Jesus’ Triumphant Entry – Palm Sunday Exegetical Study Part 1

This is a 5 step exegetical study of Matthew 21:1-11.  This passage of Scripture is usually labeled to be a narrative of “Jesus’ Triumphant Entry” and it is often times remembered the Sunday before Easter, often times called Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday.  Part 1 contains Steps 1 and 2 of this 5 step exegetical study: “Text and Translation Notes” and “Literary Analysis.” Part 2 contains Steps 3, 4, and 5 of this 5 step exegetical study: “Historical-Cultural Context,” “The Broader Biblical and Historical Confession,” and “Personal and Pastoral Application.”

Palm Sunday

Step I – Text and Translation Notes

Matthew 21:1-11 ESV – 1Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

21:2 The ESV translates λύσαντες as an imperative verb, yet the form is an aorist participle.  Λύσαντες is followed by the aorist imperative verb, ἀγάγετέ.  The ESV simply translates both verbs as commands, since the disciples obviously would have to untie the animals before they could be lead to Jesus.

21:3 The Greek reads that “their Lord [ὁ κύριος αὐτῶν – αὐτῶν is a 3rd person plural, masculine, genitive pronoun] –  has need.” Whose Lord is this?  The animals’ Lord is what the text reads, and this is theologically correct, since all of creation is the Lord’s and thus Jesus is the Lord of these two animals.  In this context however that reading isn’t a natural understanding of this genitive pronoun.  This is why Gibbs suggests αὐτῶν to be translated as an objective genitive to modify “need.” (Gibbs, p. 1032)

21:4 The ESV translates γέγονεν as an aorist verb, when it is a perfect tense verb.  A direct translation should thus be, “this has happened,” but since Matthew is referring to the three verse narrative that has just taken place, the ESV translation “this took place” reads well to our ears that are accustomed to the English language.  The nuance of the perfect verb relates that what “has happened still has an ongoing effect” – namely that the event of the disciples retrieving the animals has a testifying impact to the fulfillment of the words that were spoken by the prophet.

21:5 The ESV translation can easily give the impression that the donkey that Jesus is riding is the colt, as if “on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden” is modifying donkey.  However, in the Greek text, there is the word “καὶ” between the two ἐπὶ prepositional phrases, which indicates that the words that were spoken by the prophet indicate a mounting/riding on both the mother and the colt.

21:7 This text says that Jesus sat on them [αὐτῶν].  This pronoun can refer to the disciples’ garments or to both animals.  Turner suggests that it is most likely that the second αὐτῶν refers to the garments that Jesus sat on while he rode on the colt.  (Turner, p. 496) This interpretation harmonizes Matthew’s narrative with the other Gospel narratives that only mention Jesus riding on a colt with no reference to the mother’s presence at all.  Much more could be said of Matthew’s mention of two animals as opposed to the other three Gospels that only mention one which could fit nicely into Parts II and III, but due to this assignment’s restriction on word count, this interpretation of αὐτῶν will have to be suffice enough to demonstrate the importance that there is a valid interpretation to avoid a contradiction in the Gospel narratives between Jesus riding on either one or two animals.

21:8 The ESV seems to take a great license here by saying, “most of the crowd,” because the Greek doesn’t say “most of the crowd, it simply says, “a very large crowd.”  In the Greek, it seems as if everyone in this multitude either laid their cloaks before Jesus or laid branches that they had cut on the path before Jesus.  The text doesn’t signify that the branches were palm branches.  The text simply reads: κλάδους ἀπὸ τῶν δένδρων [branches from the trees].

21:9 The ESV translates the attributive position present, active participles προάγοντες and ἀκολουθοῦντες as aorist verbs, which misses the ongoing action of the preceding and following throng of people. The ESV also merges ἔκραζον λέγοντες into “were shouting.”  Since ἔκραζον is an imperfect active verb the translation that Gibbs offers, “kept on crying out, saying…” better encapsulates the commotion of the scene.  The crowds are in a state of continual motion preceding and following him and their cries are carrying on and on.

21:10 The wild, on-going actions of the “very great crowd” of vs. 8-9 cause the totality [πᾶσα] of the city to be moved into a state of commotion being stirred up or shaken.

21:11 In vs. 9, the crowds “kept on crying,” and now they “kept on saying” that Jesus is the prophet from Nazareth.   The ESV again translates an imperfect verb form (here it is ἔλεγον) as an aorist, which diminishes the narrative’s image of their on-going exuberance and certainty in their proclamation of Jesus, not just being the promised king, the Son of David, but also a prophet – from Nazareth of all places!

