Lutheranism

This tag is associated with 31 posts

Why I Left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod: By Their Fruits… (Part 5)

Photo from Wikimedia Commons by Markus Trienke

By Their Fruits… (Part 5)

My previous posts in this miniseries focused on specific things: my discovery that Christians could believe one thing and act in ways contrary to it, racism I encountered in the LCMS, misogyny I encountered in the LCMS, and homophobia rampant in the LCMS. This post will summarize several other aspects of practice and belief I found within the LCMS that drove me away. It comes from a wide variety of sources, but again, I focus on behavior from people who either were leaders in the LCMS (pastors, professors, teachers) or were studying to become those leaders. These are not stories of random laity, but trained LCMS people. Other examples are specifics about LCMS teachings, whether official or not. [1]

Growing up in LCMS schools, I learned to say not just the pledge of allegiance, but the pledge to the cross. Yes, the pledge to the cross. “I pledge allegiance to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the faith for which it stands, with mercy and grace for all.” We would stand and say the pledge to both flags, which were set up across from each other in classrooms and sanctuaries. It didn’t bother me until I was a young adult that we would say a pledge to both–as if our allegiance to a nation state should be as strong or on the same level as our allegiance to Christ. When I started to raise objections to flags in sanctuaries or unquestioning allegiance to our nation, I was told, basically that that was along the lines of a Jehovah’s Witness and because they were wrong about everything, I shouldn’t agree with them on this topic. That didn’t sit well with me.

It wasn’t until years later, when I read The Myth of Religious Violence by William Cavanaugh (book review here), that I could better articulate my problems with the integration of nationalism and religion that remains entrenched in many LCMS churches. When I started to express those views, the reaction was almost entirely negative. Flags were in sanctuaries in part, I was told, because of a holdover from when the LCMS shed some of its outward associations with Germany, particularly during WWI[2]. But that didn’t explain why they needed to remain there, or why the pledge to the cross was said alongside the pledge of allegiance. The nation state, I kept pointing out, seemed to be elevated to the same place as allegiance to Christ. The flag in the sanctuary was and is very often next to and on the same level as the so-called Christian flag. The pledges were said in tandem. As a kid, the link between the two was impossible to miss. As an adult, no correctives were offered. Nationalism is frequently conflated with patriotism, just as it is in the general populace. However, reconciling my belief that our allegiance should be to Christ alone with the way allegiance to the nation state is assumed and even pushed within the LCMS became impossible.

Pastors in the LCMS are extremely inconsistent when it comes to practice related to the Lord’s Supper. Many speak with pride about the extreme doctrinal purity the LCMS pushes. In practice, however, maintaining that supposed purity gets complicated. As a kid, I remember not taking communion in other churches. It was because they believed differently from us, and so we weren’t supposed to participate in that. I specifically remember one time before I was “confirmed”[3], I was offered communion at a Methodist church. I was super excited to take it, but (as I recall-it was a young memory) my hand was physically moved from taking the bread or grape juice offered. I remember people being denied communion in our church, and some of them being upset by that. Again, I learned it was because of different beliefs about what communion was. When I got older, I learned that the reasoning behind denying others communion was because we didn’t want people to eat and drink destruction on themselves. This belief was backed by a rather idiosyncratic reading of 1 Corinthians 11:27: “So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” This verse was used to justify virtually any reason for not allowing a person to have communion.

While the LCMS has produced documents about who should and should not be allowed to receive communion, from firsthand experience I can say that these documents are entirely ignored or applied whenever the pastor desires (or not). Ultimately, the practice of closed (or, a preferred term: “close”) communion, while given lip service as a way to protect people from grave sin, is wielded by many LCMS pastors as a totally arbitrary way to punish those with whom they disagree. Alternatively, refusing communion to people can enforce a pastor’s doctrinal whims. Indeed, the LCMS website itself renders many decisions to the “individual pastor’s judgment,” such as whether someone with Celiac disease can have communion with gluten-free wafers. Thus, it is entirely possible for there to be LCMS churches in which, because the pastor chooses not to use gluten free wafers, people with Celiac disease are effectively excommunicated not because of different belief but because of a chronic immune disorder.

The decision about whether or not to commune someone was totally arbitrary even in churches in which I found inserts about their beliefs about who could or could not commune in bulletins. One church had such an insert, and it said, essentially, that people who differed about the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine could not receive communion. I remain Lutheran, and affirm real presence to this day. When I was denied communion by the pastor of that same church, he justified it by saying that because I disagreed with the LCMS on other things, I couldn’t really share their belief on real presence, as all beliefs are ultimately tied together. Such a reach for what can or cannot qualify someone based on what is already a tenuous reading of Scripture effectively meant this pastor believed he could exclude anyone from communion for any reason. I told the pastor this, and he just smiled and said he wasn’t changing what he said.

In the LCMS, one of the strongest beliefs I was taught was the need to properly divide law and gospel. C.F.W. Walther, perhaps the single most influential LCMS pastor and leader, wrote a book on the topic. There was no question in my mind that the arbitrariness with which this pastor and others applied closed communion was a key example of mixing gospel (the forgiveness found in the Lord’s Supper) with law (attempts to punish people for disagreement or call out sin therein). This was not the first or only time I’d be denied communion for absurd reasons. Another time, while staying at a friend’s house on a trip, I was denied communion because I didn’t affirm young earth creationism. Indeed, that pastor’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:29 meant that I’d be unworthily receiving the body and blood because I disagreed about how old the planet is. At that stage, I was still a member in good standing within the LCMS and regularly attended an LCMS church, at which I was given communion. In spite of that, I was denied communion at this LCMS church based on the age of the Earth. The practice is, again, entirely arbitrary. LCMS documents and leaders give lip service to how it protects people, but show total disregard for the spiritually abusive way many pastors apply the practice to exclude Christians from participating in Christ’s body and blood.

I could illustrate this time and again with many, many firsthand accounts or accounts shared with me by others. Another Lutheran was denied communion when they were traveling as part of an LCMS choir because they weren’t a young earth creationist. At a different time, the same person was denied communion because they believed women could be pastors. In neither case was this policy stated, nor were others on the same trip queried about their beliefs on those same topics. The only reasonable conclusion is that LCMS pastors are totally arbitrary about when they apply the doctrine of closed communion. This should be seen as a damning indictment of the practice. After all, the LCMS teaches that closed communion is intended to protect people’s souls, or at least protect them from unknowingly participating in sin. If that’s the case, then why would something with such huge import be so subject to inconsistency about its application? And how is it possible that people like me could go to four different LCMS churches and experience 4 totally different practices about communion such that I received it without question in one, after a brief discussion with the pastor in another, and was denied it for totally different reasons in two others? Inconsistency is one of the surest signs of a failing belief or system, and it can be found all over regarding this practice in LCMS churches. The leadership of the LCMS has effectively handed individual pastors a carte blanche to use their office to arbitrarily withhold the Sacrament from parishioners for whatever reason they desire. It’s a recipe for abuse of the system.

In LCMS schools, I was taught to read the Bible. It’s a legacy I keep to this day, and one I hugely appreciate. When I got to college, I finally began learning more about how to read the Bible, not just to read it. The consistency with which the method was applied was impressive, as I found multiple different professors in the theology department (all of whom were pastors) emphasizing points that were, if not the same, then essentially interchangeable. The bedrock belief was that scripture interprets scripture. Another hallmark of the system was talking about the historical grammatical method of interpretation. The historical grammatical method includes attempting to find the original meaning of the text. I found this exciting, because it meant that for the first time, I was reading about history and archeology and seeing what they could teach me regarding the Bible. This was alongside my surging interest in Christian apologetics. I was (and am) fascinated by finding out about idioms in the Bible, or euphemistic language that explained why things were written in the way they were. It was truly an exciting time.

Then, it started to become problematic. The simplistic reading of passages that I grew up with started to make less sense. Some of this coincided with my turning away from young earth creationism. There was a distinct incongruity between what I was learning regarding what the original intent might have been for a passage and what I was supposed to accept it to mean. It culminated in one private discussion with a professor (who, again, was an LCMS pastor) in which I pointed out that it seemed like the Flood story had precursors in the ancient world, and that it seemed to be almost polemical in its intent rather than historical. That is, the Flood story to me read as an intentional reframing of existing stories to teach monotheism and about how God overpowered forces of chaos than it did as a sort of rote historical report. This reading, the professor pointed out, contradicted another aspect of the historical grammatical method, which is that the events depicted in the Bible are actually historical essentially all the way through. I would later learn that this was a distortion of what evangelicals broadly held to be the historical grammatical method, and that would be its own kind of revelatory gain. In the moment, however, I was a bit shocked. I was simply trying to apply the hermeneutic I’d been learning to the texts themselves. Instead, I was being told that I was undermining Scripture as history and, possibly, denying the Bible itself.

