Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Two-Kingdoms Principle

Chapter 8 “The Two-Kingdoms Principle” pp. 151-166

The two kingdoms theology is difficult on the best of days. It is the means by which Lutherans approach human rights and civil government. Braaten observes that in the 19th century it was used to separate the civil world from the religious world, effectively removing the Church from any relationship to human rights or justice. In the 20th century we did not succeed in re-engaging with the civil realm, though there were attempts. In fairly recent times attempts to formulate statements of civil rights have failed to recognize differences among various groups of Christians, thus developing muddled groups of presuppositions. Finally, in many societies, law determines what is just rather than justice determining what should be lawful. Braaten urges Lutherans to recapture a concern for human rights, recognizing that the civil realm is inseparable from the religious realm. The two kingdoms actually function more like facets of one world rather than separate worlds. As we embrace this reality we find that Christ’s care for deliverance from sin and evil extends to rescue from many results of evil. This is a recovery of Luther’s view of two kingdoms.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Finding Voice in the Theological School

Chapter 8, Richard F. Ward, “Finding Voice in the Theological School” pp. 139-152

Ward takes several tacks which surprise me. He begins by illustrating a student who wishes to “find” her voice in a homiletics class. Ward’s assumption is that this is the right reason to be in the class and that the student is speaking of her speaking voice, not a metaphor for her means of expression or her theological orientation. Ward continues by making the vocalization used in speaking a sermon one of, if not THE prime way that truth is discovered, both by the preacher and the congregation. He then discusses the theological implications of the use of the voice. Most of his time is spent asking questions. Most of his questioning belies a postmodern reliance on Romantic philosophy, particularly existential angst. On p. 145 Ward discusses Mark 7:31-37. Not only does he consider the Holy Spirit as “it,” ut he also describes Jesus as leaving his comfort zone and somehow, when the demoniac tells what God has done by ascribing healing to Jesus, Ward says there is a misunderstanding. This page discredits Ward’s understanding of biblical theology. Ward then makes the speaker and the hearer people who together discover how God works in his people. The congregation becomes a performer of the Gospel, which in reality only God can do. Ward leaves us with more questions. Based on his other work in the chapter I find myself not inclined to try to answer the questions.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Thanks for Reading!

Thanks for reading my blog! October 2013 is the highest readership since a spike in hits in April 2011. Do me a favor, though. If this blog is useful to you, drop comments on the posts. Tell what's helpful, what isn't helpful, give ideas for study and writing. And invite your friends. I'd like to be a blessing and help to as many people as possible.

The Enfleshed and Written Forms of God's Word

Chapter 7 “The Enfleshed and Written Forms of God’s Word” pp. 11-173

The idea of God’s Word exists in several distinct guises. In this chapter Kolb and Arand discuss the written Word of God and the “enfleshed” Word of God. God has revealed himself through the documents of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. This revelation is sufficient to lead us to faith in Jesus, who is illustrated in detail. Jesus, the Word of God in flesh, is the one in whom we trust. He is the one who holds all creation together. How do we understand him? Only by way of the written Word of God.

We confess the one person of God the Son as possessing two complete natures, divine and human. The two are not mixed or confused, but dwell together in the person of Christ. To grasp this relationship with Jesus rightly, we embrace both natures as described in Scripture.

For Luther and the other Reformers the written Word of God was our sole authority for all doctrine. It is only in the Bible that we come to understand Christ rightly. Yet we do not reject other authorities. While we read Scripture we also bear in mind the way our historic confessions have viewed the Scripture. We also accept input from those who have shown themselves to be responsible interpreters of Scripture. These are safeguards to our reading of the Bible.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Law/Gospel Principle

Chapter 7 “The Law/Gospel Principle” pp. 135-150

Braaten asks a question which we would all do well to ask. What is the gospel? The term is used in a variety of ways in the early Church, in the Book of Concord, and in many works of the Reformers. The aspect Braaten considers in this chapter is gospel as the good news of Christ’s work on our behalf. In the Reformation this gospel was compared with “law,” identified as that which God requires of us. A confusion of law and gospel leads to a variety of warped views of life and salvation. In Luther’s writings it is clear that God saves his people prior to and apart from any obedience to God’s law. This good news of the gospel is always seen as something outside of and for us. Because God saves us in this way, apart from our works, we are appropriately considered “simultaneously just and sinner.” Braaten observes that the gospel will not exist without law. Unless there are demands of God there is no purpose in God’s saving love.

