Why Lutherans Can’t Evangelize

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.

But as Lutherans, we have an empty missiological toolbox.

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.

Why not?

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.

Why?

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).

Why?

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…

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  • Wayne A

    I know this is an old thread, but I found something interesting. It’s some material the Evangelical Lutheran Church used for evangelism in 1959. Here is the definition of evangelism they give. “Evangelism is applying the evangel (Gospel) to the hearts of men, to win the unsaved for Christ, to keep the believer in Christ, to recall the backslider to Christ, and to send the believer forth a witness for Christ.” It seems like my mother’s Lutheran church knew how to evangelize. Maybe we are asking the wrong question. Maybe we need to ask, why won’t Lutherans evangelize?

  • Buff Delcamp

    Hmm, sorry to have two comments. I came back to look at the bottom for a response but it had just sorted it into February posts in the middle, not paying attention to the year. Hope I’m not lost in the shuffle…

    • The new theology of mission still needs writing.

      We have, however, written a curriculum for Lutheran adult conversion evangelism.

      Available on streaming video. Run it!

  • Buff Delcamp

    David,
    Your thoughts are very provocative. We’re going to do several weeks of preaching this fall on Mission. I wondered if you ever got to that work on a new model of Lutheran missiology? Have you written a new Lutheran Confession of Mission? Where can I find them?
    I’m very intrigued.
    Thanks

  • Buff Delcamp

    David,
    I just read this with great interest. We’re planning a mission emphasis for several Sundays in the fall. I wondered if your goal to craft a new “Lutheran Confession of Mission” came to fruition. If so, where can I see it?
    Thanks.

  • Thanks everyone for following this as we changed websites. Please pass the link on to others. Thanks! Also, feel free to print it out for your church leaders….

  • tkofaith

    Thanks for your blog. I am a Lutheran with a Pentecostal background. I was educated in Biblical Studies (B.A.) at Evangel College (now Evangel University) of the Assemblies of God. After years away from vocational ministry (and Charismatic Churches) I feel God encouraging me toward a “Reformed” Pentecostal Theology. I’m still not even sure what that means, but I found your blog to affirm what the Holy Spirit is saying to me. Thanks again!

  • tkofaith

    Thanks for your blog. I am a Lutheran with a Pentecostal background. I was educated in Biblical Studies (B.A.) at Evangel College (now Evangel University) of the Assemblies of God. After years away from vocational ministry (and Charismatic Churches) I feel God encouraging me toward a “Reformed” Pentecostal Theology. I’m still not even sure what that means, but I found your blog to affirm what the Holy Spirit is saying to me. Thanks again!

  • Gary Andrew Woodruff

    You may. I admit that I often reduce my opposition to a caricature – but I don’t do it to their faces while in dialogue or debate. Why does reductionism and the straw-man fallacy rage throughout current public discourse, do you think?

    • greenpastor

      Because people are lazy. It’s easier to summarize people in order to dismiss them than to actually engage them; it’s easier to believe that your political party is always right and the other is always wrong because the gray of ambiguity is scary. For pastors, it’s easier to believe the Pharisees were evil and preach a sermon about that – contrasting them with Jesus being “right”, when in fact Jesus was very likely either a Pharisee or someone trained by Pharisees. Conversation, on the other hand, is difficult – it forces me to look at myself and question my assumptions – including the possibility that I might be wrong. There’s a reason many ancient philosophers used dialogue as a key format for their ideas – it is in the midst of two voices reasoning together that truth emerges. It does not happen in a vacuum – and it certainly does not happen in an echo chamber of self-righteousness. If I have one axe to grind about the church today, that would be it: like minded groups congratulating themselves about how much more “right” their ideas are than those who see things differently – and then only spending time with like-minded people. But I think it’s not just the church – it’s the culture at large. That is why I always seek out people who have different opinions and try to learn from them, to understand where they are coming from and why they believe what they believe. It’s just difficult to do that when the people don’t really want to converse. We have lost the art of true dialogue – and in many cases reason is out the window. We have cultured ourselves around our mammalian brains, and in some cases our reptilian brains, and I’m afraid our neo-cortexes are atrophying.

  • Wayne Almlie

    Acts 24:16 So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.
    ESV

    • Gary Andrew Woodruff

      “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” – Romans 7:18. Which quote attributed to Paul is more likely to be for the guidance of Christians – part of a letter written to believers, or part of a speech which in context was an apology before civil authorities? What are the chances that you might be misinterpreting Paul’s meaning in your quotation, versus the chances that this quote is being interpreted correctly?

      • greenpastor

        Can I just say this debate is proving to be quite entertaining?

        • Gary Andrew Woodruff

          You may. I admit that I often reduce my opposition to a caricature – but I don’t do it to their faces while in dialogue or debate. Why does reductionism and the straw-man fallacy rage throughout current public discourse, do you think?

          • greenpastor

            Because people are lazy. It’s easier to summarize people in order to dismiss them than to actually engage them; it’s easier to believe that your political party is always right and the other is always wrong because the gray of ambiguity is scary. For pastors, it’s easier to believe the Pharisees were evil and preach a sermon about that – contrasting them with Jesus being “right”, when in fact Jesus was very likely either a Pharisee or someone trained by Pharisees. Conversation, on the other hand, is difficult – it forces me to look at myself and question my assumptions – including the possibility that I might be wrong. There’s a reason many ancient philosophers used dialogue as a key format for their ideas – it is in the midst of two voices reasoning together that truth emerges. It does not happen in a vacuum – and it certainly does not happen in an echo chamber of self-righteousness. If I have one axe to grind about the church today, that would be it: like minded groups congratulating themselves about how much more “right” their ideas are than those who see things differently – and then only spending time with like-minded people. But I think it’s not just the church – it’s the culture at large. That is why I always seek out people who have different opinions and try to learn from them, to understand where they are coming from and why they believe what they believe. It’s just difficult to do that when the people don’t really want to converse. We have lost the art of true dialogue – and in many cases reason is out the window. We have cultured ourselves around our mammalian brains, and in some cases our reptilian brains, and I’m afraid our neo-cortexes are atrophying.

          • Gary Andrew Woodruff

            Not to oversimplify, but that sounded like “sin” to me… 😀
            I agree that only in dialogue with those who disagree can we learn things beyond “facts” – and facts are not the same as truth (which is another argument I constantly seem to be having).

  • Wayne Almlie

    I’m tired of conversation. The ELCA was never interested in dialog. We dialoged for 10 years with the ELCA through the CCM agreement, and through the homosexuality desicion in 2009 and were ignored the whole way through. They even knew it would be years before they could get the required 66% vote so they changed the rules just so they could have it their way. So don’t lecture me on conversation. I’m out now and I’m happy, I had about a 2 inch file of papers and articles that I was referencing to make what you claim were straw men, stuff written by bishops, pastors and secretaries to the bishops, but I threw them into the recycling bin this spring. I didn’t think I needed them cluttering up my file cabinets any more. So you can believe what you want. MY conscience is clear, or maybe if I say my conscience is bound, that will be language you understand.

    • greenpastor

      I wasn’t trying to lecture, but to suggest. I think that’s what healthy dialogue is. But you know what? You’re right. Conversation doesn’t make any sense if you’ve already made your mind up about what’s true and what isn’t. My conservative friends have told me how frustrating it’s been to be “invited to dialogue”, when in their view there’s nothing to discuss. Homosexuality is a sin and that’s the end of it. It’s interesting, though, to observe how each side in this polarized debate has already decided what’s true – and of course placed themselves on the “right side”. There are some things that certain people just aren’t going to agree on no matter how much they talk about it. But think for a moment about what Lincoln said in his second inaugural address – hardly a time of low polarization in our nation’s history – that we pray that each of us are on God’s side, not our own. Maybe that’s the best we can do sometimes. For me it’s just sad that this one issue has come to define our church in many ways.

  • Wayne Almlie

    I’m tired of conversation. The ELCA was never interested in dialog. We dialoged for 10 years with the ELCA through the CCM agreement, and through the homosexuality desicion in 2009 and were ignored the whole way through. They even knew it would be years before they could get the required 66% vote so they changed the rules just so they could have it their way. So don’t lecture me on conversation. I’m out now and I’m happy, I had about a 2 inch file of papers and articles that I was referencing to make what you claim were straw men, stuff written by bishops, pastors and secretaries to the bishops, but I threw them into the recycling bin this spring. I didn’t think I needed them cluttering up my file cabinets any more. So you can believe what you want. MY conscience is clear, or maybe if I say my conscience is bound, that will be language you understand.

    • greenpastor

      I wasn’t trying to lecture, but to suggest. I think that’s what healthy dialogue is. But you know what? You’re right. Conversation doesn’t make any sense if you’ve already made your mind up about what’s true and what isn’t. My conservative friends have told me how frustrating it’s been to be “invited to dialogue”, when in their view there’s nothing to discuss. Homosexuality is a sin and that’s the end of it. It’s interesting, though, to observe how each side in this polarized debate has already decided what’s true – and of course placed themselves on the “right side”. There are some things that certain people just aren’t going to agree on no matter how much they talk about it. But think for a moment about what Lincoln said in his second inaugural address – hardly a time of low polarization in our nation’s history – that we pray that each of us are on God’s side, not our own. Maybe that’s the best we can do sometimes. For me it’s just sad that this one issue has come to define our church in many ways.

    • Gary Andrew Woodruff

      Wayne,
      “I’m tired of conversation.” What do you think Christ would say to that statement, aimed at your brothers and sisters? Your frustration is not license to sever your ties to the ELCA in the body of Christ. As a Lutheran, you know that the only basis for such a breach would be addition to or subtraction from the Gospel – which the ELCA has not done. If you believe such a thing has transpired, by all means, present your case – but do not accuse via generalization and assumption. The decision on human sexuality (which was about more than homosexuality) made no requirements of you. The CCM adopted episcopacy (the practice of having bishops in apostolic succession) because while it is not required, it is helpful to other Christians that we have it – because their consciences are bound to it. The ELCA took it up as a favor to the Episcopal church, recognizing that we were in a position of strength, whereas they were in the weak situation. Have you presented any other accusations you’d like me to address?

      I cannot believe what I want, Wayne, but only what is given to me through the Spirit. I want to believe that I don’t have to have difficult conversations, but I cannot, because of Christ.

      Also if your “conscience is clear”, that’s pretty suspicious to me. A Christian’s conscience should never be clear.

      In Christ,
      Gary

  • Gary Andrew Woodruff

    Wayne,
    That’s all great. None of it addresses my point – you have argued against a position that no one holds. How many of these folks you are in dialogue with are in the ELCA and can speak for it? I wasn’t bringing up qualifications, I was saying that the questions you have are for conversation because there’s a great deal behind them that can’t be addressed well in this medium. Dialogue with educated opponents is one of the ways we grow.

    Actually, because of your education, I’m more disappointed than I was previously. I have to believe that you simply haven’t met people who are qualified to discuss the subjects of your previous posts.

    In Christ,
    Gary

    • greenpastor

      Sorry to jump in here, and I hate to gang up on Wayne, but I have to agree. If you really disagree with someone or some body, why wouldn’t you want to find those very people and have a dialogue with them? Putting up a straw man to strike down – which is exactly what you’ve done in your characterization of the “ELCA” – is disingenuous. Now we all do this to some degree or another (all have sinned and fallen short. . .), but it seems to me one of the benefits of theology is to make you question your own assumptions. You may even have something to learn from those who hold a different position than you – and it will make you appreciate even more why you believe what you believe. Theologian David Tracy says: “conflict is our actuality, conversation is our hope.” Of course theology is more than mere conversation, but that’s at least a start.

  • Wayne Almlie

    I just finished a week of classes at a Lutheran Seminary, is that smart enough for you. And by the way, I hope you don’t think I was being judgmental , I was just being critical of the ELCA.

    • Gary Andrew Woodruff

      Wayne,
      I don’t know if you were addressing me – I never said anything about being “smart” or not – but I don’t find you so much judgmental as reductionist.

      I did say something about being educated. A weeks is a great start. Did you bring these things up at the seminary? What were the responses? If you didn’t talk about these things, why not?

      Educated is not the same thing as “smart”, and I didn’t say you weren’t either of these things. I suggested that you should find people who are educated to dialogue with. I hope that clears up any confusion.

      In Christ,
      Gary

      • Wayne Almlie

        Yes Gary, I was responding to you since your the only one responding to my posts.

        By smart I wasn’t refering to myself I was refering to the four seminary professors I took classes with. Yes we do discuss these things all the time. Yes I have taken more than One week of classes, I am 3/4 way through a program for a degree in Biblical studies. But before that, I am also a grad. of a two year Lutheran Bible school so this is mostly a refresher. I have taught Sunday School both Adult and children, I have taught Confirmation, I was president of my ELCA congregation and although I wasn’t the one who lead the congregation out of the ELCA, I help lay the ground work for us to do it.

        I read extensivly too, but I look for the old Lutherans, the one who wrote in the first half of the 20th century. Maynard Force, A.W. Knock, O. Hallesby, Ludvig Hope, Oscar Hanson, Samuel Miller, Walter Maier, John P. Milton, Rosenius—-. There were giants in the land in those days.

        So don’t think I’m just an uneducated bafoon out here in the cheep seats. Sure I’ll never have a doctorate in theology and for that I am grateful. And I readily admit there is a lot I don’t know and will never know, at least until I see Jesus face to face.

        • Gary Andrew Woodruff

          Wayne,
          That’s all great. None of it addresses my point – you have argued against a position that no one holds. How many of these folks you are in dialogue with are in the ELCA and can speak for it? I wasn’t bringing up qualifications, I was saying that the questions you have are for conversation because there’s a great deal behind them that can’t be addressed well in this medium. Dialogue with educated opponents is one of the ways we grow.

          Actually, because of your education, I’m more disappointed than I was previously. I have to believe that you simply haven’t met people who are qualified to discuss the subjects of your previous posts.

          In Christ,
          Gary

          • greenpastor

            Sorry to jump in here, and I hate to gang up on Wayne, but I have to agree. If you really disagree with someone or some body, why wouldn’t you want to find those very people and have a dialogue with them? Putting up a straw man to strike down – which is exactly what you’ve done in your characterization of the “ELCA” – is disingenuous. Now we all do this to some degree or another (all have sinned and fallen short. . .), but it seems to me one of the benefits of theology is to make you question your own assumptions. You may even have something to learn from those who hold a different position than you – and it will make you appreciate even more why you believe what you believe. Theologian David Tracy says: “conflict is our actuality, conversation is our hope.” Of course theology is more than mere conversation, but that’s at least a start.

  • Gary Andrew Woodruff

    Wayne,
    There is a difference between “judgmental” and “critical”, and a difference between “critical” and “abusive”. I was aiming to be critical of your statements.

    The only thing that is “necessary” is Jesus Christ and him crucified. This is what Paul preached, not that people should go around “repenting”. You are free to use non-Pauline theology if you like, but you’ll need to justify your refusal to account for Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Galatians. Repentance is the product of faith, which is the gift of the Spirit which comes through grace. Remember “justified by grace through faith”, that kind of thing? Part of the problem is I don’t know your background – please find a Lutheran pastor who can talk with you about this. The present medium is not conducive to such a conversation.

    In terms of needing the “law”, remember that the law is the cutting edge of the gospel. The saving Word shows us our sin, it kills us, but it also gives life. A surefire sign of work-righteousness is when someone lists requirements for salvation, since God will save whom God wills. Instead, what you are describing are the effects of salvation in Jesus Christ, effects that manifest across our lives as sinner-saints. To say someone else is a bad person, or does not love Jesus, is to imply that you are different from them – and you are not. All have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God.

    Jesus is indeed the I AM – but he is also the body broken and the blood shed for you. As for the comments about bishops, the Episcopal church does not teach that “bishops are the church”, and the ELCA is not Episcopal in any case. What I see the bishops of the ELCA writing about are the sins of being careless in our stewardship of the planet, of perpetuating war, of actualizing prejudice and injustice, and not feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and speaking for the oppressed.

    The ELCA supports Obama no more than Romney. The facts are that, as Christians, we seek to do good for the vulnerable in the world. Many people fail to see how Romney’s policies (as proposed currently) would be good for those in need. And THAT is the discussion to have, if you want to talk politics as a Christian.

    In brief, Wayne, all I was trying to say is that you have committed the classic “straw-man” fallacy – you have built a caricature of the position you disagree with, and argued against that false position. It is a position your opposition does not actually hold, and so your arguments are useless. Another term for this? “False witness.”

    Please go find educated people to dialogue with, because I know you are better than the posts you have made.

    In Christ,
    Gary

  • Wayne Almlie

    As far as the ELCA, I was wrong to lump them all together. I was pretty much reacting to what I read the bishops write. Since were all Episcopals now, the Bishops are the church, and the only sins I see the bishops writing about is the sin of bullying (and they get to define what that means) the sin of not being “green”, the sin of supporting Israel’s right to exist, the sin of buying Chick-fil-a sandwiches, and the sin of not supporting Obama’s social agenda.

    I think the number of churches that have left the ELCA is approaching 700, and probably with them about a half a million people, but I know there are still some in the ELCA that are still fighting the good fight, so I will try to be more careful and not over generalize.

    And by the way, I thought your comments concerning my original post were kind of judgmental. Bullies!!!!!!!

    • Gary Andrew Woodruff

      Wayne,
      There is a difference between “judgmental” and “critical”, and a difference between “critical” and “abusive”. I was aiming to be critical of your statements.

      The only thing that is “necessary” is Jesus Christ and him crucified. This is what Paul preached, not that people should go around “repenting”. You are free to use non-Pauline theology if you like, but you’ll need to justify your refusal to account for Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Galatians. Repentance is the product of faith, which is the gift of the Spirit which comes through grace. Remember “justified by grace through faith”, that kind of thing? Part of the problem is I don’t know your background – please find a Lutheran pastor who can talk with you about this. The present medium is not conducive to such a conversation.

      In terms of needing the “law”, remember that the law is the cutting edge of the gospel. The saving Word shows us our sin, it kills us, but it also gives life. A surefire sign of work-righteousness is when someone lists requirements for salvation, since God will save whom God wills. Instead, what you are describing are the effects of salvation in Jesus Christ, effects that manifest across our lives as sinner-saints. To say someone else is a bad person, or does not love Jesus, is to imply that you are different from them – and you are not. All have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God.

      Jesus is indeed the I AM – but he is also the body broken and the blood shed for you. As for the comments about bishops, the Episcopal church does not teach that “bishops are the church”, and the ELCA is not Episcopal in any case. What I see the bishops of the ELCA writing about are the sins of being careless in our stewardship of the planet, of perpetuating war, of actualizing prejudice and injustice, and not feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and speaking for the oppressed.

      The ELCA supports Obama no more than Romney. The facts are that, as Christians, we seek to do good for the vulnerable in the world. Many people fail to see how Romney’s policies (as proposed currently) would be good for those in need. And THAT is the discussion to have, if you want to talk politics as a Christian.

      In brief, Wayne, all I was trying to say is that you have committed the classic “straw-man” fallacy – you have built a caricature of the position you disagree with, and argued against that false position. It is a position your opposition does not actually hold, and so your arguments are useless. Another term for this? “False witness.”

      Please go find educated people to dialogue with, because I know you are better than the posts you have made.

      In Christ,
      Gary

  • Wayne Almlie

    As far as logs and splinters. Don’t you fret, I am very well aware of the log that is in my eye. It grieves me to the core. I have sinned against God and against my Savior in so many ways. I try deal with my log, my pride, my adultry of the heart, my covetousness, my fear of man, my lazyness. I don’t love the Lord with my whole heart, at times it causes me to weap. But!!!! Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like Me. I am a wretch, just like Paul, the chief of sinners, I need a savior. I have found one in Jesus. Jesus said, if you have been forgiven much you will love much. I know I have been forgiven much, but yet the reality in so many ways has not sunk in because I yet do not love Jesus as I ought. But that is my desire, I pray that God would show me the wretchedness of my sins so that I would stay close to Him and the cross and love him more and more each day.

    But as I meet people and they have no love for Jesus, When they think they are good people and don’t need a savior, In that situation don’t they need the law so they can see the sinfulness of sin and the righteousness of God so they too can be forgiven and love Jesus much.

    Yes Jesus is love, but He also is the “I Am” who is so holy that God had to shield Moses in the cleft of the rock so God’s goodness wouldn’t slay Him. God is good, that is the problem, because we are not. No one is good, no not one. Our good works are filty rags in His sight He is so good. Again how can one stand before a thrice holy God, only in the righteousness of faith in Jesus.

  • Wayne Almlie

    On faith, faith is described as necessary to, not just any faith, but faith is Jesus as God and savior. Rom 3:26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

    John 8:24 Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I Am, you will die in your sins.”

    This is an interesting statment by Jesus, very exclusionary. To die in your sins is to be judged for your sins. Jesus said if you do not believe that “I Am” (This is the name God gave Moses when Moses asked God what His name was.) So unless you beleive Jesus is the same as the God who gave Moses the law, you will die in your sins. That is about as exclusionary as it gets. What will be the difference in whether your sins are forgiven or not, faith, not just any faith, not just faith in any Jesus. Many people think Jesus was a good teacher, or a prophet. Some think Jesus is Michael, the angel, some think Jesus is the spirit child of God the father. All excluded, only those who believe that Jesus is I AM will be justified and have their sins forgiven.

    Now if you want to say that faith is the gift of God and the evidence of the new birth, rather than the cause of the new birth I have no problem with that. But that doesn’t change the scriptural truth of the necessity for faith in Justification, sanctification and salvation.

    Rom 3:28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.

    Rom 3:31 Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.

    Heb 4:2 For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.

    Heb 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him

  • Wayne Almlie

    Wither repentance is a cause or effect, it is necessary. If it is the effect, then It is evidence that you have been born from above and God has removed your heart of stone and given you a heart of flesh. You now have a heart that loves God and you desire to keep His word. You don’t have the power all the time but you are like Paul when you fail, “Oh wretched man that I am.”

