Monday, April 5, 2010

The Best of Lutheran Theology

A friend and former co-worker asked me to comment on this article from the Kalamazoo Gazette. The article is an interview with "Rev." Paul Nuechterlein. Nuechterlein is the "pastor" of a "Lutheran" "church" in Portage, MI. He is a proponent of emerging "theology" and the article deals chiefly with the doctrine of the atonement. Nuechterlein believes that Christianity is going through a change unlike any that we have seen since the time of the Reformation. Nuechterlein is a universalist who denies justification by faith without having any understanding of what justification by faith actually means. He also denies "the standard kind of atonement theology" (perhaps "standard" as opposed to deluxe or limited edition). Basically, Nuechterlein is opposed to the satisfaction model of the atonement. In a textbook example of the Appeal to authority fallacy, Nuechterlein says that "the best of Lutheran theology is uneasy with that." This is on the same level as "studies show" or "experts agree." What Lutheran theology? Nuechterlein doesn't like what the Old Testament says about God. If you're a reasonably well catechized Lutheran you might read the article and think that this guy needs to go to catechism class. Much like N.T. Wright (who Nuechterlein also likes), Nuechterlein's understanding of confessional Lutheran theology seems to be based on some strange caricature. In fact by the end of the article we find out that Nuechterlein is more anti-Lutheran than N.T. Wright.

This isn't some new movement. This is just old mainline liberalism repackaged. Nuechterlein is a minister in the "Evangelical" "Lutheran" "Church" in America. There have been some good Lutheran scholars in the ELCA such as Gerhard Forde but for the most part the ELCA in its liberal leadership looks a lot like the ECUSA. Even the "conservatives" within the ELCA often sound more like Methodists than Lutherans. What is it that makes the ELCA Lutheran? What is it that makes Nuechterlein a Lutheran? Is it because he's German? So is the Pope. He denies justification by faith alone, sola Scriptura and all kinds of other things. The Lutheran confessions teach a satisfaction model of the atonement, so wouldn't "the Best of Lutheran theology" also teach that?

Unlike many confessional Reformed folks, I think confessional Lutherans have been more open to recogize the validity of some of the other atonement models. No single model is sufficient to teach about the atonement. It is a great mystery and can't fit inside of our heads. But you can't be a confessional Lutheran and deny the satisfaction model. You can't confess what Scripture confesses and deny the satisfaction model. What this article shows is that there are many poorly trained pastors out there who went to "lutheran" "seminaries" that didn't think that teaching historic Lutheran theology was important.

The ELCA, UCC, PCUSA, UMC and ECUSA are already in full communion. I can't see why they don't drop the labels and just become a single denomination. They could just become the "Mainline Liberal Church in America" or something. Or maybe they could all become part of the UCC. I'm guessing that they realize they would lose funding from some misguided donors if they did this but I can't think of any theological reasons for them remaining separate in any way.


Esteban Vázquez said...

Don't forget the RCA, which is also in full communion with the PCUSA, the UCC, and the ELCA (!). Anyway, they should all unite and become the North American Province of the Church of South India. Then they could expand PCUSA's 2-vol. "Book of Confessions" into a 4-vol. anthology and allow any living being endowed with an individual conscience to choose whichever confession or confessions suit them to the exclusion of the others--maybe both the Barmen Declaration and the Belhar Confession over against the Nicene Creed and the Heidelberg Catechism.

Chuck Wiese said...

You're awesome!

Louis said...

Thanks Charles for a great answer to my question. I've posted a link to your response from my blog.