The late Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, who just passed away, was ecstatic about the new resources for theology and spirituality recently published by Concordia Publishing House: the Concordia (the reader’s edition of the Book of Concord), the Treasure of Daily Prayer, and now the Lutheran Study Bible. In the course of his rave review of the latter, he expressed his frustration with Lutheranism, which tends to keep to itself even though its emphases are exactly what the broader Christian and evangelical world needs right now. From Some Thoughts on Lutheranism and Evangelicalism + A Brief Review of the Lutheran Study Bible :
Which goes to the heart of a growing frustration I have Lutheranism: With the dominance of the reformed camp in the Christian blogosphere and much of conservative evangelicalism public voice, there has never been a time the Gospel-centric, church-formed-around-the-Gospel/Sacraments, focused, classical, catholic, reformational, law and Gospel voice of Lutheranism was needed more.
The imbalances of the current versions of resurgent Calvinism are more and more obvious all the time. The beating heart of our life and message is Jesus and justification, not sovereignty and election. It is the free offer to all, not the efficient offer to the elect, that needs to be clearly heard now. It is all of scripture as law and Gospel that needs to be filling the church. Reformed Baptists are ascending at just the time that Lutheranism’s view of the Christian life is most needed. If you do not know the difference, then make that a project.
How many Calvinists cite Bondage of the Will as virtually a Calvinist text, having no idea that Luther rejected the rest of the TULIP?
Lutheranism is attracting more and more evangelical converts who do not struggle with issues of Lutheran ethnic identity or denominational purity. (If I hear one more prideful Lutheran denominationalist say they alone have “the pure Gospel,” I’m going to break things.) When an evangelical hears Rod Rosenbladt or Craig Parton or the God Whisperers they realize they are hearing something substantial, but those same evangelicals are by and large convinced that the “Lutheran” label means an insurmountable accumulation of the very things most evangelicals want to avoid or leave behind.
I am not talking about evangelicals who want Lutherans to go ablaze with megachurch tactics. No, I am talking evangelicals who…
1) Need and want to be taught the significance of liturgy.
2) Are not attracted to denominationalism as a primary label. (Secondary is another matter.) Show me your Nicene Creed first please.
3) Want their attraction to the eucharist to be met with an affirmation of their own Christian profession, not a denouncement of their evangelical journey and ignorance. In other words, while someone is on the way, be kind.
4) Want to have worship with intentional depth and seriousness in worship, not just something old and familiar to the regular residents. They like what they see, maybe more than some Lutherans (and Anglicans, etc) like it themselves.
5) Want leaders committed to missional outreach and evangelical, Gospel-centered ecumenism. Evangelicals aren’t attracted to your tradition to become less interested in evangelism and missions.
So whether you are talking about incredibly useful books or the entire tradition, there is a point at which Lutherans have to say, “We want to get this out to evangelicals. We want to build the bridge. We want to say we have something worthy reading and looking into…and we are willing to go the extra mile to get it to you.”
His praise is tempered by his frustration, and I think he has a point. (As Paul McCain says in his response at Cyberbrethren, it isn’t that CPH doesn’t reach beyond the Lutheran market.) Lutherans often tend to condemn those with different theologies before reaching out to them.
I’ve got to hand it our Calvinist brethren. The Calvinist influence in evangelicalism far exceeds the number of actual confessional Calvinists. Lutheran theology would seem to resolve a number of issues that evangelicals are strugging with: how you can believe salvation is by grace alone while also insisting that Christ died for all; how to resolve the conflict between Christianity and culture; how to affirm the heritage of catholic Christianity while also affirming the best of Protestantism; etc., etc.
It is true that the Lutheran understanding of fellowship keeps us from ecumenical ventures and the sharing of the Sacrament with those with whom we are not in full doctrinal agreement. But Lutherans can still interact with and share ideas with non-Lutherans more than we do, don’t you think?
I try to do that, and this blog has been a good forum for some profitable exchanges with people from a wide variety of confessions and no-confessions. At any rate, Matthew Harrison–who just received the highest number of nominations for the presidency of the LCMS–has been saying that, if we only knew it, this is the Lutheran moment. Thanks to Michael Spencer of blessed memory for showing how this is true.