Part II – Literary Analysis

Gibbs opens up his commentary on this unit of text by describing it as “a fairly obvious whole” (Gibbs, 1035).  I can’t deny this, which is why I struggle to break this unit into sections.  I see no obvious breaks that demand to be labeled a new section with a new thought or idea being introduced.  I see no central point or turning point in the text.  Gibbs chooses to break this unit into two sections: vs. 1-7 and vs. 8-11. (Gibbs, p. 1036) I agree with his justification for this split, namely that in vs. 1-7, Jesus is in control of the action; he’s orchestrating his entrance into Jerusalem, and then in vs. 8-11 the reactions of the crowds and the people of the city take over the action of the narrative; Jesus is depicted as just being along for the ride (no pun intended).  In this section unit, the disciples are not even mentioned.

I however prefer to break the unit into three sections, following Turner’s division: preparations for Jesus’ entrance (vs. 1-5), Jesus’ entrance (vs. 6-9), and the results (vs. 10-11).  (Turner, p. 493).  I would change the labels however to Jesus’ orchestrated preparation (vs. 1-5), the approach to Jerusalem (vs. 6-9), and the dichotomy of responses from mutually in-error parties (vs. 10-11).  The following will explain my decision to break this unit into three sections.

Vs. 1-5 narrate Jesus’ very deliberate preparations and instructions to two disciples for how he is to enter Jerusalem.  The intentions of these instructions, Matthew explains, were to fulfill the words of the prophet in Zechariah 9:9.  This is a good breaking point, because in a study it would necessitate a look at the prophesy in Zechariah 9:9 and its context.  The most important discovery to this unit’s immediate context is that Matthew doesn’t cite the verse as directed by Zechariah to be an invitation for Jerusalem to rejoice and shout; instead he opts to Isiah 62:11 as the introduction to the prophesy fulfillment at hand, which is “Say to the daughter, Zion” (21:5).  This foreshadows the cluelessness of the personified city of Jerusalem in the third section who doesn’t understand that now is the time for the shouting and rejoicing encouraged by Zechariah.

A question arises in this section concerning how the disciples were expected to be able to just mosey into Bethpage and take the first animals they saw with no potential consequences for donkey-thieving.  Also, how did Jesus know the animals would be there for the taking.  One answer comes from John’s Gospel which records that Jesus had made several travels to Jerusalem before and “had an important ministry there, and it would seem that it was on such occasions that he made the acquaintance of people like the owners of the animals he was now borrowing” (Morris, 520).  Another answer lies within this section itself.  Jesus’ use of κύριος in the statement, “The Lord has need of them,” carries with it the force of a “magisterial sentence” that provides all the disciples will need to offer to resolve any objections that might arise from their taking of the animals.  (Smith, 243) Couple the crowd’s response with this last answer and it seems suffice to say that the owners might have recognized Jesus to be their king as the crowds did and would gladly offer their animals to meet their king’s need.

The next section, Vs. 6-9, does not indicate if the disciples or the crowd knew if Zechariah’s prophesy was being fulfilled at the time, but what we see is that the disciples follow Jesus’ instruction without question and the crowd responded to Jesus’ entrance on the colt just as Zechariah had prophesied.  Their response is shocking to the reader, because the goal in Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem has already been stated by Jesus himself – “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21) – and this exuberant response that attributed Messianic titles to Jesus (“Son of David” and “one who comes” (Turner, p. 496)) doesn’t indicate an impending death at the hands of the Jewish leaders.

Vs. 10-11 close the unit and indicate that as he entered the city, the people in Jerusalem did not even know who he was.  The crowds who have already declared him their king with messianic titles respond by continually saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”  Gibbs indicates that their answer that he is a prophet already indicates that they didn’t know he was the Messiah, because instead of answering that he is the prophet Jesus, they would have answered he is the Messiah Jesus.  (Gibbs, p. 1041) I tend to think that the crowds were declaring him to be their Messiah through their use of Messianic titles for him.  In Part III, the historical and cultural background point to their expectations of what he should do in the city as the Messiah, and in Part IV, their recognition of him being both king and prophet illustrates their misunderstanding of what he came to do and the three-fold office of the Messiah.

Go to Part 2 that contains Steps 3, 4, and 5 of this exegetical study.

Works Cited:

Gibbs, Jeffrey A. Matthew 21:1-28:20. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2018.

Morris, Leon.  The Gospel According to Matthew.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992.

Turner, David L.  Matthew.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.

Random Theology Terms Part 1

The following is a partial list of terms that I needed to know for a theology test.  Some of the terms are defined from tertiary sources found online, some from notes I took in class, and others from a peer in the class with me.  Enjoy reading through this random list. 

Accidents and Substance according to Aristotle

Substances are the ultimate things in the universe – typically these are nouns – people and things.  Accidents are the features of the substances.

Altered Augsburg Confession

The Altered Augsburg Confession (Lat. Confessio Augustana Variata) is a later version of the Lutheran Augsburg Confession that includes substantial differences with regard to holy communion and the presence of Christ in bread and wine.

