one bows the knee and says, “Yes, this is true. I have nothing to offer God. But I believe that I shall receive everything from him for the sake of Christ, who speaks the Beatitudes and to goes to the cross and empty tomb Concordia Journal/Summer 2009


for all, and who is coming again the judge the living and the dead.” Below is a barebones, skeletal outline that would require significant contextual flesh and skin. It provides the basic moves only. “Christ Fills Empty Hands and Repairs a Broken World” I. The world is broken, and there’s no way around it A. In Jesus’ ministry 1. 4:17 Repent, because God the King has come to fix things! 2. 4:18–22 Jesus calls people to participate in what God is doing. 3. 4:23–25 Jesus starts repairing the broken world and he starts filling empty lives. B. In our world today, and in our lives—no pretending allowed now. 1. It is easier to pretend when life is physically comfortable, and somewhat predictable, and you keep your standards lower than God’s. 2. The things that need to be fixed—in our lives and in our world—are simply beyond our control. C. So, Jesus is talking about you, and about me. Do you believe that? 1. The disciples are there, and they have begun to repent and believe that they are poor in spirit, mourning, lowly, and hungry for God to put things right. 2. The crowds are there, and there’s a mixed bag—they’re astonished, but will they believe that Jesus is talking about them? 3. What about you and me? Am I really and truly poor in spirit? Are my hands actually, completely empty? II. The King is come into the world, and he is reigning. A. Jesus’ gifts are for those who come to him empty. 1. He is not a helper, or an improver—he came to save (Mt 1:21). 2. He healed—he cast out demons—he forgave sins. 3. He only turned away those who thought they had something to offer. B. Jesus brings God’s kingly reign to us today. 1. The King dies to take away my sins. 2. The King rises to begin a new creation, and guarantee the Last Day. 3. The King sends his Spirit to be in his disciples, and to work through us. C. Jesus will bring God’s kingly reign on the day when mourning is over and hunger and thirst are satisfied.


1. To follow Jesus is to see the brokenness of life and of the world, and to mourn and long for the right. 2. To follow Jesus is to offer yourself as an instrument, to be used for the blessing of others. Conclusion Empty hands are filled. Longing hearts look for the Last Day. Once filled with Jesus’ gifts, then our hands become HIS hands for others . . . merciful . . . making peace. Amen. Jeff Gibbs

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book reviews

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GOSPEL PATTERNS IN LITERATURE: Familiar Truths in Unexpected Places. By Francis C. Rossow. Minneapolis: Lutheran University Press, 2008. 194 pages. Paper. $16.00. Dr. Francis C. Rossow’s love of literature and lifetime of avid reading is abundantly evident in his new book. So too is his capacity to discern in literature narrative patterns of God’s good news of salvation. The reader of his book comes away convinced “that the Gospel is present in works of literature more often and more abundantly than we think” (174). I completed the book with a deeper insight into books I already love, and an ample list of new ones to discover for the first time, with Rossow’s guidance. In his introduction, Rossow relates the way he first discerned a pattern of redemption when reading fairy tales. He returns to fairy tales at the end of his book, and his readings of “Sleeping Beauty” and “Jack and the Beanstalk” recall J.R.R. Tolkien’s insight into the “eucatastrophe” at the heart of “fairystories.” As Rossow turns to more complex literary works, he is aware of the perils of eisegesis—projecting one’s own Christian faith into the stories one reads. Instead, he successfully strives to be a faithful exegete, receptively attentive to the distinct worlds each work reveals, yet ever alert to those moments in which the story reflects the good news of scriptural revelation. Rossow divides his book into three parts, in which he discusses six literary works in each part: Intentional Gospel Patterns in Literature, Possible Patterns, and Unintentional Patterns.

