Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pastoral Formation

Big topic, difficult subject, but so necessary. As we look at Pastor Formation, one critical element is often overlooked: mentoring. Let me explain.

At our Lutheran seminaries, each student studies two years on campus, with an assignment to a local congregation. This provides the student under the supervision of a pastor an opportunity to begin leading worship services, and eventually preaching 1-2 sermons. The third year student is assigned full time to a congregation to experience all areas of pastoral ministry (called vicarage or internship). Then the fourth year student is back on campus to integrate what he learned in the field and hopefully fill some gaps in his theological preparation. Finally graduation and assignment and ordination.

But then what? In the US the average stay for a pastor in a congregation is less than three years. Yet the major conflicts and trails occur in years 3-5. By leaving prior to that the pastor does not experience the trials nor the maturity produced when walking through the trials by ministering faithfully. This is where mentoring can be especially beneficial. By mentoring a new pastor the first three years, this provides a foundation for the pastor to address major conflicts without destroying himself or the congregation. Even better he provides a more mature ministry to those in most need. Watch for more on the mentoring process.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Some thoughts on Jeremiah 23

Interesting parallels and chiastic structure in this section:

23:2a "You have scattered My flock and driven them away" (specific actions of shepherds)
23:2b "you have not attended to the sheep" (general indictment)
23:2c "I will attend to you" (general promise of Yahweh's appropriate justice)
23:2d "for the bevil of your deeds" (specific condemnation of shepherds)

Or comparing vs 2 with 3 and the difference in what has been done and what Yahweh will do.

23:2 (Shepherds who destroy)
  • scattered
  • driven away
  • not attended
23:3 (what Yahweh will do)
  • I will gather the remnant
  • where I have driven them (note contrast with shepherds driving away)
  • I will bring them back to the fold
And the result:

23:4 (Yahweh's actions continue)
Shepherds will care for them
They shall fear no more nor be dismayed
None shall be missing

Ultimately it is God's appropriate justice upon the shepherds and the nation that leads to their captivity. But it is also his appropriate justice to bring them back to their own land.

23:8 (Yahweh says) "... Then they will live on their own soil."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Some thoughts on Jeremiah 14

Just struck me in my reading this last week, how we often jump to 31:34 as the new covenant, but fail to note the law's preparation for that new covenant. Do we sometimes short circuit God's work in our lives by trying to wiggle out of the condemnation of the law? In the process the law no longer threatens but acts like a car monitor, "Your door is ajar." Worse the gospel loses it sweetness and freshness.

Consider how God uses Jeremiah to avoid both extremes. In Jeremiah 14:10b we read: [Yahweh says]: 
Therefore the LORD does not accept them; now He will remember their iniquity and call their sins to account.”
What a statement of law! God will remember their iniquity and call their sins to account. Facing the sternness of the law will bring them (and us) to our knees. 

We can't help but see this law preparation for the people, so that in captivity, the gospel declaration in Jeremiah 31:34 rings with even greater clarity and brings true hope to those suffering. Jeremiah points the people ahead to the new covenant, in Yahweh declares,

“... for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

The law remains to condemn sin. The gospel remains even brighter to remove sin from us - that is what Jesus did. That is what the people of Israel looked forward to; that is what we look back to in its fulfillment.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Some thoughts on Jeremiah 9

I recently began another read through Jeremiah. So here are a few random thoughts that struck me. In 9:23-26 there is a pivotal text also referenced by Paul (1 Cor. 1:31). In 9:24 we read that Yahweh "practices lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness."

‏ עֹ֥שֶׂה חֶ֛סֶד מִשְׁפָּ֥ט וּצְדָקָ֖ה

Many years ago in seminary I examined the relationship between justice (מִשְׁפָּ֥ט) and righteousness (וּצְדָקָ֖ה) relative to their occurrences in Isaiah. At the time, it seemed that in particular "justice" carries a dual focus depending on what is happening. I had begun translating the word as a phrase "appropriate justice"; that is, when God acts, for the one in faith, appropriate justice is salvation, but for the one outside faith, appropriate justice is condemnation and judgment.

So in this context of Jeremiah 9, God invites "those who boast in the Lord" to share in that which delights Yahweh (9:23-24). On the other hand, the one who does not boast, the "uncircumcised" (nations or Israel, uncircumcised in heart) will experience "appropriate justice" in the judgment, "in the days which are coming."