Authority (primary authority, secondary authority, tertiary authority)

A Primary Source offers first-hand evidence on the subject you’re investigating. Written or created by an eyewitness or participant, it presents an insider’s perspective. For example:

  • Diaries, autobiographies, memoirs, speeches
  • Journal articles reporting original/new research or findings

A Secondary Source is NOT the original source. Written or created after the subject you’re investigating, it offers interpretations, analyses, or criticisms of primary sources. For example:

  • Journal articles that review an existing body of scientific literature, rather than describe new research
  • Biographies
  • Historical studies
  • Reviews (e.g. movie, music, play, art, etc.)

Tertiary Source synthesizes information from other sources–primary and secondary–and presents it with relevant context. For example:

  • Reference materials (e.g. encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs, etc.)
  • Textbooks

Calling or Vocation

One’s God given roles through which God works to care for and provide for his creation.

Catechism

A catechism is the summary of the principles of Christian religion in the form of questions and answers, used for the instruction of Christians.

Catechism’s components

Luther’s Small Catechism

Section 1- 10 Commandments, Creeds, Lord’s Prayer, Sacrament of Baptism, Confession, Sacrament of the Altar

Section 2 – Daily Prayers

Section 3 – Table of Duties

Section 4 – Christian Questions with their Answers

Commands of God or Virtues of Christian life

God’s will for his creation.

Confession (as understood by Lutherans)

Two Terms/ideas

  • Confession: to say again.  A statement of belief which summarizes the whole teaching of Holy Scripture in addition to serving as a hermeneutical guide for understanding Scripture, the World, and the Christian’s place in that world.
  • Also means to speak/admit one’s sins in order to receive absolution.

 Confessional subscription

To subscribe to a confession or confessional statement means to attach oneself to that confession and make it one’s own.  The LC-MS requires its pastors to subscribe to the Confession of the Book of Concord stating they believe it is a proper understanding and interpretation of the Scriptures.  The two main types of subscription are quia and quatenus subscription (SEE BELOW).

Contradict – They Can’t All Be True

A book written by Andy Wrasman, published by WestBow Press in 2014.

 Corpus doctrinae

This term, meaning “body of doctrine,” is used for a collection of writings that was meant to summarize authentic apostolic teaching and doctrine.

Creatio ex nihilo

God created all things out of nothing by his spoken word.

Ecumenical creeds

Ecumenical creeds is an umbrella term used in the Western Church to refer to the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed and, less commonly, the Athanasian Creed. The ecumenical creeds are also known as the universal creeds.

The Apostle’s: Foundation of the Christian faith.  Believed to be an early baptismal creed.  Clearly articulates the identity and roles of the three persons of the trinity.

Nicene: Creed created in response to Arianism and later refined to combat Pneumatomachians.  Affirms the divinity of Son and Spirit.  Further expounds details of Apostle’s Creed

Athanasian creeds: Expounds comments on particular theological issues.

Epistemology of faith (or epistemology of Saint Paul, 1 Corinthians 1)

Epistemology is the study of knowledge.

Paul outlines four areas of knowledge:

  1. Empirical (Experimental) knowledge
  2. Logical (Reason) knowledge
  3. Aesthetic (Having to do with beauty) knowledge
  4. Authoritative knowledge (Knowledge above) – above all other knowledge.  This is God’s knowledge which must be trusted and taken without question.

Fear of God

Luther explains the fear of God using this analogy of his son: “little Hans knows I love him, but he also knows I’m much bigger and stronger than him and can whop him clear across the room if I so choose”

 Gnosticism

Greek religious movement that emphasized secret knowledge for its initiates.  Gnosticism had and has many variants.  Gnostics commonly emphasized a radical distinction between the material world (which was evil) and the spiritual dimensions (which were good).

Furthermore, this belief had an influence the early Christian Church.

God as defined in Luther’s Large Catechism, Creed, first article

Anything you fear, love, and trust above all else.

Law

The will of God for his creation.  Often times this is defined as God’s commands and demands.

Thomas Aquinas’ four types of law:

  1. Eternal Law – Exists in the mind of God.
  2. Divine Law – The part of eternal law that has been revealed (Namely the Ten Commandments).
  3. Natural Law – The law of the universe that is discernable by human reason (Paul reverences this in Romans- Law written on their hears).
  4. Human Law – Application to natural law in a specific context/situation/culture.  Ex. We have Laws in the USA.

Natural law

Will of God for creation which is best summarized in the Decalog (Ten Commandments).

Ninian Smart’s seven component parts of all religions

Ritual: Forms and orders of ceremonies (private and/or public) (often regarded as revealed)

Narrative and Mythic: stories (often regarded as revealed) that work on several levels. Sometimes narratives fit together into a fairly complete and systematic interpretation of the universe and human’s place in it.

Experiential and emotional: dread, guilt, awe, mystery, devotion, liberation, ecstasy, inner peace, bliss (private)

Social and Institutional: belief system is shared and attitudes practiced by a group. Often rules for identifying community membership and participation (public)

Ethical and legal: Rules about human behavior (often regarded as revealed from supernatural realm)

Doctrinal and philosophical: systematic formulation of religious teachings in an intellectually coherent form

Material: ordinary objects or places that symbolize or manifest the sacred or supernatural

Original sin

AKA – Inherited Sin.  From Adam’s fall, the sinful nature was beget to all humans, so that we are by nature sinners.

