Home > Uncategorized > Proper, Biblical “Parenesis” — What Is it and Where Has it Gone in Lutheran Preaching?

Proper, Biblical “Parenesis” — What Is it and Where Has it Gone in Lutheran Preaching?

September 14th, 2012
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OK, I know, that word “parenesis” is one of those big “pastor words,” let me explain. It is pronounced “pair-uh-knee-sis,” by the way. What does it mean? Here is how a reference work defines it:

Greek παραίνεσις/paraínesis (from παραινέω/parainéō) means “advice, counsel, exhortation.” Among the Stoics, the term can be used for the part of philosophy that hortatively expounds the practical conclusions of their teaching (Sen. Ep. 95.1). (” Parenesis.” Religion Past and Present. Edited by Hans Dieter Betz, Don S. Browning, Bernd Janowski and , Eberhard Jüngel. Brill Online , 2012. Reference. 14 September 2012). Source.

Let me give you some examples from the Bible of what Christian parenesis is, what it “sounds like” when you bump into this kind of “advice, counsel and exhortation” in the Scriptures.

Just click on these links and you will read beautiful parenesis:

Phil 4:5-7; Matt 6:25; Prov 16:3; 1 Cor 7:32; Psalm 37:5 etc . etc. etc.

There are debates that continue to ebb and flow over whether or not sermons should ever conclude with “the law” and since, as the theory goes being advocated by some, anything that commands something of us, or demands something of us, or exhorts us to do something, is “law,” and because the “law always accuses,” as our Lutheran Confessions clearly assert, no sermon should ever end with “the law” or else people will only hear the accusing Law and the Gospel preached will somehow be overwhelmed, clouded, obscured, or otherwise set to the side because of the fact that “the law” has been used to end the sermon. That’s the theory.

I’ve even had pastors tell me, as recently as a day or two ago, that the sermons of the Church Fathers, Martin Luther, and CFW Walther were simply wrong, because they often end a sermon with “the law.” Seriously, I’m not making this up. There such fear of being “like the Evangelicals,” whose sermons give clear, practical advice and exhortation to Christian believers, to a degree that often leaves the Gospel behind, that some counter this problem by thinking they should not do it at all, or only very little, or without any intentionality in their sermons.

It is undeniable that thoughout the Scriptures there is plenty of “parenesis” and if we read that only as a word of Law that exposes our sin we are, to be blunt, misinterpreting the Holy Scriptures. It’s just that simple. It is therefore clearly wrong to assert that a sermon should either never include specific Christian parenesis, or never end with it. That is simply, and quite entirely, completely wrong. Jesus does it. St. Paul does it. The Psalmist does it. In other words, God Himself, does it. So preachers should not hesitate to do it.

I’m not saying that every sermon has to end with it, of course. But the problem in some Lutheran preaching today that is averse to doing it is that the sermon simply, at the end, falls into a fairly predictable pattern and ends up always being a lecture on justification by grace alone, through faith alone, regardless of what happens to be in the actual text theoretically being used as the basis for a sermon. Text become pretext for yet another, usually all too brief, 10-12 minute, little pulpit chat. Lay people notice this and notice “something” is missing from sermons like this. And they are not wrong.

Here’s the bottom line, as far as I’m concerned.

The Holy Scriptures, the Lutheran Confessions, the Church Fathers, including our specifically Lutheran Church Fathers … none of these sources ever avoid parenesis in preaching.

Whence, then, this odd departure from the entire consensus of the Holy Scriptures, the Lutheran Confessions, and the great consensus of the Church’s teachers, preachers and theologians?

What is the source of this misunderstanding? I haven’t quite figured it out yet.

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  1. September 14th, 2012 at 08:34 | #1

    My penny’s worth: one the one hand, a reactionary mindset that defines everything in contradistinction to the problems and heresies of others. Papists cross themselves – so I won’t. Benny Hinn claims to heal by the Holy Spirit, so I won’t do any praying and anointing for healing. And mainstream Protestants mine the Scriptures for practical principles and advice, so I won’t say anything that sounds like practical advice.

    On the other hand, a falsely dogmatic approach to practical theology, where slogans and principles drive our practice instead of the Scriptures. The Law/Gospel distinction becomes a tyrant and the only rule for the pastor’s speaking.

