Where are the Lutherans?

So asks Reformed blogger Kevin DeYoung:

What up with Lutherans?

More to the point: where are they? I’m looking for help from those of you out there who know the Lutheran world better than I do. I look around at what seems vibrant in evangelicalism and see lots of Baptists and Presbyterians. I see a lot of Free Church folks and a growing number of Anglicans. I see non-denominational guys aplenty. The Pentecostal world is a little outside my circles, but I certainly see continuationists and charismatics in conservative evangelical circles. But I don’t see many Lutherans.

I don’t know of Lutherans speaking at the leading conferences. I don’t know of many popular books written by Lutherans. I don’t know of church planting movements among Lutherans. I know lots of people who look up to Martin Luther, but I don’t see the influence of Lutherans.

I’m genuinely curious to know why the big tent of conservative, confessional evangelicalism doesn’t have more Lutherans. I understand that the Calvinist soteriology of TGC and T4G types doesn’t fit with Methodism or parts of the Holiness traditions, but Luther’s doctrine of predestination was Calvinist before there was Calvin.

I know Gene Veith is Lutheran. So is Doug Sweeney. White Horse Inn has worked hard to include the confessional wing of Lutheranism. But after that, I’m drawing a blank to come up with contemporary Lutheran leaders/theologians/pastors I know or read. I’m not blaming anyone–Lutherans or the Young, Restless, Reformed movement or the blogosphere or Sarah Palin. It’s just something I’ve thought about from time to time: Where have all the Lutherans gone? I know you exist outside of Lake Wobegon.

So which of the statements below best explains why quandry?

1. I’m ignorant. This is, no doubt, a  big part of the explanation. I’m sure there are thousands of good Lutheran churches and pastors. I just don’t know all the good they are doing and saying. And there may be thinkers and authors I like who are simply Lutheran without my knowing it.

2. With their high church, confessional tradition, Lutheranism has always been a little out of place with the sometimes rootless, low church expressions of evangelicalism. They never got on board with evangelicalism after the Great Awakening. This may be part of it, but evangelicalism has been influenced by many Anglican theologians and preachers, hasn’t it?

3. Lutherans are content to remain in ethnic enclaves. Again, that could be part of the issue, but then how do you explain the influence of the Dutch Reformed on evangelicalism?

4. The Lutheran view of the sacraments is a bridge too far for many evangelicals, and the faddish nature of evangelicalism is a bridge too far for many Lutherans.

5. Lutheranism in America has bigger problems and less influence than many people realize. The bulk of Lutherans have gone liberal and the rest have gone into bunker mode.

I’ll read the comments more carefully than usual. I blog so that I might understand. Help me out, especially if you are part of the tribe: What’s up with Lutherans?

via What’s Up With Lutherans? – Kevin DeYoung.

How would you answer him?  (Click the link and go to the comments to see what I said.  Also see what others have said, including the folks at Pirate Christian Radio.)

HT:  Justin Taylor

But marriage might restrict gays’ freedom

Though New York state has now legalized gay marriage, Katherine Francke, a gay law professor at Columbia, has qualms, worrying that marriage might restrict the freedom gays now enjoy.  She also fears that the parceling out of  benefits will now go only to marriage couples, thereby forcing gays to get married:

While many in our community have worked hard to secure the right of same-sex couples to marry, others of us have been working equally hard to develop alternatives to marriage. For us, domestic partnerships and civil unions aren’t a consolation prize made available to lesbian and gay couples because we are barred from legally marrying. Rather, they have offered us an opportunity to order our lives in ways that have given us greater freedom than can be found in the one-size-fits-all rules of marriage.

It’s not that we’re antimarriage; rather, we think marriage ought to be one choice in a menu of options by which relationships can be recognized and gain security. Like New York City’s mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, who has been in a relationship for over 10 years without marrying, one can be an ardent supporter of marriage rights for same-sex couples while also recognizing that serious, committed relationships can be formed outside of marriage.

