Mid-Winter Convocation

Engaging Scripture for the Sake of the World
with Heart, Mind and Spirit
Jan. 14-16, 2009
Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.

Purchase audio CDs of keynote presentations and panel discussion

Workshop Summaries

View workshop summaries written by student participants.

ViewVideo from the 2009 Event

The following videos are from the major presentations from the 2009 Mid-winter Convocation. To listen to these video archives, you will need to download and install the free Flash Player.

Chapel - Karoline Lewis, preaching

Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009

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Keynote - Terence Fretheim

Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009

God's relationship to the world by means of natural disaster is a topic for the front burner. In an age where Christianity continues to seek innovative means of drawing others into Christian faith, Dr. Terence Fretheim points out how this issue ignites many conflicts, often hindering the mission of the church. Fretheim takes up the stories of the great flood and Job, both examples of natural disaster intertwined with the divine will.

These stories cause Fretheim to bring up very human questions, asking, "If our God cares so much for all creatures, why didn't God create a world where there were no natural disasters?" and "One is given to wonder why such a world is called good. Can 'good' include natural disasters?"

Fretheim works through these questions and more in his plenary. Watch the complete video to see Fretheim's interpretation of these questions:

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Keynote - Walter Brueggemann

Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009

Brueggemann begins with "that majestic theme" of the Bible and its gospel discussed for the sake of the world. His focus is on the Exodus narrative, which often gives readers pause to wonder why this passage is an important piece of salvation history. Brueggemann wonders, "Can you get a rule out of the story?"

Brueggemann quotes scripture from Exodus. Pharaoh commands more bricks and, as Brueggemann points out, in business these quotas are a farce. Once you meet quota, the quota increases. The workload increases until exhaustion and failure.

To see Brueggemann's interpretation of how the pharaoh's commands for bricks bring forth a rule that can relate to life today, view the video of his plenary session:

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Greg Mortenson, Three Cups of Tea

Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009

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Chapel - Rolf Jacobson, preaching

Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009

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Keynote - Terence Fretheim

Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009

"Job's Suffering, Natural Disasters and the Will of God," Terry Fretheim

In the face of tsunamis, hurricanes, forest fires, earthquakes and other natural disasters that damage the planet and its creatures, what can we say about God? Fretheim takes a look back at the creation story and the story of Job for clues to the nature of God's relationship with the world.

Human suffering from natural disasters is part of the price of living in God's created world, Fretheim says. Yet the Bible tells us that the world as God created it - natural disasters and all - is good.

What do natural disasters say about God's relationship with us? Fretheim tackles this question in his Thursday plenary:

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Keynote - Walter Brueggemann

Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009

"Holiness as Ground for Knowing Mercy," Walter Brueggemann

Brueggemann plays the role of storyteller as he uses the book of Daniel to paint a picture of God's faithfulness. Brueggemann posits that Daniel could be so bold because he took care to preserve himself as God had instructed him.

Relating the story to today's society, Brueggemann says we face a crisis of easy accommodation that pulls us away from God and his mercy. "In our world there is an ideology of consumerism, of insecurity, that these other things will make us well. It would not hurt us to ask, 'What kind of food does the empire offer us? What are we nourishing ourselves with today?'"

To see how Brueggeman relates the story of Daniel to God's faithfulness and mercy, view his complete plenary session:

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Panel Discussion - Fretheim and Brueggemann

Friday, Jan. 16, 2009

During the final discussion panel, the major theme of the questions is, "What does God have to do with me?"

The first question raised wonders about the relationship to and experience of God to our living in this dangerous and messy world. "How do you see the role of God in any way as being exceptional, where God intervenes and seeks to affect some purpose?" For this question and others, Fretheim and Brueggemann respond carefully and thoughtfully on the theme of human agency and God's presence in the world.

To see Brueggemann and Fretheim tie together questions about God's presence in the world, view the video of the Friday panel discussion: 

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Chapel - Kathryn Schifferdecker

Friday, Jan. 16, 2009 

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Workshop Summaries


Moral Decision Making and the Bible
Dr. Amy Marga, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology

Dr. Amy Marga, assistant professor of systematic theology, conducted a workshop that studied various passages in Scripture that offer a moral claim or carry moral weight in human decision making.

There are a variety of means of decision making, both in the time the Scripture was written and in today's world. The purpose of the workshop was to aide in interpretation of the moral claims drawn from the pages of Scripture.

How does the Bible speak to the expectations of moral living and decision making today? From the violent commands of annihilation to simple dietary laws, and examples of times to rejoice and times to help one's neighbor, Scripture is rich with possibility in guiding Christian's moral decisions.

