Pastoral Care For Those Experiencing An Epistemological Crisis: Part 2

As pastors, we have the great privilege of proclaiming and teaching the Word of God. The cross is the source of our epistemological system, not experience and not the wisdom of the world. We stand underneath the scriptures and are formed by the Word.[1]   Thus as we proclaim and teach the Scriptures, this truth will penetrate the ears, hearts, worldviews and epistemological systems of our hearers. The Scriptures will challenge our hearers’ behaviors, feelings, worldview and epistemologies because God is actually present and exercising power in His Word in oral, written, and sacramental forms.[2]  

The church as the body of Christ continually comes to worship to be ever reformed by the Word. If the church merely gathers together for social or fellowship reasons and the Word does not ever form and reform the body of Christ, the church is no different than a common rotary club. In a striking statement William Willimon once stated, “’Community,’ untested by any criterion other than our need to huddle in groups, can be demonic.”[3]   Therefore, according to Willimon we should not be surprised when, “…modern congregations may express surprise and even offense at hearing the ancient biblical story.”[4]  Willimon goes on to share in his book, “Shaped by the Bible,” that it is not the job of a pastor to apologize for the scriptures but to simply be faithful proclaimers of the Word. Appealing to Jesus he states, “The story caused offense when it was first preached in places like Nazareth; we should not be surprised that it continues to offend. In fact, we preachers ought to be troubled when our handling of the Bible never offends!”[5] 

Our calling as pastors is not to lessen the worldview conflict nor alleviate the epistemological crisis, as many pastors in our day and age do. Rather, our calling is to be faithful expositors of the Word and to graciously stand by the side of the congregation as they experience small and large worldview conflicts as well as small and large epistemological crises. Furthermore, the pastor is not to introduce any new knowledge to the congregation. Pastors are simply called to be a vessel to proclaim to the Church what they already have accepted to be true even though at times they may have forgotten it. As a pastor you have the privilege of proclaiming the unchanging truth and wisdom of the Word, and you get to stand faithfully by your parishioners in the midst of their epistemological crises with compassion.

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[1] Francis Pieper in volume 1 of his, “Christian Dogmatics,” shares on page 197 that reason can be thought of in two ways, ministerial and magisterial.  The magisterial use of reason happens when mankind’s reason stands above the wisdom of God and judges God’s Word on the basis of man’s argument.  The ministerial use of man’s reason happens when man’s reason is formed and shaped by God’s wisdom, the Word of God stands above mankind.  Pieper shares more specifically saying, “The ministerial use of reason is, of course, legitimate in theology because the Holy Ghost works and sustains faith only through the Word of God as it is correctly perceived by the human mind.  Scripture therefore very emphatically enjoins this use of reason…”  Pieper goes on to say on page 199, “We must distinguish between reason left to itself, or judging according to its natural principles, and reason held locked within the circle of the divine Word and kept under discipline, or illuminated by Holy Scripture.  That the latter can judge in matters of faith, we do not deny; but we deny that judgment in matters of faith belongs to the former.”  Contradictions do not rise when the scriptures form our reason and form our worldviews.  However, contradictions do arise according to Pieper when, “Reason has gone mad, presumes to judge things that transcend its sphere.”   
[2] T.R. Halvorson (Personal Communication, July 27th of 2012) says, Many people say that it does little good to quote the Bible to people who do not already accept the epistemology of revelation. If our doctrine of the Word were merely Fundamentalist or Reformed, we could agree. But in Lutheran theology, the Word is not merely authoritative and inerrant. The Word is living and active. The Word not only is something. The Word does something. It persuades those whom the Holy Spirit converts even though the converted never held either explicitly or implicitly assented to the epistemology of revelation before, because the Holy Spirit and the Word have the power to effect either or both implicit or explicit epistemological change in the hearer, causing them to, seemingly simultaneously, convert to the Word and to Christ, to the revelation and the Person, and that happens because of the Word being like a sacrament (or the sacraments being like the Word) does something.”
[3] William Willimon, Shaped By The Bible (Abingdon Press, 1991), 85.
[4] Willimon , 63.
[5] Ibid.
[1] E.g. 2 Timothy 4:1-5