Lutheran Leanings

stpeters“Some time ago my friend Churl began a series of posts here on A Christian Thing discussing his frustration at the Evangelical tradition in which he was raised and his attraction to Roman Catholicism. Of course, Churl has always recognized these are not the only options: there is Orthodoxy, of course; and on the Protestant side, there are options like Anglicanism and Lutheranism. Alongside Churl’s posts, Chinglican has been chiming in with his defence of Anglicanism, but the Lutheran on this blog has been remarkably silent. That’s not to say I haven’t any opinions on the subject. I do. In fact, Churl and I have discussed the topic on a number of occasions outside of the blog (you know, in real life). But while I have many opinions, I have much less time in which to write them down.

Part of what has delayed an online response from me has also been the recognition that it would necessarily mean examining Catholic doctrine in detail. Indeed, talking about joining any church must, by definition, include a very real hashing out of doctrine, because it is doctrine that distinguishes one church from another. Such discussions can be very confusing to many people. They also, by definition, tend to make people angry, because if you say you believe X, you must also say you reject Y.

But I have told Churl I would write a response for the blog. So I will. And this is my response: I’m too damn Catholic to be Catholic.

That might sound flippant or even nonsensical. It isn’t intended to be. “But what does it even mean?” you ask…”

Read the rest over at A Christian Thing.


After a few days offline, we’re back. Here’s the news you might have missed in recent days:

– I’ve got a post considering the work of angels over at A Christian Thing.

If you’re anything like the vast majority of Protestants (and I include myself in this condemnation), you seldom think about angels. If pressed on the matter, most of us could no doubt offer up some fluff on what these beings are. But the idea that they are constantly at work in the Christian’s life—that we are, in fact, constantly in contact with these creatures today and yesterday and all the days of our lives—this is seldom a subject of thought.

– Over at First Thoughts, I discuss the re-election of President Matthew C. Harrison (of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) and what it might mean for Lutherans’ ecumenical relations (in light of ongoing talks with Roman Catholics, the Anglican Church in North America, and the North American Lutheran Church.

If the past few years are anything to go by, this growing interest in strong relationships between the LCMS and other confessing Christian churches is likely to continue into President Harrison’s second term. I for one couldn’t be more pleased.

Update: The First Things post above has also been reprinted at the LCMS’ “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” blog:


I’m late to the party on this one, but I still want to take the time to note the important discussion of sanctification that took place last month on “Strange Herring,” a blog by Lutheran writer Anthony Sacramone. His question (and one too many of us are left sharing) is why so much of contemporary Lutheranism seems soft on discipleship. It’s certainly not Scripture’s fault; Christians are clearly called to live life differently as a result of their salvation through Christ. It’s certainly not something we can blame on Luther either; he’s the one who first named the heresy of antinomianism, after all. Nor is it the fault of our confessions; there’s that whole “third use of the law” thing. And the early Lutheran fathers were similarly clear on the importance of holy living. (See more on all this here and here.

And yet, some contemporary Lutherans seem to have abandoned any discussion about what the “inner man” accomplishes as the Holy Spirit works in us to kill the “outer man” (ie, “the Old Adam”). Too many influential works seem infected with an almost antinomian strain. One prominent example: Gerhard Forde’s On being a Theologian of the Cross. While good in many ways, this book explicitly contradicts the Lutheran confessions by denying the Third Use of the Law. It worries me, therefore, that so many quote-unquote “confessional” Lutherans recommend it so unreservedly.

