Has Lutheranism caused secularism?

A Danish scholar looks at the influence of Protestantism–specifically, Lutheranism–on modern Scandinavian culture.  Some of her conclusions:

Lutheran Protestants are free from religiosity

For centuries, Lutheran Protestant Christianity in Northern Europe and the US taught our ancestors that there was nothing they could do to make God think better of them. Neither good deeds nor giving money to the church was seen as having importance in the eyes of God.

“For Protestants, life can be good just as it is. Life does not have to be lived in any particular ’religious’ way in order to have a good relationship with God,” says [Matias] Dalsgaard.

Protestants are free from obligations to God. They don’t have to live according to strict rules. Instead they have been charged with a rather nebulous task.

“Protestants are commanded to live an ordinary life together with other people. It is a tough task because Protestants are not told specifically how to do this,” says Dalsgaard.

‘Protestant’ countries have a culture of freedom

Throughout history, Protestant Christians have tried to manage their freedom in the best possible way. Over time, this has permeated the culture in countries that subscribe to the Protestant tradition, even though Christianity has gradually slipped into the background.

In Denmark, Sweden, the UK and Germany, this freedom meant that around 500 years ago, citizens started to become what is termed ‘modern’. It occurred after the Reformation in Northern Europe in the first half of the 16th century.

In this context, ‘modern’ has nothing to do with fashion, but means that people feel more free to make their own decisions without causing others to react negatively to those decisions.

“One could go as far as to say that the Protestant tradition squeezes out religion, because it rejects the idea that something holy exists here on Earth,” says the researcher.

Kierkegaard furnishes a good example

The author has analysed a large number of the most significant Christian texts. But the most important writer referred to in his book is the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.

“Kierkegaard is perhaps the sharpest existential analyst in the Lutheran Protestant tradition. He is the one who best presents the existential challenges, conflicts and opportunities. That is why I use him as a starting point,” he says.

You shall not know yourself

Kierkegaard describes the situation in which modern people find themselves today. In his book ‘Either/Or’, Kierkegaard introduces a person whom he calls ’the aesthete’. This is a man who cannot find a way to ‘choose himself’.

Kierkegaard criticises the aesthete for not choosing himself. Instead, he avoids himself by constantly acting out multiple roles.

But although you should ’choose yourself’, there is no prescription for what to choose, because you cannot find a core that is yourself.

“The Delphic Oracle – which existed in Ancient Greece – said ‘know thyself’. But Kierkegaard says ‘choose yourself’ – it is action-oriented. You should actively be the one you are, where you are – and not think so much about who you are. This is a task given to us by God,” says Dalsgaard.

via Protestantism has left us utterly confused | ScienceNordic.

This scholar, of course, misses the distinction between orthodox Lutheranism and the liberal, culturally-conforming state church.  Kierkegaard’s emphasis on “choosing” would not seem to go well with Luther’s “bondage of the will.” And, of course, there is nothing about Christ, much less the Law (which destroys all complacency–I thought guilt and gloominess were part of the Scandinavian legacy!) and the Gospel.  Or the Cross.  The notion that one can have the influence of Christianity without Christianity–  “even though Christianity has gradually slipped into the background”–is  ludicrous on the face of it.

And yet, aren’t there some valid observations here?  Lutherans, even orthodox ones, do seem to have less “religiosity.”  And there is quite a bit of the doctrine of vocation here:  “live an ordinary life with other people”; “you should actively be the one you are, where you are–and not think so much about who you are.”

Santorum & Opus Dei

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum is often assumed by the media, the general public, his supporters, his opponents, and evangelicals to be an evangelical.  He isn’t.  He is a Roman Catholic.  In fact, he is really, really Catholic, a fellow-traveller with Opus Dei, an organization that some say is more Catholic than the Pope.  This article gives the details of his pilgrimage to an ever-stricter Catholicism:  Rick Santorum’s journey to devout Catholicism, view of religion in governance – The Washington Post.

 

If you died tonight, do you know you would go to heaven? Or do you not care?

“If you were to die tonight, do you know for sure that you would go to Heaven?”  That question, or some variation, has started thousands of evangelism conversations and is the opening line for many evangelism programs (especially “Evangelism Explosion” started by D. James Kennedy).  The conversation then goes on to “how you know,” and it exposes people who trust in their good works, or perhaps are just uncertain, whereupon the evangelist can point to the finished work of Christ and to the free salvation He promises.

Today, though, according to a survey by the Southern Baptist publisher LifeWay, over half of Americans never wonder about that question.  A Christianity Today feature calls this “The Evangelistic Question That Died,” but I’m not so sure that the evidence is that people as a whole are no longer concerned about their eternal destiny.