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In Part One, he closely and cogently discusses C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair, Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, John Steinbeck’s The Wayward Bus, and Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. One would expect to see the first four in a study such as this one. Under Rossow’s careful analysis, each novel convincingly reveals an “intentional Gospel pattern” in plot, character, and tone. One wishes, however, that the latter two examples had been omitted to make room for more robust examples of an “intentional pattern.” For example, Flannery O’Connor is mentioned only once in the book—as a purveyor of “Christ images” in the line of “Faulkner, Hemingway, [and] Vonnegut” (95)—even though O’Connor’s is arguably the most deeply Christian literary imagination of the last century. Among others, one might add Frederick Buechner, Walker Percy, Georges Bernanos, and Marilynne Robinson. (To read commentaries on seven such robustly “intentional Gospel pattern” authors—including O’Connor and Percy—I suggest Ralph C. Wood’s Literature and Theology [Abingdon, 2008] as a companion text to Rossow’s.) Part Two focuses on “possible Gospel patterns,” and—in addition to astute discussions of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, and Albert Camus’s The Fall, includes analyses of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Rossow’s readings of these latter two works is especially good—although, to be honest, I have always seen the Gospel patterns in these


two works as being pretty clear. Perhaps my reading of these works (and others he discusses) as having a clearly “intentional Gospel pattern” can be found in our different Christian traditions (I’m Roman Catholic), and our consequent understandings of the way grace can operate and be imaged in a fictional work. For example, in his discussion of Gawain, Rossow writes, “Protestant readers may object that the view of God’s grace the poem presents is infused grace rather than accredited grace, grace not solely God’s but God’s grace mingled with human merit” (87). Rossow similarly criticizes Dostoevsky, commenting that he “portrays [human] suffering as redemptive, per se” and thus “dilutes the truth of salvation of God’s grace alone, apart from human merit” (59). But many literary works, Dostoevsky’s most prominently, portray the mystery of human suffering in a way that recalls St. Paul’s description of his own: “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24). Rossow is certainly right in rejecting as “heretical” the claim “that human suffering and the shedding of one’s own blood are in themselves redemptive apart from the shedding of blood that saves us from our sins.” Indeed, in Dostoevsky— and even in works like Gawain and Ancient Mariner—human suffering, be it purgative or lovingly offered on behalf of another, has redemptive meaning only as it is united to the suffering of Christ. In Part Three, Rossow provides splendid readings of the “unintentional Gospel patterns” in Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Louis Sachar’s Holes (the


award-winning children’s book), Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, and Dostoevsky’s The Eternal Husband. As a Dostoevsky scholar, I found Rossow’s reading of the latter especially helpful, although his consternation at the novel’s “thematic incompatibilities” (148)—that is, the way a character “typed” as incapable of revenge actually enacts revenge—could be relieved by a look at the work of Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin. Bakhtin celebrates Dostoevsky’s creation of characters who are “unfinalizable”—free and always capable of surprising us. In general, Rossow’s employment of secondary sources is very good, but greater attention to more recent critical commentary would have enriched his analyses. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is planning on teaching the works Rossow discusses, and I plan on returning to it when I teach some of them. I also recommend it to any pastor who is planning a parish book club, which could easily be organized around Rossow’s rubric. The discussion questions that he presents at the conclusion of each chapter will be especially appreciated by teachers and book group leaders alike. Anyone will appreciate Rossow’s carefully attentive readings, and the tone of humor and humility that he brings to each one. His scholarly, pastoral study— the product of a lifetime of reading and teaching—deserves a wide readership. Paul J. Contino Pepperdine University Malibu, California Paul J. Contino is Professor of Great Books, Associate Director of the Center for Faith and Learning, and Editor of Christianity and Literature at Pepperdine University.

INTERPRETING THE PSALMS: An Exegetical Handbook. By Mark D. Futato. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007. 234 pages. Paper. $20.99. Interpreting the Psalms (hereafter IP) is part of the “Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis” series, which teaches (evangelical Christian) students basic skills in interpreting and proclaiming God’s word. It focuses especially on showing students how to read the Bible’s diverse literary genres identified by scholarship. Thus, the major genres covered in the series include narrative, law, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, and apocalyptic. In IP, Futato follows same the sixchapter structure which serves as the framework for each volume of the series. In some of the chapters, he deals with what one could call “traditional Psalms scholarship.” In Chapter 1, for example, Futato analyzes the formal characteristics of Hebrew poetry. His discussion covers the basics with a clarity that students will appreciate. In Chapter 3, he deals with historical questions and text critical issues. And in Chapter 4, he has a nice summary of the different “categories” into which scholars have put psalms (hymns, laments and so on), and he illustrates his points with helpful examples. In other chapters, Futato deals with topics that are “non-traditional.” In Chapter 2, for example, Futato summarizes recent Psalms scholarship, which assumes that the Psalms is not a “random anthology” but a “book with an overarching purpose” (58). Beginning with this assumption, scholars reason that Psalms 1 and 2 have been deliberately placed at the beginning of the book as the introduction to the whole. Thus,