    Ezek 36:26-28
    26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.
    NKJV

    Mark 1:14 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

    Luke 13:3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.

    Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent,

    Acts 3:19 Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,

    Acts 17:30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

    Acts 26:20 That they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.

  • Wayne Almlie

    Wither repentance is a cause or effect, it is necessary. If it is the effect, then It is evidence that you have been born from above and God has removed your heart of stone and given you a heart of flesh. You now have a heart that loves God and you desire to keep His word. You don’t have the power all the time but you are like Paul when you fail, “Oh wretched man that I am.”

    Ezek 36:26-28
    26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.
    NKJV

    Mark 1:14 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

    Luke 13:3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.

    Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent,

    Acts 3:19 Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,

    Acts 17:30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

    Acts 26:20 That they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.

  • Wayne Almlie

    Bob,

    I understand fully what you mean. I also have left the ELCA. The ELCA is the world, they believe the same things the world believes. There is no sin anymore, except the sin of being a bully. There is no repentance and even no faith needed. They say it is Jesus who saves, but He saves everyone even those with no faith. I have linked up with the AFLC they are still solidly biblical and follow the scandinavian pietism which has an emphisis on a personal salvation. Unforunatly the churches are hard to find, mostly consentrated in the upper midwest.

    • This is directed toward Wayne: if the ELCA is the world, is the AFLC not the world? Have you now escaped it by joining another group? I don’t think so. If you think ministering to the world is becoming the world, you should read the Gospels again and see what Jesus did. If you have found heaven on earth, let me know because I’d love to join up.

    • Gary Andrew Woodruff

      Wayne,
      The world doesn’t believe in anything but itself. The ELCA (when it says that Jesus says everyone) is saying that salvation is the work of a loving God. If you want a God who excludes, you’re going to have to leave Jesus out of it.

      Repentance and faith are not the requirements of salvation. They are coterminous with salvation.

      As for your thought that in the ELCA there is no such thing as sin, this is totally false. It is only that sin is not solely thought of as singular moral errors, and instead as a power to which human beings are in bondage. Also, “being a bully” is basically making oneself God, which is violation of the first commandment, so… that is definitely the only functional sin, as it violates both love of God and love of neighbor.

      Also, salvation is always communal in the biblical witness.

      I’m sorry, but I think it’s not the ELCA who is unbiblical here. I don’t know where you’re coming from or your experience, but at the very least you are violating the eighth commandment in the post above.

      Didn’t Jesus say something about eyes, splinters, and logs?

      • I agree wholeheartedly with the last two posts. There is a case to be made that many in the ELCA have allowed social issues – which fall under ethics and life in the world – to define our theological agenda, which in my view is false. However to paint with so broad a brush: “there is no sin in the ELCA” is ridiculous. We confess our sins every week in the congregation I serve. I’m also not sure what you’re talking about when you say “ELCA”. It sounds like an abstraction to me.

  • Wayne Almlie

    Bob,

    I understand fully what you mean. I also have left the ELCA. The ELCA is the world, they believe the same things the world believes. There is no sin anymore, except the sin of being a bully. There is no repentance and even no faith needed. They say it is Jesus who saves, but He saves everyone even those with no faith. I have linked up with the AFLC they are still solidly biblical and follow the scandinavian pietism which has an emphisis on a personal salvation. Unforunatly the churches are hard to find, mostly consentrated in the upper midwest.

    • This is directed toward Wayne: if the ELCA is the world, is the AFLC not the world? Have you now escaped it by joining another group? I don’t think so. If you think ministering to the world is becoming the world, you should read the Gospels again and see what Jesus did. If you have found heaven on earth, let me know because I’d love to join up.

    • Gary Andrew Woodruff

      Wayne,
      The world doesn’t believe in anything but itself. The ELCA (when it says that Jesus says everyone) is saying that salvation is the work of a loving God. If you want a God who excludes, you’re going to have to leave Jesus out of it.

      Repentance and faith are not the requirements of salvation. They are coterminous with salvation.

      As for your thought that in the ELCA there is no such thing as sin, this is totally false. It is only that sin is not solely thought of as singular moral errors, and instead as a power to which human beings are in bondage. Also, “being a bully” is basically making oneself God, which is violation of the first commandment, so… that is definitely the only functional sin, as it violates both love of God and love of neighbor.

      Also, salvation is always communal in the biblical witness.

      I’m sorry, but I think it’s not the ELCA who is unbiblical here. I don’t know where you’re coming from or your experience, but at the very least you are violating the eighth commandment in the post above.

      Didn’t Jesus say something about eyes, splinters, and logs?

      • I agree wholeheartedly with the last two posts. There is a case to be made that many in the ELCA have allowed social issues – which fall under ethics and life in the world – to define our theological agenda, which in my view is false. However to paint with so broad a brush: “there is no sin in the ELCA” is ridiculous. We confess our sins every week in the congregation I serve. I’m also not sure what you’re talking about when you say “ELCA”. It sounds like an abstraction to me.

  • Bob

    This article, along with the subsequent comments, is very intriguing and thought provoking. You could say I am Lutheran on the inside. I line up with LCMS in about every way… but I don’t attend its churches much. I am joined with a Baptist church because 1) Lutherans have generally been quite cold as a congregation, and my family and I have never gotten past the feeling that we’re always on the outside, 2) While I enjoy a good glass of wine and all, the lifestyles of many of the LCMS members that I know would never give me a clue that they were any kind of a Christian (shacking up instead of marrying, lots of swearing, bar hopping, watching R or NC-17 movies) and these are NOT examples I want my kids to follow–thinking “Grace” will cover any debauchery they wish to partake in is not helpful, and 3) There is zero interest in outreach or evangelizing at all–which brought me here.

    I don’t want to be a member of a church where people act like the same world that I left behind, nor do I want my guests treated like mere bugs that wandered in during the sermon.

    I wish this would change, because the Baptist “Decision” theology, along with the “Left Behind” dispensational rapture eschatology, leaves me reeling. But I am never afraid to leave my kids with the other Baptists families. I don’t have to wonder what things they’ll pick up that I will have to undo or unteach. I do realize that ELCA is a more liberal branch of Lutheranism, so some of these things might not be bothersome to you or others.

    I am just trying to lead my family with the right doctrine, the right attitude, and a Christian lifestyle where I wouldn’t unwittingly lead anyone (Christian or non-Christian) astray. I want to do this without being legalistic. Tough act to balance. Even harder when no one is on board with you. I believe one way, yet practice another. I despise that about me, but that’s what I have to hold onto for now.

  • Bob

    This article, along with the subsequent comments, is very intriguing and thought provoking. You could say I am Lutheran on the inside. I line up with LCMS in about every way… but I don’t attend its churches much. I am joined with a Baptist church because 1) Lutherans have generally been quite cold as a congregation, and my family and I have never gotten past the feeling that we’re always on the outside, 2) While I enjoy a good glass of wine and all, the lifestyles of many of the LCMS members that I know would never give me a clue that they were any kind of a Christian (shacking up instead of marrying, lots of swearing, bar hopping, watching R or NC-17 movies) and these are NOT examples I want my kids to follow–thinking “Grace” will cover any debauchery they wish to partake in is not helpful, and 3) There is zero interest in outreach or evangelizing at all–which brought me here.

    I don’t want to be a member of a church where people act like the same world that I left behind, nor do I want my guests treated like mere bugs that wandered in during the sermon.

    I wish this would change, because the Baptist “Decision” theology, along with the “Left Behind” dispensational rapture eschatology, leaves me reeling. But I am never afraid to leave my kids with the other Baptists families. I don’t have to wonder what things they’ll pick up that I will have to undo or unteach. I do realize that ELCA is a more liberal branch of Lutheranism, so some of these things might not be bothersome to you or others.

    I am just trying to lead my family with the right doctrine, the right attitude, and a Christian lifestyle where I wouldn’t unwittingly lead anyone (Christian or non-Christian) astray. I want to do this without being legalistic. Tough act to balance. Even harder when no one is on board with you. I believe one way, yet practice another. I despise that about me, but that’s what I have to hold onto for now.

    • Gary Andrew Woodruff

      Do you want a monastic community that thinks it earns salvation by good works, or are you looking for a hospital for sinners? Because the church is the latter. There is a difference between holding your brothers and sisters accountable, and abandoning a community because they don’t all do what you think is right. Jesus clearly illustrated that withdrawal from community is NOT what he, or his disciples, should do.

      A Christian lifestyle is about love, not abstaining from cursing, judging others’ sexual relationships, or avoiding pieces of pop culture. Grace will cover “debauchery” – and sin too – because it is free. Feel free to name evil and injustice, but never forget to include the Gospel with the Law: we are broken, flawed, and desperate, but God is whole, perfect, and self-giving.

      God loves you, as well as these people with habits you don’t approve of. And God has commanded you to love them as well.

  • amos

    My grandson goes to a Lutheran school and I would like a bit of clarification on what they believe please. I am under the assumption that they believe that baptism is necessary for salvation. In other wards, do Lutherans believe that the work of the cross is incomplete. . a person must be baptized or he/she is hell bound. Could you please clear this up for me? Is it faith alone in Christ alone or does the Lutheran church believe it is the blood of Christ plus. . .Thank you so much for clearing this up for me.
    Amos

    • Gary

      Baptism, in the mind of a “Lutheran”, is part of the work of Christ on the cross. You may be under a misapprehension regarding baptism. It is nothing other than God’s Word giving a promise in the water which is poured. The promise does what it says in baptism, and it comes to us in the water so that we may believe. I hope this helps; for more, you may wish to see Luther’s discussion of baptism in the Small Catechism (one place to find this is in the Book of Concord; I recommend the Kolb / Wengert edition published in 2000). Also let me know if there are any more questions you have.

  • amos

    My grandson goes to a Lutheran school and I would like a bit of clarification on what they believe please. I am under the assumption that they believe that baptism is necessary for salvation. In other wards, do Lutherans believe that the work of the cross is incomplete. . a person must be baptized or he/she is hell bound. Could you please clear this up for me? Is it faith alone in Christ alone or does the Lutheran church believe it is the blood of Christ plus. . .Thank you so much for clearing this up for me.
    Amos

    • Gary

      Baptism, in the mind of a “Lutheran”, is part of the work of Christ on the cross. You may be under a misapprehension regarding baptism. It is nothing other than God’s Word giving a promise in the water which is poured. The promise does what it says in baptism, and it comes to us in the water so that we may believe. I hope this helps; for more, you may wish to see Luther’s discussion of baptism in the Small Catechism (one place to find this is in the Book of Concord; I recommend the Kolb / Wengert edition published in 2000). Also let me know if there are any more questions you have.

    • Jay Egenes

      Amos, what a great question. Unfortunately, it’s seldom easy to pinpoint “what Lutherans believe” because Lutheran theology is more of a framework or lens for reading and understanding the Bible than it is a list of particular doctrinal points on which people need to agree.
      The Book of Concord, which Gary recommends, is 600 some pages long, and doesn’t really try to answer all the questions (unlike Calvin’s Institutes, for example). It frames questions in a way that still permits a range of answers.
      For example, Lutherans hold to four “alones:” Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone, Word Alone. If you can have four “Alones,” there’s some tension in your system of thought, which isn’t a bad thing. But it doesn’t always result in easy black and white doctrinal propositions.
      Some Lutherans probably say things that make it seem like they believe baptism is necessary for salvation. Yet, if you asked them if the criminal on the cross was saved (the one to whom Jesus said “Today you will be with me in paradise), they would say yes, he was saved.
      Baptism is, in my understanding, the proclamation of the good news using the physical element of water, joined to the Word of God. It is in fact grace and faith that save us. And even faith is a gift. Baptism is a way in which the grace and gift are proclaimed. And we baptize because Christ commanded us to baptize.
      Hope that helps.

      • Actually it’s not grace or faith that saves, it’s God who saves. God does this by grace and through faith in Jesus Christ. My understanding of baptism is that it is the WAY God saves us, not the HOW. The “how” is the cross and the life that Jesus led on earth, which is the way we walk when we are in him and he is in us. One of the ways we realize this is through baptism, when we are drowned with Christ in the water of baptism and raised to new life in him.

  • Keep promoting the good news. That and the excitement of the Holy Spirit can bring people to Christ. It is also to minister to current family issues.

  • Keep promoting the good news. That and the excitement of the Holy Spirit can bring people to Christ. It is also to minister to current family issues.

  • So do you have to be born of the Spirit anew, or is grace alone enough? Just saying that they go together or wanting them to go together doesn’t mean they do. My concern in Pentecostalism is vesting absolute meaning in one spiritual gift as a litmus test – usually speaking in tongues, when in fact it was at the bottom of the list for Paul because it didn’t build up the community. I’m in favor of Lutherans finding ways to be renewed in the Spirit together as a community – expressing our various charisms together as ONE body. I’m not in favor of dividing Christian community by casting aspersions on those whose style of spiritual expression is different. That’s at least a danger in Pentecostalism, as I see it. A church I once served supported a missionary in East Africa, and he said it was always the Pentecostal groups who created division and dissension among the Christian groups by calling into question the true faith of some members. You can see how this would lead down the wrong path. That’s a concern for me, although it may be a somewhat isolated case.

  • Grear article! I’m a non-Lutheran recently employed at a Lutheran church as the worship leader for their satellite plant. I found this page while researching the Lutheran view of evangelism. We’re having these planning meetings where everything but evangelism comes up with regards to how to bring people. I wanted to suggest evangelism because they had already talked about doing a Warren-esque door to door survey… Anyway maybe I can pick your brain on this topic.

    james

    • How do you reconcile being a theologically conservative Lutheran with “incurable Pentecostal tendencies”? If “conservative Lutheran” means loyalty to the Confessio Augustana, then I find this difficult to reconcile with Pentecostal tendencies. The way I see it, forerunners to the Pentecostals were what Luther called Schwärmer, and he wanted nothing to do with them. They believed that revelation could come through the movement of the Spirit, and not through the Word alone, something Luther – and Lutherans – have been very conservative about. I’m aware that the neo-Pentecostal movement in this country was popular also in the Lutheran churches, but it seems to me there have always been theological tensions between that movement and the “conservative” Lutherans. Unless by conservative you mean generic American evangelicalism, which isn’t (always) very Lutheran either. Or political conservatism, which runs across denominational lines. In any case, the words “Pentecostal” and “Lutheran” strike me as oil and water – whether that’s good or bad is another matter.

  • Grear article! I’m a non-Lutheran recently employed at a Lutheran church as the worship leader for their satellite plant. I found this page while researching the Lutheran view of evangelism. We’re having these planning meetings where everything but evangelism comes up with regards to how to bring people. I wanted to suggest evangelism because they had already talked about doing a Warren-esque door to door survey… Anyway maybe I can pick your brain on this topic.

    james

    • How do you reconcile being a theologically conservative Lutheran with “incurable Pentecostal tendencies”? If “conservative Lutheran” means loyalty to the Confessio Augustana, then I find this difficult to reconcile with Pentecostal tendencies. The way I see it, forerunners to the Pentecostals were what Luther called Schwärmer, and he wanted nothing to do with them. They believed that revelation could come through the movement of the Spirit, and not through the Word alone, something Luther – and Lutherans – have been very conservative about. I’m aware that the neo-Pentecostal movement in this country was popular also in the Lutheran churches, but it seems to me there have always been theological tensions between that movement and the “conservative” Lutherans. Unless by conservative you mean generic American evangelicalism, which isn’t (always) very Lutheran either. Or political conservatism, which runs across denominational lines. In any case, the words “Pentecostal” and “Lutheran” strike me as oil and water – whether that’s good or bad is another matter.

      • Most all Global South Lutherans (becoming a majority of worldwide Lutheranism, by the way) would be considered by Euro/American Lutherans to be “Pentecostal” or at least “Charismatic.”

        Look at my book on Lutherans and Charismatics: http://www.amazon.com/Light-Your-Church-Without-Burning/dp/143923731X/ref=pd_sim_b_1

        Have you ever read Larry Christensen? As confessional as they come and also drop-dead Pentecostal.

        Dude, it’s a both/and world, not an either/or world.

        Hey, Luther invented that: Simil Iustus et…..

  • I’m a Lutheran who’s just down South from you a bit (in Corona del Mar) and we have a strong eschatological outlook. We have a strong sense of mission and our pastor brings it up ALL the time (our privilege and task to speak of our Savior to others).

    I think Lutherans tend to do their evangelizing one on one in understated ways. I also think that the theology of the cross is not very appealing to modern day Americans who would much rather attend the circus (in worship).

    That said, we have been there for 50 years through thick and thin. The Word of God is going forth and every now and then someone really hears it.

    Thanks.

  • While you express some interesting historical insights, I think you’re mistaken about the effectiveness of Lutheran thought and proclamation. Good exposition of law and gospel, both in the pulpit and in conversation, is missions at its best. I think you’re looking for a particular expression (culturally conditioned) that may not encompass all those who are saved by the hearing of the word, so you wrongly assess the effectiveness of the witness of Lutherans. I believe that Lutheran churches in decline are those who have moved away from a clear proclamation of law and gospel…. many, however, have not.

  • While you express some interesting historical insights, I think you’re mistaken about the effectiveness of Lutheran thought and proclamation. Good exposition of law and gospel, both in the pulpit and in conversation, is missions at its best. I think you’re looking for a particular expression (culturally conditioned) that may not encompass all those who are saved by the hearing of the word, so you wrongly assess the effectiveness of the witness of Lutherans. I believe that Lutheran churches in decline are those who have moved away from a clear proclamation of law and gospel…. many, however, have not.

  • Chuck Radasch

    LOTS OF PROFOUND THINKING HERE AND FOOD FOR THOUGHT

  • Chuck Radasch

    LOTS OF PROFOUND THINKING HERE AND FOOD FOR THOUGHT

  • Gary

    David,

    Grace and peace in Christ! I give you greetings from your brothers and sisters who are in Philadelphia. I will probably be echoing much of what is here, so I will try to be brief. First, thank you for thinking through this – Lutherans need more of that! Now, some concerns.

    1. Your statement about eschatology does not mesh with Lutheran theology – at least not as taught at the seminary I attend. Rather, eschatology is enmeshed within liturgy, preaching, Christology and biblical interpretation. The tension seems to be that there are THREE “Adventus Christi” – Christ in life in first-century Israel, Christ all over the world everywhere and especially through the Church, and Christ at the end of time. The only eschatological event of these three which we have access to is through the Church, and therefore that is our primary concern. Perhaps you have a different understanding of what “eschatology” is, but that is a different issue than there being none.

    2. Since I just finished a course called “Lutherans and the Jews” which read more or less everything Luther ever wrote concerning the Jews, I have to disagree that people will not talk about this anti-Semitism. Perhaps the pastors you have met will not, but this is probably a product of lacking continual education on their part and the difficult ecclesial model we have adopted in which congregations have used their organizational power over/against the pastor for various reasons. Meanwhile, your complaint that Luther was not concerned with “missiology” (by which I assume you mean “evangelism”, or the preaching of the Gospel) is belied by these very documents – he believed strongly enough that he thought those who could not be converted with words but were in fact converting others away from Christ should be driven from the land. This is obviously not helpful to us and not what we should do! However, these works stem from Luther’s deep concern about his poor Germans and their faith.

    3. Now to your main point – so first I must ask what the difference is between confessing and proclaiming the gospel and word and deed and “mission”. Let us take as an example the excellent resource “The Evangelizing Church: A Lutheran Contribution” edited by Richard H. Bliese and Craig Van Gelder, 2005 Augsburg Fortress. On page XI, of the Preface, this quote may be found: “The challenge of these essays lies in their conviction that our Lutheran confessional tradition finds its fruition in its missional engagement… the focal calling of this tradition is no longer its conservation of pure doctrine in the wars of Christendom, but our public confession of the Christian faith in a world of many cultures and religions.” Now, this may not be what you, personally, want to be our missiology; however, that is a different argument than the one you are making.

    4. Now to your proposal of “experiential” mission. What does this mean? Are Law and Gospel not to be “experienced” in the Small Catechism, where Luther (as in his 1522 Personal Prayer Book, LW 43) clearly uses his diagnostic approach to both education and therefore to mission: first, a diagnosis must be given (the truth about the human condition); second, a medicine proscribed (the truth about God in Jesus Christ); third, God is to be petitioned for help and comfort in every time and need as a loving parent is asked by a child (the prayerful life). This is why the Catechism is organized into the Ten Commandments, Apostles’ Creed, and Lord’s Prayer. The “experience” of this process is the experience of the Word working in our lives, which pushes Christ while cutting to the core of our lives. How is this not evangelical/missional (and I must admit, I don’t understand the distinction between the two terms)?

    5. I have a small concern about the language you seem to be using – language which is concerned about the decline of numbers and other such things. I believe the Church is not called to be a prosperous organization, but to be the Body of Christ in the world. Thus, it is important for me to remember what the Body of Christ does: be born, grow, teach, heal, live with the least, speak truth about the human condition, speak truth about God, remain faithful to scripture, not engage in violence for self-protection, die, be buried, rise from the dead. As far as I can tell, being afraid that a denomination is “dying” makes little sense – but being afraid that the Church is dying makes less. If your concern is about the ELCA in particular, I must say that I believe the ELCA will find a way to live its call. But if it doesn’t, it doesn’t – and that is the way it should be. It might be important to remember that it is Christ that is to be pushed, not the ELCA (though I like to think the two can go hand-in-hand).

