Nadia Bolz-Weber and Lutheran Identity

So I was surfing the theo-web and I stumbled upon this: a video of the Sarcastic Lutheran, Nadia Bolz-Weber, a popular blogger over at Patheos, addressing a robust crowd of young Lutherans. Within the course of about 20 minutes, she delivered a short spiritual biography and, more pertinent to my discussion here, explained the role Lutheran distinctives play in her life.

Now, before you hit Send on that comment, I want you to do three things:

1. Forget for the moment about the issue of women’s ordination. Imagine she is a layperson wearing long sleeves.

2. Forget that she’s ordained in the ELCA—that is, forget the ELCA’s politics and the fact that it is in “full communion” with denominations that are anything but Lutheran, which brings into question how Lutheran the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as a denomination is. (I pass no judgment whatsoever on individuals within it.)

3. Don’t forget to forget about numbers 1 and 2.

OK. Did you listen to what she had to say to her auditors? Was anything she said necessarily un-Lutheran? (Again, remember #3 and don’t forget to forget numbers 1 & 2.) It may not have been comprehensive, but for what it was, a short address to young people who probably are not all that  theologically sophisticated, it was quite effective, no? At least in terms of getting them hyped about being a Lutheran Christian?

I was quite impressed with her presentation, although the saint/sinner paradox as she explains it is not quite right. The “saint” part of our identity has nothing to so with our capacity, before or after baptism, for kindness or generosity or empathy. It has to do with the imputed righteousness of Christ. But I bet a lot of Lutherans in the pews, regardless of denomination, understand it as Bolz-Weber presented it.

Nevertheless, I can see why the Lutheran church appealed to Bolz-Weber, and why someone like Bolz-Weber would be very appealing to teens and twenty-somethings—and frankly, to anyone of any age who has been run over by the ultra-fundie bus (which can only ever run you over, because the grace-transmission thingee is broken).

Let me explain where I’m going with this before some of you bring out the short knives. Anyone who is familiar with my spiritual journey (short version here; ignore the date on that post—it originally went live June 26, 2006) knows that I made my way through evangelicaltisticalism, in its Wesleyan and Calvinist flavors, enjoyed a brief flirtation with Rome, and wound up back at Wittenberg. Yet even though I formally left the PCA in the fall of 2005, I have to this day never formally joined another church. It took me a good long while even to join Redeemer Presbyterian in the first place. In fact, it was the first church I had pledged membership in since I was confirmed in the LCMS at age 14 (only to promptly leave and declare myself an agnostic, then an atheist).

For years after returning to the Faith, I was a “mere” Christian with no unwavering denominational commitment. The fact that I simply am not a joiner did not help matters. Plus, I couldn’t make up my theological mind. And I simply am not a joiner. I have a library card. I’m a registered independent who refuses to associate with other independents. Yet sometime around 1997 I finally acknowledged that living with one foot in the world and one foot in the Church Universal made my walk look funny to strangers. So, after immersing myself in the Institutes and nightly doses of Spurgeon, I took the plunge. I attended membership classes at Redeemer, was interviewed by two elders as to why I thought I was rotten enough to be a sinner saved by grace, and was accepted on the condition that I never really show up or anything. (OK, I made that last part up.)

Long story short, over time, and in the aftermath of losing my father, I found that Calvinism, even the soft-core version preached by Tim Keller (and for whom I still have enormous respect), left me with more questions than answers. I grew to hate the God who apparently hated so many of us for daring to be born under his abiding and predetermined wrath. So I shook off the Westminster Confession like a mental cramp, and headed for . . . what? Was it time to chuck Christianity as no more capable of making sense of my life than a humble agnosticism? Catholicism? It was exactly at moments of crisis as I was experiencing that many Reformationals head Romeward. But I only skirted the Tiber, dropping out of RCIA not once but twice. There was much I found beautiful about Catholicism. But I would have to stop thinking about a lot of issues and just take on faith doctrines I simply did not believe. Spiritual exhaustion was no reason to jump from the firing pan into the fire. (But that’s another post.)

