Four Branches – May 2020

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Exegetical Theology: The Swim in Historical-Exegetical Waters & Acts 17:22-31

Though I fail to remember the source, someone described text study like this: “When you bathe yourself in a text, you come out smelling like it.” Instantly, you might think of some kids emerging from a lake or pond swim – fresh, green slime still clinging to someone’s calf – and only a shower can get rid of the smell. To translate such a picture to an exegetical approach encourages all of us to work hard to “live” the text we are working on (or better, that is working on us!) as much as possible. A Seminary professor once highlighted the need to recognize “the story in the text.” 

The Lesson on Acts 17:22-31 during this recent Easter season brought this to mind for me. This text, with its surrounding context, features a number of environmental factors that help dump buckets of its water over our heads as we follow Paul through the streets of Athens. 

  • Athens (17:16). What “smell” comes with it for those who lived there or visited? Like the value of a trip to the Holy Land, a trip to Athens would give you a perspective of the city you could not acquire from an office desk.
  • Areopagus. Is Paul standing in the middle of the hill or in the midst of the Council with that name? One should at least be aware of the exegetical issue. In the meantime, pull up Google Earth, plop a pin on Mars Hill and look around. 
  • “I see that in every way you are very religious…” Take a tour through Athens’ ancient Agora and Acropolis. Online resources abound to help you see just how many more deities besides Athena were on the mind of the Athenians. Paul took that tour himself, and he smelled like it, it agitated him, and proved a base for his sermon.
  • “As one of your own poets have said…” How did Paul know these references? How could he be sure his audience cared for these quotes? Paul references two ancient poets from the fourth and third century BC. One of whom, Aratus, grew up in Paul’s own Cilicia – albeit centuries before – and studied Stoic philosophy in Athens. The other poet, Epimenides from Crete, is quoted twice by Paul in the New Testament, using a different line of one poetic stanza here in Acts 17 and another in Titus 1:12. The point is that Paul was not just familiar with these poets, but knew how respected these were among the Athenians in his audience.

Our exegetical processes serve a hermeneutical purpose that we might better understand the intended meaning of the author. It is this meaning the Spirit brings us to treasure for ourselves and proclaim. To that end, the words themselves are not the only aspect of the text we study. Yes, we have a literary unit before us, but we also have a historical document, lush with its own setting and circumstances. In an historical-grammatical approach, we aim to discover both what the author and audience could assume together and what they communicated together as shared with us through the text.

The line that determines where exegesis ends and hermeneutics begins is blurry. Regardless, may God continue to bless your exploration of Scripture with his Spirit to the edifying of your own soul and the souls of others.

For further reading:

  1. In a hermeneutics course at Summer Quarter, Prof. Paul Wendland shared a helpful podcast for Roman culture called “The History of Rome” by Mike Duncan.
  2. Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Rev. and expanded, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 158–167.
  3. “Athens, City of Idol Worship,” Oscar Broneer, The Biblical Archaeologist. Vol. 21, No. 1 (Feb., 1958), pp. 1-28.

Rev. Daniel Bondow serves at Living Savior in Littleton, CO.

Systematic Theology: The Christian and Politics—Part Two: Separation of Church and State

It’s easy to have an opinion.  It’s easy to critique government decisions.  It may be all too easy to influence others from our position as preachers and teachers with authority from above and a platform where people are looking for wisdom and guidance.  Where should we speak boldly and unhesitatingly, and where should we remain silent?

We can’t say Jesus never made political statements.  We don’t have every word he spoke recorded for us.  We might assume that conversations over dinner or on the boat or along the roads of the Holy Land inevitably touched on the politics (and politicians) of the day.  No doubt the King of Creation would have been able to provide manifold wisdom that might have reformed, strengthened, or replaced governmental policies in his day.  And yet he left us so little commentary on the state of the state in first century Palestine. 

Normally, I take caution not to speak too definitively on why God does or doesn’t do this or that; in this case, however, the reason is painfully obvious.  Jesus doesn’t preach politics because he has a far greater goal in mind.  Jesus doesn’t judge the current events of his day unless he is pointing out a timeless lesson to take from them.  Jesus doesn’t spout opinions because he knows that “true worshipers…worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). 