When we consider salvation in this paradigm of law and gospel the order of events in salvation, very important in Calvinism, becomes unimportant. What remains is a state of grace. Likewise, election becomes a matter of good news rather than an analytical tool. Our attempts to reach to God through intellectualism, moralism, or emotionalism also pass away. We rightly grasp salvation as entirely by God’s grace.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sermon for 10/27/13 When I Am Afraid Psalm 56

What do we fear?
 fire that destroys a church building
 illness and injury
 illness or loss of a family member or friend
Many concerns in this life, many of them very valid.

What of the people we read about today?
 Eve concerned that the curse of sin would remain upon her world, fearful that she would not bring forth the child of promise
 Cain concerned because somehow his offering was not acceptable to God.
 Cain again afraid that his sin would bring his death.
 Paul is apparently ill, tired, feeling old, abandoned, expecting the Romans to remove his head
 Tax collector in the Gospel who doesn’t know how to pray except that God would have mercy upon him.
 Parents wanting Jesus’ blessing on their children, then being rejected by the disciples.

And where are we in all this? All the people we read about have one fear. In the end, who is going to be there? Who will bring forgiveness? Who will restore my relationship with God? Will I be cast out?

Who will protect these children? We can’t seem to.
Will they have Jesus’ blessing?
What about our businesses which we fear take us away from fellowship with the Lord (tax collector)?
What of the times we offend others? Is there forgiveness?
What do we do when the authorities come for us?
What will we do when we are ill, abandoned, old?
How will we be forgiven from all our sin?
 try harder?  persevere?
   Those offerings we can bring aren’t going to be acceptable.
   The things we do in church or for the church aren’t going to bring us forgiveness.
   We can’t ever earn our forgiveness. We can’t ever earn God’s grace.
God requires a broken and contrite spirit. As soon as we start thinking we have one of those we are proud of ourselves and ruin it all.
There’s no hope for us to bring forth the child of promise. Not one of us will do it.

When will the bond of sin be broken?

Jesus has come to deliver us from death and sin.
He delivers to us, through his word, all the forgiveness and grace we will ever need.

What is the Church, after all? We’re headed for a big church anniversary. But why are we here?
We’re here to receive God’s gifts promised in Christ and delivered through Word and Sacrament.
We gather for the divine service to hear from our Savior and receive his gifts.
We gather for the Christian education period and for Bible studies throughout the week to explore his riches in the Scripture.
All we do is centered around the forgiveness and life that He gives us.

The Church is not a social club. It’s a life-changing experience of God communicating his gifts to us through Jesus.

All those concerns we walked in here with, they are all taken care of in Jesus. They are no longer our own, because our Lord has invited us into his forgiveness.

You know that I hardly ever do something like this, but I’m going to read something that came across my desk this week. It sums up what we are here for. I’m going to put it in the Shield that comes out next week as well. It’s by James M. Kushiner, Executive Director of the Fellowship of St. James ( They publish an interesting magazine that our family gets. This is why we come to church, in Kushiner’s words.

We Are Invited
Too often Sunday worship is thought of as a religious obligation to be fulfilled lest God be disappointed at our absence, even counting it as a strike against us. Grudgingly we go, maybe after sleeping in later than we do on other days of the week.

It is true that the sense of obligation is difficult to erase--not that we should attempt to erase it. But the sense obligation toward God should be lost in the joy and gratitude and anticipation we can experience when we realize that in coming we are responding to a divine invitation to receive more than we can ever bring. Indeed, especially coming to the Table of the Lord in Communion, we come as the invited "poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind," who cannot repay the One who invites us, but we receive healing in our coming.

We believe and we confess that apart from Christ we can do nothing, and also that we have no life in us apart from having His life in us (John 6:53).

Admittedly, the world presses in on us throughout the week, including on Sundays, so that we find it a struggle to serve God, rather than mammon, and hard to love God and not the things of the world.

Sunday can be our touchstone. Sunday worship can put us in touch with our true home and the table around which the saints through all eternity enjoy the fellowship of the Lord. We receive the words of the Gospel and the forgiveness of sins; we gather with the heavenly hosts, in the heavenly Jerusalem. We are invited to a rich feast provided for us by a gracious Lord, who blesses us beyond anything we can imagine or deserve.

Sunday is, then, first and foremost a Day of Invitation. If the King invites us to his table, it is natural that we should be very pleased to attend. It's an obligation only when the obvious has to be pointed out to us--that it's not only for our own good, but also for our very best good. It is a day of Rest in the Lord, a foretaste of the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.

