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I have dedicated the past fifty years to studying, teaching, writing about the Bible, and probing into its many parts. In that probing, I seek insights about how the word of God, spoken so long ago, speaks to us today as people of faith. Now a retired minister of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I am eager to share as widely as possible the steps I have used to comprehend the Bible’s richness as a source for living in the 21st century.

My Journey

Where I have been affects profoundly my commitment to Bible study and the ways I pursue it.

Shortly after the beginning of my senior year at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, the faculty there invited me to stay another year to work toward a Master of Sacred Theology degree and simultaneously to teach some courses in Greek and Hebrew. That year turned out to be two, and then I became a member of the faculty for the following twenty years. During that time I published a number of articles and books targeted for pastors and seminarians on the one hand and for congregations on the other. The most widely used books for congregations were those called Understanding the Bible, part of the Lutheran Church in America’s “Word & Witness” course. Co-authored with my dear teacher, colleague, and friend, the late John H.P. Reumann, the Understanding of the Bible textbook was published under the separate title Witness of the Word (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986).

My graduate studies at Dropsie University of Hebrew and Cognate Learning resulted in a doctorate in Assyriology. That experience led me to write Ancient Myths and Biblical Faith  (1983, reprinted 2007), a study of ancient stories from Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Canaan that appear in dramatically transformed ways to describe the actions of the God in the Bible. Recognizing the commonality of the stories and images actually highlights the uniqueness of the God we worship.

Always concerned about the relevance of the Old Testament (The Hebrew Bible) for Christian preaching, I wrote Proclaiming the Promise: Christian Preaching from the Old Testament (Fortress, 1974) and later revised and expanded that book as Wrestling with the Word: Christian Preaching from the Hebrew Bible  (1996).

A funny thing happened on the way to the classroom. In the mid 1980s the Lutheran Church in America called me to a position as theologian-in-residence for its Division for Mission in North America. After 20 years of classroom teaching, I faced the challenge of applying my biblical scholarship to issues of social justice and racism, higher education, development of new congregations, and social ministry organizations. This exciting experience led me from the mid 1990s until 2004 into the hands-on work of social ministry organizations and to the daily miracles performed by caring staffs.

In this new life, my publications took on a different focus. The titles demonstrate the new direction. A Vision for Mission (1987); The Social Ministry of the Church (1989); Go in Peace: Serve the Lord (2000); Social Ministry in the Lutheran Tradition (2008).

My friend Rabbi Alan G. Weitzman and I wrote the book Making Sense out of Sorrow: A Journey of Faith (1995). The book about grief and healing appeared just a few weeks prior to the devastating bombing in Oklahoma City. Lutheran Disaster Response began distributing the book to persons in that and subsequent areas impacted by natural and human-caused disasters. LDR also sent Alan and me to provide pastoral care seminars for caregivers in many areas who were themselves becoming victims of the disasters through their own commitments to help others.

My Approach to the Bible

All these opportunities to serve our Lord by caring for people have increased my conviction that the word of God in the Holy Scriptures inspires, enables, challenges, and comforts us throughout our lives as individuals and communities. These diverse foci in ministry have sharpened my conviction that the answers we gain from the biblical passages depends on the questions we ask of them.

The Bible is a book of faith. The books of the Bible contain the preaching and writing of persons inspired by the Spirit to share that faith. Their testimony is about God and God’s Son Jesus. Belief in the God of the Bible is so far beyond our human abilities and reason that confession in God is solely a matter of faith. Believing that the son of a carpenter named Jesus is really the Son of God, the Word made flesh, and the Savior of the world is ludicrous from a rational and scientific perspective. That belief, too, can only come from faith.

What are the faith questions we ask of the biblical passages? There are only a few.
1. What was God doing/saying in this passage?
2. What was the situation in the lives of the people to which God is acting/speaking?
3. How did or might the hearers/readers respond to this message about God’s acts and words?

Responding to the first question, our answer must have God as the subject of an active verb. In the New Testament the subject of the sentence will most often be God’s Son Jesus. The answer must consider the particular passage only and not throw in all the other things God and God’s Son said and did in different passages.

