Nadia Bolz-Weber and Lutheran Identity

So I was surfing the theo-web and I stumbled upon this video of the Sarcastic Lutheran, Nadia Bolz-Weber, a popular blogger over at Patheos, addressing a robust crowd of young Lutherans. Within the course of about 20 minutes, she delivered a short spiritual biography and, more pertinent to my discussion here, explained the role Lutheran distinctives play in her life.

Now, before you hit Send on that comment, I want you to do three things:

1. Forget for the moment about the issue of women’s ordination. Imagine she is a layperson wearing long sleeves.

2. Forget that she’s ordained in the ELCA—that is, forget the ELCA’s politics and the fact that it is in “full communion” with denominations that are anything but Lutheran, which brings into question how Lutheran the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as a denomination is. (I pass no judgment whatsoever on individuals within it.)

3. Don’t forget to forget about numbers 1 and 2.

OK. Did you listen to what she had to say to her auditors? Was anything she said necessarily un-Lutheran? (Again, remember #3 and don’t forget to forget numbers 1 & 2.) It may not have been comprehensive, but for what it was, a short address to young people who probably are not all that  theologically sophisticated, it was quite effective, no? At least in terms of getting them hyped about being a Lutheran Christian?

I was quite impressed with her presentation, although the saint/sinner paradox as she explains it is not quite right. The “saint” part of our identity has nothing to so with our capacity, before or after baptism, for kindness or generosity or empathy. It has to do with the imputed righteousness of Christ. But I bet a lot of Lutherans in the pews, regardless of denomination, understand it as Bolz-Weber presented it.

Nevertheless, I can see why the Lutheran church appealed to Bolz-Weber, and why someone like Bolz-Weber would be very appealing to teens and twenty-somethings—and frankly, to anyone of any age who has been run over by the ultra-fundie bus (which can only ever run you over, because the grace-transmission thingee is broken).

Let me explain where I’m going with this before some of you bring out the short knives. Anyone who is familiar with my spiritual journey (short version here; ignore the date on that post—it originally went live June 26, 2006) knows that I made my way through evangelicaltisticalism, in its Wesleyan and Calvinist flavors, enjoyed a brief flirtation with Rome, and wound up back at Wittenberg. Yet even though I formally left the PCA in the fall of 2005, I have to this day never formally joined another church. It took me a good long while even to join Redeemer Presbyterian in the first place. In fact, it was the first church I had pledged membership in since I was confirmed in the LCMS at age 14 (only to promptly leave and declare myself an agnostic, then an atheist).

For years after returning to the Faith, I was a “mere” Christian with no unwavering denominational commitment. The fact that I simply am not a joiner did not help matters. Plus, I couldn’t make up my theological mind. And I simply am not a joiner. I have a library card. I’m a registered independent who refuses to associate with other independents. Yet sometime around 1997 I finally acknowledged that living with one foot in the world and one foot in the Church Universal made my walk look funny to strangers. So, after immersing myself in the Institutes and nightly doses of Spurgeon, I took the plunge. I attended membership classes at Redeemer, was interviewed by two elders as to why I thought I was rotten enough to be a sinner saved by grace, and was accepted on the condition that I never really show up or anything. (OK, I made that last part up.)

Long story short, over time, and in the aftermath of losing my father, I found that Calvinism, even the soft-core version preached by Tim Keller (and for whom I still have enormous respect), left me with more questions than answers. I grew to hate the God who apparently hated so many of us for daring to be born under his abiding and predetermined wrath. So I shook off the Westminster Confession like a mental cramp, and headed for . . . what? Was it time to chuck Christianity as no more capable of making sense of my life than a humble agnosticism? Catholicism? It was exactly at moments of crisis as I was experiencing that many Reformationals head Romeward. But I only skirted the Tiber, dropping out of RCIA not once but twice. There was much I found beautiful about Catholicism. But I would have to stop thinking about a lot of issues and just take on faith doctrines I simply did not believe. Spiritual exhaustion was no reason to jump from the firing pan into the fire. (But that’s another post.)

So I resolved to go back where I started: I began looking for the Lutheran church I remembered from my adolescence.

Only it had kinda gone poof.

A combination of the Seminex blowup and the Born Again boom had taken the LCMS in strange directions. Both the church I was baptized in and the church I was confirmed in had abandoned the MIssouri Synod for what became the ELCA. Of the three pastors I had known growing up, one was as dead as Martin Chemnitz, and the other two had become Catholic priests. Great. Thanks for all the fish.

As for the remaining LCMS churches in New York City, there were several congregations playing with evangelical praise-worship lite, which I had already see glimmers of in my teens (and which landed with a risible THUD among me and my peers). In redoubts on the fringes of the city were also congregations (namely two) dedicated to the neo-confessional movement (if you can call anything Lutherans do “movement”). Details about this push to repristinate the LCMS by returning to it to its confessional roots I gleaned mostly from the Web, especially after I had started up Luther at the Movies and began receiving e-mail from confessional types sussing me out about my commitments.

It took me a while to get up to speed on the issues and players. I found I also needed a deeper Lutheran theological grounding. Our religious education as kids had been limited to Luther’s Small Catechism, a black Thomas Nelson RSV Bible (with maps of the Holy Land), and heaping doses of tedium, supplemented in my case by a course at NYU called Great Christian Thinkers (for which my final paper was titled “Luther, Indulgences, and the Birth of the Reformation”).

It made perfect sense to me that Lutherans should be, well, Lutherans. Otherwise, why pose? Get out the tambourines and the Rubbermaid for the rebaptizing and be done with it already. (Which is what drives me crazy about so-called progressive Catholics. Admit it: you’re Episcopalians. You know it. We know it. The pope knows it. Go make a pilgrimage to Second Avenue and stop whining. You may think there’s some cachet in being a rebel, but standing up to the Vatican in 2012 is about as edgy as peeing in the Olympic pool. And you all sound like Veruca Salt off her meds. Shut your pie holes and go walk a labyrinth.)