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Futato concludes that Psalm 1 shows the purpose of the book, which is “an instruction manual” or a “guidebook along the path of blessing” (60). Specifically, he says that it is “instruction for happiness and instruction for holiness” (63). I have two questions about Futato’s conclusion: First, how does its character as an “instruction manual” mesh with its characterization as a book of poetry (chapter 1)? That is, “manual of instruction” is a different genre category which entails different formal characteristics and different habits of reading than “poetry.” If one makes the meaning of “instruction” a broad one, the conclusion might work, but then, every book of the Bible could be categorized as “instruction” in that sense, and nothing is gained as to the uniqueness of Psalms. Second, in connection with Futato’s contention that Psalms is “instruction for happiness and instruction for holiness,” Futato says: “A holy life, according to the book of Psalms, results in a happy life” (67). But this does not account for the experience of the faithful who undergo suffering for or in spite of their faithfulness. Many psalms call on God to hear the writer and the reader in the midst of their suffering, especially at the hands of evil ones who seem to prosper in this life (cf. Ps 10). Certainly, many of these laments end on a note of faith and hope, but their present experience is not a “happy life.” Futato does not discuss how these psalms, which present a more complex view of life and the place of suffering and evil in the life of the faithful, fit with his thesis. In the final chapters (5 and 6), Futato turns to modern proclamation


and specifically how a modern preacher might prepare to preach the psalms. Each chapter is organized around a series of steps that interpreters should take leading from text to application. Overall, there is some helpful advice in this section of the book. But the problem is that such an approach leads to the impression that exegesis is an “objective” process, and if one “follows the steps,” one will arrive at the correct and relevant interpretation. For example, on page 202, Futato discusses the difference between exegetical language and expository language. Exegetical language is text specific and third person, while expository language is universal and second person. This means that the message “embedded” in the text is applicable to all people in all times and places and can be expressed as such. However, Futato doesn’t discuss what authorizes that assumption nor how one moves from exegetical to expository in any particular case. The discussion leaves the impression that the move is “obvious,” when in fact it is not, and the move actually has to be argued in any particular case. Christian proclamation of the Psalms stems from our conviction that the Scriptures are Christocentric and must be read from that perspective. It is in this light that we move from the particularities of the ancient psalmist to the modern Christian. Futato does not make this clear, and as a result sometimes his interpretive moves seem arbitrary (cf. 224 where he discusses the shift from third to second person made in his exposition of Psalm 29, but gives no real warrant for it). Overall, IP provides students with a good summary of earlier and more recent Psalms scholarship. It has a clear


and simple style. However, it is less useful in its discussion of the move from text to preaching. Tim Saleska

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CHRISTIANITY: Volume 5 Si–Z. By Erwin Fahlbusch. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008. 866 pages. Hardcover. $100.00. This volume brings to completion the publication of this encyclopedic “scholarly cartography” of Christianity. Much of this project is a translation of a predecessor set, Evangelisches Kirchenlexicon: Internationale Theologische Enzyklopädie which was completed just a decade ago, though entries specific to the Englishspeaking context have been added. The scholarly rigor applied to wide-ranging topics make this a standard, authoritative, and up-to-date resource as we move further into this new century. Articles cover biblical books and persons, historical events and persons (Thirty Years’ War; Wesley, Xavier, Zinzendorf), theological concepts (Simul Justus et Peccator, Status Confessionis, Theologia Crucis, Two-Kingdoms Doctrine, Vocation), church bodies and traditions (Syrian Orthodox Church, Taizé Community, Vineyard Christian Fellowships), world religions, social and ethical issues, regions and nations, and more. Some entries are understandably brief, e.g. an interesting discussion on Wine, particularly issues surrounding alternatives to wine in Eucharistic use; ethical implications of Tourism; liturgical and pastoral aspects of the Wedding Ceremony; the legend of the Wandering Jew; Sports and Faith. Understandably

