Guelich Carefully Exegetes the Sermon on the Mount, Part 1


Robert Guelich The Sermon on the MountGuelich Carefully Exegetes the Sermon on the Mount, Part 1

Robert A. Guelich. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount:  A Foundation for Understanding.  Dallas:  Word Publishing. (Go to part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Sermon on the Mount is a surprisingly oblique, but self-contained, section in Matthew’s Gospel spanning from chapter 5 through verse 8:1. In the sermon, Jesus presents a kind of ordination service for the Apostles with crowds in the background looking on. What does he tell them?  What are his priorities? How are we to interpret what is said?


In his commentary, The Sermon on the Mount, Robert  Guelich starts by recognizing the enormity of the task, but lays out his reason for writing with these words:

Yet the absence of an extensive, critical, exegetical commentary in nearly four decades of biblical studies despite the vast literature on the Sermon provides both an opportunity and a need in New Testament (NT) studies (11).

Because NT scholarship is written both in German and English, Guelich’s studies in the U.S., Scotland, and Germany—his doctorate is from the University of Hamburg—suggests he has good preparation to write such a commentary[1].  At the time he wrote, Guelich was a professor of NT at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Literature Review

Guelich’s literature review (14-22) is relatively brief but includes some interesting points.  Citing Kissenger, Guelich notes that in early church (Ante-Nicene) writings chapters 5-7 of Matthew are cited more frequently than any other 3 chapters in the Bible (14).  Augustine was likely the first to use the term, Sermon on the Mount (15).  In his book, Summa, Thomas Aquinas distinguishes between “counsels” and “commandments” (advice versus obligation) placing Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon under “counsels” (15).  Luther preached a series of sermons on the Sermon focused on “polemics against the papists” (16) while Calvin’s primary interest was on Jesus’ interpretation of law (17).  Guelich describes Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship as one of the better known treatments of the Sermon which, of course, focused on what disciples should do rather than on theological interpretation [2].


Guelich’s commentary is written in 10 chapters, including:

  1. Introduction (pages 13-40);
  2. The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 4:23-5:2; 41-60);
  3. The Gospel of the Kingdom (Matt 5:3-12; 62-112);
  4. The Role of Discipleships (Matt 5:13-16; 119-131);
  5. Jesus and the Law (Matt 5:17-20; 134-170);
  6. The Greater Righteousness (Matt 5:21-48; 175-265);
  7. On Doing Righteousness (Matt 6:1-18; 272-316);
  8. The Life of Prayer (Matt 6:19-7:12; 321-379);
  9. The Narrow Gate (Matt 7:13-27; 382-411); and
  10. Epilogue (Matt 7:28-29; 414-419).

These chapters are preceded by a brief preface and followed by a bibliography and indices of authors and scriptural passages.  The Beatitudes, which appear in Matthew 5:3-11, are treated primarily in chapter 3.

Let me turn briefly to the questions mentioned above.

What does Jesus tell them?

Guelich (36-39) breaks the sermon into 3 parts:  the Beatitudes, admonitions, and warnings. He sees the Beatitudes serving as a theological introduction expanded on in the admonitions and warnings of Matthew 5:17-7:27. Guelich sees the admonitions ending with the Golden rule in Matthew 7:12.  The warnings then follow in 7:13-27.  Ironically, the Lord’s Prayer appears among the admonitions in Matthew 6 and he sees the prayer providing structure to the remainder of the chapter and the first 12 verses of Matthew 7.

What are Jesus’ priorities?

Jesus is addressing the Apostles to inaugurate his vision for discipleship in the new age of the Kingdom of Heaven, summarized especially in Isaiah 61 (37):

“…the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion…” (Isa 61:1-3 ESV)

These priorities are captured in the Beatitudes.  They are credible, in part, because they appear almost verbatim in Luke 4:17-20 where Jesus gives his “call” sermon.

How are we to interpret what Jesus said?

Guelich describes his interpretation method as “critical, historical” commentary. He writes:

“…this commentary offers a critical exegesis in that it makes use of the literary and historical critical tools include text, source, form, tradition, redaction, and structural criticism”. (23)

Guelich’s skill as an interpreter is reflected in the wide range of critical methods that he employs.  For example, he carefully distinguishes 3 sources in Matthew’s Gospel: Q materials appearing in Matthew and Luke; Matthew’s redaction (things attributable only to Matthew); and other NT sources, such as Mark.  This careful inventory of sources provides Guelich the ability to infer author intent and other things when discussing particular Gospel writers.  He sees the end of the Sermon (Matt 7:28) being borrowed from Mark 1:22 and the prelude to the Sermon (Matt 4:23-5:2) appearing at Mark 1:39 (414-415).  This insight places the Sermon early in Jesus’ ministry.