That also seems to fit with Paul's eschatological understanding in 1 Corinthians, and in particular 1:30-31. "But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, 'Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.' " (NAS 95)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Brackets and the Amplified Bible

Nick Norelli has a comment on his blog about adding theological bias to a translation by including words in brackets. I would say that it is even worse with the Amplified Bible. The Amplified Bible can give good insight into the original language text, but it also causes problems by presenting something out of context, especially by including words/phrases in brackets. By giving several alternatives for a Greek/Hebrew word in a specific instance, it almost appears that the specific Greek/Hebrew could mean any of those things. However, the meaning of the word is determined by, and derived from, context, that is, the surrounding words/sentences. Thus, to imply that a specific Greek/Hebrew word could mean one of several different different things, because there are lexical (dictionary) definitions (or better, glosses) available is not helping us understand the meaning of that word in this specific context.

This also leads to interpreting and commenting rather than translating in the Amplified Bible.

Issues of translating vs. interpreting the text — two examples from the Amplified Bible

1 Thessalonians 1:10

AMP: And [how you] look forward to and await the coming of His Son from heaven, Whom He raised from the dead -- Jesus, Who personally rescues and delivers us out of and from the wrath [bringing punishment] which is coming [upon the impenitent] and draws us to Himself [investing us with all the privileges and rewards of the new life in Christ, the Messiah].

Words inside [ ] indicates "Amplified" phrasing, words which are added to the text. First, note that the "coming wrath" is restricted by the added words ["upon the impenitent"]. The Greek text has 

EK THS ORGHS THS ERXOMENHS (from the wrath, the coming).

There is nothing about the restriction of the wrath.

Even more questionable is the last added phrase ["investing us with all the privileges and rewards of the new life in Christ, the Messiah"]. There is nothing in the Greek text that corresponds to this phrase. This is purely commentary, not translation, made to appear as if it is specifically intended by the Greek text. It is misleading to say the least.

1 Thessalonians 2:3

AMP: For our appeal [in preaching] does not [originate] from delusion or error or impure purpose or motive, nor in fraud or deceit.

There are main concerns here: the first is with the inserted text ["in preaching"]. The Greek word is παράκλησις (PARAKLHSHS), often translated as exhorted or comforted. But nowhere is the connection made with this word and preaching, unless the word κηρύσσω (KHROUSW) is present in the context. In other words, the AMP Bible has limited this appeal to a preaching context when the text does not allow such a restriction/limitation.

Also in this text, how many items in last portion of the text are actually mentioned in the Greek text? From the AMP it would appear at first glance as if there are six items that Paul enumerates. Yet the Greek text has only three. Now the question arises, why the expansion? And then, why those particular words for expansion because the six listed do not exhaust the semantic domains of the three Greek words? The reader is left with a false impression, twice in this verse alone, because the AMP Bible is not translating but interpreting and providing commentary by adding words in brackets.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Relationship between Theology and Worship

 Nick Norelli responded to a question about whether theology affects doing church, specifically worship.

Here was my initial response. From a Lutheran perspective, theology and worship are intimately connected. Thus, justification by grace through faith is not only the pillar by which the church stands or falls, it is the heart of worship (or strictly “divine service” – meaning God serves us through Word and Sacrament, and we respond in service with praise, prayer, and singing).

This also means that our theology and worship are Christocentric, while also being Trinitarian. The invocation (”in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”) is Trinitarian and Baptismal. Note that Lutheran worship traditionally begins with those words, and not the common Protestant one (”We make our beginning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit), because we see worship as not only God centered, but God-initiated. The God who baptized us is the God who calls us into to his presence to receive his gifts in the Word and in the Lord’s Supper. The invocation is matched by the Trinitarian benediction (Numbers 6:24-26). This is not a conclusion but a sending with the promise that all that God has bestowed in the service now goes with the person. This matches the use of Numbers 6 as the blessing before the Israelites begin their extended journey.

Of course, there is much more to this, which I hope to address in the near future.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Passive/Receptive Life

Oswald Bayer wrote an excellent book, Theology The Lutheran Way. Here is an insightful comment from that book.