also, other topics receive much more extended treatment: Social Ethics (20 pages), Spirituality (18), and just short of one hundred pages on theology-related articles, half of which is devoted to Theology in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (including Anglican [7], Roman Catholic [10], Protestant [30], Orthodox [4]). There are numerous cross-references within the encyclopedia and bibliographical references appended to each entry to aid those seeking wider or deeper research. In the preface, the editors characterize EC as reflective of the global and ecumenical nature of Christianity, and indeed the four editors themselves give expression to those qualities. The EC certainly is true to that mandate, both in its range of articles and even in the composition of individual articles. Even individual articles are put together with that spirit in mind. The twenty-five page article on Worship, for instance, has sections on New Testament and early church (no Old Testament?!), Western Tradition (Medieval, Roman Catholic, Reformation, Protestant liturgical reform), Orthodox, Free Church, Africa, Asia, Latin America, United States and Canada). Similarly, the entry on Third World Theology not only provides a history and an overview of theologies in the third world, but provides underlying characteristics (contextuality, resistance, subversion, preferential options) as well as illustrations of how such basic theological loci as salvation and Christology are given, explicated, and applied differently in diverse contexts. No encyclopedia will have everything, of course, and certainly not everything to everyone’s liking. The number of contributors and the variety of theologi-

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cal backgrounds and convictions make that inevitable. Happily, among contributors are names familiar to the LCMS community, including Robert Kolb (TwoKingdoms Doctrine) and Martin Marty (United States of America). The Encyclopedia of Christianity clearly is a monumental project, comprehensive, upto-date, scholarly, globally aware, crossreferenced. It provides significant comment across the expanse of theology, and provides invaluable direction via bibliography to further study. Used with discretion, as all secondary resources must be, this is a resource that will enrich the church for many years. Though the price tag may intimidate, and may likely confine the EC to libraries (institutional or professional—and church?), it is a worthy investment for the serious theologian, because it will be the kind of resource that one will reach for first and often, both to explore new aspects of theology and to review old ones. Henry Rowold

THE NEW MEASURES: A Theological History of Democratic Practice. By Ted A. Smith. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Cloth. 340 pages. $85.00. Criticism of the new measures—the practices Charles Finney introduced into the nineteenth century revivals—is nothing new. Ted Smith, however, takes a novel approach in his critique. Smith, a Presbyterian pastor turned professor, examines the new measures with a methodology (and an odd phraseology) borrowed from philosopher Walter Benjamin. Smith’s goal is to tell the story of the new measures anew, showing how


they failed to live up to their own promises, and how God nevertheless worked through them. Each chapter addresses one feature of the new measures. Chapter one shows how Finney “defined them as the instruments a person could take up to accomplish” the salvation of souls (45). The second chapter highlights the importance of novelty and sensation for competing in the emerging “economy of attention” (78). The third chapter argues that Finney used the new measures to break through “Calvinist understandings of the self ” to make people understand themselves as choosers (110). Chapter four uncovers the implicit tension between formal equality and middle-class respectability in the new measures, and chapter five explores the new conception of public sincerity which the new measures made use of and helped develop. Finally, the sixth chapter shows how story was used differently in new measures preaching than in older forms of preaching. In each chapter, Smith illustrates the respective practice and shows how it “arose with and pushed on a number of important shifts in religious practice in the United States after the Revolution” (5). Even more interestingly, Smith elaborates how the new measures both relied on and influenced practices from non-religious spheres of life, including politics, the economy, and literature. In later sections Smith show how Finney’s opponents were often beholden to the very measures they opposed. He then subjects the new measures to “a variety of styles of immanent critique, sometimes describing how the measures produced consequences that undid their hopes, sometimes pushing internal inconsistencies to


