A conservative Lutheran college in Wisconsin withdraws a speaking invitation to Mike Pence

Wisconsin Lutheran

Mike Pence was scheduled to deliver the commencement address at Wisconsin Lutheran College, a theologically conservative school affiliated with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. The school withdrew the invitation to speak at the August 29th event after “careful consideration of the escalating events in Kenosha.”

Here is a taste of Devi Shastri’s and Bill Glauber’s piece at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Pence’s appearance had already caused some controversy.

When the college announced it last week, it said the selection was not an endorsement of a political party and “cannot” be viewed as a political event.

“We believe it is possible within our context to leave partisan politics at the door and to celebrate America, our freedoms, Christian servant leadership and our graduates’ immense accomplishments,” the statement said.

But more than 100 students and alumni signed a letter calling the invitation “blatantly inappropriate.” 

“The mere invitation of a Vice President of an incredibly divisive and controversial ticket to speak in a swing state months before an election is ignorant and deceptive,” the letter said. “Speaking to young adults months before an election is a political move and not one that WLC can decide is apolitical.”

Read the rest here.

Jerry Falwell’s “Two Kingdoms” View is Not Only Wrong, It’s Dangerous

File Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Many of you have seen court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr.’s interview with Joe Heim of The Washington Post.

Falwell Jr. says:

There’s two kingdoms. There’s the earthly kingdom and the heavenly kingdom. In the heavenly kingdom the responsibility is to treat others as you’d like to be treated. In the earthly kingdom, the responsibility is to choose leaders who will do what’s best for your country. Think about it. Why have Americans been able to do more to help people in need around the world than any other country in history? It’s because of free enterprise, freedom, ingenuity, entrepreneurism and wealth. A poor person never gave anyone a job. A poor person never gave anybody charity, not of any real volume. It’s just common sense to me.

When Heim asked Falwell if there is anything Trump could do that would endanger evangelical support for the President he answers, based on his political theology, with one word: “no.”

Over at Slate, writer Ruth Graham responds to Falwell’s one-word answer:

At one point, reporter Joe Heim asked Falwell whether there is anything Trump could do that would endanger his support from Falwell and other evangelical leaders. He answered, simply, “No.” His explanation was a textbook piece of circular reasoning: Trump wants what’s best for the country, therefore anything he does is good for the country. There’s something almost sad about seeing this kind of idolatry articulated so clearly. In a kind of backhanded insult to his supporters, Trump himself once said that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” without losing his base. It’s rare to see a prominent supporter essentially admit that this was true. 

Graham also notes that Falwell’s views seem to contradict the mission statement of Liberty University.  This is true.

In its “Statement of Mission and Purpose,” Liberty claims to “promote the synthesis of academic knowledge and a Christian worldview in order that there might be a maturing of spiritual, intellectual, social and physical value-driven behavior.”  This kind of “worldview” language suggests that students at Liberty will learn to think Christianly about all things, including the ways Christianity intersect with politics and government.  After all, wasn’t this Falwell’s father’s vision for Liberty University?  Wasn’t Liberty University directly linked to Falwell Sr.’s Moral Majority–an attempt to bring Christianity to bear on government and politics?

Falwell Jr. seems to believe that the only thing Christianity teaches Christians about their responsibility as citizens is that Christianity has no role to play in our responsibility as citizens.  If I am reading him correctly, he is arguing that the promotion of capitalism, entrepreneurship, free-markets, and the accumulation of wealth is the essence Christian citizenship.  In other words, Falwell Jr. assumes that Christianity and capitalism are virtually the same thing.  I would love to hear from a Liberty professor on this point.  Is there anything about capitalism (as defined by the accumulation of wealth, free markets, and entrepreneurship) that contradicts the teaching of Christianity?   I know some Liberty professors and I DO think that they would say there is a difference between the two, but I wonder how free they are to make that critique in public.

I also wonder if Falwell Jr. believes that there is anything within the Christian tradition that might provide a critique of government.  I don’t have the time to search, but I am sure it is pretty easy to find Falwell Jr. making some kind of theological or Christian critique of Barack Obama.