Quatenus

Definitions:

  1. how far/long?, to what point
  2. since
  3. to what extent
  4. where
  5. while, so far as

I subscribe to the Book of Concord quatenus (so far as) it is a faithful exposition of the teachings of the Bible.

Quia

Definitions:

  1. because

I subscribe to the Book of Concord quia (because) it is a faithful exposition of the teaching of the Bible.  

Relationship of the first commandment to the other commandments in Luther’s Small Catechism

All the commandments are essentially a breaking of the first commandment.  When a person lies, cheats, steals, kills, covets, or commits adultery, he is ultimately putting his fear, love, and trust in something or someone else over the fear, love, and trust that is rightly due to God alone.  Essentially – idolatry is the root problem of all sin.

Relationship of Scripture and the Book of Concord

Scripture is the Word of God.  The Book of Concord is a faithful exposition of the teachings found in the Book of Concord.

The Bible norms the confessions.  The confessions norm our teachings and practices.

Relationship of the spiritual and material realms of creation

The Spiritual and material realms are God’s way of working in the world. Lutherans are often accused of dualism here, but that is a blatant misunderstanding of Luther since these realms intersect in the life of the Christian and the life of the church.

  • The Spiritual realm involves things pertaining to God such as confession and absolution, the sacraments, the word of God, and Christian individuals who are called to a higher virtue of loving their neighbor.
  • The Temporal or Material realm includes government, commerce, and the laws of the world which are used primarily to curb evil rather than to point an individual to God.

Regula fidei

Rule of faith.

Subjective – everyone has a rule of faith that they run with

  • But this rule of faith must be in submission to Scripture
  • As to confessions the rule of faith has a flexible guide
    • This flexible guide shifts to the needs of the people
      • Confessions don’t always address the concerns of the day
      • Is it Left Behind? Is it speaking in tongues and spiritual gifts?  Is it transgender issues?  It depends.

Operative rule of faith

  • A rule that one would write for his current situation to operate by

Righteousness, human

Being in a right relationship with one’s neighbors and within one’s society.  A person can be righteous in the human sense, but not in the divine.  To be in a right relationship with God, a person must have faith in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.

Spirit of Augsburg

  1. Evangelical – tells the Good News of Jesus Christ
  2. Eschatological – sees itself as part of Christian witness in these end times (the Antichrist is present in the office of the Papacy)
  3. Ecumenical – yes, even though the LCMS thinks this is sometimes a dirty word
  4. Edicatory – imparts knowledge intended to be used for helping others grow
  5. Evangelistic – desires to share the Word of God with others

Symbol (as document)

From the second century on Christians have expressed the biblical faith in summaries that served to identify the church’s public message.  The Greek word symbol – a technical word for creed – identified the function of such summaries of church’s teachings as its identifying statement of belief, purpose, and mission.

Tables of the law

The “First Table of the Law,” then, describes our fear, love, and trust of God, our exclusive worship God, our prayers, and our hearing the Lord’s Word.

The “Second Table of the Law,” beginning with the commandment “Honor your father and your mother” gives shape to our love for our neighbors.

Unaltered Augsburg Confession

The original text of the Augsburg confession written by P. Melanchthon for the Diet of Augsburg on June 25th, 1530 A.D.  Also called the Confessio Augustana Invariata: the original text of the 1531 edito princeps.

Later editions “watered down” chief principles of this confession which permitted a “spiritualized” view of the Lord’s Supper.

Valentianism

The gnostic heresy of Valentianism was a dualistic sect. Founded by an ex-Catholic Bishop by the name of Valentius, he taught that there were three kinds of people, the spiritual, the psychical, and the material. This meant that only those of a spiritual nature (his followers) received the gnosis (knowledge) that allowed them to return to the divine Pleroma (totality of Divine Power). Those of a psychic nature (the ordinary Christians) would attain a lesser form of salvation, and that those of a material nature (the pagans and the Jews) were doomed to perish.

Valentinus (also spelled as Valentinius, c.100 – c.160) was the best known and most successful early Christian gnostic theologian for some time.

Walks of life (estates)

Luther saw all of human life ordered across three spheres of structured relationships: the politia, the oeconomia, and the ecclesia. These indicate government and state, the household and economic human interactions, and the church. Each estate or sphere is ordered hierarchically (thus the alternative designation, “the three hierarchies”). In each estate there exists a set of hierarchically structured relationships that organize human life under God’s care. The top of each hierarchy stands God himself who endows those ruling and governing in the given hierarchy with their given authority. The basic premise of all hierarchies is that the authority that subsists in each is finally divine.

Luther’s Small Catechism – What is it good for?

