I saw an interesting talk given by Rev. Jonathan Fisk to a group of steadfast Lutherans. In it, he asked the challenging question of why so many people who grow up Lutheran seem unsatisfied with their Lutheranism.
As implied in the talk, he suspects part of the problem is that many Lutheran pastors themselves have issues (not Issues ETC, unfortunately) – perhaps their congregations, like one Fisk grew up in, even handed out free copies of things like the “Purpose Driven Life”!
What accounts for persons being unsatisfied with Lutheranism – particularly, when so many evangelicals who are finding Lutheranism are absolutely passionate about it?
I suspect that much of this might be the tensions – the paradoxes – that Lutheranism embraces. For some, we are “too Roman Catholic”. For others, we are “too Protestant”. In fact, Lutheranism embraces this tension. For example, we hold to the Church’s historical understanding of the Sacraments and the Office of the Ministry, (the pastoral office) while also affirming the key importance of preaching and the “priesthood of all believers”.
A friend of mine described Lutheranism as “the unstable particle” – seemingly ready to come apart at any minute. I tend to think that persons who ignore Lutheranism – and who tend towards other ends of the spectrum – are analogous to Luther’s famous analogy of the drunk man who falls off the horse on one side only to get on and fall off the other side (Luther said this specifically referring to false teaching). One recalls that throughout his career, Luther was taking on opponents from every side – the Roman Catholic Church under the papacy and the more radical reformers who threw out the historic understandings of things like baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the importance of maintaining the Church’s visible oneness.
Interestingly, I had an experience similar to that of Pastor Fisk’s. While I never left the faith, as he implies he did, I did have a six-year long flirtation with evangelicalism (they were the only ones I had ever met who actually seemed to think Christian apologetics were important – I did not learn about folks like John Warwick Montgomery and Rod Rosenbladt until much later on). And when I went to Slovakia in 96-98 as an English-teaching “missionary”, it was not lost on many of us at our “missionary orientation” in St. Louis that many of us going overseas who actually seemed grounded and eager to share our faith (one guy I talked to wasn’t sure he believed in the Trinity, I recall) had been heavily influenced by Campus Crusade for Christ and Intervarsity Christian fellowship. I had even read Senkbeil’s “Sanctification: Christ in Action” in the summer of 1995, and while it helped some, his picture of evangelicalism did not seem to line up with the evangelicals that I knew…
What brought me to Lutheranism was persons who not only talked about what Lutherans believed, but also spoke intelligently and persuasively about why they believed it – and also the historical circumstances in which those “whats” and “whys” arose. It started with Issues ETC. in 1996 (my dad, a pastor who uses contemporary Christian music, used audio cassettes from Don Matzat to lure me back), and then, early issues of Wallace Schulz’s “Good News” magazines I found laying around in an office in Slovakia. It continued when I was given the opportunity to study Lutheran theology in Cambridge England by the guy overseeing the missionaries in Europe (here’s to you Bob Hartfield – thank you!). And things became more solidified for me than ever when – after earning my Masters in Theological Studies from the Lutheran seminary in St. Catherine’s Ontario, Canada – I met a pastor who not only knew Lutheran theology inside and out, but also had a PhD-level education with a heavy focus on the early church (particularly Cyril of Alexandria). For me, historical continuity is very important – meaning an intelligent explanation of how the Reformation goes hand in hand with what we know of the early church. I have no interest in being a “Protestant”, as that term is commonly understood – I want to be a part of the true visible Church on earth.
In addition, the desire for “historical continuity” is also connected with the desire for history, period. I agree with Pastor Fisk about the importance of the “Biblical narrative”. I think here of something like Answer in Genesis’ “7 C’s of creation” (although I would put “Christ” – as in the Genesis 3:15 promise – right after corruption as well!). It seems to me that the while the Small Catechism is surely a great tool (a great “extraction” of the key biblical teaching), it will be most effectively taught when in the context of the whole story of the Church in general, and the “story” the Bible tells in particular.
Finally, this world not only needs Christians who are deeply formed by the Word, but also highly intelligent Christians formed by the Word. It is more and more the case that being as shrewd as snakes (and unjust stewards) is not even close to being optional. We are in a vicious spiritual war, whether we realize it or not – and our weapons must likewise be spiritual (Eph. 6:10ff. also see John 18:36; 2 Cor. 10:3-5; Isa. 42:2-3).
So now, for me, its not “I’m a Lifelong Lutheran, But…” Its “I’m a Lifelong Lutheran who is passionate about it”.