By James M. Kushiner, Executive Director of the Fellowship of St. James (

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Use of the Body in the Performance of Proclamation

Chapter 7, Todd Farley, “The Use of the Body in the Performance of Proclamation” pp. 117-138

Todd Farley is a mime and a Christian who trains preachers in presentation skills. He considers it very important that a preacher’s body motions be meaningful, purposeful, and communicate the preacher’s intent. On p. 118 he quotes Martin Luther endorsing the bodily reflection of the genuine message. He then quotes John Wesley endorsing the preacher making physicality purposeful so as to appear natural yet be managed. Farley seems of the opinion that the two were saying the same thing. In fact, while Luther endorsed allowing motion to reflect the message, Wesley took motion to be a purposeful way of manipulating the message. Farley pursues this idea, which strikes me as very disingenuous. By strategic use of motion the performer makes the audience think certain things. He then launches into a discussion of classical notions of gesture and movement, adding occasional Bible verses for illustration.

While our motions say a great deal to the congregation we are ill advised to consider what we do as a performance o the congregation as an audience. Such attitudes can create distrust and eventually prove self-defeating.

On a side note, Farley refers to the lectern as a podium. You stand on a podium. You stand behind a lectern. Never put your hands on a podium!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Sacramental Principle

Chapter 6 “The Sacramental Principle” pp. 115-133

Braaten observes that the Protestant world has captured the sacraments and created a Zwinglian view of them. That status is in decline as people move more toward Calvin and Luther. Yet in many Lutheran congregations the sacraments are devalued. This devaluation parallels a loss within the broader culture, where the spiritual and the physical have been forcibly separated. Luther insisted upon Jesus’ presence in bodily form in communion, against Zwingli and Calvin who would not accept a bodily presence. Because Luther insisted on holding to the biblical teaching over against a logical attempt at explanation, the Lutheran view quickly lost ground as human reason became dominant in the debates. This has led to a school of thought which, in effect, denies the supernatural simply because it is supernatural. Recovering a biblical view of the Sacraments can lead Christians to a greater appreciation of and care for their world, recognizing that all of our surroundings come from God the creator, are redeemed by Jesus, and exist to reflect God’s wonders and to serve as the place we care for.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Functions of the Word

Chapter 6 “The Functions of the Word” pp. 131-159

God’s Word was of great importance to Luther’s theology. But how did the Reformers understand God’s Word and its functions? In Luther’s world many expected words to have power, even divine performative ability. Luther rejected the idea that God’s Word would be used as a  sort of magical formula. However he did view God’s Word as an agent of his power. When God speaks, things happen. God uses his Word in creation, to re-create and save from sin, and to communicate with His creation, establishing his law and his means of grace. God uses his Word to create and sustain faith. God reveals himself in and hides himself behind his Word. He uses it to kill and to bring to life. In short, all God does in this world he accomplishes by His Word.

Kolb and Arand discuss Medieval views of words more than they do modern views. This is fitting, as the book is about Luther’s theology, not ours. When we consider our modern world we often lose the value of words and the gravity of communication found in Luther. Words are dashed off as sounds, meanings are relativized, and communication is easily devalued. How do we recapture the majesty of God’s communication with us? This challenge faces us in this day and age.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Performance and the New Testament in Preaching

Chapter 6, Ronald J. Allen, “Performance and the New Testament in Preaching” pp. 99-116

Allen’s chapter draws a sharp dichotomy between written and oral communication. After stating his presupposition that the New Testament emerged from an oral culture as opposed to a literary culture, he builds a case for ongoing orality of biblical proclamation. One of the significant weaknesses of Allen’s argument is his view that the first century audience was non-literate. Counter to his argument, and even found within his statements, is the fact that the literature was just that, literature. It was intended for oral/aural use but it had its own, distinctly literary, style. Therefore, it is appropriate to interpret the New Testament as literature, but to gain insight from the orality. Allen seems to dismiss the literary quality in favor of orality alone. He commends the practice of reading large portions of text aloud, which is certainly a good practice. Yet the original lectors were those trained in public speaking. Their responsibility was to understand the text well and read it faithfully. This is not identical to preaching or dramatizing a text, both ideas which Allen endorses. Allen’s dependence on orality alone makes his presentation weak. It is further weakened by his higher critical and progressive theological biases, which show throughout the chapter. A few good nuggets, perhaps, but not solidly grounded.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Sermon from 10/20/13 Funeral of M. St. Germain

