COncordia

ournal
volume 35 | number 4
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Fall 2009
An Urban Seminary
Caritas in Veritate: Through A Lutheran’s Eyes
A Spurious, if Consistent, Luther Quote?
Bonhoeffer and the Church Struggle
Writing a Theology of Luther
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COncordia
ournal
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(ISSN 0145-7233)
All correspondence should be sent to:
Rev. Travis Scholl
CONCORDIA JOURNAL
801 Seminary Place
St. Louis, Missouri 63105
concorjournal@csl.edu
Issued by the faculty of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, the Concordia Journal is the successor of
Lehre und Wehre (1855-1929), begun by C. F. W. Walther, a founder of The Lutheran Church—Missouri
Synod. Lehre und Wehre was absorbed by the Concordia Theological Monthly (1930-1972) which was also pub-
lished by the faculty of Concordia Seminary as the official theological periodical of the Synod.
The Concordia Journal is abstracted in Internationale Zeitschriftenschau für Bibelwissenschaft unde Grenzgebiete, New
Testament Abstracts.Old Testament Abstracts, and Religious and Theological Abstracts. It is indexed in Repertoire
Bibliographique des Institutions Chretiennes and Religion Index One: Periodicals. Article and issue photocopies in
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International, 300 North Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1346.
Books submitted for review should be sent to the editor. Manuscripts submitted for publication should
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The Concordia Journal (ISSN 0145-7233) is published quarterly (Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall). The annual
subscription rate is $15 U.S.A., $20 for Canada and $25 for foreign countries, by Concordia Seminary, 801
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Cover art: “Nativity” by Dr. He Qi (www.heqigallery.com)
© Copyright by Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri 2009
www.csl.edu
publisher
Dale A. Meyer
President
Executive EDITOR
William W. Schumacher
Dean of Theological
Research and Publication
EDITOR
Travis J. Scholl
Managing Editor of
Theological Publications
EDITORial assistant
Melanie Appelbaum
assistants
Carol Geisler
Joel Haak
James Prothro
David Adams
Charles Arand
Andrew Bartelt
David Berger
Joel Biermann
Gerhard Bode
Kent Burreson
William Carr, Jr.
Anthony Cook
Timothy Dost
Thomas Egger
Jeffrey Gibbs
Bruce Hartung
Erik Herrmann
Jeffrey Kloha
R. Reed Lessing
David Lewis
Richard Marrs
David Maxwell
Dale Meyer
Glenn Nielsen
Joel Okamoto
Jeffrey Oschwald
David Peter
Paul Raabe
Victor Raj
Paul Robinson
Robert Rosin
Timothy Saleska
Leopoldo Sánchez M.
David Schmitt
Bruce Schuchard
William Schumacher
William Utech
James Voelz
Robert Weise
Faculty
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Fall 2009
COncordia
ournal
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CONTENTS
volume 35 | number 4
EDITORIALs
343 Editor’s Note
346 An Urban Seminary
Dale A. Meyer
350 Caritas in Veritate: Through A Lutheran’s Eyes
John Nunes
356 “If I Profess”: A Spurious, if Consistent,
Luther Quote?
Bob Caldwell
ARTICLES
363 Bonhoeffer and the Church Struggle
H. Gaylon Barker
380 Writing a Theology of Luther:
A Review Essay on Contributions New and Old
Erik Herrmann
393 GRAMMARIAN’S CORNER
Greek Participles, Part VIII
James W. Voelz
397 HOMILETICAL HELPS
LSB Series B—Gospels to Series C—Old Testament
429 BOOK REVIEWS
editoRIALS
COncordia
ournal
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Editor’s Note
343 Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
“And the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/And
know the place for the first time.” Such are the oft-quoted lines from T. S. Eliot’s
“Four Quartets.” Such is the sense of time for those who follow the cycling of the
church year. We are coming back to where we started, sensing again a new discov-
ery. That is to say we are arriving again at the foot of a cattle stall, our shepherd
eyes looking toward heavens filled with stars and angels. “And she gave birth to her
firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger,
because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke brings us back to the place
of the Nativity.
Nativity
Our unofficial year of He Qi is also coming full circle. The culmination of
this year is that Concordia Seminary is currently hosting his 43-piece exhibition,
“Look Toward the Heavens.” The exhibition is housed in the gallery of Concordia
Historical Institute on the Seminary campus, and we are deeply grateful for this
partnership with CHI and for their hospitality. This is the premiere of He Qi’s art-
work in the St. Louis region, and there’s no telling if it will return. As part of this
historic exhibition, the Concordia Seminary community was graced by the presence
of the artist himself when He Qi visited our campus on October 23. The presence
of both him and his artwork “in the flesh” is a blessing to Concordia Seminary,
and through this place, to the broader St. Louis community. Should you find your-
self near St. Louis between now and the end of January, please come and see the
exhibition. Look toward the heavens with us. To see He Qi’s art is, indeed, to
“know the place for the first time.”
You can also experience the exhibition virtually, including video interviews
with the artist and a small gallery of He Qi’s work at www.ConcordiaTheology.org,
online.
Many other new things are happening at this “urban seminary.” President
Dale Meyer introduces some of these in his regular editorial essay. And we are
more than pleased to be able to feature a review by John Nunes of Pope Benedict’s
recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. The timing of this encyclical on human and
economic development is especially relevant to global events. And John Nunes’
work and expertise in the realms of global human care and social justice give him a
20/20 vision for how we should critically and constructively receive this letter from
Rome.
The Concordia Seminary campus community is also currently engaged in a
communal reading of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. As an aid to that reading,
and as a way to invite you into our “life together,” we are publishing here Gaylon
Barker’s essay on “Bonhoeffer and the Church Struggle.” This essay was originally
delivered during the centennial conference celebrating Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life
held at Concordia Seminary in July 2006.
Finally, since this is a Fall issue, we are in the Reformation spirit. Robert
Caldwell dispels an oft-quoted passage of Martin Luther, because it is, in his final
analysis, not Luther’s. Erik Herrmann provides a timely review essay of current
trends in Luther studies and Luther’s theology. And the book reviews feature two
recent books on Luther.
You will also notice that with the turning of the church year, the
“Homiletical Helps” now turn to the Old Testament readings of Year C. But, back
by popular demand, you can expect a new online “Concordia Journal Currents”
podcast on preaching the Gospel of Luke when the time comes.
344
Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
After a long summer, the auburn colors of autumn are bringing us back to
where we started. And despite the dying light, there is much that makes it look and
feel new. We have the Christ child to thank for that.
Travis J. Scholl
Managing Editor of Theological Publications
CORRECTION: In the Summer 2009 issue, the encomium for Professor David
Wollenburg stated that he retired from the United States Air Force with the rank of
Lieutenant Colonel. In actuality, Dr. Wollenburg attained the rank of “full–bird” Colonel.
We deeply regret and apologize for the error.
345
An Urban Seminary
Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, is an urban seminary. Sit with me for a few
minutes and catch a sense of how we’re moving forward to seize the opportunities
of our urban setting.
The Seminary fled the city once. Begun in Perry County, it moved to St.
Louis in 1849. When the impressive Seminary building of 1883 found itself choked
by the growing city, Professor Ludwig E. Fuerbringer wrote to synod officials:
The present location is no longer suitable for a boarding-school with a
large number of students. Seventy years ago our Seminary stood at the
outskirts of St. Louis; today it is surrounded by many buildings in the
midst of the city. Within three blocks there are four different car-lines
(streetcars), one of these passing directly in front of the Seminary. The
din and noise of the large city and the continuous heavy traffic of the
city streets very much interfere with the work of the professors and
students in the lecture-room and with the work of the individual stu-
dent at his desk.
The quieter place was provided by the 1926 campus which today continues
to offer the necessary peace for reflection and conversation that our forefathers
and architect Charles Klauder envisioned. The city followed us and today
Concordia Seminary, still a peaceful 72 acre retreat, is smack dab in the midst of
the nation’s 16th largest metropolitan area.
Prospective students couldn’t wish for a better setting. In easy walking dis-
tance is Forest Park, recently refurbished, larger and safer than Central Park in New
York, and home to excellent cultural institutions like the art and history museums.
The park offers sports opportunities, like a public golf course, tennis and racquet-
ball courts and a renowned zoo. Most of all, this is free and a short walk to the east
of campus. A mile north is one of the best people-watching streets in America, the
Delmar Loop. Sitting outside to eat or just walking up and down the street, semi-
narians find themselves in an eclectic mix of people that challenges the church’s
traditional ideas about outreach. People-watching precedes evangelistic engagement,
as a story later will demonstrate. Get on the Metro Link (two stations are fairly
close to campus) and seminarians can explore sites downtown, like the historic Old
Courthouse of the Dred Scott decision, the fascinating City Museum that adults
enjoy as much as kids, college and professional sports events, and much more in
the city proper. By the way, the population of St. Louis City has been growing this
decade. When some prospective students were recently taken to the top of Luther
Tower, 120 feet high and built on a hilltop, they were wowed to see all the opportu-
nities that are in walking, or short driving distance from the campus. All that might
346
Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
read like a Chamber of Commerce pitch but there are formation advantages to this
urban setting.
You can also see the unsafe, dehumanizing realities of urban life, the broken-
ness of our sinful world that has to be in the consciousness of our future pastors
and deaconesses. Seminarians doing their resident field education experience con-
gregations making a difference in the city. Recently I took a class to Bethlehem
Lutheran Church where Pastor John Schmidtke showed them a contrast of the
ages: A magnificent large church building, in such disrepair that it cannot be used,
but in a smaller building next door the thriving congregation worships, offers a day-
care program, is leading revitalization in the neighborhood and pursuing the estab-
lishment of a charter school. At Trinity Lutheran Church in Soulard, Dr. C.F.W.
Walther’s church, weekend worship attendance is about 325, that is half the bap-
tized membership (better than most LCMS churches), and the average age of the
congregation is in the 30’s. Pastor Dave Marth says that participation for seminari-
ans is “a life-changing experience before ordination.” Timothy Lutheran Church
ministers to French speaking Africans and Vietnamese, in addition to the traditional
LCMS profile. Pastor Ron Rall says, “If we can’t learn to do ministry effectively in
the city, our congregations are going to crumble. Ethnic immigrants are the people
coming. That’s the future of ministry in the city.” Lutheran parochial schools have
declined in the city but dedicated efforts to be a presence in the city are being made
by congregations like those just mentioned, by the Lutheran Elementary School
Association, the Lutheran Foundation of St. Louis, and others. The mission chal-
lenges of large metropolitan areas have not been sufficiently pursued in the forma-
tion of future workers. Some years ago when a Lutheran ministry in central
Baltimore sought a graduate from Concordia Seminary, I was shocked that no stu-
dent had interest in urban ministry. Concordia St. Louis intends to be more inten-
tional about urban ministry. “Seek the welfare of the city.” (Jeremiah 29:7)
Now I am pleased to announce a new benefit from Concordia St. Louis’
urban setting, partnerships with area institutions of higher learning. First among
these partnerships is Fontbonne University. Keeping with the subtheme of “in
walking distance,” students can walk from the center of Concordia to Fontbonne in
15 minutes. Fontbonne, a Roman Catholic institution of about 3,000 is our imme-
diate neighbor to the north. With the excellent cooperation of Fontbonne
President Dennis Golden and the Fontbonne Board of Trustees, the following
partnerships are being explored and put into place.
• Deaf Education: Fontbonne students can benefit from Concordia’s
advanced sign language training and Concordia students can benefit from
Fontbonne’s expertise in deaf culture. This partnership promises to be a
blessing to our Deaf Institute of Theology.
• Business courses: I often hear laypeople complain that pastors need at
347
348
least some business training. Fontbonne offers business education
courses and both institutions could team to offer non-profit and/or
parish management. Fontbonne is interested in mutually constructing
course content suitable for non-profit and/or parish management, which
could be of great benefit to those doing God’s work on a daily basis and
in parishes.
• Graduate programs: Concordia students can benefit from Fontbonne’s
graduate education offerings. For business and education, Concordia
students can now pursue their M.Div. degree and also take M.B.A. and
M.Ed. courses concurrently at Fontbonne.
• Undergraduate education: If a St. Louis area student wants to save
money by living at home for college, he or she can enroll in Fontbonne’s
Liberal Arts program and walk over to Concordia for needed seminary
courses, like the languages. Learning Greek and Hebrew before Seminary
frees up time for other theological studies during the Seminary years.
• Speaking of languages, Fontbonne students can take Greek, Hebrew,
Latin and German instruction at Concordia and our students can take
Spanish at Fontbonne.
• Fontbonne students majoring or minoring in Religion may be very
interested in taking courses at Concordia, for instance in Church history,
especially Reformation history.
• Facilities: For many years the two institutions have shared facilities and
that sharing will grow, increasing operating efficiencies for both schools.
• Forums: Both President Golden and I are keenly interested in jointly
sponsoring forums on topics derived from the strengths of our faculties
that would appeal to the citizens of St. Louis and beyond. By so doing,
we believe that Concordia Seminary and Fontbonne University can
become a model for inter-institutional, inter-cultural, and inter-religious
dialogue and cooperation. Both institutions will learn more about each
other, and become strengthened in the process and advance the cause of
mutual sustainability.
This partnership is being built upon mutual respect for the mission and her-
itage of each institution. Last May 20th the Chairman of the Fontbonne Board of
Trustees wrote to the Chairman of Concordia’s Board of Regents. “I want to
report that there was unanimous sentiment that the program of mutual coopera-
tion should be pursued aggressively.” The Concordia board responded on May 23rd
with this resolution: “The Board of Regents endorses pursuing further cooperation
with Fontbonne University in ways that are helpful, appropriate and consistent with
LC-MS bylaws, Scriptures, and confessional subscription, and requests regular
reports from the President on specific opportunities.”
Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
Because it is Concordia’s immediate neighbor, Fontbonne is our pioneering
partner but relationships with other area institutions are being investigated. Several
seminarians are pursuing masters degrees in Greek and Latin at world-famous
Washington University, also in easy walking distance of our campus. Counseling
courses are a strength of conservative Covenant Seminary and a carefully articulat-
ed relationship has been proposed. As these and other relationships are pursued,
the Concordia Board of Regents will be constantly informed and no partnership
will go forward without their approval. The goal is to seize the opportunities of
this urban seminary by increasing the strengths of our educational offerings with-
out lessening formation in our confessional Lutheran heritage.
At the beginning of this editorial I invited you to sit with me for a few
moments to hear how we are beginning to use our metropolitan location for better
formation. Thank you for your time. Let me close with a recent assignment I gave
my homiletics class. Because I had to be out of town, I asked them to go to
Washington University and do several things. The first assignment, coming from
my own fascination, was to see the exact replica of the Mars rovers in the Planetary
Sciences Building. In walking distance, a Mars rover! Second, and more relevant to
formation, I asked them to have lunch in the new Danforth University Center, to
people watch and eavesdrop, unobtrusively to be sure. Third, I asked them to pick
up the student newspaper and read about what is engaging students on a “this
world” campus. When we debriefed back in the thoughtful quiet of the campus,
one student told me that he had spent some time with students who were picketing
for gay marriage. When he said that he was a seminarian, they said that the church
wouldn’t listen to them. His quick reply, “I’ve been listening to you for 20 minutes!”
Another student said he bought his lunch and could only find an empty seat at a
table where a young woman was sitting. She let him sit and they started talking.
“Are you married?” I asked him. “No,” he said. The whole class laughed and
encouraged him to go back to the University Center again! It’s not true that our
students are being formed for ministry in isolation from the diverse contexts of
America. Luther Tower overlooks the city. This is an urban seminary.
Dale A. Meyer
President
349
CARITAS IN VERITATE
Through a Lutheran’s Eyes
CHARITY IN TRUTH (CARITAS IN VERITATE). By Pope Benedict
XVI. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009. 157 Pages.
“I want to put my cards on the table right away,” Leopoldo Sánchez recently
conceded
1
in a manner that’s as refreshing as it is rare in the world of conservative
Lutheran theology. This sort of acknowledgement—axiomatic of postcolonialist
and postmodernist thinkers—supports the notion that perspective always figures epis-
temologically into the way we generate and decipher data. And while no one’s con-
text can constitute the entirety of truth, mine shapes my attentiveness and attrac-
tion to this third encyclical of Benedict XVI. So, I lay down my cards, also.
This document, Charity in Truth, may especially prove noteworthy for those
whose lives and ministries require them to think critically about what Jack Preus
proposes, “a theology of difference.”
2
My sieve is as a double immigrant: I am
Jamaican-born, Canadian-reared, and now, citizen of the United States. For nine-
teen years I worked in primarily low-income, U.S. urban ministry settings. I have
taught theology at the college level, and now for a little more than two years have
served as the chief executive of an international relief and development agency.
Lutheran World Relief (LWR) strives to represent eight million Lutherans, putting
faith in action for the sake of global human prosperity. Caritas in Veritate does theo-
logically what I do daily. It articulates the concern held by Roman Catholics and “all
people of good will” for the disparity of “affluent societies and the lack of food,
drinkable water, basic instruction, and elementary health care in areas of the under-
developed world and on the outskirts of large metropolitan areas” (43).
3
The “L-word” in LWR represents my branch of the Christian tradition into
which the Holy Spirit has placed me,
4
and which I claim eagerly by confession of
faith—fides qua creditur
5
formed by fides quae creditur.
6
As an evangelical catholic, I
have affinity with and take departure from aspects of this decidedly Roman docu-
ment. As such, I will take a brief look at three ideas, useful and insightful to me
from Caritas in Veritate, followed by several problematic areas.
First, there is something admirable in the Roman Catholic Church’s confident
scope of engagement with the world. Confessional Lutherans would do well to
more seriously consider this for ourselves; an ethos that is consistent with our affir-
mation of liberal arts education, one characterized by intellectual curiosity, scientific
discovery, philosophical inquiry, and participation—that is both faith-formed by
Scripture and the Confessions and informed by the best thinking (Phil 4:8)—in the
great civic discourses that are shaping our world.
Sometimes, I fear that in some quarters of The Lutheran Church–Missouri
Synod, there is a full-scale, ideological (not theological) retreat from the world God
350
Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
created. This is unfortunate for many reasons. For one, the national and interna-
tional “social ministry” sector needs conservative Lutheran voices to participate
knowledgably in the dialogue about “the interaction of different levels of human
knowledge in order to promote the authentic development of peoples” (30).
Overall, I was impressed with the maturity of the consideration about eco-
nomics, especially in chapter 3, “Fraternity, Economic Development and Civil
Society.” The global capitalist market is neither dismissed, to put it hyperbolically, as
an intrinsically evil playground for lucre-loving, money-grubbing capitalists, nor is
the free market or any other model of economic exchange naively prescribed.
Charity in Truth is not unaware of the complexity of political contexts in which
developing communities must operate. What is a sine qua non of this pope and of
these tumultuous times is that markets require morality
7
and that the poor must
move beyond dependency and contentment with relief aid or permanent and para-
lyzing assistance. Relative to the developing world, the global north has been
blessed with soaring socio-economic privilege, and “from the high privilege of their
birth,” now can give “something brighter than pity for the wingless ones.”
8
In spite of the ambitious breadth of Caritas in Veritate, it includes a conspicu-
ous concession to the limits of human knowledge, intellectual capacity, technologi-
cal ingenuity and merely economic solutions.
A second aspect of this work that I appreciated is this: even in this construc-
tive call for marshaling the best “secular” efforts to achieve human betterment, it
argues compellingly for an assertion and application of the uniquely theological
components that underpin human anthropology. Obviously, this goes beyond what
secularism, humanism, or materialism promise. Take electronic communication, for
example; while technology increases human contiguity, it offers no guarantee for
recognition of our Imago Dei.
9
Neither does any mere relationality catch the fullness
of what is the human person. “As society becomes ever more globalized, it makes
us neighbours but does not make us brothers. Reason, by itself, is capable of grasp-
ing the equality between men and of giving stability to their civic coexistence, but it
cannot establish fraternity. This originates in a transcendent vocation from God the
Father, who loved us first, teaching us through the Son what fraternal charity is”
(19).
To illustrate how anthropology is insufficient to effect change without theol-
ogy, Benedict XVI daringly turns us toward the analogy of the Holy Trinity (54):
three divine persons, one divine substance. Here, he traces a trinitarian pattern
within the human community which aspires toward “reciprocal transparency” and
unity. (There were other writers of Caritas in Veritate, but this section bears the
imprint of Cardinal Ratzinger.) This perichoresis spurs us to act out of love in mercy
toward our fellow humans, especially toward people living in situations of marginal-
ization. This view is entirely compatible with Lutheranism: “Our calling to serve
the lowly is our calling to be merciful as God is merciful. To fail to do so is to deny
the Holy Trinity.”
10
351
As implied in this theological anthropology, deep respect for life pervades
this work. Those who likewise link the irreconcilability of abortion with confes-
sional Lutheranism will resonate with the vivid connections drawn in Caritas in
Veritate (see especially paragraph 28) between those who care for the least of these
and those who defend the cause of the littlest of these.
Third, a clarion call is clear with respect to the vocation of all the baptized to
be active in, to put it tritely, making the world a better place. According to the
World Development Indicator’s Report
11
our planet overflows with lives preempted
by death. “Each year 10 million children die before their fifth birthday. More than
100 million do not attend primary school. And more than a billion people lack
access to a safe source of water.” According to this report, about one out of four
people on the planet must find a way to live on less than $1 per day. Malaria rages.
This fully beatable and treatable disease kills more than a million Africans a year.
Most of these dead are pregnant mothers and children under the age of five.
Chapter 2 opens with an echo of John Paul VI calling us to rescue people “first
and foremost, from hunger, deprivation, endemic diseases and illiteracy” (21). We
cannot ease our consciences by delegating this work to the social service agencies
of the church as if that’s doing our duty. In perhaps my favorite sentence of this
first social encyclical of Benedict XVI, he reiterates: “Every Christian is called to
practice this charity, in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to
the degree of influence he wields in the polis” (15).
12
Besides Lutherans, another group that may discover newfound resonance
with Charity in Truth is conservative protestant evangelicals. As they continue to
awaken to the common Christian responsibility to be custodians of God’s creation,
they will be urged on in this “grave duty” and challenged to pass on a planet that
has not been plundered ecologically and rendered inhospitable to our lineage. Many
in the international development community will cheer the document’s unequivocal
concern for phenomena like the desertification of the planet and the concomitant
conflict resulting from ever-diminishing usable available land. In the combative
scramble produced by this crisis, refugees must search for new homes across
geopolitical borders and families are divided and displaced within their own borders
(50, 51). These and many other coruscating insights commend Caritas in Veritate
to us.
But this is, as announced, a Roman Catholic document issued by the Vatican.
The cards are on the table. It almost goes without saying that there are tones that
will strike Lutheran ears as alien, even offensive.
While confessional Lutherans may under-engage in the civic realm, I found it
both fascinating and confounding to witness the high degree of optimism in Charity
in Truth for what humanitarianism can achieve within and through the kingdom of
the left.
13
Bluntly said, this treatise is devoid of the distinctions I ordinarily employ
to organize my theological thinking.
14
What God accomplishes ordinarily through
352
Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
the means of grace only in the church is not only conflated with what God accom-
plishes through the law’s temporal rule, but the very references to “the Church” are
laden with an apparatus of authorial perfection and imperial symbolism that is glar-
ing in a post-Vatican II environment. Or perhaps, this represents a recovery effort
for some vestigial concepts from an earlier epoch.
15
No church is present every-
where in the world, from the point-of-view of missional extension, confession of
faith, or (Kyrie eleison) theocratic expression. Yet, everywhere the church is present,
the world is there also, in the church. We haven’t heard the last of what Kurt
Marquart identified aptly as Rome’s ecclesiological tendency toward Eutychianism.
16
The true church, I believe, is hidden (Col 3:3).
And so it follows that a core Reformational concept is predictably absent,
sola gratia. Lutherans teach this as God’s one-way favor toward a fallen humanity
leading to redemption. Not here: “Charity is love received and given. It is ‘grace’
(cháris)” (5). Neither does any explicit mention of grace appear as it’s related to
God’s merciful forgiving of sins, promised for the sake of Christ, and freely accept-
ed through the Spirit’s empowering.
17
Then, there is the matter of terminology that seems to float. One term car-
rying a commodious range of meanings is the concept of justice. A sampling of
uses uncovers definitions that are abstract, ambiguous and idealized; justice is:
“inseparable from charity” (6), indispensable for a “civilization animated by love”
(13), transcending time via “intergenerational justice” (48), a component of human
rights (67), constituent of a rightly ordered society (78)—never mind commutative
justice, distributive justice and social justice (35). Confessional Lutherans ordinarily
correlate justice, tautly, to God’s justifying work. This is a splendid beginning. But
what is lacking are the horizontal or societal dimensions, which, when we find them
in Caritas in Veritate, are too confusingly broad. There are, in fact, historical and
prophetic instances where God’s justice is concretely encountered as a work of
sanctification through which people respect each other and establish relationships
that promote every individual’s opportunity to pursue the common good. This is
not merely a Roman Catholic virtue, but a biblical one. On this topic, we can apply
Martin Luther’s comment about Lutheran pastors being fine preachers from
Advent to Easter but being “very poor Pentecost preachers.” I pray that the sancti-
fying and enlightening Spirit would use this encyclical to prompt Lutherans to
explore more expansively, yet precisely and definitively, the communal and biblical-
ly-evidenced applications of justice that flow as a good work from those who have
been justified by God’s grace.
Another source of befuddlement for some readers may be the sprinkling of
terms and phrases impervious to the uninitiated; for example, “in commercial relation-
ships the principle of gratuitousness and the logic of gift as an expression of fraternity
can and must find their place…” (34). Say what?
353
Apart from these exceptions, the practice and parlance of the social sector
18
involved in faith-based approaches to alleviate human suffering will benefit from an
ample dose of Charity in Truth: “Development requires attention to the spiritual life,
a serious consideration of the experiences of trust in God, spiritual fellowship in
Christ, reliance upon God’s providence and mercy, love and forgiveness, self-denial,
acceptance of others, justice and peace” (79). This 28,000-word document can con-
tribute a surfeit of content and methodology for Lutheran conversations, undertak-
en with creative fidelity, about global development. My sense is that these have
been alarmingly underdeveloped with respect to a theological basis.