But I digress . . .

Let’s just say, I was having a helluva time finding a Lutherany Lutheran church that didn’t require half a day’s journey by bus and train (as a city boy, I was car-less). The LCMS churches in my vicinity all worshiped a little differently, and it was hard to pinpoint exactly where they were on the confessional continuum.

Some were suitably somber and sang the discordant Setting One of the new Lutheran Service Book, which was decidedly not the Lutheran Hymnal of 1941 that was still in use in the 1970s and that I knew by heart.

Some congregations dismembered the liturgy and pasted the decomposing parts into worship folders, along with “children’s church,” a passing of the peace that took longer than the passing of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, and projection screens that threatened an appearance of Emmanuel Goldstein and the advent of hate week.

Some fell somewhere in between.

One referred to the Divine Service as the Mass and emphasized that the pastor was available for private confession at fixed hours during Lent.

And one or two were The Journey with flowing robes and broken kneelers.

This went on for years. And if there’s one thing I did miss from my evangelical days, it was the preaching. Lutheran preaching varied wildly, not only in its quality, which is to say its resonance, but in its emphases. I may have left Reformed soteriology behind, but it has produced some profoundly gifted preachers (but, again, that’s another post).

Once in a blue moon I’d find a congregation that used Setting Three of the Service Book, which was more or less the Order of Holy Communion I grew up with. As a matter of fact, and more to the point I’m trying to make, just a few weeks ago I traveled to another state to attend just such a church. Here is what I encountered.

I entered the narthex to find a handful of people flanking the doors of the sanctuary. Which was as empty as a Starbucks in a Seventh Day Adventist theme park. Here I thought I was running a little late. Did I mess up on the time? Did they have special summer hours?

“Is there a service?” I asked all doe-eyed and innocent like.

“It’s Sunday, isn’t it?” was the reply.

“Yes, I know, but the door is closed—”

“We worship on Sundays” was the abrupt follow-up, in case I missed the inference of his original point.

“Yes, I got that. But there’s no one—” and back and forth we went, confirming that it was (a) Sunday, and (b) they had church services on Sunday.

I mentally cried “No mas” and made a movement in the direction of the sanctuary doors, forgetting that “Lutheran” and “movement” are a mismatched pair. The “greeter,” for whom the right hand of fellowship came bearing brass knuckles, jumped up from his anxious bench to say: “We have Holy Communion today. You’re not supposed to take Holy Communion.”

“It’s OK. I’ve been here before.”

“You should talk to the pastor.”

“It’s OK, I’m confirmed.

“You should talk to the pastor.”

“I am baptized and confirmed. I believe what you believe. I spoke to the pastor the last time I was here.”

“Oh. I apologize. Here.” And he handed me a copy of the bulletin, which I expected to emit a pesticide of some kind.

Just as I was about to step onto holy ground, the pastor appeared fresh from Bible study. The “greeter” (who I later realized was also an elder) immediately jumped at the chance of appropriating ecclesiastical confirmation of my “true” status, even though I thought we had achieved our own little Peace of Westphalia.

“Oh, pastor, pastor! This fellow says—” but before he could finish expectorating, the pastor in question smiled at me and said, “Oh, yes, hi. You’ve been here before.”

Finally, calm was restored to the kingdom, but not before I had been made a spectacle of before tens of onlookers, as if I had come bearing snakes for the Feats of Faith competition.

A few minutes later, the church filled, with all 18 of us packed into our pews with just enough room to accommodate Trajan’s army. I received Communion with barely a rumble from the heavens. Service over, I headed back home, freed from the burden of my sins and even so much as a sideway glance from a fellow penitent.

Now I have defended closed communion in blog discussions. I understand the reasons for it. Other churches do it: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and those Reformed serious about “fencing the table.” Got it. You have no problem with me there.

But was that embarrassing bit of business before so much as a “good morning” really the best way to go about it? Can we think of nothing more welcoming and less abrasive than such a scene? And from an elder?

So imagine a young Nadia at a particularly vulnerable stage in her life stepping into that church, wary of things Christian, wary of the HAMMER OF THE GREAT DO NOTS swinging for her kneecaps, and greeted with a hearty: “Who are you? What do you want? You know you can’t take Communion. I don’t recognize you. YOU’RE NOT ONE OF US. Pastor! Pastor! Help!”

Which leads me to an affirmation and then a question. First my affirmation: I’m glad Nadia Bolz-Weber is out there. Even though we would no doubt disagree about points of theology. Even though I wonder whether “social justice,” and all the political baggage it carries, isn’t also part of the “piety” and “law” that grace seeks to liberate us from. And even though it seems to me that many in the ELCA interpret the law/grace distinction as little more than “Love, and screw who you please,” a perverse turn on Augustine’s pithy (and oft misunderstood) apothegm.

Nevertheless, there are a lot of hurting people who are fleeing fanatical religious backgrounds and who are filled with anger and shame and fear and guilt—some of which, even much of which, may have have come courtesy of their church upbringing—and who need a Nadia the Tattooed Lady to put a colorfully embossed arm around them and say, “Of course you’re welcome here. Of course this can be your home. In fact, let me tell you my story. Now let me introduce you to people just like you.” Torn curtain. Open sanctuary. Smiling faces.

It may be the only time they ever hear, or let their guard down long enough to hear, about that Jesus who reached out to the “untouchables” of his day.

And I think Jesus should be allowed to take it from there. He may finally lead that person out of the House for All Sinners and Saints (or its equivalent) and into something more traditional or conservative or confessional.

Or not.

(Yes, yes, I know we all need teachers, and God uses means, but why is it that so many of those who fashion themselves guardians of God’s ABSOLUTE SOVEREIGNTY nevertheless act as though it’s collapsing every time something goes wrong on the Internet?)