When asked what is the best resource for teaching the Christian faith and way of living to youth today, a doctrinal book written in 1529 that was designed for fathers to use to instruct their children in proper Biblical beliefs and living probably doesn’t pop into most people’s minds as their go to source.  I’m of course referring to Martin Luther’s, Small Catechism.  He wrote it after a shocking visit to the congregations of Saxony in which he found that not only the laity, but also the pastors, didn’t know the basic tenants of the Christian faith – most not even able to say the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, or the Lord’s Prayer.  In terms of their Christian living, you wouldn’t even recognize that they were Christians with the license to sin at will approach they took that abused their Christian liberties afforded in the Gospel.  To rectify this situation – ASAP – Luther wrote his Small Catechism and Large Catechism.  The Small Catechism was designed for parents to instruct their children in the home. The Large Catechism was designed as a resource book, explaining the doctrines of the Small Catechism in further detail.  His instruction worked wonders in Saxony and it can still do the same today.

Small Catechism.jpg

The Small Catechism is so effective for teaching the Christian faith because it names and explains the meaning of all the doctrines necessary for one’s salvation in succinct, easy to remember and recite statements.  In the first section of the Catechism, Luther wisely used three critical texts as the means to accomplish this goal: The Ten Commandments, The Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer.  Presented in this chronological order, Luther set-up a sequential flow from Law to Gospel to Christian living.  Luther presents the Ten Commandments as the accusation of the Law.  This accusation charges us as having broken God’s will for our lives and places us in a state deserving of God’s eternal wrath.  The Apostles’ Creed is presented as our confession of what God does for us – namely saves us through the work of God the Father in Creation and sending his Son Jesus who redeemed us and the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us through gifting us with faith and preserving that faith through the Word and Sacraments of the Church.  The Lord’s Prayer is taught as our prayer for God to do these things through us – namely do the work of salvation.  Next, in this section, Luther gives instruction on baptism, absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, means by which God presents himself to us today in the Church, giving sinners his grace.

Sections two and three of the Small Catechism pick up on the points of section one to address how we should live in our day to day lives as members of society.  Section two contains daily prayers that focus and guide our everyday activities to be sanctified by God’s Word and prayer.   Section three contains the Table of Duties that lists and explains our various callings in life to serve our neighbor as God’s priestly people.

Again, all of these sections present these doctrines in succinct and to the point language, while directing readers to clear Biblical passages from which these teachings arise.  And again, all of these teachings cover the definitive doctrines of the Christian faith for believers to be found in a right relationship with God and their neighbors, and Luther’s presentation is such that anyone can take these truths and share the faith with others.

 

 

 

The American Mind Meets The Mind Of Christ Part 2

This is part 2 of 2 of a book review of The American Mind Meets The mind Of Christ, which is a collection of articles written by Concordia Seminary professors edited by Robert Kolb. In this section of the review, I’ll share my thoughts on what was taught in this book in terms of what I will teach, not teach, and do and not do in my future pastoral ministry as a result of having read The American Mind Meets the Mind of Christ.

The American Mind

Show that Christianity Works

First, I thought the Paul W. Robinson article that addressed pluralism and the mix-and-match religious adherents of our day had a few good points that I thought would demand a place in my future role as a pastor.  Robinson said, “In a mix-and-match religion meaning is created by an individual’s choice and value is determined by how well a truth claim ‘works’” (Kolb, p. 74).  This statement triggered a memory I had of a point mentioned by Philip Goldberg in his book, American Veda, in which he said that religion serves five basic functions:

  1. Transmission: to impart to each generation meaningful customs, rituals, stories, and historical continuity
  2. Translation: to help people interpret life events, acquire meaning and purpose, and affirm their connection to a larger whole
  3. Transaction: to create and sustain healthy communities and provide guidelines for moral behavior and ethical relationships
  4. Transformation: to foster maturation, ongoing growth, and the development of more fulfilled and more complete persons
  5. Transcendence: to satisfy the yearning to enlarge the perceived boundaries of the self, touch the infinite, and unite with the ultimate Ground of Being (Goldberg, p. 14)

Goldberg thinks that “organized religions in the West have emphasized the first three functions and paid far less attention to the last two” (Goldberg, p. 14).  It is here in the neglect of the last two functions of religion that Goldberg thinks Hinduism has found its root in American culture.  Essentially, New Age, mix-and-match religious adherents are practicing Hindus, just in a purely American way and it is here that Goldberg, a practicing Hindu himself, and Robinson agree – the mix-and-match religious adherent wants his religious truth claims to work – at least that’s how I interpret Goldberg’s definitions of transformation and transcendence.