Those who have been splashed in the strong name of the three-person God
drip with water and promise to engage meaningfully the world, affirming with our
fellow-baptized in the Roman Catholic Church and other communions both the
law written on every heart (Rom 1:20) and the transcendent dignity of every human
person. People living in pockets of oppression await our particular, theologically-
informed witness and service. As Luther says, “There is no greater service of God
than Christian love which helps and serves people in need.”
19
In such great service,
confessional Lutherans must become more immersed. Otherwise, if I may speak
even more strongly, we risk becoming theologically atrophied, devolving into practi-
cal sectarianism and ecclesial Docetism, to continue Marquart’s earlier
Christological metaphor.
Motivated by the incarnate love of Jesus, we act. Yet, we grieve, cognizant
that so many billions of our fellow global citizens will never experience this love in
fullness, certainly not before they are encountered by God’s truth, revealed in the
Word (Jn 1:14, 14:6) through the sacred Scriptures. All sinners are born-again of
the Spirit in the font, and nurtured into eternity by God’s mercy at the altar.
Clothed in righteousness and fed with the Father’s forgiveness, reconciled ones
extend “love in truth” to their sisters and brothers by developing intelligent, sus-
tainable, technically-sound, self-perpetuating solutions to poverty for the unclothed
and underfed, for the dispossessed, disgraced, dishonored, disconnected,
disheveled, disrespected, discriminated against, and the just plain “dissed.”
John Nunes
21 September 2009
St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
Pastor John Nunes is President and CEO of Lutheran World Relief, Baltimore, Maryland.
Endnotes
1
Leopoldo A. Sánchez M., “Toward an Ecclesiology of Catholic Unity and Mission in the
Borderlands.” Concordia Journal 35:1 (Winter 2009), 17–34. Also, Daniel L. Smith-Christopher com-
ments: “any work of exegesis and interpretation must declare, at some stage, the social realities within
which the author is working.” In “A Quaker Proposal for White Liberals,” Still at the Margins: Biblical
Scholarship Fifteen Years after the Voices from the Margins (London: T&T Clark, 2008), 130.
2
Two articles in the past year in Concordia Journal have nudged toward developing a theology of
354
Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
difference within the LCMS, a more catholic, critical and self-critical, expansive, risky, and brisk articu-
lation of confessional Lutheran tradition. I say “risky” because of the anxiety (or even trauma) stirred
up in sinful human nature as we encounter or engage actively the neighbor or others we perceive as
different. Besides Sánchez (cited above), see Jukka A. Kääriäinen, “In Memory of My Teacher, Avery
Cardinal Dulles, S.J.” Concordia Journal 35:2 (Spring 2009) 123–125.
3
Caritas in Veritate. Each reference includes the paragraph number.
4
See Martin Luther’s explanation to the Third Article of the Apostle’s Creed in his “Large
Catechism.” In Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Ed. Robert Kolb and
Timothy J. Wengert. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), 436.
5
That is, the faith that believes through the power of the Holy Spirit.
6
That is, the faith or apostolic doctrine that is believed, taught, and confessed.
7
In this regard, I cannot speak enthusiastically enough about the vanguard work of the Acton
Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, see .
8
Derek Walcott expresses this sentiment poetically, the urgency of moving beyond charitable
relief to sustainable development, in his poem “Season of Phantasmal Peace” in The Fortunate Traveller.
(New York, NY: Farar, Straus & Giroux), 98–99.
9
That is, the Imago Dei which persists after the fall, coram hominibus.
10
Matthew C. Harrison, Christ Have Mercy: How to Put Your Faith in Action. (St. Louis:
Concordia, 2006), 35.
11
http://publications.worldbank.org/WDI/
12
A leading LCMS systematician of an earlier era made a similar comment: “Everyone who
eats the body and drinks the blood of the Christ through whom and in whom and for whom all
things were made can, according to his vocation and influence and resources, conscientiously seek to
redeem the area of his own influ ence for the Christ whose advent into the world had as its aim the
destruction of the works of the adversary.” Arthur Carl Piepkorn, “The One Eucharist for the One
World.” Concordia Theological Monthly, XLIII:2 (February 1972), 102. Also, see Augsburg Confession
XVI: “the gospel does not overthrow secular government, public order, and marriage but intends that
a person keep all this as a true order of God and demonstrate in these works of life Christian love
and true good works according to each person’s calling.” Book of Concord: The Confessions of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church. Ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000):
49,50.
13
Lutherans ordinarily have less hope for what the Gospel should accomplish in the civil
realm, marked by a “tendency to think of the law, state, and other institutions as restraining forces,
dykes against sin, preventers of anarchy, rather than as positive agencies through which men in social
union render positive service to neighbors advancing toward true life.” H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and
Culture (New York: Harper and Row, 1951), 188.
14
Unsurprisingly, there is little distinction between law/Gospel, justification/sanctification,
visible and/or invisible church.
15
In my more cynical moments I would ascribe Oates’ quote to some elements of the sym-
bolical Roman Catholic self-understanding: “Homo Sapiens is the species that invents symbols in
which to invest passion and authority, then forgets that symbols are inventions.” Joyce Carol Oates,
“The Calendar’s New Clothes.” New York Times (December 30, 1999).
16
Kurt E. Marquart, The Church: And Her Fellowship, Ministry and Governance. In Confessional
Lutheran Dogmatics. Ed. Robert D. Preus. (St. Louis: The Luther Academy): 10.
17
Philip Melanchthon, Loci Communes (1543). Trans. J.A.O. Preus. (St. Louis: Concordia
Publishing House, 1992), 91.
18
I prefer this as an umbrella term to describe that range of non–profit organizations whose
mission is directed to community, civic and global development.
19
Luther’s Works, American Edition, ed. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1962), vol. 45: 172.
355
“If I Profess”
A Spurious, if Consistent, Luther Quote?
“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of
the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are
at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be pro-
fessing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and
to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches
at that point.”
With minor variations, this quote, attributed to Martin Luther, has become a
favorite in many Christian circles to defend the right—even the requirement—of
Christians to speak out about homosexuality, abortion, etc. The question before us
is not if it is true but to determine if this quote actually comes from Luther. I con-
tend that it probably does not.
Alleged Sources
Though it is an extremely popular quote (typing “Luther ‘if I profess with
loudest voice’” in Google yields 2100 hits), it is rarely sourced. Those who do
source it either cite a secondary source (more on that below) or cite WA Br 3:81ff.
This source is a letter written by Luther to Graf Albrecht von Mansfeld on
June 3, 1523. The seemingly relevant text reads: “Auch hilft nicht, daß jemand wollt
sagen: ‘Ich will in allen Stücken sonst gern Christum und sein Wort bekennen, ohn
daß ich müge schweigen eines oder zwei, die meine Tyrannen nicht leiden mögen,
als die zwo Gestalt des Sacraments oder desgleichen.’ Denn wer in einem Stück
oder Wort Christum verleugnet, der hat ebendenselbigen Christum in dem einigen
Stück verleugnet, der in allen Stücken verleugnet würde, sintemal es nur ein
Christus ist, in allen seinen Worten sämptlich und sonderlich.”
1
Christopher Brown translates this as: “Neither is it of any help if someone
would say, ‘I will gladly confess Christ and His Word in every other article, except
that I may keep silence about one or two that my tyrants may not tolerate, such as
both species in the Sacrament and the like.’ For whoever denies Christ in one article
or word has denied the same Christ in that one article who would be denied by
[denying] all the articles, since there is only one Christ in all His words, taken all
together or singly.”
2
There is obviously some similarity of sentiment, but the quote is quite differ-
ent and there is nothing about soldiers and battlefields.
Reference workers at Concordia Seminary Library, St. Louis, have done
extensive searching through the electronic Weimar edition. German and Latin key-
words for “devil,” “world,” “soldier,” “battlefield,” “loud,” and “voice” were
entered in various combinations. Nothing resembling the supposed Luther quote
emerges.
356
Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
Secondary sources have not been of any help either. Douglas John Hall
prints the quote and cites it as follows: “Martin Luther, Church Postil, trans. and ed.
John N. Lenker (Minneapolis: Lutherans in All Lands Co., 1903ff). Exact reference
lost.”
3
Unfortunately there is no index for this eight volume set. In any case, the
Weimar edition should contain any sermon that appears in this English edition.
Many works cite Francis Schaeffer. In none of his works does he give a
source for the quote. In fact, he often qualifies it by saying, “these words which are
attributed to Martin Luther.”
4
Other citations are third-hand.
Mrs. Charles’ Book
This does not mean that the quote was made up in the late twentieth century,
however. A book from 1862 contains nearly the exact quote in a longer context:
In speaking of the great truths, of God freely justifying the sinner
because Christ died (the Judge acquitting because the Judge himself
had suffered for the guilty), I had endeavored to trace them, as I have
said, beyond all human words to their divine authority. But now, to
confess Luther seemed to me to have become identical with confessing
Christ. It is the truth which is assailed in any age which tests our fideli-
ty. It is to confess we are called, not merely to profess. If I profess, with
the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the
truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the
devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, howev-
er boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the
loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field
besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one
point.
5
This book is a work of historical fiction by Elizabeth Rundle Charles:
“Andrew Cameron, the editor of the ‘Family Treasury,’ a Scottish magazine, offered
Mrs. Charles 400£ for a story about Luther for his periodical. This was the origin
of her best-known book, The Chronicles of the Schönberg-Cotta Family, which was pub-
lished in 1862.”
6
Though fiction, she does claim historical accuracy. After the title page we
read this:
The portions of these Chronicles which refer to Luther, Melanchton,
Frederic of Saxony, and other historical persons, can be verified from
Luther’s “Tischreden;” Luther’s “Briefe, Sendschreiben und
Dedenken,” edited by De Wette; the four volumes called, “Geist aus
Luther’s Schriften,” edited by F. W. Lomier, C. F. Lucius, Dr. T. Rust, L.
Sacreuter, and Dr. Erst Zeimmerman; Tutschmann’s “Friederich der
Weise;” the “History of the Reformation by Ranke; and that by
357
D’Aubigné; with the ordinary English historical works relating to the
period.
7
If she were indeed quoting Luther from some known work of the period, it
seems to me that the original would still be found in the Weimar. In any case, the
words in question in her book are not even spoken by Luther, but by Fritz, one of
the story’s protagonists, without a hint that he got these words from Luther. As this
was an enormously popular book, going through multiple editions and being trans-
lated into many languages, is it possible that it somehow became the source of the
Luther “quote”?
The quote shows up again in the nineteenth century. Hannah Johnston Bailey
wrote a work chronicling her husband’s life as a Quaker. In it she quoted a para-
graph that Moses Bailey had written “on a leaf of his diary”:
It is the truth which is assailed in any age which tests our fidelity. It is
to confess that we are called, and not merely to profess. If we profess
with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition every portion of the
truth of God, except precisely that little point which the world and the
devil are at that moment attacking, we are not confessing Christ, how-
ever boldly we may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages
the loyalty of the soldier is proved. To be steady in all the battlefield
beside is mere flight and disgrace if there be flinching at that one
point.
8
There are a few minor adjustments, mostly in changing the first person from
singular to plural. Otherwise it is identical to what appears in Charles’ book. She
gives no date for this writing, and the context is vague. It is possible that Bailey got
this quote from Charles’ book or both he and Charles got the quote from some
other source. As he lived in Maine and she in England, it is hard to imagine the cir-
cumstances in which it would have been in common use and yet elude our search-
ing otherwise.
Conclusion
At the reference desk we often get these, “Did Luther say…” questions. If
the quote can be found, good. Otherwise, we are always left with a nagging doubt
that it might be there, but we just didn’t find it. How do you prove that something
does not exist?
In the case of this quote, however, I think the evidence is strongly against its
genuineness, based on the following reasons:
1. It is hard to believe that a quote with such widespread use could never be
attributed to a proper source. Obviously there are thousands of books about
Luther that we did not check and it is possible that it might be referenced in one of
them. Regardless, it should have popped up somewhere by now.
358
Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
2. Our search of the Weimar edition was pretty thorough. Translating rele-
vant keywords into their different options in Latin and German and searching for
them in close proximity turned up nothing.
3. The existence of the saying (on lips of a character other than Luther) in
Elizabeth Charles’ book—and its re-quoting without attribution a few years later—
strongly suggests that this may have been the source of the saying.
It is easy to see how this could have been attributed to Luther. It came from
a book about Luther and his times. It is certainly consistent with other things
Luther said. Further it sounds like Luther at his bombastic best.
This does not necessarily close the debate. If someone can find the quote in
a reputable source, we would all be better served for it. Until that time, however, I
think we would do well to treat the quote as spurious and not attribute it to Luther.
Bob Caldwell
Bob Caldwell (Ph.D. in Exegetical Theology, Concordia Seminary, 2009) is an ordained
minister of the Assemblies of God and currently working as a free-lance writer.
Endnotes
1
Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtaugsabe (65 vols.; Weimar: Herman Bölau, 1883–1993), Br
3:81–82.
2
Printed in the Kyrie Eleison blog.
https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=2099518210194184212&postID=13058227483114143
70&page=1. Accessed July 23, 2008.
3
Douglas John Hall, “The Diversity of Christian Witnessing in the Tension Between
Subjection to the Word and Relation to the Context” in Luther’s Ecumenical Significance: An
Interconfessional Consultation (ed. Peter Manns and Harding Meyer; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984),
267, n18. However, in a later work, Hall gives the same Weimar citation everyone else does. Douglas
John Hall, Thinking the Faith: Christian Theology in a North American Context (Minneapolis:
Augsburg, 1989), 108.
4
Francis A. Schaeffer, The God Who Is There (Chicago: InverVarsity Press, 1968), 18.
5
Elizabeth Rundle Charles, Chronicles of the Schönberg-Cotta Family (London: T. Nelson and
Sons, 1864), 275–76. Other editions paginate differently. The American edition (New York: M. W.
Dodd, 1864) places the quote on 321. Another American edition (Rock Island, Ill.: Augustana, 1915)
has it on 284–85.
6
“Charles, Mrs. Elizabeth (1828–1896)” in The Dictionary of National Biography (Ed. Leslie
Stephen and Sidney Lee; London: Oxford University Press), 22:418.
7
Charles, Chronicles of the Schönberg-Cotta Family, np.
8
Helen Johnson Bailey, Reminiscences of a Christian Life (2nd ed.; Portland, Maine: Hoyt, Fogg &
Donham, 1885), 66–67.
359
ARTICLES
COncordia
ournal
J
Bonhoeffer and the Church Struggle
H. Gaylon Barker
363
Rev. H. Gaylon Barker, PhD, is vice president of the International
Bonhoeffer Society–English Language Section, member of the editorial board
of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, and editor of the forthcoming Theological
Education at Finkenwalde, 1935–37, volume 14 of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works.
His recent work on Bonhoeffer is included in Dietrich Bonhoeffers Theologie
heute/Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Theology Today (Gütersloher Verlag, 2009).
Editor’s Note: As noted in the Editor’s Note in this issue, the faculty and students of Concordia
Seminary have been reading and discussing together Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. That
study has helped remind us of the rich privilege Christians enjoy when they are part of a commu-
nity which confesses Jesus Christ at its center. Such reflection can benefit our Seminary community,
and it can also enrich the shared life of every Christian congregation, and also of our Synod.
Of course, Bonhoeffer’s context was in many ways very different from our own. His Life
Together was written in and for a concrete situation of struggle, conflict, and danger in pre-war
Nazi Germany. Christians in that society were trying to discern the meaning of the momentous
events around them, and also to understand what it meant to confess Jesus Christ in the midst of
those events. For us to understand what Bonhoeffer had to say about our life together as followers
of Jesus Christ, we need to be aware of the situation in which he lived and wrote. It would distort
his meaning and mislead us if we pretended that our situation were the simple equivalent of the
Confessing Church under Hitler, or that our seminary were in the same position as the illegal
Finkenwalde community which Bonhoeffer led. This essay by Gaylon Barker provides an accurate
and insightful study of the Kirchenkampf or Church Struggle of which Bonhoeffer’s writings
and ministry were a part.
The distinctive character of our shared life as a Christian community shapes not only our
interactions with each other but also our posture toward the world around us. The church’s life
together is not an introverted escape from mission, but is part and parcel of our witness.
Bonhoeffer reminds us that saying “yes” to Christ must mean saying “no” to every human claim
of absolute allegiance. For that reason, a seminary could not safely retreat from the struggles of
the time, but rather fully participated in them. As Barker says, “Far from being an isolated,
closed-off community on the fringe of battle, the Church Struggle both engendered the
Finkenwalde community and intruded into Bonhoeffer’s course materials.”
Neither a seminary nor a congregation is a place to escape from the world. By God’s grace,
our life together is also our witness together for the sake of the world around us. God’s people are
a city set on a hill, in plain view. Even ivory towers are meant to be lighthouses.
William W. Schumacher
Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
Introduction: What We Believe Matters
What we believe matters! What we believe matters because it shapes our
understanding of the world as well as influences our life and actions in the world.
If the 9/11 hijackers who flew the airplanes into the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon, for example, had not believed what they believed, would they have done
what they did? Even if we think their actions were depraved, were they not the
result of their faith—a distorted faith, to be sure, but faith nevertheless? Can we
really understand the import of the horrific events of that day apart from faith?
For a long time, we were almost convinced that what we believed did not
matter out in the real world of business and politics, education and service. And
while secular culture has viewed religious faith as a private matter, much like a
hobby, something we do in our spare time but which has no bearing on the real
everyday world, standing on this side of 9/11 we can only view such attempts as
illusory. Faith is not a private matter.
What we believe matters! In the course of a very short period of time and
through the actions of a few, we have come a long way from those who believed a
“naked public square” was possible and desirable or from those who believed the
separation of church and state meant that faith was to be restricted to the “private”
sphere. For many this realization was not one they came to through reasonable dis-
course but one that was forced upon all of us. As the 9/11 ruins continued to
burn, and as mourning became a full-time pre-occupation as well as occupation, no
one could ignore the fact that “what we believe matters.” It matters, because what
we believe in, who we worship, shapes how we live out in the world.
As Madeline Albright, former US Secretary of State, speaking on the PBS
program Religion and Ethics Newsweekly said, “In looking at what was going on in the
world, it was evident that religion and the force of religion and people’s interpreta-
tion of how they see God really is very much a part of international relations.”
1
In
a departure from the traditional thinking that sought to keep religion out of diplo-
matic conversations, Albright now comes to the conclusion about the necessity of
this change because, as she said, “I believe in the separation of church and state.
But you cannot separate people from their faith.”
But while such a stance acknowledges the powerful role that religion plays in
shaping people’s understanding of the world, it does not yet make the distinction
about the appropriate use of religion. And such distinction is necessary, for all reli-
gious claims are not equal nor is everything that passes as faith or religion good or
beneficial.
In this regard, Martin Luther is helpful. Faith, however one might define it, is
universal. Religion is everywhere. Everybody believes in “something.” Luther, in his
explanation to the First Commandment in his Large Catechism, explained it this way:
“A ‘god’ [with a small g] is the term for that to which we are to look for all good
and in which we are to find refuge in all need. Therefore, to have a god is nothing
364
Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart. As I have often
said, it is the trust and faith of the heart alone that make both God and an idol….
For these two belong together, faith and God. Anything on which your heart relies
and depends, I say, that is really your God.”
2
In the same way that Luther saw God’s love and grace freeing humanity from
its false gods, as will we see, Bonhoeffer’s theological agenda in the 1930s was
meant to free the church from the false gods of nationalism and its implicit racism.
Bonhoeffer is one who sought to respond to the challenges to the church and the
integrity of its proclamation. Drawing on Luther’s theology, he was able to offer a
clearly articulated critique of National Socialism and the church from a scripturally-
informed perspective. But, in addition, his words stand as a corrective to any theol-
ogy that found a point of contact between the Church’s proclamation of the
Gospel and the pseudo-religious nationalistic claims of the Nazis.
The 1930s Church Struggle
The church “in the world, but not of the world” seeks ways to articulate the
gospel message in ways the world will understand, at times borrowing the language
and philosophy of the day, even while attempting to remain independent from the
influences of the world. How closely can it identify with the world without accom-
modating itself to the world? While that has always been a question the church has
had to struggle with, at the time of the Reformation it found its expression in the
Protestant reformers’ rejection of certain practices and traditions that had taken
hold in the medieval church, traditions that did not reflect the biblical tradition,
indeed, ones which were seen as a “sort of accommodation to non-Christian teach-
ings and practices.”
3
This was a problem because, as was eventually stated in the
Apology to the Augsburg Confession, the church had blurred the “difference...between
philosophical teaching and the teaching of the Holy Spirit.”
4
While the church throughout the centuries has found itself embroiled in
struggles with culture, it is the struggle within the Protestant church of Germany in
the 1930s and ‘40s and between the church and the Nazi state that has come to be
known as the Church Struggle. When Hitler came to power in January 1933, the
churches of Germany were confronted with a crisis. On the one hand, many in the
church throughout Germany welcomed Hitler’s promises of national and moral
renewal and the return to traditional values.
5
As a result, they were willing to over-
look his inflamed rhetoric, believing it would either pass or could not be taken
seriously.
This position contrasts sharply with those who perceived danger ahead for
the church that came with any compromise made with Hitler and the Nazi state.
Members of the Confessing Church believed that the German Christians’ goal in
lending their support to Hitler of integrating Christianity and National Socialism in
a racially pure ‘people’s church’ “was a direct challenge not only to the autonomy of
365
the regional churches but to Lutheran and Reformed doctrinal principles as well.”
The Church Struggle, borne out of resistance to such an encroachment into
the life of the church, was an ecclesiastical and political struggle; but at the same
time it was at heart a theological battle. The Church Struggle was not a uniform
movement, speaking with one voice. It had many dimensions and divisions, both
theologically and politically, and any discussion of it should acknowledge its many
nuances; in fact, we can identify three separate but interrelated expressions of the
Church Struggle. Briefly, the first was between the nascent Confessing Church and
the German Christians for control of the church. Secondly, the Church Struggle
refers to the struggle between the Confessing Church and the Nazi government
over spheres of influence. Third, and finally, it refers to the conflict within the
Confessing Church itself between conservative and radical wings over the nature of
the church’s opposition to the German Christians and the Nazis.
For those engaged in the Church Struggle from the Confessing Church’s
side, the German Christians had accommodated themselves to the political winds
of the day and, as a result, had watered down or, in some cases, even altered the
biblical message. In some respects, it was a battle similar to that of the
Reformation, but under different circumstances as it, too, centered on the idea that
what we believe matters. In the context of Nazi Germany, there were severe conse-
quences to what the churches confessed and taught.
Since our focus is not on the Church Struggle in general, but on
Bonhoeffer’s theological position in that given context, this brief sketch serves only
as a backdrop to the question of Bonhoeffer’s own theological contributions. But
before moving on to Bonhoeffer’s theological contribution, one further note needs
to be emphasized.
From 1934 onward, after the signing of the Barmen Declaration and the
establishment of an emergency church administration later that year, the Church
Struggle had an element of illegality about it. Prior to this time, there was indeed a
sharp division within the church, but after 1934 the very existence of the
Confessing Church stood in direct contradiction to the laws of the state.
6
Legislation enacted in 1935 brought the church under the direct control of the
Nazi state, making church administrative offices “mere tools of the state’s policies.
These developments served to limit the church’s voice; but, in addition, it sowed
the seeds “that would ultimately bring about the destruction, internally and exter-
nally, of the newly created Confessing Church.”
7
Further, the Fifth Implementation
Decree issued on December 2, 1935, declared all governmental and administrative
institutions of the Confessing Church null and void. Specific prohibitions affected
the ability to occupy pastoral positions, to examine and ordain candidates, to make
pulpit proclamations, and to announce and carry out collections.
8
But the question about legality was important for another reason as well, and
this had broader theological implications. Connected with the legal issues were the
366
Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
conflicting claims of truth and untruth. In the minds of the members of the
Confessing Church, they might have been declared illegal, but they were the ones
speaking the truth. On the other hand, the Reich Church was legal, but it was
untruthful in its proclamation.
Bonhoeffer’s Theology and Faith
Bonhoeffer was involved in the Church Struggle from the beginning. Prior to
Hitler’s coming to power and immediately after, he spoke out about the dangers of
National Socialism, so he was one of the pastors involved in forming the Pastors
Emergency League, the forerunner to the Confessing Church, in 1933. Later that
year, along with Herman Sasse and others, he helped write the first draft of the
Bethel Confession, which was an attempt to formulate a theological response to the
German Christians and a confessional basis for the Confessing Church. After an
18-month hiatus in which he served as pastor to two congregations in London,
Bonhoeffer returned to Germany in the spring 1935 to take up leadership of one
of the newly formed underground seminaries of the Confessing Church at
Finkenwalde. From that position, he continued to make contributions to the
Church Struggle debate as well as develop international ecumenical contacts
throughout Europe. After Finkenwalde Seminary was closed in 1937, he served the
Confessing Church through the administration of underground Confessing
Churches throughout Pomerania, in the rural northeast sections of Germany. In all
of these positions he continued to write and speak on behalf of the Confessing
Church.
To be sure, the Church Struggle was an ecclesiastical and political struggle
and Bonhoeffer was involved on both levels; but for him it was, first and foremost,
a theological struggle. Stated simply, the core of the church’s confession was at
stake. He saw the Nazi confession of “blood, race, and soil” threatening the
church’s very life. His theology, which follows a continuous trajectory, is a response
to that. By focusing on the Lutheran principles of sola scriptura and solus Christus,
Bonhoeffer was fighting for the soul of the church; it was a cause that he believed
would have ramifications for the future of Christianity in Germany and Europe.
Beyond the question of the church’s survival was the concern for the survival of
culture as well, so there was a lot at stake.
This is illustrated in a letter to his grandmother written from Bethel in
August 1933, where he defines the crisis before them: “It is becoming increasingly
clear that we have become a large national church, that Christianity in its essence is
no longer followed and that we must go a new way. The question is really whether
Germanism or Christianity and the sooner the conflict comes into the open, the
better.”
