Sunday, August 07, 2005


I happened to find the forthcoming Lutheran Carnival indirectly by way of a link on xphiles but since Eric doesn't want anyone to "harsh on other blogs" there (a reasonable request, really), I'm going to harsh on them here. Now I realize this is a fairly uncharitable thing for me to do, but this kind of thing irritates me enough that I feel like saying something.

Seeing as the Lutheran Carnival is being hosted by the folks at "Here I Stand" I understood that it was going to be from the conservative Lutheran perspective. Even so, I think I'm pretty Lutheran, so I was briefly entertaining the idea of submitting something for the carnival. Then I read their requirements for entries.
Basically, you have to make a quia subscription to the Book of Concord. What does that mean? You have to believe that the Book of Concord is a right and proper exposition of the Word of God. In essence, you can't believe the Book of Concord was a neat historical leap, but we're beyond that now.
Oh darn! I'm not Lutheran enough after all!

I remembering once hearing that you can always spot a cult because they have a Bible in one hand and another bible in the other hand. I had never really thought this applied to Lutheranism, but....

Now I'm a big fan of the Book of Concord. I tend to think it's a very reliable guide to Lutheranism. But if it can be shown, for instance, that Martin Luther misinterpreted Paul (and I think it can be), then I think we pretty much have to go with Paul. I think true Lutheranism requires it.

But if the history of the Book of Concord shows us anything, it's that nothing is quite so authentically 16th century Lutheran as disputes over who's really a Lutheran and who's not.


Evers said...

Thanks for the linkage, and thanks for respecting my "no harshing" request!

I'm a bit confused, though. Subscribing to the Lutheran Confessions is something that Lutheran denominations do in their own charters. It is something required of those who would be ordained as Lutheran clergy.

This is nothing even remotely cult-like. Lutheranism is a confessional movement within the Church catholic. This means that what makes Lutheran Christians "Lutheran" is a set of confessions. If you do not share the confession of a confessional movement, it's kind of hard to say "I'm a part of this, even though I don't agree with what they say constitutes their faith." It's sort of like saying, "I'm a Christian, but I don't go along with this Apostles' Creed thing."

As far as the claim that one can show that Luther misinterpreted Paul, I'd urge caution and careful reading. Every time I have seen "Luther" refuted as a mis-interpreter of Paul, it has been quite NON-Lutheran ideas that are being refuted. Even someone whom I respect as much as NT Wright, when he makes comments about Luther getting it wrong, is generally getting Luther wrong.

A "quia" subscription ("I believe these confessions BECAUSE they accurately reflect what the Bible says") doesn't turn the BoC into another Bible. It merely says that these writings are faithful expositions of Scripture. That's a big difference.

(The other kind of subscription, historically, has been called, I believe "quataenus" (sp?), which means, "I agree with these confessions INSOFAR AS they accurately reflect what the Bible says. Which, of course, raises all sorts of questions. How far off do you have to think the Confessions are before a quataenus subscription becomes non-subscription? "I think the Confessions got it right, except that part about the Lord's Supper, and Baptism, and well, justification by faith is clearly wrong, and the whole law-gospel thing is just SO passe..." Sadly, a lot of "Lutherans" are right there.)

Since Lutheranism is a confessional movement within the one church, it makes little sense to say "I am a Lutheran, but I don't believe what Lutherans confess." And the "insofar as" argument is tricky, because at a root level, so much of the doctrine in the BoC, even across widely ranging authors, is tied together. Justification by faith, the sacraments, the Incarnation, the understanding of the office of ministry, the Law-Gospel hermeneutic, are all interrelated at a deep level. (One can confess JBF, for example, without practicing infant baptism, but not if one forbids infant baptism. Or, calling into question the Lutheran understanding of the Lord's Supper really calls into question the doctrine of the Incarnation, the two natures of Christ, and the meaning of the Ascension.)

IF Luther was wrong, on say, justification by faith, then pretty much all of the BoC falls apart, and there's no reason at all for the Lutheran confessional movement to exist.

I don't mean to be snarky or exclusionary. But it's not exactly unreasonable to expect members of a confessional movement to subscribe to the movement's confessions.


In Christ,

Andy said...

This is of course the standard issue that separates the LCMS from the ELCA. They don't like the way we read the Bible and they don't like the way we read the Confessions, largely because we read both in the same way.

Now I will surely admit that there are those within the broad ELCA umbrella who treat both Confessions and Scripture as "advisory" texts that we can use as input but disregard when we choose. I'm not arguing in support of that and would, in fact, gladly argue against it. But I am explicitly rejecting both a modern inerrantist reading of the Bible and a corresponding reading of the Lutheran symbols as perfect renderings of the faith.

I'm not sure I can even name anything in the Book of Concord that I disagree with. But I suspect that if I were to discourse on it, there would be times when my bretheren in the LCMS would exclaim "Aha!"

I alluded to Luther misreading Paul, and N.T. Wright is among those I would bring in as a witness. What I'm referring to, of course, is a strictly imputational interpretation of justification. Now it may be that this isn't really present in Luther's thought. The recent Finnish work has some quite promising ideas in that regard. But the imputational idea is quite clearly carried over into later Lutheranism by way of the Lutheran confessions. The Finnish interpretation, for example, is specifically ruled out in the Formula of Concord in the course of its denunciation of Ossiander.

Now if I could pick up the FC and explain that what it really intended to rule out was only Ossiander's hypothesis, then I might yet be able to make room for the Finnish interpretation, but I suspect that many strongly confessional Lutherans would say that I was playing fast and loose.

I was, of course, employing hyperbole in suggesting that the BoC is sometimes treated as a second Bible, but if one is to say that we must teach strict imputational justification because the BoC says so, then it is certainly drifting in that direction.

Frankly, I would argue that strict adherence to imputational justification is a long step in the direction of a Lutheran scholasticism and is contrary to the spirit of Lutheranism. And this is where I see the distinction between ELCA Lutheranism and LCMS (and more conservative) Lutheranism. Is Lutheranism a way of viewing Christianity (ELCA in its finer moments) or is it adherence to a set of doctrines (LCMS in its lesser moments)?