their breaking points, sometimes simply showing that the measures have exhausted themselves” (41). The final section of each chapter offers a perspective on how God nevertheless used the new measures for his own salutary purposes. Smith’s book is worth the read, if only because it shows that even the critics are often indebted to new measures practices. Readers may wonder whether their own practices have not been influenced by the new measures, because we live in the world they helped create. In particular, issues concerning rhetoric and preaching still haunt us. Likewise, Finney’s view of the new measures as “reliable techniques for the reproduction of something like charisma” (196) presages our understanding of leadership as a set of reliable techniques for the reproduction of institutional movement or numerical growth. Readers of Smith’s book will come away knowing more about the new measures and public life in nineteenth century America. They should also come away with a new desire to examine their own practices for connections to larger social structures and cultural meanings—and with joy that the Triune God works salvation through such broken vessels as us. David W. Loy Bolivar, Missouri

WE BECOME WHAT WE WORSHIP: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry. By G.K. Beale. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008. 341 pages. Paper. $29.95. The goal of Beale’s study is as follows: “It is my hope that the biblical-theological perspective of this book will provide

greater fuel to fire the church’s motivation not to become conformed to the idols that surround it in order better to fulfill its mission to the world, which is to proclaim that people need to be conformed to Christ’s image for the greater glory of God” (12). To accomplish this objective, Beale builds upon his 1991 Vetus Testamentum article entitled, “Isaiah VI 9–13: A Retributive Taunt Against Idolatry” in which he concludes that what people revere they resemble, either for ruin or for restoration. His presupposition is that every person is an imagebearing being who is created to be in fellowship with God and to reflect him (cf. 2 Cor 3:18). If people don’t emulate the Creator they will be committed to some part of the creation and reflect it. Accordingly, Adam and Eve were the first idolaters, because they shifted their loyalty from God to the serpent whose deceitful character they came to represent, since they started lying immediately after the Fall (Gn 3:10–13). Beale’s programmatic text says in part, “Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving” (Is 6:9). Rather than experiencing an expected life-giving blessing, Israelites who worship idols receive from Isaiah a curse by becoming as spiritually inanimate, empty, blind and deaf as the idol of their devotion. Beale argues persuasively for the interpretation of Isaiah 6:13c that understands the phrase “the holy seed is its stump” not as a sign of hope, later fulfilled in Isaiah 11:1, but rather as a picture of destroyed idols. His reasoning is as follows. First, the metaphor of burning trees, which begins in Isaiah 6:13a, never appears in the book of Isaiah as a positive motif (cf. 1:29–31;

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57:5). Second, in Isaiah 40:12 and 44:14 idolaters fashion their idols out of trees. Third, matsebah in Isaiah 6:13c is often translated “stump,” but in prophetic literature a matsebah is always connected to idolatrous worship. Finally, Beale argues that the “holy seed,” though appearing to be a favorable idea, really describes sinful commingling with paganism. In its only other occurrence in Ezra 9:2, the “holy seed” mixes itself with “the peoples of the land.” After this thorough study of Isaiah 6, Beale then discusses a number of texts that describe idols and those who worship them. In his analysis of Exodus 32:8–9, he maintains that Israel is described as people who “quickly turned aside on the way” (v. 8) and “stiff necked” (v. 9) because cattle run wild and are difficult to reign in. Hence Israel became what they worshiped (cf. Hos 4:16) in fulfillment of Pss 115:4–8 and 135:15–18 where Yahweh basically says, “You like idols, Israel? All right, you are going to become like an idol, and that is your judgment.” This, then, follows the judgment of lex talionis which is classically stated in Exodus 21:24–25, “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” The spiritual principle is this—“We resemble what we revere, either for ruin or restoration” (49). This malady manifests itself in Isaiah 42:17–20 where the prophet addresses people who were saying to molten images, “You are our gods” (v. 17). Isaiah goes on to write that such people are deaf and blind (vv. 18–19). They see many things but do not keep them and have open ears but do not hear (v. 20).