In order to further study passages of moral living and decision making, consider the following passages. While doing so, think of the moral claims you can draw for your life through study of these Scripture passages:

  • Romans 5:6-8
  • 1 Corinthians 1:20
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17-18

Who's My Neighbor?
Dr. Mary Sue Dreier, Associate Professor of Congregational Mission and Leadership

Who is my neighbor? This is the question congregations and individuals need to be asking themselves as we take a closer look at just who Jesus calls us to serve and engage in the world around us.

This workshop further built on the concept of "neighbor" by considering how congregations might partner with God in the public realm, connecting to and caring for the communities in which God has placed them.

Tips from Mary Sue Dreier, associate professor of congregational mission and leadership, include:

  • Begin to discover how our church might best serve the needs of the community.
  • Utilize the unique skills and experiences of individuals.
  • Work to reconstruct new attitudes and beliefs about the abilities of the church.
  • Work to reconstruct new attitudes and beliefs about the needs of the community.

Isaiah's Environmental Impact Statements: The Effect on the Earth of God's Judgment and God's Mercy
Dr. Fred Gaiser,  professor of Old Testament and editor of Word & World

"For environmentalists, the human has often been seen as the enemy," said Fred Gaiser, professor of Old Testament, "and so has the message of Genesis 1."

Gaiser's workshop looked at how Isaiah, the Psalmists and other Old Testament texts addressed environmental issues. Gaiser acknowledged that the Genesis command to "subdue the earth" has often been used to justify exploitation of natural resources, but other biblical texts (e.g. Psalms 72 and 148) make such a reading impossible.

Similarly, the frequent observations that human activity and God's responses to it result in either the praise or laments of creation show that God is concerned for all his works, not merely humans or their souls.

The human is part of creation and has the ability to make things worse (Isaiah 24:5) or better (Psalm 84:6) for the environment. God's goal is to restore all creatures (Isaiah 35:1-7), not to "save" humans apart from the world.

For further reading, Gaiser suggests the Winter 2008 issue of Word & World, titled "In the Wake of the Beagle: Faith after Darwin." The articles discuss environmental issues and other matters relating to faith and science.

To read this issue, go to http://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/.


Hearing and Engaging the Bible in the American Context
Dr. Mark Granquist, visiting professor of church history

Part of hearing the message of Scripture depends on knowing the cultural filters through which Scripture is read. During his workshop, Granquist explored the two primary worlds of the New Testament:

  • The agrarian/village/peasant culture that is the backdrop for much of the Gospels
  • The urban Greco-Roman culture in which Paul lives and travels

Granquist examined a variety of passages to demonstrate how ancient concepts like honor, shame, purity and status give the text deeper meaning.

Granquist recommends the following passages for further examination:

  • Matthew 5:1-12; 15:21-28; 18:1-5
  • Mark 6:1-6
  • Luke 14:25-27; 16:1-9
  • John 5:2-15
  • Romans 7:14-25

When reading these passages, think of the challenge Granquist gave to workshop participants:

"When we read the texts we need to ask, "What are the most significant ways our 21st century world differs from this time? We need to try and anticipate and be very cautious about the variety of ways in which our American context affects us. If you can find that interpretive key you can really unlock the Scripture and expose the word in ways the world needs to hear it."


Whatever Happened to Christian Art?
Richard Caemmerer, Director Emeritus of the Gr�newald Guild
Dr. Sarah Henrich, Professor of New Testament

What are the three biggest changes since 1850 that have impacted us? This was the question that Sarah Henrich, professor of New Testament, and Richard Caemmerer, emeritus director of the Gr�newald Guild, began their workshop by asking. Answers included:

  • Speed
  • Technology
  • Charles Darwin
  • Sigmund Freud
  • The redefining of community
  • The experience of light
  • How we see and know each other.
  • Change of color

All of these things, and the many other changes that have impacted us since the Industrial Revolution, give us the context in which we experience art. As Henrich and Caemmerer pointed out, Christian art was once in churches, we now see it mostly in museums and galleries. Simple things such a difference in lighting can make a huge impact on how we view the art.

So, what makes art Christian? Does art need to be Christian in order to be biblical? And does art need to be biblical in order to be Christian?

Examples used by Henrich were those of a firefighter on Sept. 11, 2001 or of the Oklahoma City bombing. She asked, "Are these Christian?"

Henrich explained that three aspects need to be in play for art to be Christian—the logos (message/content), ethos (those being communicated to) and the pathos (the reality of the speaker). She explained that the same message can sound different to different people and different by different people.