God of all
mighty Lord
High and lifted up – tremendous in power and majesty
Do we really want to face that God? He's the one we have. And we all know the line from the old Western movies. Before shooting someone, the presumptive victor says, “Say your prayers, you varmint!”
And we go through life, day after day, week after week, year after year.
  Better say your prayers! No telling when that last day will come. Get ready to meet God!
Fearful thing?
Very fearful except for one thing.
God in his grace and mercy has given us favor.
In Jesus there is forgiveness.
We face God unafraid, clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
  not our own works
  not our own goodness
  not our resources, smarts, family
  Jesus alone.
This passage from Isaiah chapter 40 always makes me think of a conversation I had with Marylyn.
   worried about presenting self to Go
   not sure ready to stand for judgment
   not sure deserved to live
   What is God's word? You are my beloved child. I look upon you and see Jesus, God the Son. You are forgiven. You have been cleansed. you are released from your sin. You no longer bear it. You have received a double portion of My grace and mercy in exchange for all your sin and shame.

In this way we meet the Lord of all. It is not about our goodness. It is not about the life we live. It is not about anything of ours. It is all about Jesus and his mercy upon us.

So what will we do? Just as our sister Marylyn is doing. We too lay down our burdens, trusting that Jesus has shown favor upon us. We do what our hand finds to do, for his glory and for the relief of those he brings us in contact with. But finally we do just what she is doing now. We rest in Jesus' care for us. We can do no other. Nothing of our own self will do. Salvation is of the Lord. He is the lord of all, the king of majesty.

The Christocentric Principle

Chapter 5 “The Christocentric Principle” pp. 93-114

Braaten asserts the goal of the Church as proclamation of God’s salvation. This salvation is found in Jesus. But how has the Church defined salvation? How does our soteriology work Our theology is all ultimately built on our view of salvation and Christ the savior. This is a matter of importance in any version of any religion. Braaten spends a good deal of time distinguishing between social change views such as liberation theology and a biblical Christianity, observing that in the absence of Christ we are left with only ourselves and our society, hardly a source of hope.

Braaten eventually starts dealing with the idea of universalism. He reaches a conclusion that the Bible describes Jesus as saving everyone, but not exactly explaining how. He asserts that the passages which warn against unbelief are addressed to the faithful so do not apply to those outside of the Christian faith.

While Braaten presents a convincing argument for the centrality of Christ, he is disappointing in his rejection of biblical claims for the exclusivity of salvation by faith in Jesus.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Dynamics of Faith

Chapter 5 “The Dynamic of Faith” pp. 101-128

Kolb and Arand begin this chapter by dealing with the allegation that Lutherans are weak on sanctification. On the contrary, Lutherans have always stressed God’s demands that Christians bear fruit of righteousness. Being partakers of passive righteousness, i.e., that righteousness given us by God, does not negate our responsibility for active righteousness, i.e., that care we give to our world. This is where faith enters in. By faith in Christ we are given new life. This life of faith recognizes that our world is God’s creation, a creation for which He cares. Because of that relationship with the world, faith embraces everyday life. It is not inconsistent with faith to spend one’s life caring for God’s creation, especially the people, places, and events which are closest to us. Since we live in the created order in this way we end up living out God’s design for our fellow man. This has a positive impact on our society. But at the same time, it is no longer our responsibility to save the world. This is what God does. We simply do what is in our power. Thus, by faith, while we do not do God’s work, including saving us, we care for our world, engaging in good works to love our neighbor. Embracing passive righteousness and active righteousness frees us up to act in faith.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Reversal of Fortune: The Performance of a Prophet

Chapter 5, Mary Donovan Turner, “Reversal of Fortune: The Performance of a Prophet” pp. 87-98

Turner views the spoken word as especially important in the context of deliverance from bondage. As her example she uses the brief song of Miriam from Exodus 15:20-21. Turner’s theological bias is clearly revealed on p. 88 with her key question, “What is the relationship between ritual performance and the quest for justice, the overthrowing of bondage, and God’s constant striving to reverse the fortunes of the poor and oppressed among us?”

Turner continues to articulate a view of ritual as something reated by humans to meet our deep-seated needs to overcome the oppression of our past. Without such rituals we will apparently fall back into bondage. These rituals, such as Miriam’s song, enable us to create a story of freedom from our former oppression. In effect, we would not be free from bondage without a ritual song.