    David, I don’t believe that we live in as different a world today as you might think – as WE might like to think. People still die, people are still in bondage to sin, and people still need Jesus Christ. I do agree that language and specific, on-the-ground practices need updating and more cognizance of their current context – but this is the constant task of the church, to remember that we are called to be the Church for the sake of the world. Sometimes we do that better than others. I really do want to thank you for asking these hard questions, and for the work you are doing. I don’t mean by any of this to demean or demolish your concerns, but rather deepen them and perhaps tweak them. I believe strongly that not only must the ELCA learn from other denominations what tools it can develop, but also what it can use from its own heritage. If you have tried using this kind of thing, let me know how it went.

    Blessings on your ministry and prayers for your people!
    Peace in Christ,
    Gary

  • Gary

    David,

    Grace and peace in Christ! I give you greetings from your brothers and sisters who are in Philadelphia. I will probably be echoing much of what is here, so I will try to be brief. First, thank you for thinking through this – Lutherans need more of that! Now, some concerns.

    1. Your statement about eschatology does not mesh with Lutheran theology – at least not as taught at the seminary I attend. Rather, eschatology is enmeshed within liturgy, preaching, Christology and biblical interpretation. The tension seems to be that there are THREE “Adventus Christi” – Christ in life in first-century Israel, Christ all over the world everywhere and especially through the Church, and Christ at the end of time. The only eschatological event of these three which we have access to is through the Church, and therefore that is our primary concern. Perhaps you have a different understanding of what “eschatology” is, but that is a different issue than there being none.

    2. Since I just finished a course called “Lutherans and the Jews” which read more or less everything Luther ever wrote concerning the Jews, I have to disagree that people will not talk about this anti-Semitism. Perhaps the pastors you have met will not, but this is probably a product of lacking continual education on their part and the difficult ecclesial model we have adopted in which congregations have used their organizational power over/against the pastor for various reasons. Meanwhile, your complaint that Luther was not concerned with “missiology” (by which I assume you mean “evangelism”, or the preaching of the Gospel) is belied by these very documents – he believed strongly enough that he thought those who could not be converted with words but were in fact converting others away from Christ should be driven from the land. This is obviously not helpful to us and not what we should do! However, these works stem from Luther’s deep concern about his poor Germans and their faith.

    3. Now to your main point – so first I must ask what the difference is between confessing and proclaiming the gospel and word and deed and “mission”. Let us take as an example the excellent resource “The Evangelizing Church: A Lutheran Contribution” edited by Richard H. Bliese and Craig Van Gelder, 2005 Augsburg Fortress. On page XI, of the Preface, this quote may be found: “The challenge of these essays lies in their conviction that our Lutheran confessional tradition finds its fruition in its missional engagement… the focal calling of this tradition is no longer its conservation of pure doctrine in the wars of Christendom, but our public confession of the Christian faith in a world of many cultures and religions.” Now, this may not be what you, personally, want to be our missiology; however, that is a different argument than the one you are making.

    4. Now to your proposal of “experiential” mission. What does this mean? Are Law and Gospel not to be “experienced” in the Small Catechism, where Luther (as in his 1522 Personal Prayer Book, LW 43) clearly uses his diagnostic approach to both education and therefore to mission: first, a diagnosis must be given (the truth about the human condition); second, a medicine proscribed (the truth about God in Jesus Christ); third, God is to be petitioned for help and comfort in every time and need as a loving parent is asked by a child (the prayerful life). This is why the Catechism is organized into the Ten Commandments, Apostles’ Creed, and Lord’s Prayer. The “experience” of this process is the experience of the Word working in our lives, which pushes Christ while cutting to the core of our lives. How is this not evangelical/missional (and I must admit, I don’t understand the distinction between the two terms)?

    5. I have a small concern about the language you seem to be using – language which is concerned about the decline of numbers and other such things. I believe the Church is not called to be a prosperous organization, but to be the Body of Christ in the world. Thus, it is important for me to remember what the Body of Christ does: be born, grow, teach, heal, live with the least, speak truth about the human condition, speak truth about God, remain faithful to scripture, not engage in violence for self-protection, die, be buried, rise from the dead. As far as I can tell, being afraid that a denomination is “dying” makes little sense – but being afraid that the Church is dying makes less. If your concern is about the ELCA in particular, I must say that I believe the ELCA will find a way to live its call. But if it doesn’t, it doesn’t – and that is the way it should be. It might be important to remember that it is Christ that is to be pushed, not the ELCA (though I like to think the two can go hand-in-hand).

    David, I don’t believe that we live in as different a world today as you might think – as WE might like to think. People still die, people are still in bondage to sin, and people still need Jesus Christ. I do agree that language and specific, on-the-ground practices need updating and more cognizance of their current context – but this is the constant task of the church, to remember that we are called to be the Church for the sake of the world. Sometimes we do that better than others. I really do want to thank you for asking these hard questions, and for the work you are doing. I don’t mean by any of this to demean or demolish your concerns, but rather deepen them and perhaps tweak them. I believe strongly that not only must the ELCA learn from other denominations what tools it can develop, but also what it can use from its own heritage. If you have tried using this kind of thing, let me know how it went.

    Blessings on your ministry and prayers for your people!
    Peace in Christ,
    Gary

  • “God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.”
    Emerson

  • Hey Mike, rock on, and pass the link on to all the leaders you know.

  • Thanks for adding your thoughts to the larger conversation. You’re making good sense to me as a Nebraska born Lutheran boy of the Missouri Synod variety.

    This also flows into a question I plan to ask myself regularly this new year: how willing am I to embrace bold disruption in 2011?

    Thanks for posting!

    Keep creating…an honest point of view,
    Mike

    • Hey Mike, rock on, and pass the link on to all the leaders you know.

  • lylesnyder

    Hey folks. I had a friend forward me this blog link on Facebook for discussion. And even though it was back in February, I think it is still very worth commenting on. Below was my commentary on the blog discussion between me and a few friends of mine.

    Blessings and peace…

    –Lyle

    ———

    My observations:

    1) I think highly of David Householder. I even think highly of the lighthouse covenant, even though the lighthouse covenant is on the other side of the sexuality question than I am. Why is this? Early on Mr. Householder set the tone for the lighthouse covenant – they are “self defining.” This is opposed to LCMC and NALC, which have defined themselves in opposition to the ELCA. That is a very different dynamic. Luther didn’t say “Rome, unless you stop offering indulgences, stop supporting the idea of relics, and start actually following scripture, I am going to leave.” He didn’t do that at all! Now, historically he may not have said, “Here I stand, I can do no other,” but the later is a self-defining statement. For the record, I will still go on believing that Luther actually did say those words. Because, well, they are awesome.

    2) I think Householder is on to something regarding our sense of missiology. I do not agree with his take on the confessions not being missional. Luther’s answer in the small catechism regarding the Holy Spirit I think is about as missional as you can get (“I believe that I cannot by my own strength or understanding come to Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior, or come to him…”). How is it missional? The Holy Spirit does the work, and not us. I think as Lutherans we just haven’t really grasped the spirit much, and how it might be transmitted through us. I do sense he is going in the right direction, and that he is on to something.

    3) His critique of no functioning eschatology – I think was right on.

    4) I would disagree when he states that the times now are very different from the reformation. That is my paraphrase of what he said. He actually wrote “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.” I maintain that history always repeats itself. Though it may not look like it, I think the dark ages are exactly what we are in right now, and not something that just happened five hundred years ago. I get this from Ed Friedman’s take on leadership/history. In essence he says that right now, we actually view the world as flat. To bring it back full circle, I think during the reformation it was a matter of missions. Yes, everybody was Christian, but by force. Biblical faith was non-existant. I think Luther was very much a missionary. He just didn’t know it, and by our standards of what a missionary does, we don’t see him as one either.

  • lylesnyder

    Hey folks. I had a friend forward me this blog link on Facebook for discussion. And even though it was back in February, I think it is still very worth commenting on. Below was my commentary on the blog discussion between me and a few friends of mine.

    Blessings and peace…

    –Lyle

    ———

    My observations:

    1) I think highly of David Householder. I even think highly of the lighthouse covenant, even though the lighthouse covenant is on the other side of the sexuality question than I am. Why is this? Early on Mr. Householder set the tone for the lighthouse covenant – they are “self defining.” This is opposed to LCMC and NALC, which have defined themselves in opposition to the ELCA. That is a very different dynamic. Luther didn’t say “Rome, unless you stop offering indulgences, stop supporting the idea of relics, and start actually following scripture, I am going to leave.” He didn’t do that at all! Now, historically he may not have said, “Here I stand, I can do no other,” but the later is a self-defining statement. For the record, I will still go on believing that Luther actually did say those words. Because, well, they are awesome.

    2) I think Householder is on to something regarding our sense of missiology. I do not agree with his take on the confessions not being missional. Luther’s answer in the small catechism regarding the Holy Spirit I think is about as missional as you can get (“I believe that I cannot by my own strength or understanding come to Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior, or come to him…”). How is it missional? The Holy Spirit does the work, and not us. I think as Lutherans we just haven’t really grasped the spirit much, and how it might be transmitted through us. I do sense he is going in the right direction, and that he is on to something.

    3) His critique of no functioning eschatology – I think was right on.

    4) I would disagree when he states that the times now are very different from the reformation. That is my paraphrase of what he said. He actually wrote “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.” I maintain that history always repeats itself. Though it may not look like it, I think the dark ages are exactly what we are in right now, and not something that just happened five hundred years ago. I get this from Ed Friedman’s take on leadership/history. In essence he says that right now, we actually view the world as flat. To bring it back full circle, I think during the reformation it was a matter of missions. Yes, everybody was Christian, but by force. Biblical faith was non-existant. I think Luther was very much a missionary. He just didn’t know it, and by our standards of what a missionary does, we don’t see him as one either.

  • Rick Rasmussen

    I haven’t read ALL the comments but I think I get the gist of them. There is concern that Lutherans don’t make good missionaries (evangelists) and that it may be a genetic defect. However, in the past there have been many great Lutheran missionaries and missionary movements, even Lutheran revivals!

    I come from the Scandinavian strain of Lutheranism which emphasized the Word and a personal relationship with Jesus (some would even dare call it scandinavian piety in open conversation!). Do the names Hans Nielson Hauge, Carl Olaf Rosenius or Georg Sverdrup mean anything to anyone? This is the spirit and theology that produced Oscar C. Hanson, mentioned in an earlier comment.

    One commentator indicated that in last generation or two we (like Israel) have “lost it” and there is now the appearance that there is no burden for souls (missiology and evangelism) within Lutheranism.

    What I would like to suggest is that once many of the Lutheran church bodies the US left the Inerrancy of Scripture behind a generation or two ago (cf. the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy) the energy, funding, teaching, practicum (supervised practical application), burden for souls, etc, of evangelism/missiology was soon also left behind.

    How many of our seminaries have a practicum for personal evangelism/witnessing that were part of every theology ciriculum two or three generations ago. That was where many of our truly evangelical evangelists and missionaries budded. Oh, and fervent prayer was the core of the ciriculum! The living inerrant Word is the key.

    • Rick, good thoughts. Thank you. I am a Scandinavian Pietist, and not ashamed of it. I was just born that way. 🙂

      But loving the Word (which I do) does not make us good missiologists. Lots of LCMS Lutherans and hard line Calvinists love the word but have lousy missiologies.

      Missiology is hard work. And it never stays done.

      Lutherans have, indeed, been great missionaries. But the effective ones have been Pietists who colored outside of the Lutheran orthodox lines.

  • Rick Rasmussen

    I haven’t read ALL the comments but I think I get the gist of them. There is concern that Lutherans don’t make good missionaries (evangelists) and that it may be a genetic defect. However, in the past there have been many great Lutheran missionaries and missionary movements, even Lutheran revivals!

    I come from the Scandinavian strain of Lutheranism which emphasized the Word and a personal relationship with Jesus (some would even dare call it scandinavian piety in open conversation!). Do the names Hans Nielson Hauge, Carl Olaf Rosenius or Georg Sverdrup mean anything to anyone? This is the spirit and theology that produced Oscar C. Hanson, mentioned in an earlier comment.

    One commentator indicated that in last generation or two we (like Israel) have “lost it” and there is now the appearance that there is no burden for souls (missiology and evangelism) within Lutheranism.

    What I would like to suggest is that once many of the Lutheran church bodies the US left the Inerrancy of Scripture behind a generation or two ago (cf. the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy) the energy, funding, teaching, practicum (supervised practical application), burden for souls, etc, of evangelism/missiology was soon also left behind.

    How many of our seminaries have a practicum for personal evangelism/witnessing that were part of every theology ciriculum two or three generations ago. That was where many of our truly evangelical evangelists and missionaries budded. Oh, and fervent prayer was the core of the ciriculum! The living inerrant Word is the key.

    • Rick, good thoughts. Thank you. I am a Scandinavian Pietist, and not ashamed of it. I was just born that way. 🙂

      But loving the Word (which I do) does not make us good missiologists. Lots of LCMS Lutherans and hard line Calvinists love the word but have lousy missiologies.

      Missiology is hard work. And it never stays done.

      Lutherans have, indeed, been great missionaries. But the effective ones have been Pietists who colored outside of the Lutheran orthodox lines.

  • Duane Terrell

    I enjoyed reading it. I thought I needed a glossary at times, but I think I get the just of it.

    I don’t think only Lutherans fell in to this trap. My mother (she’s baptist) generation really didn’t have to do much evangalizing work either. So, we were not taught how to do it. (per say). It was just assumed everyone knew Christ.

  • Duane Terrell

    I enjoyed reading it. I thought I needed a glossary at times, but I think I get the just of it.

    I don’t think only Lutherans fell in to this trap. My mother (she’s baptist) generation really didn’t have to do much evangalizing work either. So, we were not taught how to do it. (per say). It was just assumed everyone knew Christ.

  • Rob

    Dave, great post overall, but I disagree with your comment about Luther’s “non-functional eschatology”.

    The reformers (Luther, Foxe, Wycliffe, Huss, Calvin, Knox, Zwingli, Tyndale, and many others) UNANIMOUSLY believed that the Papacy (the system, not the individual pope) was “nothing else than the kingdom of Babylon and of very Antichrist.”

    Luther believed that 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 was fulfilled: “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the MAN OF SIN IS REVEALED, THE SON OF PERDITION, WHO OPPOSES AND EXALTS HIMSELF ABOVE ALL THAT IS CALLED GOD OR THAT IS WORSHIPED, SO THAT HE SITS AS GOD IN THE TEMPLE OF GOD, SHOWING HIMSELF THAT HE IS GOD.”

    Luther’s eschatology was that a counterfeit church would rise up out of Rome (the “falling away”) and that this false religious system would deceive many. This false religious system has continued to today, and many are trusting in the “church” or in sacraments for salvation rather than Christ.

    I believe Luther’s eschatology was right on. I would charge you to read “End Times Delusions” by Steve Wohlberg to see why Luther and the reformers were indeed correct.

  • Thank you, Pastor David, for the very insightful and beneficial article. I’ll be keeping an eye on your journal, as I’m sure will others from our leadme.org community.

    By the way, my wife and I live in Apple Valley, we’ll have to check out Hosanna Church sometime, maybe even meet you there.

  • Thank you, Pastor David, for the very insightful and beneficial article. I’ll be keeping an eye on your journal, as I’m sure will others from our leadme.org community.

    By the way, my wife and I live in Apple Valley, we’ll have to check out Hosanna Church sometime, maybe even meet you there.

  • You’ve given readers a lot here. I do agree with you on the main points re. Lutherans being poor missionaries/evangelists and not having much of an eschatology. However, as I understand it, Lutherans in third world nations are likely growing and stronger than in Europe and North America. Maybe we need to learn from them, and maybe they need to send missionaries to us. I think Lutheranism does best under persecution than in a free and peaceful society–we seem to do best with the sinner-saint dialectic and need of someone or something to fight against. We’re strong on defense, but weaker on offense.

    Thanks for the essay, I shall post a link on one of my blogs,
    Dimlamp
    Blog1

    Blog2

  • thoricus

    if you need end times events to scare people into heaven your doing it wrong. You simply dont scare people into heaven. Its not how faith comes.

    Reformed theology has the best recipe for evangelism and historically it shows. I think your understanding of what the church is might be a tad flawed. You dont use your church to make converts, you use it to equip your believers to go out and make converts during their daily lives.

    Your zeal is awesome though.

  • thoricus

    if you need end times events to scare people into heaven your doing it wrong. You simply dont scare people into heaven. Its not how faith comes.

    Reformed theology has the best recipe for evangelism and historically it shows. I think your understanding of what the church is might be a tad flawed. You dont use your church to make converts, you use it to equip your believers to go out and make converts during their daily lives.

    Your zeal is awesome though.

  • Dean

    Love all the contributions so far – very helpful. I am a Bapticostal with a Reformation theology in my bones (Calvin, Spurgeon). I am working for a large Lutheran church in Australia as staff Lay worker in Worship & Mission. Our team has been wrestling with the approach and language we can use to — as D.A. carson says – ‘make the Gospel sing and sting to our generation?’ We are not obsessing about being relevant so much as trying to find the language that theologically resonates with our members when and if their relative or friend –with whom they have credibility and relationship — asks a turning point question like ‘How can I know God? We need a new language along with a new attitude. I think Rob Bell is helpful in this regard. A further clue for me is in John Pipers words, “Mission is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Mission exists because worship doesn’t [exist everywhere].” Christopher Wright adds, “Mission exists because praise does. The praise of the church is what energizes and characterises its mission.” And Calvin (not always so wooden) once said that when we proclaim the Gospel it is like Christ is saying his Wedding vows to his Bride. Are we speaking to our friends in the power of the Spirit who broods like a jealous lover over them? Does our Sunday worship look, sound and feel that way too? Or is it ‘business as usual?’ These are the things I am hearing in our conversation. Selah

  • Dean

    Love all the contributions so far – very helpful. I am a Bapticostal with a Reformation theology in my bones (Calvin, Spurgeon). I am working for a large Lutheran church in Australia as staff Lay worker in Worship & Mission. Our team has been wrestling with the approach and language we can use to — as D.A. carson says – ‘make the Gospel sing and sting to our generation?’ We are not obsessing about being relevant so much as trying to find the language that theologically resonates with our members when and if their relative or friend –with whom they have credibility and relationship — asks a turning point question like ‘How can I know God? We need a new language along with a new attitude. I think Rob Bell is helpful in this regard. A further clue for me is in John Pipers words, “Mission is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Mission exists because worship doesn’t [exist everywhere].” Christopher Wright adds, “Mission exists because praise does. The praise of the church is what energizes and characterises its mission.” And Calvin (not always so wooden) once said that when we proclaim the Gospel it is like Christ is saying his Wedding vows to his Bride. Are we speaking to our friends in the power of the Spirit who broods like a jealous lover over them? Does our Sunday worship look, sound and feel that way too? Or is it ‘business as usual?’ These are the things I am hearing in our conversation. Selah

  • Adam Morton

    David,

    Interesting article. I’m very sympathetic to what you seem to be aiming at, but I wonder if the picture of the Lutheran tradition given here isn’t missing something.

    E.g., I have to say that I nearly spit out my drink when I read, “We have no functioning eschatology.” And then I realized that this may well be true of our churches today, but I think it extremely unfair to lay it at Marty’s feet. Eschatology practically overwhelms his theology–his identification of the pope as antichrist, opposition to the likes of Muntzer and so on weren’t anti-eschatological moves at all. Rather, Luther wanted to maintain, in the strongest terms possible, the distinction between this age (in which struggle rages, mission, that is, the preaching of the gospel to all nations, is therefore of absolute necessity, and this world yet appears to be governed by a tyrant) and the one to come (in which Christ rules eternally, the enemy and all who belong to him have been overthrown and the dead in Christ raised to eternal life).

    So we preach the law to restrain sin within this age, and the gospel to raise to life in the age to come. That is surely a functional eschatology–but the more I consider it, the more I see how those early Reformation themes have been shaved down to practically nothing in our churches.

    I had a similar thought regarding mission. I think the distinction between the Reformation task as catechesis and the modern task as mission is a bit misleading. Luther was never optimistic about the number of believers in Europe, even in supposedly “evangelical” lands. We must ask ourselves how the Reformation spread–by conversations among a few scholars, nobles and educated folk, or by actual preaching of the gospel to Europeans (yes, baptized people, but that tells us very little about what they truly believed) who had never heard it. Further, look at how difficult this task was–many Reformation preachers faced persecution and death. Some (say, Luther’s student Flacius, who was Croatian) came from lands that felt the shadow of Turkish Muslim power–Muslims were NOT “unthinkably far away”, but quite near and threatening (they destroyed the Kingdom of Hungary during Luther’s active career). A number of reformers (e.g., Mikael Agricola, the Finnish reformer) preached the gospel in languages that had hardly heard it before (and he wasn’t the only Reformer to basically create the written form of his native tongue). Northeastern Europe (esp. parts of Finland and some of the Baltic) was still quite pagan around the edges, and hadn’t even been under Christian rule for all that long. Europe itself was a hotly contested mission field, and the Reformation teaching had to be up to that task or it would not have survived.

    But again, it is certainly our fault that we have let our Lutheran churches lose sight of this. That we call ourselves “Lutheran” does not make us the automatic successors of all the 16th century Reformers accomplished, for good or ill. Much of what was vibrant in those days was already growing stale by the period of Lutheran Orthodoxy, so perhaps we should not wonder that it seems invisible now.

  • Adam Morton

    David,

    Interesting article. I’m very sympathetic to what you seem to be aiming at, but I wonder if the picture of the Lutheran tradition given here isn’t missing something.

    E.g., I have to say that I nearly spit out my drink when I read, “We have no functioning eschatology.” And then I realized that this may well be true of our churches today, but I think it extremely unfair to lay it at Marty’s feet. Eschatology practically overwhelms his theology–his identification of the pope as antichrist, opposition to the likes of Muntzer and so on weren’t anti-eschatological moves at all. Rather, Luther wanted to maintain, in the strongest terms possible, the distinction between this age (in which struggle rages, mission, that is, the preaching of the gospel to all nations, is therefore of absolute necessity, and this world yet appears to be governed by a tyrant) and the one to come (in which Christ rules eternally, the enemy and all who belong to him have been overthrown and the dead in Christ raised to eternal life).

