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Rhode: The Gospel for Former Evangelicals

I have been facing a deadline crunch at my day job, and I’ve had to let the blog sit idle (not to say fallow) for a couple of weeks. I’m hoping to clear the backlog over the next week or so.

If this is your first visit to this blog you may not yet know that I’m one of the people who agrees (that is, “affirms”) that American Evangelicalism is sick: the churches are big and too much like television, the teaching is too shallow, the theological conservatives are too cozy with the Republican Party, etc. etc. Unlike most of my unsettled brethren I don’t know what the cure for this sickness is; I tend to be skeptical when I hear many of the proposed solutions.

I realize that for many Christians the way out of the post-Evangelical wilderness (or whatever you want to call it) is to join an older theological, liturgical, or ecclesiastical tradition, and for some of these people this means becoming a confessional Lutheran. I understand some of the appeal of say the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS): it has roots in an old but nearly modern tradition; it sort of has American roots; it has a vast literature, has fairly straightforward answers to lots of questions, and it has some semblance of an intellectual history. You don’t have to think to be a Lutheran, but you can be a thinking Lutheran.

Still when I listen to Issues Etc. with Todd Wilken I am tempted to put the speakers into one of two categories:

  1. People who sound like Christians
  2. People who sound like Catholics

And most of the guests fit into the first category, which is one of the reasons I keep listening. It’s the people in the second category who just plain drive me nuts. These are the ones who remind me of the Catholic apologists I used to hear on Sacred Heart Radio: who do not countenance the actual questions people ask about their point of view; who set up “Evangelical” straw men I find unrecognizable; who put questions in the mouths of these fictional Evangelicals that sound like they’ve been back-fitted to the safe Catholic catechetical answer.

Which brings me to the recent series with Jeremy Rhode titled “The Gospel for Former Evangelicals” [link]. Rhode is about 15 years younger than I am, graduated from seminary about four years ago [link], and sounds like he’s still in the honeymoon phase of his relationship with the LCMS. I don’t know who these former Evangelicals he’s talking about are; what kind of Evangelical they used to be; how many of them there are; or what would possess them to consider Lutheranism; but Rhode’s presentation of confessional Lutheranism as a cure for what’s ailing the American church strikes me as unfair both in its presentation of the disease and its cure.

I just can’t bring myself to seriously consider what Rhode suggests is the heart of the fix for Evangelicals: that the Body of Christ is in any sense actually present in Communion; that Communion (rather than Jesus’s death on the Cross, which it symbolizes) brings forgiveness of sin; that distinguishing between the pastor and the office he holds is anything but a recipe for abuse; that baptism actually brings regeneration; etc.

I highly recommend listening to the entire series if you can stand it and understand it. It’s as good a place as any to start understanding what little dialog there is between confessional Lutheranism and American Evangelicalism.

In conclusion: we affirm that American Evangelicalism is sick; we deny that confessional Lutheranism is the cure.

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  1. 15thClub
    November 25, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    Mike,
    I left the LCMS in the early 80’s sick and tired of the bickering back and forth that was the “famous nasty schism” between the conservatives lead by J.A.O. Preuss and the moderates led by John Tietjen. Both have passed on and my only hope for them is they are at peace with Christ and have shaken hands in Heaven. I was an acolyte, a Sunday School Teacher, and went through the rigid two year confirmation classes studying Luther’s Small Catechism. I must heartily admit I still love the General Confession and use it in my daily prayers. In college, I wrote a paper on the Sociological/Demographic Effects of Luther’s Reformation. What I found out after reading a large amount of secular and religious history, the causes, effects and answers espoused by the LCMS just aren’t as cut and dry as the evidence portrays. As much as the LCMS closely guards the “ICONess” of Martin Luther, the historical data does not villify Luther but he doesn’t come out as saintly as the LCMS would like you to believe. In short, the Reformation was not a pure exercise in religious differences. Economics, political shifts, and cultural differences were just as much a part of Luther’s actions and some of the Barons such as Frederick The Wise rode that bandwagon quite well. I went over to the Episcopal Church and found some stability there until John Shelby Spong, Episcopal Bishop of Newark, NJ, writes an article that the resurrection of Christ never happened and the Episcopal Church as far as I know, never censured him. Christ died and that was it but he left us a wonderful set of principles to live by. Lucky for Spong, he’s not living back five centuries or more, he’d be having a close encounter tied to a stake on top of a flaming pile of wood. My lovely wife was raised Roman Catholic. I began going to Catholic Mass (no one forced me) in part because I was curious and I developed an admiration for Pope John Paul II. That man had some serious courage; “Be Not Afraid!” and any man who stood up to the Soviet Union like he did without firing a shot (but himself was shot) was someone to look up to. Because of the “culture wars,” my daughter went to Catholic Schools. Due to a move, she had to be in a public school for three months but I told myself I’d eat Hamburger Helper and deny myself my own personal extras and I would burn in Perdition before I let public educators teach and influence my daughter. I’ve read the entire RCC Catechism. I’ve talked to priests about how the RCC develops its theology and positions. I like their methods. The 10 episode series on Catholicism by Father Robert Barron is a masterpiece. Barron (also on You Tube) pulls no punches, He’s a Catholic priest and he makes an impassioned argument for his church. You might not agree with him but I guarantee you this, you will come away respecting the logic and reason he applies to his arguments. I’ve finally made my decision. I left two churches in disgust, so I took a little bit more time, 18 years in fact because the third time will be the last time. When I left the LCMS, I never looked back and never spent the time curious about what if any was the resolution. In the past few months I finally got curious. I did some Internet searching. The LCMS is still there and the ELCA became the home for the “moderates.” No resolution, the scars are still there and the LCMS, well I hope they’re happy but they’ll have to be happy without me (I’m sure they won’t loose any sleep over me). I’m going to be a Catholic and for the first time in over four decades, I can see home in sight and I have found peace finally realizing the magnitude of my personal struggle and it’s not been fun being “homeless.” But, it was less fun being in the midst of either an argument I wanted no part of but had to endure and a heresy I could not tolerate under any circumstances. It sounds like you’re still on your journey. The choices will be yours and yours alone. God will nudge you but will also let you make your choice. I wish you well! I am available for further discussion if you wish. It’s your call my friend.

  2. Sam
    December 23, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    I agree that evangelicalism is “sick.” But joining another Protestant church is not the answer. IMO. I converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is not Jewish, but Orthodox. It is Catholic, but Not Roman. It is evangelical, but not Protestant. It is not denominational, but pre-denominational. It is was and still is, the original New Testament Church, tracing it’s Liturgy and Traditions right back to the Apostles.
    This I realize, is a bold statement. But it can be verified by an honest and scholarly investigation of world history.

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