The Truth 'versus' Love Project  IV

The Greg M. Johnson Homiletics Award, a $2500 scholarship contest for ELCA Seminarians

Greg M. Johnson is a lay member of an ELCA congregation who has served in the areas of Social Ministry and the education of adults and children 


  •  THIS IS PAGE FOR OUTDATED ROUND. See new round at:
  • Contest winners announced and project's page updated with selected sermons.  
  • Ten entries received. Confirmation email sent to the nine at 7:23AM ET, 04/17/07.
  • Clarification on how to submit:   Make up some 6-digit number-- not anything related to any of your financial records, but a number you'd recognize.  Then make your sermon sermon123456.pdf and your info file info123456.txt.   
  •  Three entries received as of 7:48AM Eastern time on 04/16/07 !
  • I'm sorry that the date I chose was actual Tax Return Day!  (I thought I was hitting the day after!)
  • Here is a link to the required personal information file  that you should submit with your entry.  Again, please submit two files: one containing your sermon but not your name, and one  containing the TXT file linked above to include your personal info. (posted 04/01/07).
  • Hello there! Deadline is only 18 days away!. If you have questions, please email me at my email address.   It is at, and my userid is pterandon. I will shortly get together the template for the permissions statement, etc. (posted 3/29/07).
  • Deadline is April 16, 2007, 11:59:59 PM, EST.



Preamble of the Project

Some atheists have charged that the Bible moves its adherents not only to brutality but also to indifference to the physical suffering of our neighbor. Richard Dawkins has for example predicted that if a giant fireball were to appear over New York City, that the hearts of many Christians would be filled with delight at its sight. Even if we were to disagree with the biblical scholarship of these critics of Christianity, anecdotal evidence to support their charge abounds in the antics of contemporary Christians.  One need look no further than the public policy positions of many religious broadcasters (and AM radio personalities who wave the flag of the Judeo-Christian tradition) on anything from the bombing of Lebanon to proposals to penalize Christians who meet the humanitarian needs of aliens. These broadcasters and the bleeding-heart atheists seem to agree on nothing but one thing: the bible inspires brutality. This cultural landscape is the rocky and thorny field in which the Christian preacher sows seed.

Even within mainstream Christianity, I believe there are ditches on either side of the road for one to fall into. Ditches where one may end up emphasizing, one at the expense of the other, of either Truth or Love, theological orthodoxy or compassion. In one ditch, some folks may have a very sound view of how the humanitarian crises of the world should be seen through the lens of God's Law, and be able to name personal and corporate sins that exacerbate the problem. Their naming of such sins is well within the tradition of the church fathers. Sometimes their answer however is not so much a Theology of the Cross (which drives one to contrition and faith in Christ's work) but rather a celebration of our own good works and an urging of legislative advocacy.  One might rightly ask how different is this theology from an appeal written by the Red Cross or Amnesty International.  Where is the rest for the weary that Jesus talked about?

In the other ditch, one may find folks who rightly uphold the primacy of gospel and forgiveness of sins in the Christian witness. Yet in hearing them preach, one might be tempted to ask, "Forgiveness from what?!" Some may dismiss all talk and preaching on specific sins as legalism, doing so to a degree that is more "cheap grace" than Luther's Theology of the Cross. Some may dismiss the church's deliberation on matters of violence and money as "issues" or "social agendas" rather than being a part of God's Law which the church had traditionally wrangled with. They may oppose not only third use of the law but also the first and second uses when it comes to social sins. They confuse the omitted good of law-preaching with the bad of works righteousness. Luther told Spalatin, "By making our sins small, we make Christ small." One ends up with a witness that is devoid of "terrors of the conscience"-- the staring point of faith-- and risks leaving folks in a state of "heedlessness" regarding sins of omission and commission related to your neighbor's (or enemies') physical well-being.

Back to the center of the road, in several examples of Luther's preaching, I see both a Theology of the Cross and a grappling with "terrors of the conscience" on things like unjust wars ["Whether Soldiers..."], economic exploitation ["Sermon on Trade and Usury"], and oppression of the poor ["Admonition to Peace"]. This stuff is not only in his extra-confessional musings but also in the Large Catechism's Explanation to the (Fifth and Seventh) Commandments. 

I ask, do we have to choose between theological orthodoxy and compassion?  Can anyone write a sermon that speaks to social issues with the incisive insight of John Paul II and follows through with a Theology of the Cross in the tradition of Gerhard Forde? Is anyone currently "weeping for those whose life is hard" [Job 30:25] and striving to be faithful to unchanging doctrines? Can anyone confess a Jesus who is truly both "a sacrifice for sin and a model of the godly life"?  Can anyone preach a law message that offends us in our comfortable conservatism, and a gospel message that offends us in our liberal moralisms? 

Purpose of Project

The purpose of the Truth "versus" Love Project is to encourage traditional law and gospel preaching about a bible passage which has been viewed as a source of humanitarian concern.


  • $1000.00
  • $750.00
  • $500.00
  • $250.00

This Project has no intent to refuse prizes in the event no entrants of sufficient quality were submitted.

Criteria for Contest

  • Provide a sermon of 1500-3500 words in PDF (strongly preferred) or DOC format. Consider a PDF exporter like PDF Creator. Any use of OpenOffice open formats is of course also welcome.The sermon document must not include your name or other identifying info.  (You can of course tell stories about your life.) The sermon is to be emailed to the address provided by the date provided. It is better for the sermon to be written to a hypothetical audience of your future parish rather than to the contest judges.
  • Provide a separate file with the required personal contact information.  Every effort will be made to judge the sermons "blind", so that the reader(s) have no personal information about yourself at the time of reading.
  • Sermons should include a law message. God's commandment of what is to be done or what is not to be done. An indictment of something specific in history, your personal observation, or current events.  An affliction of the comfortable. A pointing to the bruised reed.  A terror of the conscience.  We do wrong.
  • Sermons should include a gospel message. God's promise to forgive sins for Christ's sake. A free gift. A rest to the weary. A promise not to break the bruised reed. A comfort to the afflicted. An end to moralistic hand-wringing. Christ did all.
  • Sermons should tie in some theological content from all of the bible passages. 
  • Give Greg M. Johnson permission to verify your enrollment in a seminary of the ELCA.
  • Give Greg M. Johnson a nonexclusive, transferable right to publish your sermon in any media, including print and web. You could publish it in your memoirs but I could include it in a book if I  were to receive enough sermons.  


The Greg M. Johnson Homiletics Award is open to all students of ELCA seminaries enrolled in the Fall 2006 or Spring 2007 Semesters, regardless of race, gender, ethnic origin, nationality, or even denominational affiliation. I am personally more interested in supporting ELCA seminary students who can write good sermons, regardless of their religious affiliation, than members of ELCA congregations who are studying elsewhere. 


  • Ezekiel 34:11-24 
  • Psalm 100
  •  Romans 7:15-25
  • Matthew 25:31-46 


 Deadline is April 16, 2007, 11:59:59 PM, EST.



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