This indictment is repeated in 43:8–10 while in 44:9 Isaiah writes, “All who make idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit; their witnesses neither see nor know …” (cf. 44:18–19). God’s judgment of giving people over to what they worship is a hallmark of Paul’s argument concerning idolatry in Romans 1:18–32 (cf. vv. 24, 26, 28). Idolatry leads to the breakdown of every human relationship, for Paul goes on in Rom 1 to list “sexual impurity” (v. 24), lesbianism (v. 26), homosexuality (v. 27), and disobedience toward parents (v. 30). In fact, “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. They are gossips” (v. 29). The cure is stated in Romans 12:1–2 where the apostle invites the baptized to worship the Creator, worship which leads to godly transformation (cf. Rom 8:29). Jesus quotes from Isaiah 6:9–10 in Matthew 13:13–15, Mark 4:12, Luke 8:10 and John 12:39–40, while Paul quotes from this text in Acts 28:26–27. Beale maintains that these links mean that first century Judaism was, just like Israel, guilty of idolatry. In this case, though, the idol has changed from wood and stone to “the tradition of the elders” (e.g., Mt 15:2). In Mark 7:6–7 Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29:13, “The Lord says, ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.’” Consequently Isaiah writes, “blind yourselves and be sightless” (29:9) and Yahweh “has sealed your eyes” (29:10). The Jews of Jesus’ day were “far


from” God because they worshiped their man-made traditions. Samuel says as much to Saul, who likewise had rejected Yahweh’s word. Samuel compares such dismissal with idolatry in 1 Samuel 15:23 when he asserts that arrogance toward God’s word is “like the sin of idolatry.” The sin of idolatry is often neglected or ignored by the church. Beale steps into this void and offers biblical theology at its very best. Pastors who want to address idol worship will find Beale’s thoughtful examination richly rewarding. Reed Lessing

CHALLENGING PROPHETIC METAPHOR: Theology and Ideology in the Prophets. By Julia M. O’Brien. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008. 202 pages. Paper. $20.95. What reading strategies should be brought to the Hebrew prophets? Does one look for predictions of Jesus or for church doctrines? Is a close reading of their literary and rhetorical style the best way to interpret these texts? Should the line of query be that of how prophets interface with the ancient Near East? After providing a useful introduction to these methodologies, Julia O’Brien, an avowed feminist who teaches Hebrew and Old Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, states as her thesis that Israel’s prophets need to be understood in light of feminist theology. She writes, “Feminist critique, if taken seriously, makes traditional ways of doing theology with the Prophets extremely difficult, if not impossible” (29). According to O’Brien, Hebrew prophets are misogynistic. She even goes

so far as to use the term coined by Athalya Brenner that some prophetic texts (e.g., Hos 1–2; Ez 16, 23) are “pornoprophetic.” O’Brien believes that an impasse has come about because some interpreters ignore the negative implications of prophetic metaphors, while others reject the prophets precisely because of what their metaphors imply. Either the prophets are bad books—violent and misogynistic—or good books that display God’s justice and love for the world. O’Brien asks, “Is there a way to step out into the chasm between appreciation and critique without crashing on the rocks below?” (48). She then tries to steer a clear course between “like it” or “hate it” reactions to the prophets and does it by means of reading the texts as books. O’Brien does not accept biblical authority, nor does she reject the texts as useless. Her solution is to read the Bible as one would read any other book. “Perhaps we will find God not simply in the words of Scripture but instead in our wrestling with them” (p 60). She maintains that readers of the Hebrew prophets should not look for theology or paradigms for understanding reality. Rather, O’Brien argues, they should read the texts in order to encounter moments of insight into their lives. Engage them in debate and conversation, but don’t believe their theological claims. O’Brien then models her “third way” as she considers prophetic texts under the titles of God as (Abusing) Husband, God as (Authoritarian) Father, God as (Angry) Warrior, Jerusalem as (Defenseless) Daughter and Edom as (Selfish) Brother. Her assumption is that metaphors tell us not only something