The breakdown of the survey results is telling:  67% of Americans who never attend worship services have never wondered about whether or not they will go to Heaven.  (Perhaps the general consensus today is that everyone enters some kind of white-light paradise–or that if we just die, that death isn’t all that bad–so worrying about the prospect of going to Hell is no longer as much of  an issue as it once was.  Since those who don’t go to church are the main targets for evangelism efforts, maybe the question is not the best evangelism-starter.)

Meanwhile, 57% of “born-again or evangelical” Protestants also never ask the question.  (But perhaps this is because they have an assurance of salvation. Then again, 43% of them do wonder if they will make it to Heaven, so maybe they don’t have as much assurance from the Gospel that they should have.)  Interestingly, only 34% of non-Evangelical Protestants–presumably those from the more liberal mainline church bodies–never ask the question.  So 66% of “liberals” do worry about their salvation, so perhaps might be open to the conversation!

Significantly, only 36% of those aged 18-29 never wonder if they will go to Heaven, which means that, despite laments about young people leaving the church, this is an issue for nearly two-thirds of them (64%).

The regional breakdowns are also interesting.  In the so-called Bible Belt of the South, 50% of the population never wonder if they will go to Heaven.  (Again, this probably includes both secularists and Christians who know they will get there.)  In the lesser-churched West, the percentage of those who never ask that question is 52%.  In the Midwest, it’s 45%, which means that a majority of 55% do wonder.  And in the ostensibly secular Northeast, supposedly the most secular part of the country, only 31% never ask that question.  Over two-thirds of the population, including New Yorkers and New Englanders, 69%, the largest percentage surveyed, do wonder about their eternal destiny.

 

The Evangelistic Question That Died | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Lyle Lovett confesses his faith with his church

Three generations–all members of Trinity Lutheran Church in Klein, Texas–confess their faith in the words of the Nicene Creed, which itself goes back through generation after generation in the church of Jesus Christ. First we hear from Erich Klenk, 97 years old. Then we hear from singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett (of whom I am a big fan). Then we hear from fourth-grader Erin Pali. The effect of hearing the creed from these very different and yet very united Christians is deeply moving, as I think you will agree.

 

HT: Paul McCain, who tells the whole story of the video

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

I’ve blogged about Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy Graham and the successor to D. James Kennedy as pastor of the influential Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  In the course of some struggles over his ministry, he came to a deeper understanding of the Gospel with the help of some Lutheran writers (e.g., C. F. W. Walther, Bo Giertz, Gerhard Forde, Hal Senkbeil, Rod Rosenbladt).  He has written a book about his experience and his new liberating realization that he does not have to add anything to what Christ has done for him.  The book is entitled Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

No, he doesn’t become a Lutheran.  He remains a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. That’s not the point.  But he demonstrates what I have been contending, that we Lutherans in our theology have some great treasures that other Christians are searching for and yearning for.  We tend to keep to ourselves, though, and mainly just talk to each other, which means that our theological and spiritual heritage is little known in American Christianity, which is split between evangelicals and catholics, Calvinists and Arminians, fundamentalists and mainliners, and other dichotomies which Lutheranism reconciles.  Anyway, Lutherans would do well to see the excitement with which Rev. Tchividjian discovers and seizes upon Biblical insights that are commonplaces among Lutherans, to the point that they sometimes take them for granted.  (The book is resonating with other evangelicals.  Christianity Today named it one of the top books of 2012.)

He approached me–he liked my book Spirituality of the Cross:  The Way of the First Evangelicals–to write a blurb about his book, which I was glad to do.  Here is what I said about it.   I’ll add some other blurbs that capture the book’s flavor and how it’s being received:

“Many Christians today assume that the gospel just has to do with conversion, for way back when they first came to faith. They have lost the sense, well known to Christians of the past, that the gospel is for every moment of their lives. As a result, they often fall into a moralism that can be, as this book shows, just as idolatrous, self-focused, and godless as immorality. This book shows how the good news of free forgiveness in the cross of Jesus Christ is the driving energy that makes the Christian life possible. Pastor Tchividjian tells about how he himself discovered the full magnitude of God’s grace in the midst of difficult times in his own ministry. He does so in a way that will bring relief, exhilaration, and freedom to struggling Christians.”
—Gene Edward Veith Jr., provost, professor of Literature, Patrick Henry College; director, Cranach Institute, Concordia Theological Seminary; columnist; author

“Tullian Tchividjian knows, by biblical study and personal experience, that the greatest dangers to the church exist inside the church not outside and the greatest of these dangers is the subtle, deceptive, and seductive self-reliance and self-sufficiency of legalism. Perhaps the greatest contribution of this book is its page after page plea to the church not to be afraid of the glorious provisions and freedoms of the grace of Jesus.”
—Paul David Tripp, President, Paul Tripp Ministries; author, What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage

“In a powerful, concise, and popular style, Tchividjian announces, explicates, defends, and contrasts the gratuitous gospel of Christ’s person and work with the oft-misheld conviction of us sinners that, if we are somehow to be justified, it will have to be a matter of ‘making up for’ our offenses and of inward improvement. Chapter-by-chapter he argues that God’s saving plan is one of grace and not one of improvement. Filled with illustrations from his life as a pastor, this is no unapproachable, academic tome. But neither, thank God, is it today’s ‘Evangelical silly!’ Tchividjian wrestles openly with demons and their central lie in order that we truly ‘get’ what the Bible is really about. From every point on the compass, he contrasts ‘moral renovation’ with a free, one-sided rescue drenched in the blood of Jesus. Good news for everyone—but especially for Christians who are worn out by trying the other way, believing the lie, somehow knowing renovation isn’t working but knowing nowhere else to turn. Tchividjian is out to convince his reader that justification before God really is pure gift, is free, is by grace and through faith in Christ. . . sola!”
—Rod Rosenbladt, professor of theology, Concordia University

“Brace yourself for a gospel tornado! Tullian speaks from the heart to the heart, reclaiming the ‘good’ part of the good news in a bold and liberating fashion. To those suffering under the gravitational pull of internal as well as external legalism (a/k/a everyone), Jesus Plus Nothing Equals Everything represents the only lifeline there is—the mind-blowing, present-tense freedom of God’s justifying grace. No ‘if’s, ‘and’s or ‘but’s here, just the enlivening and relieving Word in all its profundity, with powerful illustrations to spare. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll read it over and over and over again (of course, you don’t have to)!”
—David Zahl, Director, Mockingbird Ministries; editor of The Mockingbird Blog www.mbird.com

Foreclosing on churches

The housing market woes are having a big impact also on houses of worship, as banks are increasingly foreclosing on churches:

(Reuters) – Banks are foreclosing on America’s churches in record numbers as lenders increasingly lose patience with religious facilities that have defaulted on their mortgages, according to new data.

The surge in church foreclosures represents a new wave of distressed property seizures triggered by the 2008 financial crash, analysts say, with many banks no longer willing to grant struggling religious organizations forbearance.

Since 2010, 270 churches have been sold after defaulting on their loans, with 90 percent of those sales coming after a lender-triggered foreclosure, according to the real estate information company CoStar Group.

In 2011, 138 churches were sold by banks, an annual record, with no sign that these religious foreclosures are abating, according to CoStar. That compares to just 24 sales in 2008 and only a handful in the decade before.

The church foreclosures have hit all denominations across America, black and white, but with small to medium size houses of worship the worst. Most of these institutions have ended up being purchased by other churches.

The highest percentage have occurred in some of the states hardest hit by the home foreclosure crisis: California, Georgia, Florida and Michigan.

“Churches are among the final institutions to get foreclosed upon because banks have not wanted to look like they are being heavy handed with the churches,” said Scott Rolfs, managing director of Religious and Education finance at the investment bank Ziegler.

Church defaults differ from residential foreclosures. Most of the loans in question are not 30-year mortgages but rather commercial loans that typically mature after just five years when the full balance becomes due immediately.

Its common practice for banks to refinance such loans when they come due. But banks have become increasingly reluctant to do that because of pressure from regulators to clean up their balance sheets, said Rolfs.

“A lot of these loans were given when the properties were evaluated at a certain level in 2005 or 2006,” Rolfs said. “Banks have had to reappraise the value of these properties, whether it’s a church or a commercial office building. Values have gone down, so the loans cannot continue in the same form.” . . .

Solid Rock Christian Church near Memphis, Tennessee, took out a $2.9 million loan with the Evangelical Christian Credit Union at the beginning of 2008, to construct a new, 2,000 seat, 34,000 square-foot building to house its growing congregation.

In the middle of construction, the economy crashed. The church raided its savings to finish the project, but ended up defaulting on the loan.

The ECCU foreclosed and put the church up for auction.

“We are still fighting this,” a church spokesman told Reuters. “We have filed for bankruptcy to stop this foreclosure and to restructure our debt.”

via Banks foreclosing on churches in record numbers | Reuters.

Though the article says that small and medium size churches are most affected–there are more of those–the example is of a megachurch.  My impression is that lots of big congregations may have become over-extended in building their big “campuses.”  Again, the problem is not so much failure to make payments on  a conventional mortgage but having to make a “balloon payment” after a few years, only to find the decrease in the value of the property makes refinancing impossible.  I didn’t realize that churches could go bankrupt.

Have any of your churches had problems like these?


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