I figure that if I have little to say, giving a highfalutin' title to what I do say raises the stakes.
I have been relatively quiet of late because I'm working on an adult forum series that I'm giving on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. I'm putting most of my effort into that (along with planning to lead a discussion of Watership Down -- about which I wrote earlier).
The consequences of my work on the class is that I'm becoming increasingly uncomfortable with being a Lutheran. The main strains of Lutheran theology strike me these days as entirely too at- home in the world and too focussed on an "otherworldly" Gospel -- i.e., one that's so heavenly minded that it makes no earthly sense. (This all makes me extremely uncomfortable, because when I was ordained
For example, on a Lutheran listserv, in a discussion of "ethics," a brilliant scholar and pastor ended a post with "After all, no Lutheran could be a pacifist." That escaped with virtually no comment or argument (one poster noted that he considers himself both Lutheran and pacifist, but the discussion went immediately to joking about his typos in the post). On the same strain, a teacher of ethics noted that there is no content to the the Gospels' (or Gospel's) "moral principles," so encouraged looking to Aristotle for guidance in how to make ethical decisions. Aristotle apparently provides clear, objective canons, while there is nothing similar in the Bible. Yet another said that Jesus offers no guidance on economic policy, so the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA ought not be offering guidance to President of the United States on budget priorities. (Several think that government has no role in feeding the poor or healing the sick; that should be done by individual christians. The Church has no standing to impose its standards on the state. Curiously, or course, many of these same people scream about the "fallacy" of the separation of church and state -- so go figure.)
I frankly don't get it. What's not clear about Jesus' teaching and example? Is it really so hard to discern a way to live from Jesus? And is it just wishful thinking to see in Jesus' calls to discipleship, his teaching (see the Sermon on the Mount/Plain), and the like something more than just moral principles, precatory language, suggestions?
Worse than that, I suppose, is a kind of classic Lutheran rap: Jesus said all these things to drive us to despair so that we can hear the gospel -- which apparently deals (in all its promissory nature) only with the future and has nothing to say about here-and-now. For the here-and-now, look to the state and to the market. (Yes, if one is a Lutheran, one may justifiably lead a corporation and declare bankruptcy and turn your pension obligations over the Federal government, so that your corporation may be saved and the retirees get shafted. Jesus doesn't care about that. He wants to know if you "believe.")
I think it's Robert Brimlow who says that the Christian community is called to be such a unique (gospel-defined) counterculture in USAmerica that he thinks we ought not even vote, because to vote implicitly entails the agreement to go along with the outcome, regardless of how immoral one considers that outcome to be. Talk about the opposite extreme from Luther's "two kingdoms" or "two realms" (for the politcally correct among us). And yet, while I don't go quite that far, I find his argument and his passion compelling and convincing (though I'm not quite ready to give up my franchise, although lately I've found little to vote "for" as opposed to "against").
It is for me a perplexing business. I'm not a triumphalist; quite the contrary: I look to the cross and resurrection not just for "salvation," but for meaning. But in its typically Lutheran manifestation, I find the whole teaching quite shallow and unsatisfying.
With the help of N.T. Wright, Bill Cavanaugh, Robert Brimlow, Michael Budde, Stanley Hauerwas, Rodney Clapp, Reinhard Huetter (who was a Lutheran, but who is now a Roman Catholic -- none of the others is a Lutheran), and other contemporary thinkers, (I have to look again at Bill Lazareth) I have become increasingly dissatisfied with any theology that looks to "salvation" or "life" or whatever from Jesus as postponed to some time after death. Salvation begins even now, with the announcement of Jesus' messiahship. And the call from Our Lord is not just to "believe" him (or even "believe in" him), but to follow him, to obey him, to emulate (or "imitate") him. His benefits (while certainly not fulfilled or experience in their fullness) are even now apparentm Jesus as postponed to some time after death. Salvation begins even now, with the announcement of Jesus' messiahship. And the call from Our Lord is not just to "believe" him (or even "believe in" him), but to follow him, to obey him, to emulate (or "imitate") him. His benefits (while certainly not fulfilled or experience in their fullness) are even now apparent.
More to come. (Here's a tip of my cards, though: While I am disgruntled with being a Lutheran, I don't see that there's anyplace else to go.)
But now for something different:
From the Sojourners fellowship, comes this well-written and -thought commentary by a Calvin College senior on the College's naming Pres. Bush as its commencement speaker. I appreciate her insights into what it means to be "pro-life."
Christians are called to be "pro-life," and I don't see any way around that. When Jesus said, "I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly," I think he did not intend to limit that to our having a great time in heaven. Nor do I think that he meant to limit abundant life to his followers. This is another of those cases in which I think Jesus is clear, and I am told by my Lutheran heritage that it is "complicated." (Why else does the Lutheran Church health plan provide for payment of abortions?)
I look with interest on the rise of a "pro-life" faction within the Democratic Party. Bravo! At least some get it, I guess.