I recently discussed Luther’s On the Freedom of a Christian over at First Things, focusing on the subject of good works in the Christian’s life. I’ve also broached the subject of modern-day Lutherans being slack on sanctification on this blog in the past too. But I’m glad to see it under discussion in the wider Lutheran blogosphere. The impetus for the most recent sanctification-debate was Anthony Sacramone’s reading of a Gospel Coalition review of Rev. Jonathan Fisk’s recent book Broken: 7 “Christian” Rules that Every Christian Ought to Break. That led to Sacramone’s important post “Is Lutheranism Broken?” Go read it. The next day, he put up his own review of Broken. It’s likewise insightful and worth reading. While you’re at it, read his 2012 post on “Lutherans and Sanctification” too.\


first-thingsThis is just a brief post to let readers know of an article I wrote which went up on First Things recently. Entitled “Roman Catholics and Confessional Lutherans explore deeper ties,” it highlights emerging talks between the two church bodies. A selection follows:

In noting it was Roman Catholics who initiated conversation with confessional Lutherans, Dr. Klän suggested there was “a deep rooted disappointment [among] Roman Catholics—in Germany at least— with the Lutheran World Federation or some of its member churches.”

While dialogue between Roman Catholics and mainline Lutherans continues, a desire has arisen among Roman Catholics to begin looking to confessional Lutherans for more fruitful dialogue.

For more, read the whole story at First Things. On the same topic, a short article went up today over at The Canadian Lutheran entitled “Lutheran Church–Canada and Roman Catholics begin talks.”


This past Sunday was the celebration for All Saints Day (actually Nov. 1), and the Sunday before that was (at least in my branch of the Christian Church) Reformation Sunday (actually Oct. 31).

Given those two days (All Saints and Reformation), it might be good to share with you my most recent column for The Canadian Lutheran: “Martin Luther: Sinner/Saint.”

Occasionally when sharing my faith with others, I will be met with the reply: “You’re a Lutheran? But don’t you know the terrible things that Martin Luther did?

More often than not, these people are referring to Luther’s treatise On the Jews and their Lies. In this work, Luther writes some dreadful things, including his “sincere advice” to Christians to go and burn down the Jews’ synagogues and schools; destroy their houses; forbid their rabbis to teach under pain of death; deprive them of wealth and property; force young Jewish men and women into hard labour; or simply drive them out of the country. In the years leading up to World War II, the Nazis would rediscover this book of Luther’s and use it in their twisted campaign to first imprison and then murder the Jewish people.

Now there are a whole host of defenses one could fall back on to try to excuse Luther for this book. One could argue that he was simply a product of his times. Antisemitism was prevalent in most of Europe during the Middle Ages, after all, and Luther was merely writing as many thinkers of his age did. Or one could point out that Luther’s book was precipitated by the publication of a Jewish tract which (apparently) aimed to convert Christians to Judaism; Luther was no doubt writing in anger rather than reasoned thought. One could even point out that Luther’s earlier writings on the Jews were generally counsels to love them, not persecute them. Yes, one could do all these things when confronted by people disgusted with Luther and what he wrote. But I suggest there is a better approach to take.

We should agree with them.

Read the rest of the article over at


Today is Reformation Day—the day Lutherans (and other Protestants of varying types) mark the anniversary of All Saint’s Eve, 1547. On that day, according to popular legend, Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses outlining papal abuses to the church door in Wittenberg. The church door acted as a kind of bulletin board, and it was a notice that Luther wanted to hold debate or discussion on the topic. If that’s all that had happened, perhaps history would have played out differently. But, the legend continues, readers of the theses were so struck by the force of Luther’s complaints that they decided to share them with others. They went off to the nearest copy shop (ie, printing press) and made multiple, bootlegged copies. These subsequently made their way across Germany and other parts of Europe, bringing Luther’s complaints to an audience far larger than that of little backwoods Wittenberg.

It was the first act in the theological drama to come.

Reformation Day is for us a bitter-sweet remembrance. On the one hand, we celebrate the theological movement that took place under the care of people like Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon. They called for a “re-formation,” that is to say, a “forming again” of the Church. They believed the Church had strayed from the teachings of the early Church, especially on the question of how we are saved. The Reformers championed (rightly, I think) God’s grace toward sinners, received through faith—something that had been obscured by popular teachings on indulgences and works. Luther cried “ad fontes”—“back to the sources!” Back to the Scriptures. And it wasn’t just a call to theologians; the average person should have the Scriptures opened to them; to that end, he translated the Bible into the common language of the people. In all these things—grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone—, the focus was ultimately on Christ. For Christ was (and remains) the giver of grace, the perfector of faith, and the very Word of God made flesh. Yes, through Christ alone. And so there’s plenty to be thankful for come Reformation Day.