When I shared my thoughts with another LCMS pastor, I was told straightforwardly that the way to distinguish someone who believed the Bible or not was to ask them about whether certain passages or books were historical. Thus, this pastor said you should ask whether they believe Jonah was a real person who was truly swallowed by a whale (or, he conceded, maybe a giant fish instead). You should ask whether they believe Adam and Eve were real and whether they were the first and only humans. You should ask whether a snake literally did speak to them. Noah’s Flood was another example. This pastor wasn’t just implying that denial of any of these meant one didn’t believe the Bible, he straightforwardly said it. That meant that my reading had to be rejected out of hand. I was devastated, but for the moment I dropped my investigation of Ancient Near Eastern background for the text. It would take me years to get back into it, and to this day I’m still trying to find resources to learn more.

One thing I’d theorized for a while about the LCMS and other groups that push beliefs that are outside of mainstream science was that once someone starts to disbelieve scientists regarding one thing, it becomes much easier to doubt scientists in other things. I wrote about how, as a child, I learned that scientists weren’t just wrong but were actively lying about things like the age of the Earth. Once you’ve accepted that there is some kind of global scientific conspiracy to cover up something like the age of the Earth, it becomes much easier to accept that same kind of thinking in other areas.

I dove into the question of climate change entirely from the view of one who wanted to deny that it was occurring. Again, from hearing things like Rush Limbaugh’s radio show and other sources, I was convinced it was another example of scientists lying. In college, I continued to read on the topic, watched and listened to several debates, and read some books on either side. What I kept finding is that the numbers couldn’t be thrown out. When I explored the age of the Earth, I kept finding young earth creationists saying things like “We look at the same data, we just interpret it differently.” The same thing seemed to be occurring with climate change. I eventually brought this notion to one of my professors as we talked about what I was hoping to study going forward. We were in his office and I distinctly remember him saying “It’s such a shame that global warming [using the parlance more common at the time] has become a politically charged question. The data is there; it is happening! It’s okay to debate what to do about it, but to deny that it exists is like sticking your head in the sand. It shouldn’t be political.” He went on to talk about a number of other issues he saw as unnecessarily political. It was hugely refreshing to hear, and it helped free me to think about all sorts of topics in different ways. But this put me on the outside of many conversations with LCMS leaders or leaders-in-training, who frequently talked about the lie of global warming. It wouldn’t be a major factor in alienating me from the LCMS, but it would serve as another example of how teaching about scientists all lying in one area made it easier to accept the same elsewhere.[4]

None of these served as overwhelming reasons why I left the LCMS, but united with the reasons from the previous posts, they became a massive case for leaving. Next time, we’ll delve into one more major reason I left the LCMS.

Next: Points of Fracture- Women in the Church

[1] I’ve said before there are many things the LCMS has a de facto position in relation to without explicitly drawing out or spelling it out in doctrines. One of these is the de facto young earth creationism within the LCMS. While they have some documents saying there is no official position, the continued adoption of resolutions effectively teaching YEC makes holding other positions problematic at best and grounds for excommunication for some pastors. I say the latter from my own experience of being denied communion for differing beliefs on the age of the Earth.

[2] There is some of the history of the LCMS’s transition from a German-speaking church to an English-speaking church in Authority Vested by Mary Todd, which has a history of the LCMS.

[3] a broadly used practice in the LCMS to teach children what they supposedly need to know before participating in the Lord’s Supper.

[4] I didn’t include a longer aside about anti-vaccination beliefs in the LCMS. It certainly is not an official position within the LCMS, but I’ve found it to be more common there than in the general population, even before Covid-19. Again, I believe this is linked to a general mistrust of scientists and science. If scientists are liars about one thing, why trust them in others? It genuinely makes me concerned about what might happen in the future if more and more people I know start to refuse vaccines, despite demonstrable evidence that they work.

Links

Formerly Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) or Wisconsin Synod (WELS)– A Facebook group I’ve created for people who are former members of either of these church bodies to share stories, support each other, and try to bring change. Note: Anything you post on the internet has the potential to be public and shared anywhere, so if you join and post, be aware of that.

Why I left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod Links Hub– Want to follow the whole series? Here’s a hub post with links to all the posts as well as related topics.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Why I left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod: By Their Fruits… (Part 3)

Photo from Wikimedia Commons by Markus Trienke

For several posts, I will be writing about specific things that came up while I was within the LCMS–that is, at its schools, churches, and university–that made me start to think that the LCMS way of things didn’t align with some aspect of reality, what I learned in the Bible, or something else. Here, I continue a miniseries within that about the fruits of our actions and how they tell about who we really are.

By Their Fruits… (Part 3)

[Content warning: discussion of misogyny.]

I wrote in my short history of my time in the LCMS: “What I thought when I decided to become a pastor is that I’d find a group of like-minded men… I did find several like-minded men, but I also found some of the most inward-looking, doctrine-obsessed, orthodox-rabid, self-righteous, and, unfortunately, misogynistic people I’d ever run into. I was one of them for a while.”

There’s intense pressure within the LCMS to fit in. The focus on “doctrinal purity” is immense, and this means that any dissent from some supposed norm is met with black-and-white simplicity. There simply cannot be dissent from the LCMS party line if one wants to be right about anything. This pressure to be “doctrinally pure” increases peer pressure on other levels. One doesn’t want to be seen as the weirdo who goes against commonly accepted jokes and practices. I found myself, then, as a pre-seminary student studying to be a pastor, in a group of men[1] with a like-minded focus on doctrine. This manifested in some strange ways.

For one, it meant that we largely had to pretend to know everything about Lutheran and LCMS doctrine. This wasn’t hard for me, as one who was a pastor’s kid and spent much of my childhood memorizing parts of Luther’s Small Catechism and other works. But it meant that if one of us was found out of step with something within the LCMS, there simply was no wiggle room. You either had to conform or be shunned; there’s no middle ground. So if someone was called on something that was not LCMS-correct, they either had to double down and defend it, proving it was LCMS appropriate or they had to show they’d been misunderstood. Recanting or repenting was largely out of the question because it meant that one’s doctrinal purity was suspect going forward. After all, if you couldn’t be trusted to know who to exclude from communion (or not) based on obscure and arcane rules, how could you be trusted to lead a church?[2]

The peer pressure was enormous, and would often get applied to things that weren’t necessarily official stances of the LCMS, but were rather logical outcomes of LCMS stances on things. One of those is the LCMS’s stance on women, which is an historically complex topic that has developed over the life of the Synod (see, for example, this historical work on the topic).

My increasing support of women’s rights and equality put me on the outside of these pre-seminary circles. Eventually, that would permanently remove me from those circles, but that’s a later post. Jokes at the expense of women were frequent. I’ll never forget being in a philosophy class, huddled together with some other pre-seminary men as we waited for the professor, talking around a set of desks. We were talking about intramural sports or something similar when significant others came up. One of the other pre-seminary men bragged about how his significant other had made him a sandwich the previous day, and he joked that “she’d be doing that for the rest of her life.” Everyone else laughed, but I didn’t. My increasing unease with jokes like this was becoming well-known on campus, and at least one of the other men said something like “take a joke” when I said it wasn’t funny.

Jokes weren’t the only way I experienced pastors or pastors-in-training to be derogatory towards women. The very acts and stances they took regarding women underscored this at every level. I heard from multiple different LCMS pastors things like “If a wife isn’t happy, no one in the house is happy,” a saying taken as a kind of truism about how women’s emotional lives will lash out at everyone else and bring them down.

The frequency of jokes in expense of women cannot really be overstated. Whether it was about women making sandwiches, needing to stay in the kitchen, being only good for raising children, or not having the right body parts to be a pastor, women were the butt of jokes. Menstrual cycles were seen with derision, and the verses in the Bible that mentioned them or euphemisms for them were treated with unease. But they also were fodder for jokes, and I heard jokes even from seminarians and pastors about a woman being “in her time of the month” if they were upset or expressed any kind of emotion. Conversely, men were emasculated if they showed emotions, “crying like a girl” or “running like a girl” was reason enough to be treated with scorn. Women’s place in the home was undermined even by their children. Teenage males were told they were “head of the household” if the father was away. I know this isn’t limited to my own experience, as I recall conversations with other LCMS-raised men talking about the same things.

For those who know the inner workings of LCMS theology, all of this shouldn’t be that surprising. While the LCMS ostensibly values women and claims women are fully equal to men, in practice that is far from the truth. Franz Pieper, an early President of what became known as the LCMS, wrote a lengthy multivolume systematic theology work. I used to own it. One of the passages in it basically says regarding women that they ought to be home and in the kitchen. It’s that blunt. I don’t have the volumes on hand anymore to get the exact wording. Pieper is seen by some LCMS theologians as extreme or off-base, but usually because of his views on things like predestination, not because of his views on women. The pre-seminary students were at least vaguely aware of theology like this existing, and some even cited it directly if their jokes about women were questioned.

