You may have heard that Russell Saltzman, former editor of Forum Letter and a former dean of the North American Lutheran Church, is converting to Roman Catholicism. That news precipitated my most recent article for First Things, “The Evangelical Catholic Tradition: Reclaiming the Lutheran Heritage.”

In the article I explore Saltzman’s reasons for leaving Lutheranism vis-à-vis Jaroslav Pelikan’s, who famously converted to Orthodoxy in his 70s. As it happens, I had been reading one of Pelikan’s early works when I heard the news of Saltzman’s conversion, so the comparison seemed apropos.

I go on to note what both Saltzman and Pelikan have noted: that Lutheranism itself never intended to create a new church; the Lutheran movement itself was deeply catholic.

That the Lutheran tradition intended to be faithful to the catholic tradition does not seem to be in doubt with either Saltzman or Pelikan: “Philipp Melancthon’s profession that “the churches among us do not dissent from the catholic church in any article of faith” is understood to be an accurate assessment of the intentions of the historic Lutheran church. No, the problem lies not in the Lutheran tradition, according to these writers, but instead with contemporary expressions of Lutheranism.”

Saltzman notes a general dissatisfaction with those Lutherans who have rejected this rich catholic heritage. Pelikan, decades before his transition to Orthodoxy, noted similar concerns. To be sure, I agree, “contemporary Lutheranism may have its flaws” but this doesn’t change the fact that, “at its core the Lutheran tradition is deeply and fundamentally catholic. The riches of the catholic tradition are already ours, and at our best we embrace that heritage. I pray that our churches will delve deeper into that tradition.”

Read it all over at First Things.