Here’s why I’m worried: Winning the right to marry is one thing; being forced to marry is quite another. How’s that? If the rollout of marriage equality in other states, like Massachusetts, is any guide, lesbian and gay people who have obtained health and other benefits for their domestic partners will be required by both public and private employers to marry their partners in order to keep those rights. In other words, “winning” the right to marry may mean “losing” the rights we have now as domestic partners, as we’ll be folded into the all-or-nothing world of marriage.

Of course, this means we’ll be treated just as straight people are now. But this moment provides an opportunity to reconsider whether we ought to force people to marry — whether they be gay or straight — to have their committed relationships recognized and valued.

via Same-Sex Marriage Is a Mixed Blessing – NYTimes.com.

The “all or nothing world of marriage”?  Now that more and more states are accepting gay marriage, it will be interesting to see if gays accept marriage.   Or if they just want social respectability while actually continuing to pursue their sexual “freedom.”

The great comic book bubble

Jonathan V. Last offers a fascinating mashup of two of my favorite topics:  comic books and economics.   Not only that, he draws lessons that apply to the recent popping of the housing bubble:

In 1974 you could buy an average copy of Action Comics #1—the first appearance of Superman—for about $400. By 1984, that comic cost about $5,000. This was real money, and by the end of the decade, comics sales at auction houses such as Christie’s or Sotheby’s were so impressive that the New York Times would take note when, for instance, Detective Comics #27—the first appearance of Batman—sold for a record-breaking $55,000 in December 1991. The Times was there again a few months later, when a copy of Action Comics #1 shattered that record, selling for $82,500. Comic books were as hot as a market could be. At the investment level, high-value comics were appreciating at a fantastic rate. At the retail level, comic-book stores were popping up all across the country to meet a burgeoning demand. As a result, even comics of recent vintage saw giant price gains. A comic that sold initially for 60 cents could often fetch a 1,000 percent return on the investment just a few months later.

But 1992 was the height of the comic-book bubble. Within two years, the entire industry was in danger of going belly up. The business’s biggest player, Marvel, faced bankruptcy. Even the value of blue chips, like Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #27, plunged. The resulting carnage devastated the lives of thousands of adolescadolescent boys. I know. As a 12-year-old I had a collection worth around $5,000. By the time I was ready to sell my comic books to buy a car—such are the long-term financial plans of teenagers—they were worthless.

The comic-book bubble was the result not of a single mania, but of a confluence of events. Speculation was part of the story. Price gains for the high-value comics throughout the 1980s attracted speculators, who pushed the prices up further. At the retail level, the possibility that each new issue might someday sell for thousands of dollars drove both the sale of new comics and the market for back-issue comics. It was not uncommon for a comic book to sell at its cover price (generally 60 cents or $1) the month it was released and then appreciate to $10 or $15 a few months later.

But the principal cause of the bubble was the industry’s distribution system.

via The Crash of 1993 | The Weekly Standard.

Mr. Last goes on to spell out how the distribution system both inflated the comic book market–not just collectibles but the whole industry–and then brought it crashing down.  Marvel Comics actually went bankrupt in 1996.

The market did recover somewhat. In 2009, thirteen years after bankruptcy, Marvel was bought out by Disney for $4 billion.  And Action Comics #1 now sells for $1.5 million.   But the money today comes not from selling magazines on woodpulp but from intellectual property:  the movies that get made from comic books–as well as the accompanying toys and merchandise–make them valuable.

I lived through what Mr. Last describes.  In my years of reading comic books as a kid, I accumulated some titles that actually became rather valuable.  In the early 1970s, as a college student perennially in need of money, I sold them.  Soon the money was gone and a few years later I was kicking myself at how those titles had skyrocketed in value.  Now I just wish I had them so that I could read them again and re-experience my childhood imagination.