Robert Guelich’s commentary, The Sermon on the Mount, is one of the most carefully written and interesting commentaries that I have ever read.  In part 2, I will focus in more depth on particular issues that he raises.


[1] Guelich’s BS is from Wheaton College, his MS from the University of Illinois, and S.T.B. is from Fuller Theological Seminary.  He has done post-graduate studies at University of Aberdeen (UK) and the University of Tübingen.

[2] See my review of the Cost of Discipleship at:   Bonhoeffer’s Nachfolge:  Following After Christ (

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The Beatitudes

Life_in_Tension_web“Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 2:11-12 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Beatitudes appear in both Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospel immediately after Jesus calls his disciples [1]. In Matthew, we are given the impression that this is an early point in Jesus’ public ministry because chapter 4 occurs right after Jesus’ baptism and starts with his temptation in desert. Furthermore, Jesus’ teaching in chapter 4 sounds a bit like John the Baptist: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 4:17 ESV) Only three verses summarize Jesus’ ministry after calling the disciples (Matt 4:23-25) [2]. In Luke, our impression is a later point in Jesus’ ministry because Jesus’ life is threatened after he heals a man with a withered man on the Sabbath (Luke 6:7-11). In either case, the Beatitudes appear as a special sermon in a commissioning service for his disciples. The disciples’ call to follow Jesus is a call to share in his life of ministry. Jesus tells them: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt 4:19 ESV)

Sharing in Jesus’ life is, however, is also to share in his suffering.

This message is clear both from the content of the Beatitudes, but also in the content of Jesus’ life. From the point of conception and birth, Jesus’ life is threatened. Divine intervention is required twice to keep his family together and to escape from the murderous King Herod (Matt 1:18-25; 2:1-13). In ministry, Jesus is baptized by John who is himself arrested and later beheaded (Matt 4:12; 14:10). Summarizing this point, Bonhoeffer (1995, 89) writes: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die.” In so many words, the disciples are being commissioned in the Beatitudes to take up a life and ministry characterized by tension. We know that the disciples got this point because 10 of the 11 faithful disciples died a martyr’s death (Fox and Chadwick 2001, 10).

The Beatitudes take their name from the Latin translation, beati, of the Greek word, makarios (μακάριος), which Jesus repeats 9 times. It means “humans privileged recipient of divine favor”. It can also mean: “favored, blessed, fortunate, happy, privileged” (BDAG 4675, 2, 2a) In the Bible, repetition always implies emphasis. Twice is emphasis; 3 times is highly emphatic; 9 times is seriously emphatic and unprecedented—a string of pearls [3].  Reinforcing these repetitions, Matthew pictures Jesus as the new Moses issuing law on a mountain, while Luke cites both blessings and curses (woes) patterned after the law itself in Deuteronomy 28.

Jesus’ repeated use of the Greek word, Makarios, is hardly an accident. In the Greek Old Testament, Makarios appears in the first verse of Psalm 1:

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2 ESV)

This is a clear call to holiness as defined in God’s law.  It also appears to 2 significant Messianic texts: Psalm 2 and Isaiah 30. The immediate context of Psalm 2, cited above, calls on the faithful to serve the king while he is in good humor, but begins with an ominous warning: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” (Psalm 2:1 ESV) Clearly, not everyone is excited to see the King! Immediately after the cite in Isaiah 30, God makes an interesting promise for those that wait for him: “And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.” (Isaiah 30:20 ESV) The Hebrew word for teacher has a second meaning—early rain [4]. In a dry region like Israel, early rain is itself a blessing. Both citations speak of tension—Psalm 2 refers to political tension and Isaiah 30 refers to adversity and affliction.  By contrast, Psalm 1 pictures integration (the opposite of tension) with ourselves, with others, and with God through obedience to God’s law [5].

In commissioning the disciples, Jesus gives them more than your typical pep talk to sales associates; he redefined what honor means (Neyrey 1998, 164). In the extreme case, he re-framed dishonor in the world as honorable in his eyes. Jesus said:

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:11-12 ESV)

In other words, heavenly rewards follow from earthly persecution. And, oh, by the way, you are not the first to be persecuted.