I don’t have the time in this book review to take up in full detail how Christianity may or may not find itself functioning with Goldberg’s five points, but never the less, I think showing how the truth claims of Christianity will work in the here and now could be the ticket to ministering to New Age adherents, or to those of other Eastern spiritualties.  I’ve encountered again and again Americans who have converted to Buddhism or who have picked elements of Buddhism to follow because they have found that those practices work for them in their day to day lives – relieving stress and leading to more contentment and overall peace.  This is one reason Meyer’s statement, “beware the extremes and go down the middle [path]” (Kolb, p. 19), stood out to me so much in the discussion of wealth.  The “middle path” is the path the Buddha advocated and he found it only after having lived a path on both extremes of wealth (one being a prince and the other being an extreme ascetic).  Most of these converts don’t make too much of the reincarnation claims and other religious elements of Buddhism so much, as they just really dig the benefits they experience from following the eight-fold path and Buddhist meditation.

To move my preaching and teaching into a realm that will show how Christianity will work, I think the practical points of instruction of The American Mind Meets the Mind of Christ will work.  Far too often, preaching in American churches focuses on the morality of what God wants us to do and not do and the transaction function taught is typically just Christ forgives your sins as the Gospel is proclaimed.  But if the theme of teaching Christians to see the idols in their lives through their cultural moorings with demonstrations of how such false gods lead down a path of pain and ruin as all paths apart from God’s will for our lives eventually do, we can then foster spiritual maturity and discipleship growth as we teach the full counsel of God’s Word with the benefits of what following the middle path of our culture will look like and what the benefits in the here and now will bring to the Christian who seeks after the Lord.  And to be clear, this isn’t some sort of prosperity Gospel that mingles Law and Gospel, this is a call to ditch our American idols for a closer walk with our Lord.  In such a walk, it doesn’t matter if we are well fed or starving, because in Christ we can do all things through him who strengthens us – not so much when our trust is in our money and the food that we might at the moment wholly lack!

I also strongly think that teaching is more than just words but a demonstration of the teachings put into practice by the teacher… so I got to live this stuff out myself.  A point that struck me in the book was a connection between Meyer’s article on wealth and Leopoldo Sanchez’ article on making room for God in our busy lives of individualism and indulgence.  Meyer says we must teach our congregants the “duty of rest” as a key to helping us escape the never ending rat race for more cheese.  Sanchez mentions this too and he says that far too often pastors don’t take time to rest, and that the sheep usually do what their shepherds do.  So how can pastors foster time of rest with God and rest with each other so we are not just cut off lone Americans hustling for bread before sitting in front of our television altars when we aren’t working?  He doesn’t really say, but he does speak of his experience growing up in Panama where the churches had daily mass and one would stop at church on the way to work for prayer and rest and to receive the body and blood of Christ.  The implication is clear… do our churches provide time for rest with God and together as a body of believers in our day to day lives.  Would that be valuable?  I think it would be and there are many factors that can keep this from being a reality, but I do have ideas to move in this direction, such as having a prayer room that is always open and accessible, or a daily prayer time with devotions printed that people can pick up as they enter the sanctuary.  I wouldn’t have to be present at all of these sacred opportunities for rest, as certain church members can lock and unlock the door on assigned days. This could be something very inviting to the community too, and it could be the perfect opportunity for the “American mystic” to sneak into the sanctuary, as David Schmitt describes this person as being drawn to the sacred spaces of Christianity but not drawn to the institutionalized community.  Such a time of invitation to come in and prayer with some guided resources available as an optional worship guide could be just the type of practices of hospitality that an American mystic needs to eventually get connected with Christ.  (Kolb, 78-79)

Make Christian Education Important and Relevant

As I have said, many of the articles ended with exhortations to teach the congregation the points of the particular article, namely pointing out the idolatry of that aspect of American culture and how to best drop it like a bad habit or to redeem that cultural element to the mind of Christ.  I can’t recall any time that the cultural topics of this book were taught in a Lutheran church service or Sunday school class.  Preaching on the pitfalls of our day to day culture that many of us daily embrace seems to be the most important topic for us to engage in regularly and often.  I aim to find amble time to incorporate cultural topics and current events into my preaching and teaching as a pastor, especially on issues such as politics and government that Biermann addressed, and science and technology and even transhumanism that Okamoto addressed. We can speak on movies and what they teach and how their teachings compare to the counsel of God as Lewis did in his article on cultural cinema.  Touching on such cultural topics regularly and often will also give a relevancy to my sermons as such issues are…. well, relevant.

I also think we must address obesity in the church as Lessing did.  It is crucial.  We are killing ourselves and limiting our range of service to God and our neighbor by not being physically well.  How many Christians don’t go on “missions” trips because they simply can’t because they’re too fat.  My granddad retired at 55 (he was from that generation) and he then went to work for Habit for Humanity for well over a decade every day, building homes for those in need.  He still keeps a garden and gives food from it to others and he goes out of his way to help others who are elderly who aren’t as capable to do certain daily chores.  He couldn’t do any of this if he was morbidly obese.  Too many in our churches will die too many years too early due to wretched eating habits –  a rejection of their God given bodies.  Have they let Gnosticism creep into their belief system as Lessing claims? I’m not sure, but I can emphasize the totality of our human nature being both body and spirit in my teachings and stress that the full salvation of man comes at the resurrection of the dead at Christ’s return not at the earthly departure of our spirit from our body, and as to providing a practical help in this regard, my wife and I have spoken about the need to offer some healthy snack options next to the doughnuts at church.