Brothers, preach the Word.  That’s it.  The Spirit who desires us as his voices in the world isn’t looking for another opinion, no matter how authoritatively we might express ours.  That same Spirit will move the faithful to produce fruits of good citizenship and love for neighbor as he works through law and gospel in the hearts of his people.  When we were ordained, we didn’t commit to directing God’s people to make better choices in elections; rather we were urged to “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).  Each of us solemnly affirmed that we would “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to [us]—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (2 Timothy 2:14).

All this is to say that we have bigger fish to fry than choosing between Republicans and Democrats, Libertarians and Independents, liberals and conservatives, as if any political candidate or party might usher in the Kingdom of God.  God has souls to save, and by his grace, he uses us for this short time of grace we enjoy.  If our opinions might be an obstacle to gospel ministry, we are better off keeping them to ourselves.  Instead, “preach the Word; be prepared in [election] season and out of [election] season…” (2 Timothy 4:2). 

For a lengthier treatment of this topic, watch for Professor Joel Otto’s article in an upcoming Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly.

Rev. Eric Schroeder serves as pastor at St. John’s in Wauwatosa, WI.

Historical Theology: How Do We Pastor Through a Pandemic?  Part 2: Recent Experience

Historically, the Church is not unfamiliar with ministry in the face of disease. The leprosy[1] of Naaman in the 840s BC or that of the 10 Lepers whom Jesus encountered between Samaria and Galilee remind us that the physical manifestation of pestilence has been a feature present in this world from the Fall until today.

Of course, not every physical disease is equal. And certainly not every one reaches the level of pandemic. Further, not every pandemic causes such alteration of daily life on the mass- even global-scale as what we are experiencing today.

Some, however, do. Last month we considered Luther’s response to the outbreak of bubonic plague in 1527 in Wittenberg. This month, we’d like to think about more recent instances of ministry during pandemic.

This past February 7th marked the 100th anniversary of the death of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary President John Schaller. This event is perhaps the best-known, and most tragic, example of ministry during plague among us.

Schaller is remembered especially for his strong leadership defined by pastoral care. In the last week of his life, he had visited a student who had fallen ill and was quarantined in a specific part of the Wauwatosa Seminary, as he was accustomed to do. Unfortunately, he contracted the influenza virus which developed into pleurisy and pneumonia, and by Saturday evening he had died.[2] His death came in the context of the “Spanish flu” pandemic of 1918-1919, which led to millions of deaths worldwide, and caused mass quarantines, including the periodic closing of churches, within the United States.[3]

What kind of lessons can be learned from this? As we know, historical record can be pulled from pages and inserted into foreign contexts and used for inappropriate application. This unfortunate misuse of history not only could result in tragedy today, but also adds to the record historically inaccurate motives and intentions. We have no indication that Professor Schaller was willfully and purposefully negligent of his own health in his efforts to minister to his student.

Perhaps, instead, his account exposes the limitations we live under at any given point in history. Whether in time of pandemic or when life returns to “normal” once again, there are no certainties, humanly speaking, when it comes to the physical welfare of minister or member. The ministry of the Gospel may expose one to dangerous physical circumstances. The return to in-person public worship might lead to the unintended spread of an infectious, perhaps deadly, disease.

Conversely, ministers of the Gospel do seek to care for our own, and our neighbor’s, souls and bodies. While disease has always been present in the fallen world, human understanding and best practices of addressing it have changed over time. The Apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy to “stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illness” (1 Timothy 6:23) would not be recognized as the height of physiological advice today. But, it did indicate a spirit of pastoral care concerned about soul and body, in keeping with quality medical advice from the time.

He had in mind the Shepherd’s care for his sheep – a care that redeemed both soul and body and a care that meets sinners where they are at: in a world of physical ailment and death under the curse of sin, to proclaim healing to them. The same Shepherd’s care which brought about the temporal healing of a man named Naaman and ten leprous men in a no-man’s land, and the eternal healing of a faithful minister through his physical death.