[1] The calling of the disciples occurs in Luke 6:13-16 and Matthew 4:18-22. The Beatitudes follow in Luke 6:20-26 and Matthew 5:3-12.

[2] Guelich (1984,42) describes these three verses as a summary of Jesus’ ministry explained in more detail in the Gospel of Mark.

[3]  The term, a string of pearls, refers to Ben Azzai, a second century Rabbi (Stangler and Tverberg 2009, 43).

[4] ( מוֹרֶיךָ (Isa 30:20 WTT)).

[5] Elliott (2006, 90) observes that “the morality of the emotion is determined by its object.” If the object of our love is God, then we are not only blessed but also morally righteous in the Hebrew mindset.


Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1995. The Cost of Discipleship (Orig. pub. 1937). New York: Simon and Schuster.

Elliott, Matthew A. 2006. Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel.

Fox, John and Harold J. Chadwick. 2001. The New Foxes’ Book of Martyrs (Orig Pub 1563). Gainsville, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers.

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Spangler, Ann and Lois Tverberg. 2009.  Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus:  How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

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Tension with God

Life_in_Tension_web“if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The idea of tension with God comes as surprise to many Christians.  Three reasons stand out:

  1. A focus on the humanity of Christ and off of the divinity of Christ leaves many Christians ignorant of the urgings of the Holy Spirit;
  2. A focus on conversion and off of sanctification—the process of nurturing our faith—leaves many Christians living secular lifestyles; and
  3. Ignorance of sin blinds us to our true selves in Christ, to our neighbors, and to God.

Robbed of the power of God in their lives, Christians are lulled into believing in a kind of tension-free, ersatz Christianity that presumably insulates them from the problems of life.  When life’s problems arise, they are then angry with God and their ersatz Christianity provides no substantive guidance for dealing with it.  Many leave the church and return later—if at all—in a casket.  Got tension?

Humanity versus Divinity of Christ. Our secular society has no trouble with Jesus’ humanity, but his divinity is repeatedly questioned. If Christ is only human, then his authority shrinks to that of an interesting teacher or story teller.  Christian claims on society shrink to that simply of another interest group.  Conversion amounts to nothing more than being convinced to join a religious club and sanctification need not be taken seriously.  Clearly, if Christ is not divine, then there is no point in reading further.

Conversion versus Sanctification. Over the centuries, sincere Christian leaders have debated this question of conversion versus sanctification. For example, Jonathan Edwards, thought by many to have been the great American theologian of all time, was dismissed by his Northhampton church in 1750 for advocating that members have personal relationship with Jesus [1]. The question addressed here, however, is different. Once one has avoided the pitfalls of ersatz Christianity and seriously begins a disciple’s journey with Christ, how could there still be tension with God?

This is not a trivial question.  I remember at one point posing this question to a dear friend who is a Charismatic leader and who is experienced in deliverance ministry.  My question was—how could it be true that a Christian could experience spiritual oppression?

As it turns out, this is exactly the problem faced by the Prophet Job. Scripture describes Job as a man:  “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (Job 1:1 ESV) Still, God tells Satan: “Behold, all that he [Job] has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” (Job 1:12 ESV)  Do you think that Job felt spiritual oppression?  Do you think Satan’s afflictions created tension between Job and God?

The life of the Apostle Paul is also instructive.  When God told Ananias to go and baptize Saul, he questioned God’s intentions.  “But the Lord said to him, Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15-16 ESV)  Paul was essentially called as a Christian and an Apostle to the gentiles to suffer for the Name.  Do you think Paul’s calling created tension in his life, with others, and with God?  Paul himself described the life he gave up as a Rabbi and a Jew as rubbish (Phil 3:8) compared to what he gained as a believer. Still, he met every sort of affliction during his ministry [2].

Ignorance of Sin. Even a hardened atheist needs to worry about sin.  Sin can be: (1) doing evil, (2) breaking a law, or (3) failing to do good.  Sin cuts us off from ourselves, from our neighbors and from God leading to tensions in all three dimensions. Ignoring sin is like driving too fast on an icy road or throwing dirty sand in your gas tank—it can hurt others and messes everything up.

God’s forgiveness through Christ sets us right with God and may help relieve our guilt, but does not reverse the effects of sin on our person and on others. God can forgive the murderer, for example, but that does not bring the dead person back to life or relieve the perpetrator of punishment under law. A selfish person acting impulsively tenses up many people’s lives and it is ignorant of God.

