Four Branches March – 2019

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Exegetical Theology: The Cross as Metonymy in 1 Corinthians 1:18

The Second Lesson for Lent 4 features a particularly potent use of metonymy. The entire section of 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 receives its direction, weight and clarity by considering the gospel message under another, though intimately associated, name: the message of the cross (ὁ λόγος ὁ τοῦ σταυροῦ).

Metonymy is a figure of speech different from simile or metaphor in that it does not make a comparison to something else, but is an idiom of association or resemblance, using a noun related to the thing or concept. Consider a classic example: Jesus says in Matthew 21:25, “John’s baptism – was it from heaven or of human origin (ἐξ οὐρανοῦ ἢ ἐξ ἀνθρώπων)?” There, “heaven” is a simple metonym for God, as something associated with God.

In 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul addresses his commission “to preach the gospel,” and the gospel message then gets its metonymical transition in name later in the verse when he says, “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” Clearly Paul is not sent by God to talk to the world about a literal wooden pole, once stuck in the ground for the capital punishment of Christ and now in danger of being emptied of its [magical?] power. Instead, this “cross” is a metonym for the message of Christ crucified, the gospel message that saves. What’s the point?

This inspired figure of speech is Paul’s way of taking us back to the ground of Golgotha for another execution – not of the glory of God, but of the wisdom of mankind. This Golgotha is a New Testament Mt. Carmel.  “Leave your boasting in mere people, these servant messengers from God, as if they held in and of themselves an intrinsic wisdom you can’t obtain anywhere else. No, let your boast be in the Lord Jesus, who alone came to Good Friday claiming it as a vital part of the hour of his ‘glory’” (John 12:23).

And just as we abandon our boasts in a Paul or Apollos or Cephas, so be sure not to mistake that cross-nailed Son-of-but-Seven-Words for weak or powerless. That’s a common misconception. The natural, worldly reaction to the cross and all its associations was ridicule. Here was a fitting hour for this “Phony” to be mocked, not glorified, by human wisdom, as the perversion of Jews was to seek miracles and of Greeks, their own culturally incubated wisdom. Yet, spiritual realities and blessings are found in this Christ the Crucified still (Colossians 2:17), and these by the wisdom and power of God in a way only he could tell to the world.

The Lord bless your meditation on these verses. Yours is the opportunity to proclaim again the Lenten truth that, had God not stepped in himself as Source and Giver of spiritual wisdom, we would still be lost in a laughing stupor, stumbling over the message of the cross. But, look! His cross has become for us wisdom and power. Let us reflect our one faith with one voice and boast in the Lord.

For further study:

  • Other examples of metonymy with “the cross” that are similar, if not the same, are found in Galatians 5:11, 6:12,14; Philippians 2:8 and 3:18; and Hebrews 12:2.
  • For a general overview of New Testament figures of speech, consult Richard Young’s book, Intermediate New Testament Greek, pp. 235-245.
  • For a summary of metonymy in the New Testament and a near-exhaustive list of New Testament examples, see this 1999 revision of John Beekman’s “Metonymy and Synecdoche” by Carl D. DuBois.

Rev. Daniel Bondow serves as pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, WI. He also serves the Urban Conference as worship coordinator and on the Communication Committee of the WELS Hymnal Project.

Systematic Theology: What Will Heaven Be Like?

It’s a question that sparks our curiosity and tempts us to speculate:  Will we see our pets again?  Will we get to golf, fish, hike or explore?  Will our favorite foods be served at the wedding feast?  Rather than offer inclinations, a good theologian always comes back to what God reveals.

The difficulty lies in the fact that the pictures that Scripture provides can be hard to harmonize.  Some references might come across as mere teases instead of satisfying our inquisitiveness (consider Paul’s reference to “inexpressible things… that man is not permitted to tell” in 2 Corinthians 12).  Here’s what we do know: every faithful believer in Christ is assured that because God did not let his Holy One see decay, “you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).

Here’s what it doesn’t mean.  We won’t be stuck floating forever in some ethereal mist, like the fat, naked babies unceasingly playing their harps in Renaissance art. To be sure, our eternity will be filled with praise, but that doesn’t mean that our entire existence will be a never-ending choir concert or an endless church service (try sharing that illustration with a confirmation class and watch their reaction…).

Adam and Eve are the only ones who know what to expect after Jesus returns, because they once were the inhabitants of a new heavens and a new earth, even if it was a long time ago.  Their fall brought a curse that left creation groaning ever since—a curse that we know well.  We live in the curse now, and much of our ministry (perhaps all of it) is devoted to comforting and consoling people who see the worst of it.  We do so with the unbroken thread of God’s plan in the promise: in Christ, the new heavens and new earth will be restored once again.

The thread isn’t always visible, but when the stitches appear, we look closely.  Isaiah (chapters 65-66) brings out the thread in terminology that defies what we know as present reality.  Peter stresses godliness as we await the day of the Lord, assuring the faithful that even in the fire of judgment, he will refine and restore a new heaven and a new earth, “the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13).  The close of John’s Revelation was a vision of a new heaven and new earth that left him bowing in worship to anyone who had anything to do with what he just saw (22:8).  It sounds a lot like Eden, complete with the tree of life bearing fruit year-round (22:2).  No, we can’t be sure of everything that will be there, but we know what won’t: “no longer will there be any curse” (22:3), “no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (21:4).  Thanks to Jesus, it’s only a matter of time before we see paradise for ourselves in the new heavens and new earth.

Rev. Eric Schroeder serves as pastor at St. John Lutheran Church in Wauwatosa, WI.