Finally, when it comes to teaching, I take away strong agreement with Robinson’s suggestion that “instruction must be tailored to specific situations and even specific individuals” (Kolb, p. 76).  This means in a Sunday school setting the people in the class dictate what is said and taught.  What questions do they have?  What’s going on in the community or congregation that needs to be addressed?  What religion is in the news this week, or what movie is numero uno at the box office, and what questions will these bring to the class discussion?  This also means that people need one on one attention and time to be taught what is most important for them to know right then and there concerning both God’s Law and Gospel in whatever matter is going on in their life.  I had great success with this approach as a high school world religions and Christian apologetics teacher.  Even when I taught the same lesson six times, I’d end up with vastly different experiences in each class by letting the students take control of the class through their questions and interests based on the subject I had prepared.  In a setting which doesn’t demand a fixed classroom agenda, such as in a church congregation, I think I’d shine at this approach, but that is also because I’m very comfortable at speaking extemporaneously, which I think we all have to be as teachers – at least if we are going to be good teachers.  Such openness to questions and even shifting planned topics if the class demands it also brings about the trust necessary to know that the teacher/pastor is open to any and all dialog which prompts plenty of great personal and sometimes unplanned Nicodemus moments that go on to have long lasting impact on the receiver and their fields of influence.  (John 3)

An element of why Robinson said we need to tailor our instruction in this manner is that he has found that traditional catechesis no longer addresses the problems of modernity, in which we are up against a lot more than just evolution vs. creation debates.  We now have an entire smorgasbord of worldviews that contend with our Christian faith.  Knowing this, I think we need to be well aware of many religions, not just Christianity.  The good news is that in some ways we don’t need to know that much about these other religions to still be seen as experts on them, because to be honest, Americans don’t know much about the world’s religions, nor even basic Biblical literacy.  The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life conducted a survey in 2010 to ascertain how much religious knowledge Americans possess. A random sample of 3,412 adults were contacted via phone and asked thirty-two religious questions. The average score was 50 percent, or an F! The highest-scoring group was the atheists and agnostics; they got 65 percent, or a D. Mormons outscored Christians on questions about the Bible and Christianity.

If we can just learn a decent bit of what other religions teach, it will go a long way in our witnessing abilities in our missions and ministries.  I once engaged with a Hare Krishna that was handing out materials at my local Wal-Mart and inviting people to a service at his temple.  Because I knew enough about Hinduism, not Hare Krishna, but Hinduism, I was able to recognize that he was likely Hare Krishna and not a Hindu without him telling me.  I was able to guess much of what he believed from the connections I assumed would be present in Hare Krishna from Hinduism.  And as he was describing a teaching to me, I used a technical term I knew from Hinduism that I thought expressed what he was trying to describe and his countenance completely changed and reached out to shake my hand and as I shook his hand he was smiling and saying over and over, “Brother, brother, you know, you know.”  I had to explain to him that I knew the term, but that I didn’t believe it to be a true doctrine.  His countenance didn’t change. He was still just so excited that I knew some things about his vastly minority religion.  When he asked what I believed then, I had already gained a lot of respect and shown that I wasn’t just denying the truth of his position from a place of complete ignorance of his faith.  Seriously, even though we do know the one true God and should be confident in this without knowledge of other religions, how arrogant is it to tell someone that he is wrong concerning the most important aspect of his life, his religion, when you know absolutely nothing about what he believes?

In our culture, coexistence and tolerance are valued.  I seriously do believe that if we can get our church bodies to be Biblically literate and to be able to ace the Pew Research religion quiz, the church will find itself as a people who are not just aliens and strangers who are NOTW, but seen to be wise people who can be trusted on spiritual and religious matters, because they know we’ve taken the time to study them. Also, if we can shake our own idols and live with hope and joy through our American culture that offers as much for us to fear as to love, we’ll be seen as the spiritual gurus – not Phillip Goldberg and his American Vedanta! People will come to us for spiritual and religious advice and guidance even when they are not Christians.  This is where I think our missions and ministries need to hone our focus on Christian education and countering the false worldviews so prevalent in our pluralistic culture, because the church is really weak in these regards.

Raising Up Defenders of the Faith

In the introduction to this book, Kolb says, “Since about 1980, and particularly since 2000, increasing numbers of Christians have experienced encounters with levels of antagonism toward the Christian faith that had previously not existed in North America.”  When I read this my first thought was, “That’s why we need apologetics.”  And on this point, I think The American Mind Meets the Mind of Christ is greatly lacking, and this isn’t surprising to me, since in my undergrad theology studies at Concordia University Irvine there was only one course named Apologetics, and from what I know Concordia Seminary doesn’t even offer a single Apologetics course.