I would not want Nadia’s church to be the only concern in town, by any means. There are plenty of self-satisfied ratbags who are also wary of things Christian but who need a right fulsome kick in the spiritual ass, with a little hellfire shooting out of the boot. But I do believe Nadia’s approach does serve a purpose that perhaps some confessionally minded churches have lost sight of. (A hearty welcome whoever you may be and however many tattoos you may wear and a clearly enunciated Theology of the Cross are not mutually exclusive.)

So that was my affirmation. Now for my question: Who is a Lutheran?

Is it simply someone who self-identifies as a Lutheran? Is it someone who has been baptized and confirmed in a Lutheran church? If so, which Lutheran church? Does it matter? In which case, was I a Lutheran even while attending the Lamb’s Church of the Nazarene and Redeemer Presbyterian and Christ Church and Our Saviour?

Is it a matter of being versed in, and embracing the tenets of, Luther’s catechisms? How about the Book of Concord? (How many Lutherans do you think have actually read the BoC?)

Can I be a Lutheran and reject Universal Objective Justification? How about Luther’s notion of unregenerate man’s having lost both the image and the likeness of God? Exactly how much Luther do you need to be a Lutheran? Did his focus on forensic justification distort his interpretation of scripture in other areas? Does anyone really understand his construal of baptismal regeneration, as opposed to just parroting it? Do infants really believe? If so, what do they need with baptism, when scripture plainly teaches that the child of even one believing parent is already hagios (holy)? Isn’t this just a fudge, an attempt to hold together a sacramental realism and justification by faith alone?

What if you believe women should be allowed to be ordained? Can you still be a Lutheran? What if you believe women should not hold office in the church at all, even in positions of mere human origin (say, the presidency of the congregation), or where scripture clearly teaches that women enjoyed roles (the diaconate)? What if you believe that the order of creation does not stop at the church door, and that women should not hold authority over men even in the civil realm?

What about law and gospel? Are you still Lutheran if you reject the Third Use of the Law, even though Luther taught it? What if you believe any exhortation to self-discipline, good works, or (gulp!) holiness is a bastardization of the gospel, an infusion of works righteousness into the paralysis that should be the perfectly passive reception of grace with no hint of damnable obedience?

What if you believe that sanctification and discipleship are not sufficiently preached from Lutheran pulpits? What if you believe faith without works is dead? Does this make you a pietist in confessional clothing, hence a lesser species of Lutheran?

What if you don’t believe that the six days of creation in Genesis are to be interpreted as literal 24-hour days? And what if you find the Lutheran Science Institute about as edifying as Lysenkoism, and about as embarrassing?

What if you believe there is enough scientific evidence to support evolution but still believe in a historical Adam, a first covenant man, whose relation to God and the rest of creation was absolutely unique and God-breathed, and whose fall through disobedience is reversed by a historical second covenant man—Jesus. Are you still a Lutheran, even though Luther rejected as unbiblical something that is now as demonstrable as heliocentrism?

What if you believe the earth must be 6,000 years old, because the scriptural account read as a scientifically tenable rendering of the appearance of everything makes less sense with an old earth?

What if you’re convinced six-day creationists have made an idol of their hermeneutic, or are merely ignoramuses afraid even to consider how God could use the cultural context of pre-scientific people to convey all that is necessary for salvation?

What if you believe that Noah’s ark is lodged on Mt. Ararat and that the church should pursue this kind of  “historical reliability” method of apologetics?

What if you consider yourself pro-life but think abortion should be legal in the cases of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is danger? What if you’re just pro-choice? What if you think any woman who has had an abortion for any reason has committed murder?

Again, what makes a Christian a Lutheran Christian? Who’s in and who’s out? Tullian Tchividjian (man, I hope I didn’t screw that up) and the guys over at Mockingbird Ministries seem pretty solid on law and gospel. But that doesn’t make them Lutherans, right? (And if Paul Zahl’s church were any more invisible, I could wear it as a hat to a New Atheist convention.) But aren’t they at least Lutheran-ish?

Is Nadia Bolz-Weber a Lutheran? Or something else?

What about Martin Marty? How about Robert Jenson? Was Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Henry Muhlenberg?

Who is an examplar of Lutheran orthodoxy, and who should be relegated to the Dead Lutheran Office, stamped “liberal” or “mainline” or “antinomian” or “pietist” or “fundamentalist”? Where is the dividing line? Full subscription to the Book of Concord? Are there no gray areas even there? And if so, who arbitrates between shades of gray? (First person who references that crap book gets a kick in the shins.)

Lest anyone think this is some insidious plea for a more liberal or Big Tent Lutheranism, it is not. I don’t even know what that would look like. And if I wanted to throw a Molotov cocktail into the potluck supper, I’d do just that. I am many things, but subtle is not one of them.

Please note: I am not looking for a debate over evolution or the nature of the sacraments or women’s ordination or the necessity of good works. Experience has proved it to be pointless. At the end of the data dump, everyone pushes back from their keyboards as deeply entrenched in their views as ever. So please take this post at face value: I’m asking for a discussion over Who is a Lutheran, and I’m asking because the Lutheran Church, wherever it is, whatever it is, should be the landing place for people tired of wandering the evangelical wilderness. But the LCMS, as one example, is slowly losing members. And I know a lot of folk who are sick of denominations that say they know exactly who they are, and are proud of it, but find adiaphora to be the true motif, with congregations varying wildly as to what must be believed, what’s permissible to believe, how God should be worshiped, who’s in, who’s out, who’s a heretic, who’s a liberal, who’s a fundamentalist—and so finally give in and head to bastions of “generous orthodoxy,” or finally give up and head to Rome. Or simply stop going to church altogether.