Tension with God arises is no different that tension in any human relationship.  Avoiding sin, which cuts us off from God, has the effect of opening up communication channels and allows us to perceive the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  In this way, sanctification can proceed.  Still, transformation—pursuing godliness—involves sacrifice and pain [3].  The ebb and flow of our attention to God brings tension, in part, because we are not always anxious to step out in faith to embrace transformation.  In this sense, our tension with God is transformative [4].

Jesus offers blessings for disciples who faithfully pursue godliness:

  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
  • Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
  • Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matt 5:6-8 ESV)

Notice how these blessings follow from modeling our lives after attributes of God himself—righteousness, mercy, and holiness—to become pure in heart.  This is the heart of the new covenant in Christ.


[1] Noll (2002, 45) writes: “The dismissal occurred when Edwards abandoned his grandfather Stoddard’s practice of open communion and instead began to insist that candidates for church membership (and the privilege of communion) offer a convincing statement of saving faith”.

[2]  “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one– I am talking like a madman– with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (2 Cor 11:23-28 ESV)

[3] For a detailed discussion of godliness, see Bridges (1996).

[4] Paraphrasing Kierkegaard, Benner (1998, 78-79) writes that ”self is the synthesis of elements that are, and will always be, in opposition to each other…true selfhood is only possible by being grounded in God”. In other words, we find ourselves only in the transformation process brought about by our relationship with God.


Benner, David G. 1998. Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Bridges, Jerry. 1996. The Practice of Godliness. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Noll, Mark A. 2002.  America’s God:  From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln.  New York:  Oxford University Press.

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Tension Within Ourselves

Life_in_Tension_web“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Rom 7:15 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

We are the best fed generation of all time and most pampered people on the face of the earth. Yet, suicide has reached epidemic proportions among both our young people and senior citizens. Author Max Lucado (2012, 5) observed: “ordinary children today are more fearful than psychiatric patients were in the 1950s.”

Why? One answer is that we are isolated from ourselves. Henri Nouwen (2010, 89) writes: “We live in a society in which loneliness has become one of the most painful human wounds.”  We are strangers to ourselves and the person that God created us to be.

Psychiatrists talk about rumination. Psychiatric patients obsess about traumatic events in their past. Such obsessions can be about the slightest little thing, real or imaged. Rumination becomes a problem because of repetition—daily or even hourly obsession with this memory. Because psychiatric patients have trouble distinguishing reality and illusion, each repetition is remembered as a separate, very real event. A single occurrence of parental discipline at age 8 could be remembered as a daily or evenly constant beating by age 20 and evoke rage when remembered.

Magnified in this way, normal relationships become strained. Time and emotional energy focused on this rumination displaces and slows normal emotional development because the patient was busy ruminating and has not devoted that energy to other, more pressing life issues like being fully present at school and in relationships. The ruminator becomes isolated from those around them and from themselves.

The thing of it is, we all ruminate. We all daydream; we all isolate ourselves from other people; and we all do it substantially more than other generations. The ever-present earphone with music, the television always on, the constant texting, the game program played every waking hour, and the work we never set aside all function to keep dreary thoughts from entering our heads having the same effect as rumination [1]. We are distracted every waking hour from processing our thoughts and from dealing with our emotions. Much like addicts, we never reflect on our condition. We become anxious and annoyed when we must actually are forced to tune into our own lives—a kind of escalation [3].  Rumination, stress addiction, and other obsessions have become mainstream lifestyles that leave us fearful even to be alone [2].

Jesus understands. He said:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matt 11:28-30 ESV)

Sabbath rest, prayer, and forgiveness all work to break rumination by encouraging us to reflect on our past, present, and future in Christ and by refusing to let sin hold our relationships with God and our neighbors hostage.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus addresses disciples and says that we will be blessed in at least 3 ways:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
 (Matt 5:3-5 ESV)

Jesus reframes threats to our identity, self-worth, and personal dignity by offering promises that we will receive the kingdom of heaven, be comforted, and inherit the earth.  But we must accept the yoke of discipleship; these promises are not extended to spectators [4].

We are not alone—God is with us and we can be part of God’s community on earth—the church.  This community focus is obvious in the Beatitudes  because Jesus addresses his disciples in the plural [5].  Through our faith and our participation in the church, we can also be at peace with ourselves (John 14:27) even when we are alone.


[1] Technology connects yes, but it more often isolates us from one another.  A “Facebook friend”, for example, is denied a vote if you get tired of them and remove them as a friend.  Real friends give us immediate feedback and require explanations.