Turner takes as a thesis that the liberal accretive theories of development of biblical texts are accurate. She also sees the world through the lens of feminist liberation theology. Without those presuppositions she would not have a message in this chapter.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Trinitarian Principle

Chapter 4 “The Trinitarian Principle” pp. 73-91

A confession of the Trinity is essential to Nicene Christianity, including Lutheranism. Luther specifically affirmed trinitarian faith. In modern days, though, the doctrine of the Trinity has been neglected or reframed in terms which may or may not be appropriate. Atheism’s rise brought a trinitarian discussion to the forefront, as Christians wanted to respond very accurately to their opponents. Braaten describes two ways of dealing with the idea of God. We can use anthropology as our referent, reflecting on the experiences of religion then applying those perceptions to the Church. Conversely, we can use the Bible as our standard and work outward toward understanding the culture. Braaten describes both approaches in some detail, considering the claims of the proponents of each. He concludes that the first, grounding our understanding in anthropological observations, leaves us with no clarity on personhood of God. Moving from an analysis of Scripture outward toward an understanding of culture leaves us with a clearer view. We are then able to define the distinctives of one religious faith over against another. This is consistent with Luther’s insistence on a biblical view of the Trinity at the center of our theology.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Subversion of Our Human Identity

Chapter 4 “The Subversion of Our Human Identity” pp. 77-100

Kolb and Arand turn their attention to Luther’s understanding of Law and Gospel. As fallen humans we frequently seek a righteousness not within God’s command but beyond it. Rather than accepting the righteousness God gives by grace, we insist on earning something. This essentially exalts us to the level of the creator. We redefine God’s role, our own role, and the role of our neighbor in our good works All this leads to self-deification. Kolb and Arand discuss this in terms of new-age spirituality, postmodern thought, neo-Gnosticism, and Kantian philosophy. Again and again we are comforted by situations in which we redefine God’s grace and our condition. To recapture a biblical view we return to Luther’s concept of divine monergism and man’s repeated putting of the old man to death by daily repentance

An adequate view of Law and Gospel will guard us from a very wide variety of evil.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sermon for 10/13/13 2 Timothy 2

Sermon: For Every Generation

Why do we do what we do?
(pastor and radiator story)
But what’s the purpose of our tradition? What do we pass on from one generation to the next?
 make of car
 electric vs. gas
 mac or windows
 sports team
What about Jesus? What about a biblical faith?
 unprepared to talk about that?
 going to wait and see what happens, let people make up their minds
 not sure we understand
 too late
Encouragement? 2 Timothy 2 Be strengthened by grace
 everybody who hears God’s word can pass on what we have been given to others
 everybody can become more comfortable talking about Jesus
 everybody in whom Jesus is working has a story
   make it accurate
   make it consistent with the Bible
   make it a story of grace
I don’t know much theology but I do know that Jesus has promised to take away my guilt and to bring me to everlasting life with him. He’s the good one, I’m not. He’s the one who can change my life and bring healing and grace.”

We hear the Gospel from those who could teach us
We pass it to others who are able to teach
One generation after another

It’s always the last generation for the Church. We dare not leave the message of God’s grace in Christ.

Jesus received from the Father. He gave it to the disciples. They passed the message of life in Jesus to the next generation. Now, over 60 generations later, there are people around the world believing on Jesus. Is it going to be the last generation? No, because we are going to continue to be faithful messengers of Jesus. Again and again we will not lose heart, because the Lord is the one who empowers his Word.

Like the soldier who doesn’t see the victory coming, we labor on. God will give the victory in Jesus. His Word will prevail. All we are called to do is to be faithful.

We hear the Gospel from those who could teach us
We pass it to others who are able to teach
One generation after another

Soli Deo Gloria

Performative Language and the Limits of Performance in Preaching

Chapter 4, John M. Rottman “Performative Language and the Limits of Performance in Preaching” pp. 67-86

Does the speaking of preaching actually accomplish something? Rottman looks to the performative speech theories of John L. Austin. In some instances our speaking does accomplish something. Examples would be a christening, a marriage, or a court order. Can a whole sermon or at least some of its parts fall into this category? Rottman, with Austin, suggests it can, provided it follows the accepted convention, is suitable for the occasion, is correct, complete, and sincere.

Rottman explores history of sermons to look for the idea of performative speech. Unfortunately, he takes the last hundred years as his norm and suggests that sermons have always depended on explanation of propositions. These sermons tend to fall short in their performative aspect. So Rottman looks to the New Hermeneutic of Barth to find sermons which speak as proclamation of God’s will. If this is the pattern God can speak powerfully and accomplish his will. God’s freedom to work by the Holy Spirit when and how he wishes remains a problem.