To the outsider, this might sound absurd. Surely some random college kids wouldn’t be this aware of obscure theological texts from their theological heritage! Well, again, these were men studying specifically to be pastors. And because of the LCMS’s extreme emphasis on doctrinal purity as a kind of shibboleth for deciding who’s in or out, these students were very much aware of at least the basics of their theological heritage. They had to be, else their own doctrinal purity might be questioned and all might be lost. Again, this sounds over the top, but I cannot emphasize how accurate it is.

The emphasis on doctrinal purity came out in regards to other denominations as well. While non-Lutherans were generally tolerated as “wrong” or “deeply deluded” by the pre-seminary crowd, the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt” was astonishingly accurate. The LCMS seems to have an extreme case of bitterness against the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). I’ve noted this as I read LCMS-published theological texts, nearly all of which I’ve read have at least a footnote somewhere trashing the ELCA for some perceived wrong. This absolutely flows through the veins of many pastors in the LCMS, as well as in the pre-seminary and seminary students I knew. One pre-seminary student “converted” from ELCA to LCMS while in college with us, and he quickly moved to distance himself as much as possible from the ELCA, becoming a front-runner in making jokes at the expense of women and about “homosexuals.” This kind of insular hatred directed at a near theological rival is extremely common.

In college, I was dating an ELCA woman, and this led to one of many examples of this that directly impacted me. In the earlier days of Facebook, posts would be “[your name] [status]” so you’d post things like “is tired…” so it would say “J.W. is tired.” I posted something like “J.W. is so grateful to have a girl with [these great attributes]”[3]. A pre-seminary student who saw this status aped it, but modified it ever-so-slightly: “Charles is so grateful to have a girl with [same great attributes] who’s LCMS!”[4] It was a clear dig at my status, and an implicit questioning of my orthodoxy. After all, how could I date a woman who was in the ELCA?

What kind of answer could be given to this? The easiest response to all of this would be to offer a similar response to the proposed one regarding Racism: not all LCMS pastors are racist, and many would be appalled by racist jokes. Not all LCMS pastors are misogynists. Not all LCMS pastors joke about women’s place in the kitchen or write systematic theologies arguing to that end… not all… I agree. It’s true that not all LCMS pastors are guilty of the things I saw and experienced. But too many LCMS pastors allow misogyny within their ranks. Too many LCMS pastors cover up or make demeaning comments about women. Too many LCMS pastors have misogynistic mindsets. “By their fruits, you will know them.”

Next: By their fruit… (Part 3) I discuss still more bad fruit I witnessed within the LCMS.

[1] I occasionally will interchange “men” or “pre-seminary students” or similar terms. Unless otherwise noted, these should all be understood to be all men. The LCMS does not ordain women into the office of ministry, and so women in a pre-seminary program are vanishingly rare.

[2] I will address closed communion and some related idiosyncratic practices within the LCMS in a later post.

[3] Note the use of the term “girl” for woman, and the notion of ownership of a significant other; these talking points were imbibed and encouraged with in an LCMS context that devalues women and treats people who’d care about calling women “girls” as absurdities. Again, I’m not proud of myself for having adopted this language at that point, but I am thankful that woman challenged me to do better.

[4] Again, I’ve changed any names throughout this series.

Links

Formerly Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) or Wisconsin Synod (WELS)– A Facebook group I’ve created for people who are former members of either of these church bodies to share stories, support each other, and try to bring change. Note: Anything you post on the internet has the potential to be public and shared anywhere, so if you join and post, be aware of that.

Why I left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod Links Hub– Want to follow the whole series? Here’s a hub post with links to all the posts as well as related topics.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Why I left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod: Points of Fracture (Part 1): Science as a Child

I have written about why I am writing this series as well as my history within the LCMS. Now, it is time to turn to what I’m calling points of fracture. For several posts, I will be writing about specific things that came up while I was within the LCMS–that is, at its schools, churches, and university–that made me start to think that the LCMS way of things didn’t align with some aspect of reality, something I learned in the Bible, or something else.[1]

Points of Fracture: Science as a Child

Here, I’ll be sharing the points of fracture that I experienced related to science at a young age. At the outset, I want to point out that much of these points of fracture were discovered by me over time. So, for example, when I talk about my young childhood, it’s not as though I was immediately aware that something was off about what I was learning. Instead, it was a realization that came over time, and the memory of when I was young was something that I recall as an important stepping stone to get to where I am now.

Some of my first memories of conflict between what I believed and what others believed was as a child getting library books. I don’t remember how far we had to go to drive to the library from our tiny town, but I remember it seemed like forever, and that I would consume books on the way home, often falling asleep in the car before arriving at home. I, like many kids, was obsessed with dinosaurs.[2] That meant I raided the library’s section on dinosaurs. I’d memorize the names and facts about them, pore over images of them, and imagine what life would have been like alongside them. If the cover of a library book had a T-Rex ripping apart its prey, that was the book I was going for. But those dinosaur books talked about when dinosaurs lived. Those dates were given as the best scientific approximations based on various dating techniques, ranging from about 66 million years ago to 200 million or more for dinosaurs’ first appearance on Earth.

Those dates, I was told, were wrong. Whenever I saw “millions,” I was told to ignore it. As a young kid, I didn’t press back very hard on that. After all, I had no reason to do so. I knew that I could get facts wrong about all sorts of things, so the notion that basically every book I read about dinosaurs was wrong about how long ago dinosaurs lived wasn’t terribly mind-bending for me. I learned to just run my eyes over any time it said “millions of years,” because that was wrong. The rest of the facts, though, were basically unquestioned. I didn’t have the capacity at the time to put those two things into disharmony. That is, I didn’t realize how odd it was that the books and scientists seemed to be right about, say the ecosystem the dinosaurs lived in, or their diets, or debates about coloration while simultaneously being totally wrong and even untruthful about how long ago they lived.

That last bit is important. I used the word “untruthful” because part of what I was taught, whether directly or through creationist literature I would be exposed to a year or so later, was that scientists weren’t just wrong about the age of the Earth or when dinosaurs lived. No, instead, they were actively lying about it. I want to sit with this for a moment because it is an extremely important distinction. There’s a huge difference between someone being wrong while reporting something they think is factual and someone deliberately deceiving you about something they say is factual. That I came to believe that scientists were actively lying about the age of the Earth would temper my interest in science for more than a decade once it became fully engrained in me. Sometimes I genuinely think I would have ended up in geology or paleontology as a field of study and employment if I hadn’t come to be taught that, because of my deep interest in these topics. But I didn’t, at least in part because I thought scientists were liars.

No small part of that belief came from some of the approved dinosaur books I was gifted during my dinosaur obsession. These dinosaurs books portrayed a different history of the world, with humans walking alongside long-necked dinosaurs and feeding them fruits by hand. I distinctly remember a photograph of an alleged plesiosaur (see below) that had been caught by a fishing boat in one of them. These books didn’t have the same exciting illustrations of T-Rex or Deinonychus (my personal favorite) shredding their prey. Instead, I was taught that they had something more precious–the truth about dinosaurs. These books confronted head on topics like evolution and the age of the Earth, saying in no uncertain terms that evolution was a lie and scientists who taught millions of years were liars as well. I didn’t even understand what evolution was supposed to be at this point, but I knew it was a lie. Again, this disjunction between being mistaken and being liars was something that sucked away my enjoyment of science over time, and also would make it extremely difficult for me to fairly examine evidence.

Alleged photograph of a plesiosaur captured by a fishing boat. The photograph is genuine, though it is of a rotted carcass of a shark, not a plesiosaur. Even Creationist organization Answers in Genesis shares reasons to doubt its authenticity as a plesiosaur. I couldn’t find the exact photo credits for this image, but use it under fair use.

Later, I remember talking to a child a few grades above me at my LCMS grade school. When I mentioned that I liked dinosaurs, she told me quite sincerely that dinosaurs had never existed. I was incredulous, asking “What about all the bones!?” Her answer surprised me: she said something to the effect of “Those bones were put there by God to test people’s faith.” The total somberness with which she expressed this sentiment took me off guard, but I do remember laughing at her because I thought it was so ridiculous to think that (I wasn’t the kid with the best manners). I would later recall the incident when I was studying more about these topics because it specifically showed me I could see beliefs about science that seemed obviously false and reject them, and that was okay. Even more importantly, it was a time my younger self was given an idea about God that did not seem to align with what I believed about God. Even as a child, the notion that God would be actively trying to deceive people seemed obviously, even hilariously wrong. That God doesn’t deceive us with nature, but that nature rather declares the glory of God (Psalm 19) would be hugely important to me as an adult.

Another topic I remember was about Adam and Eve. I specifically remember learning that all boys and men had one fewer rib than women. This was seen as evidence for the biblical account of Adam having been formed from Eve’s rib. I don’t remember my first source of hearing of this, but I do remember I heard it from more than one adult in my life. It wasn’t actually until college as I was searching online for various science-related things that I learned this was false. To this day, even typing that it’s false has me second-guessing myself, so firm was my belief that men had fewer ribs than women. It’s one of those things that is incredibly easy to disprove, to the point that when passed along, no one thinks to question it. It was honestly a shocking revelation to me when I discovered it wasn’t true, and it spurred me on to search for other things I could disprove or couldn’t confirm.