    So we preach the law to restrain sin within this age, and the gospel to raise to life in the age to come. That is surely a functional eschatology–but the more I consider it, the more I see how those early Reformation themes have been shaved down to practically nothing in our churches.

    I had a similar thought regarding mission. I think the distinction between the Reformation task as catechesis and the modern task as mission is a bit misleading. Luther was never optimistic about the number of believers in Europe, even in supposedly “evangelical” lands. We must ask ourselves how the Reformation spread–by conversations among a few scholars, nobles and educated folk, or by actual preaching of the gospel to Europeans (yes, baptized people, but that tells us very little about what they truly believed) who had never heard it. Further, look at how difficult this task was–many Reformation preachers faced persecution and death. Some (say, Luther’s student Flacius, who was Croatian) came from lands that felt the shadow of Turkish Muslim power–Muslims were NOT “unthinkably far away”, but quite near and threatening (they destroyed the Kingdom of Hungary during Luther’s active career). A number of reformers (e.g., Mikael Agricola, the Finnish reformer) preached the gospel in languages that had hardly heard it before (and he wasn’t the only Reformer to basically create the written form of his native tongue). Northeastern Europe (esp. parts of Finland and some of the Baltic) was still quite pagan around the edges, and hadn’t even been under Christian rule for all that long. Europe itself was a hotly contested mission field, and the Reformation teaching had to be up to that task or it would not have survived.

    But again, it is certainly our fault that we have let our Lutheran churches lose sight of this. That we call ourselves “Lutheran” does not make us the automatic successors of all the 16th century Reformers accomplished, for good or ill. Much of what was vibrant in those days was already growing stale by the period of Lutheran Orthodoxy, so perhaps we should not wonder that it seems invisible now.

  • Kim

    You’ve articulated a major piece of why I left the Lutheran church.
    I’m listening.

  • Kim

    You’ve articulated a major piece of why I left the Lutheran church.
    I’m listening.

  • Greetings from fly over land. (Iowa)
    I am getting into this conversation late in the game. I am a long time Lutheran, ALC turned ELCA now trying to decide between LCMC or AFLC. I have not had time to read all of the follow up posts, so maybe some of these issues have been dealt with.

    I am a lutheran and am interested in evangelism, and have spent some time lately doing some reading. I found this blog by doing a search for Lutheran Evangelism. I didn’t find much of substance. I was glad to find your article. I listen to your brother once in a while on the radio or podcasts.

    First of all when it comes to missions and eschatology all we need is in the confessions. The Augsburg confession says (XVII) “It is taught among us that our Lord Jesus Christ will return on the last day for judgment and will raise up all the dead, to give eternal life and everlasting joy to believers and the elect but to condemn ungodly men and the devil to hell and eternal punishment.” If this is our confession and we truely believe it how can we not share the gospel with everyone we come in contact with. But the truth be told not many believe this anymore, at least we don’t act like it, and I put myself in that catagory as well.

    When you say we don’t have a theology of mission, I am baffled. I understand what you say about the confessions, and the circumstances for them being written wasn’t missions but for defensive reasons. But the confessions are not our scriptures, they give us some hermeneutical guidelines for the interpretion of scripture and in the Scriptures we find much theology of evangelism and missions.

    The old church seemed to get it. The LEM, the Hauge Innermission, the Lutheran Bible institute, did Bible conferences and evangelism meetings from coast to coast and people got saved. It was more than have a big family and have them catechized.

    Hans Nielsen Hauge wandered up and down the coast of Norway on foot for 8 years and spoke to people about Christ and changed a nation.

    My pastor up in Hendrum Minnesota, preached the gospel faithfully every Sunday and in confirmation class. People got saved, kids got saved and got set on fire for God and witnessed to their classmates. Confirmation was not just about head knowledge of doctrine and scripture but it was about coming to a personal knowledge of sin and grace. I understood clearly on my confirmation day that if I died that day I would go to hell because I refused to repent turn from my sins and put my trust in Jesus. But that thought haunted me for two years until one night right before my senior year, I quit running away from God and surrendered to Him and said from now on He was Lord.

    The theology of missions is in the Bible, and it’s no wonder that when I read about the Lutheran Bible School Movement (LBI, CLBS of which I am a grad. and others) that so many of the graduates went to the mission field. Reading in an old publication from LBI in Mpls in 1937, almost 1/3rd of all the Lutheran Missionaries in foreign lands at that time had attended a Lutheran Bible School for at least one semester.

    I have in my possesion two books written by the old Lutherans on Evangelism that I am going to read and study next. One is “Personal Evangelism” by AW Knock (1934), the other is “Scriptural Evangelism” By CK Solberg(1935). What I suspect I will find is “use the law to show them their sin and their need for a Savior.” I’ve listen too and read some of Ray Comforts stuff which I know is not Lutheran, but the law and gospel approach (Luther, Walther, Force, Hauge and many others) is, as far as I can see. I’m just trying to figure out if I need to tweek it and how to give it a more Lutheran flavor.

    Grace and Peace

    I look forward to reading the many pages of additional comments and anything more you have to say on the subject.

    Wayne

  • Greetings from fly over land. (Iowa)
    I am getting into this conversation late in the game. I am a long time Lutheran, ALC turned ELCA now trying to decide between LCMC or AFLC. I have not had time to read all of the follow up posts, so maybe some of these issues have been dealt with.

    I am a lutheran and am interested in evangelism, and have spent some time lately doing some reading. I found this blog by doing a search for Lutheran Evangelism. I didn’t find much of substance. I was glad to find your article. I listen to your brother once in a while on the radio or podcasts.

    First of all when it comes to missions and eschatology all we need is in the confessions. The Augsburg confession says (XVII) “It is taught among us that our Lord Jesus Christ will return on the last day for judgment and will raise up all the dead, to give eternal life and everlasting joy to believers and the elect but to condemn ungodly men and the devil to hell and eternal punishment.” If this is our confession and we truely believe it how can we not share the gospel with everyone we come in contact with. But the truth be told not many believe this anymore, at least we don’t act like it, and I put myself in that catagory as well.

    When you say we don’t have a theology of mission, I am baffled. I understand what you say about the confessions, and the circumstances for them being written wasn’t missions but for defensive reasons. But the confessions are not our scriptures, they give us some hermeneutical guidelines for the interpretion of scripture and in the Scriptures we find much theology of evangelism and missions.

    The old church seemed to get it. The LEM, the Hauge Innermission, the Lutheran Bible institute, did Bible conferences and evangelism meetings from coast to coast and people got saved. It was more than have a big family and have them catechized.

    Hans Nielsen Hauge wandered up and down the coast of Norway on foot for 8 years and spoke to people about Christ and changed a nation.

    My pastor up in Hendrum Minnesota, preached the gospel faithfully every Sunday and in confirmation class. People got saved, kids got saved and got set on fire for God and witnessed to their classmates. Confirmation was not just about head knowledge of doctrine and scripture but it was about coming to a personal knowledge of sin and grace. I understood clearly on my confirmation day that if I died that day I would go to hell because I refused to repent turn from my sins and put my trust in Jesus. But that thought haunted me for two years until one night right before my senior year, I quit running away from God and surrendered to Him and said from now on He was Lord.

    The theology of missions is in the Bible, and it’s no wonder that when I read about the Lutheran Bible School Movement (LBI, CLBS of which I am a grad. and others) that so many of the graduates went to the mission field. Reading in an old publication from LBI in Mpls in 1937, almost 1/3rd of all the Lutheran Missionaries in foreign lands at that time had attended a Lutheran Bible School for at least one semester.

    I have in my possesion two books written by the old Lutherans on Evangelism that I am going to read and study next. One is “Personal Evangelism” by AW Knock (1934), the other is “Scriptural Evangelism” By CK Solberg(1935). What I suspect I will find is “use the law to show them their sin and their need for a Savior.” I’ve listen too and read some of Ray Comforts stuff which I know is not Lutheran, but the law and gospel approach (Luther, Walther, Force, Hauge and many others) is, as far as I can see. I’m just trying to figure out if I need to tweek it and how to give it a more Lutheran flavor.

    Grace and Peace

    I look forward to reading the many pages of additional comments and anything more you have to say on the subject.

    Wayne

  • David,

    I think you are right to say that there’s something missing. I think that mission is missing from our imaginations. We take the roll of the Holy Spirit very seriously in the work of faith.

    The part that we often miss is the Spirit’s work in connection to the external Word. The Word isn’t in me just by birth. The Word that saves me is alien to me. Praise God some human beings to Word into me with their mouths and pens. Isaiah 5:7-8 isn’t just beautiful poetry. It’s the honest truth,

    How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
    who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
    Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy;
    for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion.

    Lutheranism is best defined by common confession; but the church reguardless of historical theology has recieved Christ’s common commission. It’s no wonder why the first imperative in the Great Commision is, “Go…” Lutherans would do well to ponder why Isaiah asked Israel, “Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1 NRSV)

    The same questions prompt me to look at my neighbors today. Isaiah invites me to imagine the Word making a difference. He challenges me, who has heard the Word, to reach out with the word into the world.

    Some interesting Lutherans who made contributions to this discussion in the last 100 years or so are Gerhard Forde THEOLOGY IS FOR PROCLAMATION, Gustaf Wingren’s THE LIVING WORD, and Regin Prenter SPRITUS CREATOR.

    thanks for the provacative essay,
    pax
    John

  • David,

    I think you are right to say that there’s something missing. I think that mission is missing from our imaginations. We take the roll of the Holy Spirit very seriously in the work of faith.

    The part that we often miss is the Spirit’s work in connection to the external Word. The Word isn’t in me just by birth. The Word that saves me is alien to me. Praise God some human beings to Word into me with their mouths and pens. Isaiah 5:7-8 isn’t just beautiful poetry. It’s the honest truth,

    How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
    who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
    Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy;
    for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion.

    Lutheranism is best defined by common confession; but the church reguardless of historical theology has recieved Christ’s common commission. It’s no wonder why the first imperative in the Great Commision is, “Go…” Lutherans would do well to ponder why Isaiah asked Israel, “Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1 NRSV)

    The same questions prompt me to look at my neighbors today. Isaiah invites me to imagine the Word making a difference. He challenges me, who has heard the Word, to reach out with the word into the world.

    Some interesting Lutherans who made contributions to this discussion in the last 100 years or so are Gerhard Forde THEOLOGY IS FOR PROCLAMATION, Gustaf Wingren’s THE LIVING WORD, and Regin Prenter SPRITUS CREATOR.

    thanks for the provacative essay,
    pax
    John

  • Luke Allison

    My parents went from Catholic to Catholic Charismatic and then into full-on Word of Faith Charismatic. Consequently, I’ve spoken in tongues since I was 7 or so, (still not sure how that happened), and engaged in all kinds of experiential, Spirit-led evangelism. I have several aunts who weren’t Christians, got knocked out by the Spirit, and then woke up saved. So, for me, evangelism was a fairly natural part of life. I have many memories of being somewhere, seeing my dad go into “Spirit mode” (eyes closed, focused, “tight” mouth) and go engage someone in a very ’80s theological conversation (bridge illustration) but the Spirit-led nature of his proselytizing would often lead to results, as far as I remember.

    I happen to be addicted to Reform Theology, but I’m totally a Charismatic when it comes to evangelism. Maybe all the Lutherans having trouble with this piece just need to grow up Charismatic? Then they’d have a whole different set of problems, but they’d be more comfortable with evangelism.

    On a serious note, while I agree with nearly everything you’ve written here, I feel like a lot of churches are responding to this missional “hole” by taking theology away altogether. I’m only just 29, and up until about 6 years ago I was still largely turned off to Christianity because I couldn’t find anyone who would attempt to engage me in a real conversation, primarily about theodicy (“God didn’t want it to happen either” is not a valid explanation of evil) and “man’s primary aim” (Much like Oprah, I felt that God existing to glorify Himself was egomaniacal).

    Thankfully, I found a few older people who would engage me on these more weighty topics (their names were J.I. Packer, D.A. Carson, and R.C. Sproul. Apparently, knowledge of God destroys your need for a full first name) and I’ve found life and comfort in their theological strains ever since. What I find in working with teenagers and 20-somethings is that, because the Church has largely deemphasized doctrine (no teaching on it outside of creedal confessions) they have ZERO foundational Truth to stand on.
    Do you know how many young men have had their mind blown by my telling them that “If you believe it, it’s true for you” is impossible? Not just silly, but absolutely impossible? We need to understand what our culture believes on a whole (pluralism, universalism, works-based religion) while making those creedal confessions.

    I hold up Matt Chandler as a young pastor who is attempting to combine deep theological (from the Reformed strain) preaching with missional living. I recommend him to 20-somethings all the time, and I have yet to hear any of them who doesn’t completely “get” his teaching.

  • A well-thought-out post. You are clear and follow a clear path that took me with you-the fundamental task of any writer.
    BUT…
    What do you do with that great confessional (another confession, granted) Dr. D. James Kennedy (my now deceased neighbor)? He was no pentacostal-leaning Calvinist, but he was a Calvinist to his core and proud of it. He also launched Evangelism Explosion. The “Kennedy Questions” are so worn that their familiarity may make them useless.
    The Lutheran Church where I am a Pastor worshps in the building that first housed Coral Ridge Presbyterian (the pulpit that Dr. Kennedy graced for over 40 years). My house is on the same street as the current home of CRP.
    I know the exceptions don’t make a rule, but every rule has to deal with the exceptions.

    • Kennedy was the most schilzophrenic theologian ever.

      A confessional Calvinist who crafted the most totally Arminian tool ever: Evangelism Explosion.

      Kind of like Bach, a dyed-in-the-wool Lutheran who became the soundtrack for the Counter-Reformation.

  • Jess Knauft

    Hey Dave,

    I don’t think it has always been that gloomy. Check out this blast from the past article from Time magazine in April of 1958. Here are some quotes about the Lutheran Church:

    “Converts are pouring in. attracted by billboards, magazine ads. TV programs and. in the Lutheran Hour, the most widely broadcast sermon on radio (1,209 stations). A campaign of “Preaching. Teaching and Reaching.” organized by the Evangelical Lutheran Church, is ringing doorbells and organizing study groups. The Lutherans support 1,460 parochial elementary schools. New congregations are springing up at the rate of one every 54 hours, and there are by latest count, 7,379,819 U.S. Lutherans, nearly 2,000,000 more than ten years ago.”

    “Open to Insights. Though the rock-bound Missouri Synod stands aloof from all mergers, it has felt the shocks of change. Main reason: the synod’s own growth. It started with an expedition of 665 Lutherans, mostly from Saxony, who sailed from Bremerhaven in 1838 to escape the laxity of the European state churches; today it has a baptized membership of more than 2,000,000. The synod’s intellectual center—St. Louis’ Concordia Seminary—rates as one of the top divinity schools in the world. The synod’s salesmanship is traditionally aggressive. Its Lutheran Hour radio program is the best known denominational broadcast on the air, and its TV program. This Is The Life, is the biggest-budget religious telecast in the U.S.”

    Flash back further to the 1840’s and hear what Dr. Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther from the LCMS thought about winning people for the Kingdom. It’s the type of thinking that lies behind every single evangelistic revival in world history:

    “(Emphasis added) LET EVERYONE TRY TO KNOW THAT GIFT WHICH IS HE HAS AND OTHERS DON’T…if in the past everyone would have used his gift for the edification of the congregation and conversion of the world, how completely different our congregation would be and how many more people would have been won for God’s Kingdom!” (C.F.W. Walther’s Sermon, 10th Sunday after Trinity)

    This was a positive reaction to a dubious evangelistic beginning, under their first Bishop, where they coerced others with financial incentives to become Lutheran. For example, recent research at Altenburg has discovered that:



    “…transcribed pages reveal a contract immigrants had to sign in Germany before their departure to the United States. Prospective immigrants had to agree to follow the Lutheran faith.
    “We know for a fact that many of them were not Lutheran,” Jedan said. “But everybody had to sign the agreement.” http://www.semissourian.com/story/1614077.html

    • Actually, they weren’t converts in 58. That 2 million added was mostly Baby Boom postwar population growth. Much like Muslim growth today.

      Also, there was a huge “back to church going” mentality for many nominal Lutherans (which have always numbered twice as high as actual membership numbers) in the 50’s.

      • Kyle

        Babies don’t count as converts?

        • Babies are born inside the camp.

          Help me see that you think we should make some intentional effort to reach those outside the camp with the Gospel.

          • Jay Egenes

            There’s a huge difference between evangelizing your congregation’s kids and doing mission to your congregation’s community. Having said that-, there is an analogy. If your congregation realizes they in fact are “evangelizing” your kids, it may help them think in new ways about their ability to do mission in your neighborhood.

          • Kyle

            Yesterday I catechized a few people who are being brought into my church who don’t even know the book-chapter-verse structure of the Bible. They were brought in through relationships with others who are already “in the camp.” I think this is how it works. Christians have real relationships with people they know, and it simply works. The people that are meant to be in the church will be in the church. This is natural. I also think this is the way of Jesus.

            Most evangelism seems to be some contrived system or program meant to raise numbers on a scoreboard somewhere. This is neither good nor natural.

            (Other than this brief anecdote, I can’t prove to you… I can only show you what I have done in reaching out to the unchurched.)

          • I like your way of doing it better than others’ ways of not doing it.

          • Luke Allison

            Luke Allison

            My parents went from Catholic to Catholic Charismatic and then into full-on Word of Faith Charismatic. Consequently, I’ve spoken in tongues since I was 7 or so, (still not sure how that happened), and engaged in all kinds of experiential, Spirit-led evangelism. I have several aunts who weren’t Christians, got knocked out by the Spirit, and then woke up saved. So, for me, evangelism was a fairly natural part of life. I have many memories of being somewhere, seeing my dad go into “Spirit mode” (eyes closed, focused, “tight” mouth) and go engage someone in a very ’80s theological conversation (bridge illustration) but the Spirit-led nature of his proselytizing would often lead to results, as far as I remember.

            I happen to be addicted to Reform Theology, but I’m totally a Charismatic when it comes to evangelism. Maybe all the Lutherans having trouble with this piece just need to grow up Charismatic? Then they’d have a whole different set of problems, but they’d be more comfortable with evangelism.

            On a serious note, while I agree with nearly everything you’ve written here, I feel like a lot of churches are responding to this missional “hole” by taking theology away altogether. I’m only just 29, and up until about 6 years ago I was still largely turned off to Christianity because I couldn’t find anyone who would attempt to engage me in a real conversation, primarily about theodicy (“God didn’t want it to happen either” is not a valid explanation of evil) and “man’s primary aim” (Much like Oprah, I felt that God existing to glorify Himself was egomaniacal).

            Thankfully, I found a few older people who would engage me on these more weighty topics (their names were J.I. Packer, D.A. Carson, and R.C. Sproul. Apparently, knowledge of God destroys your need for a full first name) and I’ve found life and comfort in their theological strains ever since. What I find in working with teenagers and 20-somethings is that, because the Church has largely deemphasized doctrine (no teaching on it outside of creedal confessions) they have ZERO foundational Truth to stand on.
            Do you know how many young men have had their mind blown by my telling them that “If you believe it, it’s true for you” is impossible? Not just silly, but absolutely impossible? We need to understand what our culture believes on a whole (pluralism, universalism, works-based religion) while making those creedal confessions.

            I hold up Matt Chandler as a young pastor who is attempting to combine deep theological (from the Reformed strain) preaching with missional living. I recommend him to 20-somethings all the time, and I have yet to hear any of them who doesn’t completely “get” his teaching.

          • Star Picket

            David,

            I grew up Methodist and became a Lutheran because there was no other church where I lived. The three things that strike me as barriers to mission:

            1) A spiritual pride in Pastors/laity who sincerely believe that Lutherans (only) have got their theology right.

            2) Lutherans live with a fear of the “Law”. If we feel obliged to do anything, it is labelled “law”. So we avoid preaching about how to live our sanctified life because it smells of “law” (hence an avoidance of the second half of the epistles). And so the idea of a Christian reaching the lost is “law” rather than love.

            3) The belief that Christ calls people to himself; that he comes to us; leads us to faith, in its simplest form (and I heard this said by a Pastor) means that the laymen only has to “manage” these people when they are brought to us. God does the calling….

            What I am saying is that I agree with your general thrust and I wish you every blessing in your work. What you are saying here is vital for our church.

            Best wishes
            Star

      • Dave, here is the link to the Time magazine in April of 1958: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,863259-2,00.html

        Sure it is possible that a large part of the growth was biological in nature. However, it looks to me that Time magazine was not just thinking about biological growth. Notice that they write about “converts pouring in” and describe door knocking, advertising, publicity, schools, etc.

        In the fairly “liturgical” Lutheran church that I grew up in the 1970’s, our church was still growing around 20% – mostly through new people joining the church. I think the big reason was that in the late 1970’s, the church had around 20% of the members mobilized into evangelistic teams that used a modified version of “Evangelism Explosion.” Also, I know that our church did a lot of advertising in the community and tried to follow all the latest thinking in Church Growth. Because my parents were involved in the leadership, I heard regular reports demonstrating the effective nature of those types of strategies.

        What is interesting is that in the 1970’s, Church Growth leaders like Win Arn were telling people (Episcopalians, etc.) that they did not necessarily need to change the liturgy to do effective outreach. However, these days more recent leaders and thinkers are suggesting the opposite, so that is why there is so much “push back” from folks who don’t want their worship being changed dramatically. I suspect that the best way to deal with this is to do what you are doing and that is to start a new church while still supporting the old ways of doing things – which is still very meaningful for many people.

