My WORLD column on “Issues, Etc.”

WORLD, 17 May 2008:

‘Issues’ no longer
Cancellation of LCMS radio show raises ruckus

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has 2.4 million members, a vigorous Christ-centered theology, and the largest Protestant network of Christian schools. And yet much of Christendom and the secular culture hardly knows it exists. So a hallmark of synodical president Gerald Kieschnick’s administration has been the “Ablaze” program, focusing on personal witnessing, church planting, and evangelism.

So why did that administration suddenly eliminate what may be its best known, most respected, and most effective vehicle for evangelizing the lost, interacting with other Christians, and bringing Lutheranism into the public square?

Issues, Etc. was a radio talk show hosted by Todd Wilken, a pastor who combined wit, charm, and theological substance. The show’s producer, Jeff Schwarz, arranged conversations with theological heavyweights (Alister McGrath, N.T. Wright) and lightweights (Bishop Spong, Jesus Seminar members). He also put together discussions of movies, politics, and contemporary cultural issues. (Disclosure: I belong to the LCMS and was a guest on the show.)

Much of the show’s content appealed to Christians of all stripes, but it was also distinctly Lutheran. Many people reported becoming converted to Christianity through Issues, Etc. Many listeners became Lutherans.

Then on March 18, Wilken and Schwarz were called to LCMS headquarters in St. Louis. David Strand, executive director of the Board for Communication Services, told them they were fired. According to an official statement from the LCMS, the show was canceled because it was too expensive to operate and did not reach a big enough audience.
Fans of the show suspected another reason: The mode of outreach the current LCMS administration favors comes from the church growth movement, which Issues, Etc. consistently criticized.

Under church growth methodology, traditional worship styles, theological rigor, and denominational distinctives can be “obstacles” to church growth. Being “negative,” as in theological polemics of the sort that Issues, Etc. was known for, “turns people off.”
Though Issues, Etc. was careful to avoid intra-LCMS controversies, recent programs included hard-hitting critiques of Islam, women’s ordination, and superstar preacher Joel Osteen. Such treatments could only be embarrassing for officials wanting to project a kinder, gentler Lutheranism.

But when news of the cancellation came out, the blogosphere erupted. An online petition to bring back the show collected over 7,000 signatures. Congregations and entire denominational districts registered their disapproval.

The last time grassroots Missouri Synod Lutherans got this angry was in the “Battle for the Bible” of the 1970s. Then the issue was whether the LCMS would reject biblical authority to join mainline liberal Protestantism. Now the issue is whether the denomination will reject its theological identity to join generic megachurch Protestantism.

And those are “Issues” not just for Lutherans, but for the Reformed, Baptists, Wesleyans, Pentecostals, and every other Christian tradition.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.covenantacademyhouston.org/wordpress/ John

    I’d suggest those who objected to the radio show being cancelled revive the show as an independently produced podcast. Podcasts are much cheaper to produce than radio shows and may reach a wider audience.

  • http://www.covenantacademyhouston.org/wordpress/ John

    I’d suggest those who objected to the radio show being cancelled revive the show as an independently produced podcast. Podcasts are much cheaper to produce than radio shows and may reach a wider audience.

  • CRB

    You know, there’s one thought that immediately comes to mind when I consider this travesty, this traitorous action on the part of the LCMS leadership: the line in the movie, “A Few Good Men” where Col. Jessup says to the prosecuting attorney: “You can’t HANDLE the truth!”
    But, then again, I have to recall what happened to Luther when he stood for the truth!

  • CRB

    You know, there’s one thought that immediately comes to mind when I consider this travesty, this traitorous action on the part of the LCMS leadership: the line in the movie, “A Few Good Men” where Col. Jessup says to the prosecuting attorney: “You can’t HANDLE the truth!”
    But, then again, I have to recall what happened to Luther when he stood for the truth!

  • WebMonk

    So what’s the update on the current status of the show? The Lutheran blogosphere certainly erupted, as you said, and I heard that there was a lot of protest within the Lutheran meat world, but I haven’t heard that it affected anything.

    From my experience seeing things like this happen with other issues and organizations, if nothing happens in the first week or so of the initial outburst then nothing is going to happen. It’s been over a month, and I haven’t heard so much as a peep anywhere. Granted the Lutheran niche of the blogosphere isn’t my main stomping grounds, but I keep track of a couple of them (like here) that made a lot of noise back then, but then completely dropped the issue. Somehow, I don’t think anything is going to be happening.

    What’s your take on the future happenings of this issue, and what may have happened that hasn’t been noted?

