Over 350 people attended the seminary’s annual fall symposium on Sept 19-20. Pastors from across the U.S. and Canada heard three papers presented on hermeneutics—the vital work of interpreting the Bible. They were reminded that the Apostle Paul encourages them to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
In a 21st century world where words and their meanings are constantly being bent, ignored, or challenged, three presenters helped pastors stay focused on correctly handling God’s Word.
Pastor Steven Lange, class of 1997, began the symposium with his paper “The Value of Hermeneutics.” Lange, who is a pastor at Hope in Louisville, Ky., reminded attendees that, every day, we all interpret and understand the myriad messages that come to us from myriad sources. What makes biblical interpretation unique is that the Bible is not just some message sent by some person. It is the actual Word of God and is inspired by God. That is why the “value of hermeneutics is being able to understand God’s message to us in his Word in the way that he intends, in spite of the barriers of language, culture, and time that stand between us and the original text. It is sitting at our Savior’s feet like Mary and listening as he himself reveals his truth to us.”
Prof. Kenneth Cherney wrote the reaction to this paper. “Pastor Lange’s splendid paper . . . demonstrates that, as we often say on this campus, sound hermeneutics mostly consists of things that all users of language do automatically hundreds of times a day.” Yet there is a difference when it comes to biblical interpretation. “Above all, we strive to remember this with regard to the entire Scripture. Ultimately the question is not merely what the authors intended but what the Author intended.” And the Author always intended to point to Christ.
The second paper, presented by 2006 graduate Benjamin Tomczak, discussed hermeneutics and the Confessions. Tomczak, pastor at Bethel, Sioux Falls, S.D., addressed how the Lutheran church can be a sola Scriptura church—a Scripture alone church—and believe, teach, and value the Confessions at the same time. “We call them a witness and testimony. We call them confessions of faith. We call them symbols. We say they summarize the Scriptures,” he said. “They have authority, but derived from Scripture. They are water drawn from the well. . . . They restate, they repeat, they reproduce in miniature what the Scriptures say.”
In his reaction, Prof. John Brenner wrote, “The confessions serve another important purpose. In a society in which doctrine is a dirty word and personal experience and feelings trump objective truth, the Lutheran Confessions are an anchor and guard against theological anarchy.” He also shared, “Each generation must mine the Holy Scriptures and make the teachings of Scripture its own. That requires hard work. At the same time each generation would be foolish to ignore the wisdom of previous generations.”
For the final paper, Pastor Daniel Waldschmidt, a 2012 graduate, shared information about a scholarly movement called the New Perspective on Paul. This movement challenges the Reformation’s interpretation of justification by faith and offers new interpretations to several key elements of Paul’s theology. Waldschmidt, pastor at St. John, Burlington, Wis., shared what these new interpretations are and how they undermine Scripture’s chief teaching of justification by faith alone.
He focused everyone by saying, “John the Baptist gives us the hermeneutical key to the Scriptures when he points at Jesus and says, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). And then he encouraged them, “as heirs of the Reformation, let us commit ourselves to a deep study of the text. When we read Paul’s letters, we will see what Luther saw there: ‘Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified’ (Gal 3:1).”
President Paul O. Wendland provided the reaction for that paper. “The true threat today comes from those who are seeking to reinterpret the apostle Paul in a way radically different from the way he was interpreted at the time of the Reformation. Our essayist’s analysis of the New Perspective on Paul, therefore, could not be more timely or needed.”
The archive of the Symposium is available at http://livestream.com/wlslive.