Welcome to the first edition of The Four Branches newsletter. Grow in Grace (The Institute for Pastoral Growth at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary) is pleased to send you this newsletter once a month to encourage personal continuing education.
Continuing our personal spiritual and professional growth can seem just as daunting as it is important. Where do we start? The purpose of this publication isn’t to add one more task to your list, but to offer you small “starting points.” Each month the newsletter will have brief articles from each of the four traditional branches of theology. The articles won’t plumb the depths of any passage or topic in 300 words. They’ll refresh you on a point of grammar that you learned long ago, raise a doctrinal question you hadn’t considered and point you in the right direction, or help you discover a writing from church history that finds new poignancy today. They’re starting points.
The authors are all pastors currently serving God’s Church as our brothers. Thank you to Jonathan Scharf, Harland Goetzinger, Wade Johnston and Jonathan Micheel for writing articles for our first three editions. May their study in the “Four Branches” bear fruit for your faith and your ministry.
Joel Seifert, General Editor
Joel Seifert serves at Shining Mountains Lutheran Church in Bozeman, MT
Exegetical theology: Snakes, by Grace
Suggested Gospel for the Festival of the Reformation, Year A: Matthew 10:16-23
γίνεσθε οὖν φρόνιμοι ὡς οἱ ὄφεις καὶ ἀκέραιοι ὡς αἱ περιστεραί. – shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves – NIV 84
Jesus sends his disciples as sheep among wolves, and then tells them to γίνεσθε οὖν φρόνιμοι ὡς οἱ ὄφεις καὶ ἀκέραιοι ὡς αἱ περιστεραί. Because (οὖν) they will have the opposition (wolves), he gives them this present imperative to be φρόνιμοι – sensible, wise. He uses a word that is often used as the opposite of fool (Mt. 7:24, 25:2), but then he compares the “wisdom” to that of a snake. These same words are used by the LXX when Moses describes the one used to tempt our first parents (Ὁ δὲ ὄφις ἦν φρονιμώτατος). Considering that and the antonym later in the phrase, we get translations like shrewd (NIV, HCSB, NASB, Gibbs), wise (ESV, KJV), and keen (Lenski).
At the same time, the disciples are to be as innocent (NIV, NASB, Gibbs), guileless (Lenski), or harmless (KJV, HCSB) as doves, an animal Scripture uses to picture beauty (Song of Songs) or foolishness (Hosea 7:11) or helplessness (Isaiah 38:14). Matthew uses ἀκέραιος, or “unmixed” to describe the purity or innocence with which they are to go out as sheep among wolves.
How can you be both cunning and innocent, wise and foolish, sensible and naïve? For further reading, both Gibbs’ Concordia Commentary on Matthew and Franzmann’s Bible History Commentary have nice discussions on this, but here consider these insights from context.
As Jesus sends them out, they’ll need the shrewdness or cunning because they will be handed over to councils, synagogues, governors and kings who will mistreat them (v. 17-18). They’ll be hated by all men, even family members (v. 21-22). But at the same time, even as Jesus stresses the first person pronoun in sending them (v. 16) to remind them who was with them, verses 19-20 and 22-23 demonstrate how they can be innocent instead of hostile to those hating them. The Spirit will give them what to say (v. 19-20) and he who stands firm to the end will be saved (22). This is our Reformation heritage, too: to go out into a hostile world, wisely making the most of every opportunity while keeping our focus on the grace of the Christ who goes with us.
Blessings as you apply these truths to your people.
Pastor Jonathan Scharf serves Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington, GA.
He also serves on the Scripture Committee for the new hymnal project, and is sharing Greek insights from three proposed pericopes.
 Nestle, E., Nestle, E., Aland, B., Aland, K., Karavidopoulos, J., Martini, C. M., & Metzger, B. M. (1993). The Greek New Testament (27th ed.) (24). Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft.
Systematic Theology: Pondering Providence
How practicus is the habitus of the doctrine of providence? We recall terms like “necessary, contingent, antecedent, consequent will,” “concurrence” and “secondary causes.” And the doctrine can grow cold and academic very quickly.