    I’m just glad that, apart from the occasional antinomian, the fathers of the church, pre- and post-Reformation, were dim enough not to have cottoned on to all this, bless their ignorant cotton socks.

    Now, if someone would produce a Lutheran reader’s edition of the NT letters to fix the rampant Law/Gospel confusion in the teaching of the blessed apostles, then all will be well.

    This sort of stuff is stifling preaching both in your good fatherland and also on this side of the pond.

    • September 14th, 2012 at 08:45 | #2

      What? This is happening in my ancestral fatherland, Ireland? I was not aware that: a) There were any Lutherans in Ireland; and b) that if there are, it is a problem there too.

      SHOCKING.

      : )

  2. September 14th, 2012 at 08:48 | #3

    And don’t just take it from me. Here is what the apostle Paul told Titus to preach and to teach in Crete:

    1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Saviour;

    4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith:

    Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour.

    5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

    10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.

    15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

    2 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behaviour, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. 6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. 9 Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.

    11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

    15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

    3 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarrelling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy towards all people. 3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. 9 But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

    12 When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. 13 Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. 14 And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.

    15 All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith.

    Grace be with you all.

    • September 14th, 2012 at 08:56 | #4

      Tapani, I had had pastors tell me, point blank, without blinking an eye, that St. Paul’s letters are letters, they are not sermons, therefore, they are not to be used as sermon material. I’m NOT making this up. I’m deadly serious.

  3. September 14th, 2012 at 09:07 | #5

    Even if that were true (and I don’t believe it is), when it comes to Titus, Paul is telling Titus what he is to teach and to preach. “Teach”, “declare, exhort, rebuke”, “insist”, “let our people learn”. If Titus isn’t a sermon, then it’s the nearest thing to a homiletics lecture. If that still doesn’t have practical application today, then Scripture doesn’t have practical application today.

    As for Ireland, the very edge of the Old World, there is a Lutheran congregation in Dublin, but it doesn’t have many Irish members as far as I know. Whereas over here on the island of Great Britain, things are little cheerier (what’s new? It’s not for nothing your forebears left with a good part of the rest of the population).

  4. WMCwirla
    September 14th, 2012 at 10:49 | #6

    The source of this problem is very simple: The old Adam refuses to die and does not wish to be instructed.

    • September 14th, 2012 at 10:54 | #7

      The source of this problem is pastors holding to non-Biblical, non-Confessional and hence, non-Lutheran ideas about parenesis and preaching.

      Maybe that’s what you meant.

  5. September 14th, 2012 at 11:39 | #8

    Another verse to add: We all love “All Scripture is inspired by God…”, but the Apostle does not stop there, as we tend to do. He tells us what is a main purpose of all the inspired Scripture: “….and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”(1 Timothy 3: 16-17)

    • September 14th, 2012 at 11:46 | #9

      Sadly, you would think point would be obvious, clear and easy to understand, but I’ve continued to read pastors doing a lot of mental gymnastics to explain their way out of the obvious!

  6. Jonathan Rupprecht
    September 14th, 2012 at 19:55 | #10

    Thank you for making this point, Paul. The problem you describe might be called a new form of the old “Gospel reductionism”. Have these people ever read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount? Almost all law! By volume, the NT is heavily weighted toward Law; and then you have the OT! Yes, you would think that the correct approach here would be obvious, but . . .

  7. jb
    September 15th, 2012 at 17:48 | #11

    Truth is . . .

    If we follow Luther’s lead and preach Law and Gospel INTO our folks the whole sermon long, an exhortation/parenesis just prior to the “Amen” is meet, right and salutary.

    After all, the Gospel is supposed to accomplish something, right? No wrong in presenting what that accomplishment might be, and we might be derelict in our task if we do not.

    Pax

  8. September 15th, 2012 at 18:10 | #12

    Since we’re talking parenesis here, Jonathan, I exhort you to stop looking at the Bible in terms of sections and of quantity. Everything in the Bible is an organic whole. Further, the Gospel predominates in the Bible as well as in all those sections you named. It would be sad indeed if the Bible were weighted toward the Law; we’d be no better off than without it. As Paul (McCain) quoted from the Confessions, “the Law always accusses.” (Not only, but always.) We need the Gospel and we need it predominantly (and to be clear I’m not necessarily saying in quantity).

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