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Now, granted, many of you reading this are not Lutheran, but you were drawn to the title much as you were to the movie White Men Can’t Jump.
I am a lifelong Lutheran. Laying my cards on the table, I’m a theologically conservative Lutheran with incurable Pentecostal tendencies.
The Lutheran Church is beautiful, in a Volvo/Ikea sort of way. We tend to be understated and solid, with terminal dependability and not much foolishness.
But we have some real weak spots.
1) We more or less have no functioning eschatology (end times teaching). Martin Luther wrecked that for us. He thought the Antichrist was alive and that his name was Leo, and that he lived in Rome. Great Tribulation on its way? Heck, in Luther’s mind, it was already here. And Uncle Marty had a tendency to want to mow down “Heaven is coming on earth!” Millennialists (Thomas Muentzer, etc.) whenever he had the chance. We’ve had an eschatological hangover ever since. A dirty little family secret.
Please hear me, I am not suggesting that we adopt the folk American Darby-based dog and pony show, which I affectionately call “Chutes and Ladders.” We can do much better than that. But it’s hard to invite people on a journey when we don’t have a compelling destination.
2) We won’t even bring up Luther’s formative 16th century anti-Semitism which planted the seeds for all kinds of later nastiness. What he said about the Jews is not for polite publications like this one. And it was disgusting. I totally condemn it and there was no excuse for it.
3) We have no theology of mission. Within the framework of our theology, we have no idea how to get someone saved. This will be the topic of our little essay today.
Our theology, as Lutherans, is primarily confessional and not missional.
Now by confessional, I don’t mean the confusing dual use of the word including personal or corporate confession of sins; not talking about the “mea culpa” on page 56 in the LBW.
What I mean, rather, is that we “speak together” the truths of our faith. The Reformed tradition (Calvinists, Presbyterians, etc.), along with Lutherans, is one of the two great “confessional” traditions.
The Westminster (Reformed) Confession and the Augsburg (Lutheran) Confession are towering examples of confessional Christianity.
Both streams, however, are anemic in their ability to think about reaching the lost (i.e. missiology).
Now confessionalism is not a priori anti-missional. You can have a missional confession of faith. We just don’t.
Well, at the time the Lutheran Confessions were written, they were written within a (nominal) Christendom which had no immediate frontiers (at least none which most people had actually seen—Muslims were unthinkably far away and the New World was just being discovered) with non-Christian nations. There also were no large minorities of explicit non-Christians within Christendom. Only the Jews were present among them as a distinct minority, and they, as now, were a tiny sliver (albeit super-influential sliver) of the total European population.
The Lutheran Confessions were not written to define how to reach the lost. They were written to defend the new Evangelical faith against a Roman Christianity which was organizing to resist the Reformation.
It is also a misnomer to say that Lutherans were a “breakaway” from the Roman Catholic Church. Western Christianity before Luther was anything but monolithic. There were often up to three rival popes at a time. Lots of priests married and there were instances of female ordination. Rules and uniformity were unenforceable, especially at the farther ends of the muddy trails which were the ‘highways’ of Europe. In fact you can make a case for the fact that the Roman Catholic Church was only first incorporated at Trent (as in “the council of….”) in reaction to the Protestant Reformation. Without the printing press (which appeared about this time), it was more or less impossible to hold a bureaucracy together in those days.
The Confessions were full of Realpolitik (i.e. say whatever you have to in order to help the movement survive) and were defensive in nature. They were not nearly as systematic as the parallel Reformed-Calvinist documents.
Lutheranism has a high tolerance for tension and has less of a fetish for streamlining than Calvinism. For instance, our stock answer to the question “Can I lose my salvation?” is a typically Lutheran “yes and no.” We also have no answer for the problem of evil (theodicy). We live with the tensions of the Bible and those conflicts we find in life.
You see, Luther was a Bible teacher, not a systematic theologian. “Lutheran Systematic Theology” is a bit of an oxymoron.
Luther rediscovered the Apostle Paul’s “Jesus plus nothing” mentality in Galatians. He remade the new Evangelical church around this reality. And like Paul, he was ready to defend this new movement at whatever cost.