My question for Rottman would be how the preacher’s performance may differ from God’s performance through the preacher.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Ecumenical Principle

Chapter 3 “The Ecumenical Principle” pp. 53-72

Braaten now turns his attention to the unity of the Church, repeating many times his affirmation of “one holy catholic and apostolic church.” The church is to be one body. How then do we deal with the many groups which claim autonomy and at least some degree of exclusivity? On p. 53 Braaten says that Luther followed Augustine in affirming both a corpus mixtum and some sort of a “true” church, all the believers.  Lutherans also accept the idea of a special, ordained clergy as well as a priesthood of all believers. The ministry, and even the very existence, of the Church is based on Word and Sacraments. This, says Braaten, should pull all Christians together, providing common ground. He observes that throughout history Christians have found themselves unified or divided based on faithfulness to Word and Sacrament, as well as four attributes: unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity. He discusses those four attributes in detail, demonstrating in each case that unity can be found. If we took doctrine seriously and pursued those six concepts, we could find unity in the Church. There would remain room for variants in different places and among different groups. But there would be unity.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Shape of Human Performance

Chapter 3 “The Shape of Human Performance” pp. 53-76

When we consider human performance we often get ideas about perfectionism or some sort of progressive sanctification. The Lutheran Reformation did not conceive of it in this way. Christ’s righteousness makes us righteous in God’s eyes, period. There is nothing we can bring to the table. However, in relation to the created order, we do bring something - our good or bad works. Luther considered that all humans bring their works to bear in society. Some works are good, some bad. Some are purposeful, some unwitting. All are part of this world.

Luther assigned to human life various stations or orders. Counter to the typical Medieval view which listed church and state as most important, Luther recaptured the family as primary, with the other orders supporting the family. Next was civic and economic life which provides all we need in the market. Next came temporal government which protects economic peace. Finally is organized religion which enables families to live out their Christian life in community.

Luther also addressed God’s Law and the response of human wisdom. He affirmed that there is a distinct natural law which is analyzed and applied by the Bible and our wisdom. True wisdom and godliness are found as we live within the natural law, including its dynamic of sin and salvation.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

At the Intersection of Actio Divina and Homo Performans: Embodiment and Evocation

Chapter 3, Alyce M. McKenzie “At the Intersection of Actio Divina and Homo Performans: Embodiment and Evocation” pp. 53-66.

McKenzie contrasts “traditional” preaching with preaching in the “new homiletic,” urging adoption of these novel methods as the means to effective preaching. The New Homiletic, which emerged about 1973, stresses poetic and metaphorical language to evoke experience. This was over against old styles of preaching which focused on explaining the biblical texts and their implications. The difficulty with the older style of preaching is that it followed an Aristotelian model which assumed demonstration of truth would be linked to change of attitude and behavior. The rhetorical methods of classical learning were separated, since the Enlightenment, from the truth claims implicit in the logical argument. Therefore, propositional preaching became less effective and increasingly irrelevant. McKenzie endorses more modern views in which the preacher’s performance evokes emotive change, enabling the congregation to embody the message based on the rhetoric rather than the propositions. Thus sermons are to be built on images and illustrations. The preacher thus emphasizes self-diclosure, transparency, and “authenticity” rather than a logical argument. This allows the congregation to embrace the message and be changed as they participate in the message.

I find this a frightening idea. It feeds an erosion of definitive truth and puts our own hearts in the seat of authority.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Confessional Principle

Chapter 2 “The Confessional Principle” pp. 35-51

The term “confessional Lutheran” used to be a tautology. Braaten points out that ultimately all Christianity is confessional. Lutherans, who identify the Book of Concord as their confessional standard, disagree about the interpretation of these confessions. Braaten discusses the way the confessions understand themselves. They are, above all, unassuming, not saying much about themselves. They are presented as descriptions of reality, not prescriptions. They also rely on the Bible as their authority.

How then do we use the confessions? They may well be viewed as a compass, orienting us to the central issue of salvation by grace through faith. That concept has, in many cases, been subordinated to other issues. Modern theology tends to leave it behind. Yet the Lutheran confessions are steadfast in their affirmation of this as the central doctrine upon which all others must depend. This is our confessional principle, part of what makes Lutherans Lutheran.