        When I went to an LCMS Seminary in the 1980’s, some of the professors taught against lay led Bible studies, encouraging the discovery of spiritual gifts, the possibility of God intervening with miracles in answer to prayer and any type of contemporary music being used in the church. It is so sad, as I suspect the most flaming liberal “higher critic” counterpart in the ELCA, probably had a higher view of the laity using their gifts, etc. than their LCMS counterparts. It was a double kiss of death for the Lutheran church – on both the right and the left. We are still in a recovery mode. I think we all need a missional revival for our survival.

        • Most of the door knocking indeed happened. But it was in vast new tract areas and the target was finding Lutherans who were moving in.

          Evangelism Explosion (60’s and 70’s) was “fringe” at best among Lutherans and barely tolerated by purists.

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  • Kyle

    I don’t think there really is a gap between the eras of immigration and procreation. People didn’t start having kids because people stopped immigrating. Those immigrants also had children. The endorsement of birth control has been the worst thing to ever happen to the church.

    A Lutheran model of missiology must start with the family. What is the best way to be discipled? Follow someone for a few years. This article largely disregards the family aspect of discipleship. With the advent of birth control, the family is no longer an essential unit of anything. Children are optional. Spouses are optional. Divorce is optional. Discipling is optional. This is bad.

    This is not to say that the family is the only way to evangelize… but why is it that procreation is generally disregarded as an effective method of evangelism?

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  • Dave, it’s been a while, but I remember our conversation in SoCal about this very topic. In my new call, I’ve been thinking a lot about reaching out and doing true evangelism – not ecclesiastical musical chairs. It seems to me that many of our potential church members in the communities we serve (and by this I mean members of the body, and not of a country club) are not so much “lost” or “unchurched” as they are casualties of Christendom – having some institutional knowledge or awareness of “the church” or “institutional religion” and having no desire to be part of it. This may be because they’ve been hurt by the church, have a negative impression of it, or are too lazy to investigate what it’s really about. So with that in mind, what is my message? How do I reach out to these people and invite them into the fullness of life with God? I think that is the “there” we’re trying to get people to as church leaders. Of course it starts with us – and a commitment to live the gospel in our own lives. I won’t ask anyone to do something I’m not first willing to do myself. I won’t preach tithing unless I tithe. I won’t tell people to follow Jesus unless I’m first willing to do this. And I won’t tell people they are going to hell unless I am willing to consider the possibility that I may be headed there as well.

    So, what are we left with?

    The appeal of Luther and Lutheranism, for me, is its relational ontology. All that is for us, is relationship – think Luther’s “pro me” as the starting place of all theology. The question for me is not getting people to DO something, certainly not using them to stroke my own ego by being a part of “my” church and boosting my numbers (let’s be honest this sort of pride is always a temptation for the church leader), but rather, how is God calling us to live in relationship?? When we invite people to church, to fellowship with the body of Christ, we are inviting them into a relationship with God. I find this emphasis on relationship is something young people (and older people, for that matter) can always relate to. We are inviting people into an authentic relating to one another and to the source and ground of our being, a way of living in the world defined by God’s kingdom as proclaimed, and then embodied by Jesus Christ. What people are missing, it seems to me, is a sense of hope and purpose. The Christian message provides this hope by grounding the world’s history – and more importantly the world’s FUTURE in God, the same God who promised to bless Abraham, the same God who was with the Israelites through their life and often folly (a mirror for our own ambiguous existence), and the same God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we become a part of the church, we are “adopted” into the family of God, with the same Father as Jesus (and as the church fathers would say, the church as our mother). The church has the opportunity to be a witness to the world, and a pathway to membership in this body. It does not have an obligation to force people to confessions they do not believe, nor manipulate them psychologically or socially to become part of a club.

    As for eschatology and the “the lost”, a few remarks:
    1) eschatology means nothing if you do not make clear what we mean by incarnation. The church Fathers return to this again and again: the miracle of the Christian faith is that God would become flesh (which is why sacraments are so important for us, and I think potentially very compelling for young seekers – a “taste of God”, as gross as that sounds) FOR YOU. If we can accept that, it is a small step to affirm that God stands at the world’s future, drawing us toward him (or her).
    2) Categorizing people as “lost” (vs. those who are “found”) is so fraught with theological difficulties, that it almost isn’t worth undertaking. We are all lost, that must be our first and final confession of faith.

    So what are we doing in evangelism and mission? What is conversion, and how can we embrace that in a pluralistic, tolerant society? Who is our ‘target audience’? It seems to me the church has to stand for this, and a younger “Hous” once told me (and I agree) that theology must flow from missiology – i.e. be defined by the church’s mission, which happens in “real time” (this by the way was the whole purpose of Vatican II; to reframe the church around its primary obligation to be missional).

    The “there” we proclaim, the place we are trying to get people to, is God in God’s very self. God is the most real, the most true, and the ultimate mystery of our lives. God is ultimate mystery, and yet more important than anything we can “know”. For me as a pastor, when I invite someone to come to church, into fellowship with the body, I am inviting them into a life with God. And in doing this, I am inviting them to know themselves more deeply and intimately than they could have possibly imagined. But it is not something I can define FOR them; they have to figure that out as they go. That is what the journey and process of discipleship is about. I can (and do) share my own story of my walk with God, but we have to have the grace to let go and trust that the Holy Spirit truly is working in someone’s life.

    I’ve been with atheists, who are standing there, on the edge of the church, looking in, and trying to figure out what this means. When they discover the depth of the Tradition, and see what it is the mystics, theologians and artists of the church have pondered, I (sometimes) see in them a fascination for the universe itself, its origins, its purpose, its destiny (you know, the big questions). Once you point someone in that direction, you quickly realize that YOU are part of this big picture reality – you don’t stand outside it, but are one player in this divine drama. At that point, any “missional strategy” you have crafted stands as flimsy and potentially idolatrous project – often rooted in the false ego and desire to accomplish something impressive to others. If our lives are rooted in God, our entire perspective changes. And our sense of mission and outreach is completely different. You cannot force people to ask the question of faith in God or discipleship, you can only be ready when the time comes – and it will come – to “give an account of the hope that is in you”.

    As for training the laity to do this; well this is a life-long task that belongs to church leadership. The best way I know how is the way of Jesus – to live according to God’s kingdom, which is only possible when Christ lives in us – and we in him.

    Thanks for asking the question. I will keep these things in mind in my new call and the mission to which God has called me.

    Dan Smith
    Davis, CA

  • Dave, it’s been a while, but I remember our conversation in SoCal about this very topic. In my new call, I’ve been thinking a lot about reaching out and doing true evangelism – not ecclesiastical musical chairs. It seems to me that many of our potential church members in the communities we serve (and by this I mean members of the body, and not of a country club) are not so much “lost” or “unchurched” as they are casualties of Christendom – having some institutional knowledge or awareness of “the church” or “institutional religion” and having no desire to be part of it. This may be because they’ve been hurt by the church, have a negative impression of it, or are too lazy to investigate what it’s really about. So with that in mind, what is my message? How do I reach out to these people and invite them into the fullness of life with God? I think that is the “there” we’re trying to get people to as church leaders. Of course it starts with us – and a commitment to live the gospel in our own lives. I won’t ask anyone to do something I’m not first willing to do myself. I won’t preach tithing unless I tithe. I won’t tell people to follow Jesus unless I’m first willing to do this. And I won’t tell people they are going to hell unless I am willing to consider the possibility that I may be headed there as well.

    So, what are we left with?

    The appeal of Luther and Lutheranism, for me, is its relational ontology. All that is for us, is relationship – think Luther’s “pro me” as the starting place of all theology. The question for me is not getting people to DO something, certainly not using them to stroke my own ego by being a part of “my” church and boosting my numbers (let’s be honest this sort of pride is always a temptation for the church leader), but rather, how is God calling us to live in relationship?? When we invite people to church, to fellowship with the body of Christ, we are inviting them into a relationship with God. I find this emphasis on relationship is something young people (and older people, for that matter) can always relate to. We are inviting people into an authentic relating to one another and to the source and ground of our being, a way of living in the world defined by God’s kingdom as proclaimed, and then embodied by Jesus Christ. What people are missing, it seems to me, is a sense of hope and purpose. The Christian message provides this hope by grounding the world’s history – and more importantly the world’s FUTURE in God, the same God who promised to bless Abraham, the same God who was with the Israelites through their life and often folly (a mirror for our own ambiguous existence), and the same God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we become a part of the church, we are “adopted” into the family of God, with the same Father as Jesus (and as the church fathers would say, the church as our mother). The church has the opportunity to be a witness to the world, and a pathway to membership in this body. It does not have an obligation to force people to confessions they do not believe, nor manipulate them psychologically or socially to become part of a club.

    As for eschatology and the “the lost”, a few remarks:
    1) eschatology means nothing if you do not make clear what we mean by incarnation. The church Fathers return to this again and again: the miracle of the Christian faith is that God would become flesh (which is why sacraments are so important for us, and I think potentially very compelling for young seekers – a “taste of God”, as gross as that sounds) FOR YOU. If we can accept that, it is a small step to affirm that God stands at the world’s future, drawing us toward him (or her).
    2) Categorizing people as “lost” (vs. those who are “found”) is so fraught with theological difficulties, that it almost isn’t worth undertaking. We are all lost, that must be our first and final confession of faith.

    So what are we doing in evangelism and mission? What is conversion, and how can we embrace that in a pluralistic, tolerant society? Who is our ‘target audience’? It seems to me the church has to stand for this, and a younger “Hous” once told me (and I agree) that theology must flow from missiology – i.e. be defined by the church’s mission, which happens in “real time” (this by the way was the whole purpose of Vatican II; to reframe the church around its primary obligation to be missional).

    The “there” we proclaim, the place we are trying to get people to, is God in God’s very self. God is the most real, the most true, and the ultimate mystery of our lives. God is ultimate mystery, and yet more important than anything we can “know”. For me as a pastor, when I invite someone to come to church, into fellowship with the body, I am inviting them into a life with God. And in doing this, I am inviting them to know themselves more deeply and intimately than they could have possibly imagined. But it is not something I can define FOR them; they have to figure that out as they go. That is what the journey and process of discipleship is about. I can (and do) share my own story of my walk with God, but we have to have the grace to let go and trust that the Holy Spirit truly is working in someone’s life.

    I’ve been with atheists, who are standing there, on the edge of the church, looking in, and trying to figure out what this means. When they discover the depth of the Tradition, and see what it is the mystics, theologians and artists of the church have pondered, I (sometimes) see in them a fascination for the universe itself, its origins, its purpose, its destiny (you know, the big questions). Once you point someone in that direction, you quickly realize that YOU are part of this big picture reality – you don’t stand outside it, but are one player in this divine drama. At that point, any “missional strategy” you have crafted stands as flimsy and potentially idolatrous project – often rooted in the false ego and desire to accomplish something impressive to others. If our lives are rooted in God, our entire perspective changes. And our sense of mission and outreach is completely different. You cannot force people to ask the question of faith in God or discipleship, you can only be ready when the time comes – and it will come – to “give an account of the hope that is in you”.

    As for training the laity to do this; well this is a life-long task that belongs to church leadership. The best way I know how is the way of Jesus – to live according to God’s kingdom, which is only possible when Christ lives in us – and we in him.

    Thanks for asking the question. I will keep these things in mind in my new call and the mission to which God has called me.

    Dan Smith
    Davis, CA

  • Join the North Heights Evangelism course. Sunday at 10:35am get more small decipleship up and running. make a differance in your church!
    all shall be invited.

  • David – how come I haven’t been reading your blog? I don’t know…maybe because I just discovered it! thanks for posting that ONE quick comment on the TTS blog…now, I’m going to read your last post later today and I’ll browse the comments but I like you already…I used to surf…I used to live in OC…I used to be ELCA…I used to be alot of things…one things I am in incurably curious and open to the Spirit’s promptings. So, you’ll hear from me again!

    in Jesus,

    Robin
    Dr. Robin Dugall

  • Kyle Letcher

    I have been thinking about this a lot and is near and dear to my heart. The way I have looked at is that we can tell people about Jesus what he has done in our own lives and show them the love of Christ by how we live our lives. Ministry is relational and I think it is the same with evangelism. I am looking forward to reading your next addition to that paper.

  • Sherryl Brunner

    Dave:

    I have read through this blog with great interest. It is interesting to ponder how we can verbalize the reason for our faith in a way that compels others to be jealous for what we have and become followers of Jesus.

    While I am a recent Potter’s Wheel graduate (thanks for instigating this at Hosanna!), I am not a theology scholar. I grew up in rural Minnesota. I am the 5th generation of a German Lutheran Pastor who came to this country as a missionary. I believe this heritage is a part of my inheritance and a significant part of the call on my life.

    To give you some insights from my ‘Rural Minnesota’ multi-generational Lutheran perspective, I offer the following: The rural communities, therefore their churches, still retain the sense of community that you do not find in the larger cities. In communities where there are many denominations of Christian churches, the denominational lines are beginning to blur – community is beginning to come before church. Most often, they don’t discuss what their theological differences are – they do their best, with the instruction they have been given, to live out their faith in their daily lives. They have seen how churches can be divided because of theological differences and they has a strong sense of identity with their particular denomination (mostly generational tradition), yet when you ask why – they don’t know how to answer (seems to be a common theme in this blog). This division causes unease that lies under the surface in the rural communities. Especially when you have Lutheran denominations that allow women in leadership and those that don’t in the same community! They just don’t talk about it so as not to cause there to be division.

    People in rural areas are set in their ways and they are highly skeptical of something new – and yet, they are hungry – they’ve heard there’s more, and they’re really starting to wonder how they can experience it. Case in point, I recently gave a talk to a WELCA group of 70+year old women about a mission trip to India, they helped support – I shared stories and pictures of signs and wonders that were witnessed, including people with demonic manifestations and praying for rain as a sign and seeing rain come – they were so engaged, asking questions and didn’t shrink back when we talked about how we did ministry, how we prayed, how Christians are persecuted and women are treated in India, the list goes on. They are hungry!

    Rural communities are living in bondage. Generational bitterness, gossip, guilt, shame and addictions are everywhere. Those predominately Scandinavian small towns have Jantelovan doctrine firmly embedded. Generational abuse for many has clouded how they see Father God. Yet, most pastors’ in these communities know that if they press in on these touchy subjects, they’ll have difficulty in their churches. People in rural communities need to know the freedom in Christ and the fullness of life and what is possible with their faith before they can embrace a theology that encourages them to openly share their faith with others. Find a way to translate what they already do and know into more timely words that relate to evangelism and work from the perspective that their lives can be a living testimony they can share wherever they go. Provide rural pastors and their communities with teachings that can help them tear down the mindsets and strongholds of the enemy, embrace the Holy Spirit, teach them of the Father’s love and breathe new life into their churches and communities.

    They need the Holy Spirit, presented and demonstrated in a way that doesn’t give them the opportunity to feel like what they have been doing all along is somehow wrong – what they know has come through the generations and needs to a valued foundation. To avoid polarizing families, include multiple generations in the dialogue. I love Bill Johnson’s idea to “let our ceiling become their floor” and a way of encouraging families to pass on the inheritance and encourage future generations to go further than they have. Many in rural communities hold firmly to the idea that if it was good enough for my generation, it’s good enough for the next…

    I believe, as others have said, the foundations for being missional and evangelistic are in the Lutheran teachings, but it has been presented in a way that makes it difficult to see the fruit of teaching. But what is the mission anyway? Is it to bring people to faith in Jesus and give them a Bible? Is it to get more people in church pews? Is it to reach the lost in other countries (or the neighbor next door)? Is it to develop and mentor disciples of Jesus? Is it to destroy the works of the enemy? Is it to build a society, community that resembles heaven on earth/Garden of Eden? Is it all or some of the above? Do we need a firm stance on ‘end times’ teaching? What do we believe the Lord would want out end result to be in this endeavor? Can we work backwards – what is the Lord leading us to create – what is the vision – then work backwards to find the words that will align all creation to work together to see the vision manifested.

    There is such beauty in what Christ accomplished for us on the cross. Luther was not strong on healing being in the atonement. The Holy Spirit has been mentioned but not fully appreciated in traditional Lutheran teachings. We captured the reformation in some ways, but I believe more work can be done to explore what it means to be a reformer – we are to be like Jesus, Jesus destroyed the works of the enemy, bringing order out of chaos, what chaos is the Lord leading Lutheran’s to bring into alignment with His divine order?

    Anyway, food for thought, looking forward to seeing you in a couple weeks at Hosanna!

  • dan

    Interesting topic and I wonder about leadership of todays Church.

    Bonhoeffer another insider in the Lutheran church said this in May, 1944 for the Baptisim of Dietrich Wilhelm Rudiger Bethge, “Our church, which has been fighting in these years only for its self-preservation, as though that were an end in itself, is incapable of taking the word of reconciliation and redemption to mankind and the world. Our earlier words are therefore bound to lose their force and cease, and our being Christians today will be limited to two things: prayer and righteous action among men. All Christian thinking, speaking and organizing must be born anew out of this prayer and action. By the time you have grown up, the church’s form will have changed greatly.We are not yet out of the melting-pot, and any attempt to help the church prematurely to a new expansion of its organization will merely delay its conversion and pruification. It is not for us to prophesy the day (though the day will come) when men will once more be called so to utter the word of God that the world will be changed and renewed by it. It will be a new language, perhaps quite non-religious, but liberating and redeeming – as was Jesus’ language; it will shock people and yet overcome them by its power; it will be the language of a new righteousness and truth proclaiming God’s peace with men and the coming of his kingdom. ‘They shall fear and tremble becasue of all the good and all the prospertity I provide for it.’ (Jer. 33.9). Till then the Christian cause will be a silent and hidden affair , but there will be those who pray and do right and wait for God’s own time. May you be one of them, and may it be said of you one day, ‘The path of righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter till full day’ (Prov.4.18)

    Bonhoeffer talks about Luther’s call to being missional in Cost of Discipleship; “Let the Christian remain in the world, not because of the good gifts of creation, nor because of his responsibility for the course of the world, but for the sake of the Body of the incarnate Christ and for the sake of the Church. Let him remain in the world to engage in frontal assault on it, and let him live the life of his secular calling in order to show himself as a stranger in this world all the more.” “It was not otherworldliness as such that he attacked, but the perversion of otherworldliness into a subtle kind of “spititual” worldliness. To Luther’s mind that was a most insidious perversion of the gospel. The other worldliness of the Christian life ought, Luther concluded, to be manifested in the very midst of the world, in the Christian community and in its daily life. Hence the Christian’s task is to live out that life in terms of his secular calling. That is the way to die unto the world. … it provides an opportunity of living the Christian life with the support o God’s grace, and of engaging more vigorously in the assualt on the world and everything it stands for.”

    Fast forward to present day. If one is to believe any of the reports offered by the Barna Group in the Book, UN Christian by David Kinnaman, the current perception of the “outsiders” of Christians, is to put it mildly, not very positive. When outsiders think that “Christians say one thing and do another”, or “I did know a few Christians and they definitely did not follow the rules and seem to be more lost than myself”, and “Christianity has done a hell of a lot, Christianity has made it harder for me to tell people about Jesus.” Boyd addresses this in Repenting of Religion where he says “In truth, if people aren’t being drawn to the Lord by the church’s love, this is the church’s fault. For Jesus taught us from the start that it is by our love, not just by our words, that people will know He is real and be drawn into a relationship with him. Christ convinced us of the love of God by demonstrating it while we were yet sinners. We are called to do the same toward others.”

    So where is the disconnect? There is a restlessness in Christians to do more. There is also a lack of basic understanding on the part of parents and children. The line between being in the world but not of the world is not taught in practical ways. “How then should we act?” “How are we to be missional in our everyday lives?” If the opinion of Bishop Hunter is to be believed the focus is still inward. If eighty percent of the churches money is spent on the weekend service and twenty percent on all other “mission” efforts how can the church possibly be as effective as it should be? What incentive is there in the corporate church setting to modify this ratio? If the concern of the church was indeed being the hands and feet of Christ is there justification for the continued inward focus? Leadership will need to redirect and retrain congregations. It takes faith to step out and make a difference. Most like the comfort of being able to go to a service, check off the “religious activity” box on the weeks to do list and go back to conforming to the world. Faith like creativity grows when it is used and we are called to action. There is a timidity in churches which denies the basic tenants of the faith. Stepping out in the “boldness of Christ” is seldom seen.
    Being missional can also be a real threat to the status quo. When the spirit is truely at work it can be “messy”, not always moving in a straight line or following a preconcieved agenda. That has to be allowed in the church. Sometimes the best thing leaders can do is step out of the way, let the Spirit work and have faith. I don’t know that the world will be drawn to the Lord based on our hermeneutics, operating eschatology or cash flow as much as they will by seeing the love of Christ in action in us.

    Bonhoeffer had a sense of this in May of 1944. The Spirit is moving. I think the break of day is now.

  • Mary Hinkle Shore

    Thanks for the post, David. Still working my way through the comments. I’m doing some work on Acts at the moment for a SE Iowa synod gig in a couple of weeks. I’m have some ideas about how eschatology and the walking-and-chewing gum stuff that Lutherans are so good at (aka dialectical thinking) might be represented in some stories there that are also all about mission. I hope to blog about that as it takes shape.

    I think of Luther as an extraordinary evangelist: he wanted everyone to know that the work of Christ was enough and that it alone offered forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. His writing is focused on these realities to such an extent that it is mind-numbingly predictable after a while. His railing against enthusiasts notwithstanding, it was Luther’s own *experience* of a gracious God that fueled his work to share this great good news with others. He knew first-hand the difference that Christ made in his life. I’m not sure American Lutherans are missing an eschatology or a missiology as much as we are missing the experience of realizing we have news that has made a difference in our lives, news the world needs.