He didn’t seem all that interested, however, in the crafting of the Confessions; he left that to his indispensable-but-weenie-dweeb colleague Melanchthon. He’d rather drink beer and engage young leaders for hours on end (Tischreden or “table talk”); and he loved to preach and teach.
He and Paul are on everyone’s short list of one-handful of the most influential humans of all time (I would add Jesus, Newton, and Mohammed.)
So the Confessions were written in a time when the main job of the Church was not seen as evangelization or global missions. It was the education of nominal Christians (hence the writing of the iconic and ubiquitous Small Catechism).
Unfortunately, our faith family’s official theology locked in and froze up on this angle. We have huge education wings on all of our churches, but we don’t know how to lead a non-Christian to faith.
The Confessions are simply silent as to how to do mission. It wasn’t the issue they were dealing with.
In conclusion, the formative-era Lutherans were concerned with two things:
1) Catechizing already-baptized nominal Christians within their jurisdiction (the Small Catechism)
2) Defending the faith against non-Lutheran neighbors (the Confessions)
Mission was just not on their radar screen. It didn’t get into our family DNA.
It is a huge understatement to say that we live in a totally different world today. My block here in California has no ignorant but compliant Christians just waiting to be catechized, and defending the faith in an intellectually permissive pluralistic culture has way lower stakes (and no stakes to be burned on). But we Lutherans are operating with answer patterns (catechism and confession) which address situations that have long since vanished. We have a cure for a disease that is no longer with us.
I, a confessional Lutheran, came to the hard conclusion recently that criticisms against me not being Lutheran in much of my teaching (because I am very missional) were actually quite accurate. My missional side (my dominant driving spiritual thrust) doesn’t get its marching orders from the confessions.
And teaching unbelievers the Catechism is like building a second story on a vacant lot.
The truth is, it’s time to write a new Lutheran Confession of Mission. It is ironic that we have a new fellowship called the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ when we haven’t really thought through how to do mission as Lutherans.
In other words, since our theology is through-and-through confessional, and those Confessions are not missional, we have to go “outside the system” to do mission.
We’ve been borrowing the Arminian theology of the Second Great (American) Awakening whenever we feel the urge to reach a lost person or send out a missionary. It works, but it’s kind of like an American soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan using a Kalashnikov rifle—it gets the job done OK, but it looks and feels wrong.
Nothing wrong with Arminians. But they lack the Lutheran appreciation for ambiguity and struggle (the “Mighty Fortress” stuff). Their total embrace of free will collapses the inconclusive experiences of the human condition in this area. We are free and not free. We are sinners and saints. God is sovereign and rules all, but condemns no one to death. We Lutherans live with this stuff and have always been allergic to over-simplistic answers.
Now if you see no value whatsoever in the Lutheran way of looking at things, you may as well not read any further. I do see value in our tribal “vibe.” We are not the only voice in the Christian choir, but we need to know our voice and sound it clearly. The Christian movement without Lutheran contribution would be infinitely poorer.
Arminians (Finney, Moody, Billy Graham, etc.) are the world champions of missiology. Calvinists, on the other hand, blow it by insisting on wooden “total depravity” and an existentially confusing (but in theory simple and elegant) view of election and predestination.
Arminianism, when connected with classical substitutionary atonement teaching, leads to the famous “bridge” illustration which then urges a free-will decision on the part of the hearer.
A half-generation ago, these methods were working well. The Jesus Movement used this model which led to millions of conversions. But we have been seeing diminishing returns. It doesn’t work for most of today’s young adults; failing to describe the ambiguity of the human condition and the apparent multiplicity of “bridges” that could be used.
The Gospel never changes. But missiology does. A particular missiology is not the core truth of our faith. It is a hermeneutical tool for getting that core across.
For instance, reaching people in pre-modern cultures with ancestor worship looks different from reaching people in post-modern, secular France.
But as Lutherans, we have an empty missiological toolbox.
