Four Branches October 2017

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Exegetical Theology: Find the Structure

“Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Ju 17:6). If you followed my advice in the last article and “excised the extras,” what did you find? Did you find yourself in a text with no structure, order, and shape? If the shape and structure is now gone, then how do we find it without verses, chapters, and headings? The biblical authors give us tools in the text. Ernst Wendland reminds us that, first of all, within the text there is connectivity.1 There is connectivity with a section or thought-unit (cohesion). And there is connectivity to the greater, larger structure of the book/letter itself (coherence). As an example of cohesion, let’s look at the section in Luke I mentioned last time. How is it that we know that Luke 12:22-34 belongs with vs. 13-21? Jesus brings up the foolish rich man who sets his heart on building and storing away in barns. Then, just several verses later, he mentions that God takes care of birds even though they do not have storerooms or barns (vs. 24). As an example of connectivity at a larger level, compare Hebrews 4:14 to 10:23. Notice the inclusio as the writer encourages us to hold onto the confession. He does the same in 10:23. In 4:16 he encourages them to approach the throne. In 10:23 he encourages them to approach the house (ⲟⲓⲕⲟⲛ). This coherence gives shape to the text at a larger scope and area than in just a thought-by-thought level.

There are other ways the biblical authors help us figure out this structure. Mark often makes use of parataxis (i.e. stacking thoughts side by side, leaving you to figure out the logical structure ‘on the fly’). But he also sandwiches topics in an A-B-A structure. So, even though it’s difficult to figure out connectivity between a given και and και, these “markan sandwiches” help us group sections (and underneath them thoughts) together.

Paul, on the other hand, does not make use of the more Hebraic parataxis. Instead, he more often makes use of hypotaxis. He either leads to or leads from a main point. For example, Paul lets us know that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13). But that drives us to ask the question, “how?” If we’ve been awake and aware in the book of Romans up till this point we will seriously doubt our own ability to somehow, on our own, call on God’s name. So Paul asks the question and then finally arrives at his conclusion of the immediate context with his conclusion: So then (“ἄρα”, Romans 10:17 NA28-T) faith comes from hearing the message. If we’re looking for the point of the section (and even a sermon), so very often the biblical authors tell us.

Finding the coherence and cohesion in these treasured books of the bible won’t always precisely shape the structure for us. Sometimes there will be some ambiguity. But for many parts of the bible they will help us. If you’d like to read more about this, Ernst Wendland has written many books and articles on this topic.2

1 A Literary Approach to Bible Translation. P. 182


Rev. Steve Bauer serves as pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Chaska, MN.

Systematic Theology: Vocation – Its Content

The sphere of your vocation is where you are now, but its content is as varied as each individual Christian. You are a mask of God. Through you and your vocation as a means, God continues to carry out His providential will. Your vocation is God’s on-going way of caring for people, divine care which seeks to attain its purpose through the proper use of every office.

“Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him.” 1 Corinthians 7:20 was a key concept in Luther’s understanding of vocation. Luther noted, “Truly good works are not self-elected works of monastic or any other holiness, but such only as God has commanded, and as are comprehended within the bounds of one’s particular calling, and all works, let their name be what it may, become good only when they flow from faith, the first, greatest, and noblest of good works.”

“But what of my ambition for a better job?” Great! But your present vocation is the one you live now in this moment. God will hear your prayers. God will answer in His way in His time. “But is there a holier career I could be doing?” We make plans, including career choices, but the context of our life (our vocation) is ultimately determined by God. In answer to the anxious question as to whether the vocation I find myself in is the one God willed for me, Luther refers to the saying of Christ that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without the will of our heavenly Father, and that all the hairs of our head are numbered. Meaning, that our faith is trust not only in the forgiveness of sins (the heavenly kingdom), but also in God’s providence, protection, and direction in material matters (the earthly kingdom). Your peace and assurance of your vocation can rest in this truth.

“What shall I do with my life?” Luther was fond of quoting 1 Samuel 10:7 when discussing vocation. “do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.” What “your hand finds to do” has not just sprung forth by accident.

Help your flock understand their vocation as something that is not divorced from Sunday worship, but is weekly worship. Job dissatisfaction can easily become a tool of Satan to disrupt God’s goal of dispensing His blessings through us. The devil hides behind masks too.