So I resolved to go back where I started: I began looking for the Lutheran church I remembered from my adolescence.

Only it had kinda gone poof.

A combination of the Seminex blowup and the Born Again boom had taken the LCMS in strange directions. Both the church I was baptized in and the church I was confirmed in had abandoned the MIssouri Synod for what became the ELCA. Of the three pastors I had known growing up, one was as dead as Martin Chemnitz, and the other two had become Catholic priests. Great. Thanks for all the fish.

As for the remaining LCMS churches in New York City, there were several congregations playing with evangelical praise-worship lite, which I had already see glimmers of in my teens (and which landed with a risible THUD among me and my peers). In redoubts on the fringes of the city were also congregations (namely two) dedicated to the neo-confessional movement (if you can call anything Lutherans do “movement”). Details about this push to repristinate the LCMS by returning to it to its confessional roots I gleaned mostly from the Web, especially after I had started up Luther at the Movies and began receiving e-mail from confessional types sussing me out about my commitments.

It took me a while to get up to speed on the issues and players. I found I also needed a deeper Lutheran theological grounding. Our religious education as kids had been limited to Luther’s Small Catechism, a black Thomas Nelson RSV Bible (with maps of the Holy Land), and heaping doses of tedium, supplemented in my case by a course at NYU called Great Christian Thinkers (for which my final paper was titled “Luther, Indulgences, and the Birth of the Reformation”).

It made perfect sense to me that Lutherans should be, well, Lutherans. Otherwise, why pose? Get out the tambourines and the Rubbermaid for the rebaptizing and be done with it already. (Which is what drives me crazy about so-called progressive Catholics. Admit it: you’re Episcopalians. You know it. We know it. The pope knows it. Go make a pilgrimage to Second Avenue and stop whining. You may think there’s some cachet in being a rebel, but standing up to the Vatican in 2012 is about as edgy as peeing in the Olympic pool. And you all sound like Veruca Salt off her meds. Shut your pie holes and go walk a labyrinth.)

But I digress . . .

Let’s just say, I was having a helluva time finding a Lutherany Lutheran church that didn’t require half a day’s journey by bus and train (as a city boy, I was car-less). The LCMS churches in my vicinity all worshiped a little differently, and it was hard to pinpoint exactly where they were on the confessional continuum.

Some were suitably somber and sang the discordant Setting One of the new Lutheran Service Book, which was decidedly not the Lutheran Hymnal of 1941 that was still in use in the 1970s and that I knew by heart.

Some congregations dismembered the liturgy and pasted the decomposing parts into worship folders, along with “children’s church,” a passing of the peace that took longer than the passing of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, and projection screens that threatened an appearance of Emmanuel Goldstein and the advent of hate week.

Some fell somewhere in between.

One referred to the Divine Service as the Mass and emphasized that the pastor was available for private confession at fixed hours during Lent.

And one or two were The Journey with flowing robes and broken kneelers.

This went on for years. And if there’s one thing I did miss from my evangelical days, it was the preaching. Lutheran preaching varied wildly, not only in its quality, which is to say its resonance, but in its emphases. I may have left Reformed soteriology behind, but it has produced some profoundly gifted preachers (but, again, that’s another post).

Once in a blue moon I’d find a congregation that used Setting Three of the Service Book, which was more or less the Order of Holy Communion I grew up with. As a matter of fact, and more to the point I’m trying to make, just a few weeks ago I traveled to another state to attend just such a church. Here is what I encountered.

I entered the narthex to find a handful of people flanking the doors of the sanctuary. Which was as empty as a Starbucks in a Seventh Day Adventist theme park. Here I thought I was running a little late. Did I mess up on the time? Did they have special summer hours?

“Is there a service?” I asked all doe-eyed and innocent like.

“It’s Sunday, isn’t it?” was the reply.

“Yes, I know, but the door is closed—”

“We worship on Sundays” was the abrupt follow-up, in case I missed the inference of his original point.

“Yes, I got that. But there’s no one—” and back and forth we went, confirming that it was (a) Sunday, and (b) they had church services on Sunday.