We’ve all heard the joke about crossing a Jehovah’s Witness with a Lutheran and getting someone who knocks at your door but doesn’t know what to say. There’s a lot of truth in that.
And it’s not just that we’re Northern European and passive/stoic. We simply haven’t crafted a vocabulary and grammar of mission and conversion. We don’t even know how to describe the conversion event.
And we have to get serious about conversion for all kinds of reasons. One of them (along with the obvious love of the lost) is that we are in demographic free-fall.
Lutherans in America have had three major eras:
1) The era of immigration.
2) The era of procreation.
3) The era of decline.
The era of immigration was a period which lasted up to 1920. Millions of nominal Lutherans were coming in sailing and steamships to North America. If we set up ethnic specific ministries which functioned as community centers, and catechized and confirmed the young, then primary relationships would be built around church activity and continuous exposure to Word and Sacrament would get the job done.
It worked. Until the steamships stopped coming.
Then we turned to plan B: Procreation. The average Lutheran woman had 4-5 kids. We built education wings onto our churches (a whole new thing). From VBS to Lutheran Colleges and Seminaries (via Luther and Walther League) we did a full court press on the kids, knowing that keeping over half of them would lead to a growing church. I am a product of that full court press.
It worked. Until the pill came and the average Lutheran woman now has 1.7 kids. Keep half of 1.7 and you get exactly what we now have.
The pill was introduced in 1963. The Lutheran Church has been in freefall since 1964 (despite the rapid growth of the US population during that same time).
Contraction, aging, and entropy have been the norm for our congregations since then. The exception has been Upper Midwest suburban areas where a fresh critical-mass population of young Lutherans moves into new tract housing and has kids (a curious mixture of “retro” immigration and procreation).
This all sounds pretty pessimistic and dark.
But I am actually optimistic.
Because, if we can get our act together, the young adults I work with are much more open to a “Lutheran” way of looking at the human condition (with all of its tension and ambiguity) than an Arminian or Calvinist view. Both of the latter seem a little too easy for today’s nuanced and savvy young adults.
But these young adults are not going to stream into our churches by default. We have to craft our message and understand their sociology.
For instance, we baby boomers love “small groups.” Not so with the next generation. They tend to prefer larger groups (i.e. a houseful) with smaller informal “fragments.” I have looked all over and have yet to find even one single exception to this that would prove the rule.
We also have done precious little to get them involved in our leadership. How many 18-25 year olds are you grooming for leadership?
But back to missiology…
I believe that it will be Pentecostal-leaning (or at least experientially Holy-Spirit-friendly) Lutherans who will have the inside track to reaching the next generation (if we even show up for the game).
We Lutheran charismatics are experiential-oriented, as they are. We also, as Lutherans, have a gut sense, as they do, that life is not all that simple.
So the task at hand is to craft an experientially-friendly Lutheran missiology which respects the complexity of life, avoids simplistic answers, and involves the next generation in leadership. And it has to be clear enough to lead to lots of solid from-the-outside conversions into the Christian faith.
Stay tuned. I am actively working on just such a model. You do the same and we’ll compare notes. I’ll give you a teaser-hint. It has to do with re-framing the concept of sin (de-emphasizing Calvin’s total depravity) using mega-themes from the letter to the Galatians.
The church will stand, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. But I am not satisfied with a church that stands. I want to see the church get up and walk! And to see it go into all the world…
Please forward the link to this essay to every church leader you know.
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Our institutions are rusting out.
Let me say from the beginning that I am an optimist for the human race and for the Creation in general. God will have his way with Creation and people are amazingly resilient and adaptable.
But I am a pessimist about the ability of our major institutions to survive this century.
The rust has gone beyond cosmetic. The core of our institutions are rusting
Sure you want to read this?
The church, the government, education, the military, and the economy are in terminal trouble.
Not that some form of church, government, education, military, and economy won’t survive. All of these functions are going to survive; but the institutions which carry these functions now may not.
Arguably the most resilient of all institutions (outliving languages and nations, and ALL ideologies), the Church has gone ‘sideline’ in the space of one generation.
The Church was the only major institution to survive the fall of the Roman Empire.