I believe it was in 6th grade, again at an LCMS school, that I had a single day in which we talked about plate tectonics. It was in a geography class, and we were learning quite briefly about how the map was formed. I recalled some of the maps I’d seen in dinosaur books of Pangaea and asked about that, noticing it appeared as though Africa and South America fit together. I don’t remember the exact answer, but what I got was enough for me to excitedly talk about plate tectonics later, only to be told by a pastor that they don’t exist. How did earthquakes happen, then? I asked. The answer was that God made them happen. I was disturbed even then by this answer. More, I was confused in getting entirely different answers about what caused earthquakes and how continents moved–or whether they moved at all–from two approved sources. Which should I believe? In the moment, I just bracketed it and stopped thinking about it. That was largely my answer for when things like this happened. I assumed others knew more than me, and it would become clear later.

One year in middle school at an LCMS school (I think it was 8th grade), we were super excited to be taking part in a science curriculum that would be shared by schools all over the country. The curriculum used the Hawaiian islands as a touch point for learning all sorts of things about science–whether geology by learning about volcanoes, biology by learning about ecosystems, and the like. I distinctly recall opening the binders we received and flipping through to see the contents. In among the thrilling sections on volcanoes and wildlife, I saw that there was a section about evolution on the islands. I had only the vaguest idea of what evolution meant. I knew it meant something like animals turned into other animals because of seeing it in some dinosaur books I’d read years before. I recalled learning that evolution was a lie, but seeing it show up in a text in my LCMS school made it feel safe… but only for a moment. When I turned to the pages indicated to see what might be said about this intriguing topic, I discovered the pages had been removed. I opened to the page, and found I was flipping from page 55 to page 75. It’s hard to fully capture my feelings at that moment. It was a truly disturbing incident for me. I believe I mentioned it to the teacher and was told that we wouldn’t be covering that topic. I remember flipping back and forth a few times, stunned. It was one of the clearest moments as a kid that I realized something was genuinely being covered up. It wasn’t just that scientists were wrong or lying. That, I could, in my childlike trust, accept. This was a revelation: what scientists taught was being actively covered up or suppressed, as if it would be dangerous to even know about it.

Earlier, I said this was one of the points of fracture that led me to think that maybe the LCMS way of things wasn’t accurate. I want to briefly address a possible objection here. I say “the LCMS view of things,” not necessarily to mean that they have specific teachings on everything I touch upon here or in other posts. For example, it is very clear that the LCMS holds that young earth creationism in some form is the view that ought to be taught to and held by its members. This view, however, is not codified in LCMS official positions. Indeed, according to the LCMS’s official web site about their views, they do not have an official position on the age of the earth. Thus, one could technically take issue with my pointing out that the LCMS’s view of things is a young earth creationist perspective.

However, this would indeed be nothing but a technicality, because in application and practice, no other views are allowed broadly in the LCMS. As one example, one pastor confidentially told me about how some of their peers attempted to introduce a resolution at a pastor’s conference to simply discuss the possibility of views apart from young earth creationism. This pastor approvingly told me that those pastors were literally shouted down by the rest of the pastors at this conference for their attempt. From my own experience, I know of at least 3 different LCMS pastors who questioned the faith of LCMS members who did not hold to a young earth creationist view. Additionally, tying belief in a young earth together with trust in the Bible is ubiquitous in LCMS leadership. In preparing this post, one classmate of mine pointed out that an LCMS professor who was a pastor explicitly taught an old Earth in a class we shared. This experience was perhaps the lone exception to an otherwise uniform experience that I and others have shared related to the LCMS’s views on the age of the Earth.

All of these final points are to say, just because something isn’t explicitly codified on the LCMS web site, for example, doesn’t mean that it’s not part of the DNA of the LCMS. Young Earth Creationism is absolutely integral to the overwhelmingly vast majority of LCMS belief and practice related to any questions about science and faith.

See also my post, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod and Creationism: An unnecessary match, in which I go over the 2019 convention’s affirmation of Young Earth Creationism, including a link to the official LCMS blog.

Next: Points of Fracture, Part 2

[1] I debated internally a bit about how to organize my thoughts related to the specific fracture points that led me to see that my views did not align with those of the LCMS. Should I organize them topically, chronologically, or in some other order? I ultimately settled on doing them topically, because it allowed me to arrange each topic chronologically and show how some of these built on themselves over time. I thought it would be less disjointed to present it this way, rather than skipping around.

[2] I say “was obsessed” but I truly remain obsessed with dinosaurs, and find learning about them is still one of my greatest joys.

Links

Formerly Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) or Wisconsin Synod (WELS)– A Facebook group I’ve created for people who are former members of either of these church bodies to share stories, support each other, and try to bring change. Note: Anything you post on the internet has the potential to be public and shared anywhere, so if you join and post, be aware of that.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

What’s Wrong with Apologetics? – I take a look at some of the issues I’ve found to be broadly true in apologetics-related circles.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Why I left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod: A short history of my time in the LCMS

All rights reserved.

I was born into the LCMS, baptized not long after my birth. My dad was an LCMS pastor. I was in LCMS parochial schools through 8th grade, went to public high schools, and went to college at an LCMS university.

The teachings of the LCMS were in my veins, and they still are. I memorized parts of Luther’s Small Catechism, recited memory verses, and answered dozens of questions about the catechism when I was confirmed. I went to church weekly. I was involved in several activities within the church, such as being the president of the Youth Group at my church and class president in 8th grade at my LCMS school. I had and still have multiple settings of the liturgy memorized, and frequently sing them to calm myself down or just sing praise when they pop into my mind.

Many of my earliest memories involve being in church or church-related things. For example, I remember being at a children’s sermon (my dad was my pastor, as he was for my whole life until college) in which my dad held up a wood block with “JESUS” silhouetted on it. He asked if anyone knew what it said. Confidently, I raised my hand and said we couldn’t know because it was in a different language! I’d mistaken the raised wood for the letters and assumed it was Hebrew or another language my dad had studied–he loved languages. I can’t tell you the number of memories I have of being with my dad on pastoral visits, sitting and drawing Star Trek ships or sharks as he spoke with members. I went along to several funerals as well.

Whenever the group came through town, I participated in Ongoing Ambassadors for Christ (OAFC), an LCMS ministry group that worked to train Lutherans to share their faith with others.[1] This included going door-to-door in my community and others nearby to tell people about Jesus and invite them to church. We hosted them at our church, and several of the leaders of the OAFC group would stay in our home. I remember a few nights where there’d be teenagers sprawled across multiple couches on the lower floor of the parsonage we lived in, and I’d stay up as late as I’d be allowed talking to the “cool kids” who were in my house. I wanted to be one of them.

I’d participated a few times in the youth group at my friend’s LCMS church. This was also where I went to middle school, as in the LCMS there is an emphasis on private schooling. They had a bigger group due to having a school and more populous community, and it was fun to connect with even more LCMS people my age and do things like the 30 Hour Famine, in which we fasted for 30 hours for solidarity with hungry people worldwide to raise money. These events had a different feel from much of my other church-related life, and for good reason. The events were sponsored by World Vision, a broadly evangelical service organization. It was one of the rare instances in which I participated in broader Christianity with a slightly different flavor from my own.

I went to the LCMS Youth Gathering the year I was eligible. This wasn’t some small event: the event attracted more than 30,000 youths from all over the country. It was an incredible experience at which I remember connecting to bands, meeting interesting people, and staying with a best friend. We’d sing songs, pray, praise, give thanks, and talk with other youths from all over the United States.

I also spent some time on forums debating theology and talking to other Christians. This was back when such things were pretty new. Instant messaging was pretty novel. I remember a relative proudly talking to church members about how I’d debate Lutheran theology with non-Lutherans in a chatroom. There was a darker side to it, though. I had an alarming experience with one of the adult members in the chatroom propositioning me, a minor. Nothing happened beyond that, but I was deeply shaken. It was the first real memory for me of a time in which I truly felt adults were unsafe. But it went beyond that. It was the first memory–an extremely vivid one–of when I discovered faith could be unsafe. It meant people could use an allegedly shared religion to try to go after a kid. Religion could be used, I’d discovered, for evil. I think I was about 10-11 years old. It’s a lesson I’d never forget.