And yet, while we celebrate the Reformation, we must also recognizing the division in the Church it brought about—division which exists to this day. Luther was excommunicated by the Roman Church. And to be fair, Luther could be a particularly vicious opponent; it’s not terribly surprising he was likewise met with fierce opposition. But even the more peaceful Melanchthon could not broker peace between the Evangelicals (for that is what the reformers called themselves—those devoted to the “Evangel” or “Gospel”) and supporters of the status quo. Despite Melanchthon’s contention that the Evangelical faith was well within the boundaries of historic, orthodox Christianity (a contention I obviously agree with), the Roman church disagreed. The Council of Trent drew the final dividing line: if you believed in salvation by faith alone, you were anathema. And it’s hard to have a discussion with someone who believes you’re anathema. (Though, no doubt, the Pope likewise found it difficult to hold discussion with those who called him Antichrist.)

Today is a day of mixed feelings: a matter for rejoicing as well as a matter for great sorrow. We rejoice over the doctrines rediscovered in the days of the Reformation. We sorrow over the divisions which rent the body of Christ in that time and continue to rend it today. Ours is gratitude tempered by the painful awareness of separation. The Church ought not be divided. And yet it is—or at least the Church visible is.

We earnestly thank God for the Reformation. But we do so with heavy hearts; we grieve its necessity. And we pray that the Desire of nations would at last come and bid our sad divisions cease—that He would make us one openly and visibly, just as spiritually the Church of Christ truly is one.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us.


This post is published concurrently at A Christian Thing.

There are few things I like better than sitting down with a cup of tea, a pen in hand, and a good book or article on theology. The trouble is (if you’re anything like me) your bookshelves are all pretty much full already. So where exactly are we supposed to store the back issues of theological journals that we subscribe to?

Well, there’s now a solution for at least one such publication. Logos Bible Software has informed me (and asked me to pass on the info to my readers) that 20 years of the Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly (WLQ) is soon to be made available for your computer through Logos.

The Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly is the theological journal of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, the seminary of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) in the United States, the third largest Lutheran body in North America. While there are theological positions that WELS takes which I would not, I’m more than happy to read their journal of theology. In fact, engaging the deep thinking of a church body is (in my opinion) the most honest way of doing ecumenicism. As I’ve written on another site, I believe “truly fruitful ecumenical dialogue only occurs when we recognize (and do not ignore) theological differences between Christians.” And as I note elsewhere on this site, I agree with the reformers that “God works in the vocations of all people (Christian or otherwise), meaning that there are things to be learned from those outside our own tradition.”

That’s perhaps the reason why the Emmaus Conference is such an interesting concept. This conference (which draws together representatives from the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod) brings together people to discuss theology in a “free conference.” Free and open theological discussion is the basis for worthwhile conversation.

So dig in to WLQ (and any number of other theological journals for that matter). When you learn something new, thank God for the new insight and knowledge. And when you come across something you’re not quite sure about, thank God for the opportunity to sharpen your own mind—“as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another,” after all.

The following comes from Logos and gives a bit of the history of WLQ. It also explains some of the features available to users who get WLQ through Logos.

Since 1904 the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod has published a theological journal, originally called Theologische Quartalschrift, now the Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly. This journal is issued by Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary as a testimony of its theological convictions, as a public witness to the saving truths of Holy Scripture, and in the interest of the theological and professional growth of those whom the seminary is training for the public ministry and of those already active in this ministry.

With the Logos Bible Software edition all Scripture passages in Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly are tagged and appear on mouse-over. What’s more, Scripture references are linked to the wealth of language resources in your digital library. This makes all 84 issues more powerful and easier to access than ever before for scholarly work or personal Bible study. With the advanced search features of Logos Bible Software, you can perform powerful searches by topic or Scripture reference—finding, for example, every mention of “justification,” or “Paul.”

Check it out at Logos here.

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