And I’m asking because I sit here still identifying as a Lutheran but one who is as likely to worship with a Continuing Anglican congregation as with a middle-of-the-road Lutheran one. (The question Who is an Anglican? I will leave to Alister McGrath or C. Fitzsimons Allison or Robert Hart or Eric Metaxas to ask. I have enough on my plate.)

The issue of Lutheran identity has been befuddling and dividing folk since the days of Melanchthon and the Gnesios, which would be a great name for a band. There are probably as many answers as there are Lutheran “camps.” Coming to terms with Luther is a lifetime’s work, never mind what constitutes his genuine theological legacy. Minds as great as Kierkegaard’s seem to have misunderstood the Reformer on key issues. And so it’s probably an exercise in futility even to broach the subject. Nevertheless it’s what I do when I’m not programming my DVR to record every episode of Burn Notice. 

And because, damn it, I’d still like an answer.

UPDATE (April 6, 2013): Jack Kilcrease makes a crucial, and Bonhoeffer-esque, distinction between justification of sin and justification of the sinner, and relates this to Bolz-Weber’s ministry. Draw your own conclusions.


119 thoughts on “Nadia Bolz-Weber and Lutheran Identity


    So you don´t like my flavor in your gumbo as Nadia says.

    “You beat people over the head with tropes and articles from the Augsburg Confession as if you could out-Luther Luther.” and that word “put your cudgel down”.

    I would ask you to extend the same charity to me as you extend to Nadia, Anthony.
    Could you, in charity, chose a different perception of what I am trying to contribute?
    Could I have a different, kinder motive in quoting the Confessions?
    How many Gay or non gay Lutherans have you met that self reference to them this way?

    So then you say this, to give me an example of what the opposite of “cudgeling” looks like?

    “It does not free us from being slaves of Christ, or the moral code such a status demands. (Do I really need to start cutting and pasting all that Paul has to say on this matter, to the Corinthians for example? I doubt your familiarity with Scripture is that feeble.) ”


    “Your statement that the Book of Concord demands everyone marry is fallacious and says more about your presuppositions than anything else.”

    The text says that. “St Paul commands all me to marry”. This is said in a specific argumentative context: that celebacy, short of a miracle, is futile, cruel and impossible to do That is the text. Presuppositions?
    Huh? Like I am aiming for some unstated agenda, using that text, that is not there?
    I am merely pleading to McCain to not disregard what the text has to say about celebacy.
    Nothing more than that.
    Again I ask for charity.

    Why did you even post this article about Nadia ?
    Again, I would ask you to please grant me more charity in your perceptions.
    Even if you don´t like my flavor in your gumbo.


    1. Frank, I appreciate your contribution to the discussion. I obviously wasn’t looking for only one perspective.

      But it’s your tone. It’s become hectoring. And you’re repeating yourself.


  2. Tony, thank you for your very well crafted response to Frank’s ridiculous assertions.

    He will not stop flooding your blog with lengthy comments, until you block/ban him. Just letting you know.


  3. “It does not free us from being slaves of Christ, or the moral code such a status demands. (Do I really need to start cutting and pasting all that Paul has to say on this matter, to the Corinthians for example? I doubt your familiarity with Scripture is that feeble.”

    Here you seem to be suggesting that there is some new testament sexual purity code for righeousness that is aimed at a ritual obedience to God that is not at all aimed at utility towards the needs of neighbor.

    What is your point of posting about Nadia if you are not aiming to do the mercy of including people like me in the room but rather keep us as “they” or “them” outside the church until, first, we agree with your views on homosexuality?

    Show me , in dialog please, what the opposite of “cudgel ” is supposed to look like.


  4. Of course I do not want to come across as hectoring.

    If my comments have not reflected kindness and charity towards the views of others, then I need to apologize. And I need to change my approach.
    I can be wordy and repitative and a blog is not a good media for long posts.
    I am mindful of those faults and I am working on them.

    I am also mindful, as a gay man, in the church, that there are probably lurkers reading this post who are gay who would be withered at the tone of your reference to St Paul, in it´s context, and Pastor McCain´s uber-dismissive posture towards me.
    I have the deepest love and respect for Pastor McCain and his gifts to the church.
    But I do find myself wishing that who he is would be better reflected in his posts on the internet.

    Such persons are hungry for a place where they can feel like they are in the room and are “us” and not the “they” or “them” .
    Spoken to and not at or about.
    I assumed from this post that you want to create that sort of space too.

    Notice that Kerner and I sharply disagree and there is no hint of such a tone between us.
    People would read our exchange as two brothers with a common bond and passion who disagree.
    It is good for people to be able to see that I suggest.
    It is what I aim for and often fall short of. Lord have mercy.


  5. @Mr. Sacramone

    I’m sorry to hear your refusal of Lutheranism. Unfortunately, ambergius is right. The minimum requirement for being a Lutheran is the small catechism. I’m not here to argue about evolution, but rather to share my frustrations with you.

    Like you, I am quite a sceptic. The first time I doubted the rationality of Lutherans was late elementary school when I asked a sunday school teacher to explain “how do we know our religion’s right and someone else’s isn’t?” The reaction I got was quite discouraging.

    Now, I apologize if I offend you. I don’t mean any ill will. But the question you asked in your last post is rather arbitrary. “I mean, you couldn’t be wrong in your interpretation of Genesis, or the creeds, or what it means to be a Lutheran, could you? ” That’s just it. “ambergius” is not giving you a private interpretation. The Bible has no such thing. God gives no one the right to privately interpret what He says. The human writers of the Bible were not writing because they wanted to. The Spirit told them what should be written down. In fact, it is written in several places NOT to do this.