Irrelevant and ignored are the two adjectives that come to mind when I think of the 21st Century church.
Virtually no explicit Christian leaders, for the first time in 2 millennia, are first-team varsity culture shapers on our planet. We don’t even have an Oprah, let alone a Churchill.
Today’s 15-30 year-olds are ignoring the Church in unprecidented droves.
Most denominational organizations are ripped apart by political issues and are reaching terminal blood loss levels. Christianity is fragmented like never before.
I live in California.
California, more or less first to try out everything, became ungovernable a few years ago. The USA is not far behind.
Our current form of ’democracy’ is based on British parliamentary and American constitutional decision making. Also on the idea of the sovereign “nation state.”
More Americans seem to believe in the sacred inerrancy of our constitution than believe in the veracity of the Bible. But its days are numbered because the institution it calls forth is no longer able to solve problems. It can’t do its job.
The truth is, the folks in Sacramento and Washington DC are no longer at the helm of our culture. They are not calling the shots.
The models they follow are based on pre-industrial and pre-information-age interaction. They are more and more unable to solve the challenges we all face together.
The European Union is facing increasing opposition from client states and their citizens. It is a faux-empire with no mass appeal or loyalty (from the citizenry). It lacks patriotism.
The Romans were unable to adapt to changing situations. Patriotism and effort is not enough.
Sometimes you just have to think differently.
We all know that there are great educators out there.
Most of us were influenced by outstanding teachers.
But there is a nagging consensus that the way we do school and university is not working as it should.
We have been unable, in the USA, to figure out how to include all of the major lifestyle ideologies in our official education process. Abraham Kuyper of Holland was the last one to pull this off (about 100 years ago). So we settle for lowest-common-denominator secular humanism as our official education vibe.
And pencils and classrooms? In the 21st century? Our current elementary education model doesn’t even assume the presence of electricity. It would work almost as well with a pot belly stove and a chalkboard.
We are unable to create safety for productive citizens. Our USA military was designed to beat the Germans (tanks) and the Japanese (aircraft carriers).
The military of other countries is more or less totally impotent and unable to project power anywhere. Europe couldn’t even take care of Kosovo without our help.
The real threats are politically and psychologically (sometimes both) fringe people. Especially when they congregate and organize.
Call it extremism or whatever.
They want to blow up airplanes (from their underwear) over Detroit.
They form camps to train angry young men to hate and kill.
They are notoriously flexible and hard to locate. The most powerful military on Earth can’t find Bin Laden.
They generally hate Israel, America, or the UK–not necessarily in that order.
They, as strongmen, take over failed states and provide “stability” and pride for their followers.
As a result, harmless grandmas have to take off their shoes at airport security, getting their water bottles confiscated, and honest people have governments limiting how much money they can move around. I have an 827 credit rating and the bank has to put holds on my checks because of the “Patriot Act.”
New “nuclear powers” are added every few years. An obsolete form of national security, but it continues to spread. Who will be the first to pull the trigger? Pakistan? North Korea?
We, and other nations, spend bazillions on ‘military’ but most of it is still focused on a WW2 that is not going to return. Or on a Cold War that is just plain over.
And Bin Laden and North Korea continue to do whatever they want.
The economy has been fragile for quite some time. “Recovery” seems to be an elusive thing. It may not arrive; at least in the sense of returning to the way things are.
People may well prosper in the future. I believe they will. But the Reagan and Clinton prosperity patterns are not coming back. We are moving forward into something new.
The big time bomb is China. They have huge problems. 300 million Chinese (the entire population of the USA) are seasonal itinerant migrant workers. Their environmental issues are like gathering national mudslides. Their core industries are rusting out, and only 8-10 percent annual GNP growth “keeps the doctor away.” The day that expansion slips below that level…
The effect of this on the global economy will be staggering.
Money, also, is making no sense. What is it anyway? We are constantly measuring something that is an abstraction at best. Money is a very old school way of value storage; kind of a reel-to-reel tape in an iPod financial era. Money is simply not keeping up–obviously.
And our global banking system can’t exist without huge infusions which the governments paying them can’t afford to make.
