Four Branches March 2018

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Exegetical Theology: The “Bid” in Jesus’ Words

Couples who attend a WELS “Healthy Marriage” workshop are introduced to John Gottman’s concept of emotional bids — according to his lab-based research, a key indicator of the health and long-term success of a marriage relationship. In short, when one partner makes a bid for emotional connection (e.g. “How do I look?”), the other partner can respond by “turning toward” them, by “turning against” them, or by “turning away” from them. Consider an example of each:

  • “You look wonderful, dear. I’m looking forward to our night out.”
  • “This must be the tenth time you’ve asked me about that dress, and really, it doesn’t work on you.”
  • “Oh, please.”

When one partner “turns toward” the other, they add emotional value to the relationship. “Turning against” subtracts value and causes damage, but at least there is still a connection and an opportunity for repair. Persistent “turning away,” by contrast, is a sign that the relationship is presently failing and ultimately doomed.

Wouldn’t it be a fascinating study to consider each of Jesus’ interactions with people in terms of the emotional bid that one party makes and the response that the other returns? The concept of emotional bids can deepen our understanding of those conversations and gospel invitations that took place from Galilee to Judea.

For an example, look at Jesus’ interactions with Peter and Judas on Maundy Thursday. Jesus makes a similar bid to each:

  • To Judas, ultimately: ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι εἷς ἐξ ὑμῶν παραδώσει με. (Matthew 26:21)
  • To Peter: ἀμὴν λέγω σοι ὅτι ἐν ταύτῃ τῇ νυκτὶ πρὶν ἀλέκτορα φωνῆσαι τρὶς ἀπαρνήσῃ με. (26:34)

The difference, of course, is in how they respond. Peter turns against Jesus: “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (26:35). Peter is arguing the point, but at least he cares. Perhaps one could reason that Peter was actually turning toward Jesus. But wouldn’t a better response have been, “What a terrible thing, Lord! How can I keep from doing so?”

Judas, on the other hand, turns away from Jesus: “Surely not I, Rabbi?” (26:25). Again, one could speak in Judas’s favor, saying that he was turning against Jesus in argument. But that wasn’t really the intent of Judas’s words, was it? He’s using a little bit of defensiveness (“It couldn’t be me, Lord. You must be mistaken”) and a little bit of stonewalling, denying that there was any issue for him and Jesus to discuss further. (Defensiveness and stonewalling are two of the “four horsemen” Gottman identifies as enemies of a healthy relationship.)

Gottman would say that patterns of response to emotional bids are a predictor of a relationship’s future. Indeed, Judas broke off and finally ended the relationship. Peter, though, found healing — the same healing that Jesus won for you and me for every bid we have missed.

For further thought:

That same night, when did Jesus make second bids to both Judas and Peter? How did they respond?

How did Jesus provide Peter the opportunity for a restored relationship with him?

Consider the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28). How did Jesus respond to her bid? Why?

How does Jesus make bids for the love of people today? How has he done so for you? How does he do so through you?

Rev. Nathan Ericson serves Martin Luther Lutheran Church in Oshkosh, WI, as the Special Ministries coordinator for the WELS Northern Wisconsin District.

Systematic Theology: Does God Will Evil

Scripture’s answer is a resounding, “No!”  But it begs the question: If God is good and all powerful, then why even let people commit evil acts?  Half of good theology is knowing the right answers, the other half is asking the right questions.  In this case, the question is flawed.  The answer to “why evil” is not answered by looking at God’s goodness and his omnipotence.  It’s answered by looking at man’s nature.

“You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell”  (Psalm 5:4).  The Bible is clear that God does not will evil.  On the contrary, Scripture is full of examples of God punishing evil (e.g. the flood, the tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.).  Was God not powerful enough to stop those evils from taking place?  Or is God willing evil, and then punishing those who carry it out?

Here we need to be honest and say that we don’t have an answer that fully satisfies.  Dogmaticians have found this distinction helpful: God concurs in producing sinful acts quoad materiam (i.e. materially), not quoad formam (not morally)In other words, God does not generally suspend the law of nature when a gun is fired.  He cooperates materially whether the gun is used in a God pleasing way or to commit murder.  However, God does not cooperate morally with sinful actions.  The fault for that lies entirely in the sinful nature of man that takes God’s good gifts and misuses them.

And yet, God still accomplishes his good and gracious will for us even through evil, for which he bears no responsibility.  The apostle Paul was not using hyperbole when he said that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”  The greatest evidence of that is Jesus’ cross.  Jesus prayed that his Father’s will be done.  What happened?  Judas betrayed.  The religious leaders held a kangaroo court.  Pilate handed down the unjust sentence.  An innocent man was crucified.  All those involved bore the responsibility of the evil they committed and yet through that evil, God’s will was done as he won our salvation.  Even our own death is the result of sin and yet God uses the evil of death to deliver us to the joys of heaven.