What does the passive/receptive life (vita passiva) or the passive righteousness (iustitia passiva) mean, systematically for faith and theology? The righteousness of faith is passive in the sense that “we let God work in us by himself and we with all our powers do nothing of our own.” “Faith, however, is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born again of God, John 1[:12-13]. It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different, in heart and spirit and mind and powers” (cf. Deut. 6:5). Faith then is entirely God’s work and not a human achievement. We can only “suffer” it. Christian righteousness, which is passive, is entirely opposite to works-righteousness. We can only receive it. We do not work but let another work in us, namely, God. Christian righteousness is not understood by the world. It is hidden from people trapped in themselves and want to boast of their own achievements. It is hidden from those who not only want to make something of themselves but who want to be self-made people.

Oswald Bayer,
Theology the Lutheran Way, Lutheran Quarterly Books, edited and translated by Jeffrey G. Silcock and Mark C. Mattes, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007 [orig. 1994]), p. 24.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Quick update on NLT Chronological Bible

I have been on two trips the past ten days (one flight, one auto) in which it was inconvenient to take the Chronological Bible. But with the references, in the back, I was able to take a convenient sized Bible (NLT Compact, leather edition). So, I was able to continue the readings, even though I didn’t have the specific resource. But Sunday night I was able to begin again with the “box.” Thanks again for a handy resource.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Review: One Year Chronological Bible (NLT)

Two notes: 1. Special thanks to Laura Bartlett at Tyndale for sending me preview copies of the NLT SB and the Chronological Bible. 2. My review of this resource will not relate to the NLT as a translation, but rather the NLT edition as published in this format.

Appearances can be deceiving. When I opened the box, I was disappointed and thought this is not a resource I would regularly use. Other reviews suggested using it for travel. I travel a lot, but this clearly was not something I could see myself using on flights. The size, especially the thickness (2”), and overall dimensions (5.5” x 7”) fooled me into assessing this as an awkward resource; I don’t have any other book like it, except a smaller version for Rockwell paintings. Even a quick glance at the font (an important factor in Bible readability) reinforced my initial reluctance to consider this edition.

So what happened to change my mind? My goal was to look at it, maybe use it for a few days and then put it away. I set it on the coffee table beside my recliner and started the readings for the day. In that setting I found the size to be just about right (however, I still will not take it with me on trips). Not only that but I began to appreciate the design aspects of this Bible.

The Scripture readings are based on one view of chronology relative to when each book was written. While I might disagree with a few time relationships, the presentation is defensible and well done. Contrary to other such attempts, this edition incorporated the Psalms into their historical contexts. This works well both ways - it shows the liturgical element of life events in the historical books (perhaps unintentional side affect) and the historical context of the liturgical life. Also, the editors inserted in chronological order Biblical references of later writings that refer to the specific event (i.e. Gen. 11 and 1 Chronicles 1, p. 18). And it was good to see Job between Genesis and Exodus, often conjectured, but seldom seen in practice; nice to see in this edition. The Scripture references (verse numbers) were small and not noticeable to me most of the time. Well done.

Comments on specific features:

General Timeline (pp. A15-18): very helpful because it puts the date and specific event with the page number. The page reference in the Introduction on p. A10 is wrong because it indicates that the Timeline begins on p. A9, instead of p. A15.

One Year Reading Plan: obvious use for a chronological Bible. Each day is marked in the text to aid the reader without turning to another page. Better integrated and less intrusive than I have seen in other such Bibles.

Transition Statements: Thankfully these are short and hence non-intrusive to the reading plan (this isn’t a study Bible, after all), and in a different but readable font. These little notes prove useful in reading the text quickly and just getting enough information to cause the reader to think, “Yes, okay, that helps me understand the background”.

Chronological Dating: Dates are included in the subheadings throughout the text, very well thought out design to aid the reader.

Daily Reading Guide: This feature complements the in-text reading guides. At the back of the Bible, each day is listed with Biblical readings by text reference. For a comparative reading, this would assist the person to use a traditional Bible. Well done.

Scripture Index: helpful tool for traditional comparisons and quick reference. Personally I wouldn’t find much use for it in this type of Bible.

Verse Callouts: For some people these generate a sense of “speaking to me.” In this kind of Bible reading plan, I find that it is not all that helpful. But that is a personal choice.

Historic Christian Symbols: “Each month a new symbol is introduced with an explanation of its significance” (p. A11). The publishers commissioned an artist to provide these, and each page of the month’s reading has that symbol. They are faint, so they don’t overwhelm the text. Coming from a liturgical and visually oriented background, I find these kind of assets of great value in teaching the faith and engaging all the senses. Well done!