9
As his words reveal, there was an urgency to the task before those who had
gathered in Bethel to write a new confession. After having repeatedly voiced con-
367
cern over the Church’s confession during the previous year, the leaders of the
emerging Confessing Church felt there was no other alternative but to write a new
confession of faith. Rather than merely being a debate over the church’s polity, the
context in 1933 Germany created a status confessionis
10
in which what was required of
the church was to state as clearly as possible its beliefs in the face of heretical
claims that would distort the church’s message.
11
That meant, ultimately, drawing
distinctions between what might be believed in general and what were the specific
teachings, beliefs and practices of the Christian community.
Designed to provide a counter to the stance of the German Christians,
Article Five, which was the heart of the confession and of which Bonhoeffer was
the main author, begins by affirming the classic Christian teachings about Jesus: He
is the “Son of God and Son of David, true God and true man;” he is “the end and
fulfillment of the law,” without whom the world would be lost under the wrath of
God. He is “through the unbelief and for the sake of all people crucified.”
12
After
citing portions of Luther’s explanation to the Second Article of the Apostles’
Creed from the Small Catechism, Bonhoeffer goes on to say that the church rejects
the false claims that seek to present Jesus in a “Nordic fashion” or his cross as a
“general symbol of religiosity or human truth” or “anything whatever.” In contrast
to any general religious sentiments, Bonhoeffer says Jesus is the Son of God and
Son of David “sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and his cross is the
“unique revelation of God” which brings reconciliation with God.
13
“The cross of
Jesus Christ is not a symbol for anything whatever, but is rather God’s unique act
of self-revelation....” As such, “The redemptive act of God on the cross is not to
be interpreted by some other reality. It is rather the reality of God in the world
against which all other reality is to be compared and interpreted and not vice
versa.”
14
Therefore the crucifixion of Jesus is not to be confused with any other sacri-
fice, nor can the suffering of Jesus be equated with the suffering of any other per-
son or people. “The suffering and crucifixion of Jesus alone can be proclaimed as
the justice and grace of God for the whole world.”
15
In response to the German Christians who sought to present Jesus as a
“Nordic type,” Bonhoeffer stresses the Jewishness of Jesus. And rather than
accepting the widespread assumption that the Jews were responsible for the death
of Jesus, Bonhoeffer, by stressing Jesus’ own Jewishness, preferring to call him the
“Son of David,” concentrates on the sinfulness of all humankind, implicating not
the Jews but all people, in the death of Jesus. Anyone, therefore, who rejects Christ,
regardless of their race, is guilty of putting him to death. By the same token, citing
Isaiah 53:6 and articles 13 and 24 from the Augsburg Confession, Bonhoeffer claims
that the act of this Jewish man benefits all.
16
The Confession was not as warmly received as Bonhoeffer and his collabora-
tors had hoped, because it was produced early in the Church Struggle. This was due
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Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
in part to the fact that some within the leadership were still hoping that some mid-
dle ground could be found. For others, however, the document was “too
Lutheran.”
17
As a result, after they completed their draft, the document went
through so many revisions at the hands of others that “their text was watered
down to such an extent that he ultimately refused to work on the final edition.”
18
Other statements further illustrate how Bonhoeffer continued to view the
crisis. A year later, in a letter to Vallenar Ammundsen, the Danish bishop,
Bonhoeffer said the decision about the German Christians and the future of the
German church was clear: “Either National Socialism or Christ.”
19
Three years
later, in a lecture presented to students and former students at Finkenwalde to
update them on the developments within the Church Struggle, the problem was
posed as the heresy of the German Christians.
20
Finally, in a letter from about that
same time, Bonhoeffer describes himself as one entering “a battlefield where the
word of God is in conflict with all sorts of human opinions and what is needed is
a sharp sword.”
21
Clearly, for him, the stakes were high. He was arguing for the
truth and integrity of the Christian faith.
As a theological matter, however, the church struggle began for Bonhoeffer
before 1933. While still a theological student at the university he identified what he
thought were his professors’ theological shortcomings. As he started lecturing at
the University of Berlin, he noted that he was increasingly out of place there
because of his own theological stance. He found that the theological legacy left by
his teachers was wanting. As a result, he parted with them and sought to recapture
theology for the church; he discovered an ally in Martin Luther. He had been intro-
duced to Luther’s theology in Karl Holl’s seminars as a student, but he quickly
began to see that Holl’s interpretation of Luther fell short, particularly in the area
of Christology.
Locating the key to Luther’s theology in Luther’s theology of the cross,
Bonhoeffer’s entire theological enterprise is a working-out of that theological
perspective for the twentieth century. And indeed this might be the operative key in
understanding Bonhoeffer’s role in the Church Struggle.
In contrast to the dominant theology of his day, Luther adopted a different
approach to theology. In the Heidelberg Disputation from 1518 he made the dis-
tinction between a “theology of glory” and a “theology of the cross.” Not only
does this distinction serve to point to the content of Luther’s theology, it also lays
out a method for theological reflection. This distinction was important for Luther
because the proper knowledge of God comes only by focusing on Christ who suf-
fers and dies on the cross. Because humankind has misused its God-given wisdom,
God has chosen to be known in visible things, namely in God’s “human nature,
weakness, foolishness,” in order that “those who did not honor God as manifested
in his works should honor him as he is hidden in his suffering.” As a result of this
action on God’s part, “it is not sufficient for anyone, and it does him no good to
369
recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility
and shame of the cross.” It is for this reason that “true theology and recognition of
God are in the crucified Christ.”
22
There is no doubt in Luther’s mind that the proper knowledge of God
comes only through Jesus and the cross. This, however, is not a denial of other
ways of knowing God; in fact, he recognizes a general knowledge of God and
admits that even pagans have knowledge of God. The problem, as Luther sees it,
however, is not knowledge per se, but the “proper knowledge” of God. Reflecting
on St. Paul, what humankind usually does with its knowledge of God is to create
idols. Idolatry, or false knowledge, therefore is the real problem that must be coun-
tered.
Similarly, that is what we see unfolding in Bonhoeffer’s theology in the 1930s.
In the 1932 essay, “The Christian Idea of God,” for example, drawing on Luther’s
distinctions between true and false theology, Bonhoeffer clearly points out the dif-
ferences between a theology based in human ideas and a theology based on God’s
own revelation. In the former, people will always come up with new ideas into
which they will attempt to fit their conceptions of God. In such a scheme, Jesus
becomes a mere “symbol of God’s love,” “a transient bearer of the general new
truth.”
23
In the latter approach, however, this is impossible. “That is the reason why
God reveals himself in history: only thus is the freedom of his personality guarded.
The revelation in history means revelation in hiddenness.”
24
Continuing this same
line of reasoning, which concludes that all human attempts to understand and
know God are futile, Bonhoeffer asks, “How can I know anything about God?” It
is only through God’s own self-revelation, which we receive in faith. “In my faith
God reveals himself through Christ in me.”
25
Then, in a clear expression of the theologia crucis, Bonhoeffer describes how
this revelation takes place; faith remains central, because the God who enters histo-
ry in Jesus Christ remains a hidden God, accessible only by faith. He continues:
God entered history in Jesus, and so entirely that he can be recognized
in his hiddenness only by faith. God gives an amazing proof of his sole
authority in the cross of Christ. In the very same moment when Christ dies
on the cross, the whole world dies in its sinfulness and is condemned.
That is the extreme judgment of God upon the world. God himself
dies and reveals himself in the death of a man, who is condemned as a
sinner. It is precisely this, which is the foolishness of the Christian idea
of God, which has been witnessed to by all genuine thinking from
Paul, Augustine, Luther, to Kierkegaard and Barth.
26
He concludes with a clear statement reflecting Luther’s theologia crucis, when in
describing God’s act of justifying he says:
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Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
That is the foolishness of the revelation of God and its paradoxical
character—that just there, where the power of man has lapsed entirely,
where man knows his own weakness, sinfulness, and consequently the
judgment of God upon him, that just there God is already working in
grace, that just and exactly there and only there is forgiveness, justifica-
tion, restoration. There, where man himself no longer sees, God sees,
and God alone works, in judgment and in grace. There, at the very lim-
its of man, stands God, and when man can do nothing more, then
God does all.
27
It is from such a foundation, both perceiving weaknesses in the church and
his desire to make a theological contribution, he set out to write a catechism in the
summer of 1932. Bonhoeffer thought it important enough to find ways to speak
the words of the Gospel in ways that were credible; in that way, his catechism can
be viewed not only as a theological work, but as a summary of faith as well. To be
sure, while it was written for “those who are to be confirmed,” with the stated goal
“to put into words what the Lutheran faith says today,”
28
it also lays out a clear
understanding of the Christian faith, taken directly from Luther. Taking a phrase
from Luther as the title, “Believe and It Will Be Yours,” the catechism used
Luther’s own confession of faith as a basis for understanding the Gospel.
I believe in God, that he is my Creator, in Jesus Christ, that he is my
Lord, in the Holy Spirit, that he is my Sanctifier. God has made me
and given me life, soul, body and all good things, Christ has brought
me under his dominion through his body, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies
through his word and the sacraments which are in the church, and will
sanctify us completely at the Last Day. That is the Christian faith;
know what you must do and what you have been given.
29
Bonhoeffer liked this text of Luther’s “so much that he kept it in his daily prayer
and service book for the rest of his life, and occasionally used it instead of the
Apostles’ Creed even in the most orthodox confessional services.”30
To show the extent of Luther’s influence on Bonhoeffer’s thought, the cate-
chism is filled throughout with quotes from Luther. One, in particular, stands out
because Bonhoeffer returns to it again in several of his writings. In discussing the
confession of Christ as Lord, he asks, “How can a man be God?” The following
answer is given, ending with a quote from Luther:
In no other way than by God’s wonderfully humbling himself and
sharing with us. The man Jesus, born of Mary his mother, with his
temptation and suffering, right up to his death on the cross, is the mir-
acle and the Word of God. This he himself says, and in this authority
he acts. ‘You should point to this man and say: that is God’ (Luther).
31
371
This was not a work that Bonhoeffer approached lightly nor one which he soon left
behind. Christ and his cross continue to be of significant importance for
Bonhoeffer in his lectures as a young lecturer at the university. As a pastor, his ser-
mons are filled with images where Christ on the cross is central. If anything,
because of the perceived state of the church and the future of Christianity itself, at
least in the western world, the theme of the cross takes on more urgency. In fact,
as the political forces that come to dominate life in the 1930s begin to emerge, the
need to speak clearly and forcefully of the cross and God’s hidden presence in the
world becomes more important than ever. When the Christian message is reduced
to its core, what Bonhoeffer finds is the message of hope that comes through
Christ’s death on the cross. In that event is where believers find God.
In a Reformation sermon on Revelation 2:4–5, 7, preached in 1932, just four
months after the German Christians had declared that they embodied “the German
spirit of Luther,” which carried the attending implication that there was a direct line
from Luther to Hitler, Bonhoeffer’s sermon was a direct critique of such thinking.
32
Even before the Church Struggle emerges, he is calling for a new reformation.
Using this opportunity, he states at the beginning of the sermon that it should be
clear to everyone that there is not much time remaining for the church, that it is in
its final hour.
33
The reason for the crisis is because of the church itself. The
Reformation was celebrated with great fanfare in Germany, but the problem was
that the church celebrated the Reformation and Luther; in so doing, it had lost
sight of the principles of the Reformation and had failed to hear God’s Word.
“The church which celebrates the Reformation does not allow the old Luther his
peace; he must suffer all the tragedy that occurs in the church today. We place him,
the dead man, in our church, allow him to reach out his hand...only to say again,
‘Here I stand, I can do no other’—and we do not see that this church is no longer
the church of Luther….”
34
It is simply not enough for the church to barricade
itself behind Luther’s words and insist that it “can do no other,” for the church can
and should do something other. While the church sings, “A Mighty Fortress is our
God” and says, “God is for us, who can be against us?” God is saying, “But I have
this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”
35
While the
church of the Reformation had come to pride itself on its protest against all that
was wrong in the world, it had failed to hear God’s clear word to it, collectively and
individually. The time has come to “let the dead Luther finally have his peace and
listen to the Gospel, read his Bible, and hear the Word of God himself.”
36
The true
church of the Reformation is the church that hears the call of God, which was
Luther’s call as well, to repent. Rather than placing its trust in such outward cele-
brations, “our church stands on the Word of God alone, and in his Word alone we
are justified. The church that repents, the church that lets God be God, is the
church of the apostles and Luther.”
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Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
What we see in this instance, rather than discarding Luther in favor of some
other authority, by drawing a clear line, Bonhoeffer is laying claim to the true
Luther over against any false claims being made by the German Christians. But at
the same time, Bonhoeffer was not simply advocating a return to Luther; as he
would do several times over the next few years, he would acknowledge that there
was a real difference between Luther’s time and 1930s Germany. Therefore, what is
called for is not a mere repetition of Luther’s words, but a reformulation of
Luther’s ideas. The “here I stand” language of Luther had become “cheap.” What
was needed was something more costly.
Because he believed the theological questions would ultimately shape the
future of the church, Bonhoeffer embraced the opportunity to lead one of the
Confessing Church’s illegal seminaries in the spring of 1935. “Disturbed by what
he perceived to be a deficit in theological training at the university level,...[namely]
that young theologians were in fact left completely on their own with respect to the
really decisive questions in the training, namely, ‘How can I learn to pray? How I
can I learn to read scripture?’”
37
Bonhoeffer designed a curriculum and structured a
community life that would serve in forming the faith of the future pastors of the
Confessing Church as well as build up a community of service to others.
And because the Church Struggle was a struggle for the soul of the church,
Bonhoeffer “was able to make it perfectly clear that the struggle of the Confessing
Church was not concerned with merely peripheral theological disputes with the
German Christians; rather, the specter looming behind that struggle was the total,
all-domineering will to power of the National Socialists, who were ultimately intent
on destroying Christian faith and life—and not just in Germany itself.”
As was seen earlier with his attempt at writing a catechism and again with the
Bethel Confession, the one thing the church needed to be clear about was its con-
fession of faith, which was centered on the cross of Christ. If the church had that
right, it would endure whatever hardship or suffering it faced; however, if it was
not clear in its confession, nothing else mattered for it had already ceased to be the
church. If the church was the body of Christ and Christ was present in its procla-
mation, the true test was its clear confession. This concern is lifted up in
Bonhoeffer’s efforts at preaching or in exegeting the biblical text. As if adopting
Luther’s belief that scripture is the “cradle of Christ,” all biblical interpretation has
a Christological center around which all proclamation revolves.
Far from being an isolated, closed-off community on the fringe of battle, the
Church Struggle both engendered the Finkenwalde community and intruded into
Bonhoeffer’s course materials. In his lectures “On the Question of Church
Fellowship,” presented in April 1936 and later published in the journal Evangelische
Theologie in June 1936,
38
he warned the leadership of the Confessing Church further
about making too many compromises and accommodating themselves to the pres-
373
sures of conforming to the demands of the Nazis. After outlining how the church
had been defined in the early church and Reformation periods, he moves into dis-
cussing the question about the “true church.” He says, “The Confessing Synod in
Barmen rejected the key points of the doctrine of the German Christians as false
teaching. This rejection means that this false teaching has no place in the church of
Jesus Christ.”
With this as background, he attempts to define the true church in his time. If
the above-stated conclusions are true, then can the German Christians be consid-
ered a part of the church? Or has the Reich Church cut itself off from the church?
Such questions indicate “that a definitive boundary has been perceived and con-
firmed between the Reich Church government and true church of Christ. The
Reich Church government is heretical.”
Aside from the political ramifications, this is a pertinent question for
Bonhoeffer because it gets at the heart of the question about the church and its
mission. He therefore concludes:
Extra ecclesiam nulla salus.
39
The question of church fellowship is the
question of the community of salvation. The boundaries of the
church are the boundaries of salvation. Those who knowingly separate
themselves from the Confessing Church in Germany are separating
themselves from salvation. This is the insight that has always forced
itself on the true church. This is its humble confession. Those who
separate the question of the Confessing Church from the question of
their own salvation have not comprehended that the struggle of the
Confessing Church is the struggle for their salvation.
40
His statement, “Whoever knowingly cuts himself off from the Confessing Church
in Germany cut himself off from salvation,” received a great deal of attention both
inside the Confessing Church as well as outside of it. Bonhoeffer’s position gener-
ated a great deal of discussion because it was deemed “too radical.”41 While he
stopped short of placing judgment on individuals who remained members of the
Reich Church, he was clear in his denunciation of the leaders of the Reich Church
who had accommodated themselves to the political pressures of the day.
Nevertheless as he goes on to discuss the matter in more detail, his position can be
seen as reflecting the historical position articulated by the church throughout the
centuries. In addition, it can be seen not as an aberration of his own theological
position, but one that remained consistent throughout the years. From his disserta-
tion, Sanctorum Communio, onwards he defined the church in terms of Luther’s
conception of the present Christ. Through the church’s proclamation the presence
of Christ is made a reality for the believers and for the world. Any expression of
the church that deviated from that identifying mark could no longer be considered
the church. For Bonhoeffer, this “is in the strict sense a statement of faith.”
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Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
Bonhoeffer’s position with regard to the Confessing Church, when compared
to other statements from Luther, becomes an even more clearly stated variation of
Luther’s belief itself. Consider, for example, the following statements from Luther,
in which the language is quite similar. In the first instance, Luther says, “Outside
this Christian church there is no salvation or forgiveness of sins, but everlasting
death and damnation.” In another, Luther says, “For outside the Christian church
there is no truth, no Christ, and no salvation.”
42
When seen from the perspective of
Bonhoeffer’s own argument, he did not see himself engaged merely in a fight for
genuine Lutheranism in the 1930s, but a battle for the heart and soul of the church
itself.
Conclusions
There is no escaping it, what we believe matters. It is always important to
clearly make the distinctions between true and false faith, as was the case in 1930s
Germany. We could—and should—say much more, but hopefully this illustrates
Bonhoeffer’s theological stance.
In a 1936 letter to his brother-in-law Rudiger Schleicher, Bonhoeffer makes a
statement that serves both as a confession of faith and a summary of the Church
Struggle, as he perceived it. He says:
I know about the God for whom I am searching either out of my own
experiences and understanding, from my own interpretation of history
or nature, that is, from within myself—or I know about that God on
the basis of God’s revelation of God’s own word. Either I determine
the place where I want to find God, or I let God determine the place
where God wants to be found. If it is I who says where God is to be
found, then I will always find a God there who in some manner corre-
sponds to me, is pleasing to me, who is commensurate with my own
nature. But if it is God who says where God is to be found, then it
will probably be a place that is not at all commensurate with my own
nature and that does not please me at all. This place, however, is the
cross of Jesus. And those who want to find God there must live
beneath that cross just as the Sermon on the Mount demands. Doing
so, however, is wholly incommensurate with our nature, indeed is
wholly contrary to it. Precisely this, however, is the message of the
Bible, not only in the New, but also in the Old Testament (Is 53!). In
any event, both Jesus and Paul intended it thus: the cross of Jesus ful-
fills scripture, that is, the Old Testament. Hence the entire Bible claims
to be this word in which God wants us to find God. It is not at all a
place that we find pleasant or that might be a priori clear, but a place
alien to us in every way, a place utterly repugnant to us. But precisely
that is the place at which God chose to encounter us.
43
375
While many praise the return of religion in both public and private, Bonhoeffer
provides a word of warning: not everything that passes as religion is equally the
same—nor is it all good. Religion, when falsely interpreted, can be a harmful ele-
ment in society. When religion is informed by factors other than scripture, it can
lead to idolatry—worshiping a god of one’s own creation.
As we conclude, I want to turn again to the distinction between legal and ille-
gal, truth and untruth. Bonhoeffer was convinced, and argued accordingly, that the
truth was to be found in Scripture and that the Confessing Church, by proclaiming
the truth, was the legitimate church. Even though it was illegal, it was the legitimate
church. The determination was who spoke the truth. Contrary to the pressures of
the day, Bonhoeffer concluded that “legitimacy does not depend on state recogni-
tion,” but on proclaiming the truth, which can be found in scripture alone.
44
Suffice it to compare two contrasting reflections on the role of political ide-
ology on the church and its beliefs. The first comes from Bishop Theophil Wurm
of Bavaria, who had prepared a statement to be read from the pulpit on Easter
Sunday 1933, in which he praised the new government and the future prospects for
the renewal of society and the church:
A state which brings into being again government according to God’s
Laws should, in doing so, be assured not only of the applause but also
of the glad and active co-operation of the Church. With gratitude and
joy the Church takes note that the new state bans blasphemy, assails
immorality, establishes discipline and order, with a strong hand, while
at the same time calling upon man to fear God, espousing the sanctity
of marriage and Christian training for the young, bringing into honor
again the deeds of our fathers and kindling in thousands of hearts, in
place of disparagement, an ardent love of Volk and Fatherland.
45
Alternatively, some years ago Eberhard Bethge told about a surprising experi-
ence of visiting Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Baptist Church back in the early 1980s. He
says that Jerry Falwell in his sermon indicated that they were doing battle with secu-
lar humanism and all the other godless forces at work in America. And that wasn’t
what surprised him. As they were leaving, an usher approached him and handed
two badges for his lapel. One was a cross that had “Jesus First” emblazoned on it;
the other was an American flag. He said, “I could not help but think of myself in
Germany in 1933. That was exactly what we believed for some time in German
terms: on the one hand our nation’s proud renewal, to which we wanted to devote
our energy and time, and to make sacrifices, if need be; on the other hand, to Jesus
Christ at the same time. Why not that relation and that equation? Then I remem-
bered that slow and bitter revelation how in the interpretation, even in that ‘Jesus
First,’ the flag in fact became the guiding force. Of course, Christ, but a German
Christ; of course ‘Jesus First,’ but an American Jesus! And so to the long history of
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Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
faith and of its executors another chapter is being added of a mixed image of
Christ....”
46
For him, the message couldn’t have been clearer. From his experience
of Germany in the 1930s and ‘40s, whenever the cross and the flag are put togeth-
er, the flag always wins.
To be sure, the church in every age is called is to preach the word of God in
such a way that people will encounter God’s grace in their lives. However, when
that proclamation is compromised by the inclusion of false ideologies, can the
church be faithful to its calling? That question was primary for Bonhoeffer.
Was Bonhoeffer right? Was he too radical? Remember, these were positions
staked out in the midst of battle—and a time in which there was the need to distin-
guish one’s position clearly from that of your perceived enemy—so overstating
one’s case is only too easy to do. But then again, it also points to the intensity and
importance of the battle for Bonhoeffer. While we may not all agree with him on
all points, he was one who clearly saw Christ—and Christ alone—as the center of
his faith. For him, anything less would make it something else. Faith, perhaps, but
not the Christian faith.
Far too often we live as if our faith does not affect the myriad decisions we
make daily or that there is a clear separation between what we believe and how we
live. A portion of the Bonhoeffer legacy for the twenty-first century is that he lived
as though what he believed mattered, not only for him personally but for the com-
munity as a whole. To live as if our faith doesn’t matter in the daily decisions we
face is to deny the power of that faith altogether.
Bonhoeffer’s theology is an expression of the theologia crucis in that everything
we know about God we know in and through Jesus Christ. And the key to under-
standing Jesus Christ for us lies in the cross. At the cross all human schemes and
plans are brought to naught. No longer can it be assumed that we can work our
way to God. The cross is an indictment that we can no longer even try. What is
quite clear in the cross is that this is God’s way to us. If we want to find God, we
must go to where God has chosen to place himself.
For the reformers, what they believed mattered. For those embattled by the
Church Struggle of the 1930s, what they believed mattered.
The question for us today is—does what we believe matter? And if so, the
question of the source of the belief is equally important. We can thank Bonhoeffer
for his insistent and consistent witness on this critical point.
Endnotes
1
Quoted in “U.S. needs religious advisors in diplomacy, says Albright in book,” The Christian
Century, June 27, 2006, 14.
2
Martin Luther, “The Large Catechism,” in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church, ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis: Fortress Press,
2000), 286:2–3.
3
Jaroslav Pelikan, Credo: Historical and Theological Guide to Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the
377
Christian Tradition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 326.
4
Apology Aug 18.9.
5
Please see Matthew D. Hockenos, A Church Divided: German Protestants Confront the Nazi Past
(Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2004), esp. chp. 1; in what follows, I have relied on his
descriptive analysis.
6
DBWE 14, 597–601; the English translation for all the citations from DBWE 14 was pre-
pared by Douglas Stott.
7
DB-ER, 421.
8
Translated from the editor’s forward, DBW 14; the forward from the German edition will
not be included in the English translation.
9
See DBW 12, 116–18. The letter is dated the 20 August 1933.
10
According to Christine-Ruth Müller, Bekenntnis und Bekennen, (München: Kaiser, c 1989), 11,
the “Jewish Question” created this situation for Bonhoeffer, and it was for that reason that
Bonhoeffer sought to clarify the theological foundation of the church’s confession. Rather than being
a political issue, the Aryan Clause and the Jewish Question represented a challenge to the theological
heritage of the church. Because the church struggle was defined in theological rather than political
terms, it created a status confessionis and called for a new confessional statement.
11
Of the work carried out at Bethel, Bethge, DB-ER, 303, says: “With theological conscien-
tiousness, the group in Bethel tried to make its teachings relevant for the times. In an address to
German pastors in Bradford, Yorkshire, Bonhoeffer described the nature of the work that had
defined Confessing statements from trinitarian doctrine to eschatology. They had made a number of
reformulations: in the doctrine of justification, to unmask Ludwig Müller’s trite reduction of
Christianity to trust in God and being good fellows; in the doctrine of the cross, so as to pillory the
reinterpretation of the cross as a symbol of the Nazi slogan ‘public interest before self-interest’ by
Friedrich Wieneke, the German Christian chaplain to the Prussian court; and finally, in the doctrine of
the Holy Spirit, from a christological standpoint, with renewed emphasis on the filoque, so as to guard
against the dangerous emphasis that Hirsch, Althaus, and Fezer put on the revelation in the creation,
and to refute its consequences in Stapel’s independent notion of the law of race.”