The answer to the second question involves issues related to history of the times, the sociological and psychological concerns of the period, the cultural and economic issues and their effects on the vulnerable people in the society. Above all, the situation should focus on the theological issues that result from the history. Did God make this happen? Where is God in all this mess? Is God alive or dead? What did we do to deserve this? What should we do with the freedom God has given us? Where do we find hope if there is any hope to be found?

Determining the response, the third question, is sometimes easy. The people of Jerusalem threatened to stone Jeremiah but then threw the prophet in prison because his message of destruction did not exactly sound like music to their ears. Jesus had to leave his hometown because his hearers in the synagogue that day could not tolerate his rubbing God’s grace for foreigners into their faces. Other times the response to God’s word is undeterminable. We might make some conjectures based on how we today would respond to such messages.

Squeezing the answers to those three questions into one sentence might become complex, but the attempt will enable interpreters today to find the focus of the passage. That focus might be the basis of a sermon or of a Sunday school lesson or the spiritual insight that can guide an individual or community through challenging times.

My Identity

If this post is “About” me, then I have not yet really defined myself. I have dealt only with what I do, have done, and the ways I go about the tasks. As for who I am, I am a baptized Christian. I am the most fortunate husband of Jannine. I am the father of three wonderful children who have married three equally wonderful persons: Scott and Liz, Brett and Sara, Dana and Paul. I am a grandfather of two thrilling kids: Corinne (8) and Aiden (6), both children of Scott and Liz. All of them are among my sisters and brothers in Christ. All of them bring me joy beyond description. Some of them will appear in my podcasts. You can guess that mostly they will be Corinne and Aiden. “Out of the mouths of babes…”


1. Mark English - January 7, 2009

Hi Foster–

I was glad to learn of wwtw via the Lwr. Susquehanna Synod ‘Carings & Sharings.’ I’ve alerted members of the LTSP Class of ’78. May the ruah of God continue to breathe through you to us.

fostermccurley - January 7, 2009

Thanks, Mark, for taking the initiative to contact the great class of ’78. I hope these podcasts are useful, that have possess an air of familiarity for you folks, and that they occasionally offer something unfamiliar but faithful nevertheless.

2. David H Pflieger - January 31, 2009

Hi Foster,

I too have been among those blessed by Mark’s labors in letting me know of this site. I look forward to plumming the depths of what is available here. I too am “retired” but I still have opportunities to preach and teach, so look forward to continuing to learn.

Thanks to you both and Blessings be with you and “yours.”

fostermccurley - January 31, 2009

Dave, it is so good to hear from you. I do hope you find the site worthwhile. I hope also that all goes well with you in your retirement. Keep in touch!

3. Paul Xander - July 24, 2009

Susan, my wife, having spent lunch-time and part of the day yesterday with Janine, directed she and me to WWTW this morning. I thank God often for his servant Foster and the “corraling of the chaos” work you continue to do. Your piece for Sunday, July 26 is truly both enlightening and peace giving. Thanks be to God for his ongoing work in you..

fostermccurley - July 24, 2009

Paul, thank you for your kind comments. I hope you continue to find the program useful and that it provides some assistance in your ministry.

4. Mel Kirk - April 2, 2010

Dear Foster,
Thank you for your great Podcast and sharing your insight into the scriptures. I have been enlightened by your sharing. I am feeling a need to get a broader understanding of scripture. While I got a good training in Seminary, and have taken courses like Crossways, I am looking for a way to get a more complete perspective of scripture.
I have gone online but quite frankly, I am not interested in the Anabaptist approach to interpreting the scriptures. So, I am wondering do you have any suggestions for a country preacher’s budget to get some good training in understanding the scriptures better?
Your thoughts will be most appreciated. Shalom, Mel Kirk

fostermccurley - April 5, 2010

Dear Mel,
Thank you for your kind note. I am not sure you are aware of my weekly podcasts on http://www.WrestlingWithTheWordfrm.wordpress.com. They might provide a start for your interest in pursuing some Bible study at no cost at all. The site offers perspectives on the Sunday morning Bible lessons from the Revised Common Lectionary. By the way, the meat is in the podcast; the notes you will see at the site are merely the shownotes or footnotes. I will respond further via email in the very near future about other possibilities. My daughter has arranged a list of my own publications on the Amazon site for books. Some of them might provide a wider perspective on the approach I discussed on the podcast here. Peace to you! Foster

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