  • WebMonk

    So what’s the update on the current status of the show? The Lutheran blogosphere certainly erupted, as you said, and I heard that there was a lot of protest within the Lutheran meat world, but I haven’t heard that it affected anything.

    From my experience seeing things like this happen with other issues and organizations, if nothing happens in the first week or so of the initial outburst then nothing is going to happen. It’s been over a month, and I haven’t heard so much as a peep anywhere. Granted the Lutheran niche of the blogosphere isn’t my main stomping grounds, but I keep track of a couple of them (like here) that made a lot of noise back then, but then completely dropped the issue. Somehow, I don’t think anything is going to be happening.

    What’s your take on the future happenings of this issue, and what may have happened that hasn’t been noted?

  • Bror Erickson

    I tend to think that a protest outside the next LCMS convention is probably going to be more effective than the protest outside the purple palace. At that time this decision may come back to haunt Kieschnick. But it is a ways a way and one might have forgotten the whole issue by then. Though I doubt it.

  • Bror Erickson

    I tend to think that a protest outside the next LCMS convention is probably going to be more effective than the protest outside the purple palace. At that time this decision may come back to haunt Kieschnick. But it is a ways a way and one might have forgotten the whole issue by then. Though I doubt it.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Webmonk:
    May I direct you to this website:
    http://laymenetc.typepad.com/
    the site, so far, of a new layman’s group to be known as Brothers of John the Steadfast (or BJS), which is still in the process of forming, and is releasing information, little by little, of its accomplishments to date (has acquired non-profit incorporation status; is signing on an impressive advisory board and officers; appears to be working towards returning Wilken and Scwarz to some sort of ‘airway’, independent of Synod).
    There’s a growing list of confessional groups operating independently of Synod. However, this is the first lay group I know of, and the first that seems geared toward educating and reaching out to laity, which, in my mind, is a great step. So many of the confessional underground has been in support of pastors–no small interest, to be sure, but, by the nature of these groups, they have allowed much of laity to be kept in the dark.
    Now, if BJS gets support and unfolds with all its promise, laity can only choose to remain ignorant of or ambivalent towards the diseases of our Synod.
    Check them out, if you’re interested in light rather than heat.
    Also, religion reporter Mollie Hemingway still is breaking news at the site Augsburg1530, here:
    http://augsburg1530.wordpress.com/
    The commenters get a bit carried away, perhaps, but there is still passion over the Issues issue, and more, and there’s still news.
    I understand what you’re saying about no news. It certainly isn’t obvious. But things are happening, and the hopes for a revival of the team Wilken and Schwarz, doing what they were so insanely good at doing, are not at all unrealistic.
    As they say, tune in, then stay tuned.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Webmonk:
    May I direct you to this website:
    http://laymenetc.typepad.com/
    the site, so far, of a new layman’s group to be known as Brothers of John the Steadfast (or BJS), which is still in the process of forming, and is releasing information, little by little, of its accomplishments to date (has acquired non-profit incorporation status; is signing on an impressive advisory board and officers; appears to be working towards returning Wilken and Scwarz to some sort of ‘airway’, independent of Synod).
    There’s a growing list of confessional groups operating independently of Synod. However, this is the first lay group I know of, and the first that seems geared toward educating and reaching out to laity, which, in my mind, is a great step. So many of the confessional underground has been in support of pastors–no small interest, to be sure, but, by the nature of these groups, they have allowed much of laity to be kept in the dark.
    Now, if BJS gets support and unfolds with all its promise, laity can only choose to remain ignorant of or ambivalent towards the diseases of our Synod.
    Check them out, if you’re interested in light rather than heat.
    Also, religion reporter Mollie Hemingway still is breaking news at the site Augsburg1530, here:
    http://augsburg1530.wordpress.com/
    The commenters get a bit carried away, perhaps, but there is still passion over the Issues issue, and more, and there’s still news.
    I understand what you’re saying about no news. It certainly isn’t obvious. But things are happening, and the hopes for a revival of the team Wilken and Schwarz, doing what they were so insanely good at doing, are not at all unrealistic.
    As they say, tune in, then stay tuned.