In the first public high school I was at, it was a small town. There were many churches and it ended up that there were 4 other PKs (pastor’s kids) in my class. It was a small school and we’d frequently end up in classes together. I distinctly remember debating doctrine with some of these other PKs. One of them told some good friends of mine they were all going to hell. One of those friends came to me an asked what I thought. “J.W.,” he said, “am I going to hell because I smoke weed? Steve[2] says I will.” I was taken aback for a moment. “No,” I answered. I had no interest in any kind of drugs or underage drinking. Like I said in the first post, I’m a people pleaser, but I’m also a major rule follower, and those things didn’t really have any appeal for me. “No,” I answered. “He’s just wrong.” Steve overheard this, because we were all in a free period and he was just across the classroom. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went, but I know he challenged me back on it and ended up questioning my salvation, too, because I believed in infant baptism. It was all very serious, but I ended up laughing at that final note. I wasn’t laughing because it was silly to think someone would be going to hell for a different view of baptism (at the time, I wasn’t sure exactly how right you had to be to go to heaven, after all); no, it was silly because the other person was so obviously wrong. The LCMS just was right; it just was the true church; it just taught the true way to believe. At this point, of course, my group of friends was entirely forgotten. The discussion was on a level that only PKs or other theologically-interested people could follow. I wasn’t just right, though, I was righteous. It was a feeling that was engrained into me from hundreds of times I’d been taught that the LCMS doctrines just were facts. Everyone else was mistaken no matter what.

When I went to college, I initially thought I would be an LCMS teacher. While there, I started to get more involved in acting on my faith. I also became interested in Christian apologetics. But a major turning point was still coming. One night, I was praying out under the stars. It was a cold night, but I was outside all on my own with my coat near the river that ran alongside the campus, begging God to end some of the wrongs in the world. I had an intense religious experience. That night, I went back to my dorm, wrote about the experience, and discovered a new and total devotion to God. I already believed in God, and I already was committed to following Christ, but this experience had reinvigorated me and convinced me that God was there and listening. I still believe this was a genuine experience from God.

This experience led me to rethink some of my life. Around this time, my then-fiancée broke up with me. It wasn’t a great time, but it also led me to refocus my life. It was around Thanksgiving that it happened, and when I contemplated what I had to be thankful for on a weekend over which someone I thought I would marry broke up with me, I realized the answer was: a heckuva lot. I decided around then that I wanted to change what I was studying and be a pastor instead. The reason wasn’t because I was particularly enamored with being a pastor. Rather, it was because when I thought of the question “What can I do to dedicate my life to God?” the answer that came most quickly to my mind was “be a pastor.” Clearly, my sense of vocation wasn’t entirely developed at that point (shout out here to Lutherans who get this).

I kept my major and minor, but shifted to the pre-seminary program, enrolling in Hebrew, some theology classes, and Greek. It was a whole different experience, in several unexpected ways. Deciding to become a pre-seminary student may be marked as one of the most major turning points in my life. College featured a number of turning points. What I thought when I decided to become a pastor is that I’d find a group of like-minded men (yes, only men, because only men are allowed to be pastors in the LCMS; women may be deaconesses, but not preach or lead worship). I did find several like-minded men, but I also found some of the most inward-looking, doctrine-obsessed, orthodox-rabid, self-righteous, and, unfortunately, misogynistic people I’d ever run into. I was one of them for a while.

All of this is to say that I was not an incidental layperson within the LCMS. I was fully involved for the majority of my life. This is important, because I believe that it gives some credence to the critiques I will share, and it should also give pause to those who want to simply dismiss my story as someone on the margins of the LCMS. I was in the LCMS from birth through adulthood. I wanted to be an LCMS teacher or pastor. I debated doctrine in favor of the LCMS, working to convince others to join. But the reasons to doubt my convictions about the LCMS were there. It took until I was in college for me to finally depart, and it was then only because I was forced to truly examine what I believed.

It should also be clear that many of these memories are pleasant. Where they aren’t pleasant, many were formative in beneficial ways. Within the LCMS, I developed a love of the Bible and was encouraged to read it continually, a practice I continue and which I believe brings spiritual growth. I made many friends and was encouraged by many mentors, some of whom I still remain in contact with and whom I admire. But even at a young age, the occasional thing would strike me as “off” about the experience and my beliefs. It would take many of these points of fracture for me to consider leaving the LCMS.

Next in series: Points of Fracture.

[1] I’m unsure of when/how it became an official LCMS ministry, as it says they are on the website. It’s been quite a while, so my memory might be foggy, but I remember some discussion about whether or not this group was Lutheran (read: LCMS) enough for us to participate with. There was some skepticism that I remember hearing from more than one LCMS-employed person about their practices and expressions of faith. Looking back, the group as I experienced it 20+ years ago felt like the closest thing to what many describe in mainstream evangelical churches from youth programs. While there were no altar calls, for example, the canvassing of the community, reading other people’s names into John 3:16, asking whether people knew if they’d go to heaven or hell, and the like are all similar to what I’ve heard described in those settings.

[2] Name amended, as will pretty much all the names used in this series.

Links

Formerly Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) or Wisconsin Synod (WELS)– A Facebook group I’ve created for people who are former members of either of these church bodies to share stories, support each other, and try to bring change. Note: Anything you post on the internet has the potential to be public and shared anywhere, so if you join and post, be aware of that.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

What’s Wrong with Apologetics? – I take a look at some of the issues I’ve found to be broadly true in apologetics-related circles.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Today in (Theological) History: The Death of Martin Niemöller

Today in history, Martin Niemöller died in 1984. Niemöller was an early supporter of Adolf Hitler and anti-Semite. When the Nazis worked to take over the churches in Germany, he became a founder of the Confessing Church in Germany which opposed the Nazification of the churches. He was outspoken against the so-called Aryan Paragraph which was an explicitly anti-Semitic rule the Nazis implemented in the state church.

He was imprisoned by the Nazis, and during his imprisonment at two different concentration camps, he came to deeply regret his earlier beliefs. Some have tried to lionize him as a hero of the Jews in Germany, but this is false. He himself never denied his guilt for his early support of the Nazis and his anti-Semitism.

He penned the famous “first they came” statement, which is featured at the United States Holocaust Memorial: “First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

After the War, he committed himself to pacifism, he helped develop the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt, in which the Evangelical Church in Germany confessed its guilt for not resisting the Nazis. One part of that Declaration reads:

“Through us infinite wrong was brought over many peoples and countries. That which we often testified to in our communities, we express now in the name of the whole church: We did fight for long years in the name of Jesus Christ against the mentality that found its awful expression in the National Socialist regime of violence; but we accuse ourselves for not standing to our beliefs more courageously, for not praying more faithfully, for not believing more joyously, and for not loving more ardently.”

The Declaration did not, however, explicate the specific wrongs the church had done, and was seen by some Germans as a gesture to capitulate the Allied powers after the War.

Niemöller’s life is a complex study in how Christians participate in horrible atrocities. It is also a study for how Christians can confess their guilt and come to throw themselves on grace. Niemöller remains an important figure for understanding the Church Struggle in Germany.

More on his life at the Holocaust Encyclopedia.

Book Review: “Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther” by Michael P. DeJonge

Michael P. DeJonge’s thesis in Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther may be summed up as saying the best interpretative framework for understanding Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology and thought is by understanding him as a Lutheran theologian specifically engaged in Luther’s thought.

DeJonge supports his thesis primarily through two strands of evidence: first, by showing Bonhoeffer’s close readings of and interactions with Luther; and second, by demonstrating that Bonhoeffer’s perspective on important controversies was a Lutheran perspective.

Bonhoeffer’s interactions with Luther outpace his interactions with any other theologian. DeJonge cites a statistic: Bonhoeffer cites or quotes Luther 870 times, “almost always approvingly”; “The next most frequently cited theologian is a distant second, Karl Barth with fewer than three hundred” (1). This alone may serve to demonstrate Bonhoeffer’s concern for interacting with Luther, but DeJonge goes on to note that Bonhoeffer also strove to correct competing interpretations of Luther, and affirm specifically Lutheran doctrine. For instance, in his interactions with Karl Holl, one of his teachers, he goes against Holl’s interpretation of Luther’s view of religion, arguing that Luther’s Christology saves one from idolatry of the conscience, which he felt Holl may have slipped into. Bonhoeffer also affirmed the emphasis on Christ’s “is” statements when it came to the Lord’s Supper, defending the position that “this is my body” means Christ is truly present in the Supper (70ff).

DeJonge’s argument expands to a demonstration that Bonhoeffer aligned with a Lutheran understanding on important issues. The Lord’s Supper has already been noted, but it is worth pointing out that in regards to this, Bonhoeffer explicitly sided with Luther against Karl Barth and the Reformed tradition, which argued that the finite could not contain the infinite. Instead, Bonhoeffer affirmed that, by virtue of the infinite, the infinite could be contained in the finite; allowing for a Lutheran understanding of real presence in the Supper. Another major controversy DeJonge notes is that of the interpretation of Luther’s “Two Kingdoms.” DeJonge argues that Bonhoeffer has been misunderstood as rejecting Luther’s doctrine in part because Luther’s doctrine itself is misunderstood. Thus, DeJonge engages in a lengthy section in which he traces the influence of Troelsch on the understanding of Luther’s Two Kingdoms and how often it is Troelsch’s understanding rather than Luther’s that is seen as “the” doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. Going against this, Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on the Two Kingdoms are closer to Luther’s position than many have argued.