Monday, October 7, 2013


I used to have frequent migraine headaches. For those readers who don't suffer from something like a migraine, let's just say it's a life-changing experience. When it happens, the world shuts down. In my case, I would go through a time of vague disorientation. Pain would then clamp down on my head and often my whole body. After the pain let go I wouldn't remember much at all of what had happened before the headache and virtually nothing from the time during the headache. During the course of over 20 years suffering from these regularly, frequently multiple times in a week, I learned to cope and push on with what needed to do. After a migraine I'd spend a couple of days recovering before I felt normal again. This is not unlike a lot of suffering endured by many people.

In recent months, due to some lifestyle and dietary changes I've had headaches less often. I no longer really think of myself as a migraine sufferer, as they are more like six weeks to two months apart. Life is much more productive and predictable.

Yesterday, after a very busy period, I came down with a headache. I was able to get through the pain relatively quickly. Then today was a very full day. I'm amazed at how tired I feel now. The aftermath is still there. What's really incredible, though, is to think that for all those years I probably felt like this day after day after day.

Many of the people we meet on a daily basis deal with chronic pain, fatigue, and other difficulties which may not show on the surface. How many of them feel like this? A good number, especially of those I deal with frequently. What kind of mercy does our Savior have for us when we are feeling our mortality? He is acquainted with sufferings. He bears our sorrows. He has suffered more than any one of us, for he completed the suffering for the whole world. May the Lord grant me compassion for those who are hurting or who are tired of hurting.

The Core of Human Identity

Chapter 2 “The Core of Human Identity” pp. 33-52

Kolb and Arand discuss our identity as humans, particularly as sinful humans faced with the righteous God. In Medieval thought, the perfect righteousness of God implied that he would punish all sin. This resulted in preaching and teaching intended to increase human obedience. We had to reach up to God’s perfection so he could look upon us. Luther and the other Reformers came to understand that, in harmony with God’s grace, he gave believers his perfection. It was never something we could obtain. Christians are given the benefit of the righteousness of Christ because God has spoken it into them. When he has declared that sins are forgiven they really are. Luther also compared salvation to a marriage agreement in which all the property of the wife belongs to the husband and vice-versa. This means that Jesus takes my sin and I take his righteousness. We remain in this state until the last day. Our faith, therefore, is not based on our feeling or any emotional perception. It is based on God’s Word of promise. Looking to the promises allows us to see reality.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sermon for 10/6/13 Habakuk 1

(persecution story)
When will God send justice? When will he protect his people?
The pressure, the persecution comes closer and closer
 European “hate crime” legislation allows prosecution of intent
 Canadian “human rights tribunals”
 Where are the thought police?
When will God send justice? When will he protect his people?

We cry out
 or maybe we don’t
 deafening silence about persecution
 people in line to support the Arab revolutions
 Christians supporting Israeli synagogue building projects when Israel is persecuting Christians
 allowing countless abortions on demand
     Guttmacher Institute points out 22% of pregnancies in America end in abortion
     about 3,300 per day
 we stand by and watch it happen
 we allow human rights and dignity to be violated day after day after day

When will God send justice? When will he protect his people?

What does the Lord say?

coming in judgment
coming to protect his people
coming to right wrongs
coming . . .
In the fullness of time our Lord comes.

What do we do?

Remember Gospel passage, Luke 17
 encourage one another to righteousness
 make a difference wherever we can
 know that the true difference comes through Jesus
 beg God for his mercy
 trust Jesus
 bear witness to his life-giving grace
 trust in the grace of our Lord who comes to us in  Word and Sacrament

Friday, October 4, 2013

Preaching, Performance, and the Life and Death of "Now"

Chapter 2 Paul Scott Wilson “Preaching, Performance, and the Life and Death of “Now” pp. 37-52.

Wilson builds a case for the present time being more than a momentary, static point in discourse. He views time more as a description of a cluster of events, or as a wave, with a crest, a front, and a back, all in motion. Performance is an important factor in dealing with a text which is living in a time which is also living. He suggests that presentation of a text is, in some way, performative, though he hesitates to say that our own performative and creative work is the same as the divine work. Following Nicholas Lash, Wilson ties performance and interpretation together. To accomplish this we must find an interpretation of “now” which includes our encounter with a text, our contemplation of the text, our presentation of the text, and the audience’s understanding and response. At this point in the book, I write the words “Mysticism 101” in the margin, as it seems that Wilson is suggesting that the text of Scripture may well have different meanings to different people and that the preacher’s role is to cause people to understand the Scripture, as they would not be able to receive God’s speech otherwise.

To move from the back to the front of the wave which Wilson is picturing, the preacher performs the text in such as way as to instill hope and change, looking to future events and conditions. To this end, Wilson insists that the preacher should use a manuscript or outline only as a guide, developing much of his sermon in the moment as he reads the response of the congregation and tries to point them in a particular direction.