12
DBW 12: 384.
13
Carter, 224.
14
Ibid.
15
DBW 12: 385–86.
16
Ibid., 386–87.
17
DB-ER, 302.
18
DB-ER, 303. Kelly and Nelson, TF, 134, add: “Because the strengths of the section
Bonhoeffer and Sasse wrote were diluted by heavy editing and because of other changes to make the
overall text more acceptable, Bonhoeffer would eventually refuse to sign the document at its
November 1933 publication by Martin Niemöller.” In all, four versions of the Confession were pro-
duced. For a detailed comparison of the four versions of the Bethel Confession, see Müller.
19
DBW 13: 179.
20
DBWE 14, 597–601.
21
DBWE 14, 110.
22
LW 31, 52–53.
23
Ibid, 429.
24
Ibid, 430.
25
Ibid, 107.
26
Ibid, 432 (emphasis added).
27
Ibid, 433.
378
Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
28
NRS, 137; DBW 11: 228. According to Bethge, Bonhoeffer committed himself to this task
because he was “convinced of the need for new catechisms” (DB-ER, 186).
29
NRS, 138; DBW 11: 229. Luther’s words are from a 10 December 1528 sermon on the cat-
echism (Cf. LW 51, 169).
30
DB-ER, 187.
31
NRS, 142; DBW 11: 233–34. According to the editors, the Luther citation is actually a com-
bination of two different quotations; the first is from Luther’s 1520 treatise, “The Babylonian
Captivity of the Church:” “This man is God, this God is man.” The second comes from Luther’s
1528 treatise on the Lord’s Supper: “I point to the man Christ and say, ‘That is God’s Son’ or ‘this
man is God’s Son.”
32
Christian Gremmels, “Rechtfertigung und Nachfolge: Martin Luther in Dietrich
Bonhoeffer’s Buch ‘Nachfolge,’” in Dietrich Bonhoeffer heute: Die Aktualität seines Lebens und Werkes, eds.
Rainer Mayer and Peter Zimmerling (Giessen/Basel: Brunnen Verlag, 1992), 83–84.
33
DBW 12: 423.
34
Ibid, 424–25.
35
Ibid, 424.
36
Ibid, 426.
37
DBW 14, editor’s forward.
38
DBW 14: 655–80.
39
“Outside the church [there is] no salvation”; Cyprian Epistles, 73.21. Cf. in DBWE 10:492.
40
DBW 14, 676–677. This claim, in essence, is similar to that of all sectarian groups; there-
fore, whereas in hindsight we might see the truth of Bonhoeffer’s claims given the context, his claim
was open to other interpretations, both within the Confessing Church as well as among the German
Christians.
41
See Helmut Gollwitzer’s article, DBW 14: 680–90, and WF, 97–106, for the nature of the
debate Bonhoeffer’s comments generated.
42
Quoted in Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966),
291.
43
DBWE 14, 146.
44
DBWE 14, 601.
45
Hockenos, 16.
46
Eberhard Bethge, “A Visit to Thomas Road Church,” The Wild Goose (1:2), (July, 1990),
15–16.
379
Writing a Theology of Luther
A Review Essay on Contributions New and Old
Erik Herrmann
The Righteousness of Faith According to Luther. By Hans J. Iwand.
Luther: An Introduction to His Thought. By Gerhard Ebeling.
Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation. By Oswald Bayer.
In 1529, Johannes Cochlaeus published a pamphlet against Martin Luther
called Septiceps Lutherus, the “Seven-headed Luther.” The woodcut on the title page
introduced this less-than-gracious portrait of Luther by depicting him with a head
of a monk, a doctor, a Turk, an enthusiast, a preacher, a church visitor, and a wild
man. Since then, with as many books written on Luther as anyone else in history
(except for Christ), the reformer’s heads have increased well beyond seven. Not
only is this reflected in the many biographies of Luther, but in “theologies” of
Luther as well.
It seems that there are several reasons for this. Bernard Lohse hit on one of
them when introducing his own book on Martin Luther’s theology: “There can be
no doubt that every description of Luther’s theology is at least linked to a given
author’s often very personal attempt to a make a statement, so that some descrip-
tions are plainly the author’s personal confession.… As a result, for many of them,
the distinction between their own point of view and the picture of Luther’s theolo-
gy can be drawn only with difficulty.”
1
While there always remains a certain neces-
sary element of subjectivity and selectivity when interpreting historical figures and
events, the bibliography of Luther scholarship exhibits an enormous tendency to
craft the man into one’s own image. With Kantian and post-Kantian, Existentialist,
and Barthian Luthers, one can scarcely recognize whether the subject is the same
person!
2
This tendency is only exacerbated by the fact that Luther himself did not
present his theology in a systematic or organized fashion. The majority of his theo-
logical writings are set in the midst of conflict and address specific controversies.
Luther’s theology did not spring from the head of Zeus, whole and fully formed,
Erik Herrmann is Assistant Professor of Historical Theology and Faculty
Director of Deaconess Studies at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri.
380
nor did he leave behind a theological Loci like Melanchthon, a Summa like Aquinas,
or a Christliche Dogmatik like Francis Pieper. Of course, this does not mean that
Luther’s theology lacks coherence. No one would dispute the centrality of justifica-
tion or the authority of Scripture for his doctrine. Yet how does one arrange the
inner complexities of his theology without imposing an alien framework or running
roughshod over the historical development of his thought? The challenge has not
gone unnoticed and recent attempts at writing a theology of Luther have been far
more transparent in their method and presentation.
3
Finally, not all books on Luther’s theology are trying to do the same thing.
The questions they ask are different; the goals of the task are different. This is cer-
tainly the case with the three books to be reviewed here. Though they have all
appeared in print during the last year or so, they actually represent three different
periods of Luther research. The book by Hans Iwand, The Righteousness of Faith
According to Luther, was first written in 1941 and has only now been translated into
English. Gerhard Ebeling’s classic work, Luther: An Introduction to His Thought
(1964), was brought back into print in 2007 after being out of print for over three
decades. With these reprints coinciding with the much-anticipated translation of
Oswald Bayer’s recent book, Martin Luther’s Theology (2008), reading them together
affords the opportunity to reflect more broadly on some of the developments in
Luther scholarship, compare and contrast various approaches and themes, and, per-
haps most significantly, explore the more fundamental question of what “theology”
actually is for Luther. It is possibly to this last consideration that each of these
books contributes most.
Hans J. Iwand: Theology as Justification
Though not well known to English readers, Hans Joachim Iwand
(1899–1960) was once regarded as one of the leading Luther scholars in Germany.
A student of Rudolf Hermann, Iwand was strongly influenced by the insights and
methods of the Luther Renaissance and remained one of its brightest stars. During
the political and theological tumult of Germany in the 1930s and 40s he became
involved with the Confessing Church and the circle of theologians around Karl
Barth. His theological influence on his contemporaries was significant and contin-
ues to be felt in theology today, especially in the writings of Jürgen Moltmann and
Gerhard Forde.
4
To understand the tenor and import of Iwand’s little book, some background
on the Luther Renaissance is in order. It was Karl Holl (1866–1926) who began the
movement with an article published in 1910, “The Doctrine of Justification in
Luther’s Lectures on Romans, Especially Regarding the Question of Certainty of
381 Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
Salvation,” and, as the title indicates, it is the doctrine of justification that is the big
question.
5
Holl’s thesis was chiefly driven by the caustic Luther biography of the
Dominican scholar, Heinrich Denifle (1844–1905).
6
It was Denifle who had first
discovered Luther’s Romans lectures from 1515–1516 through a set of student
notes kept in the Vatican library. In his analysis of the lectures, Denifle concluded
that Luther had grossly misunderstood scholasticism and that his doctrine of justi-
fication ignored the effective, moral aspects of God’s justifying pronouncements in
favor of a purely forensic view, largely for his own licentiousness. Justification cre-
ated no new reality but was merely a shift of attitude in the mind of God (or at
least Luther’s God!), a fictive righteousness that allowed Luther to “sin boldly” as
was his inclination.
By the time Holl began his work on the question, Luther’s original handwrit-
ten preparations for his Romans lecture had been found. From them, Holl conclud-
ed that through the concept of “promise” Luther was able to hold in tension both
the forensic and effective character of justification. The believer’s future—in which
God actually makes him righteous—is received now as a promise. For God there is
no distinction between present and future reality, but the believer experiences both
the present reality of sin as well as the hope of a new life promised by God in the
present.
Iwand’s work builds upon Holl’s premise that justification is the present dec-
laration of a future reality. Yet unlike Holl, Iwand sees the exchange of realities not
simply in the mind and will of God but in the work of Christ who takes on our sin
and bestows his righteousness. In this “happy exchange,” the future breaks into the
present—it is the Last Day judgment occurring ahead of time.
7
In this sense, justi-
fication remains a “forensic” event (i.e. a courtroom judgment), yet it is not on the
basis of some divine self-deception but in the fact that we are found in Christ:
The exchange that Luther talks about is the “happy exchange” in
which Christ takes on my sins and I take on his righteousness. But this
exchange is only meaningful when it is seen in its entirety against the
background of God’s judgment—when it concerns God’s judgment
and his verdict. What happens in this event, in the death and interven-
tion of Jesus for our sins, is not something that occurs contemporane-
ously, but it is an end-time event. The righteousness that Christ brings
is dedicated to us finally and conclusively at the time of the last judg-
ment. Therefore, when faith grasps this righteousness it makes the per-
son eternally righteous; he lives entirely from what God has promised
him and grasps his future-self as his only true being. God does not lie;
the promise that he has made to us he will most certainly keep
.8
382
Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
Luther’s breakthrough was to grasp this simultaneity of present and future, of sin
and righteousness. Before, when Luther regarded the priest’s absolution to be mere-
ly a descriptive declaration of sin’s removal, he was driven to despair for it was clear
that sin remained. But in the Romans lectures, Luther discovered that the forgive-
ness of sins was a declaration of a future reality grasped now by faith even in the
midst of our sinful condition. Not our present reality of sin, but God’s promise is
definitive: peccator in re, iustus in spe—“sinner in reality, righteous in hope.” Faith is
living in the future life now, in the eschatological reality that is Christ Jesus himself:
“Faith therefore has nothing to do with any kind of conception of God or Christ.
It has nothing to do with opinions that we have or don’t have about God or Christ;
opinions that we could perhaps even change. Faith has to do with the substance of
our being, our very life and death. In faith ‘it is not I who live!’ In faith, the life of
a new person lives in the ‘me’ whom I shall become.”
9
Even though the size and title of the book appears to indicate that Iwand is
only taking up one particular doctrine, that is not his intention. For Iwand, all of
Luther’s theology is comprehended in the explication of justification: knowledge of
God and man, sin and righteousness, law and gospel, faith and works. In the intro-
duction, he laments that the church has focused its attention on other questions
and doctrines, as if justification was simply one doctrine among many to be consid-
ered, a particular Protestant idiosyncrasy. No, the doctrine is an either/or for the
entire church, not only the core of Luther’s theology but of theology in general.
10
Thus, Iwand’s entry point into justification is indicative of his view as he begins
with the inseparable correlation of faith and the First Commandment and the con-
sequent dialectic of self-justification and the justification of God, knowledge of
man and knowledge of God, the word of man and the Word of God. Even here
his claims about Luther’s theology simultaneously exclude and comprehend:
The First Commandment means everything or it means nothing. With
it all other moral notions of good and bad are negated. This does not
mean that God says to us, “You must decide for me.” Rather, it means
God says, “I have decided for you.” … The most powerful and over-
whelming characteristic of Luther’s doctrine of justification is that he
abolishes all casuistry by demanding a comprehensive “Yes” or “No.”
Luther says, “Nothing justifies like faith, and sin is nothing other than
unbelief.” Whoever believes has everything, and whoever does not
believe will have the little that they do have taken away.
11
Iwand was convinced that the ecumenical future of Luther’s theology was not in
diluting it, but in grasping it in all its radical incisiveness. Only then can Luther be
understood as the reformer of the church, his doctrines “not a denominational spe-
cialty,” but the common property of the whole church.
12
383
Gerhard Ebeling: Theology as Making Distinctions
The scholars of the Luther Renaissance spent a great deal of energy on the
question of Luther’s doctrine of justification, especially as the starting point for his
Reformation breakthrough. Again, largely due to the provocations of Denifle’s
work, Luther scholarship swirled around the nature of Luther’s evangelical discov-
ery, its relationship to justification, and the date of this event. Yet even while this
continued to dominate studies on Luther, other themes also began to emerge: for
example, the nature of Luther’s doctrine of the law, the two kingdoms, the theolo-
gy of the cross, and the role of mysticism. But perhaps the most important theme
was Luther’s hermeneutics. This was the work of Gerhard Ebeling.
Gerhard Ebeling (1912–2001) was by far the most influential Luther scholar
of the twentieth century. The breadth of his work on Luther, his scholarly depth
and detail, and his groundbreaking insights set the discourse for the discipline, mak-
ing him one of the most important figures in the history of Luther interpretation.
A student of Rudolf Bultmann in Zurich, Ebeling was deeply influenced by exis-
tential theology and its application for the interpretation of texts. While the Luther
Renaissance focused on the doctrine of justification for its soteriological and ethical
implications, Ebeling began to consider its significance for biblical hermeneutics.
13
Bultmann had already described his own biblical work of demythologization as “a
task parallel to that performed by Paul and Luther in their doctrine of justification
by faith alone without the works of the law.”
14
But Ebeling’s approach was more
nuanced and focused on the study of Luther himself. His doctoral dissertation,
Evangelische Evangelienauslegung—“The Evangelical Interpretation of the Gospels”—
was a detailed examination of the problem of hermeneutics as he examined
Luther’s sermons on the Synoptic Gospels.
15
There he tried to understand Luther’s
shifting attitude towards the use of allegory and its relationship to his understand-
ing of the Gospel. A few years later, Ebeling published what was perhaps his most
important article, “The Beginnings of Luther’s Hermeneutics.”
16
Analyzing Luther’s
early Psalm lectures (1513–1515), he argued that Luther’s theological breakthrough
was necessarily preceded by a hermeneutical one. This earlier shift, said Ebeling,
was simultaneously theological and methodological as Luther’s understanding of
law and gospel emerged not merely as distinct doctrines, ages of history, or parts of
the canon, but as a hermeneutical distinction that brought the Word of God into
an encounter with man’s contemporary existence. The hermeneutical problem
became for Luther an existential one so that in the struggle to grasp the meaning of
the text—to find Christ in the Scriptures—he himself would be grasped and found.
Early on, Ebeling clearly read Luther through the lenses of Existentialism.
But as he continued his work, he revised his conclusions and increasingly engaged
Luther historically, especially in relation to the scholastic and exegetical tradition
that preceded him. Interpreting Luther’s thought through the history of exegesis
became the hallmark of Ebeling’s approach. Still, throughout his work he continued
384
Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
to maintain that key to Luther’s thought was the necessity of making distinctions—
distinctions like that of law and gospel, person and work, faith and love, freedom
and bondage. And like Luther’s exegesis, these distinctions could never be merely
an intellectual exercise, a set of theological categories to be grasped or applied;
rather they define the entire existence of the person confronted by the Word of
God. They mark the perpetual simul of Christian existence.
Thus for Luther, preaching is putting these distinctions into practice.
Distinguishing law and gospel is not just some important flourish or element to
preaching, it is the essence of preaching. It is the act of accomplishing what preach-
ing is intent on accomplishing: the salvation of the hearer. No wonder that Luther con-
tinually said that making this distinction is the work of the Holy Spirit! But this also
means that confusing what must be distinguished is not just an unfortunate lack of
clarity—it effects the very opposite of salvation.
The structure and method of Ebeling’s book on Luther’s theology clearly
reflects these emphases. As he notes in the preface,
I have taken on the task, the most difficult from the theological point
of view, of examining the tension that runs through the whole of
Luther’s thought, the play between the harsh opposition of opposing
theses and the spirit of compromise which reconciles both sides of an
issue. But I have tried to do this not by compiling a list of individual
ideas to illustrate this theme, or by giving an account of Luther’s theol-
ogy as a whole, but by concentrating as it were on the inner dynamic
of his thought.
The chapters are organized according to these various tensions: philosophy and
theology, letter and spirit, law and gospel, person and work, faith and love, etc. Yet
each build on one another and overlap in such a way that Luther’s theology is less a
collection of individual beliefs and doctrines and more a way of living under the
Word of God. Coupled with his reflections on Luther’s person and hermeneutical
innovations, Ebeling offers a profoundly rich interpretation of Luther’s thought.
Oswald Bayer: Theology as Promise
As important as Gerhard Ebeling was for the shaping of Luther scholarship,
he was certainly not the last word. The work of Ebeling continues to be critiqued
and disputed with new research attempting to rethink the interpretation of Luther
entirely.
17
One of the first shifts away from the Ebeling “school” was initiated by
the work of Ernst Bizer (1927–2002), with a renewed interest in the dating of
Luther’s theological breakthrough.
18
Bizer’s book, Fides ex Auditu (1958), re-exam-
ined the evidence in light of Luther’s own account of his theological development
and concluded that not only was the date much later than the scholarly consensus,
but that the substance of the discovery itself was to be understood differently.
385
Bizer argued that key to Luther’s thought was not simply that the “righteousness of
God” was passive and therefore a gift, but that the righteousness of God was
revealed through the Gospel, i.e., that the Word was a means of grace and actually
bestowed what it pronounced. The significance of this interpretation and how it
differs from Ebeling is best observed in the work of Bizer’s student, Oswald Bayer.
Oswald Bayer studied under Bizer at Bonn and agreed with his teacher’s con-
clusion that it is the relationship between Luther’s understanding of God’s right-
eousness and the Word that is pivotal. Ironically, it is the concept of “promise” that
becomes central for Bayer, but in a different manner than in the interpretation of
Iwand and the Luther Renaissance. For Bayer, Luther’s concept of promise is best
understood as analogous to modern performative speech-act theory—the Word of
promise does not merely signify some other reality, even a future one, but actually
creates that new reality. God’s promise is a word of creation—through his speaking
the world came into being and through his promise a new creation springs forth.
19
As Luther himself indicates in his early lectures on Romans and in the
Ninety-five Theses against Indulgences, it is the meaning of the absolution in the
sacrament of penance that continually confounds Luther. What is happening when
the priest absolves us? In the Romans lectures, Luther realizes that scholastic theol-
ogy is misleading because it regards the priest’s absolution as merely descriptive of
sin’s removal. With sin still empirically present Luther argued that this view leads to
confusion and despair. Instead, one should regard absolution as a promise that
points faith and hope to a future righteousness. This was, for Iwand, Luther’s
Reformation insight. Bayer, however, argues that Luther’s view of promise develops
even further so that the promise actually mediates righteousness, that is, one’s right-
eousness is constituted entirely by what God says to us. The new creation begins
already now through the Word that God speaks—faith is the beginning of this cre-
ation; sin is to disbelieve God, to not take him at his Word. Thus, as creation itself,
the ontology of justification is verbal at its core.
20
This interpretation of Luther’s theology of the Word also differs from
Ebeling’s. For Ebeling, the preaching of the Word creates an existential event that
provides the context for the human response of faith. Bayer, however, stresses that
faith is the creation of God “through and through,” so that the righteousness of
faith must always remain passive, that is, in the sense that we “suffer” God’s work
in us. The Word does not simply elicit a response that then gives meaning to
human existence. The Word brings human existence and identity into being.
While Bayer is critical of Ebeling’s existential read on Luther, Bayer unapolo-
getically has his own set of lenses.
21
Especially influential is the work of Johann
Georg Hamann (1730–1788), whose philosophy of language functioned as a bridge
from Luther to the contemporary insights of John L. Austin and speech-act theory.
Bayer finds that Luther’s theology of the Word reinforces the notion that all of
human life is structured by language and that that in turn echoes Luther’s
386
Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
conviction that it is, in fact, the Scriptures that interpret us rather than the other
way around.
As to the structure and approach of Bayer’s Martin Luther’s Theology, he begins
with a rather large section (pp.15–94) of “prolegomena,” which asks the founda-
tional question: what is, for Luther, theology? What does it mean to be a theolo-
gian? Here, he introduces Luther’s various reflections on the subject matter and
purpose of theology, focusing especially on his three “rules” of oratio, meditatio, and
tentatio—prayer, meditation, and spiritual trial (or Anfechtung)—which are all oriented
to the Word. In this, the Christian life is a vita passiva—a passive life, the object of
God’s saving work. This then leads to Bayer’s summary of Luther’s Reformation
breakthrough to “promise” and the place of Holy Scripture. Bayer then tries to
organize Luther’s thought more systematically and uses the Catechism/Creed as the
basic framework. The intention here is to begin dealing with creation and justifica-
tion simultaneously so that they are not seen as isolated doctrines, but as a single
concept running through all of Luther’s theology. Though Bayer has grounded his
work in a close historical examination of Luther’s texts, one finds throughout the
work a whole cast of unexpected characters—e.g. Kant, Hegel, Schleiermacher—all
brought into some kind of dialogue or disputation with Luther’s theology. In the
end, the experience leaves the reader learning much about Luther and even more
about Bayer.
It was said that when Bernard Lohse’s book on Luther’s theology came out
in 1995, he was asked why he decided to write it, given the fact that there was no
shortage of books on this topic. He responded, “I wanted to put Luther back into
the sixteenth century … and leave him there.” The implication was not that Luther
was irrelevant, but that writing a theology of Luther can too easily slip into
anachronism. It is perhaps because Luther’s theology continues to remain so palpa-
bly relevant that writing about his theology can so quickly become a confession of
our own. In the end, writing a theology of anything or anyone must come to terms
with what theology actually is. For all of the differences between these books
examined, there is the common conviction that theology is something more than a
scientific discipline that through the exactness of the interpretation, can be mas-
tered by the specialist. “Clearly, one dissects a body only when it is dead.”
22
For
Luther, theology comes into being and lives only by the Word of God and so must
ever remain the confession of a sinner who in Christ has been justified: “We are
beggars. This is true.”
23
Endnotes
1
Bernard Lohse, Martin Luther’s Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999), 4. A helpful survey of
the various interpretations of Luther influenced by the theological factions in Germany between the
two world wars is James M. Stayer, Martin Luther, German Saviour (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-
Queen’s University Press, 2000). For very detailed accounts see Walther von Loewenich, Luther und der
387
Neuprotestantismus (Witten: Luther-Verlag, 1963), and Heinrich Bornkamm, Luther im Spiegel der deutschen
Geistesgeschichte (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1970).
2
The Finnish interpretation of Luther, which began with the work of Tuomo Mannermaa
some thirty years ago, has gained quite a reputation as a sharp critic of the last one hundred years of
Luther research, arguing that Luther has been largely filtered through Kantian or post-Kantian lenses.
The irony is that Mannermaa’s interpretation of Luther—which teaches a doctrine of justification that
approaches the Eastern theological tradition of deification or theosis—began admittedly and unapologet-
ically for the sake of ecumenical dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church.
3
For example, Bernard Lohse’s work addresses the difficulties by presenting Luther’s theology
first in its historical development and then in its systematic context.
4
See Jürgen Moltmann, Experiences in Theology: Ways and Forms of Christian Theology,
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), 87–88; and James Arne Nestingen, “Examining Sources: Influences on
Gerhard Forde’s Theology” in By Faith Alone: Essays on Justification in Honor of Gerhard O. Forde (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 14–21.
5
Karl Holl, “Die Rechtfertigungslehre in Luthers Vorlesung über den Römerbrief mit beson-
derer Rücksicht auf die Frage der Heilsgewissheit,” in Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Kirchengeschichte vol. I,
(Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1932), 111–154.
6
Heinrich Denifle, Luther und Luthertum, 2nd ed. vol. 1. (Mainz: Verlag von Kirchheim & Co.,
1906).
7
One sees an anticipation of Oscar Cullmann’s “now/not yet” from Christ and Time.
8
Iwand, 77–78.
9
Ibid., 78–79.
10
Ibid., 14f.
11
Ibid., 24.
12
Ibid., 14.
13
Karl Holl was actually the first to raise the hermeneutical problem for Luther studies, but
he did not develop it any further: “Luthers Bedeutung für den Fortschritt der Auslegungskunst,” in
Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Kirchengeschichte, vol. 1, Luther (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1932),
544–82.
14
See Walter Freitag, “Luther in the Thought of Bultmann” in Festschrift: A Tribute to
Dr. William Hordern, ed. Walter Freitag (Saskatoon: University of Saskatchewan, 1985), 138–146.
15
Gerhard Ebeling, Evangelische Evangelienauslegung: Eine Untersuchung zu Luthers Hermeneutik
(München: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1942).
16
Ebeling, “The Beginnings of Luther’s Hermeneutics,” Lutheran Quarterly 7 (1993): 129–158,
315–338, 451–468. Translated from “Die Anfänge von Luthers Hermeneutik,” Die Zeitschrift für
Theologie und Kirche 48 (1951):172–230.
17
Again, it is the Finnish school that continues to be the sharpest critic of Ebeling’s interpre-
tation of Luther and has argued for a “paradigm shift” in Luther studies. For more on the Finnish
interpretation see Union with Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther, ed. Carl Braaten and Robert
Jenson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998). Also, Tuomo Mannermaa’s original book on Luther has now
been translated into English: Christ Present in Faith: Luther’s View of Justification (Minneapolis: Fortress,
2005).
18
Ernst Bizer, Fides ex Auditu: Eine Untersuchung über die Entdeeckung der Gerechtigkeit Gottes durch
Martin Luther (Neukirchen: Neukirchner Verlag, 1958).
19
This divine creative Word cuts both ways so that creation itself is also a divine address, a
Word of God to man. See Bayer, Schöpfung als Anrede. Zu einer Hermeneutik der Schöpfung, 2nd ed.
(Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1990).
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20
Bayer’s thesis on Luther’s breakthrough is present most fully in his published doctoral work,
Promissio: Geschichte der reformatorischen Wende in Luthers Theologie (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht,
1971).