DeJonge also interacts with other interpretations of Bonhoeffer, such as an understanding of Bonhoeffer as a pacifist, which has been a common understanding among some. Utilizing his deep analysis of the Two Kingdoms doctrine, DeJonge counters that Bonhoeffer’s comments about resisting the Nazis align with this doctrine much more closely than they do to a pacifist understanding. Like Stephen R. Haynes’s The Battle for Bonhoeffer, DeJonge notes that Bonhoeffer’s resistance cannot be linked explicitly to the Nazi treatment of the Jews. Though it is clear that Bonhoeffer detested this treatment, DeJonge argues he did so not through a broadly humanitarian theology (going against some interpreters here), but rather due to his understanding, again, of the Two Kingdoms. When the Nazis sought to attack the Jews, particularly by separating them from the so-called German Christians, they issued a direct assault on the body of Christ–the church. Thus, Bonhoeffer’s resistance to these ideals, again, springs from a Lutheran understanding of the Two Kingdoms. (As an aside, it is worth nothing DeJonge also acknowledges the contributions some aspects of Martin Luther’s own writings had to the Nazi ideology. However, DeJonge here shows how Bonhoeffer’s understanding of his theology set him against these anti-Semitic notions.)

Finally, DeJonge demonstrates that Bonhoeffer’s view of justification–certainly a vastly important doctrine for Luther and Lutherans–ought to be properly understood as Lutheran rather than anything else. Time and again, throughout the book, DeJonge carefully demonstrates how an interpretation of Bonhoeffer suffers when not understood in a Lutheran lens. Over and over, readings of Bonhoeffer that make sense in one context are shown to fail when compared to the whole of his writings. DeJonge also manages to offer a coherent account of Bonhoeffer’s theology that does not set an “early Bonhoeffer” against a “late Bonhoeffer” nor does it read the whole of his thought through any one work. As such, DeJonge offers a truly compelling reading of the totality of Bonhoeffer’s work.

Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther is an incredibly important work for understanding the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Anyone who is interested at all in the theology of Bonhoeffer and understanding it fully would do well to read and digest it. I cannot recommend it highly enough for those who wish to understand the theology of this man.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Jews and the Book of Concord: Why we cannot affirm “unconditional subscription”

A title page of the Book of Concord

I’m a Lutheran, though some would say I am not. Why? Because many try to define out of existence those who adhere to the Book of Concord “in so far as” it agrees with Scripture as opposed to “because” it agrees with Scripture. Entire denominations argue that the affirmation “because” is the only way to be a genuine Lutheran. I have argued that this places adherents in an impossible situation before. First, I’ve argued that there are actually wrong interpretations of Scripture in the Book of Concord. There is also at least one etymological error. Must Lutherans, to be Lutheran, be saddled with these? According to the “because” position, the answer is yes, they must affirm these errors.

But it gets worse. In light of the despicable act of evil that occurred in Pittsburgh and with Reformation Day having just passed, I’ve been reading about Martin Lutherr and also decided to look up what the Book of Concord says about Jews. I believe the latter demonstrates conclusively that we cannot and must not give the Book of Concord “unconditional subscription.”

Unconditional Subscription?

I take my definition from one of the conservative Lutheran sites that is pushing for this as the definition of Lutheran:

What is an “unconditional subscription” to the Confessions?
Confessional Lutheran pastors are required to “subscribe,” that is, to pledge their agreement unconditionally with the Lutheran Confessions precisely because they are a pure exposition of the Word of God. This is the way our pastors, and all laypeople who confess belief in the Small Catechism, are able with great joy and without reservation or qualification to say what it is that they believe to be the truth of God’s Word. (Lutheran Reformation emphasis removed)

Unconditional subscription, then, is the notion that Lutherans must pledge to agree without reservation to the entirety of the Lutheran Confessions, which are those contained in the Book of Concord.

Jews and the Book of Concord

I have not cited every instance of the occurrence of “Jew” or “Jewish” in the Book of Concord. Rather, here I’ll be citing three instances which I believe demonstrate beyond a doubt that we cannot affirm unconditional subscription without seriously compromising our morality.

The first section comes from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XIII, section 18:

This is absolutely a Jewish opinion, to hold that we are justified by a ceremony, without a good disposition of the heart, i.e., without faith.

There are a number of problems with this sentence even apart from the use of “Jewish” here. First, it doesn’t just imply but states that Jewish “opinion” believes in justification without faith. Yet this contradicts the New Testament’s own teaching on the faith of Jewish people. For example, Hebrews 11:8-10:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

So Abraham, the father of Judaism, acted by faith, looking forward to the city whose designer is God. This famous passage in the New Testament goes on to affirm the faith of Rahab, Sarah, Jacob, the Israelites coming out of Egypt, and many, many more Jews, noting, ultimately, that though they acted on faith none of them received the promised final perfection (Hebrews 11:39-40). So the Book of Concord appears to simply be wrong in this offhanded remark about how “Jewish opinion” holds to a position that is “without faith.”

The next sentence in the Apology states that this “Jewish opinion,” now united with the Pope, is “impious” and “pernicious.” This ascribed to a view of faith that was simply assigned offhandedly to the Jewish people without proof!

The Large Catechism is one of the most important expositions of Lutheran faith, and therein, regarding the Ten Commandments, it is stated (Conclusion of the Ten Commandments, section 330):

 Therefore it is not in vain that it is commanded in the Old Testament to write the Ten Commandments on all walls and corners, yes, even on the garments, not for the sake of merely having them written in these places and making a show of them, as did the Jews…

Here, a practice of Jews is simply dismissed offhand as “making a show” of the Ten Commandments. Jewish practice surrounding the Ten Commandments is dismissed as simply for the sake of having them written; as if the Jewish people had no more regard for the Ten Commandments than anyone else. I hope it need not be stated that we should not “unconditionally subscribe” to this.

A final example comes from the Solid Declaration VII, section 30:

 Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, [1 Corinthians 11:27] sins not merely against the bread and wine, not merely against the signs or symbols and emblems of the body and blood, but shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, which, as there [in the Holy Supper] present, he dishonors, abuses, and disgraces, as the Jews, who in very deed violated the body of Christ and killed Him; just as the ancient Christian Fathers and church-teachers unanimously have understood and explained this passage.

Here is a seriously problematic passage, though it is historically tied to the context. The Germany of Luther’s day was filled with anti-Semitic imagery, sayings, and practices. Churches had imagery of Jews suckling on pigs; the notion of Jews as killers of Christ was quite common. And here, in the Book of Concord, we see that leaking in, as Jews generally, not just a handful of people but all Jews are blamed for the “violation” of the body of Christ and killing him. Not only that, but it is alleged that the Church Fathers and “church-teachers” unanimously agree upon this language. This is exactly the language that is used to this day to attack Jews as “Christ-killers” and to raise anti-Semitic sentiment among Christians. This is the kind of language that we must take a firm stand against.

I realize some may stand up and try to cite 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 here, arguing that the New Testament teaches specifically that Jews killed Jesus. Such would be a mistaken conclusion, because it also speaks of “the Jews” as killing the prophets. Jesus and the prophets were Jewish, and the common use of the phrase “Jews” in the New Testament refers to the leaders (see its use in the Gospels, each written by people who were Jewish, to refer to certain factions among Judaism).

Conclusion

I have already argued that the Book of Concord has errors of etymology and interpretation. In this post, we see that its treatment of the Jews is deeply problematic. Those who argue that we must have “unconditional subscription” to the Book of Concord must affirm these problematic statements in the name of being a “true” Lutheran. But what is more Lutheran than self-examination, confession of sins (like those of anti-Semitism), and the continuing Reform of the church? What can be more Lutheran than demanding that any document with which we agree, we will only agree with “in so far as” it agrees with Scripture?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Adhering to the Book of Concord “In So Far As” or “Because” it Agrees with Scripture?– I argue that Lutherans must hold the position that we adhere to the Book of Concord In So Far As it Agrees with Scripture.

Another Problem for Book of Concord Inerrantists– I discuss an etymological error in the Book of Concord.

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Ecumenism and Lutheranism – Reformation 500

2017 marks the 500th anniversary of what is hailed by many as the start of the Reformation: Luther’s sharing his 95 Theses. I’ve decided to celebrate my Lutheran Protestant Tradition by highlighting some of the major issues that Luther and the Lutherans raised through the Reformation period. I hope you will join me as we remember the great theological (re)discoveries that were made during this period.

Ecumenism and Lutheranism

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Franz Hildebrand, two German Lutherans in the early 20th Century, wrote a catechetical statement in response to the question: “Why are there so many churches?”-

We are really supposed to be one church. In the midst of our incredible divisions we urgently seek communion among all Christians. It will only be possible for us humans ever to have it if we keep waiting and believing [in Christ] who is faithful to his church. (Cited in Schlingensiepen, 80, cited below)

Bonhoeffer and Hildebrand’s response is brief, but shows key aspects of ecumenism that we can continue to seek today. The first point is to realize that the true church of Christ ought to be one both in spiritual and in temporal reality. The second point is that we remain divided, but seek such unity. The third point is eschatological: we must realize that no human efforts will succeed in uniting the church; instead, we hope for Christ’s return to bring about the ultimate unity of His Church.

