Playing Puritans and Lutherans

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So this is a bit behind the curve, but I wanted to say a few things about this post by my friend Tim Bayly. He posted this just a week after I was there in Bloomington for their Salt & Light conference, and so you would not be far off if you thought my visit might have had something to do with it. And now it has something more to do with it.

Some of what I say here will simply reinforce what Tim is saying, and some of it will consist of “but what about this factor . . .?”

Good fences make good neighbors. Good labels can do the same thing, which is bad news for a generation that “hates labels.” Just as liberalism was a rot that got into every denomination extant, so the postmodern vibe is doing the same thing to us — largely through the death grip that academia has on pastoral training. Just as it was very difficult to tell the difference between a liberal Methodist and a liberal Presbyterian in the late fifties, even when the light was good, so also it is difficult now to tell the difference between a Kellerite soul patch and the other kind.

True ecumenism requires precision of thought, and precision of language, but we have gotten to the place where every attempt at careful definition is dismissed as a run up to war. Postmodernism does to theology what leaving a watercolor out in a downpour does to the painting. True ecumenism requires oil painting in the Mojave, where the blue stays blue, and the brown stays put.

So let’s assume that all our discussions of these issues have the same understanding of Schaeffer’s “true truth.” We can draw straight arrows from the signifier to the thing signified. We really care about the truth, and we want to learn and affirm as much of it as we can. We have trouble being patient with those who say “no creed but Christ, no law but love” because what they just said is, when you come down to it, a very fine creed, and it isn’t Christ.

The CREC requires each church to adopt into their standards The Apostles’ Creed, The Nicene Creed, and The Definition of Chalcedon. After that, they have to choose from an array of reformational standards — the American Westminster, or the original Westminster, or the 3 Forms of Unity, and so on. The furthest distance of one from another, from wing tip to wing tip, would probably be the 3 Forms and the London Baptist. That is, to be perfectly frank, quite a span. Now I don’t know if it would be possible to do the same kind of thing with our puritans and lutherans, but if it were possible, the CREC is uniquely situated to make the attempt. I am in favor of making that attempt — provided the evangelical center is preserved.

But — some staunch presbyterians might argue — why should we even make the attempt? Why shouldn’t we leave it the way it is? Well, I would argue that to isolate presbyterianism is in effect to deny it. Historic Presbyterian and Reformed thought (of which I am a cheerful advocate) is anti-sectarian in its DNA. From Calvin on, the earnest desire of the Reformed was to establish some kind of formal concord with the Lutherans. But it was not to be, and I am not so big a fool as to think that it was all because of misunderstandings. There were and are big theological issues involved, and they do need to be worked through. See my earlier comments on the need for charitable precision.

But with that said, to simply dismiss the lutherans out of hand is way too . . . lutheran. I am not trying to be rude here, but the unnecessary obstacles to Reformed/Lutheran amity were usually thrown up on the Lutheran side. So those who don’t want to be lutheran can start with that.

Now I have already mentioned my caution about how relativistic thinking turns everybody’s theology into mush, but I should also add here my agreement with Tim that sometimes the same effect can appear because people are in transition. The postmodern Lutheran affirms the truthiness of the Augsburg, while the crypto-Lutheran in transition can sound mushier than he actually is.

By the way, I really am not using the word lutheran in a pejorative sense — even though I myself have been accused of being a crypto-lutheran on more than one occasion. It was no fun at all — as my therapist could well tell you, if I would just sign that release. And I would sign it for him too, but I am afraid he would write a book about everything.

So while it is true that luthero-presbyterians are creating pressure to alter the historic Reformed understanding of the sacraments, we need to remember that they haven’t gotten away with it yet. But, on the other end, the bapto-presbyterians have gotten away with their reinterpretations. They think that sacraments that really “exhibit and confer” what they signify is popish superstition, which would startle the good divines of Westminster. This creates the sorry spectacle of the lutheros thinking that the puritans are baptists, and the baptos thinking the puritans are jesuits. Oh, well.

This is a very complex math problem, and that is why we should make sure we are loving each other, and are showing our work at every step.

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David Gray
David Gray
7 years ago

So while it is true that luthero-presbyterians are creating pressure to alter the historic Reformed understanding of the sacraments, we need to remember that they haven’t gotten away with it yet. But, on the other end, the bapto-presbyterians have gotten away with their reinterpretations.

AMEN.

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
7 years ago

Bottom line question — and why is it you force CREC’s to choose a label in addition to the main ingredients?? CREC membership requires subscription to the “evangelical center” label — the main ingredients. You identify this as represented by: The Apostles’ Creed, The Nicene Creed, and The Definition of Chalcedon. In addition to that nice, satisfying, basic, “mere” casserole, some spice has to sprinkled on top, is that right? And so you require that a label must appear for the spice. They “have to choose from an array of reformational standards …” Is this requirement designed to advertise the… Read more »

Curt Day
7 years ago

Before condemning those poor postmodernists, we should given them their due. They did challenge the gentiles on what Jesus said the gentiles did, which was to lord over people. The postmodernists challenged colonialism, empire, and attempts to dominate. Where they got mixed up was to think that undesirable results implies what truth isn’t. But as for the rest of the post, I would be more concerned about people in the church on all sides of the fence bearing the fruit of the Spirit. For what does it say about whatever confession we hold dear when we are ready to sin… Read more »

timbushong
7 years ago

Even if NOBODY else in that sheepfold likes that spice or wears that tartan?

I think the point is that the sheep should at least know what it is that they’re being served. It’s good to know where a man stands.

From my perspective, it’s not the confessions themselves (or even the wing tip to wing tip distances) that are lending credence to the neo-Lutherens, it’s the re-definitions that are being employed by men who don’t want to verbalize their exceptions to the confessions.

Dan Glover
7 years ago

Best lines in this post: “Postmodernism does to theology what leaving a watercolor out in a downpour does to the painting. True ecumenism requires oil painting in the Mojave, where the blue stays blue, and the brown stays put.” I would want to qualify this by saying that this is what unbounded postmodernity does, or postmoderns disconnected from Scripture and the church which has gone before. But I believe that there is a place for prudent use of postmodern insights. Part of that prudence manifests itself in not carrying postmodern insights to their logical conclusions (indeed, many postmoderns don’t seem… Read more »

Curt Day
7 years ago

it’s the re-definitions that are being employed by men who don’t want to verbalize their exceptions to the confessions. It is my exceptions to the confessions that keep me from becoming Pope of the OPC. Doug, I am not guarded in my acceptance of Postmodern ideas. The reason is I believe that we best demonstrate our knowledge of the Scriptures when we can see the Scriptures unconsciously used by unapproved sources. Postmodernists are like intrusive family members when one is sick. They know far more about diagnosing than they do about curing. But at the same time, the more we… Read more »

timbushong
7 years ago

it’s the re-definitions that are being employed by men who don’t want to verbalize their exceptions to the confessions.

It is my exceptions to the confessions that keep me from becoming Pope of the OPC.

At least you’re forthright enough to honestly say what those exceptions are. I’m not against exceptions per se (I have 2 exceptions to the 1689 LBCF) but I wish folks would just say so—’out with it’ already—without nuancing them into a miasma of foggy abstractions.

Nicholas
Nicholas
7 years ago

I can assure you that Confessional Lutherans (like myself) desire no fellowship with the likes of you.