  • When I was an undergraduate, I took a class on Soviet domestic governance (obviously, this was before the late 1980s). What stuck me was how similar the Soviet federalist system was to the U.S. system, at least on paper. In practice, however, the two systems looks so completely different.

    My point is that I don’t think a missional and confessional mindset are really different from one another, or at least, they cannot be separated. Another criticism I have heard of Lutherans is that we know how to sacrament-ize but not evangelize. So, when did these two things stop being the same thing? If we are not mission-minded and if we are not evangelical-minded then these are fundamentally sacramental and confessional issues, not different issues that in this time and place do not relate sacramentally or confessionally. Cultures and mindsets change over the years, but the confessional, sacramental, missional and evangelical gifts and responsibilities to the church are still the same.

    I also am troubled when there are overarching assumptions about what is mission and evangelical oriented to a particular generation. I am a Generation Xer, born in 1968, and I have been told for years what Generation Xers need and want. Well, I was not born Lutheran and was not baptized until I was eleven. The church to which I belonged used LBW setting I every Sunday with all the smells and bells and Holy Communion each week. The pastor was very much a liturgical traditionalists.

    Now, the prevailing logic would be that I would have been turned off and left the church because it did not “speak to me”; however, the Holy Spirit did move through the Word and in the Sacraments. I may be, as I have often been accused of being, an exception; however, this church seemed to have a great many exceptions with at least three from my same age group going to seminary to enter ordained ministry or to be an AIM.

    It wasn’t the “system” that was different; it was simply having a pastor and a congregation that saw its confessional and sacramental responsibilities as mission and evangelism.

    I think instead of reinventing who we are, since we are all new creations in Christ, we need be authentically who we are. I gave up a long time ago being the the guitar-playing, “hip” pastor; not because there is anything wrong with these things or because I am not willing to change – I have tried to change to the point of driving myself insane- but because it is simply not who I am. To pretend to be something that I am not is, fundamentally, dishonest and confuses “mission” and “evangelism” for popularity and advertisement.

    Since I have stopped trying to be who I am not, a surprising thing has happened: the confirmands and worshipers have not left; in fact, thanks be to God, both have increased. I think I have been better able to be with people to hear their concerns and struggles, and to be more evangelical and mission-minded, because I am not struggling to be the kind of pastor I am suppose to be in order to be missional and evangelical.

    Sorry for the long, rambling comment. This article has made me think and has provoked a response, so it is a good work. Thank you.

  • Jay Egenes

    David,
    As an aside, I suspect that your description of Muslims as “unthinkably far away” is inaccurate. To the extent that they were close enough to be “thinkable” (is that a word?) they were a military enemy, not folks to be evangelized.

    • We tend to project our awareness level back on the past.

      I doubt whether most educated clergy even knew exactly who and where the “Saracens” were.

  • Jay Egenes

    David,

    I think there are three (at least) separate issues here.

    1. Is there anything particularly missional in the Lutheran confessions? If not (and I think not), why not? I assume the answer to this is historical accident. David Luecke (sp?), a LCMS pastor who used to teach at Fuller, has done some interesting work on this. Not sure where he is now, but his work started the journey that resulted in my ordination.

    2. Can we develop a particularly “Lutheran” ecclesiology that fuses ecclesiology with missiology anyway? If we can’t, can we Lutherans have a generically Christian (I guess I mean biblical) ecclesiology that is missional? If we think of the church as people gathered around word and sacrament (good Looteran language dere, huh?), do we have a theological reason to invite others? Like the love of God, maybe? The desire of God that no one should perish, maybe? Maybe we have to look outside of the confessions, at other important writings of Luther (and maybe also later pietists), to find these ideas.

    3. Assuming that we care about mission (as opposed to trying to keep the church doors open): What tools do we have within the Lutheran tradition that can missionally address the current environment? As a pre-modern movement, Lutheranism isn’t tied to modern thought and culture. While this hasn’t helped us over the last 200 years, it may help us in the future if we can recover and communicate ideas within our tradition that didn’t fit well with “modern” American culture but might resonate with postmoderns.

    In my Confessions class at PLTS, for example, I once commented that the concept of being “set free from sin, death, and the power of the devil” seems to resonate with people who believe that demons and the devil (substitute if you’d like the power of “evil”) are REAL. After an uncomfortable silence, Jane Strohl (and I love Jane, she was one of two professors at PLTS who actually justified taking classes there) commented that most Lutherans aren’t comfortable thinking that way.

  • Mark

    I am a former Catholic, who studied at a Baptist seminary to be a Lutheran pastor, I went through the entire call process and was required to take the required “make you a Lutheran” classes at a Lutheran Seminary.

    Throughout seminary I was trying to reconcile my evangelical experience at one seminary with what was happening in the Lutheran seminary. And in the end, I could find no language … a missional theology … within our Lutheran confessions.

    When it comes to to sharing the gospel and discussing “conversion” with the average person, our toolkit is empty. As you stated “We simply haven’t crafted a vocabulary and grammar of mission and conversion. We don’t even know how to describe the conversion event.”

    But before we start to craft that vocabulary, I think an important question must be asked. How much do Lutherans care about “the lost.” Do we care enough about the lost to want and will use whatever model emerges from these conversations? Before we can change behaviours we must change belief. I believe when Lutherans start to believe people far from God matter to God so they should matter to us, behaviours and methods to reach the lost will emerge and be used.

    • You simply can’t have a missiology without defining the “lost.”

      You hit it right on the head.

      • > David and Mark

        Define the lost? We are ALL lost and Lutherans are familiar with words like, “I, a lost and condemned sinner…” which gets us back to the question of “what degree of lostness is at stake here?”

        The great song, “Amazing Grace” helps us find our proper place in this series of questions that lead to answers that lead to other questions… “I once was lost but now I’m found…” which addresses this reality of all being lost and Christ the one who finds. Luther did get that and Mark I value your comments on Luther being a missionary… he was indeed despite that he never used that kind of language…

        St. Paul provides the definition… we are ALL lost until…”every knee bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord…” and if the church is always one generation away from extinction…then there must be mission fervor in the Lutheran church and all denominations…

        Then this question must be answered…”Do we have a language system in our Lutheran faith that helps each person define for themsleves how it is that one moves from being saved (unlost/found) and not knowing it yet to sensing God’s gift of salvation as the power to live an abundant life for Christ? G. Forde’s question…”now that you don’t have to do anything to be saved, what are you going to do?” helps. But, still our church has yet offer a grid or template by which all of our people can move in that direction…

        This conversation continues to be timely and relevant…anyone interested in hosting a conference where this becomes the topic for presentation and response?

        Brian

  • As a lifelong Lutheran–or as I like to say “our family has been Lutheran since the King told the Norwegians they had to be”–this essay hits the heart of the problem we’re facing today as Lutherans. This problem is sensed by those in authority though I am not sure they are clear about the roots of the issue. For instance, here in Canada the book “The Evangelizing Church was distributed to every pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.
    However, the problem fundamentally is theological. Apart from the lack of a compelling message of Jesus in many quarters, I think you have hit the proverbial “nail on the head.”
    For me as an otherwise convinced Lutheran (okay, full disclosure: I have been called “Luther-costal”) Lutheran theology has 3 major deficiencies.
    1. An inadequate theology of prayer
    2. Eschatology (as you have pointed out and I am personally now discovering)
    3. A lack of a practical theology of conversion–or as you wrote “missiology.” We understand that conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit but how does that occur in human terms?
    Yet I believe Lutheranism offers the very sort of “tension” that our culture seems ready for, a kind of “both/and” view of Christianity. People today are more comfortable with ambiguity.
    I think we as Lutherans can have a real impact in this generation here in North America and in Europe when we work this out. So I am eagerly anticipating further word on the model you’re developing.
    Jim Bredeson
    Immanuel Lutheran Church of Rosenthal
    Stony Plain, Alberta Canada

  • This was a challenging post. I have no answers, but until now I had no questions, either. (Well, I had Lutheran questions, but not missional questions.)

    Actually, you have one thing I can hang a hat on: “The Gospel never changes. . . A particular missiology is not the core truth of our faith.”

    If Lutheran theology is true, and I believe it is, then it’s the same gospel that Paul carried around the Mediterranean, it is the same gospel for which the martyrs died, it is the same gospel that has give all believers life from then until now.

    Suddenly, finding a way to share that gospel seems not only not so daunting but a whole lot more exciting. We “have” the theology, after all.

    • At some level, John, you are getting at the core of the issue.

  • Dave,

    You are a gifted writer and this piece should strike a nerve. I’m a life long Lutheran who shares much of the feeling you have written about here.

    I know some ultra-conservative confessionals will read this and think you are simply mistaken. They will think you haven’t read the confessions properly, that your hermeneutics are flawed.

    They will see your Pentecostal tendencies and feel sorry for you.

    I would tend to argue with some of your points from the same starting point that the ultra-conservatives, stating that there IS something implicit there about missions, even if it is not explicitly described and defined.

    And, with regards to eschatology, I would suggest to you that it is all over the place and even dominant in some places (even if not to the fever pitch and adventure-laden climate created by the Millennialists of our time).

    But, regardless if these topics are there or not (a debatable point, I readily admit), these are NOT being communicated to our people now, nor have they been communicated during the last generation. Our people get no education or teaching on these topics.

    And, regardless of whether we need a new confession or not, the conversation you have started is desperately overdue. It needs to be robust and it may need to be lengthy.

    The times of Conservative, American Lutherans living a Sunday-oriented life where their faiths are lived out in a mere hour or two per week must end. The times of Lutherans living a life of saying “I’m a poor miserable sinner, yay God forgives me for Jesus sake, what’s for lunch?!?” where they focus all of their theology on Romans 1-7 but fail to read and grow in Romans 8-16 must end.

    We look across American Christianity where the often the Gospel is watered down, but people are drowning in moralistic deism, and we see Christianity more confused than ever about what we are supposed to do with ourselves, in a culture that is more and more hostile to us…what is our answer to be?

    Christ and Him Crucified. The raw power of the Gospel!!!!

    But NOT us sitting around and talking about how we are so glad we got the Gospel right and how great our theology is. How often do we hear this kind of thinking: “God, thank you that I’m not like that Purpose Driven Bapticostal over there who thinks everything rests upon their decision!” Todd Wilken and Chris Rosebrough, are you listening?

    Keep this conversation going Dave. You will encounter fierce opposition, but if you want to contribute you will have to motor through that, just like Uncle Marty did. Heck, I don’t even agree with you fully, but I love what you are trying to do and what you are trying to say and I will be praying that many people join the conversation so that we can get it all out on the table. Todd and Chris should come too.

    “Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.” –Galatians 6:12-15

    In Christ,
    Mark Hunsaker

    • Thanks, Mark, for your heartflelt responses. I already got called a “servant of Satan” so your prediction is not far off.

      Bless you as you contribute to the one important thing–your role will be a key.

  • David, my response will be a bit different than others. This is a great piece and I ask all readers to go back and read this article through the eyes of a hurting man–through the eyes of a man whose faith is in his own self and abilitlies–and as he grows older sees how little he has done compared to what he might have intended for his own life’s work.

    What you write of is what got me a C+ on my Lutheran Confessions paper at Triinity Seminary in 1981. The Professor, Dr. Tryve Skarsten scalded red ink all over my paper as I had no quotes from the Augsburg Confession about—yup, you already guessed it—missiology. I was please that I got such a high grade when I found it virutally impossible to write the paper using the Book of Concord and hence spent the first 10 years of parish ministry focussing evangelism. And yes, Lutherans can evangelize, but we must go elsewhere to find a path…the Bible, then is key to this work.

    And the easy solution is to use Pauline language and speak our honest Lutheran message of being simul justus et peccator….young people get that and appreciate our dualistic understanding of life–it’s joys and miseries being part of the totality of life. Young men especially appreciate that God is not going to hang them out to dry for all their F#*kups because Jesus already was hung out to dry for what they’ve done, left undone and still think about doing.

    And it’s in the DO and BE language we reach them…

    One cannot act like a prince until he knows he’s the son of the king. One cannot act like an heir until he finds out his father is filthy rich and owns everything. One cannot live fully until he realizes there is more to live for and one cannot do anything to be saved if he is already. The lost on the island who are rescued did nothing to be saved when the “saver” came along…they only contributed to their “lostness.”

    It’s all part of the question Gerhard Forde raised in the 1970’s…”now that you don’t have to do anything to be saved, what are you going to do?”

    And we do have a working escahtology, but it needs a little “apology” from time to time. It’s found in the question in the Baptism service (LBW p. 121) doing the things mentioned until the “day of Jesus Christ?”

    We forget to ask people, “when is that day?” The answer is 2-fold. 1) When Jesus returns (and he said he didn’t even know when) and 2) when you no longer have breath and you cannot change your life in any way. In both cases, “it is finished.” And when we realize that either Jesus is coming soon/now/today/ in my lifetime or that I have a life to live that has limits on this earth, I then am free to respond in faith and practice my discipleship via, prayer, worship, study, invititation, encouragement, giving and serving, which as Luther suggested all lead to building up the community in us and around us. Or not. And that always, then, leads to a good conversation about grace.

    I hope someday that we will be able to continue this conversation face to face.

    Brother and friend of the same Christ,

    Brian

    Rev. Dr. Brian K.Gigee, Pastor
    New Life/ELCA
    Pearland, TX

    • Deep, Bro.

      I also believe that young men are going to gravitate to our message, but we have to articulate it more clearly first.

  • Vondalee Smith

    Hous, I totally love your essays, despite the 9.5 Thesis that mentions that we Catholics are “allergic to birth control”. LOL, I forgive you!
    But I have a question regarding the Lutheran Church’s missions…
    You mentioned in one of the recent RobinWood podcasts that RW was a “mono-mission” church. I think those are the words you used. You mentioned that His Nesting Place was RW’s only mercy ministry (or something like that). And going to RW, I always wondered why that was?
    For instance, I believe that churches should have food banks for its members and its community. If you can’t meet people’s physical needs, you can’t meet their emotional & spiritual needs. Don’t get me wrong – I think His Nesting Place is the PERFECT pro-life ministry. But in order to be more “missional”, I think there are other ministries that are just as important. And the more needs the Christian church provides, the more reaching out they do… the more evangelism can happen.
    Catholics are good at multi-missions. And if there is something the Church can’t provide, they have other resources they can refer you to. Mormons are the same way. Both churches are very resourceful and are known to help meet people’s needs.
    (*stepping off the soap box now*)
    Love you! Keep writing these great essays!

    • Vondalee, we miss you!

      Come home and bring a new family with you.

  • Tim Martinez

    As long as you you support Phil Gehlhar, you are a servant of the devil.

    • Tim, Phil is couageously recovering from a crippling stroke. I have suspended showing your post to protect your reputation. Galatians 5:22ff.

  • I have always thought that Lutherans had remarkable voices in the choir..neither bass nor soprano but rather more like tenors and alto…in the middle…not the soloist nor a mass of voices but unique in how we
    talk about our faith. While we don’t talk enough or do it not perfectly is not the point but that we do it in a way that a new generation can understand is crucial. I like the idea of a blend of a big group and a smaller more intimate group (reminds me of Dr. Cho somehow). I believe that it starts with enabling discipleship to happen with all it’s variations and styles which are neither right nor wrong, just different. I am looking forward to
    watching and participating in what I hope will be an ongoing dialogue on
    how and what this might look like both to ourselves and to others. Maybe we had best leave the judging of “saved” up to the Father who in the end
    will make the judgment and let us get on with the leading we feel we have to show others how to live the words of Jesus, albeit imperfectly, and how
    we can support each other’s walk.

    • Sarah, you are a rose among the thorns. Continue to expound on your good ideas.

      • What an invitation to expound…so I will, even though I am far from a rose and certainly not between two thorns. I have been reading what has been posted about a passion for the “lost”. Who are the “lost”? What does it mean to have a “passion” for them? Sometimes when people talk about this at all it seems like the lost are mere statistics and folks to be
        added to the church roster, instead of people for whom Christ died whether they know that reality or not. I think back to times and/or issues where I was “lost” and it was my relationship with a God through Jesus that helped me “find” myself. I wonder if “lost” and “unsaved” are as
        interchangable terms as some think. I believe I am saved and even yet,
        my “lostness” at times is not a condition of the soul but one of the mind and the truths I have not yet grasped or believed.

        As for congregations, the laity, and the clergy, I believe that being lost oneself helps us look at other lost people with more compassion and caring. I am also sure that we can see times in our lives when a pastor or a friend helped us find ourselves. Knowing our areas of “lostness” helps us and could help congregations reach out in ways that attrack people to the Lord rather than attracting them to the program and the liturgy. I remember being in a mission congregation where we studied an old
        publication called the Lutheran Manifesto. It was a lively discussion with many points of view and differing ideas. In the end, we learned to accept each other, find peace in our differing perceptions, and move together more of one heart and mind. I loved that idea and have ever since. The key was not for the pastor to put forth his agenda but to honestly seek
        a dialogue about what we thought. Might be a good idea for congregations
        and the new Synod to study Harvey Cox’s Fire From Heaven. You can’t give away or even share efectively what you don’t have personally. “I was lost and now I’m found” takes on new meaning when we have realized our own depths of “lostness” and the freedom that Christ brings in
        being “found”.

        I look forward to this dialogue being kept open, honest and enlarged to
        include lots more folks in the pew along with folks in the seminary
        Thanks

  • Shane

    I read your article and came to this and stopped: “it’s time to write a new Lutheran Confession of Mission”. Why would we want to write a new Confessional if the first one hasn’t worked? I’d dare to say that leaving Luther’s confessions open (undefined) leaves open the possibility for the plethora of missional angles taken other the centuries.
    Moreover, I agree that your conclusion of “pentecostal-Lutherans” having the right idea or being the next ones to move strongly in missions is more in the correct direction.

    So therefore, just being in-tune with and in-touch with the move of the Holy Spirit in our hearts towards/for love of our neighbor (the next-door type, the mechanic in another suburb/town, a child in poverty-Haiti, etc.) and praying, asking for God to speak to us for these people to experience His love is experience enough to begin pursuing them (aka mission).
    For speaking to God, hearing from God, reading His Word, and fully engaging our body, souls (mind-will-emotions), and spirits is in and of itself, experiential. But, power from on-high is a better convincer than any eloquent words of explaination or story.
    SO, this MOST experienceable person is just that: Experiencable. Experienciable by His weight of glory, power to raise the dead (dead, physically as well as soulfully and spiritually). Experienciable by evidence of the uniqueness of manifestations of each and every individual’s, worldwide, to respond to His workings inside our physiology and psyche. Fear not! Experientiable by His comforting and healing, His peace and His counsel.
    — If only we desire for Him and long for Him enough even to rest in Him — allowing Him to give us repentance and healing of our poisonous pride of getting it “right” somehow, or attempting to understand what’s ocurring. I like His Presence more than being motivated by His principles. (Note: I’m also not saying to chuck out His principles.)
    Believe in him “as the scriptures have said, [and] streams of living water will flow from within”. EXPERIENCE TO THE MAX

    <>

    • Shane, your comments are the same as Len Sweet’s on my essay. You are in good company.

  • This article from LWF may address some of your concerns and ideas.
    http://www.lutheranworld.org/LWF_Documents/DMD-Mission-in-Context-low.pdf

    • James, this is really helpful. Please allow me to digest these good thoughts for a while. Why should it surprise me that the global church is on top of this.

  • Shocked and flattered by the response to this little essay I posted yesterday. Wrote it for Lutheran Renewal’s “Especially For Pastors.”

    Crossing the 10,000 download threshold even as I write this. Responses from Hong Kong to the Dakotas.

    Obviously hitting a nerve, to use that wonderful dental expression.

    Please check out all the other essays on my blog when you have time.

    Will start responding to all your good comments–thanks for the constructive tone.

    Please continue the discussion by following me:

    Twitter: RobinwoodChurch
    Facebook: David Housholder

  • Kevin

    When you say at the end that you are looking to re-frame sin, and de-emphasizing Calvin’s total depravity, you should be fair and point out that from TULIP (the 5 points of Calvinism), and Classical Arminianism, the one point that they both agree upon is “total depravity.” And what’s wrong with knowing that until we come to Jesus we are dead in our sins? See Ephesians 2.

    And the tone of your piece seems like you have a bone to pick with Calvinists, and maybe rightly so. But there are some Calvinists out there that are very interested in being more missional. Examples being Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, and John Piper.

    All in all, loved your thoughts. Can’t wait to see what you have next.

    • Kevin, so true about my preferences. I have trouble with, but admire missional Calvinists like the ones you mention.

  • Chad Thompson

    A few thoughts:

    1) I don’t know if it’s entirely fair to say that Lutherans have no eschatology – there has been a lot of amazing thought (see Gerhard Forde in “A More Radical Gospel”, for example) that discuss eschatology in very contemporary terms. It’s not that ‘it’s not there’, it’s just that I don’t think we entirely know how to communicate or internalize Lutheran eschatology ourselves.

    2) We haven’t quite figured out how to communicate a message of Lutheran theology both to ourselves and each other. It’s way too easy to start talking in in the mode of “doing things for God” or “doing things for the Kingdom”, etc. The things we learn (like the Catechism) stand in pretty firm opposition to the “doing things for God” language – that certain language of American evangelicalism is like an organ transplant. Sometimes it doesn’t take, and when it does it often involves suppressing our immune systems.

    3) We (as Lutherans) have give ourselves a woefully inadequate preparation for “Defending the Faith”. Partially because there is a strong theological streak that hesitates to talk about the Bible as being true, not just helpful – partially because we’ve adopted the notion that we misinterpret from Luther that ‘reason’ doesn’t belong with ‘faith’.

    4) To be honest, I don’t see how being ‘confessional’ stands in opposition to being ‘missional’. What we do have in our Confessions is a certain boundary in what we can or can’t say. There is a certain streak in American evangelicalism where ‘anything goes’ – the ability to craft sermons, offer advice, provide ‘ministry’, etc. whether or not such advice or teaching is grounded in Scripture. There’s a lot of people that say a lot of things about God – but our Confessions do emphasize that what we say and teach about God matters.