  • Joe

    Pastor Wilkin is posting three or four minute sound audio clips on his page on the Wittenberg Trail Online community site.
    http://wittenbergtrail.ning.com/profile/ToddWilken

  • Joe

    Pastor Wilkin is posting three or four minute sound audio clips on his page on the Wittenberg Trail Online community site.
    http://wittenbergtrail.ning.com/profile/ToddWilken

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Yes, Joe, and they are exceedingly well done.
    The man understands media, doesn’t he?
    I hope this is a hint of things to come.
    Dr. Veith: what does the line at the end of my previous post mean? Is it because I included url’s in the text?
    Or–heh-heh–is it I who is expected to ‘moderate’ my comment?
    (Kidding)
    And thanks, Dr. Veith, for including the entire text of your World column. Well said, particularly the implied warning, that all denominations which have operated under a particular confession and doctrine are at risk in these times.
    I wouldn’t doubt that we are going to witness the decline of mega-churches (though there will always be an Osteen and a TBN–they’ve got the business model down pretty pat) as the wave of the future. In fact, they just might start withering almost as quickly as they sprang forth, being as how they forgot about the ‘roots’ part of planting. They’re not even seedlings, but mere cuttings.
    They might be the most short-lived fad in the history of Christian-fad-dom.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Yes, Joe, and they are exceedingly well done.
    The man understands media, doesn’t he?
    I hope this is a hint of things to come.
    Dr. Veith: what does the line at the end of my previous post mean? Is it because I included url’s in the text?
    Or–heh-heh–is it I who is expected to ‘moderate’ my comment?
    (Kidding)
    And thanks, Dr. Veith, for including the entire text of your World column. Well said, particularly the implied warning, that all denominations which have operated under a particular confession and doctrine are at risk in these times.
    I wouldn’t doubt that we are going to witness the decline of mega-churches (though there will always be an Osteen and a TBN–they’ve got the business model down pretty pat) as the wave of the future. In fact, they just might start withering almost as quickly as they sprang forth, being as how they forgot about the ‘roots’ part of planting. They’re not even seedlings, but mere cuttings.
    They might be the most short-lived fad in the history of Christian-fad-dom.

  • http://wittenbergtrail.ning.com/profile/beggarsall Rob Olson

    Thank you for writing and posting this article!

  • http://wittenbergtrail.ning.com/profile/beggarsall Rob Olson

    Thank you for writing and posting this article!

  • http://simdan.com SimDan

    To those wondering about the current status of the show or wish to see some attempt to be made to bring it back, read about a call extended to Wilken.

    Be sure to read Rev. Michael Kumm’s comment on the nature of this call.

  • http://simdan.com SimDan

    To those wondering about the current status of the show or wish to see some attempt to be made to bring it back, read about a call extended to Wilken.

    Be sure to read Rev. Michael Kumm’s comment on the nature of this call.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Susan and others, when comments contain more than one URL they go into moderation, due to this software’s spam controls. I OK those when I get a chance to check the comments, as now.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Susan and others, when comments contain more than one URL they go into moderation, due to this software’s spam controls. I OK those when I get a chance to check the comments, as now.

  • http://geochristian.wordpress.com Kevin N

    I’m a non-Lutheran (Evangelical Free Church) who feels that Issues Etc. was one of the best two programs on Christian radio (the other being White Horse Inn). Todd Wilken addressed topics that many others ignored, and always did it with graciousness and a Christ-centered focus that is, unfortunately, rare on Christian radio. For whatever reason the program was canceled, it will be missed for a long time.

  • http://geochristian.wordpress.com Kevin N

    I’m a non-Lutheran (Evangelical Free Church) who feels that Issues Etc. was one of the best two programs on Christian radio (the other being White Horse Inn). Todd Wilken addressed topics that many others ignored, and always did it with graciousness and a Christ-centered focus that is, unfortunately, rare on Christian radio. For whatever reason the program was canceled, it will be missed for a long time.

  • Anon

    Kevin, E. Free is Lutheran (or was), albeit not confessionalist. It used to be the Swedish Lutheran St. Ansgarius Synod.

  • Anon

    Kevin, E. Free is Lutheran (or was), albeit not confessionalist. It used to be the Swedish Lutheran St. Ansgarius Synod.

  • http://www.timbaron.com Tim Baron

    I’m still mourning the loss of this show. It was by far the best, most relevant Christian talk radio I’d ever listened to, even better than the Bible Answer Man broadcast.

    Listening to these guys was an integral part of my wife and I becoming LCMS Lutherans. Since Issues has been cancelled I haven’t bothered checking out any of the other stuff KFUO has put out there.

    I hope Todd ends up still doing something on radio. Todd rocks.

  • http://www.timbaron.com Tim Baron

    I’m still mourning the loss of this show. It was by far the best, most relevant Christian talk radio I’d ever listened to, even better than the Bible Answer Man broadcast.

    Listening to these guys was an integral part of my wife and I becoming LCMS Lutherans. Since Issues has been cancelled I haven’t bothered checking out any of the other stuff KFUO has put out there.

    I hope Todd ends up still doing something on radio. Todd rocks.


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