In order to accomplish this, Wilson observes that we need to die to ourselves and accept the idea that God works outside of time. He terms this the “death of now.” It is not clear what Wilson intends us to think of as time. He seems to be reacting to a modernist construct of time as a linear series of points. Yet this mathematical definition of time does not account for the varied experience every individual brings to a situation. It does not allow for differences in responses and the timing of those responses. I fear in his reaction to a modernist concept of time, Wilson becomes a postmodernist rather than embracing a more biblical and premodern view of time, delivery of a message, and varying responses to that message. In his attempt to remove some of the limits from our concept of time, Wilson simply erases one concept without successfully proposing another.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Canonical Principle

Chapter 1 “The Canonical Principle” pp. 9-34

The Reformation was driven by the Bible. As the Word of God was placed into the hands of many of the laity God’s Spirit ignited the flames of the Reformation. Theology in the Middle Ages, though it was based on Scripture, was treated differently by the Reformers than by their opponents. Luther and his followers developed their theology based on the authority of the Gospel content, rather than the authority of canonical history. This content-based view of the authority of Scripture immediately short-circuits arguments against the Bible based on its history, manuscripts, or means of inspiration. The Bible is to be believed because it presents Christ faithfully. Scripture, then, is rightly interpreted historically and philologically, not in an allegorical manner.

Over against more recent scholarship, the Lutheran Reformation viewed the Bible as a reliable and cohesive set of documents which faithfully record God’s work in Christ. Later theologians and critics tend to reject this view. Lutheran theology, by and large, is still based on God’s Word, read publicly and treated as authoritative based on the gospel content. This guards against both fundamentalism and liberalism.

Braaten 2007

Carl E. Braaten. Principles of Lutheran Theology 2nd edition. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Luther's Anthropological Matrix

Chapter 1 “Luther’s Anthropological Matrix” pp. 23-32

A study of anthropology includes analysis of the presuppositions of life in the target time and culture. Kolb and Arand assert that few people consider their own anthropology. This leads to a weak understanding of people in toher places and times. After examining modern and postmodern anthropology they suggest a “theological” view of anthropology. In this discussion the Reformation matrix of two kinds of righteousness comes to bear. The Reformers recognized a “passive righteousness” which comes from God without human contribution, as well as an “active righteousness” in which we act within society for good. Luther and his followers saw that an excessive focus on either was unhealthy. They also saw that the Roman church had conflated the two. When rightly considered, we need to be full of both passive and active righteousness at the same time, cultivating both the vertical and the horizontal life. This allows us to preserve the proper relationships with God and man, living our humanity to the full.

Kolb & Arand, 2008

The Genius of Luther’s Theology: A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church Robert Kolb & Charles P. Arand  Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Truth and Truthfulness: Theological Reflections on Preaching and Performance

Chapter 1 Marguerite Shuster “The Truth and Truthfulness: Theological Reflections on Preaching and Performance” pp. 19-35.

Shuster states at the outset that the reader may well, and probably should, be uncomfortable with the idea of absolute truth and with performance being related to preaching. She ties truthfulness of the preacher to the truth which is propounded from the pulpit. It is necessary that the preacher be someone the congregation can recognize as true. Conveying the truth in a manner which does not persuade the congregation of that truth and of the sincerity of the preacher may, in Shuster’s opinion, erode the truth. On pp. 24-25 she  draws a distinction between proclamation of truth and beauty in words and proclamation of truth and beauty in artistic representation. Shuster’s thesis is that the truth and beauty conveyed in words is dependent on the presentation of the speaker, while in art, possibly because the artist is more masked, the truth and beauty is not dependent on the artist and is not concrete or “properly judged by moral criteria” (p. 25). The goal of the speaker is to present truth in such a way that it is truthful and will be perceived as truth. This requires careful attention to presentation style and methods. Using a positive mode of presentation will make this truth, which (p. 33) Shuster affirms to be personal in nature, more palatable to the congregation.

Shuster’s approach to truth and beauty is fairly postmodern. She views truth as something which may well be different for different individuals. This same philosophy shows up in her references to art. While the emphasis on presentation skills and adequate physical and mental preparation to communicate a message is important, her understanding of the nature of the message is flawed. Truth is truth, otherwise it is nothing.

Performance in Preaching

Childers, Jana & Clayton J. Schmit (editors). Performance in Preaching: Bringing the Sermon to Life. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.