I mentally cried “No mas” and made a movement in the direction of the sanctuary doors, forgetting that “Lutheran” and “movement” are a mismatched pair. The “greeter,” for whom the right hand of fellowship came bearing brass knuckles, jumped up from his anxious bench to say: “We have Holy Communion today. You’re not supposed to take Holy Communion.”

“It’s OK. I’ve been here before.”

“You should talk to the pastor.”

“It’s OK, I’m confirmed.

“You should talk to the pastor.”

“I am baptized and confirmed. I believe what you believe. I spoke to the pastor the last time I was here.”

“Oh. I apologize. Here.” And he handed me a copy of the bulletin, which I expected to emit a pesticide of some kind.

Just as I was about to step onto holy ground, the pastor appeared fresh from Bible study. The “greeter” (who I later realized was also an elder) immediately jumped at the chance of appropriating ecclesiastical confirmation of my “true” status, even though I thought we had achieved our own little Peace of Westphalia.

“Oh, pastor, pastor! This fellow says—” but before he could finish expectorating, the pastor in question smiled at me and said, “Oh, yes, hi. You’ve been here before.”

Finally, calm was restored to the kingdom, but not before I had been made a spectacle of before tens of onlookers, as if I had come bearing snakes for the Feats of Faith competition.

A few minutes later, the church filled, with all 18 of us packed into our pews with just enough room to accommodate Trajan’s army. I received Communion with barely a rumble from the heavens. Service over, I headed back home, freed from the burden of my sins and even so much as a sideway glance from a fellow penitent.

Now I have defended closed communion in blog discussions. I understand the reasons for it. Other churches do it: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and those Reformed serious about “fencing the table.” Got it. You have no problem with me there.

But was that embarrassing bit of business before so much as a “good morning” really the best way to go about it? Can we think of nothing more welcoming and less abrasive than such a scene? And from an elder?

So imagine a young Nadia at a particularly vulnerable stage in her life stepping into that church, wary of things Christian, wary of the HAMMER OF THE GREAT DO NOTS swinging for her kneecaps, and greeted with a hearty: “Who are you? What do you want? You know you can’t take Communion. I don’t recognize you. YOU’RE NOT ONE OF US. Pastor! Pastor! Help!”

Which leads me to an affirmation and then a question. First my affirmation: I’m glad Nadia Bolz-Weber is out there. Even though we would no doubt disagree about points of theology. Even though I wonder whether “social justice,” and all the political baggage it carries, isn’t also part of the “piety” and “law” that grace seeks to liberate us from. And even though it seems to me that many in the ELCA interpret the law/grace distinction as little more than “Love, and screw who you please,” a perverse turn on Augustine’s pithy (and oft misunderstood) apothegm.

Nevertheless, there are a lot of hurting people who are fleeing fanatical religious backgrounds and who are filled with anger and shame and fear and guilt—some of which, even much of which, may have have come courtesy of their church upbringing—and who need a Nadia the Tattooed Lady to put a colorfully embossed arm around them and say, “Of course you’re welcome here. Of course this can be your home. In fact, let me tell you my story. Now let me introduce you to people just like you.” Torn curtain. Open sanctuary. Smiling faces.

It may be the only time they ever hear, or let their guard down long enough to hear, about that Jesus who reached out to the “untouchables” of his day.

And I think Jesus should be allowed to take it from there. He may finally lead that person out of the House for All Sinners and Saints (or its equivalent) and into something more traditional or conservative or confessional.

Or not.

(Yes, yes, I know we all need teachers, and God uses means, but why is it that so many of those who fashion themselves guardians of God’s ABSOLUTE SOVEREIGNTY nevertheless act as though it’s collapsing every time something goes wrong on the Internet?)

I would not want Nadia’s church to be the only concern in town, by any means. There are plenty of self-satisfied ratbags who are also wary of things Christian but who need a right fulsome kick in the spiritual ass, with a little hellfire shooting out of the boot. But I do believe Nadia’s approach does serve a purpose that perhaps some confessionally minded churches have lost sight of. (A hearty welcome whoever you may be and however many tattoos you may wear and a clearly enunciated Theology of the Cross are not mutually exclusive.)

