I really am going to write a summary of what I heard there and some reactions. I’ve just been buried with Advent/Christmas/Thanksgiving/Catechesis business. I wonder if anyone knows whether they posted the papers from the conference, and where? I never got a copy of Jim Nestingen’s paper. I am sorely disappointed about this.
A pastor must not simply regard it as a good way to relax from his official duties when he can on occasion, in moments of leisure, engross himself in Scripture and theology. No, here he has God’s command. The apostle of Jesus Christ makes the demand of every Christian bishop that he occupy himself constantly with doctrine and Scripture . . . . This quiet, solitary work in his study does not have the same glamour as other portions of his pastoral activity, as when the pastor has direct contact with the congregation and it’s members, and is more tedious, demands more exertion and mental effort than any other official act. Therefore, a pastor is well nigh tempted to dispense with this duty and labor much more easily and much more quickly than with other official duties. But there he had better consider that the apostle, where he begins to set forth the real work of a bishop, mentions continuing pursuit of doctrine, of Scripture, as the main duty of a bishop and as a necessary basis and requisite for all wholesome speaking, teaching, exhorting, and rebuking.
George Stoeckhardt, quoted in “Karl Georg Stoeckhardt: His life and labor to preserve Walther’s legacy” by Dan Woodring
Those Lutherans who realize what they have received know well the adversaries who are anxious to tear the precious possession from them, know the dangers that threaten them and their church. If pure doctrine is confessed and is indigenous to a given locale, it is due to God’s pure grace. It is God who by grace proffers true doctrine and knowledge. And what he grants us by grace, he wants also to preserve for us by grace. If pure doctrine disappears from a locale where it is indigenous it is man’s fault. . . . And, of course, it is man’s ingratitude that causes them to lose God’s gift. The gravest danger we have to fear is ingratitude.
George Stoeckhardt, quoted in “Karl Georg Stoeckhardt: His life and labor to preserve Walther’s legacy” by Dan Woodring
We are working with and among a people whom eagles are circling, ringed in by a church that is ripe for judgment. Yes, divine judgment has already made its beginning in the house of God. Growing delusion and obduracy are the surest indications of the approaching end, at least the end and downfall of the Gospel in our country. . . . . The Church has the calling and capability of saving the lost, of curing corruption. It is not deterring judgment but is rather accelerating the same, for it glosses over, adorns, and promotes the sin that is sending people to ruin.
George Stoeckhardt, quoted in “Karl Georg Stoeckhardt: His Life and Labor to Preserve Walther’s Legacy”, by Dan Woodring*
*Yes, he became a papist, and yes, if he ever sees this he will gnash his teeth and slander Christ, the Gospel, and faithful teachers of the church. This should probably serve as a warning for Lutheran pastors with a high view of the liturgy and the sacrament of the altar.
But the point is the quote, which is true of the United States and the churches in it….and the Missouri Synod should rouse itself before its sclerosis becomes irreversible.
Being weary of the Protestant orthodoxy’s high view of Scripture, as well as the re-establishment of a magisterium, the way most modern Protestants have engaged in this supplementation of scriptural authority since the Enlightenment is either by positing an overly optimistic view of human reason on the one hand or the authority of interior religious experience on the other. The former is suspect in light of the fact that post-modern thinkers have accurately highlighted the fact that rationality is by no means universal, but is rather historically conditioned and operative within a tradition of thought. This by no means leads necessarily to a form of relativism, in any case it need not automatically lead in this direction, rather it means that the Enlightenment’s secular worldview need not be something that Christians try to carve out space within in order to maintain their beliefs. There is nothing universal or necessary about secular or humanistic reason, it is byproduct of certain cultural trends within the middle classes in European and North America from the seventeenth century to the present.
Dr. Jack Kilcrease, “Evangelical and Catholic?: The ‘Conservative’ Reformation’s Scriptural Principle and the Catholicity of the Gospel”
Sometimes pastors want to drain the swamp to get rid of their “alligators;” members they consider pesky or even vicious. However, after getting to the bottom of the swamp they find that there is nothing left alive. The pastor creates a tiny fiefdom, even if he becomes the head (and only) toad. It is all well and good to seek to purify the church, but the Lord does [not] permit us to purify it on legalistic grounds. Thomas Müntzer already tried it with tragic results. There can only be reformation in teaching, which will lead to reformation in morals. Only as we teach the “alligators” will they change their attitude. Only the gospel can change the swamp, turning it into the Garden of Eden, where Christ is all in all and is serving His people with His Word. The law way can never suffice, because it only multiplies the alligators, causing them to turn on one another and devour each other.
Scott Murray, “Memorial Moment, Mon., Nov. 14, 2011”
Ok, so I made my visit; I thought this would be a simple visit to commune a shut in. Instead I spent four hours with a 95 year old lady and a county sheriff. I’m too tired to explain that story and I haven’t eaten dinner yet. So I’m going to write as much about the conference as I can in a few minutes and then go home and eat.
First of all, for those who weren’t there, I’ll give an overview of what the papers were about, questions that were asked at open mics, etc. Unfortunately I missed Prof. Brug’s paper on Thrs. morning, as well as Prof. Paulson’s. However, I think I have their papers. I was there to hear Prof. Nestingen’s paper, but unfortunately did not get a copy. I hear that they are posting the papers online though.