HT: Tom Hering

Thoughts on the conversation with my critic

Thanks to  Trevin Wax for arranging that discussion between Ben Witherington and me.  (See the posts over the last three days.)  It’s a good use of technology to have that kind of forum.  Some thoughts:

(1)  An effective argument–that is, one whose purpose is persuasion rather than just hitting the other person over the head with your position–tends to start by finding common ground.   I did that.   (I hope I didn’t concede too much.  Perhaps I should have defended Luther more.  Or gone after Ben’s Arminianism.  But those lines of thought didn’t seem productive in this particular argument.)  In academic debate, it’s especially important to find a way to be civil.  I think we succeeded at that.

(2)  If I were to someday sit down with Dr. Witherington at a pub over a beer as he suggested–and how significant was that offer for a Wesleyan!–I’d want to ask him, What kind of good works do you think play such an important role in your understanding of salvation?  I was astonished that he doesn’t believe in the “imputed righteousness” of Christ, holding instead to an “imparted righteousness” given by the Holy Spirit, which means an actual righteousness that Christians attain.  I know about the Arminian doctrine of perfection and their belief that it is possible to lead a sinless life.   I would like to ask him what that looks like.  Is it doing some heroic and spectacular acts of goodness?  Or is it being able to avoid bad behavior?  I have noticed that the notion that our works contribute to our salvation often manifests itself in a person adopting some code of behavior that is rigid but fairly easy to follow, such as abstaining from drinking or smoking, even though the code has little actual moral content.  It also has nothing to do with what the Bible actually says.  (Another option is to come up with ritualistic observances, as in Roman Catholicism, which believes the same thing.   Repeating the Rosary a hundred times becomes a “good work” that accrues “merit,” even though the action is not particularly “good” in a moral sense.)   I would like to ask, are the godly elderly women in a Wesleyan congregation who believe in the necessity of moral perfection any different, really, in their behavior or demeanor than the godly women in a Lutheran congregation who consider themselves sinners saved only by the blood of Christ?   I’d truly like to know what this moral perfectionism is supposed to look like.  (I’d love to hear from any of you readers who believe that.)

(3)  I want to start a movement that goes by the brand and the slogan GTBL.   Not to be confused with LGBT.   My acronym stands for “Glad To Be Lutheran.”   These kinds of theological discussions and the personal stories that emerge from them always make me feel that way.

Here Dr. Witherington actually attended a Lutheran church.  But what made him indignant is service of confession and absolution in which he had to pray, “I confess that I am by nature sinful and unclean.”  He resented the theology that he characterized as “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”   He thinks he isn’t by nature sinful and unclean, that if he falls he can just get right back up on his own, indeed, that God requires that of him.  How different we are!  I know myself as a sinner by bitter experience.  I think that phrase from the TV commercial shows excellent theology.  I’ve fallen, along with Adam & Eve but by my own fault as well.  I can’t get up.  I need help.  I need someone to raise me up.   And that happens when I hear the words of absolution.  The Gospel is not just for back when a person first became a Christian, but it’s for every moment of the Christian life.

Dr. Witherington also has problems with the presence of God.  He doesn’t want to think that God is in vocation any more than he wants to think that God is actually present in the Sacraments.  He wants space for human beings to be autonomous.  I understand that.  But I consider it so sad!

I do respect him and agree with much of what he said in his book.  I don’t mean to vaunt my Lutheranism over those of you who don’t share my theology.   I can understand someone not believing in Lutheranism for all kinds of good reasons, including that it is too good to be true.  All that I can say personally, though, as I study other theologies, is GTBL.

Me on marriage

The latest issue of the Lutheran Witness includes an article that I wrote on marriage, addressing the question of whether or not it will become obsolete and what it means to understand marriage as vocation.  You can read it here:  The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod – The Lutheran Witness.

The War in Afghanistan

President Obama announced a time table for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.  The Washington Post, no less, which usually supports the president and all things liberal and Democratic raised some questions in an editorial: The president may be sabotaging his own Afghanistan strategy – The Washington Post

So is the president declaring victory and going home?  Are we leaving just as we are making progress?  Is announcing when we’ll be leaving just an incentive for the Taliban to hunker downuntil after we’re gone?  Is this “Mission Accomplished” or helicopters on the roof of the American embassy?

Where does this leave us?


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