So that was my affirmation. Now for my question: Who is a Lutheran?

Is it simply someone who self-identifies as a Lutheran? Is it someone who has been baptized and confirmed in a Lutheran church? If so, which Lutheran church? Does it matter? In which case, was I a Lutheran even while attending the Lamb’s Church of the Nazarene and Redeemer Presbyterian and Christ Church and Our Saviour?

Is it a matter of being versed in, and embracing the tenets of, Luther’s catechisms? How about the Book of Concord? (How many Lutherans do you think have actually read the BoC?)

Can I be a Lutheran and reject Universal Objective Justification? How about Luther’s notion of unregenerate man’s having lost both the image and the likeness of God? Exactly how much Luther do you need to be a Lutheran? Did his focus on forensic justification distort his interpretation of scripture in other areas? Does anyone really understand his construal of baptismal regeneration, as opposed to just parroting it? Do infants really believe? If so, what do they need with baptism, when scripture plainly teaches that the child of even one believing parent is already hagios (holy)? Isn’t this just a fudge, an attempt to hold together a sacramental realism and justification by faith alone?

What if you believe women should be allowed to be ordained? Can you still be a Lutheran? What if you believe women should not hold office in the church at all, even in positions of mere human origin (say, the presidency of the congregation), or where scripture clearly teaches that women enjoyed roles (the diaconate)? What if you believe that the order of creation does not stop at the church door, and that women should not hold authority over men even in the civil realm?

What about law and gospel? Are you still Lutheran if you reject the Third Use of the Law, even though Luther taught it? What if you believe any exhortation to self-discipline, good works, or (gulp!) holiness is a bastardization of the gospel, an infusion of works righteousness into the paralysis that should be the perfectly passive reception of grace with no hint of damnable obedience?

What if you believe that sanctification and discipleship are not sufficiently preached from Lutheran pulpits? What if you believe faith without works is dead? Does this make you a pietist in confessional clothing, hence a lesser species of Lutheran?

What if you don’t believe that the six days of creation in Genesis are to be interpreted as literal 24-hour days? And what if you find the Lutheran Science Institute about as edifying as Lysenkoism, and about as embarrassing?

What if you believe there is enough scientific evidence to support evolution but still believe in a historical Adam, a first covenant man, whose relation to God and the rest of creation was absolutely unique and God-breathed, and whose fall through disobedience is reversed by a historical second covenant man—Jesus. Are you still a Lutheran, even though Luther rejected as unbiblical something that is now as demonstrable as heliocentrism?

What if you believe the earth must be 6,000 years old, because the scriptural account read as a scientifically tenable rendering of the appearance of everything makes less sense with an old earth?

What if you’re convinced six-day creationists have made an idol of their hermeneutic, or are merely ignoramuses afraid even to consider how God could use the cultural context of pre-scientific people to convey all that is necessary for salvation?

What if you believe that Noah’s ark is lodged on Mt. Ararat and that the church should pursue this kind of  “historical reliability” method of apologetics?

What if you consider yourself pro-life but think abortion should be legal in the cases of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is danger? What if you’re just pro-choice? What if you think any woman who has had an abortion for any reason has committed murder?

Again, what makes a Christian a Lutheran Christian? Who’s in and who’s out? Tullian Tchividjian (man, I hope I didn’t screw that up) and the guys over at Mockingbird Ministries seem pretty solid on law and gospel. But that doesn’t make them Lutherans, right? (And if Paul Zahl’s church were any more invisible, I could wear it as a hat to a New Atheist convention.) But aren’t they at least Lutheran-ish?

Is Nadia Bolz-Weber a Lutheran? Or something else?

What about Martin Marty? How about Robert Jenson? Was Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Henry Muhlenberg?

Who is an examplar of Lutheran orthodoxy, and who should be relegated to the Dead Lutheran Office, stamped “liberal” or “mainline” or “antinomian” or “pietist” or “fundamentalist”? Where is the dividing line? Full subscription to the Book of Concord? Are there no gray areas even there? And if so, who arbitrates between shades of gray? (First person who references that crap book gets a kick in the shins.)