Archaeology shows us that institutions calcify and end up in layers of ‘digs.’
We may be facing revolutionary changes in our institutions. Many of us alive today may see these institutions (peacefully or otherwise) make way for new forms of completing the same tasks.
Even our cities may not survive.
Cities (bigger and bigger) have to get their food from farther and farther away.
They have to ‘trade’ something in return for being fed. Cities cannot feed themselves.
It used to be that cities, by concentrating people, could create innovation that they could sell to people who would feed them.
With technological and communication breakthroughs, people can live in Northern Alberta and create innovation in conversation with the whole world via technology. We don’t have to live in cities anymore.
De-urbanization (along with other things) killed the Roman Empire. Rome could no longer add value to the rural areas who were feeding the great city. People moved to the countryside and reorganized as local fiefdoms.
The 21st Century is going to be the most revolutionary since the 6th century.
Are you ready for it?
What are you doing to position yourself to prevail?
I have always considered myself a small-government guy.
Love going to Hong Kong where they run the whole place out of one modest building.
But let’s re-frame the question:
What endeavors do we want to tackle collectively, and what do we want to work out as individuals?
Building highways, defeating the Nazis, running an aircraft carrier, having a fire department, going to the moon, etc. are all things that we can do best collectively. The more people in the pool, the more we can do.
Education is an expensive item with much complexity. In small towns (and there are a lot of them) that are too small for competition, a collective community school seems like a good idea. In large cities, my sense is that vouchers and competition would work better. But vouchers assume that the government should have the money to hand out. What if it were totally privatized? How would we ensure that underclass children get the skills to enter mainstream society?
And public education does indeed create an English-language socialization for our bazillions of immigrants. Most Mexican kids here in Cali prefer speaking English. Only the schools have done that.
If it were totally up to the libertarians, why not extremist Muslim grade schools backed by oil money in every big city? Just one of the “options.” So unraveling the public schools’ semi-monopoly can have a dark side.
And as far as big government goes, Ronny and W did more to create that than any other president in my lifetime–it’s just that much of it was military. As I’ve said before, military spending counts as government spending and it’s one of the most expensive forms of big government. Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial complex (right about the day I was born, by the way).
I’d like to do a major post on “rethinking education.” Another one on “rethinking military.” I think that these two big ticket items encourage outrageous spending based on obsolete world views. The educational and military situations have changed and we still build schools and weaponry based on former challenges that no longer exist.
It’s not only expensive–it doesn’t get the job done.
Too many American kids go to college and not enough of them get real job skills. Universities are not for everyone.
And why do we really need aircraft carriers and tanks? We need better ways of removing pockets of terrorist extremism and neutralizing crazy world leaders (North Korea). A pitched tank battle is way unlikely. As is a carrier war like the one we had with Japan. We also need to figure out how we are going to engage the Muslim world–much of what we now do just makes it worse. They don’t think as we do but we operate as though they do (rewards and punishment scenarios).
And then there are entitlements. It’s choking California. Many public servants here retire on more money than most in the private sector ever will make.
So how much government should we have?
Education, military, entitlements?
What are your thoughts?
From whom have we borrowed? Whom must we repay?
What difference does that make since the government sets the value of money by increasing or decreasing supply?
Is inflation a way of whittling down the debt? Is that why government always seems to produce inflation?
Is inflation an insidious form of extra taxation?
Is the national debt just a bank subsidy?
What are your thoughts?
A French guy named Alain test drove my 2CV today.
Have had it for over 10 years.
Selling it to put the money into my VW Bus and make it into a surf/snowboard/hiking/camping truck.
The car has been a big part of my “vibe” for a while.
I hope it sells, and also kinda hope the phone doesn’t ring…
Seriously, I live in Huntington Beach, California, and if you want the most unique car ever, write me at LaCasaPacifica@yahoo.com
Engine is perfect. Reliable enough to cross the country.
New body work. Painted with primer so you can choose your color.
Needs a total interior makeover.
Asking $7k. Make an offer at LaCasaPacifica@yahoo.com