21
For a helpful analysis of Bayer’s interaction with these thinkers see Mark C. Mattes, The Role
of Justification in Contemporary Theology, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 145–173.
22
Iwand, Righteousness of Faith, 15.
23
These are Luther’s last written words, found scribbled on a scrap of paper at his death, LW
54:476: “Nobody can understand Vergil in his Bucolics and Georgics unless he has first been a shepherd
or a farmer for five years. Nobody understands Cicero in his letters unless he has been engaged in
public affairs of some consequence for twenty years. Let nobody suppose that he has tasted the Holy
Scriptures sufficiently unless he has ruled over the churches with the prophets for a hundred years.
Therefore there is something wonderful, first about John the Baptist; second, about Christ; third
about the apostles. ‘Lay not your hand on this divine Aeneid, but bow before it, adore its every trace.’
We are beggars. This is true.”
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Greek Participles, Part VIII
In our last installment (July 2008) of the Corner focusing upon the Greek
participle, we illustrated that there is a serious problem with the “cheap, quick, and
dirty” understanding of the participles as conveying action at a time relative to the
time of the main/leading verb. We looked at four examples to illustrate this, two
with a present participle, and two with an aorist:
Present Participles:
1. Matthew 27:3: Te·. tea| Ieuea, e :açaeteeu, au·e| e·t -a·.-çtòµ,
¡.·a¡.ìµò.t, .c·ç.(.| ·a ·çta-e|·a aç,uçta ... (Then Judas, the one who was
betraying [?] him, upon seeing that he had been condemned ... returned the thirty
silver pieces....)
2. Matthew 7:8: ...-at ·a -çeue|·t a|et,µc.·at. (...and to the one who will
be knocking [?] it will be opened.)
Aorist Participles:
3. Acts 1:8: aììa 쵡(.cò. eu|a¡t| .:.ìòe|·e, ·eu a,teu :|.u¡a·e, .|’
u¡a, (But you will receive power, after [?] the Holy Spirit comes/has come upon
you....)
4. Acts 25:13:... `A,çt::a, e ¡actì.u, -at P.ç|t-µ -a·µ|·µca| .t,
Katcaç.ta| ac:aca¡.|et ·e| 1µc·e|. (...Agrippa the King and Bernice arrived at
Caesarea, after [?] they had greeted Festus.)
We also asserted that “[p]articiple tense is not to be understood in lock-step
with the time of the sentence’s main or leading verb.” Now, let’s be positive in our
assertions.
How should we understand these problematic instances? We should see that
the key is focus. Specifically, in the case of a present participle, there is a focus
upon the connection between the action of the participle and the doer of
that action. In the case of an aorist participle, there is a focus upon the activity
conveyed by the participle itself, not its connection to the doer of the
activity.
More specifically, to take each tense in turn—and in this installment, we
focus upon the present tense—present participles see the action conveyed as in
some way connected to the doer of that activity, almost as a suit coat is connected
to, or “on,” a person. The action of the participle is allied with him. It is, as it were,
something that is “stuck to him.” And this might be something that is “stuck to
him” currently, something that is “stuck to him” on a regular basis, something
“stuck to him” on a sustained basis, etc.—just as someone wearing a suit jacket
might be doing so on a given occasion, or might do so regularly or constantly, etc.
393 Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
This explains the two present participle examples from the previous installment,
repeated above. Matthew 27:3 exhibits a constant connection (“betrayer” is his
moniker), while Matthew 7:8 exhibits a regular one.
Most present participles, of course, are not so difficult and simply convey
action connected on a given occasion, such as the following two examples:
5. Mark 1:16: Kat :aça,a| :aça ·µ| òaìacca| ·µ, laìtìata, .te.|
Lt¡a|a -at `A|eç.a| ·e| ae.ì|e| Lt¡a|e, a¡|t¡aììe|·a, .| ·µ
òaìaccµ….(And as he was going along beside the lake/sea of Galilee, he saw
Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon throwing a two man net in the
lake/sea….)
6. Mark 15:29: Kat et :aça:eç.ue¡.|et .¡ìac|µ¡eu| au·e| -t|eu|·., ·a,
-.|aìa, au·a|….(And the ones who were going by were blaspheming him,
shaking their heads….)
Note that these typical and unproblematic examples explain why the “cheap,
quick, and dirty” understanding of the present participle as conveying action at the
same time as the main/leading verb is often quite adequate. The focus of the pres-
ent participle is on the connection between the activity it conveys and the doer of
that activity, and where is that activity in time? Answer: generally, within the time
frame of the main/leading verb! Again, to use the analogy of the suit coat, the
jacket (= present participle) is on an actor in the sentence, and, therefore, it is locat-
ed temporally where the one wearing the jacket is located—which is, generally,
within the temporal context of the main/leading verb. When the actor is placed
into the past by the main/leading verb, then the jacket is in the past, just like the
main/leading verb. When the actor is placed into the present by the main/leading
verb, then the jacket is in the present, just like the main/leading verb. And just so
with the future. Thus, “cheap, quick, and dirty” works most of the time for a very
good reason, but the exceptions do “prove” or test the rule, and when they do, the
“old saw” is found to be wanting. Hence the proposal of this column.
In the next installment, we will look at the time frame of aorist participles.
James W. Voelz
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Homiletical Helps: LSB Series B—Gospels to Series C—Old Testament
Editor’s Note: The following homiletical helps were adapted from previous editions of the Con-
cordia Journal: Proper 29 (vol. 29, no. 4), Advent 4 (vol. 32, no. 4), Epiphany (vol. 32, no. 4).
Proper 27 • Mark 12:38–44 • November 8, 2009
Several years ago, the parish I was serving invited the District’s
Mission/Stewardship Executive to preach for our “New Consecration Sunday.” He
surprised the congregation with this opening: “Sometimes Christians ask me what
portion of their income they should really give to God and his Church? When they
ask it like that, I tell them ‘You should give it all!’”
The implications for stewardship in this pericope are obvious. However, the
preaching is complicated by the two-fold nature of the reading: warning about the
abuse of clerics and the faithfulness of the poor widow.
First Jesus warns all those listening to him as he is teaching in the temple
“Beware of the scribes.” According to William Lane’s 1974 NICNT commentary
on Mark, clerics of eminence “…wore white and left the bright colors to the com-
mon people” (p. 440). When scribes and other clerics walked down the street, peo-
ple rose respectfully. They were given the prominent positions at banquets, almost
like they were ornaments for the feast. Many pastors today may not feel that their
position affords them so much respect and authority, but there are many within
congregations that distrust pastors. They may have had bad experiences—real or
imagined, financial or personal—with pastors earlier in their lives. A pastor who is
regularly visiting his people in their homes will be more knowledgeable of such
issues and seem more approachable to his parishioners. He should make a con-
scious decision about whether or not vv. 38–40 should be commented upon during
the sermon itself. If he knows of any times that he has been guilty of pretence,
this could afford him the opportunity to repent and ask for forgiveness. See Ted
Kober’s book Confession and Forgiveness (CPH, 2002) for models of how to do this.
The focus of this reading is on the faithfulness of the poor widow. It gives
the preacher an obvious opportunity to teach about Gospel-motivated stewardship.
Many Christians feel guilty about stewardship, feeling driven by the Law to give
more. Others rarely consider their stewardship of time, talents, and treasures to be
a part of their Christian walk. Our American individualistic psyche wants to keep
“what is mine” and not admit that everything we have comes as a gracious gift from
our Lord. Church leaders sometimes become so focused on church budget issues
and paying the bills that they fail to acknowledge the spiritual trust issues underly-
ing each individual Christian’s life of faithful stewardship. The poor widow had two
small copper coins; she could easily have kept one. But she exhibited her trust in
397 Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
the Lord by giving all she had. We have a Lord who has given everything of himself
on the cross. Teaching stewardship is about helping Christians connect Jesus’ sacri-
ficial love with their daily faith-filled decisions.
The website advertising for Herb Miller’s New Consecration Sunday materi-
als trumpets the financial results (“15–30% increases in giving!”). That is unfortu-
nate. As a pastor I was honestly much more impressed with how that program
focused a congregation’s emphasis on faithful stewardship, responding to the gra-
cious Gospel of Jesus Christ. God doesn’t need our riches; they are mites to him to
start with. But because of the riches he has given to us in Christ, we will desire to
faithfully “give it all” back to him. My former congregation members did start giv-
ing 8–10% more on average after each of our New Consecration Sundays, but it
was because many Christians, new and old, reconsidered the importance of sacrifi
Rick Marrs
Proper 28 • Mark 13:1–10 • November 15, 2009
Introduction
In this text Jesus encourages his disciples—and us—to look not to present
things, no matter how externally impressive, but rather to find our hope in Christ,
who has sent his Holy Spirit to defend us even in the greatest difficulties. These
difficulties are the preparation for the Gospel, which will be preached to the whole
world. Our comfort is that it is Christ who is telling us of the tribulations to come,
and therefore he knows and controls the extent of these calamities. As believers in
our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we know that although the earthly temple in
Jerusalem would be destroyed, Christ was not destroyed when the temple of his
body was crucified and died. Rather, he rose again from the dead. We know that we
too are being built into his temple not made with hands—the church—and that we
too who have died and risen with him by baptism will rise again to be with him
eternally in heaven. Furthermore, we have the privilege of testifying through the
Holy Spirit to the truth of this gospel and this kingdom.
Helpful texts
Apart from the text given, 1 Peter 2:5 where we are described as living stones
that God is building up; John 2:19 where Jesus says that he will destroy the temple
of his body and on the third day rebuild it; review of the importance of the temple
in Ezekiel 40 and following; 1 John 2:18ff. on deceivers and antichrists; 1
Corinthians 10:13ff. on God not testing us beyond what we are able, but also pro-
viding a way of escape; Hebrews 10:12–14 on the many temple sacrifices compared
to the one real sacrifice of Christ; John 1:29—John’s declaration of Christ as the
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Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world; Mark 13:31—Jesus tells us that
heaven and earth may pass away, but His words will never pass away; Hebrews 12
on why and how God through hardship disciplines his sons; 1 Corinthians 3:11ff.
on no other foundation being laid but Christ and the relationship of our Christian
lives and works to that foundation. 1 Peter 4:13 and 2 Corinthians 1:4ff. tell us that
we can rejoice in our participation in the sufferings of Christ as we wait in hope for
his revealed kingdom.
Law for the text
The disciples took pride in the temple in Jerusalem built by Herod, which
was a spectacular and wonderful building. Jesus points out the futility of such
thinking. Furthermore, we are easily deceived by all kinds of false teachings that
sound right, but are simply deceptions. Moreover, when things really get rough in
our lives we often turn to the wrong places for comfort. God would have us trust
only in him, through the means he has provided—his Son Jesus Christ and the
Holy Spirit who is with us and sustains us.
Gospel for the text
First, Jesus is making this presentation on the destruction of the temple, and
there is much comfort in his power to control the situation and protect those pres-
ent, using what happens for his godly purposes. Second, there is the promise that
the Holy Spirit will help us during difficult times to uphold us and speak through
us. Therefore, we need not despair but can instead find hope in difficult circum-
stances, even in the face of death.
Gospel handles
More direct parallels that bring in the Gospel can be developed for this text.
Christ is the true temple in whom atonement for the sins of all people has been
accomplished. He is the Lamb of God, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole
world. By his stripes we are healed. Not only is this so, but God has chosen us to
be the living stones of his temple, the church. Christ is the cornerstone and foun-
dation of that temple, where we are being built upon the foundation of the apos-
tles and prophets, and we are all precious to our Lord and Savior. Also, we partici-
pate in his sufferings and death when we are baptized, receive the Lord’s Supper,
and through the actual difficulties of life. God is present at all times and in all
places to help us through these sufferings and bring us safely to his kingdom, and
he will even provide the words we need to testify to him, through the Holy Spirit,
when the need arises. So in life, suffering, or death, we can joyfully serve the Lord.
Goal: That the hearers of this message would act confidently through trust in
Christ’s work, in the face of worldly loss or hardship, knowing that God will sustain
them in all hardships and persecutions.
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Malady: As sinners we spend our time concerned with the wrong things, tak-
ing pride in our human temples, rather than the true temple of our Lord and Savior
Jesus Christ.
Means: Christ declares the truth of what will come to pass, and in his body,
through his sacrifice on the cross, he provides the remedy for all our weaknesses of
faith and life, and especially answers our fears.
Suggested outline
Introduce the theme of our false dependence on things other than God. In
particular we tend to find comfort in false temples, made by false Herods in our
lives.
Unpack the text by illustrating the major themes of being easily deceived by
the world, the devil, and the flesh, and needing strength and guidance from the
Holy Spirit and the Word during times we are tested by hardship.
This text would appear to leave us with little to hope for, being as dependent
as we are on creature comforts and taking pride in the wrong things; but we can
find hope in Christ the great high priest who has sacrificed the temple of his body
in our stead, has raised us up as living temples for him, and has sent the Holy Spirit
to guide and defend us in all troubles, hardships, and difficulties through the Word.
Now we can live in the comfort and hope that it is Christ who fights for us
as our champion, forgiving us our sins and providing the means of grace for our
comfort and strength, and that he who has saved and sustained us will keep us
faithful, sending his promised Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to help us through all our
hardships to everlasting life. Therefore we earnestly proclaim this comfort to others
who suffer as well. Amen.
Timothy P. Dost
Proper 29 • Mark 13:24–37 • November 22, 2009
Considerations in relation to the text
1. There is no doubt about the theme for this Sunday’s text. Every Scripture
reading for the last two weeks has been swelling the volume and intensity of the
message until today’s two readings conspire to fairly scream the theme: the escha-
ton is coming—the return is near—soon, soon, soon! It is palpable. The stage is
set. It’s the Last Sunday of the Year and the tone should be breathless anticipation,
tense, wired awareness, like the lingering adrenaline rush after a movie a bit too
thrilling, or a football game unbearably close. Relaxation, leisure, and complacency
are categorically ruled out.
2. The end is set. There is no doubt. The conclusion has been determined.
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Not only the day, but even the hour is firmly established. D-day and H-hour are
already on the calendar. No man, though, knows or can know that predetermined
day and hour. Indeed, man can know not even Y-year, C-century, or M-millennium.
Such ignorance extends to all men—even the Son of Man. (The obvious opportu-
nity for “doctrinal preaching” (assuming some may not be) might be met ably by
what would be a semi-annual reappearance of the Athanasian Creed.)
3. In this frenetic atmosphere of charged anxiety and mystery, the worst
thing that could happen, the virtually unthinkable thing, is to be caught sleeping.
Images of drowsy, sleep-addled disciples strewn around the Gethsemane grounds,
spring to mind. It was D-day already, and H-hour was charging toward them. But,
they never saw it coming—in spite of the repeated warnings. On the verge of the
world’s premiere event of eternal significance, they slept.
4. Sleeping through the sermon and stumbling through the liturgy in
unthinking stupor may be common enough, and sinful enough, but what of the sin
of sleeping through life itself ? The command to watch applies not only to door-
men and watchmen, but also to travelers. Careless, sleepy travelers risk missing a
flight, or an exit, or the “bridge out” sign. Alert traveling demands attention to
maps, weather, the road, luggage, other travelers and the destination. It is the direc-
tion suggested by the day’s Gradual: “Blessed are those who have set their hearts
on pilgrimage” (Ps. 84:5). An otherwise inexact and general appeal to “be alert” can
become considerably more tangible and relevant when cast in terms of being alert
to God’s direction through each day’s journey.
Central thought: Jesus is coming—physically, visibly, finally, certainly—and we
need to be alert, and so ready…always.
Goal: To instill in the hearers renewed certainty in the reality of the promised
return and redoubled commitment to alert living.
Malady: Being lousy waiters, we lose our alert edge and even slide into sleep.
Complacent, lackadaisical Christians are the very antithesis of the alert disci-
ples called for by Christ.
Means: There is only one who never sleeps (Ps 121:4), only one who watches
over us and brings us at last to H-hour of D-day.
Suggested outline
“What Are You Waiting For?”
Introduction: Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot, parodies those who spend
their lives waiting for God to come. While we recoil from such impious portrayals
of life and its meaning, we too often end up asking the same impious questions.
I. “What are you waiting for?”—our question to God.
A. The day and hour are already scheduled.
1. God has established the last hour.
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2. It will certainly come.
B. No man knows the calendar’s last day.
1. We grow impatient.
a. “What’s God waiting for?”
b. “Maybe it isn’t really going to happen after all.”
2. We grow complacent.
a. We are easily distracted from an alert state.
b. We drift into sleep.
Transition: Our questioning ends in shame and then terror as God turns the
question back on us.
II. “What are you waiting for?”—God’s question to us.
A. Learning to be alert, or, “What part of ‘Be alert!’ don’t you
understand?”
1. Being alert describes the life of a pilgrim.
a. We have a destination (arrival at H-hour on D-day).
b. We have direction for each day.
2. Sleep is the ultimate failure.
a. This is manifest in complacent, careless attitudes.
b. This is not easily (possibly!) avoided (exhibit A:
Gethsemane).
B. Knowing for whom you are waiting, or “Who’s the real watcher?”
1. Only God never sleeps.
a. He watches you, always
b. He directs your way, always.
2. Only God can accomplish The Day.
a. H-hour came for the disciples: Jesus dies and rises.
b. H-hour comes, now, for you: Jesus graces you at the
communion rail.
c. H-hour will come for all: Jesus will come again.
Conclusion: There’s no doubt. We are waiting for God. And there’s no doubt,
this waiting is not in vain. It has already been fulfilled at Calvary, is being fulfilled
again at the altar, and will be fulfilled on the Last Day. What are you waiting for?
The reality is now.
Joel D. Biermann
Advent 1 • Jeremiah 33:14–16 • November 29, 2009
Thoughts from the text
So, it begins again: another church year, another Advent, another Christmas
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shopping season, another winter … another time of waiting. Waiting through the
dark days of early winter seems an ideal time to turn to the prophet Jeremiah for
relevant words. The man knew something about waiting. Even the rare, hopeful
moments of his written prophecy—like our brief text—exude an aura of waiting.
The good days are yet to come. The promise is unfulfilled. Jeremiah can only cling
to the promise and wait and hope and wait … but at least he has the promise. The
parallels with our reality seem striking. We have a promise—Christ will return and
restore all things. Nevertheless, our present is often less than pleasant. We may not
taste the depth of sorrow and suffering endured by our ancient brother in the min-
istry, Jeremiah, but we know what it is to wait tirelessly for a promise given long
ago. Like so many days before, today is just another “one of those days,” the kind
that Jeremiah knew so intimately.
We can relate to Jeremiah. But perhaps we shouldn’t, or at least perhaps we
shouldn’t relate quite so easily or readily. We are, after all, living now in the days
that Jeremiah longed to see—the days that were the object of his hope. Jeremiah
longed for the days when God’s Plan (the master Plan of salvation) would move
forward, the promise would be kept, and Judah would be saved. All of that has
happened. The “righteous Branch of David” sprang forth and he executed
(NASB’s word choice) justice and righteousness on the earth. Following a plan that
few could have imagined, the fulfillment came precisely when the world rejected
and executed the one who had come to do justice and righteousness. It has been
accomplished. The Plan is a done deal. “Those days”—the very thought of which
so inspired and encouraged Jeremiah—are now. Today is one of those days … not a
day of weary waiting, or dreary routine, or painful endurance, but a day of living in
the reality of the promise fulfilled. We are not waiting for God to do something.
He’s already done it. In fact, he’s still doing it; it is “one of those days.”
It is, today, one of those days of God’s intervening active grace. So, while we
know what it is to wait through Advent and winter and life, we must also learn the
habits and practices of living in the reality of the promise accomplished. If we are
only waiting for what’s next, only waiting for God to do something else, only wait-
ing for those better days, then we are failing to live faithfully and joyfully in the
present reality of now—a reality that would have delighted (and perhaps even
brought a smile to the hardened face of) the weeping prophet.
Suggested outline
“It’s One of Those Days”
I. Days of futility.
A. Jeremiah knew how hard life could be, but he also knew the promise
of God.
1. For Jeremiah, every day was “one of those days.”
2. He yearned to see God send the “righteous Branch.”
B. Advent brings hope and anticipation, but does not erase the grim
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realities of life.
1. We continue to endure all of the challenges and pain of these
days.
2. Regardless the “date,” it is just another “one of those days.”
3. Like Jeremiah, we endure and we wait.
II. Days of fulfillment.
A. Jesus, the “righteous Branch,” has come.
1. As promised, he executed justice and righteousness on the earth.
2. The world executed him, and God fulfilled his Plan.
B. Jesus, who is our righteousness, still comes.
1. He comes today in Word and Sacrament.
2. We live now in the reality of the promise fulfilled.
3. Today is “one of those days” that Jeremiah yearned to see.
Joel D. Biermann
Advent 2 • Malachi 3:1–7b • December 6, 2009
This is the Old Testament reading for Advent 2. “He comes.” Prepare for his
coming.
The reading from Malachi says that God will send his messenger to prepare
the way for the Lord’s coming. The Gospel reading from Luke 3:1–20 describes the
work of John the Baptist as the fulfillment of this prophecy. In the Epistle reading
from Philippians 1:2–11, Paul gives words of greeting and encouragement to the
Christians in Philippi. He prays that they will be ready for the Day of Christ, the
day of his coming.
The name “Malachi” means “my messenger.” Malachi is the last book of the
Old Testament. He was the last prophetic voice until John the Baptist, a period of
four hundred years. His ministry took place following the return of the captives
from exile in Babylon. The temple and walls had been rebuilt under the leadership
of Nehemiah as governor. However, the people were loosing hope. This was not
the glorious Day of the Lord pictured by earlier prophets. The people, especially
the leaders—the prophets and priests—were unfaithful to the Lord and his
Covenant.
Although the text begins with Malachi 3:1, the thought begins in the previous
chapter. Malachi accuses the people: “You have wearied the Lord with your words.”
The people ask, “How?” Malachi answers: “You say that God overlooks evil. You
ask, ‘where is His justice?’” This pattern of posed questions, with the response, is
used several times in Malachi.
Those who ask, “Where is God’s justice?” usually do not consider where they
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will stand when God does come in judgment. They mistake his patience, wanting
all people to come to repentance and faith, as tolerance of evil and approval of the
sinner.
God gives the answer, beginning with the text. God will send his messenger
to prepare the way for God, the Lord, the messenger of the Covenant, to come to
his temple. When he comes, he will come to judge, but he will judge his people
first. He will hold the leaders (e.g. the Levites and priests) accountable. The sins
that are listed include sorcery; adultery; perjury; dishonest business practices;
oppression of the widow, fatherless, and alien; and a lack of fear or respect for
God.
This judgment is described as a refiner’s fire and a launderer’s soap. God’s
law is applied to remove the dirt and impurities, the evil from their hearts and lives,
and to lead them to repentance. What remains? A people who have the righteous-
ness of God.
God’s Law is applied so that the Gospel may be received. Verse 6 says that
God does not change. The descendants of Jacob are not destroyed. His mercy is
available as it has been in the past. Return in repentance to receive his grace.
Advent is a season of waiting. We wait, sometimes impatiently, for something
better. We get discouraged, maybe even impatient with God. This impatience may
even cause us to question our faith, or we may even be tempted to abandon that
faith.
God comes. Advent. He came the first Christmas in the person of Jesus.
Jesus will come again at the end of time. But he comes to us in between as well, in
this time and place, through his Word and Sacraments. He comes to us here and
now.
He still comes with two Words: Law and Gospel. His law shows us who we
really are, what we are. His refiner’s fire, launderer’s soap, brings us to repentance,
so that his Gospel can raise us up and encourage us with all that Jesus has done for
us. Jesus takes all our sin upon himself and dies in our place upon the cross, and in
exchange he gives us his own righteousness.
God still sends his messengers before him as he comes to people with judg-
ment and grace, with law and gospel. We are his messengers sent to prepare the
way for his coming into the hearts and lives of people—his temple made with
living stones.
Wallace Becker
Advent 3 • Zephaniah 3:14–20 • December 13, 2009
Throughout the Church Year the church rejoices in the gracious coming of
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Christ to itself in the Word of God and in the sacraments. Yet during the season of
Advent the church applies the teaching of God’s Word in a unique way as it also
prepares for the commemoration of our Lord’s first coming in human flesh and at
the same time anticipates Christ’s future Advent in glory. In the Old Testament
reading for the First Sunday in Advent, the prophet Zephaniah foretells what “The
King of Israel, the Lord” will accomplish for his people when he comes among
them. The text presents a message that highlights the central themes of Advent and
may serve as a guide for the watchful and joyous preparation of the season.
Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of King Josiah of Judah
(640/39–609 B.C.) and foretold God’s judgment not only of Judah and Jerusalem
at the hands of the Babylonians, but also God’s judgment of all nations of the
earth. Judah’s problem, of course, was sin, in particular, idolatry with all its attend-
ing sinful practices. Zephaniah warned of God’s coming judgment, called upon the
people to repent of their sins, and proclaimed God’s promise of salvation and
restoration.
In chapter one, Zephaniah prophesies the coming of “The Great Day of the
Lord,” the dies irae when he will punish Judah for its faithlessness. Yet Zephaniah
also exhorts the people to turn from their sins before the day of the Lord’s wrath
comes. They are to seek the Lord in humility and search out his righteousness. The
nations too will have their day, and in chapter two Zephaniah details the coming
judgment and destruction of the Gentile peoples surrounding Judah.
In the third chapter, Zephaniah repeats God’s judgment upon Jerusalem
because of its rebellion (3:1–8), clearly stating God’s intention of pouring out his
wrath. Yet God’s dreadful judgment will also purify them so that in repentance they
may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him (3:9). The great day of the
Lord’s judgment of sinners thus is also the great day of the Lord’s redemption for
those who seek him and his righteousness. The call to rejoice focuses on the Lord
as King (3:15) in whom are united righteous majesty and loving mercy. The Lord is
the Judge who takes away the judgments against his people and clears out their ene-
mies sent as punishment to them. The Lord is the King of Israel in their midst
who justifies them so that they will never again fear evil (3:15).