Elsewhere, Bonhoeffer points out that ecumenical movements must never disregard that real differences in belief and doctrine and practice exist among the present day church. Nevertheless, Bonhoeffer followed his own catechetical statement and urgently sought unity and communion among all Christians. Ecumenism does not mean ignoring all differences or agreeing they don’t matter; instead, we acknowledge our differences and seek to find unity where it does exist.

The church body to which I belong, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has recently made an ecumenical statement that both acknowledges continued difference and shows points of unity with the Roman Catholic church: the Declaration on the Way. I believe this document is an important one, particularly as we continue to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The ultimate prayer for ecumenism, I believe, is “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”

Sources

Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance translated by Isabel Best (New York: Continuum, 2010).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Please check out my other posts on the Reformation:

I discuss the origins of the European Reformations and how many of its debates carry on into our own day.

The notion of “sola scriptura” is of central importance to understanding the Reformation, but it is also hotly debated to day and can be traced to many theological controversies of our time. Who interprets Scripture? 

The Church Universal: Reformation Review–  What makes a church part of the Church Universal? What makes a church part of the true church? I write on these topics (and more!) and their origins in the Reformation.

The Continuing Influence of the Reformation: Our lives, our thoughts, our theology– I note the influence that the Reformation period continues to have on many aspects of our lives.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Perspicuity of Scripture in the Lutheran Reformers: Reformation 500

785px-Bible_and_Lord's_Cup_and_Bread2017 marks the 500th anniversary of what is hailed by many as the start of the Reformation: Luther’s sharing his 95 Theses. I’ve decided to celebrate my Lutheran Protestant Tradition by highlighting some of the major issues that Luther and the Lutherans raised through the Reformation period. I hope you will join me as we remember the great theological (re)discoveries that were made during this period.

Perspicuity of Scripture in the Lutheran Reformers

Luther himself wrote on perspicuity in no uncertain terms:

[T]hat in Scripture there are some things abstruse, and everything is not plain–this is an idea put about by the ungodly Sophists… I admit… that there are many texts in the Scriptures that are obscure and abstruse, not because of the majesty of their subject matter, but because of our ignorance of their vocabulary and grammar; but these texts in no way hinder a knowledge of al the subject matter of Scripture. (Luther, The Bondage of the Will, 110, cited below)

So far as I know, Luther did not change his stance on the perspicuity of Scripture. As the Reformation continued, however, it became clear that such a stance might not be appropriate regarding the entirety of every declaration of Scripture. Lutheran reformers qualified perspicuity, noting that it applied only to that which pertains to salvation.[1] Heinrich Schmid, in his Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (translated 1875) compiles quotations from the major early Lutheran reformers to outline what Lutherans taught. Regarding perspicuity, Schmid notes:

If the Sacred Scriptures contain everything necessary to salvation, and if they alone contain it, they must necessarily exhibit it so clearly and plainly that it is accessible to the comprehension of every one; hence the attribute of Perspicuity is ascribed to the Sacred Scriptures… But whilst such perspicuity is ascribed to the Sacred Scriptures, it is not meant that every particular that is contianed in them is equally clear and plain to all, but only that all that is necessary to be known in order to salvation is clearly and plainly taught in them… it is also not maintained that the Sacred Scriptures can be understood without the possession of certain prerequisites [such as the language, maturity of judgment, unprejudiced mind, etc.].(Schmid, 87-88, emphasis his)

Schmid’s summary of Lutheran doctrine in the Reformation period sounds different from what Luther taught in The Bondage of the Will, but he shows from direct citations that this is the direction Lutherans moved in regarding perspicuity. To whit, Gerhard:

It is to be observed that when we call the Scriptures perspicuous, we do not mean that every particular expression, anywhere contained in Scripture, is so constituted that at the first glance it must be plainly and fully understood by every one. On the other hand, we confess that certain things are obscurely expressed in Scripture and difficult to be understood… (quoted in Schmid, 89)

Quenstedt:

We do not maintain that all Scripture, in every particular, is clear and perspicuous. For we grant that certain things are met with in the sacred books that are very obscure… not only in respect to the sublimity of their subject-matter, but also as to the utterance of the Holy Spirit… (ibid, 90, Quenstedt goes on to deny that there are doctrines that are so obscure that they “can nowhere be found clearly and explicitly”)

Hollaz:

The perspicuity of Scripture is not absolute, but dependent upon the use of means, inasmuch as, in endeavoring to understand it, the divinely instituted method must be accurately observed… (ibid, 91)

The whole section clarifies and explains the earliest Lutheran teaching regarding perspicuity of Scriptures, and it is clear that it is acknowledged that not every single text is plain, that the guidance of the Holy Spirit, among other things, is required to understand Scripture rightly, and that plain passage of Scripture are to be used to interpret those which seem obscure.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, this shift in perspective on perspicuity happened due to the very real differences on some major doctrines within the Protestant movement itself. If every single statement the Scriptures made about  doctrine were so clear, how could such divisions exist within a movement that was upholding sola scriptura? The answer was that perspicuity applied to that which is essential for salvation, and that shift in perspective can be observed in the writings of the Lutherans listed here.

What applications might this have? The first is that the many attempts by Christians to argue for their own doctrinal perspectives simply by appealing to the perspicuity of Scriptures fails. To argue that someone else denies perspicuity of Scripture because they disagree on certain doctrinal positions is an abuse of the doctrine of perspicuity of Scriptures. It also shows an incapacity to show one’s own point clearly from the Scriptures themselves. A second application is that it acknowledges some of the difficulty in understanding Scripture rightly.

The doctrine of perspicuity is a major aspect of Reformation theology. It should not, however, be over-generalized and abused in the way that it has, unfortunately, often been used.

[1] In researching this post, I noticed that the Wikipedia page on the clarity of Scripture has been edited to suggest without qualification that all Lutherans hold to the notion that “Lutherans hold that the Bible presents all doctrines and commands of the Christian faith clearly. God’s Word is freely accessible to every reader or hearer of ordinary intelligence, without requiring any special education.” The citations provided to show that all Lutherans hold to this teaching are not to any of the early Lutheran reformers, nor are they citations of the Book of Concord; rather, they are references to two sources published by a publishing house of one form of American Lutherans. These sources are from 1934 and 1910, respectively, and not in the Reformation period nor do they, so far as I can tell, speak for all Lutherans. Given the evidence cited above from Quenstedt, Gerhard, and the like, I find it hard to believe such a claim could be substantiated.

Sources

Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will in Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation edited by Rupp and Watson (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1969).

Heinrich Schmid, The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Please check out my other posts on the Reformation:

I discuss the origins of the European Reformations and how many of its debates carry on into our own day.

The notion of “sola scriptura” is of central importance to understanding the Reformation, but it is also hotly debated to day and can be traced to many theological controversies of our time. Who interprets Scripture? 

The Church Universal: Reformation Review–  What makes a church part of the Church Universal? What makes a church part of the true church? I write on these topics (and more!) and their origins in the Reformation.

The Continuing Influence of the Reformation: Our lives, our thoughts, our theology– I note the influence that the Reformation period continues to have on many aspects of our lives.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Bonhoeffer As Reliable Guide?

dietrich_bonhoefferI seem to have made it something of a pastime explaining to others things about Lutheran belief, and often this pertains to discussions of Bonhoeffer. Almost everyone is trying to make Bonhoeffer in their own image. Whether it is the notion of calling Bonhoeffer an evangelical, or recruiting him to various other schools of thought, Bonhoeffer is enduring a kind of celebrity right now. That celebrity comes with its share of difficulties, including pushback. Some evangelicals have labeled Bonhoeffer dangerous. A recent article by William Macleod questions whether Dietrich Bonhoeffer may be a “reliable guide” when it comes to Christianity: Bonhoeffer – A Reliable Guide? That blog post levels a number of criticisms at the Lutheran theologian, and I would like to respond to this article, which I think misrepresents Bonhoeffer in many ways. I’ll not respond to every point, because Macleod overlaps points I’ve responded to before.

Methodological Notes

At the outset, I must point out a major problem with the article is that there is a distinct lack of citation throughout. Indeed, the only footnote is a reference to an article about Bonhoeffer, not a reference to Bonhoeffer’s works at all. Moreover, though many assertions are made about what Bonhoeffer wrote–as well as a few quotations–no references are provided, which makes it at many points impossible to easily track down the reference and so provide a full response. It is disturbing to me to see such lack of citation in an article that purports to correct evangelical thought on this theologian. How are we to evaluate an article that makes it difficult to even double-check the facts?

Second, Macleod does not define evangelical in this article, or provide a clear reference to what he means. Because there is great difficulty with the definition of “evangelical” in its modern and historical usage. Indeed, Bonhoeffer’s German Lutheran church historically simply referred to itself as evangelical–a tradition carried on to this day in my church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The problem is that the term “evangelical” often means different things to different people, a problem acknowledged in many circles. The article would have been helped had Macleod provided exactly his meaning of evangelical to compare his statements to.