    • Didn’t say NO eschatology. Said “more or less no FUNCTIONING eschatology.” I’m a life long Lutheran, trained theologian, Fulbright scholar and Confessions nerd, and I would have no idea how to articulate a Lutheran eschatology. Therefore, if there’s one out there, it’s not exactly penetrating to the masses.

      • A few Lutherans having wistful divergent thoughts about eschatology does not constitute a compelling convergent eschatology. 🙂

    • Say more, Chad. Not sure where you are headed, but sense that it is in a helpful direction.

  • David, you do know that A.H. Francke solved this 305 years ago, addressing the situation you laid out?

    Studying Lutheran Pietists, for Lutherans at least, is the solution. Well, actually, it gives the answer about what is missing from the theology. However, it is not a miracle pill to change our ingrained worship service fellowship hour, pick a ministry and/or a committee to serve on model of church life.

    Peace,
    Eric

    • If my buddy Francke solved this, then why isn’t it working anymore?

      Big pietist fan, by the way. In fact, I am one.

  • Bill Kendrick

    Very thought provoking article. Let me give you a perspective from a non-Lutheran Christian who is a member of a Lutheran church.

    The historical basis you state is true however that was 500 years ago! I think there has been movements even among Lutherans to evangelize. Lutherans do proceed from Roman Catholicism and Catholics have missionaries today. I do not know about back in the 1500s but they have changed a lot even in my lifetime.

    I attend TLC because it presents the Gospel in a very real sense. There is definitely a sense of the presence of God among the body of believers. At this level it is an evangelical church. In fact I think we have more missionaries and former missionaries in our body than I have seen in any of the evangelical churches I have attended. Sure there are no altar calls nor have I seen a call to go door to door in the community however anyone who encounters one of our members is more than likely going to first see the Gospel in action and then hear it. Furthermore if I understand the Confession correctly Lutherans believe you are called to ministry and from my experience at TLC those who are called are set apart for a period and if there is a confirmation of that calling they are sent. Where do the go? All over? What do they do? They put the rubber on the road. They ingrain themselves into a community and they deliver the message of salvation in a tangible manner. Are our doors open to anyone who is drawn or seeking. Yes! Do we offer assistance to them? Yes in many forms! I guess what I am getting at is that we may not have a formalized systematic theology on eschatology or missions but we do have a strong doctrine on the Word. It is like saying we do not have a software application but we own the source code. I believe the Word declares that we shall be His witnesses and there is ample demonstrations of being called and sent. As far as eschatology well there are lots of opinions out there and we are told to watch and wait so do we need a lot of things spelled out?

    Nathan Hoff said in a recent class that our core beliefs are more sparse than any other denomination. It is the Word and two Sacraments (I think… Sorry Nathan I have to check my notes.) That does not mean Lutherans do not believe in a whole lot more. It means that what we believe is sufficiently declared in those two beliefs. It is all there!

    I do not understand the statement about that reaching the lost is an Arminian concept. Again the greatest statement in the Reformation is Sola Scriptura. If it is in scripture and we are commanded in scripture to do it then it is within our theology. I think it was F. F. Bruce who said until God paints an X on the elect he will continue to preach the Gospel. Even Calvinists understand a bit of the paradox of the foolishness of preaching. It is not all wooden. I talk to my hard core Calvinist friends and they speak of revelation and the presence of God just like everyone else. It might be a theological construct however the error may be that it is incomplete not wrong. That can be said for both camps.

    Speaking of paradox I have seen too many people lose their mind over the great controversies, faith and works, free will and predestination. Larry Christiansen spoke in one class a while back and he had a great example of what a paradox looks like. Having Calvinistic leanings I believe there is no direct paradox but a hierarchy in the order of things and I also think some passages are taken too literally when the author may have been using hyperbole to make a point. We do not understand or appreciate fully the intent of the author… I assume. Then again it might be as simple as to us it looks like free will but to God it is not. He just lets us believe it is. Yea… that is kind of paradoxical. We do not have the intellectual capacity fully understand God and He has not revealed everything in full detail, just enough for us to do His will.

    So Lutherans have missionaries. They believe in salvation by faith in completed work of Christ. They declare it. They establish churches. They teach Christian living. So what is missing. It sounds missional to me.

    As far as this post modern stuff. I understand it but why are we chasing after it? Do we think the Gospel does not transcend cultures? Let me tell you about the 60s. The big thing then was God was dead churches were bizarre and fully enveloped in the fabric of our culture. Well God seemed to hang on for a bit longer! The reason why man returns to belief in a transcendent God is because it is in our nature even in our rebellious nature. The reason the Gospel has been relevant for so long is not because it contorts to meet the individual or the culture. It is relevant because it is true. We bend to match it. It changes us. I did not come from a Lutheran heritage. I was raised Catholic and I broke fellowship with them because I did not see the Gospel through all the tradition. Maybe it was not my appointed time :-)! I learned the things of God in the upper room of an Odd Fellows hall where a sweet missionary wife played a clunky piano and the pastor was right out of the 40s. Man I was a hippie surfer dude and he was square with right angles and all. Nevertheless what he said and how he lived made all the generational and cultural things irrelevant. The only ingredient required is accepting someone as they are, teaching them the things of God and letting God take them to where He want them to be and my dear Lutherans you are doing just fine at it. Are you looking for a Billy Graham? Why? God fills the pews.

    I think if we could sit down with Luther, Melanchthon or any Christian from that era there would be a lot of common ground. Often the things emphasized leave the observer with the assumption that the things not are less important. No usually we stress the differences because we agree on the rest.

    I have said enough for now!

    • Bill, please keep writing. Trinity-San Pedro is a huge exception. A super influential (albeit small) church that has always ‘gotten it.’ Keep the faith and keep writing.

  • It’s amazing to see Lutherans asserting that we really are missional while most of our churches continue to decline not only in numbers but in enthusiasm. I have served 9 different parishes and not one of them had either the knowledge or desire to be truly missional. When I tried to teach, tell, and show them what we needed to do all I got in return was that puzzled “Is that Lutheran?” look.

    In the one congregation that actually was reaching out and growing I got accused of not being Lutheran enough by the Traditional service folks. They showed me the door and then proceeded to change the Praise service until they had pared it down to half its attendance. Confident that they could now control the future of their congregation and maintain the traditional Lutheran vibe they settled in to their new glass ceiling attendance level of a comfortable 33% smaller than they were…but they were confessional dang it!

    I left the big churches for rural and small town ministry and now deal regularly with elderly Norwegians who still aren’t sure if the guitar is permissable in church. They know the Catechism backwards and forwards but they have no idea how to lead an unbeliever to Jesus and they turn pale at the idea of praying outloud on anything but the Lord’s Prayer or Be Present at our Table Lord.

    So I’m gonna go with Dave on this. This hit me right where I live and rang true with every bit of my ministry experience. I’ve served churches from 4,000 to 400 members in 5 different states. Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, and Germans. I couldn’t think of more than 10 people in all those churches who were willing or able to lead a seeker to the Lord. It scared the hell out of them. The best they could do was invite them to church and turn them over to me.

    Then I used my “adapted 4 Spiritual Laws pseudo Lutheran Neo-Pentecostal don’t cha know that you can’t really accept Jesus cuz he’s already accepted you but do you wanna pray the sinners prayer anyway just to be on the safe side” Method of Lutheran missional evangelism on them.

    By the way…I volunteered to be a counselor at Promise Keepers once. The guy who brought his friend forward with him got frustrated with my method and took his friend to another counselor who would just get right to the prayer…..sigh I know all the responses in the Catechism by heart but I can’t find anyone who will ask me the questions.

    So how can Water do such great things?

    Kent Wallace

  • We have a compelling and biblical eschatology that we have not taught. Down-to-earth, Kingdom oriented, hopeful and realistic, and makes a difference tomorrow and today.

    Imagine how much trouble we would be in if the reformers formulated a mission confession. Peale/Schuller had/has a mission confession, and it worked for him (one generation). I’m glad its not prescriptive for me in San Pedro. We would be stuck with all sorts of style/practice issues. I’m glad the Confessors stuck with the substance/message stuff (and got it spot on, if you ask me), and left us to grapple with our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. We get to travel light in this area–Word, Sacrament, Spirit, each other.

    Lutherans can’t evangelize? It depends what Lutherans you are talking about: Malagasy, Tanzanian, Ethiopian? At one point Norway was the highest missionary sending nation per capita.

    The shift you are talking about isn’t something that just Lutherans have to deal with, it is something the whole church must deal with. Christendom majority to missionary minority is a huge shift, and I am far more interested in talking about it and living it out with others who “get it” (including those in my tribe), than with those who long for Christendom (including those in my tribe).

    • Bill Kendrick

      Nathan is TLC an anomaly in the Lutheran Communion or am I projecting my own experiences and expectations on it? I do not see what has been said here as characteristic of our congregation.

      David is asking why congregations are falling off? That happens. Is monotonic or is it cyclic? Often churches fall and others rise up. It may be generational relevance or maybe it is just the desire to do something new.

      Evangelism is not necessarily pulling in large crowds of people. Consider the geometric model. Every one shares the Gospel with two nonbelievers, they become Christians and they do the same. Einstein said the most powerful force in the universe is compound interest which basically geometric growth. I see this possibly as a secular way of looking at things.

      Maybe just something as simple as having a relevant small group. I have been involved with ones recently that were dynamic, doubled in size and split. It was a mixed demographic. Grant it we were over 30. I do recognize that my children and their peers are more large group oriented but they do not feel uncomfortable being in a small venue. What does matter is integrity. If you are blowing smoke they will call you on it.

      • Bill, great points about groups and integrity.

        Say more about the monotoinc/cyclic thing.

    • Great points, Nathan. Luthor and I discussed them today.

      If we Lutherans really do have a handle on missions:

      1) Why don’t I know about it?
      2) If I don’t know about it (major insider) then how real can it truly be? What keeps it from going Lutheran-Mainstream?
      3) If the pietists in Norway got it 100 years ago, then what happened to it?
      4) Do we Lutherans get it if and only if we borrow from outside Lutheranism or is there something inside we can use.

      In any case, you are a guy who gets it in a church that has always gotten it. This actually might impede your ability to get how bad it is outside your experience.

      • We are no diferent than Israel, In one generation we have forgotten. All we have to do is remember the old paths (Jer 6:16) and remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works(Rev 2:5)
        Some of those who went before us had it right, but in one generation it has been lost. Case in point, I found a book written by Oscar C. Hanson, my understanding is that he is the father of Bishop Mark Hanson. Here are a couple exerps from His book “Live to Win”.

        From page 68
        BURDENED FOR THE LOST
        As a Christian, I must be a soul winner wherever I am—in the store, on the farm, in the office or in the shop. J. Campbell Morgan once said, “If you cannot be a Christian where you are, you cannot be a Christian anywhere. It is not the place but grace.” Christ has called me to be His witness, His light and His salt. At the Cross of Calvary, He removes
        my burden of guilt and sin, but the moment He does, He places on my heart the burden for lost souls. The prayer of Paul becomes mine: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved” (Romans 10:1).

        I see myself standing between the eternity of the saved and the eternity of the lost. Every soul I meet on the street is heading for eternity. He is marked with the solemn “Forever.” Forever—either in heaven or hell! Perhaps God wants to use me to bring that soul and Jesus together. Outside of Christ every soul is lost. To be lost is to be in a wrong position relative to its owner. Dozens of souls that I meet every day live empty lives and face a hopeless future because they are in a wrong position relative to Christ who claims ownership of their talents and life. In Christ, I see what these lost souls can become. They can be new creatures, living radiant lives of joy and peace in his service doing good to all men. Christ has branded me with His cross that He might use me to be a fisher of men, a witness, a personal worker whether I be a blacksmith, a lawyer, or a farmer.

        pg 70.Few know the.name of the uneducated tailor whom God used to win the great Spurgeon for Christ but all Christendom honors Spurgeon. Few know much about the shoe salesman whom God used to win Dwight L. Moody, whose name has become associated with great revivals throughout the world. Too many Christians feel they have called a minister to win the unsaved and unchurched. It is true that he is burdened deeply for all who are lost. But if the millions who are still outside the Kingdom shall be won, God must be permitted to use every Christian to win souls on the street and in the shop. The Lord says to us today, “Go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23).

        My life must count for God in prayer for others. So often we want to give up and say that there is so little we can do. Spend more time in prayer for those who are lost around us! Mention them by name. As we pray, we must also dare to be used of God in answering the prayer. Perhaps God wants to use me to contact the soul I am praying for and I must always be open to His guidance.

        Oftentimes damage is done by an unwise approach to the unsaved. The question, “Are you saved?” thrust at one often builds up a wall of defense that may be very difficult to penetrate. I must not sit in judgment on others for God is the judge. But my approach should be very natural, flowing out of friendly conversation that can easily be led into the things of God if I am looking for such an opening. Tact is important and, yet, I am afraid many of us are so concerned about tact that we do not get contact with a soul that needs Christ desperately. If we pray daily for openings to reach people, God will give wisdom, tact and courage when the time comes. We must always remember that it is God who must reach the soul. I cannot. It is His Spirit through the Word. God wants to use me as an instrument—a tool to bring His Word to someone.

        Pg 73. God has won many souls through a tract. It is an effective way to do personal work—a way in which all can witness for Christ. Tracts distributed in prayer and followed by prayer can be at work for Christ when I am asleep. Permission may be secured to place tract racks filled with well-chosen tracts in the church, the railroad and bus depots, the hospital waiting room, the clinic or any place where people freely come and go.

        Spurgeon, together with thousands of Christian workers, has made opportunities count for Christ by the use of tracts. The story is told that one day when a cab driver took Spurgeon to his home, he remarked, “Dr. Spurgeon, you don’t remember me, do you?” “I don’t believe I do,” replied Spurgeon. The cab driver continued, “Seventeen years ago when I took you to your home, you gave me a tract. God used that tract to bring about my conversion and I have been waiting for this opportunity to thank you.”

        I know a Christian grocer who places a well chosen tract in each customer’s order. Some Christian young people are placing tracts in all the cars parked in a small town on a busy Saturday night.

        Standing on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis one evening waiting for a street car, a fine looking young man came and handed me a tract. With a smile he said, “Friend, will you please read this?” I read the beautiful Gospel tract on the street car and thanked God for it and for the young man whose name I did not know, but whom I knew as a Christian eager to have his life count for Christ to the utmost. Let us pray God for more such wide awake Christians today who are not ashamed of Christ. Why should I hesitate when the greatest favor I can do anyone for this life and eternity is to bring them into the Word that they may know Christ? Sometimes even church people will discourage zealous young Christians who are at work by labeling them fanatic and extreme. Such accusations may often be an attempt to cover up a convicted conscience for having done so little in reaching lost souls for Christ. (end of quote)

        Obviously Oscar Hanson understood it, we need to go back and relearn what we can from all those dead guys who went before us and who had it figured out.

        In Christ

        Wayne

  • JACK AAMOT

    HI DAVE – AS YOU CAN IMAGINE -THE TITLE GOT MY ATTENTION – JUST CAME BACK FROM 5 WEEKS IN BRAZIL AND SAW AND SPENT TIME WITH MANY THAT HAD BEEN EVANGELIZED AND DISCIPLED IN THE YEARS 1965-1972 THEY ARE STILL EVANGELIZING AND GROWING NEW MEMBERS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD – AS A LIFE TIME LUTHERAN – I AM 77 – I SUPPOSE THAT MY APPROACH TO THE CHRISTIAN LIFE AND EVANGELISM – WHICH IS MY PASSION AND GIFTEDNESS – HAS A SORT OF LUTHERAN FRAMEWORK ABOUT IT – BUT I SEE MYSELF MORE CONCERNED TODAY WITH THE KINGDOM OF GOD AS I SEE IT IN THE GOSPELS AND NEW TESTAMENT AND SO AS I SEEK TO SHARE CHRIST AND THE GOSPEL – 1 CORINTHIANS 15- THRU FRIENDSHIPS AND BRIEF ENCOUNTERS AS WELL – I DO SEE THAT ROMANS 1:16 IS TRUE – THERE IS A POWER OF GOD UNLEASHED AS THE GOSPEL IS SHARED AND PEOPLE OFTEN DO RESPOND BY BELIEVING AND ENTERING THE KINGDOM – ANY WAY DAVE THANKS FOR BRINGING IT UP AND KEEP UP THE DOING OF IT AS WELL AS THE WRITING AND STUDYING OF IT – I SEEK TO BE MORE EFFECTIVE AS A FOLLOWER OF CHRIST AS I INVITE OTHERS TO COME AND SEE – LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR NEXT VISIT TO THE CITIES – JACK

    • Jack, you still have a Magnum Opus in you.

      You are the dean of Lutheran conversional theologians.

      You affected me in ways you can’t imagine when you spoke at Hosanna! back in the old brown building. You are the first Lutheran theologian that made sense to me on saving the lost.

  • Steve Gartland

    Hous, thanks a million for your articulation of the issues of Lutheran missiology, theology, and confessionalism. You have a better grasp of these issues than an old guy like me, but I’m encouraged by the conversation that you’re beginning–and by the different voices chiming in.

    My world (Regional Director for Twin Cities Alpha) revolves so much around evangelism, discipleship, outreach and missiology that at times I feel I have no choice but to embrace other non-Lutheran models that work so well. My job gives me the privilege of spending time in many different denominations and churches. I see so much promise!

    Yet I retain my Lutheran heritage. Even if I have to keep it in the closet at times. I’m proud to be “Lutheran” in terms of the tension that we live in/with daily, and in how we approach and live out the Christian life.

    I’m much more of an NPR guy than a Rush Limbaugh guy. Sometimes I envy the simple answers that provide my A/G and Baptist friends with the movtivation to evangelize. (And I often join them and work alongside of them in these efforts.) But I can’t quite embrace their theological perspective, fully. My “Lutheran” training and theology tell me that life isn’t alway so simple.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure God is as pre-occupied with our search for a working missiology as we are as a denomination (at least some of us). Not too long ago my A/G friends announced that their goal for the next 10 years was to start 200 new churches. That’s just in Minnesota.

    My take is that God’s favor rests on those who are responding to God’s call for laborers, since the “fields are white for the harvest,” no matter what the denomination or missiology. The way I read the gospels, “action” (read: The Letter of James) trumps “inaction” every day, every time. LIfe is too short, and too broken, to live it without Jesus.

    • Steve, I share your talk radio vs. NPR mentality.

      Say more about your AG friends.

  • James Thomas

    You are writing about USA Lutherans. The missional efforts of Lutherans (and others) in Africa tell another story. USA Lutherans pay alot of attention to themselves and neglect the reality that Lutheranism, as the Christian Church, is growing in the South.

    Lutherans are thinking about evangelism and evangelizing, for sure. You did not say anything to the contrary. Richard Bliese and Graig Van Gelder’s book, The Evangelizing Church: A Lutheran Contribution (Augsburg Fortress 2008), in addition to your thoughtful writing, is a collection of insighful perspectives.

    • Rick and Craig are two of my heroes.

      What, in your mind, is the difference between the emerging global Lutherans and the North Atlantic Lutherans? Please say more

      From where does their passion for the lost come?

      I doubt it is the confessions.

    • It is a good time to be a Lutheran; we’re on the “winning team” the real “up and coming church.” Unless, of course, you are in North America or Europe.

  • Keleigh Bucci

    That totally describes what I’ve been struggling with at the Lutheran church. I WAS raised as a Pentecostal (my grandfather was a minister) and now a Lutheran, but I feel that we have not reached out to others. I even have decided to visit other churches because my “Pentecostal” side is screaming for the connections that I’m not getting at the L church. Thank you!

    • Bless you Keleigh–

      By your name I assume you are younger. What is the younger adult perspective on this issue?

      • Keleigh

        Sorry, Pastor, I think I was the first “Keleigh” in the US to be born with the name Kelly spelled this way. I hated it, because no one could pronounce it. Anyway, I’m in my mid forties, and I think my generation is stuck in the middle-knowing what a strong work ethic is, and being able to taste that whole “entitlement’ issue. I don’t find too many people in my age group who are believers. I seem to gravitate toward people 10 or 15 years older than me, because they still believe in the service part of being a Christian. I’m not sure my grown children even understand what it truly means to serve others, other than the ‘others’ means them.

  • Another great article, David, what a gift. When I recently asked my sem. students (in Hong Kong) to interview fellow church members on baptism, a huge majority (even among the Lutherans) came back with stories of adult baptisms, and many told about the newly baptized rushing out to convert their… parents!

    I’m also playing around with the idea that maybe our (Lutheran) Law/Gospel emphasis is also a basis for evangelism/mission. Wherever people have the sense that “we have not done it right, we have not done enough, we WANT to live the good, right, peaceful, and rich life but we cannot achieve it… ” whether they are living in extreme situations of injustice and political upheaval (some of our Myanmar students) or the just the hustle and bustle of commerce and sales and parent/ancestor pleasing (Hong Kong students) then the “Lutheran” (New Testament!) emphasis on sheer grace (and an eternal/redeemed life) is really really good news.
    Someone just shared this article on “universal moral law”with me:

    http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2010/2/10/religion-hauser-moral-cognitive/

    And I’m thinking, so Lutheran theology has it right, right? Law does precede gospel, everywhere, always, everyone is under that internal or external tyranny of “getting it right” (whatever “it” is). Maybe our evangelism strategy should be to start with those people & places where the law is already at work… and then preach the sweet sweet gospel.

    • Christa, I sense a major missional partnership coming on.

      Ride the Star Ferry for me. I’ll pay for it! (50 cents) 🙂

  • Nicely said and well written. I’ll use this most certainly, giving due credit of course.