Key to God’s announcement of coming redemption is his personal coming
as King among his people and dwelling in their midst (3:15, 17; cf. also Ez
37:26–27). He comes to the Daughter of Zion, to Israel, to the Daughter of
Jerusalem (3:14). These titles refer to the people of Jerusalem and Judah, but also
to the church at large, and all are called upon to sing, shout, and rejoice in the
Lord’s coming (3:14; cf. Zec 9:9). He comes with decisive intention to save his peo-
ple and give them the blessings of his restoration. Zephaniah here looks ahead to
the Messianic work of Christ (the true “Immanuel”) who comes among his people
to redeem them from their sins. The Lord exercises his royal authority and power
to bring victory and peace to his faithful servants and to renew and comfort them
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in his love. When the Lord is in the midst of his people he is there to bring help, to
aid them, to save them (cf. Ps 46:4–5; Jer 32:36–38). He comes to remove the sin
and guilt of those who are fearful because of their sin and guilt. He comes to save
those who are captive to the enemies of sin and death. He comes to love those
who in their sinfulness are unlovable and unloving. When the Lord is in the midst
of his people, he will be their God and they will be his people (cf. Rv 21:3).
Zephaniah’s prophecy—God’s promise of coming to be in the midst of his
people as a mighty Savior—has been fulfilled and is yet to be fulfilled. In the Old
Testament, God was in the midst of his people when he entered the tabernacle and
temple. Yet in the New Testament, God sent his Messiah, Jesus Christ, in human
flesh to dwell in their midst. God’s judgment of human sin (and of the sinful and
rebellious nation) and God’s forgiveness of humans are accomplished by Christ’s
death on the cross. Christ, the Lord, the true King of Israel, won salvation for his
own people, but also those peoples scattered across the globe. This prophecy is ful-
filled in the church of Christ, extending throughout the world. And yet, he has
promised to return in the flesh to the world, to be in the midst of all nations to
judge and to deliver his people.
Gerhard Bode
Advent 4 • Micah 5:2–5a • December 20, 2009
Background notes (the text in context)
1. Micah 1:1 sets the ministry of Micah in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and
Hezekiah of Judah. In modern chronology Micah prophesied in the latter half of
the eighth and early years of the seventh century B.C. Micah’s ministry came slight-
ly after the ministry of Amos and was roughly contemporaneous with Hosea and
Isaiah, all of whom are categorized as “eighth-century prophets.” During this peri-
od the Neo-Assyrian Empire was rising to power. Tiglath-pileser III (744–727 B.C.)
expanded his empire into Israel in 734, marched through Philistia near Micah’s
hometown of Moresheth, devastated Damascus in 732, and occupied Galilee and
the Transjordan. The occupation of the Holy Land signaled that the Lord was
bringing upon Israel the punishment with which He had threatened them because
of their apostasy.
2. Other important events from 725–722 during Micah’s ministry include the
siege and the fall of Samaria, the capital of Israel, which took place at the hands of
Shalmaneser V (726–722) and Sargon II (722–705; [cf. 2 Kgs 17]). Israel became an
Assyrian province named Samaria. The people were deported and other tribes of
people were imported to take their place (2 Kgs 17:24). In 701 Assyria invaded
Judah under Sennacherib (704–681). Hezekiah, having joined a coalition with
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Merodach-baladan of Babylon and trusting Egypt for help, withheld tribute from
the Assyrians (2 Kgs 20; Is 39). Assyria attacked cities lying in the coastal plain and
in the Shephelah, including the ones mentioned in Micah 1:10–15. He surrounded
Jerusalem, and the situation looked hopeless. But the city was miraculously deliv-
ered by the Angel of the Lord (2 Kgs 19:35–36; 2 Chr 32:22–23; Is 37:36–37).
3. Structure of the prophecy: The book seems to be arranged in three basic
sections consisting of oracles of both doom and hope (chaps. 1–2, 3–5, 6–7). In
1:2-2:11, Israel is threatened with exile because of her sin. The Lord, however, will
become their king and lead them in deliverance (2:12–13). In the second section of
the book, after denouncing the rulers and prophets for their sin, the Lord promises
to restore Jerusalem (4:1–5) and assemble a remnant. He also announces the birth
and reign of the Messiah who would deliver His people and bring peace to the
earth (5:2–5). In the third section, chapters 6–7, the Lord’s indictment and the
destruction of the wicked are again heard (6:1–16). Yet, the Lord does not abandon
His people but holds out the hope of forgiveness and salvation (7:8–20).
4. The text occurs in the middle section of the book, which consists of a
series of eschatological oracles of salvation. “In that day” or “in the latter days” (4:1;
4:6; 5:10) introduce predictions in which the current state of Jerusalem and Judah
will be reversed. The enemies will be driven out and people will marvel at Zion’s
glory. Under the leadership of a new ruler, a second David, Israel’s ancient glory
will be restored.
Notes on the Hebrew text of Micah 5:2–4 (MT=5:1–3)
Micah 5:2–4 is lexically and syntactically complex. It has a number of fea-
tures that make it a difficult text to translate. But this is the case for many of the
well-known “messianic texts” which are read in the church throughout the Advent-
Christmas season. It may be that some of this is deliberately designed to convey a
sense of “mystery.”
That is, the form of the text follows the content. The grammar of the text is
puzzling (mysterious), and it invites the reader to linger over and think deeply about
it. At the same time, the message of the text, the promise of the Messiah, another
David, is itself a mystery hidden for long ages but finally revealed in the birth of
Jesus, the Christ-child. Here there is opportunity only to point out a few details:
Verse 2 ¬-·es (“Ephratha”). Ruth 4:11 pairs Ephratha with Bethlehem. It
seems clear that Ephratha includes or is in the vicinity of Bethlehem. According to
Genesis 48:7, Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin a short distance from Ephratha.
Its use here may give an “archaic flavor” to the passage. And certainly it would call
to mind the associations connected with its other occurrences, like the patriarchs
and the promise God made to David, who was from Bethlehem (1 Sm 17:12–14).
··.s (“least”). Does this word refer to Bethlehem as most of the translations
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assume, or is it the subject of the verb, and does it then refer to the ruler?
Arguments can be given in support of (or against) either understanding.
But in either case, a theme of the text seems to be the theme of the unexpect-
ed exultation of an unlikely person to be the king. Indeed, this theme—the supplanti-
ng of the older by the younger, or the stronger by the weaker—occurs throughout
the Biblical narratives (Isaac-Ishmael, Jacob-Esau, Judah-other brothers, David-Saul,
and so on). It is a hint at both the way God works in mysterious and unexpected
ways and at the mysterious nature of His grace.
:¬·. ·:·: :·¡: ··-ss·:· (“and his goings are from of old, from ancient
days”). Again, this phrase could refer to several things: (1) It could parallel a term
like toladoth and refer to David’s ancient lineage (Ruth 4); 2) it could also describe
what comes out of someone’s mouth, that is, Yahweh’s ancient covenant promise
that David’s line would last forever; (3) but it could also refer to a person’s acts of
going out (like in military campaigns). If this is the case here, it refers to this per-
son’s activities in ancient times. That is, it could refer to prior appearances of this
one who will be born in Bethlehem, a mysterious and seemingly impossible situa-
tion. However, it is not impossible from the perspective of Christianity. From our
perspective, this passage is a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, a prophecy
that was fulfilled by the birth of Jesus, who is true God and true man. Since this is
the case, we could interpret this phrase as a reference to the appearances of the
pre-incarnate Christ (for example, as the Angel of Yahweh). If so, Micah is imply-
ing that this leader from Bethlehem, who will be ruler in Israel, is more than just
another human being and has “entered the scene” previously. Again, the passage is
mysterious, but for Christians the mystery has been revealed. The eternal God, who
revealed himself at many times and in many ways in the Old Testament took on
human flesh and was born in Bethlehem, a descendant of David.
Verse 3 ¸:¬ (“therefore”). Delitzsch observes that the reason why Israel is to
be given up to the power of the nations and not be rescued earlier does not lie in
the appearance of the Messiah as such, but in His springing from Bethlehem. The
birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem, and not in Jerusalem, the city of David, presup-
poses that the family of David will have lost the throne. This could only arise from
the giving of Israel to her enemies. Micah had already talked of this. Here he gives
prominence to the idea that the future redeemer would also resemble the past one
(David) in that he would not spring from Zion, but from little Bethlehem.
Suggested outline
Introduction: Describe a specific movie or book that has a surprise ending—
one you never expected. When it happens, you are either delighted or horrified!
I. An expected birth (Micah prepares the way for another David).
A. But many would say that Micah’s words seem to offer only a limited
hope for an ancient people troubled by foreign enemies—a hope
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that has long since run its course. It is a long-ago belief sitting on
history’s bookshelves, which gives insight into what people used to
believe.
1. It seems to promise another king, like David and a kingdom like
his.
2. He would conquer Assyria and give peace to his people (5:4–6).
B. But here is the surprise:
1. This word ended with the birth of God himself into the world,
when he took on human flesh.
2. This week we celebrate his birth. God came to save us. That is a
surprise! This is not just a glimpse into what an ancient people
used to believe but a promise of a much bigger salvation than
any we can imagine!
II. But are there any more surprises left?
A. We may wish there would be. Life seems all too predictable. This
birth might seem like “old news.” Nothing has happened to change
things since then.
B. But the surprise will come when this king appears again. Now his
rule is hidden, and we wait for him to reveal himself.
C. Will you be delighted or horrified? How does your end figure in this?
(Here the comfort provided by our Baptism and the Gospel is all
important because we do know how it will end for us.)
Timothy Saleska
Christmas 1 • Exodus 13:1–3a, 11–15 • December 27, 2009
“The text is designed so that the memory is a generative event in subsequent
generations of Israel, generative of energy and courage for the belated contexts in
which God’s people will again face oppression, will again cry out in pain, and will
again appeal to the God of all departures.” So says Walter Brueggemann of the
context of Exodus 12–13 in general and of this pericope in particular (An
Introduction to the Old Testament, 57). The event we are remembering is the exodus
from Egypt. The event’s ongoing ability to generate energy and courage in the lives
of God’s people is enacted in this liturgy of sacrifice and redemption.
This commandment of ancient Israel’s God stands in stark contrast to the
gods of ancient Israel’s neighbors. Israel’s consecration of the firstborn is decisively
not an act of human sacrifice to ensure fertility. For YHWH, this liturgy commemo-
rates redemption, the liberation of his chosen people from oppression into covenan-
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tal relationship with him. The whole point is that the firstborn children live in that
covenant, in the mercy and loving-kindness of a God who shall be their life all
their days. “When in the future your child asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you
shall answer, ‘By strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the
house of slavery…’” (v. 14).
What does this mean? This is a familiar question for Lutheran Christians. And
indeed, it is impossible not to view this liturgy of remembrance and redemption
without beholding the firstborn of Bethlehem upheld in the taut arms of the old
man Simeon and proclaimed by the old prophet Anna (Lk 2:22–40, today’s Gospel
reading). This firstborn arises from among the poor (the offering of two turtle-
doves was for those who couldn’t afford a sheep, Lev 12:8), and his ministry is for
those oppressed. And only in this Christ can we who are Gentile, grafted into the
vine of God’s chosen, find meaning in this liturgy of remembrance and redemp-
tion. In this way, we too are part of the “belated contexts” where sin and death
hold sway, awaiting the saving acts of “the God of all departures.” The firstborn of
God his Father, though, is consecrated not to be redeemed, but to redeem. And his
life is dedicated from birth to death, from conception to resurrection, to the work
of redeeming not only the children of Israel, but all of humankind, all the world,
and the whole cosmos. Once for all.
Thus, our liturgy this Christmastide is also “a generative event . . . of energy
and courage.” We cry out in pain, and God acts in grace and mercy. Or, to put it
another way, the Word at the center of the liturgy generates faith in our hearts. We
receive that gift “in remembrance of him.”
Indeed, we are once again at the beginning of the extraordinary liturgical
journey of remembering his life on this earth: “The child grew and became strong,
filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him” (Lk 2:40, more about that
wisdom next week). We depart the liturgy “in peace,” singing “a light for revelation
to the Gentiles” (Lk 2:29–32).
Travis J. Scholl
Christmas 2 • 1 Kings 3:4–15 • January 3, 2010
Wisdom doesn’t seem to come up much in our biblical preaching, despite the
fact that the themes and literature of wisdom play a significant role in the Bible,
particularly the Hebrew Bible. And perhaps this narrative of King Solomon’s dream
is wisdom’s “source text,” the central narrative of wisdom and how people of faith
may attain it. We know this story as well as we know any story taught to us in
Sunday school. What does it teach us about biblical wisdom? Allow me to draw
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some brief insights from the text:
Wisdom begins in repentance. Prior to Solomon’s dream, he goes to Gibeon to
make sacrifice to the Lord (v. 4). The prophets remind us that sacrifice and repen-
tance are not the same things, but nevertheless Solomon’s act involves contrition
and supplication. Through the eyes of faith, unrepentant wisdom is an oxymoron.
Wisdom begins in prayer. “And Solomon said, ‘You have shown great and stead-
fast love to your servant my father David …’” (v. 6). It would seem to go without
saying, but when God gives Solomon a blank check, Solomon does not go straight
into his wish list. He first recounts God’s loving-kindness back to God in thanks-
giving.
Wisdom begins in humility. “…And now, O Lord my God, you have made your
servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child …” (v. 7).
It is this sense of “childlike” humility that prefaces Solomon’s request for wisdom.
Indeed, it is only when we are humble(d) that we feel the need for a wisdom
beyond ourselves.
Wisdom begins in the promise of God. Solomon points to this promise when he
alludes to the fact that God’s promise to Abraham has been fulfilled: “a great peo-
ple, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted” (v. 8). But God’s promise
is fulfilled for Solomon in the fact that the wisdom God gives him comes as a free
gift. At no point is God obligated to provide for Solomon’s request. And God’s gift
goes above and beyond Solomon’s request: “I give you also what you have not
asked, both riches and honor all your life …” (v. 13)
But the wisdom God gives subtly subverts Solomon’s wish. James Crenshaw
points to the difference: “the young king requested an understanding mind to judge
God’s people discerning good and evil. When a pleased God announced the gift
that he intended to grant the pious ruler, he varied the language significantly: ‘I give
you a wise heart and unparalleled understanding’ (author’s translation)” (Old
Testament Wisdom, 38). Solomon asks for a wise mind. God gives him a wise heart.
We need the wisdom God gives even more so today. There’s more than
enough evil to discern in the world. Yet, sometimes the wisdom required of us is
less about “good and evil” (v. 9) and more about choosing between two competing
goods or, more difficult, choosing between the lesser of two evils. This requires the
divine wisdom of the “little child” in today’s Gospel reading. “And all who heard
him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Lk 2:47). Later, Luke will
recount the one time Jesus mentions Solomon: “… even Solomon in all his glory
was not clothed like one of these” (Lk 12:27b). God’s wisdom upends human
worry every time, even when God’s Messiah ends up at the “principal high place”
(v. 4) that no one would have ever asked for or expected.
Of course, Paul, in a completely different context, hits the nail on the head.
“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is
weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27). Perhaps only when we come
to this point of foolish wisdom (or wise foolishness?) will our heart be able to dis-
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cern the depths of grace and mercy of which Paul speaks so richly in today’s epistle
reading.
Travis J. Scholl
Baptism of our Lord • Isaiah 43:1–7 • January 10, 2009
“He Only Has Eyes For You!”
Overview of the text
The verb ·s· creates an inclusio around Isaiah 43:1–7, as it appears in 43:1b
and 7b. In the middle is Yahweh’s love for his people: “Because you are precious in
my eyes, (and) valuable and I, I love you” (43:4). In order to stress his personal
concern for the Babylonian exiles, Yahweh employs seventeen words in 43:1–5 that
end with the second person masculine pronominal suffix.
Comments on the text
Isaiah 43:1—The disjunction in 43:1 could not be any stronger: “but now”
(¬-.·). The fire of judgment in 42:25 will now not harm the hostages (43:2). But
this is not only grace for many people. It is an act of Yahweh for every individual,
by name!
Up to this point in chapters 40–55 Isaiah announces that Yahweh created
(s·:) the heavenly lights (40:26), the earth’s most distant places (40:28), and the
heavens (42:5). Since arb (“to create”) in 43:1 is participial in form, Isaiah
announces that Yahweh’s creation is occurring now in his act of restoring the exiles
from Babylon.
The theme of Israel belonging to Yahweh (note the irregular syntax of the
phrase ¬-s·¬ to suggest the emphatic, “you are mine”), harkens back to the idea
of ¬·.: (“priceless possession”), e.g., Ex 19:5; Deut 7:6.
43:2—The referents in this verse are examples of God’s presence with his
people in times of hardship. The crossing at the Sea of Reeds (Ex 14:21–31) and
the crossing of the Jordan River into the Promised Land (Jo 3:14–17) are two
examples of Yahweh’s companionship “when you pass through the waters.” At the
time of the Babylonian exile Israel experienced fire literally (2 Ki 25:9) as well as
judgmentally, for fire is often indicative of Yahweh’s anger (e.g., Jer 4:4; Na 1:6;
Lam 2:4). The example of walking through fire unscathed is unknown from Isaiah’s
time, though the definitive examples are Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Dn
3:19–25). There will not be another Sea of Reeds where Israel felt hemmed in by
the Egyptian army. Neither will there be another Babylon coming with consuming
fire.
43:3—For the first time in Isaiah, Yahweh is identified as Israel’s Savior
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(from the root .:· = “to save”). The root appears seventy-two times in the book
(fifty-two times as a noun; twenty times in a verbal form). Twenty-four of those are
in chapters 40–55.
The preposition z·-·- (“instead of you”) appears two more times in 43:4.
In Genesis 22:13 it denotes a substitution. It carries the sense of exact equivalence.
43:4— Commenting on the worth God gives to his people, Luther writes,
Because you are precious. Where? In My eyes. Who says that? The world
does not say this. No, to the contrary, even in your own eyes you seem
cast off. But in My eyes you are a noble jewel and emerald. Although
in supreme trials you seem nothing in your own eyes and are con-
demned as one cast off by the world, in My eyes you are glorious.
Therefore you may be vile in your own eyes, in the eyes of the world,
and even in those of your brothers (as happened to us on the part of
our Enthusiast brothers). Fear not. In My eyes I regard you as a pre-
cious jewel (LW, 17:88).
To the nations the nation seemed like nothing (Deut 7:7); even Israel did not
think very highly of itself (41:14). Yet Yahweh says “you are honored” (-·::.).
The root ·:: denotes value, importance, and great worth.
43:5–7—The directions east, west, north, and south create a geographical
merism and as such imply the entire world (cf. 11:11–12; 27:13). Yahweh will gather
(¦:¡) his people from all over. This verb appears in 40:11, as well as in 49:18 and
54:7. These gathering are a foreshadowing of Yahweh’s final gathering of the elect
from the four corners of the world (Lk 13:28–29).
Homiletical development of the sermon
One of our family rituals every summer was going to Elitch Gardens, a
theme park in Denver, CO. The park had rides and enough sticky cotton candy to
amaze my little life. But what always fascinated me were the mirrors. Some mirrors
would make me look tall and skinny. Others would make me look short and fat.
Still others would make me appear twisted and bent.
Isaiah holds up the mirror of God’s law in 42:18–25. He then follows in
43:1–7 with a beautiful description of how God sees us. The problem comes when
we get stuck looking at ourselves through our distorted eyes.
Here reference the gospel words in the textual notes. They all focus upon
Yahweh’s statement in 43:4, “You are precious in my eyes.” Luther’s quote may be
followed up by an exposition on Mark 10:21, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”
Because of the Father’s love in Jesus, we are precious and valuable in his
eyes. Value is determined by how much someone is willing to pay. How much is
your house worth? It’s worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Second, value is
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determined by who has owned it. A car that was owned by Elvis Presley will be
more valuable than a car I have owned. A pair of sticky, sweat-stained, beaten-up
shoes once sold for $4,000. They were owned by Michael Jordan. Our value is
based upon who owns us and what someone is willing to pay for us. You belong to
the Father (43:1) because he ultimately gave his Son for you (43:3b). He only has eyes
for you!
Reed Lessing
Epiphany 2 • Isaiah 62:1–5 • January 17, 2009
This text presents a wonderful opportunity to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus
in a way that faces up to the homeliness of fallen humanity, reconstructs our shal-
low contemporary notions of beauty and embraces the promise of the coming age.
For the shriveled and the decrepit, for the lonely divorcee, for the sixth-grade girl
who spends hours frozen before the mirror, sad and imprisoned in her plainness,
this divine promise is joyous and freeing. All who, in Christ, are citizens of
“Jerusalem” and “Zion,” will one day shine with such perfect beauty that God him-
self will sharply draw in his breath and will gaze on them in joy and delight.
This pericope is piled with metaphors: shining light (v. 1), a new name (v. 2),
a beautiful royal crown in God’s hand (v. 3). The latter verses then move into the
language of courtship and love—passionate, committed, joyous (v. 5).
It is especially this last set of images which can serve to clarify the Gospel of
justification through faith in Christ; the end of justification (or the forgiveness of
sins) is not merely that we are “cleared”—not merely that we were “bad” and now
we are “not bad.” Instead, there is a rich and captivating positive side to the
Gospel: Jesus Christ makes us gorgeous, absolutely spell-binding, in the eyes of our
husband, God. Again, this serves to clarify and enrich the Gospel of justification: it
is not merely that the judge “doesn’t condemn us” or merely that God is “not
angry any more.” The God who has clothed his people in righteousness and gar-
ments of salvation (61:10; 62:1–2) is enraptured by her beauty.
Verse 1
Read in light of the closing verses of chapter 61, the first person voice here
is often taken to be the prophet, speaking of the necessity of his prophetic office
and his determination to proclaim God’s Word until the day of its fulfillment.
Consider, however, the use of the verb ¬:· (be silent) elsewhere in Isaiah—42:14
and 57:11—both times in the first person with God as the subject. As the voice of
God, these opening verses heighten the note of God’s all-embracing commitment
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to his people Zion in this pericope (cf. vv. 3–5). The verbs “not be silent” and “not
keep quiet” promise that God will not sit idly by when His people are defaced and
disgraced. Literally, ¬..: does not mean “like the dawn” (NIV). ESV and NASB
are more reliable here: “as brightness.” It is the second, parallel comparison which
the text offers as the more concrete and emphatic image: “like a blazing torch.”
Verse 2
The beauty with which God’s salvation will manifest itself in his people will
be public, shining forth and visible to all; though in this verse it is not yet called
beauty, but “righteousness” and “glory.” This builds on the theme of shining glory
trumpeted in the Old Testament pericope for Epiphany, Isaiah 60:1ff. (cf. Is 9:1ff.).
Note the interplay of righteousness (¡·s), salvation (.·:· etc.) and especially glory
(··::) in chapters 60–62 (60:1–3, 9, 17–21; 61:3b, 10–11). The saving work of
God for his people will result in glory for him and for them. Their
glory/light/righteousness/beauty cannot be separated from God’s (cf. Mt 5:16).
Among the restored, it is already visible (e.g., 1 Pt 3:3–4). Its full bestowal and reve-
lation, however, awaits the Last Day, when we will be clothed with a glory that we
can now only imagine. The “new name” spoken of here is more than a refurbished
corporate logo, especially when this new designation comes from the mouth of
Yahweh. It signifies a new status and a new reality; think Abraham, Israel,
Peter, Paul. In the context of Isaiah 62, the new name is specified in verse 4.
On the eschatological dimensions of a new name, see Revelation 2:17 and 3:12.
Verse 3
That our beauty and glory are bound up in God’s glory is vividly captured in
this image: “You will be a crown of beauty in the hand of Yahweh.” The phrase
itself is beautiful: -·se- -·z.—’eteret tif ’eret—a crown of beauty. In chapter 3,
Isaiah spoke judgment to the prosperous, beautifully bedecked women of Zion
because of their pride and faithlessness. “In that day Yahweh will remove the beau-
ty (-·se-) of anklets, headbands, crescent ornaments, dangling earrings, bracelets,
veils, headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume boxes, amulets, finger rings, nose
rings, festal robes, outer tunics, cloaks, money purses, hand mirrors, undergarments,
turbans, and veils...instead of fine clothes, a girding of sackcloth; and branding
instead of beauty.” Now, in chapter 62, the Lord addresses a humbled, despoiled
Jerusalem and speaks of righteousness, salvation, glory, and beauty. The beautiful
(apart from him) he uglifies. The ugly he beautifies, and holds as his own.
Verse 5
The second verse spoke of the objective nature of the beauty of God’s saved
people. It is real and visible, and nations and kings will see it. This verse speaks of
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417
the subjective nature of our beauty in Christ in its most important dimension. If
beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the crucial beholder is our God. In Christ, we
are beautiful to him. He will marry us forever. He will rejoice over us forever (cf.
Zep 3:17). That there is rejoicing among the angels over one sinner who repents is
breathtaking. That having us will bring God himself great joy (bride-over-bridegroom
joy!)—this is the stuff of heaven’s eternal song.
Thomas Egger
Epiphany 3 • Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 • January 21, 2010
Sermon theme
Without a center and a core, life is chaotic and without overall meaning. The
center and core of life and of living for a Christian is Jesus Christ; the testimony to
Christ (the Word) is God’s Word (the Scriptures).
Introduction to the sermon … the context
Nehemiah and Ezra are our primary Biblical sources for the return of the
Israelites from the Babylonian exile. After years in exile, the children of Israel,
God’s chosen people, return home over a period of time chronicled by Nehemiah
and Ezra.
Nehemiah orchestrates the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem; the inhabi-
tants of the city gather together “as one man in the open space before the Water
Gate, and they called upon Ezra the scribe to bring forth the book of the law of
Moses which the Lord prescribed for Israel” (8:1). “Standing at one end of the
open place that was before the Water Gate, he read out of the book from daybreak
till midday, in the presence of the men, the women, and those children old enough
to understand; and all the people listened attentively to the book of the law” (8:3).