Bonhoeffer as Liberal Theologian?

Macleod alleges, “Far from being an evangelical, Bonhoeffer was more liberal than Barth. He considered himself a ‘modern theologian who still carries the heritage of liberal theology within himself’.” Here we already see a difficulty with the methodology–where is this quote from Bonhoeffer to be found? A search online turned up other blog posts that give this same quote, but this one, for example, writes a citation [5] in brackets but then there is no referent for [5]. I finally managed to possibly track down a reference on a different article, but don’t have the book in front of me at this point so I can’t confirm it. However, even granting he said that, I’d love to see the context. After all, he could have been saying it in the sense of saying that he has been influenced by liberal theology, which was certainly found all around him in Germany. But of course Bonhoeffer himself, at the end of his life, explicitly argued against liberal theology at multiple points.

Bultmann seems to have somehow found Barth’s limitations, but he misconstrues them in the sense of liberal theology, and so goes off into the typical liberal process of reduction – the ‘mythological’ elements of Christianity are dropped… My view is that the full content, including the ‘mythological’ concepts, must be kept… this mythology (resurrection etc.) is the thing itself… (Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, 328-329)

Those are Bonhoeffer’s words, written in 1944 from prison. Does that look like an acceptance of liberal theology? Bonhoeffer does engage liberal theologians, of that there is no doubt, but he explicitly notes the deficiencies of their theology and argues the opposite position. Macleod’s attempt to poison the well here fails.

Bonhoeffer as Martyr

Macleod, amusingly, questions whether Bonhoeffer was a martyr:

When we think of Christian martyrs we think of the early Christians thrown to the lions for refusing to worship Caesar. We think of Reformers like Patrick Hamilton and William Tyndale burnt at the stake for preaching the gospel and for translating the Scriptures into the language of the people. In no sense were these men involved in conspiracies against the state. Bonhoeffer died for being involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler… his death was not because of his beliefs, but rather for his ‘crime’ of conspiracy to murder.

I actually found myself chuckling here. I don’t know Macleod, and I know nothing about him. What I do know, and have seen many times, is a lack of understanding of church history among those broadly identifying themselves as evangelicals (I’m not the only one who bemoans this, on a different end of the spectrum than me stands James White, who I’ve heard on his podcast multiple times speak of the lack of knowledge of church history in evangelical circles). I preface that remark because Macleod’s comment about martyrs shows a bit of ignorance. If he wants to say Bonhoeffer’s not a martyr because he died for political reasons, perhaps he should go back and see that the worship of Caesar for which Christians were killed was, itself, a political killing. Virtually every book I’ve ever read on this early period of Christianity confirms this. For just one reference, check out the interplay between pagan and Christian apologists found in Apologetics in the Roman Empire.

Moreover, Macleod’s comment is amusing because the separation of belief from action is a very modernist/postmodernist separation, and one that could just as easily be used to say “the early Christian martyrs weren’t killed for their beliefs, they were killed for refusing to worship Caesar, a political act.” But of course that refusal is based on belief, just as Bonhoeffer’s ethical stance regarding Hitler was based on belief. Belief put into practice remains belief. The attempt to tarnish Bonhoeffer’s legacy as, yes, Christian martyr here bespeaks both lack of historical awareness and the overall tone of the article.

The Cross

Macleod accuses Bonhoeffer of decentralizing the cross because, according to Macleod, he did not believe in substitutionary atonement. More damningly, Macleod charges Bonhoeffer with seeing the cross as “an example and an inspiration.” I was astonished to read this from Macleod. Aside from the fact that Bonhoeffer wrote an entire book about Jesus Christ being the center not just of our faith but as the center of human history (Christ the Center, 59ff), he also repeatedly emphasized this in his other writings. Macleod stated, “For evangelicals the cross is at the centre of their faith.” I’m not at all sure why he thinks he should disagree with Bonhoeffer here, unless he just hasn’t read Bonhoeffer’s body of work.

Conversion

I’ve responded to this elsewhere, but Macleod’s words about conversion regarding Bonhoeffer are deeply troubling to me:

As a Lutheran he embraced the doctrine of baptismal regeneration – you are automatically born again when you are baptised. Around 1931 Bonhoeffer experienced a ‘conversion’, when he, as he puts it, discovered the Bible… Yet it was not what evangelicals normally call conversion, or what the Scriptures describe as the new birth. He rarely referred to it… He wrote, ‘We must finally break away from the idea that the gospel deals with the salvation of an individual’s soul’.

A number of things are problematic here. First, Macleod blatantly misrepresented the Lutheran view of baptismal regeneration by couching it in terms borrowed from Baptist theology. Baptismal regeneration is not about “automatically” being born again; it is about the gift of God that has been promised through baptism, even to infants. I’m not going to debate this rather obvious point here, but the fact that Macleod effectively dismisses Bonhoeffer simply because he’s Lutheran says something disturbing about his view of what it takes to be evangelical–apparently a view that excludes Lutherans entirely.

Moreover, Macleod once again conforms to modern American evangelicalism (not even sure if he’s from the United States, but the ideas he has are) by emphasizing the individual over the community. Any number of theologians have shown time and again that the evangelical focus on individual salvation is something born, historically, from a rather American emphasis on the individual rather than being something directly derived from Scripture. Not saying that individual salvation is not there, but as the primary theme? N.T. Wright, among others, has done some correction in this regard, and Bonhoeffer himself did in works like Life Together.

Universalist Bonhoeffer?

Macleod writes:

Bonhoeffer was a universalist, believing in the eventual salvation of all. He wrote that there is no part of the world, no matter how godless, which is not accepted by God and reconciled with God in Jesus Christ. Whoever looks on the body of Jesus Christ in faith can no longer speak of the world as if it were lost, as if it were separated from Christ. Every individual will eventually be saved in Christ.

There’s no citation here, or even a quote, so it is very hard to track down what he is referencing in Bonhoeffer’s writings. Of course, what he’s written here is not universalism, but rather a denial of limited atonement and, actually, the Lutheran view of incarnation. Luther himself emphasized that Christ is present in all of creation. With the incarnation, God is present with us. Macleod, again, doesn’t give a reference to track down, but based on the rest of the article I think he is just misunderstanding Bonhoeffer again. The Lutheran perspective denies limited atonement, and whether that is correct are not is hardly a specific accusation against Bonhoeffer. Of course, without a citation, all we can do is trust Macleod not to have misrepresented Bonhoeffer–something that, at this point, I’m unwilling to do. I haven’t read everything Bonhoeffer wrote, though I’ve read about 75% of his collected works at this point, and some of his books twice, and I don’t know of any reference that could be shown to be universalism explicitly rather than a denial of limited atonement. I await a citation.

Sabbath

Macleod again reveals how much he is reliant upon his presuppositions when he writes:

The Sabbath was given to man at creation. The command to keep the one day in seven holy was reiterated on Mount Sinai and written with the finger of God on tables of stone. Jesus kept the Sabbath and said that the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath. Bonhoeffer, however, is quite happy to play table tennis on Sunday or to attend the theatre.

So, again, we have Bonhoeffer critiqued for being Lutheran. This is a pretty clear example of Macleod showing his stripes. It’s not so much Bonhoeffer that’s the problem; it is anyone who isn’t some kind of Reformed Baptist that’s the problem. Bonhoeffer was just a convenient target because people know who he is. Besides all that, Macleod’s words show very clearly that according to him, humans were made for Sabbath, not the other way around. But of course that makes gospel into law–and the proper distinction of law and Gospel is one of the central teachings of Lutheranism. But again, this is a debate for a different place. It’s fair enough to point out that Macleod’s argument here relies on a very specific presupposition, one that certainly not all evangelicals share, let alone Lutherans.

Conclusion

I have already written about twice as much as I meant to, and more could be said. It is clear that Macleod’s article is little more than a hit piece. There are no explicit citations to Bonhoeffer’s works (even when he is directly quoted, allegedly!), Macleod constantly condemns Bonhoeffer for clearly Lutheran views, and the whole article is based upon Macleod’s theological convictions, many of which I doubt he could demonstrate all evangelicals share. The pot shot at Bonhoeffer alleging he’s not a martyr shows the overall attitude Macleod has towards those he disagrees with, but it also–like many other points in the post–demonstrates a lack of historical awareness that pervades much of the church. Perhaps we can use his article in one positive way: rather than as a warning against Bonhoeffer–a faith-filled, Lutheran, courageous–yes–martyr–we can see it as a warning of the dangers of not taking history seriously.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Bonhoeffer’s Troubling Theology?- A response to an article on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theological perspectives– I respond to a different article on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We again see numerous misrepresentations and misunderstandings of Bonhoeffer and Lutheranism.

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,795 other followers

Archives

Like me on Facebook: Always Have a Reason