Prof. Mark Paustian’s Unleashing Our Calling: Today’s Christians Find Fulfillment in Their Vocations helps shepherds help their flock see their whole life as Christ-filled conduit for serving one’s neighbor.  For a few more thoughts this author has gleaned from Luther and others, consider this short addendum here.

Pastor Harland Goetzinger serves the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Paul in Ottawa, and is the president of WELS-Canada.

Historical Theology: Visionary Reformer

As we continue to explore Luther biographies for this Luther Year, I have found Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer by Scott Hendrix to be the second most fresh and insightful new contribution to the historiography of Luther biographies in the last few years. Utilizing an array of previously unexplored or underexplored material, including a lot of Luther’s correspondence, Hendrix offers a balanced, clear, and very readable overview of the life and work of the reformer.

Broken into two parts, the first dealing with Luther’s early life and the beginning of the Reformation and the second treating his life as a reformer, once the Reformation was settling in where it had been adopted, Hendrix manages to explore Luther’s life without reading into it or psychologizing and to offer a survey of his key theological insights and emphases largely without undue parochial or contemporary biases. He sheds light both upon Luther’s personality without underestimating the qualities that made him a beloved friend and trusted preacher and counselor to many or excusing the rough edges. He presents Luther in context, the product of his upbringing, education, social class, working environment, circle of friends, and times. In so doing, he also manages to draw clear connections to our own day with applications and lessons for preachers and theologians to take with them into the pulpit and classroom.

There are a plethora of biographies of Luther available to readers in 2017. They are certainly not all of the same caliber or utility for busy preachers. In my opinion, however, this one rises to the top when it comes to recent works. The old stand-by, trusted and true accounts of Luther’s life and work still deserve their place and another reading, but Hendrix here makes a contribution that goes beyond merely echoing what others have already done.  By freeing Luther from the anachronism that has infiltrated several prominent biographies produced for this Luther Year and letting Luther speak for himself theologically, politically, and socially, in so far as he addressed issues in those realms, Hendrix does both the reformer and his readers a service. Together with Brand Luther, Hendrix’s Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer does much to merit a place on pastors’ bookshelves, especially considering its modest price and clear prose.

Rev. Wade Johnston serves as an Assistant Professor of Theology at Wisconsin Lutheran College and received his Ph.D. from Central Michigan University and Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam.

Practical Theology: How do you talk about the Public Ministry? (Part 1)

When people hear you talk about the public ministry, what impressions do they get?

Last month we noted that when we talk about the Reformation, not only is what we say important but also how we say it. The same is true when we talk about the public ministry.

Consider some potential pitfalls as we describe the public gospel ministry to people. These are absurd, exaggerated examples, but they represent extreme attitudes we can sometimes find in ourselves.

Potential Pitfall: Prideful Condescension

“I don’t know if you got the memo, but the ministry is the most important job in the world. They told us this throughout our ministerial education. We’re working with immortal souls, people! So whatever job you have is not as important. And whatever ideas you have are not as good as those that we full-time called workers come up with. Stand aside!”

This is wrong on many levels. For one, when those servants who trained us for the ministry told us how important the public ministry is, they were not trying to instill self-centered pride in us. They were instead pointing to the grace of God—grace as in “undeserved love.” Not one of us deserves to be a child of God at all, much less one who gets to serve others with the gospel. It’s grace alone that saved us, and it’s grace alone that called us into Christ’s service. Listen to Paul: “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am…” (1 Corinthians 15:9,10).

It’s wrong also to think of other vocations as less than public-ministry vocations. Countless Christians in other vocations serve and glorify God as much as called workers do. In fact, the Christians whose generous offerings gospel ministers couldn’t live without—their vocations are just as much a part of God’s plan for this world as gospel ministers’ vocations are. Look again at Paul’s words about the body of Christ; every part the body is valuable and vital in its own way.

So when lay members of our congregations come up with ideas or raise concerns, it may be true that they don’t have the perspective that full-time workers do. For instance, they may not see flaws in a voters’ meeting proposal, since their vocations don’t require them to be privy to as many details of congregational life. However, God has enabled lay members to see things that full-time called workers can’t. They simply know more than we do about a lot of stuff! And so they have the ability to broaden our knowledge about so many things. Our Lord is working through every one of his children—called worker or lay member—for the good of his kingdom.

When talking about the public ministry, instead of prideful condescension, how about this: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16).

Next month, another potential pitfall: Humble-Brag Martyrdom

Pastor Jon Micheel serves Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City, UT.  He also serves on the Rites Committee for the new hymnal project.