Lest anyone think this is some insidious plea for a more liberal or Big Tent Lutheranism, it is not. I don’t even know what that would look like. And if I wanted to throw a Molotov cocktail into the potluck supper, I’d do just that. I am many things, but subtle is not one of them.

Please note: I am not looking for a debate over evolution or the nature of the sacraments or women’s ordination or the necessity of good works. Experience has proved it to be pointless. At the end of the data dump, everyone pushes back from their keyboards as deeply entrenched in their views as ever. So please take this post at face value: I’m asking for a discussion over Who is a Lutheran, and I’m asking because the Lutheran Church, wherever it is, whatever it is, should be the landing place for people tired of wandering the evangelical wilderness. But the LCMS, as one example, is slowly losing members. And I know a lot of folk who are sick of denominations that say they know exactly who they are, and are proud of it, but find adiaphora to be the true motif, with congregations varying wildly as to what must be believed, what’s permissible to believe, how God should be worshiped, who’s in, who’s out, who’s a heretic, who’s a liberal, who’s a fundamentalist—and so finally give in and head to bastions of “generous orthodoxy,” or finally give up and head to Rome. Or simply stop going to church altogether.

And I’m asking because I sit here still identifying as a Lutheran but one who is as likely to worship with a Continuing Anglican congregation as with a middle-of-the-road Lutheran one. (The question Who is an Anglican? I will leave to Alister McGrath or C. Fitzsimons Allison or Robert Hart or Eric Metaxas to ask. I have enough on my plate.)

The issue of Lutheran identity has been befuddling and dividing folk since the days of Melanchthon and the Gnesios, which would be a great name for a band. There are probably as many answers as there are Lutheran “camps.” Coming to terms with Luther is a lifetime’s work, never mind what constitutes his genuine theological legacy. Minds as great as Kierkegaard’s seem to have misunderstood the Reformer on key issues. And so it’s probably an exercise in futility even to broach the subject. Nevertheless it’s what I do when I’m not programming my DVR to record every episode of Burn Notice. 

And because, damn it, I’d still like an answer.

UPDATE (April 6, 2013): Jack Kilcrease makes a crucial, and Bonhoeffer-esque, distinction between justification of sin and justification of the sinner, and relates this to Bolz-Weber’s ministry. Draw your own conclusions.

This entry was posted in It's Always About Justification, Lutherans Who Would Think They're Funnier Than Me if They Knew Who I Was in the First Place. Bookmark the permalink.

119 Responses to Nadia Bolz-Weber and Lutheran Identity

  1. Shelia says:

    For a long time I was asking the same question about Lutheranism, along with other burning questions: What does membership matter? Can one disagree with more and more of what the “big church” espouses and still be part of it? At what point does one cut and run? Why didn’t I buy the kindle version of “Bonhoeffer” by Eric Metaxas to avoid muscles aches from carrying the book around?

    Ok, so who is a Lutheran? One correct answer is “not the ELCA,” which has become the church of whatevah (with it and its Big Tent). Our parish, located in Charleston, SC, and at the moment under the South Carolina Synod umbrella, is going through the process of breaking off and joining the NALC ( which at least has the decency to be confessional and proudly proclaims to be anti-big tent (and yet still holds open communion). We recently had both the bishop of the SC Synod and the bishop of the NALC speak to our congregation. The NALC bishop outlined what it means to be a confessing Lutheran. The synod bishop gave nine reasons to stay with the ELCA (which included advice to not worry about what Chicago is doing and just do what we want in our own congregation).

    For a while I worked at the Catholic diocese laying out its newspaper — yes, they actually employed me even though I’m Lutheran, which I considered very Vatican II of them (holy cow, they even had me answer theological questions during the interview process) — and it gave me the opportunity to think every day about what I believe.