In our Savior’s prayer, Jesus focuses first on him who necessitates all things. He puts theology before our needs, that which is universally true before that which is practical for one’s own personal life. But since the greater is true and immutable, the lesser follows as well. So, ponder the fourth petition. We pray our recognition of the fact that we do not live by fate, but by the intention of the living God who meticulously cares for us. In times of trouble this is not our default thinking, but Romans 8:28 is far more than “don’t worry, be happy!”
Lutheran theology has always understood God’s providence as his creatio continua. He never observes the affairs of men as a spectator. His seeing is always a preserving, it always has an evangelical and soteriological aim. Thus, God’s providence is a living ἐνέργια of his will extending in special measure to his Communion of Saints.
Romans 8 tells us that “all things” are the object of his providence, not just generally, but the “all” embraces the individual, from the lowest to the noblest. Divine creatio continua persists, and he cares for it all. And care is nothing less than his ἐνέργια in you; his new creation as a daily new creation. What you experience is not just common to man, but necessitated and custom-managed by him who watches over your life, all in the Romans 8 context of “He who did not spare his own Son.”
I encourage you to refresh the basics of God’s providence with a review of your dogmatics notes. Chemnitz’ Loci shows the child of God how to draw comfort from this doctrine. Go ahead, ponder God’s providence!
Pastor Harland Goetzinger serves the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Paul in Ottawa, and is the president of WELS-Canada.
Historical Theology: The Heidelberg Disputation
In these first three issues of Four Branches the historical theology section will focus on three works of Martin Luther, which were especially formative for his theology and are clear articulations of it. The first work, which we recommend for your personal study, is Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation.
Luther was a provincial vicar of the Augustinian Order, a job that occupied much of his time. Meetings like the one at which Luther presented his theses took place every three years. Luther’s superior and spiritual father, Johann von Staupitz, arranged for Luther to defend his teaching at the assembly of the order in Heidelberg in April of 1518. Luther penned these theses in order to fulfill that task, exemplifying the theological method of the University of Wittenberg. He boldly sought to address a key question with which he himself had wrestled for years. Less than a year after the Diet of Worms, Luther showed just how much his thinking about how God deals with sinners had crystalized. The question was: how do human beings become objects of the love of God? Luther’s answer was a resounding “Christ!”
Luther addressed four key issues in the theological theses: good works, the will, the theology of glory vs. the theology of the cross, and the righteousness of faith. These could be boiled down to two: our approach to God (via the law) and God’s approach to us (via the gospel). Luther’s argument is summarized well in the first part of his final theological thesis: “The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it” (LW 31:41). In short, crux sola est nostra theologia, “the cross alone is our theology.”
Even the busiest pastor can find time to read these theses, and he will be better for having done so, both in what they remind and teach, and in what they lead us to ask and contemplate. Here we find the heart of Reformation theology and the kernel of what Luther would further develop for the rest of his time on this earth. God bless you and your flock as you give it deeper thought!
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: Diverse learning styles (p. 1 of 3)
How do adults learn? Have you noticed that some adults prefer lots of discussion, while others would rather have time to sit and think individually? Can you think of some people who like lecture-based classes and others who enjoy digging into their Bibles on their own?
Jason Teteak, who teaches adults how to teach other adults, categorizes adult learners in this way:
Step learners appreciate knowing what the plan is for your lesson. They like seeing an agenda and your goals for their class. They want to know that you’ve got a path in mind and are leading them down that path.
Talk learners may raise their hand to answer a question before they know what the answer is! That’s because they figure things out by thinking out loud. As you can imagine, they thrive on opportunities for discussion.
Research learners like to discuss things, but only after they’ve had a chance to think things through. These learners like being given a little time to work through questions on their own, and then comparing their responses with other people’s.
Create learners enjoy putting thoughts together in different ways. Chances to synthesize information and formulate answers are right up their alley. Small tasks and activities help them work through what they’re learning.
Can you picture people who fit these descriptions? You probably have all these learners in your Bible classes.
We want more people to learn more of the Word. For that reason, it’s valuable to realize that within the body of Christ, different people learn things in different ways.
In upcoming issues of Four Branches we’ll think more about diverse learning styles and how to address them. Until then you may want to check out Jason Teteak’s online course, Teach Anybody Anything: Reach Any Learner Anywhere. The course is $65, but well worth the benefit it offers to pastors – or any lay leader teaching a Bible study.
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.