No, the Church is not unfamiliar with ministry in the face of disease. Rather, seeking the best for our neighbors’ physical welfare, we endeavor to proclaim to them the one Savior from every disease.

[1] Regardless of whether the disease was actual leprosy, or any of the skin diseases referred to by צָרַע and λεπρός, respectively.

[2] Account taken from “The Wauwatosa Theology: The Men and Their Message” by Martin O. Westerhaus. The Wauwatosa Theology, Vol. I, Curtis A. Jahn, Ed., 1997, Northwestern Publishing House, with additional information through personal email provided by Pastor Jeremiah Gumm, dated May 19, 2020, based on his further study of the life and ministry of President Schaller.

[3] Take a look at the response to the Spanish flu epidemic published in The Lutheran Witness from 1918, located at for historical details and perspective.

Rev. Matthew Kiecker serves as pastor at St. John Lutheran in Lomira, WI.

Practical Theology: The New Homiletic: Fred Craddock & Eugene Lowry

** Note: Pastor Haag provided 6 of his own sermons using the preaching styles he talks about.  They can be found by clicking the sermon links throughout the article.

Fred Craddock is best known for narrative preaching, a movement that has recently dominated homiletics.  Oliphant Old writes, “There is something obviously true about this movement. One of the basic responsibilities of the preacher is to recount the story, the Heilsgeschichte, the history of salvation.”1  Although Craddock’s sermons can overemphasize human interest narratives, Craddock tells biblical narrative phenomenally well.  By employing first personal singular preaching, human interest stories, and/or the basic biblical storyline, narrative preaching allays suspicions against propositional truth by illustrating truth.  Here’s how I use Craddock’s homiletical theory:

  • In Sermon 1, I used Craddock’s concept of indirect communication in Overhearing the Gospel. I set the scene in Jerusalem during Passover and recount the story of salvation as if I were the father at the dinner table.  Note how I do not directly address the congregation until the last paragraph.  They are simply bystanders listening in.
  • In Sermon 2, I used a first-person style in the exposition and only quoted the text that is direct conversation. I purposely wanted the hearers to relate to Mary Magdalene’s emotion, as the dialogue shifts between her and Jesus.
  • In Sermon 3, I purposely wanted the hearers to listen in on the road to Emmaus, as the dialogue shifts from Cleopas’s companion, to Jesus, back to Cleopas’s companion.

Eugene Lowry is best known for his five-part form of inductive preaching known as a “Lowry Loop:”

  1. Upsetting the Equilibrium
  2. Analyzing the Discrepancy
  3. Disclosing the Key to Resolution
  4. Experiencing the Gospel
  5. Anticipating the Consequences

This sermon lives or dies by its opening sentence.  Instead of creating the reaction, “That’s interesting,” the preacher must immediately create the reaction, “That’s a problem.”  Part 1 foregoes any introduction and moves immediately to a problem in the text.  Part 2 probes deeper to the “why?” of the problem (usually sin’s ramifications).  Part 3 dramatically creates the “aha” moment on which the sermonic rhetoric turns.  Part 4 proclaims the gospel, and Part 5 leads to the implications of the gospel. Here’s how I use Eugene Lowry’s homiletical theory:

  • In Sermon 4, I embrace offensive OT texts. On Reformation 500, I cast Isaiah’s diatribe against idols in light of how our culture (especially my university context) finds exclusivity offensive. 
  • In Sermon 5, I embrace our culture’s offense against the possibility of a resurrection. Note how I save the theme for the very last sentence.
  • In Sermon 6, I manipulate the theme in five ways, alternating between addressing Adam & Eve, the hearers, God, Christ, and the hearers.

Inductive preaching does not give the preacher more liberty to be free.  It forces him to be more disciplined and restrained in only giving away pieces of his argument.  Done poorly, it can disintegrate into a disorganized or awkward mess, but done well, it can be captivating.

1 Hughes Oliphant Old, Our Own Time, vol. 7, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 30.

Rev. Jacob Haag is pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Ann Arbor, MI, and a member of the Michigan District Commission on Worship.