"My vision might not be the same as yours. There are differences among us as individuals and cultures," she said.
Henrich provided a list of pieces to study for the purpose of her workshop.

To learn more about Christian art, Henrich suggests the Web site for Christians in the Visual Arts, www.civa.org.


Hearing Creation's Voice in Scripture
Dr. Kathryn Schifferdecker, Assistant Professor of Old Testament

God speaks and things happen. Scripture often focuses on how God's word resulted in the emergence of creation: grass and trees, giraffe and hippopotamus, man and woman appear at God's bidding. But what is the response of all creation?

Kathryn Schifferdecker, assistant professor of Old Testament, began with Genesis 1-2 and broke into a treasure hunt through all of Scripture to find accounts of creation responding to the Creator God.

Schifferdecker points to the response of the non-human creation, singing the praise and glory of God, that human beings might learn from the rest of creation to praise God, who gives the gift of life.

While in Genesis 1 humans are given the command to subdue the land and have dominion, this is not a statement of war on created things. Instead, Schifferdecker points to this command as a promise, and as a summons to rule as God rules, with self-giving love. The keeping and tilling of the earth (Genesis 2:15) is a blessing; the Hebrew word for "to till" can also mean "to serve."

It is the work of humanity to serve God by serving and keeping creation. In doing so, humanity allows the voice of creation to cry out with joy and praise to its creator.

Schifferdecker points to these passages for further reflection on ways to hear creation's voice in Scripture:

  • Psalm 96, 98, 104 and 148
  • Job 38-41

Biblical Preaching for the Sake of the World
Dr. Karoline Lewis, Assistant Professor of Biblical Preaching

One might think of the phrase "biblical preaching" as redundant. After all, isn't all preaching biblical? "Not so," said Karoline Lewis, assistant professor of biblical preaching, "for there is certainly preaching that is not biblical, preaching that leaves the text behind."

What is authentic biblical preaching? Lewis suggested four different aspects:

  • Incarnational: John 1:14 reads, "The Word became flesh and lived among us." Biblical preaching does the same, incarnating the Word of God into people's lives.
  • Textual: To preach a good biblical sermon requires knowing the text! Preachers must pay attention to the details of a text, and to how a text communicates its message, not just what the message is. These elements can then be incorporated into sermons themselves, ensuring that they remain true to the text.
  • Contextual: Biblical preaching requires knowing the text as well as the larger narrative the text is in. Preachers can then use the greater whole to interpret the smaller part.
  • Situational: The Bible was not written for the purpose of communicating timeless truths, but more for particular communities with particular needs. Biblical preachers keep this in mind, asking themselves, "What need within the community am I addressing in this sermon?"

For help with preparing biblically-based sermons, Lewis recommends www.WorkingPreacher.org, a Web site created by Luther Seminary's Center for Biblical Preaching.


Broken Hallelujahs: Exploring the Bible in Pop Music
Dr. Christian Scharen, Assistant Professor of Worship

Christian Scharen, assistant professor of worship, reframed the Convocation theme of "starting with Scripture for the sake of the world" to "starting with the world for the sake of the church." The best way to do this is to examine the songs and lyrics that shape the world's language of faith.

"Pop music is always a broken hallelujah, an oblique prayer," he said. "There are many people who can no longer buy the orthodoxy of Christianity, but who still crave the transcendence found in faith. They want to sing 'hallelujah,' but they're not sure if they can."

References to scriptural texts and concepts can be found in songs of every genre, from folk to rock, country to hip-hop. As part of Scharen's workshop, participants analyzed the implicit and explicit religious themes of songs like Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and the Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready to Make Nice."

Scharen said he often finds a disconnect between what he hears in church and what he hears in the world. Through popular music, he said, "We can start with what's going on outside the congregation" and find a common language of faith.

What disconnects have you found between what you hear in the church and in the world? Consider the following pop culture songs for small-group discussion:

  • "Jesus Walks," Kanye West
  • "Beautiful Day," U2
  • "Galileo," Indigo Girls
  • "Wake Up," Arcade Fire
  • "The Last Carnival," Bruce Springsteen

Scharen recommends the following resources for further study:

  • "A Song to Sing, A Life to Live: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice," Don and Emily Saliers (Jossey Bass, 2006)
  • "Music and Theology," Don Sailers (Abingdon, 2007)
  • "One Step Closer: Why U2 Matter to Those Seeking God" (Brazos, 2006) and "Broken Hallelujahs: Pop Culture, Imagination and God" (Brazos, 2009)