Concordia Journal/Summer 2009

about Yahweh and Israel, but they also give us a window into Israel’s understandings of marriage and family. O’Brien’s textual analysis seeks to demonstrate that Israel’s prophets were caught up in a web of power relations that were toxic; they promoted violence in families and in the world. At the heart of her argument, then, is the idea that when prophetic books employ metaphors they perpetuate patriarchal abuse in contemporary readers. For example, in her study of Hosea 1–2 O’Brien concludes that the text sanctions domestic abuse against women. “Only if a husband can properly strip, expose, and kill his wife can the threats of [Hosea] chapter 2 carry weight and can the Deity’s angry punishment of Israel be justified” (47). She concludes that the metaphors accurately present how Israelite families functioned. And this is where I have a problem with this book. First, are we to ignore texts where the beauty of marriage is defined (Gn 2) and celebrated (Sg)? And what about “loving your neighbor as yourself ” (Lv 19:18b)? O’Brien does not allow the entire Hebrew canon to address marriage and family. She selects prophetic metaphors and builds solely upon them. Second, while we should not ignore the frame of the gendered language, it cannot become the sole focus of our interpretation. All metaphors have inherent in them continuity with the subject depicted as well as discontinuity. That is to say, every metaphor speaks both a “yes” and a “no”—an “is” and “is not.” In the history of biblical metaphors, the temptation has been to fall off the horse on one side or the other, either interpret-


ing the metaphors literally in every respect or denying any essential relationship between the metaphor and God. O’Brien fails to attend to the “no” of prophetic metaphors and attempts to create a one-to-one correspondence between the way human beings and Yahweh function in the world. She repeatedly overstates what is in the text. What is intended to be metaphorical O’Brien literalizes and fossilizes. And ironically, in her last chapter O’Brien admits as much, undercutting her own thesis. She writes, “These observations caution readers of the Prophetic Books against accepting too readily their metaphorical descriptions as direct windows into the realities of the ancient world” (151). In her analysis of “Edom as (Selfish) Brother” her argument (against our own Paul Raabe’s commentary on Obadiah) is that the metaphor of “brother” in Obadiah does not depict historical reality. But prior to this chapter she argues that metaphors do represent what authentically happened. So which is it? There is, finally, no simile or metaphor that can completely reveal Yahweh’s real nature. He is “Holy, holy, holy” (Is 6:3), and in Isaiah 40:25 Yahweh asks, “‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One” (cf. also Is 14:14; 46:5). Isaiah cautions all who interpret metaphors; they can only reveal so much of God’s real nature. For those who seek to know what is current in prophetic scholarship, this is a very helpful book. But for those seeking an interpretation of the Hebrew prophetic corpus that is methodologically sound and theologically rich, O’Brien’s book will disappoint them. Reed Lessing 336

GOD’S JOUST, GOD’S JUSTICE: Law and Religion in the Western Tradition. By John Witte, Jr. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006. 512 pages. Paper. $32.00. Our national debates over church and state have sometimes blinded us to broader issues regarding the intersection of religion and law. John Witte’s God’s Joust, God’s Justice aims to remedy that situation. “Included herein is a series of compact historical studies of religious liberties and human rights in the Western tradition, of law and religion in American history, and of marriage, children, and family life in America and beyond” (xi). Hoping to uncover possibilities for fruitful dialogue in the years to come, Witte shows how religion has interacted with various facets of Western law in the past centuries. The first section of the book surveys the origin of those rights in the West, Luther’s contribution to rights, and the current status of rights. Ironically, religion has played a role in both the development of human rights and the worst violations of rights. Witte argues that “religion and human rights need to be brought into a closer symbiosis” if we are to avoid the catastrophes of the past two centuries (68). In particular, legal systems should acknowledge that human rights need religious narratives to support them, and religions must give human rights a more prominent place in their theological discourse. The book’s second section turns to the complex relationship between law and religion in the United States. Witte surveys the contribution of Puritan ideas to American democracy before moving to the First Amendment and the history

of its interpretation. The chapter on its original meaning is particularly interesting because of the incredible spade work Witte has done. The chapter on the history of the interpretation of the First Amendment complements Philip Hamburger’s contention that the Jeffersonian understanding of the religion clause is a recent innovation. The last essay in the section draws a (sometimes strained) analogy between the three functions of the law in Protestant teaching and in American legal doctrine. The final section of the book turns to the relationship between religion and family law. Three chapters show how Christian understandings of marriage have informed Western marriage law. Another chapter examines the ills of clerical celibacy, and another documents the tension between discouraging extramarital sexual unions by means of law and protecting the rights of illegitimate children. The book has a few quirks, such as Witte’s odd habit of citing New Testament words in Latin (e.g., 144, where covenant is cited as foedus). More striking is his tendency to conflate the Lutheran and Calvinist positions on politics and the functions of the law (see, for example, 264–267). Finally, several essays repeat verbatim from other essays (e.g., 366–67 repeats material from 296 and 320). Nevertheless, the book is both accessible and interesting. Witte has done yeoman’s work in the primary sources, especially Puritan sermons and early American debates over the first amendment. The topics he broaches are of immense importance in our own day and age. If you find any of the topics inter-