There were some moments in the book that I would have liked to have had more apologetic responses offered, or a mere mention of the word apologetics.  For instance, when Gnosticism is mentioned as a key reason for why so many of us in our country are dying of obesity, I think it would have been nice to spend more time making a case against Gnosticism.  Maybe point to how Irenaeus tackled Gnosticism, or how the early church beat Gnosticism.  The heresy just recently had a resurgence due to the finding of the Gnostic Gospels in the Nag Hamddi discovery – what are in these texts that are so appealing for people today? Could the ways the church countered Gnosticism in the second to third centuries potentially be something good for us to do too?

Schmitt advocated that we should have an invitation of hospitality to the American mystic over and beyond explanation, but when the real talk comes, he said we’ll find ourselves learning from the mystic a rediscovery of “how to talk about the things of God” (Kolb, p. 91).  However, “at times such conversation will be awkward and tentative, as we search for the right words so that we faithfully express the mind of Christ to the American mystic” (p. 91).  That’s all he says on this point.  I’d love to have heard more on what would the American mystic say that I’d find awkward, what I’d feel compelled counter – what would be necessary to counter since it opposes the mind of Christ.  I think I would have wanted a few pages addressing this part of the conversation so that I will be prepared to give a defense for the truthfulness of the Christian message to whatever contradictory speech I should expect to encounter after a time of hospitality with the American mystic.

The moment where I felt as if apologetics was invoked the most was at the end of Okamoto’s article on science and technology.  He rightly says that simply claiming the Bible to be the Word of God “does little work in supporting our account of the universe, our conclusions about life, and all of our teachings” (Kolb, p. 110).  He rightly points us to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and the testimony of those he commissioned to be the proper way to account for the authority of the Bible.  But, that’s where he ends the article.  There is not mention of how one would give reason to or defend the truthfulness of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection that gives authority to the truthfulness of the Bible.  I think a few sentences or two to describe what methodology would be used to do this would be helpful.  In his article he also addressed ideas of falsifiability as defined by Karl Popper that were empirical and based on repeatable and observable testing, but he didn’t drive home that this isn’t the only way of discerning the validity of truth claims.  Here I think mention of the process of court examinations and the methods used in discerning the truth of what occurred in the past would be helpful to point out that we all discern truthfulness concerning past events that we never witnessed and that we all believe things that cannot be empirically discerned, and thus there must be other acceptable methods for discerning truth besides just the scientific method.  This lends itself to defending our claim that the Bible has authority to speak on the origin of the universe on account of the historical claims and work of Jesus of Nazareth. It’s also good to point out that the origins of the universe are not something that the scientific method can rightly touch anyways since such an event isn’t falsifiable by Popper’s accepted standards of falsifiability.

As a pastor, I’d certainly want to equip my parishioners to be able to answer objections that they’ll inevitably face as they share their faith in missions and ministry.  I also would want to do my best to answer such questions that they have that bring them doubts or into a state of anxiety concerning the truthfulness of the mind of Christ revealed in Scripture.  As such, they’ll be equipped and ready to not only share the Gospel in their vocations, but also defend it.

4 Models of Preaching

Notes taken from a class discussion on Thomas G. Long’s presentation of 4 models of preaching found in his book, The Witness of Preaching.

The Herald Model

Herald Model of PreacherKarl Barth popularized this model.

God is the king and the preacher is the herald delivering God’s message to the people.

The emphasis is on the delivery of the Word and being normed by the Scriptures.

This model doesn’t necessitate a dynamic speaker or any special speaking abilities.  It avoids the celebrity pastor trap.  The downside is that there is a disconnect between the preacher and the congregation.

The Pastor Model

The pastor looks to his congregation and sees their needs and then goes to the Word and Pastor Model of Preachingsees what his people need to hear from the Word and then gives that message to his congregation.

Emphasis is on the benefit of the hearers and is likely more guided by the Scriptures than normed by the Scriptures.

Intentionally seeks to preach to felt needs of the people.  A downside is that the pastor might tend to start with psychology and counseling before going to the Word.  This can lead to reading into the text.

The pastor might also speak to a particular situation that a particular congregant or two are dealing with, but those congregants don’t show up for that sermon.

Storytelling Model

Storytelling Model of PreachingPreaching through storytelling.

The Gospel itself is a story so this model sees storytelling as superior theologically.

This model combines the herald and the pastor models.

It is easier for people to find themselves in a story than in a lecture.  The sermon text becomes the story.  A downside is that this model is sometimes used to influence or move people emotionally. 

Witness Model

The congregation calls the preacher to the Word to deliver the sermon to them.  Witness Model of Preaching

The preacher has authority to preach because he has been called by the congregation and because he has wrestled with the text of the Word.

The preacher goes to the Scriptures with the congregation in mind and he testifies about Christ to them as his words are to convey the event and witness to what he has heard and seen from the Word of God.