[2] Nouwen (1975, 25) sees loneliness as related more to addiction than to rumination.  Blackaby (2014, 47 ) talks about getting stuck in a particularly sad or particularly happy season of life.

[3] Escalation is another term from psychiatry which describes the tendency of psychiatric patients to amply rather than dissipate any tension in conversation.  Even polite disagreement with such patients will quickly evoke an increasingly hostile response from such patients.   Even in normal people, escalation is a flag for personal instability.

[4] The yoke (Matt 11:28-30) Jesus describes is a leather collar worn by a work animal, such as a horse, to allow them to bear the burden of the work.  Disciples bear the yoke of discipleship; spectators do not.  This implies that the blessings of Jesus are available exclusively to disciples.  This is what James, Jesus’ brother, means when he says:  “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22 ESV)

[5] In verse 3, for example, the Greek reads: “Μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.” (Matt 5:3 BNT)  Both πτωχοὶ (those poor) and and αὐτῶν (theirs–genitive plural).


Blackaby, Richard . 2012. The Seasons of God:  How the Shifting Patterns of Your Life Reveal His Purposes for You. Colorado Springs:  Multnomah Books.

Lucado, Max. 2012. Fearless. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Nouwen, Henri J. M. 1975. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. New York: DoubleDay.

Nouwen, Henri J.M. 2010. Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society (Orig pub 1972). New York: Image Doubleday.

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Prayer Day 40: A Christian Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Loving Father. You clothe the birds that neither spin or reap (Matt 6:26). You send the rain and the sunshine on the just and the unjust without discrimination (Matt 5:45). You make the day and the night to bless us with activities and with sleep (Gen 1:5). We cast our obsessions and addictions at your feet. In the power of your Holy Spirit, heal our relationships and soften our hearts that we might grow more like you with each passing day. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Prayer Day 16: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Loving Father. You clothe the birds that neither spin or reap (Matt 6:26). You send the rain and the sunshine on the just and the unjust without discrimination (Matt 5:45). You make the day and the night to bless us with activities and with sleep (Gen 1:5). We cast our obsessions and addictions at your feet. In the power of your Holy Spirit, heal our relationships and soften our hearts that we might grow more like you with each passing day. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Whelchel Sees Call in Work, not just Ministry

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Hugh Whelchel.  2012.  How Then Should We Work?  Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work. Bloomington:  WestBow Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Mental habits are hard to break.  One particularly insidious habit is to worship the “god of the gaps” (gog) rather than the sovereign, Triune God.

Gog worship shows up in several ways.  One is the gog worshiped only between 11 and 12 a.m. on Sunday mornings.  Another gog appears like insurance—a kind of Aflac god who handles all the problems that we cannot.  Still another gog is observed only indirectly (a shadow gog)—whenever anyone expresses a concept of God that is too large (or too inconvenient)—that person is labeled a fanatic or fundamentalist.  Gog worshipers are easy to make fun of until one shows up in the mirror:  Gog worship is the default setting of the postmodern world–even for an economist turned pastor like myself.

In his book, How Then Should We Work, Hugh Whelchel reminds us that God created the heavens and the earth—everything. Everything is not a spiritual concept; everything includes everything.  All that we do—whether inside or outside the church; whether inside or outside the home—should be done in the name of Christ (Colossians 3:17).  God is as a powerful worker—he creates; he created everything (7).

Whelchel states his purpose as:  to explore the Biblical intersection of faith and work, attempting to understand the difference between work, calling, and vocation and how they should be Biblically applied in our daily lives(5).  His book is organized in 6 chapters which focus on carefully defining the concept of call. These chapters are preceded by a forward, preface, and acknowledgments and are followed by a biography of the author, notes, and suggested readings.

In the important area of defining call, Whelchel (75-77) cites 5 calls. He distinguishes the first call, the call to faith in Christ, as primary and cites 4 secondary calls—the call to family, church, community, and vocation.

Whelchel’s (56) concept of Biblical work focuses on 5 concepts, which are:

  1. The Four-Chapter Gospel (creation, fall, redemption, and restoration).
  2. The Cultural Mandate (The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it (Genesis 2:15 ESV)).
  3. The Kingdom of God (being salt and light to the world (Matthew 5:13-14)).
  4. Common Grace (seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jeremiah 29:7 ESV).
  5. The Biblical Meaning of Success (as seen in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:1-13).