    Now we can debate book by book if you wish, because there are differences to style and date. But the core remains the same. Christ always was, and will always be. Christ is literally the Word made flesh. That Bible on your shelf has the words that are REALLY the Word/Christ from eternity. The same way the bread and the wine (as foolish as they look) are really Christ feeding us, uniting himself to us in order to save us. It sounds crazy I know. What “dead in his sin” man could believe such things? (YOU may be more southern baptist than YOU think 😉 )

    I would now like to ask you to consider some things.
    1. How do you know the Genesis creation is allegory? The book is written as “history” and gives NO indication it is a metaphor (like Revelation, Ezekiel, Daniel, and the Gospels do. ex. “Jesus told them a parable…”)
    2. If assuming evolution is compatible, Why does it say all creatures, plants, and man were formed seperately out of the dust?
    3. We were made in the IMAGE of Christ, the same he already was and would take in the future.
    4. Evolution = DEATH. In order for things to “evolve”, the species must continuously die and mutate in order to not go extinct. According to Genesis, death didn’t happen until sin.

    Evolution is far from perfect. One of it’s many fallacies is it “assumed” a time line long ago, and has been plugging every new discovery into it ever since. This only affirms the fact that they “have more evidence.” The baptists, as you label them, are really know better. They do the same thing. But the “evidence” we find has been consistently proving that both sides don’t know what they are talking about……which explains why other scholars believe in the “aliens created us” theory.

    Honestly, like we as humans could ever figure out How God did what he did.

    However the book I would like to point you to specifically is Job. Job is the oldest book, older than the Mosaic books, and has quite a magnificent account of the creation. Now Job begins to complain at God questioning “Why me?” And starting in chapter 38, a very sarcastic God answers the boldness of Job.

    Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
    “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
    Dress for action like a man;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.
    “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
    Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
    On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone,
    when the morning stars sang together
    and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
    (Job 38:1-7 ESV)


    1. I’m not offended. And I appreciate your being frank.

      I don’t KNOW that Genesis is allegory, because that would mean I know the intention of the biblical authors, or the precise categories of their thought in composing the books of the Bible (or if they even thought in terms of neat categories). What I do know is that there is an extraordinary amount of evidence for an old earth and the evolution of species. Yes, there are discrepancies among scientists according to details. But are they all wrong about everything? Is there some grand conspiracy across decades and nations and even religion? (Yes, there are orthodox Christian physicists and chemists and biologists and geologists who do not believe in six 24-hour-day creation.) Or are they all stupid? Or are they all blinded by Satan (even the Christians)? I ask seriously.

      I do not take the Genesis account as a literal expression of the order or time frame of how living things came to be on this earth. It is prehistory. We cannot read it the way we read the New Testament, which emphasizes the role of “eyewitnesses.” There are no eyewitnesses to the Creation — except the earth itself, which also is another of God’s “books.”

      As for the biblical authors, you say the “Spirit told them what they should say.” How do you know this? Scripture is God-breathed, yes. But what does that mean? And can there be differences of opinions? And if the biblical authors were mere transcriptionists, couldn’t God use myth at a certain stage in human history — a prescientific age — to communicate theological truth?

      I’m afraid you may be the one who is not letting God be God. You are circumscribing how he MUST work.

      Here is C.S. Lewis (not a Lutheran, of course, but valuable nonetheless):

      “My present view–which is tentative and liable to any amount of correction–would be that just as, on the factual side, a long preparation culminates in God’s becoming incarnate as Man so, on the documentary side, the truth first appears in mythical form and then by a long process of condensing or focusing finally becomes incarnate as History. This involves the belief that Myth in general is not merely misunderstood history . . . nor diabolical illusion . . . nor priestly lying . . . but, at its best, a real though unfocused gleam of divine truth falling on human imagination. The Hebrews, like other people, had mythology: but as they were the chosen people so their mythology was the chosen mythology–the mythology chosen by God to be the vehicle of the earliest sacred truths, the first step in that process which ends in the New Testament where truth has become completely historical. . . . It should be noted that on this view (a) Just as God, in becoming Man, is ’emptied’ of His glory, so the truth, when it comes down from the ‘heaven’ of myth to the ‘earth’ of history, undergoes a certain humiliation. Hence the New Testament is, and ought to be, more prosaic, in some ways less splendid, than the Old; just as the Old Testament is and ought to be less rich in many kinds of imaginative beauty than the Pagan mythologies. (b) Just as God is none the less God by being Man, so the Myth remains Myth even when it becomes Fact. The story of Christ demands from us, and repays, not only a religious and historical but also an imaginative response. It is directed to the child, the poet, and the savage in us as well as to the conscience and to the intellect. One of its functions is break down dividing walls.”



  6. The point is, Mr. Sacramone, is you can still be a Lutheran. I, myself, love science. I read about it all the time. I don’t know if the world was created in 6 metaphorical days or not. I don’t know if the world is 6,000 years old or 50,000 (I personally lean this way).

    But in the end, I have to let God be God. And He says what He means and means what he says. And I am “a poor miserable sinner” who’s too smart for my own good. It’s okay if you don’t understand, no one really does. Although some like to think they do.

    Trust God. He’s got you covered. Doubt is common. We all experience it. But He remains faithful when we are faithless.

    That IS Lutheranism.

    And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”


    1. I don’t really have a quarrel with what you have expressed here. There are mysteries, and there will always be mysteries, and we will never reconcile our reason to them all. The point of the post is to determine, to the extent such a thing is even possible, where the essentials are, where we can agree to disagree and still kneel at the same altar. Ambergius drew very strict lines. I decided to admit I fall outside one of them (although I have written about this before).

      Look, evolution is not even the point. Say in a hundred years it’s proved to be false, based entirely on faulty premises. I still don’t believe the talking snake story is history the way I believe Jesus’s healing of the lepers is history, and obviously not because I don’t believe God can work miracles. It’s because I never got a reasonable answer to my high school question: Where did Cain get his wife? What were all those other people doing east of Eden? Where did they come from? Were they bused in from Cincinnati?