For quick further reading, check out Pieper’s Dogmatics, Volume I (p. 453-456; 487-491).

Next Month: If God wants all to be saved, then why are some damned?

Rev. David Scharf serves as a professor of theology at Martin Luther College and on the Commission on Congregational Counseling.

Historical Theology: Wisdom from Walther – Getting it Wrong

What happens when you get it wrong?  Pastors are often asked for advice.  These requests cover many different subjects.  Sometimes in his answer the pastor feels like a well-equipped expert; at others he feels rather less than that.  What a joy it is when people listen to wise counsel drawn from the truth of Scripture and all goes well!  But what happens when you get it wrong?

Even Luther missed the mark on occasion.  Some might recall how Philip, the Landgrave of Hessen, caused a great deal of difficulty with his adulterous behavior which ended in a bigamous marriage.  Luther and Philip Melanchthon both were drawn into this scandal.  Melanchthon struggled in the aftermath of this incident, and Luther was the agent chiefly responsible for rescuing his colleague from his melancholy with encouragement from the Gospel.  But this event only serves as the background for the wisdom Walther includes for the times pastors get it wrong.

Walther includes a letter Luther wrote to George Spalatin who also got it wrong in giving marital advice.  When he realized his error, Spalatin fell into a deep depression.  He could not believe any comfort Scripture had to offer could apply to someone who had erred so grievously.  Spalatin was a man who knew God’s Word.  He knew it well.  He used it often to comfort others.  But in this instance, he got it wrong and was trapped in his despair.  Thankfully Luther could come to his aid in this letter.[1]

Is the pastor of today ever in need of such wisdom?  Everyone gets it wrong at times.  Feelings of foolishness and inadequacy can often follow.  The temptation to give in to self-pity and despair is always a danger.  But Luther still speaks words of consolation to those who have gotten it wrong.

Walther says Luther’s letter provides a great example of how he applied the Gospel to an individual who was struggling with sin.  As such, the pastor can find encouragement for himself.  But he can also learn from Luther as he seeks to do the same in his own ministry.  As an added bonus, Walther inserts his comments on Luther’s words as a further guide to those who would serve in the care of souls.

In 2010 Concordia Publishing House published Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible.  It’s a user-friendly version of C.F.W. Walther’s well-loved book.  Consider reading this section, found on pp. 116-123.

Rev. Jason Oakland serves Martin Luther Lutheran Church in Neenah, WI.

[1] This letter is dated 21 August 1544.  It is not included in the American edition of Luther’s Works.  One can find the German text in the St. Louis edition 10:1728-1733.

Practical Theology: Planning Your Quarter and Forgetting about Projects (on purpose)

Planning out your time usually consists of four time periods: year, quarter, week & day. For the sake of this series, we are going to focus on the latter three.  First, though, I have a few assumptions:

  1. As a professional, your two most precious resources are your time and your energy.
  2. Time and energy management are extremely personal. For example, the things that energize me (people/exercise/planning) or drain energy (counseling, golf, news) may do the opposite for you.
  3. As such, rarely, if ever, will you find a time management “system” that you can adopt wholesale. Instead, the most efficient people I know have simply gleaned the best practices that work for them.
  4. Finally, I hardly claim to be a time-management guru. Instead, I hope to share some concepts that I have gleaned and found helpful in my ministry.

Planning Your Quarter and Forgetting about Projects (on purpose)

Unless you have a desire to do everything yourself, you really should be planning out your quarter.  Think of that as an encouragement from your wife, kids and volunteers.

Where to start?

  • Plan now to block off at least one full day to plan out your next quarter. My dream is to go to the mountains alone overnight, but I haven’t been able to convince my wife just yet. As a compromise, I often go to a neutral place (like the library) and bribe myself by going out to lunch.
  • Pray for concentration and wisdom as you take on this task.
  • Shut off all distractions.
  • Don’t schedule even a single meeting that day.
  • Use a list to trigger items that need to be planned (sample).
  • Give yourself permission to forget about projects by determining exactly which week you will be working on them. This is probably the most helpful tip I can give you. For example, if you have to write an article, rather than adding it to the pile of things you have to do, determine exactly which week you will make that your “extra” project. Once it is on the calendar, forget about it until it is time to work on it. I have started adding them to an annual time block calendar that I use for key dates and trips (sample). The time block calendar is from author/blogger Michael Hyatt
  • Schedule out as many appointments as you can. Doctors, coordinators, council meetings, oil changes, Bible classes, preaching help, etc.
  • Schedule out any reminder emails/texts you need using something like Use templates to send out invitations for meetings (many of these are saved as “signatures” in my church email for quick access. An app like Doodle can help if you don’t have an administrative assistant so people can see your schedule (sample).

Next month we will talk about what blocking has to do with planning your week.

Rev. Jared Oldenburg serves Eternal Rock Lutheran Church in Castle Rock, Colorado, and is the author of the e-book “Who Is Jesus?”