Introduction to the sermon … the theme
Consider what would happen to our universe without the sun providing the
core around which all planets, including our earth, are kept in place. Without the
sun and its gravity (to say nothing of its warmth), the universe would break apart.
Consider what would happen to our earth and its people without gravity pro-
viding the core energy by which we stay firmly planted, by which the sea remains in
place, by which even the air continues to surround the earth. That which is on the
earth would simply fly apart.
Consider what would happen to our bodies if the core homeostatic mecha-
nisms that regulate body temperature failed. The body itself would fail.
Consider what happens to a group of people or a family that has no center
core truths and values around which their lives and their relationships together are
organized. It is likely that relationships disintegrate and each individually attends to
his own needs and directions.
Consider what happens to an individual who lives without regard to central
core truths and meaning. Life without a center gyroscope is lived sporadically, with
little purpose, and likely fairly chaotically.
Connecting the context and the theme
The children of Israel returned from the Babylonian exile. Many were living
in Jerusalem, and they had even rebuilt the walls of the city. But they still had no
organizing principles, central core truths, or basic gyroscopes around which to pat-
tern and organize their living.
Enter Ezra who “read plainly from the book of the law of God, interpreting
it so that all could understand what was read” (8:8). The people were weeping when
the heard “the words of the law.” Ezra was joined by Nehemiah and together they
said to the people, “Do not be saddened this day for rejoicing in the Lord must be
your strength” (8:10b). The core that organizes living and gives life purpose and
meaning: God’s Word.
Applying the theme
Questions. Around what is your life organized? What is the center and core of
your life, of the life of your family, of the life of this congregation around which
all activity, behavior, and living itself gain meaning?
Exploring the answers. Help listeners think through a typical week (or even day).
As they outline in their minds (or on pieces of paper available in the pews) what
went on in their lives, help them identify the rationale or motivation for the activity
or behavior. For instance, the motivating factor for many active families is simply
the press to get all the activities done. Many of the activities are scheduled as part
of school or work and are therefore done as a more or less passive response to
membership in a group or the demand and expectation of the group. The net
result is flurries of activity but also, perhaps, a sense of fragmentation and a loss of
the center or core around which the family organizes.
Cueing from Nehemiah and Ezra. The core organizing truths around which the
children of Israel gathered were contained in God’s law. For us as Christians, the
core organizing truths around which we gather are contained in God’s Word; the
core organizing person around whom we gather is Jesus Christ. Reading and study-
ing the scriptures individually and together, praying together, and receiving Christ’s
Body and Blood in the Eucharist together are all clear examples of keeping God’s
Word central as the gyroscope of our lives.
Encouraging from examples. This general application could well be enriched by
examples gleaned from worshippers. One way to do this is, in the week before the
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sermon is delivered, informally ask congregational members how they do this in
their lives. Some of these examples, with permission, could be given in the sermon.
Another way to do this is to have congregational members who are willing to do so
give brief examples of what they do as part of the sermon. If this is done, the
examples should be brief and perhaps even scripted. In either case (or in some
other way), ideas about this from others could enrich the sermon itself.
Remembering the Gospel. In all these things as human beings living in a world
that is imperfect we miss the mark. The core of all of life is that Christ forgives us,
embraces us, and loves us with an everlasting love. He remains at the center of our
lives even when we may behave, act, or think differently.
Bruce M. Hartung
Epiphany 4 • Jeremiah 1:4–10 • January 31, 2010
Introduction
“Blessed Lord, who hast caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our
learning, grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly
digest them.…” This familiar Collect for the Word is an apt theme for Jeremiah
1:4–10, as this pericope is all about Yahweh’s Word. This is evidenced by verse 4
(“The word of Yahweh came to me saying”), Jeremiah’s call to be a prophet (v. 5),
Yahweh’s command for him to “say everything I command you” (v. 7), the “utter-
ance of Yahweh” formula in verse 8, and the climactic verse 9, where Yahweh’s
hand places his words in Jeremiah’s mouth. All of this is designed for Jeremiah to
“inwardly digest” this holy Word.
Liturgical context
Yahweh’s epiphanic Word to Jeremiah is echoed in the Psalm of the Day,
specifically in Psalm 1:2, where the verb ¬.¬ (“to chew the cud”) is employed. As
the blessed person “inwardly digests” Torah, he becomes “like a tree transplanted
by canals of water” (v. 3). Jeremiah 17:8 employs this same promise, almost word
for word. Those who “inwardly digest” Torah live abundant and fruitful lives.
Biblical context
After the first scroll (Jer. 1–25) dismantles the foundations of Judah’s social
and theological “first principles,” the second scroll (Jer 26–52) begins to develop
strategies that enable refugees to survive and even thrive in their new setting in
Babylon. This understanding of the book is based upon Yahweh’s all-powerful
Word that plucks up and breaks down, destroys and overthrows, as well as builds
and plants (Jer 1:10). These six infinitive constructs in Jeremiah 1:10 are reiterated
419
in 12:14–17; 15:7; 18:7–9; 24:6; 31:4–5, 28, 38, 40; 32:41; 42:10; 45:3; 49:38. This
Law and Gospel Word, therefore, provides the book’s chief theological theme, as it
brings about harsh endings, but also amazing beginnings (cf. Jer 29:11).
Comments on the text
Verse 4: Call narratives (e.g., Ex 3:1–12; Jgs 6:11–24; Is 6:1–8) typically follow
this six fold structure: (1) encounter (Jer 1:4), (2) introductory word (Jer 1:5a), (3)
commission (Jer 1:5b, 10), (4) objection (Jer 1:6), (5) reassurance (Jer 1:7–8), and (6)
a sign (Jer 1:9–10, 11–16). The ·:: (“word”) not only gives information, but also
imparts transformation; it is the power not only to persuade or to reason, but also
to change the world (cf. Jer 23:29).
Verse 5: Three verbs are significant in this verse. The first is ·s· which has
creational overtones, calling forth the image of a potter forming a vessel from clay
(Gn 2:7; Jer 18:6). The second is .·· which has a wide range of meanings, but here
denotes a relationship between Yahweh and Jeremiah that means “to choose for a
covenant partner” (cf. Am 3:2). Finally, the hiphil of :·¡ means “to consecrate/
dedicate,” and, once set apart, it was an act of blasphemy to remove them from
Yahweh’s sovereign ownership. The word s·:. (“prophet”) is derived from the
Akkadian nabu, which means to “name” or “call.” A prophet would therefore be
one who “calls” or “proclaims” a divine blessing. Since the verbal root (s:.) is
niphal based, a prophet is one who has been “called” to discharge a divinely
assigned task. As a “set as a prophet to the nations” Jeremiah’s oracles target Judah
and Israel (chaps. 1–45), as well as other ancient Near Eastern nations (chaps. 46-
51). Yahweh did not choose Jeremiah for Jeremiah’s sake; he appoints him for the
sake of the world.
Verse 6: Jeremiah’s hesitation is reminiscent of both Moses and Solomon (cf.
Ex 2:7; 4:10; 1 Kgs 3:7). Josiah was a ·.. at age sixteen but apparently not at
twenty (2 Chr 34:3); hence, Jack Lundbom (Jer 1–20, Anchor Bible) believes that
Jeremiah is between the ages of twelve to sixteen. Much of this dialogue in verses
6–9 echoes Yahweh’s earlier encounter with Moses. Accordingly, like the first Moses
who led Israel out of Egypt to the Promised Land, so Jeremiah, the second Moses,
will straddle two worlds, a country behind him and a country ahead of him. This
new Moses will pronounce the death of one world and the birth of another (1:10).
Verse 7: The root ¬s. in the hiphil means “to rescue, protect, deliver.” The
verb appears repeatedly in the Exodus narrative (e.g., Ex 3:8; 5:23; 6:6) and is
another link to Moses.
Verse 8: Yahweh promises to be near many who find themselves debilitated
by fears and uncertainties (e.g., Gn 31:3; Ex 3:12; 19:9; Jo 1:5, 9; Jgs 6:12, 16; Is
7:14; 8:8; Mt 1:23; 18:20; 28:20).
Verse 9: Here Deuteronomy 18:18b is quoted almost word for word;
in this way.
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Jeremiah is one fulfillment of a prophet like Moses (Dt 18:15). Jeremiah later
speaks of eating Yahweh’s Word in 15:16 and calls it his “joy and delight” (¬·:c·
¸·cc). These two words appear four more times in the book, and each time they
are paired with “bride and bridegroom.” By means of this poetic word association,
Jeremiah evokes the connection between the exuberance experienced by a “bride
and bridegroom” with eating Yahweh’s Word, for this Word will enable him to
shape the future of the nations not with a sword that a king or warrior might wield,
but with the word that is “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb 4:12; cf. Eph
6:17). The phrase ¬·¬·:s. (“utterance of Yahweh”) appears 168 times in Jeremiah
and as such accents the importance of this Word. All of this is to say that when
Yahweh calls, he empowers; when he demands, he provides the resources to
accomplish the assignment (cf. 1 Thes 5:24).
Verse 10: The verb ·¡e has an unusually broad semantic field which is diffi-
cult to pull together into one central definition. Helpful is its use in Ezra 1:10,
where Yahweh commissions Cyrus to build a temple in Jerusalem. In like manner
here, ·¡e means that Jeremiah is appointed to a position of authority.
Homiletical development of the sermon
“You’ve got to taste this.” So said our mothers as they thrust lima beans into
our face. “You’ve got to taste this.” So say our spouses as they thrust their latest
concoction of tuna casserole into our face. But all this pales in comparison to the
taste test Yahweh gives to Jeremiah as he places his Word into his mouth. Inwardly
digesting Yahweh’s Word is what this text is all about. In 15:16 Jeremiah says,
“When your words came, I ate them; they were the joy and delight of my heart”
(here reference the textual notes on the structure on the call narrative, Jeremiah’s
weak status, and the importance of the Word in 1:4–10).
Having this Word placed in his mouth, Jeremiah is ready for what life would
serve up. In chapter 26 he is accused by his enemies, and Yahweh’s Word vindicates
him when officials come to his defense by claiming that Jeremiah is echoing an ear-
lier oracle from Micah 3:12. In chapter 29 Jeremiah hears about hopeless exiles, so
he communicates to them Yahweh’s Word by means of a letter. In chapters 51 and
52 Jeremiah is overwhelmed with the raw evil of Babylon, so Yahweh gives him a
Word on a scroll that says in part, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great!” And in
chapter 36, when he is confronted with the destruction of this Word by King
Jehoiakim, Jeremiah writes another Word!
In Jeremiah’s lifetime Judah would lose everything: temple and sacrifice,
monarchy, cities, and the land. But Judah would still have the Word, and this Word
would undermine tyranny and mobilize the faithful. No wonder Jeremiah calls this
Word his joy and delight, the love of his life (15:16).
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To define our lives, Yahweh places his Word in our mouths as well. It’s a
word that is “the power of God for the salvation of all who believe” (Rom 1:16)—
a Word that is “a lamp to our feet and a light to our path” (Ps 119:105).
But isn’t there something tastier, more appetizing, with a bit more pizzazz?
Here it is. For breakfast: one-half grapefruit, one piece of whole wheat toast, no
butter, eight ounces of skim milk, coffee – black. For lunch: four ounces of lean
broiled chicken breast, skin removed, one cup of steamed zucchini, herb tea, no
sugar, one Oreo cookie. For a snack, the rest of the package of Oreo cookies, one
quart chocolate almond ice cream, and one jar of hot fudge. For dinner, two loaves
of garlic bread, heavy on the butter, one large sausage and pepperoni pizza, extra
cheese, a large milk shake with whipped cream, and for dessert, three Milky Way
candy bars and an entire frozen cheesecake!
Oh, we try, don’t we? We try to stay on a spiritual diet of God’s Word that
brings vigor and health and strength and power. But then we slip: one Oreo cookie,
one crumb of coveting, one piece of pornography, one slice of slander, one sip of
sarcasm, and then the rest of the package of Oreo cookies! The enemy thrusts this junk
food before us on silver trays and with a sly grin watches it all disappear. Filled with
his miserable morsels, our desire to inwardly digest this Word becomes a chore, a
bore, a snore until we say, “no more!”
So Yahweh would serve up one more Word; a more vindicating Word than
that written by Micah in Jeremiah’s defense, a more hopeful Word than that penned
to exiles, a more victorious Word than that spoken against Babylon, and a more
enduring word than that rewritten for Jehoiakim. For coming down past the galax-
ies, past our solar system, past the moon and the stars, this Word became flesh and
appeared in the silence of a night, in the whisper of a baby. And as a man his
appetite is defined in Hebrews 2:9, “So that by the grace of God he might taste
death for everyone.”
Talk about a taste test! Jesus tasted the demonic delight called death, the sol-
diers’ spit, their cheap wine, sweat running down his cheeks; he tasted even his own
blood. But there was more. He drank the cup of the Father’s wrath to the very last
drop (Jer 25:15, 17, 25).
But Jesus not only tasted Death. He swallowed him up, chewed him up, and
spit him out. “Death has been swallowed up in victory!” (1 Cor 15:54). And now
the spirit of the risen Christ creates in us a new hunger and a new thirst for right-
eousness. Spirit-led, “like newborn babes we crave pure spiritual milk now that [we]
have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Pt 2:2–3). On a steady diet of Yahweh’s Word
and accused by the enemy, we say, “There is therefore now no condemnation for
those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). This food enlivens hope in the midst of
our hopelessness: “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope”
(1 Pt 1:3). When enemies mock and deny this word we have a more powerful word,
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spoken by Jesus: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass
away” (Mt 24:34). And sustained by this Word when faced with the raw evil of
Babylon we cry out, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great!” (Rv 18:2).
Now the Lord reaches out his hand to touch your mouth and says to you,
“Now, I am putting my words in your mouth.” What an epiphany, what a Word,
what a life!
Reed Lessing
Epiphany 5 • Isaiah 6:1–8 (9–13) • February 7, 2010
The Theophany of God, Cleansing, and Call of Isaiah
The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany offers the opportunity to preach on a
liturgical text: the Sanctus. Since the biblical narrative informs the liturgical text and
action, it would be appropriate to preach from within the purpose and movement
of the Sanctus (and Benedictus) from the context of the Theophany, cleansing, and
call of Isaiah.
The liturgical structure of the Sanctus reflects the biblical structure of
Isaiah’s vision, cleansing, and call. As John Oswalt notes, “Each element leads to
the next. The king’s [Uzziah’s] death prepares the way for the vision of God; the
vision of God leads to self-despair; self-despair opens the way to cleansing; cleans-
ing makes it possible to recognize the possibility of service; the total experience
leads to an offering of oneself.”
1
Likewise, the liturgical structure involves the
Theophany of the Pantocrator, the cleansing of the assembly, and the call to mis-
sion for communion with and participation in God’s holiness. The Sanctus express-
es powerfully the meeting place for God’s creatures for all time through the One
who comes in the name of the Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ. The most effective use
of the biblical text in opening up the liturgical structure can be made by compari-
son with Divine Service 5 in Lutheran Service Book; the melding of Luther’s Latin
and German mass traditions.
2
The vision which Isaiah receives is of God, Adonai, Yahweh of Hosts, the
Pantocrator or All-Ruling One, seated upon his throne in glory with his robe filling
the entire throne room, evoking the fact that his reign fills and transcends all things
in heaven and on earth. Surrounding the Pantocrator are the seraphim, the flaming
ones, enlivened by God’s glory and life. Soaring aloft they praise Yahweh with
unwearied voices. The goal of Isaiah’s vision is that he may commune with God
and partake in his holiness and the seraph’s hymn of praise.
Participation in God’s holiness presumes the purity of his creatures. Isaiah
realizes that he, in communion with the unclean people of Israel, is defiled, a “man
423
of unclean lips,” and that the God of Hosts cannot abide his presence. He
becomes aware that contact with God is terrifying. He must be cleansed in order
for communion with the Holy God to be possible.
Isaiah’s Theophany parallels earthly temple worship and the intentions of the
Levitical sacrificial system. Here is the place for meeting with God. As in the sacri-
ficial system, substitutionary atonement grants forgiving cleansing from impurity
and access to God through the seraph’s burning coal to cleanse Isaiah’s lips. The
cleansing presumes that a sacrifice for sin has been offered (the eternally valid
offering of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ). As a prophet, Isaiah’s cleansing mani-
fested the goal of Israel’s cleansing through the burning, destructive action of the
exile and prepared the way for the re-establishment of Israel’s communion with
God. Isaiah’s mission to Israel and Israel’s mission to the world are contingent
upon their participation in God’s holiness. Only a holy people can proclaim the
Holy One. Isaiah’s response, trembling trust, is to be the mouthpiece of the God
of Hosts proclaiming the Word that will cleanse Israel and be the means of her
communion with Yahweh.
The goal of the temple, heavenly, and Christian liturgies is to make and keep
God’s people holy. Ritually the Sanctus in the Lord’s Supper liturgy is functioning
in this way, where through physical means “God interacts with the saints . . . and
involves them bodily in the life and fellowship of the Son with the Father.”
3
Preaching this text in the context of the liturgy’s use of the Sanctus makes appar-
ent that the church is being cleansed for participation in God’s holiness. Using set-
ting five in Lutheran Service Book as an example, the preface proclaims the splendor
and holiness of God; the Lord’s Prayer prays for cleansing from guilt as Isaiah did;
the Peace announces that the people’s lips have been cleansed; the Words of Our
Lord and the distribution of Christ’s Body and Blood are the communion of the
pure and clean with the Holy One of God (“Blessed is He who comes in the name
of the Lord”); and the Sanctus, in this case Luther’s “Isaiah, Mighty Seer in Days of
Old,” announces that we have met the God of Sabaoth in all his holiness and have
communed with him. As a result, like Isaiah, the church prays: “O Lord open my
lips” and “Here am I. Send me.” We cannot keep silent about the truth. Preaching
the call of Isaiah out of the liturgical text of the Sanctus in worship is a proclama-
tion of our cleansing from guilt and participation in God’s holiness through the
body and blood of the Holy One of God.
Kent Burreson
Endnotes
1
John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, NICNT, ed. R. K. Harrison (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans 1986), 186.
2
For insights into Luther’s understanding of the role of the Sanctus in his liturgies I am
indebted to Rev. Daniel Torkelson.
3
John W. Kleinig, Leviticus, Concordia Commentary, ed. Dean O. Wenthe (St. Louis: CPH, 2003),
30.
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book reviews
COncordia
ournal
J
Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
THE PASTORAL LUTHER:
Essays on Martin Luther’s Practical
Theology: By Timothy J. Wengert,
editor. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans
(Lutheran Quarterly Books), 2009. 384
pages. Paper. $45.00.
Studies on Martin Luther’s pas-
toral life are very rare, yet wonderfully
beneficial for twenty-first century
American Lutheranism. Lutheran
Quarterly Books has successfully begun
to fill that lacuna with this excellent col-
lection. Sixteen authors produced seven-
teen specialized studies which feature
Martin Luther’s approach to practical and
pastoral issues ranging from preaching
and teaching to reconsiderations on his
views of Mary and monasticism. “Seen
in the light of Luther’s parish ministry,
these essays provide flashes of light in
the otherwise dark and unexplored land-
scape of his pastoral life and work,” (14)
notes the editor in his introductory essay.
Timothy Wengert’s editorial intro-
duction alone is worth the price of this
impressive collection. Succinctly yet clear-
ly, Wengert outlines the structure of the
book (which, by the way, flows remark-
ably well and is a credit to the editor for
his selection and arrangement of these
assorted essays) along with an apt
appraisal of Luther’s pastoral ministry.
Arranged into five parts, Wengert has
made sure that readers can proceed from
chapter to chapter and not feel as though
they are merely getting a smorgasbord of
divergent ideas. All but one essay comes
from Lutheran Quarterly and almost all
within the past half-decade.
Each essay offers a unique perspec-
tive on a significant aspect of Luther’s
pastoral practices or theological founda-
tion for ministry. Every author also
retained his or her own particular interest
and perspective on Luther, yet individual-
ly contributed to the overall understand-
ing of Luther as a pastor to specific
groups of people in a unique time in his-
tory. Setting the tone for this whole
work, after the outstanding introductory
essay by Wengert, is Robert Kolb’s excel-
lent essay on Luther’s “theology of the
cross,” which explores the real heart of
“the pastoral Luther.” Recounting
Luther’s struggle with finding a gracious
God, Kolb explains the discovery of
God’s love at the foot of Christ’s cross,
where humanity even in the twenty-first
century finds God Himself.
Vitor Westhelle, Eric Gritsch, and H.
S. Wilson, respectively, wrote essays relat-
ed to Luther as a wordsmith, particularly
as a preacher. Westhelle explores the
earthshaking linguistic aspects of
Luther’s theological journey as he broke
through and broke free from medieval
articulations of the faith. Gritsch’s essay
on humor develops one aspect of
Westhelle’s study by illustrating the bur-
lesque in Luther’s preaching and writing,
in which Luther resorts to satire, irony,
exaggeration, and wit as the Reformation
“fool.” H. S. Wilson extols the key to
Luther’s powerful contribution to effec-
tive biblical preaching as God speaking
(Deus loquens).
Education was another formative
factor for the reformer and six essays
address this topic from a variety of
angles. Robert Rosin explains Luther’s
emphasis upon learning for life for both
clergy and laity as the way God continues
to work in the world through teaching,
liturgy, and vocation. Timothy Wengert
offers an essay on Luther’s intriguing
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exposition of the Decalogue, which is
particularly illustrated in Luther explana-
tion of the Sixth Commandment. Charles
Arand affirms the theological and literary
beauty of Luther’s catechetical and
Trinitarian explanation of the Apostles’
Creed. Another essay by Wengert
addresses Luther’s understanding and
practice of prayer in the Large
Catechism. The Lord’s Supper is the sub-
ject of Reinhard Schwarz’ essay, which
underscores the exegetical, Christological,
and sacramental importance of Luther’s
emphasis on the sacrament as “testa-
ment.” Ronald Rittgers’ chapter, “Luther
on Private Confession,” demonstrates
Luther’s advocacy of confession as an
extremely effective opportunity to apply
the gospel Word to individual con-
sciences. He also explores the uniqueness
of “the Nuremberg Absolution
Controversy” in its sixteenth century
context.
Several essays explore Luther’s con-
cern for the people’s piety in personal
practice and artistic expression. Beth
Kreitzer’s study examines Luther’s view
of the Blessed Mother of God as exem-
plar of humble faith as the well as vari-
ous doctrinal implications for Lutheran
(i.e., non-Protestant) theology. Flowing
from that feminine perspective, Mickey
Mattox’s article provides insights into
Luther’s understanding of the role of
women, beginning with Eve, as heroic
examples of faith and faithfulness. Robin
Leaver reiterates the importance of
music in the pastoral life of Luther, par-
ticularly as evident in Luther’s proposed
treatise on the subject. A slight shift in
perspective comes from an essay which
draws Luther’s colleague and friend,
Lucas Cranach, to the fore as Christoph
Weimer details the relationship of the
artist and art to two central teachings of
the Reformation—justification and voca-
tion. Finally, Jane Strohl takes a look at
Luther’s Fourteen Consolations as a distinctly
different approach than was true in the
common medieval Ars Moriendi.
Monasticism and politics are the last
two essays in the final section of this
book. Dorothea Wendebourg examines
Luther’s statements on monasticism,
acknowledging his critique, but also
demonstrating his hopes for a more ideal
form of religious community which sur-
vived in some Lutheran circles and which
has been recently revived in some
Protestant enclaves. The role of secular
authority is the topic of James Estes’
concluding essay in which he shows
Luther’s slow movement toward govern-
ment involvement in ecclesiastical affairs,
yet always with the idea that those so
charged with governing were always
God’s servants.
In terms of its technical production,
this volume again shows great care in
editing, a significant hallmark of each of
the Lutheran Quarterly series. Each essay
is well documented in accessible foot-
notes, which are presented in a consistent
format throughout the book. The format
is clear and the layout is extremely acces-
sible.
Technical details aside, this reviewer
regrets that there was no index or collect-
ed bibliography at the end of the work.
(H.S. Wilson’s essay concludes with a bib-
liography of recent works in English on
Luther and Preaching.) While these are
obviously not necessary for such a specif-
ic work as this, an index would have been
extremely helpful for locating similar
ideas in Luther’s various writings on such
428
Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
topics as preaching and teaching. One
wonders whether there was a time issue
or if the editor just didn’t deem it neces-
sary for the specific audience being
addressed and served by this volume.
Historical theologians interested in
sixteenth century Lutheranism and twen-
ty-first century parish pastors alike will
benefit from this carefully crafted collec-
tion of essays. Luther was indeed a pas-
tor for his people. His concerns were
always with those who were the common
folk, the people in the pew, the individual
believer who needed to know of God’s
gracious love in Christ. Reading about
Luther’s pastoral heart and the activities
surrounding his pastoral life will enhance
the life of the church.
Timothy Maschke
Concordia University
Mequon, Wisconsin
MARTIN LUTHER AND ISLAM:
A Study in Sixteenth-Century
Polemics and Apologetics. By Adam
S. Francisco. Leiden: Brill, 2007. 260
pages. Hardcover. $169.00.
Finding a more timely topic in the
field of Luther studies than the
Reformer’s engagement with Islam would
be difficult. Moreover, the author cor-
rectly observes that Luther’s later writings
are filled with allusions to the Turks and
their religion. So this is a most welcome
study both because we are increasingly
concerned with the world of Islam and
because the Turks loomed so large in
Luther’s world of thought.
Luther’s statements on Islam can be
divided into two main types. First, there
are those mentions of the Turk that
strike the reader as almost incidental.
Many of these are apocalyptic, casting
the Turks along with the Pope as devilish
forces opposed to the Gospel, for exam-
ple. In others, Luther might compare his
own German people unfavorably to the
Turks, berating his Christian countrymen
for their vices. Such statements are of
course important as an indication of
Luther’s attitude toward the Turks. Of
far greater significance, however, are
those works at the heart of this study in
which Luther after 1529 directly, inten-
tionally, and at some length addressed
Ottoman Turkish governance and the
Muslim religion.