      There’s more going on behind the scenes of Genesis than CRI — and the Ambergius school — will allow. That’s all. And there are a lot of brilliant Scripture scholars who want to participate in this adventure. But they are too often kicked to the curb, regardless of how orthodox they may be regarding the true fundamentals of the faith. (And the idea that if you accept evolution of some kind you cannot believe God is Creator, and thus are rejecting an affirmation of the creeds, is silly.) This seems to be THE fault line for some. Fine. Those who disagree will move on. I have no desire to convince anyone of my view. I just want to know what doors I should not darken.


      1. Oh, by the way, the real breakthrough for Lewis was a result of talking to JRR Tolkien who hit him between the eyes one day while they were strolling together. Lewis was gassing on about how the Bible is myth and legend and therefore now relating facts and truth. Tolkien simply said to Lewis, “Just because something is myth or legend does mean it is not true.” And he did not mean, “finding truth in what is not true.”

        That gobsmacked Lewis and was, perhaps, the most important turning point in his conversion.


      2. “The point of the post is to determine, to the extent such a thing is even possible, where the essentials are, where we can agree to disagree and still kneel at the same altar. ”

        Your statement would look like the exercise the fundamentalists do or the Romans do with their theories on the locus of Authority with the magisterium and all.
        Lots of Lutherans make doctrinal purity look like that.
        And I hope I did not offend you here.
        This intellectual discipline is an exercise which i am not dismissing as unimportant or unnecessary.
        Life would be chaos without such thinking discipline.

        Am I wrong to sense that the lurking idea behind all this that our eternal telos or destiny depends upon our chosing wisely how it is that we think and believe?

        Isn´t this really just an exercise in useing Aristotelian Ruled Reason to achieve some sort of spiritual Virtue of right thinking?
        Is Christ or the HS necessary for this?
        Could not even a fake christian manage to spout precisely Orthodox Lutheran Confessionalism, or the Roman Catechism?
        If I get all that right will that make me a real christian?
        Do I really need Christ or the HS to follow the sexual purity code as a gay man that you say St Paul teaches? And if I don´t succeed at that then what am I? can we kneel at the altar together Anthony?
        I suggest that this is to teach Aristotle and Virtue and call it “christian”.
        Does that mean I reject that morality and virtue are necessary? No. Of course not.

        I will refrain from quoting the Confessions, but I suggest that they propose a radically different approach to things. This starts with rejecting as false distinctions the profane vs the sacred and and secular vs churchly.

        One more question:

        Did that sound like hectoring?


      3. I don’t believe your eternal destiny hangs in the balance per se. Whether you — or I — are a Lutheran Christian may, depending on the issue and the church.

        That is the point.

        And you’re getting hectorish. Bringing up Aristotle, again, is a way to slyly appeal to Luther’s aversion to philosophy as a means of tossing virtue under the legalism bus. Again, Frank, you’re not going to get to where you want to be by dismissing virtue as some strange Romanist invention.


      4. You read what I wrote and got the exact opposite meaning I was attempting to express.
        I second your point.

        Again. I beg for a reading that has more charity.
        “sly appeal” …. c´mon Anthony.
        May I ask you to simply assume a higher level of integrity from me please?

        I suggest that the meme about Luther being Aristotle averse or averse to philosophy or morality is simply false. Here is some proof:

        “Concerning morality, nothing can be demanded beyond the ethics of Aristotle” (apology II)
        What part of “nothing” is there to understand ?

        Luther translated Aesóps Fables to read to his children. Luther tells us, in the preface to the Catechism that we are to especially impress on children Bible storys that are about God punishing us for when we do bad and rewarding us for when we do good. Morality. Virtue. The catechism leads off with the 10 commandments.

        God demands of us the virtuous practices Aristotle outlines. I do not consider it legalism to insist upon that Anthony. To the contrary, I think God will punish us if we dont voluntarily chose to practice such virtue that Aristotle so excellently outlines.

        So have I sufficiently convinced you that I had no “sly” hidden agenda of throwing virtue under the bus as legalism? Withhout being hectoring? And why is it that I needed to even do that?

        My point there was simply this:
        Pagans and fake christians can be and do anything and everything you and I can do that is virtuous. In that I include the churchly virtues of getting ones doctrines just exactly right.

        No Christ or HS is needed for any of that.
        To say that is not to dismiss or diminish , in any way, the value or necessity of virtue is it?

        It does however remove teleological and soteriological significance from it.
        And it bothers lots of people to make that caveat.

        Was that hector-ish?


      5. Am I really misreading you, Frank, and being uncharitable? I don’t think so. I think you’re trying to be too clever by half.

        Yes, people can be genuinely “virtuous”–if we limit the definition–and hate God and spend eternity separated from Him. Luther’s point is that in Christ, we have forgiveness of sins, and that God is patient with even the wicked. Every sin does not end with a thunderbolt and every good work with a pot of gold waiting for us when we get home.

        So that means there is no meaningful Christian definition of virtue? Or is it that you think Luther allows you to collapse virtue, and yes morality, under law so you can be freed from it once and for all?

        That doesn’t mean we don’t all fail, or fall short. That’s not the point. The point is, we must never give up. And every time we fall, we pick ourselves up, repent, receive absolution and the means of grace — and continue.

        And give it a rest with that “was it hectorish”? Look at the number of posts you have put up here. And the fact that you were patently wrong about the focus of Article 23 of the Augsburg Confession, which is what drew me into this.

        I don’t want to ban you, Frank. But you make it mighty tempting. Go play somewhere else for a while, please?


  7. Tony, the most significant reason I’m always given very long and serious pause when I start speculating about Genesis is how our Lord Christ regards it and uses it. He simply assumes the factuality of the account and that Moses wrote it. And since he actually was an eyewitness, I really must take His word for it.


    1. This is a serious point, and one that can’t be dismissed lightly. And this opens up the can of worms regarding what the human nature of Jesus “knew” — did it have access to divine knowledge, which is to say, did he know everything the Father knew? Or in the Incarnation was his knowledge limited by virtue of his human nature. I don’t know. That’s where speculation can only be idle.


