Kevin DeYoung on the Gospel Coalition wrote a post years ago entitled, "What's Up With Lutherans?" After recently reading a follow up posted on the Gospel Coalition's website, I decided that I'd add my own two cents. I think Kevin raised some incredible questions that are valuable for us to talk about. It's valuable for those of us who are Lutherans to think about and valuable for those who aren't Lutheran because the answers may hopefully lead to a better understanding of what Lutherans are up to.
I felt like the easiest way to follow my thoughts was to have it in a back-and-forth manner so I picked apart pieces from Kevin's first post and created a fictitious interview between Kevin and myself.
My Imaginary Interview About Lutheranism:
Kevin DeYoung (KD): More to the point: where are [Lutherans]? 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’s seem vibrant in evangelicalism and see lots of Baptists and Presbyterians... I see non-denominational guys aplenty…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.
ME: This is something that has messed with me for a long time. As a Lutheran, I think we have an incredibly rich, beautiful theology. I believe it is a correct understanding of the scripture. But if it is true and it is beautiful, why aren't there people speaking or writing the "good books?" Sure, there are good Lutheran authors and preachers, by why are they never alongside of the likes of Mark Driscoll, John Piper, or Matt Chandler. Obviously my theology doesn't allow to believe that the lack of a big deal author or preacher means that we aren't successful as a denomination, but I can't help but at least ask the question. The more I understand our doctrine the more I think it is exactly what people need to hear as we preach the scriptures.
There are some incredible things happening in the Lutheran Church though, especially in the church planting movement. Check out the sacramental church-planting network FiveTwo, which has started out of a Lutheran church (Missouri Synod) in Katy, Texas.
KD: 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.
ME: Absolutely, there are thousands of Lutheran churches and pastors who are doing incredible things. I have no doubt that some of the best preachers and pastors are not the guys that we are listening to on our iPhones or reading their blogs. They are probably guys just shepherding their congregations. I think this also holds true out of a Lutheran context, there are plenty amazing pastors that we have no idea of their stories or their influence in their communities. With that being said, I'm with you and do feel like Lutheran voices are often missing in the conversation so I'm constantly on the hunt for Lutheran voices that I feel like everybody should be listening to.
Some of those that I'm paying attention to:
- Matt Popovits - Our Saviour New York
- CrossPoint Community Church - Katy, TX
- TheAlley - Cottage Grove, MN
- Faith Lutheran Church - Troy, MI (there's no way I'm leaving out my own church)
KD: With their high church, confessional tradition, Lutheranism has always been a little out of place with the sometimes rootless, low church expressions of evangelicalism.
ME: High church, confessional tradition is not equivalent to Lutheranism. While there are certainly good reasons for stereotypes of a very catholic-feeling church service, this is not what makes a church Lutheran. What makes us Lutheran is our understanding of the scriptures, our unique view of the sacraments, our commitment to preaching Law & Gospel, and plenty of more things that we could spend a long time listing out (the long version of what makes us Lutheran is the Book of Concord). But our doctrine is what makes us Lutheran, not our styles and traditions… I'm sure there are some Lutherans who don't feel the same way though.
KD: 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.
ME: The sacrament issue is fascinating to me because in many ways I don't find it that far fetched for a Calvinist to buy into. What better example of having God's grace, which we cannot choose since we are dead in our sins, than in watching a baby get baptized. This isn't the baby's choice, it's not the babies free will decision. It's God's work. If you view baptism as something that you are doing, it will certainly be a problem area. But as Lutheran's we believe that God is at work in baptism, creating faith through his Word. So in the same way God creates faith in us as we hear the Word preached, God creates faith through his word applied at baptism…even in an infant.
And when we talk about communion, we love to simply celebrate the mystery. Jesus said, "this is my body…this is my blood." And we take him at those words. I can't explain how that works, but that's just what He said. And just like we are offered the promise of the forgiveness of sins on the pages of the Scriptures, so we are offered the forgiveness of sins in bread and wine, body and blood.
KD: 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.
ME: This sucks. There are a bunch of Lutherans that have a low view of the scriptures and that is very dangerous road being traveled. And then there's a group of us that tend to simply not play well with others. There are plenty of things that we can learn from each other without compromising in areas that we feel shouldn't be compromised…which is one of the reasons why I love reading The Gospel Coalition.