Concordia Journal/Summer 2009

esting, Witte’s book is a good place to begin—or continue—your reading. David Loy Bolivar, Missouri

GOD’S TWILIGHT ZONE: Wisdom in the Hebrew Bible. By T. A. Perry. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2008. 208 pages. Paper. $19.95. This book’s felicitous and tantalizing title reflects Perry’s reading of the flow of Scripture: “When direct prophetic revelation expired with Malachi and the priestly duties with the destruction of the Temple … the vacuum was taken up by … the sages whose duty was first and foremost to govern things down here in accord with the original plan” (xvii). This involved a “transfer from divine to human creativity,” and an inevitable “twilight” in which life is lived without clarity of perception and for which wisdom seeks to sort out value and purpose in life. Perry sees the beginning of that transfer into twilight already in Genesis, where dreams and their interpretation occur. He traces twilight life in the accounts of the Exodus, of Samson (riddles), of Saul (proverbs), and of Solomon (discerning the mother of the contested baby). There are some lovely surprises in his fresh view of Scripture, like his suggestion of “aggressive riddling” in the Samson narrative, and his reflection on the wisdom of Solomon. Others of his readings, however, seem strained and unconvincing, due in part to idiosyncratic readings of the Hebrew (e.g., the meaning of hl[ [to go up] in the exodus account, or of dry [to go 337

down] in the Samson narrative), and in part to using categories of subsequent eras to interpret the text, variously rabbinic (throughout the book) or modern (referring to the “self-creation” of the various biblical sages). To this reviewer’s mind, the most helpful and insightful part of the book centers on his three selections from major wisdom writings: Psalm 1, Qoheleth 12, Proverbs 30. In the twilight zone “between full divine presence and absence” (174), wisdom wrestles with issues of both life and faith. On the one hand, there is clear recognition that “God does indeed act in strange ways” (57), ways “too great for me to understand” (157). On the other hand, those surpassing ways drive neither to cynicism nor to despair, but to an exhilarating sense of openness to the


future, under God’s surpassing lordship. Even in this section, though, one must sort through Perry’s idiosyncratic (distracting) musings: is Proverbs 30:18–20 about “kosher sex?” Does “rising up at the sound of a bird” in Ecclesiastes 12:4 refer to “expansion of consciousness”? As was true of his earlier study of the Book of Jonah (reviewed online at, Perry’s wideranging scholarship may not “exhaust the interpretive possibilities” (42), but not for lack of effort. For a fresh and unique study of wisdom, however, both within and outside the standard wisdom writings, Perry offers new perspectives, though along with the insightful and sparkling appear the tangential and the dubious. Henry Rowold


faculty publications He Was Crucified – Kent Burreson, editor ISBN-10: 0758613156 ISBN-13: 978-0758613158

The Genius of Luther’s Thinking – Robert Kolb and Charles Arand ISBN-10: 080103180X ISBN-13: 978-0801031809

Amos – R. Reed Lessing ISBN-10: 0758612699 ISBN-13: 978-0758612694

In the Shadow of the Incarnation – David Maxwell, contributor ISBN-10: 0268035113 ISBN-13: 978-0268035112

Gospel Patterns in Literature – Francis C. Rossow ISBN-10: 1932688315 ISBN-13: 978-1932688313

Psalms 51—150 – Quentin Wesselschmidt ISBN-10: 0830814787 ISBN-13: 978-0830814787

Concordia Journal | Summer 2009  
Concordia Journal | Summer 2009  

How Many Seminaries?; The Stars and the Stripes; John Calvin’s Five Hundredth Birthday; Reaching Out Without Losing Balance; Self-Righteousn...