Overall Assessment:

While I study the Biblical text primarily in the original language texts, I use English translations routinely for all aspects of my devotional and pastoral tasks. Thus, I try to expose myself to several translations in different settings: personal reading, family devotion, sermon prep, teaching prep, publication prep, etc., rotating the translations used. Thus, one year I might read ESV for one part, GW for another, NAS for another. This does not mean I always think a specific translation is best, but such a process gives me a feel for how well a translation works in a specific context.

In 2009, I have decided to use two new resources. For devotional reading, this
One Year Chronological Bible (24/7 NLT) will be my resource (while at home). I find the Bible’s arrangement, aids, and ease of use worthwhile to encourage me in this type of reading.

For family devotions for the past few weeks, we have been using The Books of the Bible (TNIV), also a Chronological reading Bible (which requires its separate review!).

Thursday, January 22, 2009

NLT Study Bible - Review 2

This review has taken longer due to the amount of material surveyed. Obviously even now, this review only looks at a sampling.


In my first review I noted many positive features. Here the focus is on the content. The book introductions provide enough information to grasp the general thrust of the book. The setting is perhaps the most important factor because this gives the reader a chance to identify time and place; obviously this blends well with the included timelines. Depending on the level of someone’s knowledge of the Bible, it seems that the introductions to the prophetic books are particularly useful, otherwise the prophetic message can “hang suspended in time.” Of course, no study Bible can prevent misuse of the message, but at least an appropriate context for the original audience sets the writing in place.

The character and theme inserts were well done and add perspective when studying. But see below for the negative side of such a feature.


As I began using the SB I noticed several features that were less than satisfactory. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the scarcity of cross references. I realize that comprises had to be made (font size, other material, spacing, etc.). But given that this is a study Bible, my expectation is that extensive, but good cross references are at the heart of the study.

The footnotes were adequate. But I found two issues that showed 1. inconsistency between footnotes and, 2. inconsistency between the footnotes and the NLT text.

1. Lord’s Supper: The footnote for Matthew 26:26-29 (p. 1633) lists three positions regarding the Lord’s Supper. But the second option really includes two separate options. The Reformed view is “spiritual presence” and refers to “the real presence of Christ.” Often the word “symbolizes” or “represents” is used to refer to the words of institution (as noted in footnote Mark 14:24, p. 1686). However, the Lutheran view (“in, with, and under”) refers to
the real presence of Christ’s body and blood, but the word “consubstantiation” is not used by Lutherans. So there are four views.

Further, while the theology of the footnote authors/publisher is expected to show, evenhandedness would have done better in Luke 22:19-20 (p. 1755). The footnote only gives the “symbolic” view (“using the bread and cup as symbols of his body and blood”), but with no reference to the Matthew/Mark passages for alternative views. A simple note could have been included: “For further discussion see parallel passages (p. 1633, 1686)."

2. Justification: In Romans 3:22 NLT (p. 1897) has: “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ.” I have always opposed such a translation, because it makes faith as the active agent rather than the passive receptor, contrary to the emphasis in the Greek. This rendering changes the emphasis from the Greek, which is on the righteousness of God. Interestingly the footnote gets it right, “the way God puts people in a right relationship.”

The wealth of information contained in the character and theme inserts provides value for the student. However, because they take so much space I found that they were actually hindering my study. I would have preferred to have a companion booklet with all the character and theme inserts (separate sections for each). This would have allowed the additional space to be used for both cross references and for more footnotes. A study Bible needs to focus on tools that help study the text, not be a systematic theological resource.

One further surprise concerns the Ephesians study helps. There are many good statements that summarize the theme and aspects of the letter. But I found no hint about the importance of the phrase “in Christ” (or equivalents: “in him”); these occur 37 times in the short letter. Yet the footnote for Eph. 1:1 (p. 1998) notes the letter has “frequent emphasis on “the will of God” (which occurs only 6 times total!). In contrast, “in Christ/in him” occurs 13 times in chapter 1 alone. This seems like an oversight that should be rectified for the next edition.


Any Study Bible that provides a service for understanding God’s Word is worth considering. So, how does this stack up against other Study Bibles I have and use? The layout, maps, timelines, etc. are some of the best I have seen. Will I use this Study Bible? Not as my primary one, but I frequently examine it to see how both the NLT renders the original language text and to compare footnotes and study aids with other sources.