Whelchel’s observed in the Parable of the Talents that the reward was the same for the 5-talent or 2-talent servants—we need only worry how to use our talents, not obsess over how many talents we are given.

In his final chapter, Whechel asks:  how do we integrate our work and our faith in a way that is pleasing to God? The first of his 9 responses to this question is the most telling:  we must rediscover that our primary vocation is the call to follow Jesus (117).

Whelchel holds a master of divinity from Reformed Theological Seminary; he is a former technology worker; and currently serves as executive director of the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics ( located in McLean, VA.  As he claims, Whechel’s book is: a Biblical primer on integrating our faith and work (xxviii). He reviews the literature on vocational calling at great length and why we should care. Missing here perhaps is a link that applies these insights in the era of gog.  Still, I found my own faith journey reflected in page after page.  Perhaps you will too.

Whelchel Sees Call in Work, not just Ministry

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M & A Account for Losses; Recognize Grief

Loss_12242013Kenneth R. Mitchell and Herbert Anderson. 1983. All Our Losses; All Our Griefs: Resources for Pastoral Care. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Anniversaries can be painful. I remember one patient in the emergency department. He was loud; he was obnoxious; he was threatening. When I spoke to him, I was startled to learn he was also grieving—his brother had died at age 40 from alcohol abuse. He was now 40 and also abused alcohol. In remembering his brother, he also feared his own death. In All Our Losses: All Our Griefs, Kenneth Mitchell and Herbert Anderson remind us that grief can accompany losses other than death and is often mixed with other emotions.

Mitchell and Anderson start by observing that grief—the normal response to loss—is much more common than most people believe (9).  Their book is organized around three questions:  (1) Why do people grieve? (2) What are the dynamics of grief? And (3) how can we help those who grieve? (10-11). At the time of writing, both authors were professors of pastoral care.  Mitchell served at Eden Theological Seminary in Saint Louis; Anderson served at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

Mitchell and Anderson observe that grief is both natural and unavoidable.  They write:  Just as there can be no life without attachments, there can be no attachments without eventual separation and loss.  Grief has its beginnings in the twin necessities of attachment and separation (21). One example of this principle of attachment and separation is the child before and after birth (20).  Another example is the child’s distinction between me and not me, and later—not me but mine and not mine (23).  All losses and separations are painful, in part, because they remind us of our limitations and eventual death (31).

Mitchell and Anderson identify six major types of loss, including:  1. Material loss, 2. Relationship loss, 3. Intra-psychic loss—loss of a dream, 4. Functional loss—including loss of autonomy, 5. Role loss—like retirement, and 6. Systemic loss—like departure from your family of origin (36-45).  They then go on to identify 5 attributes of those losses:  1. Avoidable or unavoidable, 2. Temporary or permanent, 3. Actual or imagined, 4. Anticipated or unanticipated, and 5. Leaving or being left (46-50).  Surprisingly, they observe that:  Growing up and leaving home involves…every form of loss but functional (51).  It is surprising because we often take the process of growing up for granted—consequently when problems arise as in the case of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) we are caught unaware and unprepared.

The complexity of grieve arises because it is more than just a single emotion and it includes physical responses as well.  Mitchell and Anderson cite 7 elements of grief: 1. Numbness, 2. Emptiness, loneliness, and isolation, 3. Fear and anxiety, 4. Guilt and shame, 5. Anger, 6. Sadness and despair, and 7. Somatization—physical reactions (61-81).

In my experience as a chaplain intern, I was struck by the pervasive nature of grief among the patients that I visited and by the number of physical ailments triggered by intense or unresolved grief.  Grief was a part of more hospital visits—especially in the psyche ward and the retirement facility—than any other factor.   Mitchell and Anderson suggest that care givers be sensitive to 4 elements.  Give people:  1. Permission and space to grieve, 2. Recognition of importance of and support for grief, 3. Encouragement to share, and 4. Help in reintegrating in life (111).  They remind us as caregivers of Jesus’ statement on the Sermon on the Mount:   Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4 ESV; 165).

Among pastoral care professionals, Mitchell and Anderson’s book is a classic.  Grief and loss ministry remains underappreciated, in part, because death is an embarrassing subject in our youth-oriented, post-Christian society.  Because our culture denies death, the pain of death and other losses is amplified by ignorance and uncertainty[1].  Mitchell and Anderson shine a light into this dark corner of life.  As such, this book makes a helpful gift from time to time.


[1] As the saying goes:  denial is not just a river in Egypt!!!
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