Lutheran Identity & What’s Next On My Reading List

Ever search "Lutheran" on Google News?  I’ve saved the search on my Google News Home Page.  Today I found this interesting nugget:

The Gospel Herald of The Chinese Christian News Service posted this article: Lutheranism Looking Less Lutheran in the West.  The article is a quick and easy read, a review of Stephen Ellingson’s new book, The Megachurch and the Mainline: Remaking Tradition in the Twenty-First Century.  The book is next on my reading list.

Ah, yes, what does it mean to be Lutheran?  Shall we open that can of worms again?

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

6 thoughts on “Lutheran Identity & What’s Next On My Reading List

  1. Traditionalists won the 19th century fight regarding these issues, noted Ellingson, but he’s not convinced the traditionalists will win this fight.
    What “fight”? I didn’t realize worship style was a zero-sum game. Are evangelicals insinuating themselves into Lutheran congregations and tempting bog-standard hymn singers with that devil music?
    Why would they? Do they have something against “A Mighty Fortress”?
    What a steaming load.

  2. I would quibble with the headline to the article: Lutheranism Looking Less Lutheran . . . What does it mean to “look” Lutheran?
    I agree that the luaus mentioned in the article are a bit weird in church, and the trend toward adopting Evangelical patterns and practices is well-established, but I’m not convinced that Lutheranism is or should ever be defined by what its worship “looks” like. Our tradition is rooted in a common confession of faith, not a common pattern of prayer or worship. But we get lazy, and worship becomes a bone that is way too easy to pick.
    What I found most disheartening about the article was this quote from the book’s author, Stephen Ellingson: And one of the things that hit me over the head from the very beginning was no one really cared about being Lutheran. Perhaps Ellingson unnecessarily reduces “being Lutheran” and “Lutheran tradition” to worship practices – I can’t say for sure, as I haven’t yet read the book – but the sentiment of not being concerned about Lutheranism is something that I regrettably saw in 4+ years working with congregations throughout the MidAtlantic and northeast United States.

  3. One of the key factors that led me to leave is that the people in the seminary where I was sent to be “Lutheranized” cared very little for the Confessions and for drawing strength from classical expressions of Lutheranism. And when it comes to classical expressions of Lutheranism–I particularly mean its hymnic tradition. As I’ve argued before, Lutheranism isn’t really oriented around the Offices like Anglicanism is. Rather, the main core of spirituality in Lutheranism as far as I’m concerned is in the hymns of Gerhard, Niccolai, the Norwegian pietists, the music of Bach, etc. *If* this is true, than worship is of major concern. A church’s identity is not just about its doctrine but is about its spirituality as well. To simply chuck this core part of Lutheran identity because worship is adiaphora is dangerous.

  4. Derek,
    You’ve given me something to think about (as usual). I have a high regard for the Lutheran Confessions, but I admit to not giving much thought to what you call “classical expressions of Lutheranism,” ie, Lutheranism’s hymnic tradition.
    As I give first thoughts to your comment, I wonder what role early forms of Lutheran piety and spirituality found outside of the Confessions should play in Lutheran identity today (ie, though the hymns are not in the Book of Concord, should these forms be normative for Lutherans in the way that the Book of Concord is?). And I also wonder if a 17th Century piety can be transferred to the 21st century, or if it can be transformed, and if a loss of that piety renders the church less “lutheran” . . .
    BTW, I’m sorry that your Lutheran seminary didn’t have too much concern for the Confessions. Surely not all students at my seminary were interested in the Confessions, but it was hard to get through a semester or year without getting a good dose of the Book of Concord . . .

  5. I really *should* have gone to your seminary…
    I’m actually not suggesting a program of repristinization–as if all 17th century pieties or hymns translate directly. Rather, I believe that our various churches have a distinctive spiritual character as well as (and in formed by) their doctrinal character. Yours was formed by that hymnody. That means not only making use of it, but create meaningful modern cognates that draw and flow from the same streams.
    I *do* think Gerhardt speaks to us today. I also believe that his Lutheran flavor of sacramentally grounded mysticism can be entered into today to create new works that carry it on.
    Too–though far too catholic to be a pietist–my own thought was greatly challenged and increased by reading people like Johannes Arndt. Pietism is a genuine expression of Lutheranism and I do think that modern Lutheranism should be in dialogue with this authentic spirituality to reflect more about how good Lutheran doctrines gets incarnated in pratices.

  6. Good stuff, Chris. You might be interested in this article that gives an idea about what Lutheranism “looks like” —
    It’s about a VA church’s attempt to change its culture to attract ethnicities other than white, German and Scandinavian. An excerpt:
    The denomination’s goals are ambitious and there are many obstacles to overcome. Mills says most blacks tell her they are puzzled by the Lutheran tradition, and often mistake it for Roman Catholicism. Others imagine stuffy services where freewheeling praise is discouraged.
    Often, she said, “they think it’s inauthentic. They think it’s for white people.”
    On another note, it is always interesting to, as I do, search the Inquirer’s website for “Lutheran” and see what pops up. We’ve had good relations with the paper and they have been doing more substantive stuff periodically.
    Today, the results are skewed by the fact that Reds’ outfielder Josh Hamilton went to Lutheran Hospital to get checked for a stomach bug. But normally, the most prevalent hits for Lutheran yield three categories: Senior Citizens group meetings, classical music concerts and obituaries. Yes, I know these are things that are normally listed in the paper, but still…it sends a message.

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