    My office faced the cathedral, and I heard the bells every hour on the hour (including the call-to-worship bells at 12:05 for the midday Mass, to which I would be welcomed but not allowed communion), and when I heard the bells, I pondered why I am Lutheran and not Catholic (or Baptist or Episcopal or Wiccan or agnostic, for that matter), why I believe what I believe, why affiliation and association matters in our all-inclusive society, whether I’m willing to die for my beliefs, how I could lay out a column arguing against offering the Eucharist to non-Catholics because of tradition without rolling my eyes and sighing audibly. On the plus side, I was working there when the Fortnight for Freedom was happening, and I’m impressed they had the balls the Protestants don’t seem to have to stand up to the government.

    My tenure at the diocese was worth it because in the end, I was able to firm up my position and know where I stand. I do think the NALC comes closest to Luther’s original intention without the restrictions the LCMS seems to have.

    • Anthony Sacramone says:

      Thanks for this, Shelia. Appreciate your contribution.

      For the record: These days, I couldn’t get arrested at a confessional Protestant publishing house, but Catholic publishers have been more than happy to employ me.

  2. Eric Brown says:

    While the Swedes historically would have said the Augsburg Confession, I take it a bit shorter. Let’s consider the Small Catechism. Do you buy that? Do you believe what it says in there — and not all the other Synodical questions in the back — just the stuff your pastor might have tried to make you memorize back in the day. Does that ring true — then you are Lutheran. Now, how we apply that Truth in our modern day context (I just threw up a little typing that), well, you can get a bunch of things spiraling out of whack from there — but if we share the Catechism there is at least in theory the ability to retreat to a common ground, a common approach to the whole topic of theology before we spin off and freak out about our own particular bugaboos.

    I’m LCMS. The rest of my dad’s family (excepting him and one cousin) are ELCA… some a quite a bit out there, and we can get into some highly interesting discussions — but we can always pull back to the Catechism.

  3. Lars Walker says:

    Although I have a number of LCMS friends, I’m uncomfortably aware that they don’t consider me a “proper” Lutheran, and I think I understand their point of view. My tradition is pietist, with an emphasis on personal conversion (along with infant baptism, mind you). We tend to low-church worship, which nowadays has degenerated to Contemporary Worship in a lot of cases. I shifted to the one church of our group in our city that still has a “traditional” service, though it’s not really all that traditional. It does offer weekly communion, though. I find, in my old age, that I’m longing for the traditional services that emphatically were not what I grew up with.

    But we believe in the Augsburg Confession and the Catechism, and do not believe that our works contribute in any way to our salvation. We believe that life in Christ is imparted in baptism, and that Christ is truly present in the elements of the Lord’s Supper.

  4. Amberg Preus says:

    A person can be a Christian and still espouse heresy. This is what the Lutherans call a felicitous inconsistency. So denying baptismal regeneration isn’t Christian, but many anabaptists may be Christians despite the devil’s work in their midst through false doctrine. I suppose one could apply this to the term “Lutheran” as well, but even that begs the question of definition.

    Everybody in Norway is “Lutheran.” What does that mean? Nothing but culture. I would agree with Eric that the Small Catechism is the litmus test for Lutheranism, but the Book of Concord is the litmus test for pastors. Once the Scandinavian Church encountered the reformed errors adopting the BoC should have been a top priority. The fate of the Lutheran pastors who didn’t is seen in the ELCA, whose dogmatics textbook denies the Trinity and espouses all sorts of heresies.

    Nadia uses the sinner saint paradigm falsely. Nadia is no more “Lutheran” than Hegel, who applied Christ’s communication of divine attributes to his human nature to history and truth in general.

    If a person believes what the Calvinists teach he cannot be a Christian as such. It is impossible, since he denies the essence of the Gospel and the means by which we receive it. But Calvinists forget their false doctrine for moments and are Christians. They don’t recognize the inconsistencies. A Roman Catholic can’t be a Christian as such since if he believes what the pope and counsels teach he denies the grace of God and is severed from Christ. But there are probably more Roman Catholic Christians than “Lutherans” by name who are Christians, due to the sheer volume of numbers.

    Similarly also someone who denies the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture or professes women’s ordination or submits to the pagan theory of Evolution cannot be a Lutheran as such, but it is possible for the person to be a Lutheran in certain aspects.