  8. And another thing … the most helpful thinker on issues pertaining to Genesis, for me, has always been Augustine. A titan of Christian thinkers, he wrestles with a lot of the same issues you are wrestling with. You might want to give his “The Literal Reading of Genesis” a look-see.


    1. Yes — I must add that to my reading list. (Funny you should mention Augustine. I am preparing a long post on why ultimately I could not make the move to Rome, and I came across Aquinas’s teaching on “penance,” which relies heavily on a book he believed was written by Augustine but was not — De vera et falsa poenitentia. How would Thomas have viewed the subject differently if he had known the truth? It does speak to the weight of Augustine’s authority as a teacher throughout the centuries.)


  9. You are right, “Scripture is God-breathed, yes. But what does that mean?” We don’t know. Except that we do know that the Spirit is Life and Truth. The thing about the prophets is that they actually talked to God whereas we don’t. We know have the Word as it was written.

    And you are right, we can’t read prehistory as history with eye witness accounts. I am not suggesting we do so. Genesis does leave alot to the imagination. But what I was trying to communicate is that the Genesis account (although a rather useful timeline) is not the first account. Job is. And God seems rather specific on if we can assume we understand the how’s and why’s of His creation. Where the Bible is silent, we must be as well.

    However, I really do understand your frustration with the scientists and the creationists. I don’t believe they are ALL entirely wrong. I do believe the earth is old. It says in Genesis: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2 ESV)

    But God doesn’t say he created the creatures of this world to grossly die and mutate while eating each other in order to create a common ancestor for apes and man. Sin brought death into this world. It just doesn’t work. Do I believe that many species eventually went extinct AFTER sin entered our world? Definately. What fine “tenders of the garden” we turned out to be.

    So God created “matter” and it was without form and it was void. How long was that matter around? I don’t know. God always was…..that’s a really long time. He also doesn’t say. So I guess we won’t know.

    “I’m afraid you may be the one who is not letting God be God. You are circumscribing how he MUST work.” Not really. I admitted I don’t know HOW he works, I only know what He tells me through His word. And since the Word became flesh, dwelling among us to fulfill the law (which is also the Word), I guess I have to trust Him since He also rose from the dead like He said He would.

    And C.S. Lewis is a brilliant man. (And a fine Anglican) *wink* But He isn’t talking about creation, He’s speaking about the legends of “savior myths.”

    But this doesn’t mean you can’t be Lutheran. What Lutheran is without sin and doubt? Not I. I doubt many things on a regular basis. I doubt history, the mainstream media (although there’s ample evidence why I should), I doubt myself mostly, and I even can’t seem to wrap my head around those little wafers every Sunday. But Christ says it’s Him, and He says He is saving me. I can’t even figure out why he even wants to let alone HOW this is being accomplished. You want to drive yourself bananas, how does a dead man raise himself after three days in history and start talking to people?


    1. And C.S. Lewis is a brilliant man. (And a fine Anglican) *wink* But He isn’t talking about creation, He’s speaking about the legends of “savior myths.”

      Yes, that does seem to the immediate context — but he also held a similar view for Genesis 1-3. That doesn’t mean he’s right or the final word on anything. I offer him up as one non-Lutheran who has influenced me.


  10. Frank:

    You said: “No Kerner. Why would that be so? There are lots of categories unknown to the Bible. That does not mean that those categories are wrong or unuseful.”

    Hold on there old friend. You just repeatedly admonished Rev.McCain to stick to the confessions, and now all this extra-confessional info aabout catagories of humans is supposed to be the game changer? I don’t think so.

    Look, so far we agree that God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions address the issue of sexual self discipline AS THOUGH the catagories of heterosexual and homosexual do not exist. This can only mean several things, some of which are un-Lutheran and therefore beyond the boundaries of this discussion.

    First possibility: The catagories exist, but the Holy Spirit was unaware of them. NON-LUTHERAN!!!
    God is omnicient. The Holy Spirit could not have forgotten about something that exists.

    Second possibility: God does know about the catagories, but those parts of Romans, I Corinthians, etc. that talk about marriage as though the catagories do not exist are not God’s Word. NON-LUTHERAN!!! THe Bible is God’s Word and our sole rule and norm. There may be many heterodox Christians who are willing to snip inconvenient passages from God’s Word to satisfy their reason, but not Lutherans. Incidentally, that is exactly what a lot of Ms. Bolz-Weber’s commenters do. Those passages are just archaic expressions of St. Paul’s cultural prejudices, they say, and not from God at all. Well, in free country they can certainly say that, but they aren’t Lutheran when they say it.

    Third possibility: God’s Word and the confessions discuss sex, marriage, and self discipline as though the catagories do not exist, because the the catagories, in fact, do not exist…even though our reason and observations tell us that the catagories DO exist. Even though it may be wrong, this is at least a Lutheran conclusion. Lutherans know that plenty of things the Bible tells us defy our reason, but no matter. God’s Word is Magisterial over our reason.

    Fourth possibility: God DOES know about the catagories and they DO exist, but God’s Word ignores the catagories because they are irrelevant. My money is on this one. While the practical result of this may be pretty similar to the third possibility, the only real objection is for the people in one of the catagories to complain that they, the creation, understand the relevancy of being in a certain catagory better than God does. But the Lutheran position, given God’s sovereignty, can only be that God, really does know better than his creations, even those who are, or think they are, gay.

    So, yeah. For a gay man, the only moral, lawful, way to give an outlet to his sexual urges is to find a woman willing to marry him, and marry her. He may not find this very satisfactory, but nobody ever finds trying to comply with the God’s Law very satisfactory, which is why it always breaks and kills us. None of us can keep it. I mean, come on Frank. Do you honestly believe that all us so called heterosexuals (assuming that such a special catagory exists) are any better at keeping the Law in our marriages than you were when you were married? Some of us may have been marginally better at it, but those of us who are honest about it as we confess our sins know we are broken on that part of the Law every day.