Historical Theology: The Hidden Reformation

Every story has its lead players. History often covers these in great depth and detail; the focus remains largely on them. But every story also has its supporting cast and character actors – those whose lives are largely in the background, whose significance is found in their presence more than their magnificence. The Lutheran Reformation was no different. These are the stories of the ‘hidden’ Reformation. Over the next three months we will hear the story of one of these lesser-knowns, Dr. Robert Barnes.

Dr. Robert Barnes (1495-1540)

On July 30, 1540, English theologian Dr. Robert Barnes was burned to death as a heretic at Smithfield, London, having fallen out of the favor of King Henry VIII. Martin Luther soon afterward lamented his execution: “This Dr. Robert Barnes…has been so graciously called by God to pour out his blood and to become a holy martyr for the sake of His dear Son.”[1]

There was good reason for such high praise from Dr. Luther. Around the age of ten, Barnes was sent to the Augustinian monastery at Cambridge, which became his home for roughly twenty years. He grew there into a respected scholar and theologian, leaving only briefly to attend the University of Louvain.

But the Augustinian connection was not the only common ground between Luther and Barnes. While at Louvain, Barnes had been exposed to classical humanism and the theology of the Lutherans. And, returning to Cambridge, he first associated with, then became leader of a group of theologians known as the “Germans” – so nicknamed because of their interest in Lutheran theology. Since Cambridge was a Roman Catholic university, Luther’s writings were officially forbidden on campus. Therefore, the group met for discussions secretly, off-campus, at a pub called the White Horse Inn.

However, Barnes was not to stay in the shadows for long. Despite being a bright scholar and prior of the Augustinian house, Barnes was also noted for his polemical approach and an unfortunate lack of tact. On the Fourth Sunday in Advent, which was also Christmas Eve, 1525, Barnes preached at a service held at St. Edward’s Church, Cambridge. Taking the occasion, he “launched into an angry diatribe against the clergy in general and against Cardinal Wolsey in particular.”[2] For this, he found himself arrested, searched for Protestant materials, and sent to London, where he was tried for heresy and kept as a prisoner for almost two years.

This may have contributed to his ultimate undoing – but, it was not time for that, yet. Nor was he to pass before he left an indelible Lutheran mark on the English Reformation.

[1] From “Preface to Robert Barnes Confessio Fidei (1540),” Mark DeGarmeaux, Trans. (vol. 51, pp. 449-451) from D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe (Weimar:Hermann Bohlau, 1883-). Found in Treasury of Daily Prayer, Scot Kinnaman, ed. (St. Louis: Concordia, 2008), 574-575.

[2] The Reformation Essays of Dr. Robert Barnes, Neelak Tjernagel, Ed. (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1963), 9.

Rev. Matthew Kiecker serves as pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Lomira, Wisconsin.

Practical Theology: Genre-specific preaching

“That sermon was … a little boring.”  Every pastor – and listener – has been there.  If preachers treat every text the same – with the same contextual thrust, the same literary style, and the same sermonic form – then some sermons may very well end up a little boring.

Homiletical scholarship has sought to solve the problem of boring sermons with a recent emphasis on genre-specific preaching.  Genre-specific preaching lies at the intersection between literary analysis, biblical exegesis, and homiletics.  Around the 1980s, literary analysis and rhetorical criticism made inroads into exegetical scholarship, and now many modern commentaries a preacher consults treat the text not only as a theological text but as a literary text.  That has now made its way into homiletics, as current homiletical theory seeks to not only preach the “what” of the text but the “how.”  In other words, it is important to not only preach the content but understands how the text communicates the content.  In his chapter on the priority of the text, Bryan Chapell writes that “we determine literary context both by analyzing the concepts that surround a biblical statement and by identifying the type of literature in which the statement occurs.”[1]  Chapell is arguing for preachers to interpret a sermon text through contextual exegesis.  As vital as that is hermeneutically, a well-done genre-specific sermon goes further: it adapts the sermonic structure to match the communicative ways a biblical author is making his point.  In a way, it envisions what a sermon would look like if the biblical author were preaching a sermon on his very own text in our day.  Therefore, current homiletical research is emphasizing not simply preaching, but narrative preaching, exhortatory preaching, apocalyptic preaching, parabolic preaching, prophetic preaching, and so forth.

Unfortunately, some who emphasize the literary beauty of a text do so because of a lower view of the integrity or inspiration of the text.  While Thomas Long’s book below is a classic text on this subject, he is such an example.  However, we don’t need to entirely throw out the blessings of genre-specific preaching, either.  Mark Paustian has previously advocated for appreciating the literary beauty of the Old Testament, and his dissertation below has demonstrated how we in confessional Lutheranism can both analyze a literary text and assert its full inspiration.

The Charles Simeon Trust is devoted to furthering genre-specific preaching.  While its resources need to be read critically, it has helpful podcasts and articles on preaching various genres.  Some will be highlighted in future articles, as well as some examples of preaching in our own circles.  More to come shortly on apocalyptic and narrative texts, two genres featured more prominently in Christian Worship: Supplement.

Books: Thomas Long, Preaching and the Literary Forms of the Bible

Mark Paustian: “The Beauty with the Veil” (cf. esp. pg. 77-81, “Values for Rhetorical Study,” and pg. 95-98, “A hermeneutic of ‘what’ and ‘how’”)

Website/Podcasts: Charles Simeon Trust

Rev. Jacob Haag serves at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Ann Arbor, MI and on the Michigan District Commission on Worship.  He is currently pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree with a concentration in homiletics.

[1] Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 78.  Emphasis in the original.