  • Nicely said and well written. I’ll use this most certainly, giving due credit of course.

  • Roger Peters

    If I disagree with you, I am certain I won’t be the first.

    I think that your main premise is flawed. It is true that the Lutheran Church is confessional, but that does not mean that it is not missional. On the contrary, to be confessional is to be missional. The two are intertwined, for to confess Christ is to proclaim him to the World. Our confession is therefore not simply what we say to each other, but to the world and those outside the church. For further reading on this topic, I recommend the article by Karl Hartenstein entitled “he Augsburg Confession and its Missiological Significance,” which can be found here: http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/hartensteinaugsburgconfession.pdf

    That being said, I will agree that there is an overwhelming lack of missions taking place within the Lutheran Church. The problem is not however that we do not have a Lutheran theology of mission, but that we fail to emphasize it. This is evidenced by the lack of books on mission from a Lutheran perspective written in English. Fortunately, Dr. Schulz from Concordia Theological Seminary has just published the last year his Mission from the Cross: A Lutheran Theology of Mission. I have read it myself and is a very helpful work on mission from the Lutheran perspective. You should check it out: http://www.amazon.com/Mission-Cross-Lutheran-Theology/dp/0758613504/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1267040106&sr=8-1

    I think that reading these materials will help you to better develop your own theology of mission.

    • Roger,

      I like your reply to Dave’s excellent, if provocative, post. I think you rightly point out that there may not be such a vacuum of missiology after all within Lutheran theology. However, in your reply you say something that really catches my eye:

      “The problem is not however that we do not have a Lutheran theology of mission, but that we fail to emphasize it.”

      My gut reaction is to shout “WHY?!?” at my screen when I read this. Isn’t this evidence that there IS a gap in our theological foundation? Doesn’t practice follow from belief?

      Just asking honest questions here…

      • Exactly.

        If we really have a missiology:

        1) Why don’t more people know what it is?
        2) Why isn’t it working?

    • If there is an overwhelming lack of missions can our core (Confessional) identity actually be missional?

  • Russell Lee

    I appreciate receiving the mailings

  • David-

    I guess I’m not getting your distinction here:

    >“Lutheran missiology starts in baptism” proves my point that we have
    >problems. Most people aren’t baptized. Your very emphasis on the phrase
    >shows our natural bias towards a situation (long gone) when everyone
    >was baptized.

    I see Christians living out their God-given vocations in the world (which are rooted in our Baptism) as probably the most compelling message that we have–the daily proclamation of Jesus that draws people into a whole new way of life. This new way of life, by the way, means a whole lot more than no smoking, drinking, swearing or dancing. (In fact, I’m in favor all four in moderation.) And it means a whole whole lot more than centering your life around church activities, dressing up nice, and consuming Christian music and movies. It means catching on to God’s future and being drawn to participate in God’s mission to bless and save the world, a mission which God is calling us to be a part of as he draws it toward the future wholeness he has created for us (lion and lamb stuff here). Again, this is something that is already present prolepticly, and as Father McGuffie has pointed out, is something we experience sacramentally every time we gather in Jesus’ name.

    I think we start by helping we Christians reclaim the power of that vocational/Baptismal way of being in the world (uber-Lutheran if you ask me). Why would we assume other people would be converted to something that we aren’t living out? It’s the stewardship question I pose to my folks all the time: “Why do we assume people we haven’t met yet will be more excited about (active in, willing to pay for, etc) this church than we are?”

    Let’s be “people of the Way” in such a powerful and visible manner in our daily lives in the world that folks (who we otherwise might not interact with) start to demand of us “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” Perhaps, like the African who first asked that question, they’ll wander off home after that and live the gospel in a way that is compelling to a whole new continent or among some sub-group of people we’ve otherwise largely ignored.

    I think the reality that most people in the world aren’t baptized should cause us to lean even more fully on this centrality of Lutheran faith. Most people in our churches are baptized–and if we can live that calling out in the world it will be contagious. That’s the promise of the Holy Spirit active in our lives through faith.

    • Good clarification.

      Was missing the subjective/objective thing.

  • Indeed you ae my brutha from a different mutha. Now take it a step farther. How do you communicate this to small town and rural congregations?

    I smell the beginnings of your talk at the LCMC Leadership gathering.

    I shall ponder, write, and be in touch

    Kent Wallace

  • I’m going to dispute the idea that we don’t have a good operating eschatology. It’s sacramental though, each week when we celebrate the eucharist we have a little eschaton, when we, like Isaiah, are literally brought into the presence of the seraphs and God. If we have a problem, it’s that we either neglect the Lord’s Supper or envision it to be something other than it is (love feast, spiritual booster shot, open meal for ‘inclusion’ of the other). In reality, it brings forgiveness, a foretaste of the kingdom, that makes the proleptic reality real today. That’s a compelling eschatology that we experience now!

    Josh Elliott-McGuffie

    • I think you have the seed of an eschatology there. Water it and see what grows. There may actually be a book in it.

      Whatever it is, it is under-articulated and needs to come out.

  • That was a profound and stimulating read. Thank you very much. I will be back.

  • I find a lot in this that is really helpful, and a lot that I think is not so helpful (kind of a both/and thing for me). I’ll start with the good news.

    I think this statement is quite accurate: “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.” To try to get them to do something they were not meant to do is not helpful. Do they lay out a theology that can include mission? Certainly. Was that what they were trying to do–not really. So asking them questions about how to do something that wasn’t really the concern of the era doesn’t help much. No matter how hard I search, Deuteronomy just does not help me set the clock on my microwave. But I do think Luther et al were interested in the question “How do we turn ‘Christians’ into disciples?” which I think may be the question to get at first before we focus too hard on the “now go and make more disciples.”

    I like your description of the three eras of Lutheran mission in America. I’ve thought about this before in the following pattern of missional purpose:
    Phase 1: Find all the Lutherans
    Phase 2: Make more Lutherans
    Phase 3: Where are all the Lutherans? (Go back to phase 1)

    This has been the functional Lutheran missiology in America for several hundred years, and actually, its worked well enough for us. But its just plain not working anymore. It worked in an era where people stayed close to home, had strong family and ethnic ties, and lived in a culture that assumed church participation for all (upstanding) citizens. That’s a world we don’t live in anymore. And so we’ve dropped the ball on mission and pretended that this will keep working. Let’s face it Lutherans, I know we think the young people we confirmed will be coming back once they have kids, the reality is that many of them have grandkids now, and at some point we need to figure out what we are going to do now.

    So now on to the parts I don’t agree so much with:

    While Lutherans may not have a functional eschatology that fits into current evangelical/pentecostal frameworks I find it hard to support the claim that we have no eschatology at all. Are we thinking all the time about being raptured up in the air? Hardly. But there is much more to eschatology that that. I’m a fan of a Pannenberg style proleptic understanding of eschatology–which I think makes the kind of sense to the people you are wanting to proclaim the gospel to. God created the end first, and draws us towards that ultimate fulfillment. Jesus is the presence of that future reality in our midst, and the cross becomes the “hinge point” moment where this is realized fully for all time. The whole world has already been reconciled to God (proleptically) in Jesus. It’s just taking the whole world a while to realize that and live accordingly. I, for one, am trying to live that all out now because it works better than not. So I follow Jesus. Its not that “accepting Jesus” gets me a “get out of jail free” card or extra points towards that prize (or that the trapdoor opens at the pearly gates if I haven’t done it in time) its just that the Jesus revealed something true about the universe–that it has been reconciled to God already. So why aren’t we living accordingly? And living in this reality, following Jesus, is not only good for me, its good for my neighbor whom I am now free to serve because I know how this movie turns out. Doesn’t get much more Lutheran than that.

    I think Luther wasn’t so worried about the end times because either a) we are in them now or b) they we are not and they’ll come later. And really, what difference would it make. Plant your tree, live your life, love your neighbor. I tend to think Luther’s Antichrist stuff about the pope was more for dramatic effect (he was already under threat penalty of death by the pope, so he might as well go for broke). And I think he got kind of pissed off.

    I’m also not taken with your claim that the answer is to become more like the Pentecostals. Not that I think that’s wrong–its certainly a fine way to live out one’s Christian faith–but I don’t think it will really become the driving force of Lutheran ways of doing things. Neither will an emphasis on conversion-decision, which is really based in a modern notion of faith coming through intellectual assent. The basic understanding of a conversion-decision assumes that if one just laid out the truth claim in the right way (“four spiritual laws”, the “bridge”, or more blatant attempts to literally “scare the Hell out of people”) that rational people would go “Oh, I get it. Yes of course. Jesus. Why didn’t I see it before?”

    The trouble is that many people today say “Yes, I get Jesus. You Christians, though. Not so much.” In the modern world people were looking for the most right truth claim they could find (or institution holding such a truth claim) to stake their life on. Post modern people really aren’t looking to buy into the big plan. We’ve seen GM go down the tubes with our grandparents pension plans. And so too the church, leaving our grandparents (and us) to spiritually fend for ourselves.

    I’ll also agree with your claim that we Lutherans don’t have an articulated theology of mission (we haven’t really done our good homework on this one, yet) but that doesn’t imply that it is impossible. I think there is a real possibility for a very Lutheran (very confessional Lutheran) theology of mission that is richer than anything we could copy off of Melanchthon’s test while the teacher wasn’t looking.

    Lutheran missiology starts, where everything else does, in Baptism. God’s redeeming action and ever-present promise given to and for us even though we don’t deserve it and had nothing to do with getting it. That promise manifests itself throughout our lives in vocation–and in particular a call to love one’s neighbor in the real world. Baptismal vocation lived out fully (for example, as Jesus did) is contagious and transformative. It’s the kind of counter cultural love that makes people stop and say “Whatever those crazy Christians have got, I need that for my life too.” We’ve (Christians in general I think) have done a really poor job of living in such a way that our lives proclaim the Good News of Jesus and so we’ve had to resort to turning evangelism into tricks and gimmicks, strong arm techniques, or just plain not caring about our neighbor and ignoring the call to “make disciples”.

    A gospel shaped life lived together in community that organically draws others in is how the Christian movement began (I don’t remember any stories of Jesus asking “Have you accepted me as your personal Lord and Savior?”) It’s how it spread throughout the world and (even in a nominally Christian culture) I think its how Christians actually found themselves as followers of Jesus. We Lutherans actually have plenty of theology to make this work, we’ve just done a poor job of talking about it, and an even worse job of putting it into practice.

    But I think you are right that younger people today are hungry for just the kind of faith conversation Lutheran ways of talking about God lead to. Luther lived in “in between” times just as we did–and though the authors of the confessions and those that followed the first wave of the Reformation would eventually use them to draw distinctions rather than connections–the original impulse of the Lutheran movement was to help the Church move into a new era together. And that’s a threshold we are standing on once again. I think the Lutheran church could lead the way in this new Reformation.

    Will it happen through Pentecostal leaning Lutherans? Perhaps, but that’s not where I’m putting my chips. But I do think it will happen through Lutherans who reclaim the real power of the Spirit that calls us into the world that God loves. And I’m with Chris who commented above. Here we are, forgiven sinners blessed with a theology of abundant grace. We are sitting on a whole pile of what the struggling people in our neighborhoods are dying to get a hold of. And we’re refusing to share it. “When did we see you hungry, or thirsty or a stranger?” When indeed.

    • Really good thoughts.

      “Lutheran missiology starts in baptism” proves my point that we have problems. Most people aren’t baptized. Your very emphasis on the phrase shows our natural bias towards a situation (long gone) when everyone was baptized.

      And I’m not implying that we should adopt the popular (and bizarre) Darby-esque eschatology of American folk belief. We can do better than that. But we still have no compelling eschatology.

      Without a compelling destiny/destination, it’s hard to invite people along for the ride.

    • Steve Gartland

      Again, to the point… your comment ““How do we turn ‘Christians’ into disciples?” which I think may be the question to get at first before we focus too hard on the “now go and make more disciples.” is exactly what I would expect a solid Lutheran to say.

      How many millions of times have we said (as a denomination) “If we can just gain more knowledge of the bible and become stonger disciples” … as if more knowledge will somehow finally push us over the “tipping point” and create a people who will know how to evangelize, reach out, and lead people to Jesus! So what’s new?

      Education, more knowledge, better theology… has been our answer for decades. Most of the people in our pews–even those we think are “nominal” know way more than they obey. Will more discipleship turn “knowers” into “doers?” Not if it doesnt involve actually “doing.”

      The medical model of learning gives students just enough knowledge to help them get by, and then kicks them out of the nest to “go do it” on the hospital floor. They have a mentor group, they start by doing things they can do, but they’re challenged to quickly learn a ton more by doing than what they could learn simply by reading about it. It’s a different paradigm than simply educating, which, as Lutherans, we’re the best at. But the world has changed–or rather the mission field–and we need a new paradigm of learning. And “being” a Christian.

      So I say we don’t need more discipleship first, before we get onto the job of evangelizing. We need to get people out there, doing it. Before they’re fully ready. Actually, it’s both/and. By reaching out to non-believers, even when we have no idea “how” we might do it, we learn what not to do, as much as we learn what to do.

      And oh, by the way, while we’re learning on the job… we also are doing outreach and evangelism. And honestly, it’s not rocket science. It’s pretty easy. It just takes courage, for which a solid missiology would provide even more motivation for “Lutherans.”

      • Erik Samuelson (pubpastor)

        Steve, I’m not following your definition of “discipleship” as “learning more about ______”. I’m willing to claim that we’ve foucused an awful lot on education as Lutherans, but I’m not saying “learn more”. I think you are actually making my point here–that discipleship means getting “out there” and living out our theology, our core convictions, out faith in the world (thus my focus on vocation as related to mission).

        Just because we’ve been better at crafting theology than incarnating it doesn’t mean we can’t (or that it would be somehow “unLutheran” to do so). I think we’ve got plenty of theology–really good theology that would be powerful and compelling if we embodied it and actually took it seriously enough to go where it sends us (which means outward towards our neighbor and God’s world).

        I detect in some of the posters on this blog a desire to separate themselves from a Lutheranism that wa not life giving to them or thier communities, and I get that. Heck, I don’t think everyone in the world needs to be Lutheran. Frankly it’s kind of a pain sometimes. But be careful when lump all Lutherans in with the ones you know, the ones in North America, and especially the ones Garison Kielor describes. I’m wary (especially in a post-modern context) of self-definitions that are based largely on drawing strong distinctions and “othering” those who don’t agree with your view of the world. It hasn’t served Lutherans identity well anyway (we’re not-Catholic or not-Calvinists or not-about conversion) and neither have more recent attempts at sameness (we’re basically-Pentecostal or basically-Catholic or basically-Mainline). We actually share things in common with all of the above with our own (yes, confessional) distinctiveness.

        And my prayer is that someday we’ll quit arguing about which one way is true and get back to the Way (which is true) seeing our differences as blessings and all of us part of the body.

        And my main point here is still that just because we’ve often failed to live out our theology in compelling ways doesn’t mean we couldn’t.

        • Erik, this thread is bringing a lot of smart people to both our blogs. Great to be working with you.

          • Cal Serviss

            Dave-

            This was forwarded to me from Tom Wolf.
            As you know I come from the Bible Belt, a son of a pastor, and became a Lutheran because of who I married but [and I believe this is true of anyone who changes denominations] its tough to swallow all the denominational points and have long thought I was being somewhat of a hypocrite, belonging to a denomination but not fully believing what I was hearing.

            It is now 12:46 a.m. and I work tomorrow, so you are responsible if I get drowsy in a meeting tomorrow. I couldn’t stop reading all the comments but I will have to get a dictionary to know exactly what everyone said. I know some of the respondents personally and some names seem familar but it’s a pastoral blog and although I don’t feel uncomfortable around clergy I would drown in trying to dialog with them.

            After that preamble, and I always seem to need a preamble is this.

            1] I hear constantly about Word and Sacrament, but I never hear that ” You must be born again and when the new Bible came out recently that is “Lutheran Approved” some of the reviewers with great Lutheran credentials said that some of the parts of the Bible are stories [as in just stories]. How can ‘The Word’ be so important but in the twenty-first century we seem to think that we know better?

            2] I know that be base of Lutheran Doctrine is Infant Baptism, but I was Baptized at 14 years of age in a small lake in Overland Park, Kansas and Jesus was Baptised by John in the Jordan at about 30 years of age [and
            they were by immersion and the work.

            I am in the wrong company to try to debate but thanks for the many pastors that are connected to you. I didn’t realize there were that many in the ELCA.

            Thanks for your great work, I’ll see you the weekend of 3/12-13.

            Cal

          • Cal, an honor to hear from you.

          • David-

            Lutherans talking about mission is one of my favorite things (second only to Lutherans filled with the Spirit actually living mission out in the world.)

            I’ve spent the weekend with the committee for Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission for the ELCA As hard as it might be to believe, the Spirit is alive and well on Higgens Road–agitating, stirring, and empowering the church to be a part of what God is up to in the world. .

            What folks are talking about in this blog is pretty soon going to be “Lutheranism as it used to be.” A recononfiguring of Lutheranism in America is indeed taking place, but it’s not so about church structures as it is about releasing the Lutheran expression of Christ’s Church to me a missionary people. Come, Holy Spirit!

          • Erik the Outreach and Missions folks at Higgins have always been first rate. Same with the LCMS counterparts. They get it and always have.

          • Also, Susan at “Pretty Good Lutherans” printed our essays on her site. She’s a breath of fresh air on many levels.

  • dear david,
    i really appreciated your article… these thoughts are more than overdue!
    and i can’t wait to read more about it all!
    cheers, m8!
    g-d bless!
    georg
    <

  • Tom Goellrich

    Thank you David for your thoughtful insights. I would add that our half cocked mis conception of James and works adds an additional weight that seems to keep our butts in the chair, pew or whatever…instead of on our feet and walking as you speak of. I remember my childhood years and my dad telling ….. son there are basically two types of people in the world….. those who initiate action and those who wait for the action to come to them………in terms of Lutherans we are by far the latter and we could use a swift and powerful dust-up by the Holy Spirit. Billy Graham nailed it on the head many years ago when he said that Lutheran’s have such a sound theological foundation on which to build…..if they would just wake up and evangelize! Blessings……Tom

    • You are so right, Tom. We invented Evangelicalism–and then we forgot about it.

  • David- while you must know that I often disagree with you, I think you have nailed the problem on evangelism. I have been hanging out with evangelicals- typically Arminian Calvinists (see Rick Warren and others) for years, and have been pondering this exact question. Their passion for evangelism has to do with their belief that if you die without Jesus you go to hell. But paradoxically, they have focused on life change. I have never heard brother Rick preach that you go to hell without Jesus at Saddleback (although he clearly believes it)- he talks about the difference Jesus makes now- today. And that, I totally get.

    The metaphor of lost- the reality of lost- people without Jesus are lost- no question about it, searching for meaning- searching for everything is so powerful- and overwhelming. And because Jesus’ heart is broken for lost people, I believe ours must be, too. I have begun talking about it in this way: we Christ followers know that in Jesus, we have forgiveness for our past, significance in our present as we serve our world in Jesus’ Name, and hope for our future. We share deep and important relationships because we are family in Christ in a world that is struggling with isolation and loneliness. How can we not share him? That is the burden I am carrying, and it informs everything I am working/thinking about.

    And, that, I think, is Lutheran, too: carrying the tension: Jesus matters; the future is ultimately God’s…

    Blessings, Chris

    • Luthor Nelson

      Chris,
      I am not big on damnation preaching either but maybe we are getting away from telling the truth if we believe eternal damnation really is a potential outcome of unbelief. It is like putting on the label of poison, “Your day may not go well if you put this on your toast.” That statement is true but not the whole truth.

      • Luthor, Jesus makes it clear that it is SO possible to fail, eternally, spiritually. Can you follow Jesus and not resonate with him on this?

        You are on target.

  • Randy Wawrzyniak-Fry

    Terrific piece. I think that ” teaching unbelievers the Catechism is like building a second story on a vacant lot” is one of the best comments I’ve heard in a long time.

    Of course being me I have to find something to disagree with. I’m not sure that I accept your premise that ALL young people today prefer large groups. Once again I think that you are speaking more from experience than from fact. If the groups that you arrange are houseful events then those are the type of people that you will attrack. I know a number of people in the 18-25 demographic who really enjoy Cursillo type small groups. The church my daughter attends has a mixture so it appeals to all kinds. We extroverts always have to remember that there are introverts out there.

    • Joel Nelson

      I totally agree with you, Randy, regarding the grouping premise. I, too, know of youth that operate very well in small group settings. They tend to have a deeper faith and a greater desire for application. However, they definitely seem to be in the minority. But it seems that the majority require some level of critical mass before they will engage with any consistence.
      You are right that we need to consider and support both models.

  • Luthor Nelson

    I wish I’d read this before seminary!

    • Alex

      I seriously think Bishop Fink needs to read this!

  • Joseph Winston

    The church at the gates of hell is not standing. Gates, you see, are defensive weapons. To destroy the gates, an army must advance and engage the enemy. In other words, the Church is an offensive weapon. Where ever you find hell, the Church better be there attacking it or put bluntly, the Church is not doing Her job.

  • Terry Rommereim

    Great synopsis of the diagnosis. About 10 years ago, my D.Min. thesis at Fuller centered on “Leadership As A Key for Growth (or you could say turn around) in the ELCA.” Paradgm shifts are paramount! I believed then, and still believe that true mission-minded pastors and lay leaders is the ONLY hope—-pastors like you who are spirit-filled! Keep setting fires (Holy Spirit flames) around and under people and you just might see a forest fire!

    • Terry, Fuller rocks. And they were blessed to have you there.

  • This has obviously been cooking for a while in your head. Worth all the time you put in — from a former Lutheran turned pentecostal turned wooden Calvinist, well done. Well done!