When I first came across the announcement of the Lutheran Carnival, I was excited by the idea, because I truly love Lutheranism and I liked the idea of reveling in it with other Lutherans (perhaps not exactly the point of the carnival, but that's what I think of it). I knew that I swim in different waters than a lot of my fellow Lutheran bloggers, but I thought perhaps a little diversity might be appreciated.
Then as I read the requirements for entries, I saw that the organizers were asking that submitters make a "quia subscription to the Book of Concord." I thought that I was probably the sort of person this meant to disinvite, and I chafed at the idea. I chafed so much that I blogged a complaint.
Then Eric Evers of xphiles fame, a fellow ELCA blogger, challenged my complaint. He said, "it's not exactly unreasonable to expect members of a confessional movement to subscribe to the movement's confessions." I certainly can't argue with that (though I did). His response provoked me to thought, the results of which you are now reading.
Evers described for me a "quia subscription" as believing in the Lutheran Confessions because they accurately teach what the Bible teaches, and he contrasted it with a "quatenus subscription" as believing in the Lutheran Confessions in so far as they accurately teach what the Bible teaches. The thing is, neither one of those positions really describes what the Lutheran Confessions mean to me.
At times, I might use either mode of thought. I do think that the Lutheran Confessions express the truth of the Bible wonderfully. But, in so far as I am a theologian (and that isn't very far), I am not a 16th century theologian (my pen name not withstanding). Thus I occaisionally have issues with the way the Book of Concord (and particularly the Formula of Concord, in its precision) formulates things.
But what do I really think of the Book of Concord? This is what I've been wrestling with since reading Evers' response to my rant. And as I've struggled to articulate it, a good Lutheran theologian came to my aid: George Lindbeck.
In his book The Nature of Doctrine, Lindbeck considers two models of doctrine, which he calls "cognitive" (doctrines are propositional truths which are either true or false) and "experiential-expressive" (doctrines are merely symbols of inner feelings). He rejects both as being inadequate and proposes a third approach, a "regulative" model that views doctrines as rules which provide a framework for thinking and talking about God.
The dichotomy between a "quia" subscription and a "quatenus" subscription is clearly based on a cognitive model of doctrine. It maintains that if we stray from our Lutheran castle then we must be saying, directly or indirectly, that the Lutheran Confession are in some way false. But in fact, I am saying no such thing. Rather it is my intention to sing the same song, but perhaps in a different key.
I have a fairly low opinion of the experiential-expressive approach to doctrine and so I won't even bother to address it.
But I would like to attempt to describe what it means to be a Lutheran within a regulative model of doctrine. As Lindbeck describes the regulative model of doctrine, it sees doctrine as being analogous to the syntax rules that govern how you speak a language. If you violate the rules, what you say isn't just wrong, it's meaningless.
His primary example is the Christological dogmas of the Church. If we are to speak about Jesus, we must speak about him in accordance with the dogmas of the Church as spelled out at Chalcedon, et. al. If you do not speak about Jesus in this way, you are no longer speaking of the Jesus in whom Christians confess their faith.
The first criticism that will come up is that this is a way of behaving as if our doctrines were true without really committing to that truth. But that's not what I intend by it. I would, however, claim that believing in the doctrines and behaving as though they were true can't be separated.
The Book of Concord, as I see it, defines who we are as Lutherans. Along with the Bible, it is foundational to our Lutheran identity. It expounds the Lutheran way of reading the Bible, and if we do not read the Bible in harmony with the Book of Concord, we are no longer Lutherans in any meaningful way.
When I speak about justification, my speech is shaped by, defined by, given meaning by the expositions of justification by faith in the Book of Concord. Though I may seek other ways of expressing what justification seems to me to mean, justification by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone will always be the backbone, nay the full skeletal structure of my thought. And I am fully aware that if I stray from it, what I produce will be a grotesque disfigurment.
So, do I make a "quia subscription" to the Book of Concord? Yes, no, kind of, not really.... Can I claim I don't understand the question? But I can say without reservation that the Book of Concord is the shape of my Christian thought.
A curious feature of Lindbeck's proposal is that he isn't saying this is the way doctrine should work. He is saying this is the way doctrine does work, whether we acknowledge it or not. He's not saying, for instance, that the cognitive-propositional model is bad, just that it doesn't account for the way doctrine functions in our churches.
So with what I've said above about the Book of Concord defining who we are as Lutherans, I believe that strongly confessional Lutherans recognize this, and it is certainly true of them. What I'm suggesting is that whether or not we allow our faith and practice to be grounded in the Book of Concord is more foundational than any truth claims we make about it's contents.
This would, of course, still leave the ELCA open to much criticism. A lot of what goes on in the ELCA isn't grounded in the Book of Concord. But it would open an avenue of dialogue, a place of common ground, between those of us in the ELCA who are serious about Lutheranism and those outside the ELCA who don't understand us.