  11. Never mind the deep stuff for a moment Anthony. “Cranmer at the Movies” does NOT have the same ring to it…


    1. I almost started up a blog called The Surly Vicar, though. One day I’m going to post here the stuff I cooked up.


  12. A couple additional things, Frank. You keep saying that I am proposing a righteousness that I can do. Absolutely wrong. I am proposing a righteousness that I know that neither you nor I can do. It may be more obvious that you can’t do it, but I can’t either.

    You also ask somewhere how it would be for me if I were raised in a world in which I were taught consistantly that the only legitimate outlet for my sexual activity were o marry a man. Maybe this is the point at which I am supposed to get all defensive about my masculinity, but I’m too old to worry about that anymore. I guess it would seem pretty weird. But on the other hand, who knows how I would feel if I were consistantly raised to think it was right. But on yet another hand, if that was what God’s Word said, I would have to do what I could to keep it, even if I knew that I would fail to keep it every single day, and have to confess every week that I had utterly failed and throw it all at the foot of the cross. Pretty much the way my life is now, but with some different details.

    You told me awhile ago that you have been married and widowed twice. It probably would have been similar for me to what that was for you, but who really knows.


  13. Sorry if I’ve enabled the hijacking of your thread Anthony. But thanks for allowing me and Frank to flail away without the non-Lutheran interruptions we get elsewhere. But I’ll give this side track a rest myself now. Thanks again.


  14. Kerner
    God says that there IS a righteousness we CAN do. The Confessions point to Aristotle as being such a fine example of that that nothing beyond his Ethics can be demanded. Apology XIII outlines that stuff that is in the power of free will to do.
    I know what you are saying. When we try our best at doing we still come up short if we are honest.
    Any honest pagan would confess to this as true.
    But still, in a measure, we can do virtue. And God demands that we try our best at that.
    So we can do that, even if we cant do it perfectly.

    But there is a kind of righeousness that we cant do even in the smallest part with our free will.
    We are told that reason is blind to this kind of righeouseness.
    the confessions say God removes the veil of moses which is the opinio lex, and terrifies us with this law.
    This law is found in the first commandment and deals specifically with what our heart and emotions are supposed to do.
    That “doing” is something we cant even in part do Kerner.
    That is faith in Christ that is an invisible “doing” in the heart.

    You are mushing into that the second table Law.


  15. Kerner

    “Do you honestly believe that all us so called heterosexuals (assuming that such a special catagory exists) are any better at keeping the Law in our marriages than you were when you were married?”

    I don´t believe you married your wife and the idea of having sex to her viscerally revolted you.
    From the very start.
    And I don´t believe you would have gone through with it anyway with the selfish aim of trying to fix yourself, be socially acceptable, and keep from going to hell.
    I do not believe for a minute that you feel that would have been right for you to have done that to any woman.
    And I don´t believe that God´s opinion is that this would have been a moral or virtuous thing to do

    I suspect, to the contrary, that the idea that you could legitimately have sex with your bride, and also the physical/emotional intimacy beyond sex, was in fact, something that brought joy to your life.
    And I do believe that is a mercy that God wanted for you.
    I have intimately lived with and around married couples my entire life starting with my parents.
    Why do you feel the need to inform me what that looks like as if i would not know?

    I have alot to repent of in my life Kerner. Let´s take this to a side email if you want to discuss this further please.



    “So that means there is no meaningful Christian definition of virtue? ”

    Yes. Bingo.
    That is precisely what I am meaning
    Include, especially, in that please all we are commanded to do in church.
    There is simply virtue and morality. Romans 2:15 is what says that.
    This virtue/morality/righeousness is Identical for pagan, fake christian and true christian.
    No Scripture, Holy Spirit, Faith or Christ is needed for this.

    This is not to reject the necessity of such virtue/morality/righeousness.
    You seem to assume I am “slyly” asserting that. Assume the absolute contrary please.
    It is to specifically insert this caveat:
    The telological, soteriological and eternal meaning of all this is…. Romans 8 death.

    This, I suggest dear brother Anthony, is THE bright line between Thomism and the Apology.

    I could quote the Confessions on this copiously but I will , of course, refrain.

    Luther: “This [christian] righteousness is useless in our earthly life except to God and a guilty conscience” 1528 Sermon, 9th sunday after trinity at Marburg.


  17. Oh good Lord. William1580 or Frank or whatever you name is … maybe we can sum up the answer this way: God says it’s not ok; therefore don’t do it. Period. I hate to be so simplistic, but really, you seem to keep wanting to find a legal loophole that will make it ok. It’s not. Enough already.

    Anticipating your next screed, no, I will not say something in a more kindly manner just so you can get a virtual hug. Put your big-boy panties on and deal with the fact that you are not correct and quit whining.



  18. Mr. Sacramone: I apologize for taking the liberty on your blog to voice a complaint to one of your readers. My only defense is that my patience is wearing thin. When I made my initial post, I clicked the option to have comments on the topic emailed to me because I am curious about others’ views. But I didn’t realize I was going to receive a ka-jillion emails a day, most of them from one person hammering one point over and over and over.

    Again, my apologies. I’m from the south (Charleston … where we’re regularly voted the most polite city in America), so the apology is necessary.

    p.s. Is there a way to unclick that option after the fact without risking the ability to post comments in the future?


    1. Shelia,

      Call me Anthony.

      No apology necessary, even if you are a Southerner.

      I may be able to unclick that function, but I don’t think it will be necessary. I believe we have temporarily exhausted this topic, at least in this forum. (Or it just may be that we are getting exhausted full stop.)

      Thanks to everyone for their participation. It has given me much to ponder.

      I am closing comments.


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