Before analyzing Luther’s later works
on the topic, the author carefully pre-
pares his ground. The first part of the
book addresses medieval treatises on
Islam, Turkish conquest and the response
of the west, Luther’s earlier attitudes
toward Islam, and the sources for and
extent of Luther’s knowledge of Islam.
The final point is by far the most difficult
but also extremely important. The author
notes, in a typically academic understate-
ment, “There is little scholarly consensus
concerning the nature and extent of
Luther’s knowledge and comprehension
of Islam” (108). A precise and widely
accepted answer to the question will no
doubt remain elusive, but this book
makes a significant contribution to the
conversation, and simply raising the ques-
tion sets the stage for the analysis of
Luther’s writings on Islam.
The author’s analysis of Luther’s var-
ious later writings is very thorough and
well grounded. He leads the reader care-
fully through the texts, exposing the
structure in order to elucidate the con-
tent of each. For example, Luther justi-
fied war against the Turks in Vom kriege
429
widder die Türcken by arguing that the
Ottomans threatened the three estates of
human life: the spiritual, temporal, and
marital. They overturned the spiritual
estate by denying Christ, the temporal
estate by their insatiable lust for con-
quest, and the marital estate by permis-
sive laws about divorce. A very different
structure, rooted in the concept of
Anfechtungen, emerges from Luther’s
Heerpredigt widder den Türcken. Here Luther
addresses the temptations that might be
faced by those who find themselves in
captivity among the Turks. He envisions
that Christians in that situation would
need to be sustained by the catechetical
texts in their faith and obedient to their
Turkish masters in their manner of life.
This included, notably, the possibility that
making the sign of the cross would have
to be abandoned in favor of some other,
less noticeable, reminder of Christ. Only
in this way, could Christian captives
become “missionaries in disguise,” an
idea almost without precedent in
Christendom.
Only in the book’s final two chap-
ters, however, is its subtitle of polemics
and apologetics addressed head-on. The
texts considered here range from a trans-
lation of a work on Islam to a sermon to
a preface for a translation of the Koran.
Here the author provides remarkable tex-
ture to works that can be quite difficult
to analyze, and the background informa-
tion he provided earlier, particularly that
on the medieval treatises, comes into its
own. As always, Luther is able to sur-
prise, and the works treated here are no
exception to that rule. While
Melanchthon seemed somewhat skeptical
about the value of providing a translation
of the Koran, Luther argued that the text
should be known among Christians to
enable them to refute it. When it came to
his own refutation of the Koran, he
argued, among many other points, that it
cannot be God’s revelation because it is
too fulsome in its speech about God, and
God simply does not speak about himself
that way.
The argument of the book that
Luther’s later works concerning the Turks
and their religion should be read as a
Christian apologetic against Islam is well
worth engaging. The fact, frequently
noted, that Luther moderated or aban-
doned specific critiques of Islam when
he found them to be in error runs count-
er to what many assume about the
Reformer’s practice of the art of
polemics and is a helpful corrective.
Finally, the author should be commended
for not leaving us in a sixteenth-century
state of knowledge about Islam—he fre-
quently corrects Luther’s misperceptions
with modern scholarship.
Several things could, of course, be
improved. First, as far as the structure of
the book is concerned, an integrated
rather than sequential presentation of the
material would have helped to engage the
reader. The first part, much of which is
essentially background, is quite long and
its significance is not always immediately
clear. The importance of this informa-
tion could have been demonstrated and
underscored by linking it more closely
with the analysis in the second part of
the book. Second, as thorough as this
background information is, a sense of
what is “in the air” concerning the Turks
and Islam in the sixteenth century would
be a welcome addition. Textual sources
are treated thoroughly, but, as the author
himself points out, just because a
430
Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
particular book on Islam existed at the
time does not mean that Luther read it. It
would be interesting and helpful even to
speculate about what attitudes and per-
ceptions Luther might have absorbed
from his cultural milieu. Finally, as is
almost always the case with volumes
from Brill, few will be inclined to rush
out and buy this book at list price, but it
is certainly worth requesting from any
library that has a copy.
Paul Robinson
SURPRISED BY HOPE:
Rethinking Heaven, the
Resurrection, and the Mission of
the Church. By N. T. Wright. New
York: Harper Collins, 2008. 332 pages.
Cloth. $16.47.
In Surprised by Hope, N. T. Wright
asks two questions: “First, what is the
ultimate Christian hope? Second, what
hope is there for change, rescue, transfor-
mation, new possibilities within the world
in the present?”(5). If salvation in Christ
is all about “going to heaven” and escap-
ing from this world, Wright says, then the
questions will always be unrelated. In
Surprised by Hope, he brings the questions
and his answers together by examining
the resurrection of Christ in three
ways—its meaning in the first century, its
meaning for the future, and finally, its sig-
nificance for the twenty-first century. His
answers attempt to reflect the words of
the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come,
on earth as in heaven” (29). Wright con-
tinues, “As I see it, the prayer was power-
fully answered at the first Easter and will
finally be answered fully when heaven
and earth are joined in the new
Jerusalem. Easter was when Hope in per-
son surprised the whole world by coming
forward from the future into the present”
(29).
In the world of first century
Judaism, when Jesus—Hope in person—
was raised from the dead, the concept of
resurrection was understood to mean a
new kind of bodily life after some sort of
life after death, an understanding reflect-
ed in Martha’s words at Lazarus’ tomb:
“I know he will rise again in the resurrec-
tion on the last day.” Early Christians
believed Jesus to be the firstfruits of this
future resurrection. His resurrection
meant that “something had happened to
him that had happened to nobody else,
and that nobody expected to happen”
(37). Jesus’ resurrection, Wright explains,
was more than an unusual event in this
present world. It was also an event which
defined, and ushered in, God’s new cre-
ation. Believing in Jesus’ resurrection
“suddenly ceases to be a matter of inquiring
about an odd event in the first century and
becomes a matter of rediscovering hope in the
twenty-first century. Hope is what you get
when you suddenly realize that a differ-
ent worldview is possible, a worldview in
which the rich, the powerful, and the
unscrupulous do not after all have the
last word. The same worldview shift that
is demanded by the resurrection of Jesus
is the shift that will enable us to trans-
form the world” (75).
Before Wright examines the present
implications of this transforming world-
view, he looks at the future significance
of Jesus’ resurrection. He addresses
issues such as justification, death, and
judgment. Justification by faith antici-
pates the future verdict of the day of
judgment. The Christian departed exists
in a state of “restful happiness . . . held
431
firmly within the conscious love of God
and the conscious presence of Jesus
Christ while they await that day” (172).
Wright states that the idea of “going to
heaven when we die” is only the first part
of a two–stage process. Resurrection
does not mean life after death, “it is life
after life after death” (169). Christ will
come again to judge the world, and in a
world filled with injustice, violence, and
oppression, the hope for a day of judg-
ment is the hope that the Creator will set
the world right again. When facing a
rebellious world, “a good God must be a
God of judgment” (137).
In the last part of his book, Wright
addresses the meaning of Christ’s resur-
rection for our present world. It is a mis-
take, he argues, to emphasize the salva-
tion of individual human beings at the
expense of ignoring God’s purpose of
rescuing and re-creating all of creation.
We have the certain hope of resurrection,
but “because the resurrection has hap-
pened as an event within our own world, its
implications and effects are to be felt
within our own world, here and now”
(191). Wright argues that our present,
bodily work is important because our
bodies await the future resurrection. The
work of the church needs to be
rethought, he says, in view of the antici-
pated renewal of creation. To rediscover
the historic mission of the church,
Christians must understand three things
concerning salvation—it is about the
whole person and not just the soul; it is
about the present and not only the
future; it is about God working through
believers, not just working in and for
them. The church must announce that
“God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the
powers of evil have been defeated, that
God’s new world has begun” (227). The
church announces this good news as it
cares for people, works for justice, cele-
brates creation in art and music, and lives
in love and forgiveness. This world of
space, time, and matter is “subject not to
rejection but to redemption” (264). True
Christian hope, according to Wright, is
rooted in the resurrection of Jesus Christ
and the promised renewal of all things, a
renewal that has already begun.
In his preface, Wright expressed his
two questions in this way: “What are we
waiting for? And what are we going to do
about it in the meantime?” (xi). We are
waiting for Jesus’ return, when our bod-
ies will be raised “to be like His glorious
body.” In the meantime, we have been
commissioned to put Jesus’ victory and
the “inaugurated new world into prac-
tice” (204). Wright provides powerful
answers to his questions, but I have three
concerns with his answers of hope. One
concern deals with his vision of putting
the new world into practice. Here Wright
skates close to the edge of emergent
church teaching, much of which views
Jesus as merely a social revolutionary and
argues for a social and political kingdom
of God, a kingdom where the cross of
Christ most often serves as a moral and
political example. Wright says that
answers about atonement, the cross, and
forgiveness come into play because of
the questions asked. He says that
“reframing the question will mean
rethinking the various answers” (199)
although he never excludes those other
answers. Still, even though Wright’s
answers are framed in resurrection lan-
guage, we end up with something that
432
Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
looks very much like the emergent pic-
ture in a new frame.
Another concern deals with our
work in the Easter-inaugurated new cre-
ation. Wright argues that the church must
be about the business of caring for peo-
ple, eliminating hunger, and protecting
the environment. Works of love and
beauty and “every deed that spreads the
gospel” will find their way “into the new
creation that God will one day make”
(208). Creating justice and beauty are
good and necessary endeavors, but there
are others, Christians and non-Christians
alike, whose work is less attractive. They
may mop floors or pave over pretty
meadows to create highways, roads that
move Wright’s “glitzy, glossy Western
capitalism” (219). God is also hidden
behind those workers, bringing order to
the fallen and rebellious world he still
loves.
Finally, I miss the message of indi-
vidual hope and forgiveness found now in
Christ, a message still present but pushed
aside in Wright’s reframed new creation.
Given the stories we have about one lost
sheep, one lost coin, and one lost son,
there appears to be a great deal of heav-
enly enthusiasm over just one sinner who
repents. Friends once brought a para-
lyzed man—just one individual—to
Jesus. The Savior first forgave the man’s
sins and then provided for his physical
wellness, marking the new creation with
healing, both seen and unseen. But it was
only in Jesus’ first act, the unseen healing
of the forgiveness of sins, that the man
received the hope of ultimate healing on
the day of resurrection.
Carol Geisler
St. Louis, Missouri
BLACK’S NEW TESTAMENT
COMMENTARY: The Gospel
According to Saint John. By Andrew
T. Lincoln. Peabody: Hendrickson,
2005. 585 pages. Cloth. $29.95.
Dr. Lincoln, Portland Professor of
New Testament at the University of
Gloucestershire, states in his preface that
the rationale for a replacement of the
1968 Black commentary on John by J. N.
Sanders and B. A. Mastin is the scholarly
impact on Johannine study in the past
four decades by “a newer literary criti-
cism with its interest in narrative and
readers, social-scientific studies, feminist
readings, readings from various social and
political locations, renewed quests of the
historical Jesus and a concern for the the-
ological interpretation of the New
Testament as Scripture” (vii). Except in
the Introduction, Lincoln’s commentary
does not explicitly cite the major com-
mentators involved in the interpretation
of John’s Gospel. The positive impact is
a pleasing focus on exegesis and exposi-
tion of the text. A drawback is that some
students may not know the complexity of
certain issues or may be uncertain on
where to follow up. To be fair, Lincoln
addresses that issue somewhat in the
Introduction by citing specific scholars as
well as key scholarly studies for “Further
Reading.” As one significant example, cit-
ing Brown and Moloney, Lincoln states
that calling the now customary divisions
of John the “Book of Signs” and “Book
of Glory” is not helpful because the
seven signs also reveal glory. Lincoln
labels the two sections, “Jesus’ public
ministry (signs of glory)” and “Jesus’
farewell, passion and resurrection (depar-
433
ture as glory)” (4–5). After engaging the
thought of several scholars, Lincoln con-
cludes that the Gospel must have been
published between AD 90–110 and that
“the Beloved Disciple was a founding fig-
ure and teacher of a particular group of
Christians” (22).
The monograph begins with a con-
cise, well balanced Introduction (1–91)
followed by Translation and Commentary
(92–536). The tome ends with “Select
Bibliography of Works in English,”
“Index of Scriptural References,” “Index
of Modern Authors,” and “Subject
Index” (537–584). Professor Lincoln
writes that his “primary goal is to explore
and elucidate the significance of the
Fourth Gospel in its canonical form . . .
concentrating on the literary, historical
and theological dimension of the text. . .
[with] the theological dimension arguably
the most important aspect of interpreta-
tion” (1). Lincoln explicates the Gospel
without conjectures on textual emenda-
tions, with the exception of John 7:53 to
8:11. He considers that pericope a later
addition and analyzes it in an appendix.
He considers chapter 21 an appendix but
part of the original text. Using the 1993
United Bible Society Greek text, he
offers his own original translation with
helpful comments on significant textual
variants.
A comprehensive commentary on
such a complex, well studied Gospel
makes impossible a concise review.
Therefore, I choose merely to comment
on two of Lincoln’s conclusions that not
only express his scholarly opinions affect-
ing his overall interpretation of John but
also may suggest to the reader some
unique value of the commentary. To
begin, “Relation to the Synoptic
Gospels” stands as an insightful and sig-
nificant part of the introductory material
(26–39). Following a summary of the sig-
nificant similarities and differences of
John and the Synoptics, Lincoln con-
cludes that “there are clear signs of
John’s dependence on the Synoptics in
the resurrection narratives, the passion
narrative and then elsewhere in the
Gospel” (29). Dr. Lincoln’s working
hypothesis is that “the Fourth Gospel
provides evidence that its writer and edi-
tor not only knew Mark, to which it is
most substantially indebted, but also
knew and used both Matthew and Luke”
(33). His conclusion influences his often
insightful interpretation, yet for this
reviewer, the debate on the relationship
to the Synoptics seems less urgent today
than when, for example, the 1968 Black
Johannine commentary by Sanders and
Mastin was published or when
Bultmann’s historical judgments about
John held some sway. Due to the studies
of Dodd, Brown, and others, it is widely
recognized that John’s portrait of Jesus
stands on valid historical data and the
question of the Fourth Gospel’s relation-
ship to the Synoptics looms as less
important theologically.
As a second issue on which to com-
ment, I choose Lincoln’s opinion on the
textual variants for the main verb in John
20:31. Lincoln describes the importance
of the issue in a footnote, writing that
“the former [present subjunctive] can
have the force of continuation in belief,
while the latter [aorist subjunctive] indi-
cates an initial coming to belief ” (504)
(words in brackets by reviewer). Since the
textual evidence is quite divided,
434
Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
interpretation of the content of the
Gospel itself leads, at least in part, to a
conclusion that the Gospel either aims at
calling people to the faith or inspiring
them in the faith. Lincoln opts for the
present tense and this leads him to inter-
pret the Gospel of John in the context of
Christian believers and their gift and
struggles of faith. He stands in opposi-
tion to the 26th Nestle Greek Edition
and American Bible Society Greek edi-
tion as well as the NRSV, and Good
News Bible English translations and the
cautious editorial committee opinion
cited by Bruce M. Metzger in A Textual
Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p.
256. On the other hand, The New English
Bible (translated under the influence of C.
H. Dodd) and several other English
translations do accept Lincoln’s position.
To be transparent, I think that one
can argue persuasively for either the pres-
ent or the aorist tense. The content of
the Gospel of John in places seems to
require faithful readers (e.g. John 17), in
other places suggests limited knowledge
of the most rudimentary Christian terms
(e.g. John 1:38, 41), and in other places
seems both to inspire and invite (e.g. the
Prologue). As I reflect on the issue, I
stand grateful to Dr. Mark Brighton, my
former colleague at Concordia University,
Irvine, for stimulating historical informa-
tion in his doctoral dissertation on
Josephus. He opened up for me new pos-
sibilities with regard not only to the inter-
pretation of John 20:31 but also the pub-
lication process of the whole Gospel. In
his Ph.D. dissertation, “The Sicari in
Josephus’ Judean War,” 2005, University of
California Irvine, page 47, Mark shares
the “observation that ‘publication’ in the
ancient world . . . involved a process of
writing and circulating drafts among
close associates, receiving criticism and
suggestions, then rewriting and testing
one’s ideas. Thus, there was no clear line
between writing and publication.” He
cites the research of Steve Mason in, “Of
Audience and Meaning: Reading
Josephus’ Bellum Judaicum in the con-
text of a Flavian Audience,” in Josephus
and Jewish History in Flavian Rome and
Beyond, ed. Joseph Sievers and Gaia
Lambi, pages 71–100, Leiden: Brill, 2005,
page 80. If this ancient literary practice
was true for “secular publication,” dare
we ask if, from the beginning, two
Johannine versions might have circulat-
ed—one with the present subjunctive
encouraging the faithful and another with
the aorist subjunctive reaching out to the
curious? Theologically, could the Holy
Spirit have inspired both the present and
the aorist to support different evangelical
goals with different needs in different
communities?
In summary, Dr. Lincoln’s commen-
tary will stand as a worthy member of
the Black Commentary series, a helpful
tool for understanding the Gospel
according to St. John and an aid for
knowing that the Gospel records things
“written in order that you [the first read-
ers but also we today] may continue to
believe [or come to believe] that Jesus is
the Christ, the Son of God and that by
believing you may have life in his name”
(504) (Lincoln’s translation with my
emendations).
Robert Holst
Concordia University
St. Paul, Minnesota
435
CONCORDIA COMMENTARY:
Jonah. By R. Reed Lessing.
St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House,
2007. 452 pages. Hardcover. $42.99.
Professor Lessing’s commentary will
serve as a gold mine for serious exegetes
and as a wade me cum for stimulating
preachers. Dr. Lessing, Associate
Professor of Exegetical Theology at
Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, writes
with a keen eye for linguistic detail, a
broad knowledge of history, a deep
appreciation for literature and, above all,
a devoted intensity to sharing the Good
News of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Professor Lessing combines a classical
study of grammar, syntax and Sitz im
Leben with a keen theological exposition.
The monograph is divided into two
major sections, Introduction (1–58) and
Commentary (61–413). The Introduction
deals with the major isagogical issues
including, “Jonah: Fact or Fiction?,”
“Jonah as Satire with Irony,” and “The
History of Interpretation.” Lessing con-
cludes that the book of Jonah is histori-
cal narrative, “not fiction but fact,” writ-
ten as a “literary masterpiece that has a
high degree of irony to satirize those in
the writer’s community who were exhibit-
ing the characteristics of Jonah, namely,
the desire to limit God’s grace” (35). The
canonical document is “an anonymous
and undated work” (17). Lessing thinks
that the events recorded in Jonah “can be
readily dated to the middle of the eighth
century BC” (13). In the well known
debate whether the site of Tarshish rests
in Asia Minor or in Spain, Lessing finds
more reasonable the Asia Minor site later
known as Tarsus in Cilicia, hometown of
St. Paul (72). Based on ancient evidence,
Lessing adds that it is likely Jonah not
only wants distance from God but also a
“place of luxury, desire and delight” (73).
The Commentary section stands
structured by the traditional four chap-
ters with the exception that Lessing
judges Jonah 1:17 in English translations
is the introductory verse for chapter 2, as
in the Hebrew text. The Commentary
sections begin with “Translation,” contin-
ue with detailed, Hebrew based “Textual
Notes” and conclude with
“Commentary.” Chapters 1, 2 and 3
include two, four and one excursus
respectively. The monograph includes
indexes of “Subject” and “Passages”
from the Bible, Apocrypha and other
Jewish literature, Early Christian writings,
the Ecumenical Creeds, writings of
Luther and the Lutheran Confessions,
Ancient Near Eastern Literature, and
Classical Greco-Roman writings, as well
as a comprehensive “Bibliography.”
Dr. Lessing identifies many major
and minor themes in the book but thinks
that they can be arranged in three main
categories. First, “Jonah teaches that all
people need repentance.” Second, “even
Gentile unbelievers may be converted.”
Third, the book “balances the relation-
ship between God’s mercy and his jus-
tice” (56). What grips this reviewer’s
mind is Lessing’s ability to identify refer-
ences and allusions that support
Christology, the power of the Almighty
Creator, God’s persistent love, the resist-
ance to God’s will by some and the sur-
prising acceptance of God’s will by oth-
ers. Another strength of the work lies in
Lessing’s many inter-biblical connections
to words and verses in Jonah, especially
with the Psalms.
Lessing’s exegesis is detailed, careful,
436
Concordia Journal/Fall 2009
and stimulating. For example, he eluci-
dates the way in which the first two lines
in Jonah 2:3 invert the order of Psalm
120:1 with the result that, while the
Psalm put the emphasis on Yahweh,
Jonah’s prayer is Jonah-centric (211–212).
As another example of careful exegesis,
Lessing draws an insightful lesson from
the usage of two similar sounding but
different prepositions in Jonah’s calls
recorded in 1:2 and 3:2. The “AL” (ain-
pathach-lameth) in 1:2 charges Jonah to
“call out against Nineveh” (emphasis by
Lessing) but the call in 3:2 is “AL” (aleph-
segol-lameth) “call out to it” (emphasis by
Lessing). Lessing thinks that the change
in prepositions “subtly suggests that
Yahweh may already have in mind the
change in his verdict from the destruc-
tion of Nineveh to its salvation (3:10)”
(275).
The detailed work would be difficult
to read were it not that Lessing writes
not only in a lucid manner but also often
with verve and wit. He calls our attention
to the “Jonah sindrome (misspelling and
pun intended)” (220). When Jonah
responds to the second call and prepares
to go to Nineveh (Jon 3:1–2), Lessing
observes, “Jonah has been to hell and
back. . . . The bedraggled, sea-weed
draped, vomit-stained, and traumatized
prophet likely was a bit more receptive to
the Word of God this time!” (273).
In conclusion, Professor Lessing’s
scholarly labor opens the Book of Jonah
for better understanding, appreciation,
and application in life, faith, and procla-
mation. He gives readers an excellent
commentary.
Robert Holst
Concordia University
St. Paul, Minnesota
THE DESTINY OF THE RIGHT-
EOUS IN THE PSALMS. By Jerome
F. D. Creach. St. Louis: Chalice Press,
2008. 168 pages. Paper. $21.99.
In many ways this delightful book is
an in-depth commentary on Psalm 1.
Creach deftly matrixes the themes of
torah (v. 2), the transplanted tree (v. 3), the
eschatological destiny of the righteous
and the wicked (v. 6), along with the
psalm’s literary connections with Psalm 2
to weave a masterful theology of the
Psalter. He asserts that Psalm 1:3 brings
together Jeremiah 17:8 and Ezekiel 47:12
to transform the Psalter into a book
about the destiny of the righteous whose
ultimate refuge is in the torah. It follows,
therefore, that Psalms 1, 19, and 119 are
the primary windows into the theology
of the Psalter.
A word count confirms that Psalter’s
chief concern is how the righteous will
fair in light of the wicked ones’ ongoing
assault against them. “The righteous”
(saddiq) and related words (e.g., dal, ebyon)
appear 125 times, while “the wicked”
(rasa) come 82 times.
The “right actions” of the righteous
“result from a relationship with God, not
from a state of moral perfection” (4).
They “are fully aware of their need for
God’s grace, God’s protection, and God’s
guidance” (25) and therefore are typically
pictured as humble, lowly, and needy
(e.g., Ps 131). The righteous express their
relationship with the Lord most frequent-
ly by means of praise.
Being close to God is what the right-
eous yearn for the most and “refuge” is
the most common idea that expresses
this desire. The statement “I shall not
want” (Ps 23:1) expresses the idea that all
437
the righteous desire is the Lord (cf. Ps
73:25). For this to become a reality they
need God’s forgiveness (hence the con-
fessional psalms) as well as his protection
from their enemies (hence the imprecato-
ry psalms). Creach interprets the psalms
of imprecation as equivalent to the peti-
tion in the Lord’s Prayer “thy kingdom
come.”
Many of the author’s insights come
through his reading the Psalter as a docu-
ment that has been purposefully edited
after the exile. “Psalm seams” is an
important concept denoting the way in
which these editors organized the book.
For example, Psalm 73 is the first psalm
in Book III and therefore as a “seam”
the reader should rightfully expect that it
presents a major theme in the Psalter. In
this case, Psalm 73 expresses that the
longing of the righteous is to be near
God forever (vv. 23–26). God makes it
possible for the righteous to be near him
through his gifts of David, Zion, and
torah. All three tangible signs of God’s
presence are prominent in Psalms 1 and
2, and so Creach devotes a chapter to
each of these themes.
Against Gerald Wilson, who points
out the dominant themes of Moses and
the Lord’s kingship in Book IV (Pss
90–106) to the exclusion of monarchial
themes, and James Luther Mayes, who
asserts that “Yhwh malak” is the central
organizing principle of the Psalter,
Creach maintains that the Psalms “never
completely give up on David as a sign of
divine presence and justice” (104). He
points out that after Psalm 89, which
laments the end of the monarchy, the
Psalter follows with messianic prayers
that include Psalms 101, 110, 132 and
144. Moreover, the pairing of Psalm 144,
which is messianic, with Psalm 145,
which maintains that the Lord is King,
suggests “that divine and human rule
continues to work together in the mind
of the psalmist” (104).
Since the destiny of the righteous is
also a central concern in the New
Testament, the author frequently makes
connections between the Psalter and
Jesus. He invites readers to consider that
the ideas of David, Zion, and torah are
foundational to the New Testament’s
understanding of Jesus. One ongoing
theme is that David is both a righteous
sufferer and the ideal defender of the
lowly and afflicted. In this way David is a
type of the righteous Jesus who suffers
upon the cross (Lk 23:47), and then
becomes the ultimate defender of those
who are oppressed and needy.
Creach’s exegesis considers both the
context of individual psalms within the
book as a whole as well as close attention
to the text’s grammar and syntax. In this
way he is eminently successful in arguing
that the destiny of the righteous is the
main thrust of the Psalter and as such
provides the organizing idea to under-
stand the book’s theological claims. This
is a must read for all who treasure the
Psalter!
Reed Lessing
438
© 2009 Concordia Publishing House Printed in the USA 509506_04
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