    We do each other great harm – not to mention show our implanted spiritual arrogance – when we consider ourselves proper interpreters of some supposed prevenient grace or of the spiritual condition of men’s souls apart from the doctrine they confess. Mrs. Bolz-Weber teaches false doctrine to Christ’s little ones. Robert Jenson taught generations of Christians to doubt the only source of Christian doctrine – the Bible. Can they still be Christians? God is merciful, but not the point of denying his truth and faithfulness. Can they still be Lutherans? We are merciful too, but not to the point of denying God’s truth.

  5. Pingback: What is a Lutheran?

  6. Tom Hering says:

    What makes me a Lutheran is the unhappy fact that I, like Luther, find the Church of my day (which includes all churches, Lutheran and otherwise) to be in need of reformation. Because the Gospel, as Luther understood it, is still lost in a mess of this, that, and the other thing. Probably always will be, except for brief, shining moments here and there.

  7. Dan Kempin says:

    Scripture. (alone.)

    Grace. (alone.)

    Faith. (Though lutherans have begun to think and speak of faith differently than the original lutherans, as though it is an act of will.) (also, “alone.”)

    This is the core of Lutheranism. Without this core, there could have been no reformation. The authorities, institutions, social pressures, theological systems and culture of the time would not have allowed it. “My conscience is bound by the Word of God.” “Here I stand.”

    We could use some reformation OF Lutheranism, it seems, if our “brand” has become so confused that we cannot even sort out the core of what it means to be Lutheran. We could benefit, perhaps, from someone pointing out that our theology has become both loftily academic and inaccessible, while the manner in which theology is “discussed” among us has the dynamics of fourth graders on the playground with a teacher who doesn’t care much for discipline.

    We, (and by the way, I am speaking for my own experience in the Missouri Synod), have stumbled at the fact that much of the Lutheranism we know is a cultural identity, and we have staggered as some have tried, disjointedly, to throw off that cultural identity in order to present the core of lutheranism to a new culture, while others have pushed back that the cultural identity is precisely where the core is to be found.

    In the midst of this all, we have created an identity crisis for ourselves where the simple confidence in the clear word of scripture is no longer enough to guide our practice. We either (to use the extremes on either side) wander from the clear scripture as we seek to please the culture we are trying to reach, or subject the clear scripture to the sanhedrin of “confessional” identity, which oddly enough seems more interested in defending cultural lutheranism than they are in proclaiming the theology of the confessions.

    So how’s that for a starting point: The clear Word of scripture is enough.

  8. Steve Martin says:

    One of the things that I believe makes one orthodox Lutheran is their doctrine of the Word.

    Many Lutherans have a Southern Baptist doctrine of the Word, which leads to a lack of Christian freedom and opens the door to legalism.

    ‘The finite contains the infinite’ is an orthodox Lutheran understanding of the doctrine of the Word.

    I know many will howl at that, but that’s always the case. Their simply not free. And that has nothing to do with many Lutherans throwing God’s law overboard (Nadia Bolz-Weber and the ELCA).

  9. william1580 says:

    hey Anthony.

    I like what Nadia is doing. I like it alot. I am a Gay Lutheran. I was raised in the WELS. I migrated back to the LCMS where I had been baptized after a stint in the wilderness thinking that gay=going to hell. Now I am in Brasil. Permanently. And I attend a small (25 member) congregation of a church body here in brasil that was a full district/diocese of the LCMS till around 1970. My pastors have always known I am gay. It really doesnt seem to matter much. Really. And we can disagree on lots of stuff. Its ok.

    For me “Lutheran ” is defined, wholy so, by the Lutheran Confessions. Its´core is the Catechisms but also the Augustana and Apology. The Apology is an answer to Roman Catholic Scholastic Thomism. Someone who read the Apology without knowing Aristotelian categories for stuff and how Thomas, following St Augustine overlays christian theology onto that framework is gonna leave lots of change on the table reading the Apology. Especially the article on “Love and the Keeping of the Law”.