After I get done with that I’ll comment, but for the most part I intend to avoid much criticism, especially of presenters that aren’t from my synod. At this point I think I’m still getting used to hearing other Lutherans talk. Until seminary I don’t think I had ever met or talked with a member of WELS or the ELS, except once I talked to a WELS pastor on the phone in Seattle. In seminary I heard a couple of ELCA professors speak at Symposia. Jim Nestingen came and spoke to us once, and then after seminary in about 2007 or 2008 I started posting on the ALPB forum and became familiar with the perspectives of ELCA dissidents. A few months to a year ago someone pointed out the Intrepid Lutherans site to me, and that may have been my first significant contact with WELS pastors. Given the fact that my experience with Lutherans outside the LCMS is limited, it seems inappropriate to begin making a lot of judgments. I have read some WELS theology–but very little; a smattering of Wauwatosa, and nothing recent. For that matter I haven’t read much conservative ELCA theology either; a paper or two by Paulson and Nestingen and a book and a couple of essays from Forde. When I think about it, I’ve read very little by professors from St. Louis over against those from Fort Wayne. I should probably just admit that I haven’t read very much theology.
Anyway the point is we often talk about different things. So until I’m familiar with the concerns that drive WELS and NALC theologians and with their vocabularies it’s hard to form an opinion.
So on to the first session:
Prof. Mark Braun (WELS, Wisconsin Lutheran College) read an essay by Prof. Mark Noll of Wheaton College which had originally been published a “American Lutherans Yesterday and Today” in First Things in 1992. Apparently they had wanted Noll to come speak at the conference. (Interesting sidenote: I went to high school in Wheaton for two years and was good friends with Noll’s son. I was aware that his dad was a respected intellectual among evangelicals, but I didn’t know how big a deal he was until I went to seminary. It’s a small world.)
Notes on the Noll Paper:
Lutherans are enigmatic to Noll. A sentence from his paper that possibly provided one of the motifs of the entire conference: something to the effect of “Lutherans have both easily accomodated to American ways and never accomodated.” Noll goes on to explain what he means.
Early in American Lutheran history Muhlenberg initially complained about the desire of Lutherans in America to select their own pastors, something he attributed to “American liberty.” However, he soon accomodated and began to permit congregations to do just that. Muhlenberg accomodated to American political realities but never (at least according to Noll) to American religious norms, being unwilling to give up the reine lehre.
Schmucker, on the other hand, is the patriarch of an opposite tendency in American Lutheranism. Schmucker rejects Lutheran christological readings of OT and willingness to allegorize, as well as its willingness to take passages according to the literal sense when the literal sense offends reason. According to him the bible must be intepreted according to “common sense.” Schmucker’s revised Lutheranism was successful in making the Lutheran Church palatable outside of ethnic enclaves.
However, the Schmuckerian tendency was rejected. Krauth and Walther’s move toward orthodoxy or non-accomodationism led to Lutheranism’s lack of connection to the rest of American Christendom until after WW2.
Noll points out that the 5 mil German immigrants and 2 mil Scandinavians that came to the US between 1840 and the first world war assimilated into the broader culture following a predictable pattern. As churches move out of ethnic enclaves, they tend to consolidate (for instance, the synods that eventually came to be the ELCA consisted of Danish synod(s), Swedes, Norwegians, together with already amalgamated American synods). It is also typical for these churches, as they are assimilated into broader American religious culture, to sacrifice theological distinctives.
For instance the ELCA is completely mainstream and out of the German ghetto. (One time I did research on my mother’s family tree, and it was amazing how the little town she was from in central Illinois had an entire section of town referred to as “Germantown.” In that part of town there were two Missouri Synod churches, and they had assigned parish boundaries so that if you lived between certain streets you were required to go to Trinity and to Immanuel if you lived on the other side of town) The question with the ELCA, which has managed to get out of the ghetoo, is whether the mainstreaming “means the evisceration of the Lutheran tradition itself.” (Keep in mind this was written in 1992).
On the other hand, the Missouri Synod’s more conservative course seems to have been influenced more by American fundamentalism than Lutheran theology. In either case a form of accomodation to culture seems to have influenced both synods. Noll sees Lutheran theology as being a hidden treasure that evangelicals in America could learn a lot from.
However, it is difficult to tell if Lutherans will be able to repeat Walther’s insistence on pure doctrine–that is, if they will be able to confess unequivocally, so that Lutheran doctrine becomes clear outside of the small circles of clergy and informed laymen that seem to know anything of it now.
Noll seems to wish that Lutherans were theologically distinctive and that evangelicals were aware of what we teach. However, the evidence shows that the only thing that seems to distinguish average Lutherans is where they live–overwhelmingly Lutherans are found in the great lakes and upper midwest. In terms of knowledge of the theology of the cross or the two kingdoms, Lutherans are indistinguishable from other Christians. We tend to be about the same on basic theological and moral issues as Methodists.
In concluding, Prof. Braun commented that he thought Lutherans were at their best when instead of trying to unequivocally lay down the boundaries of orthodoxy they practice “stealth evangelism”–i.e. living faithfully in one’s vocation instead of stolidly standing on a line drawn in the sand against hetereosy. Other communions, he said, ask “What must I do? How must I feel? What does this mean to me?” Lutherans are at their best when their question is simply “What does this mean?” * (I’m not entirely sure what he was getting at there.)
That’s part 1. Next I’ll summarize Pless’ and Schmeling’s paper and discuss my reaction to all thre papers.