A Lutheran Among Calvinist Baptists

In another contribution to the “Why can’t there be Lutheran Baptists” discussion, Christopher Jackson, a Lutheran attending grad school at the Southern Baptists Theological Seminary, a haven for for Calvinist baptists, weighs in.   He says there are indeed Lutheran influences at SBTS, as well as some students converting to Lutheranism.  He then blames his fellow Lutherans.

From Christopher Jackson,  A Lutheran Among Calvinists | First Things.

Lutherans themselves are why there is not a “Lutheran” movement in Baptist or other evangelical circles. Gilbert Meilaender observes an “annoying tic that leads so many Lutherans to try—constantly—to articulate something distinctively Lutheran (a sure sign we are worried that our continued existence cannot be justified and, irony of ironies, must seek to accomplish that justification ourselves).”

This constant search to make our theological proclamations utterly distinct has a double effect. First, it means that our theological students tend to read more contemporary authors like Gerhard Forde rather than classic Lutheran authors like Chemnitz or Luther. They are therefore not as well versed in classic Lutheran theology as one might think. Second, it also means that we self-marginalize and render our theology unintelligible to other Christians.

There are plenty of Lutherans who interact with evangelicalism, but they do so by laying aside their Lutheran theology. They come to the evangelical world with open but empty hands, ready to receive advice on small group ministry and church branding, but also not carrying along with them the treasures that are their heritage. On the other hand there are many Lutherans who are passionate about their Lutheran theology, but they are content to discuss it among themselves, and they are often more preoccupied with discussing what makes Lutheranism distinct from evangelicalism (for example, the sacraments) than with discussing points of commonality like Christology or Trinitarian theology. They tend to encounter the evangelical world with full but closed hands. Few come with one hand full but closed and the other empty and open.

To truly engage with a broader theological community, one needs to be faithful and authentic to one’s own tradition while also respectful and conversant with those of another tradition. Few Lutherans seem willing and able to do this, and Lutherans and evangelicals, including Baptists, are therefore mutually impoverished.

I confess, though, that I don’t get it.  Surely there are distinctives, aren’t there?  Lutherans aren’t just making them up.  I know there are Lutherans who come with empty hands, but I don’t think this characterization of those with “full hands” describes, say, the White Horse Inn Lutherans or others I know.  I try to do what he’s calling for in that last paragraph, and I know others who do as well.

But here is my big problem with this whole debate.  As it is framed, the assumption seems to be that there should be essential agreement, at some level, between all of the different theologies.  Let’s change the terms a little:  Why aren’t there Catholic Baptists?  Or Arminian Calvinists?  There are reasons for the different theological traditions and I see no reason to evade this theological diversity.

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.


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