    Rome hears “faith” as faith perfected by love. Practical Faith. St James faith. And Rome hears “grace” as “enabling grace”. Lutherans say that Aristotle is perfectly sufficient for those things. Saving faith, they say, is useless on earth except to God and a guilty conscience. Think about the irrelevance of that last sentence. Now that IS Lutheran. It is what separates us.

    One should note that Lutherans follow what Zahl says in that tape. We start with the Law. And we really sorta stay there. 85% and up of the Lutheran Confessions deal with the Law and what it is. I would suggest that the Lutheran difference is the Lutheran definitions of sin and the Law. The question that is in everyone´s mind, pagans, buddhists, muslims… is how is it that we can get back to “paradise”. But to know the answer to that, we need to know what that looks like. So the question is then: “what does the process look like to get UNf**ked up?” What is it that needs to be done to UNdo what it is that is wrong inside and among all of us.

    Zahl, if you pay attention, slams “10 step” programs. He calls out “12 step programs” as being “practical grace”. He is not so clear on law and gospel as you assume Anthony. This is a return to Rome. And you know that a really good Roman theologian like Benedict the current pope can come just as close as Zahl to getting it right. Zahl calls grace Grace, forgiveness ala victor hugo´s les miserables Forgiveness, and he calls gospel Gospel.

    And the ELCA does the same redefining. The ELCA calls mercy Mercy. Inclusiveness, which is really what the Law demands as mercy they call Mercy. Should the LCMS be equally inclusive? Yes. It is what both the Law and what Apology art VII demand. But this is pure Law. There is no Gospel in that. Not at all. So I remain in the LCMS. They are at least that clear.

    But… wait!….The LCMS is headed there too. mercy is now Mercy under Harisson. Doubt that? When they met with the ELCA to discuss what mercy work they could do together with the ELCA they felt the need to witness to the ELCA to try to fix the perceived antinominanism there. So what book did they present? “The Book of Concord”? Nope. “A Lutheran Reappraisal of [thomist] Natural Law” is what they thrust into the hands of the ELCA representatives. So the fix for sin is not alone, faith in Christ. The cure for antinomianism is not Law and Gospel properly distinguished and proclaimed. No. What is it? It is a return to Thomist Scholasticism. Amazing. Ahem.

    Summary: We need to take back the word “confessional ” from the LCMS lutherans who cling to that term. Lutherans need to consciously base their theology on the Confessions. Mostly that is catechism and Apology. The formula is just a commentary on the Apology. And there, I could argue for women´s ordination as being ok. I could argue for gay marriage as being a good way to curb sin. And… I could argue that we are to turn noone who is baptized out of the visible church except to perhaps sequester them if they are disrupting the governing of that church. And at the same time we would practice closed communion. But the practice would not be about beloning to a denomination. Go figure. I cound argue from FC II “free will” that the duty of the church is to tell gays to keep coming to church.

    And the Confessions. What are they? I suggest that they are a hands on demonstration of how to properly apply the proper distinction of the Two Kingdoms. which is NOT a theory on the separation of church and state but is rather the casuistic (ie practical application) of Law and Gospel distinction. Each and every article of the Book of Concord is meant to demonstrate to it´s reader how to use that distinction to clarify the truth in the middle of error.

    Read Nadia´s sermon on the garden of eden. She seems to reject the notion of Original Sin. I say seems. but watch! She is turning more Lutheran. What she is rejecting is the Roman notion that original sin is about what adam and eve did. And she is saying that the original sin is about faith or lack of it in the Word of God. Bingo. Apology art II. She gets it right right there. the definition of sin and the Law. She too defines grace as Grace and mercy as Mercy and forgiveness as Forgiveness and Inclusion as Gospel, but… I see that little by little, she is talking about Grace as being the Works of Another.

    The Word of God is having it´s way with her.
    I wish there was room for her in the LCMS.

  10. william1580 says:

    Anthony there is a great Anglican pastor who is actually Lutheran in NYC. His name is Jacob Smith. You need to be under pastoral care and regulary hear the Word of God and receive the Blessed Sacrament. You know that of course. Jake is your guy. He is NOTLutheran in name only. I will send him a link to this and encourage him to be in touch with you ok?

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