It is important to note here that Falwell is not arguing, as other court evangelicals have done, that evangelicals should support Trump because he will deliver a conservative Supreme Court or defend religious liberty.  Remember, in this interview he says that there is NOTHING Trump can do to lose his support.  NOTHING!  This, of course, means that if he would commit adultery in the oval office, appoint a radically pro-choice Supreme Court justice, call for the end of the Second Amendment, or shoot someone on 5th Avenue, Trump will not lose Falwell’s support.  I don’t know of any American–Christian or not– who would be so confident about a political candidate.

The Statement of Mission and Purpose also notes that Liberty University will “encourage a commitment to the Christian life, one of personal integrity, sensitivity to the needs of others, social responsibility and active communication of Christian faith….”  Apparently Falwell believes that all these things can be practiced without any connection to politics or government.  In other words, Falwell wants to train students to live personal lives of faith, but never apply that faith to democratic citizenship.  I am not sure his father would have agreed with this.

Which leads me to one more question:  What is taught at the Jesse Helms School of Government at Liberty?  (Yes, THAT Jesse Helms). According to its website, the Helms School of Government develops “leaders who are guided by duty, honor, and morality.  It also claims to instill “a Christian sense of justice and civic duty in our students….”  Dr. Stephen Parke, the Associate Dean of the Helms School, lists his favorite Bible verse as Isaiah 1:17: “Learn to do right!  Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.  Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”  This is an interesting choice for a dean at a Christian school of government and politics at a university run by Jerry Falwell Jr.

It is also worth noting that legitimate advocates of a Two Kingdoms approach to church-state relations would also reject much of what Falwell has to say in this interview.

Again, here is Falwell:

It’s such a distortion of the teachings of Jesus to say that what he taught us to do personally — to love our neighbors as ourselves, help the poor — can somehow be imputed on a nation. Jesus never told Caesar how to run Rome. He went out of his way to say that’s the earthly kingdom, I’m about the heavenly kingdom and I’m here to teach you how to treat others, how to help others, but when it comes to serving your country, you render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. It’s a distortion of the teaching of Christ to say Jesus taught love and forgiveness and therefore the United States as a nation should be loving and forgiving, and just hand over everything we have to every other part of the world. That’s not what Jesus taught. You almost have to believe that this is a theocracy to think that way, to think that public policy should be dictated by the teachings of Jesus.

Martin Luther also believed that government action should not be based on the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings of Jesus.  For example, Luther defended the right to private property.  As a result, he believed government should not be based on Jesus’s idea of abandoning all of our material possessions and giving them to the poor. (Although he would have certainly warned against materialism rooted in the accumulation of private property).

But Luther’s Two Kingdom belief, as I understand it, is more nuanced and complex than what Falwell Jr. makes it out to be.  (I am happy to be corrected here by Lutheran theologians). In fact, I don’t think Luther would have recognized Falwell Jr.’s political theology.

Ruth Graham links to Missouri-Synod Lutheran writer Lyman Stone’s First Things piece titled “Two Kingdom Theology in the Trump Era.”  Stone writes:

Is it the case that Lutheran theology favors brute political realism, mercilessness in state operations, perhaps even docility in the face of tyranny? Historically, the answer has often been “yes.” But it needn’t have been, if Luther’s Two Kingdoms doctrine had been understood correctly.

The Two Kingdoms Doctrine originates in Martin Luther’s 1518 tract, “Two Kinds of Righteousness,” though before that it has resonance with Augustine’s City of God, which had influenced Christian church-state relations in the West for a millennium. In the 1518 tract, Luther lays out an idea that is central to all Lutheran teaching: There are two kinds of righteousness, civil and spiritual. By civil righteousness, Luther meant that people, by the powers of reason with which they are endowed, can refrain from murdering one another, or stealing, or lying. But no amount of civil righteousness amounts to spiritual righteousness, that is, the right-acting that may earn salvation. Perfect civil righteousness does not undo the basically sinful nature of man; only spiritual righteousness does that, and spiritual righteousness is nothing else than faith in Christ. Without faith in Christ, no amount of civil righteousness obtains salvation. With faith in Christ, no felonious indecency can forestall the saving power of grace.

Stone reminds us here that God has ordained the civil kingdom–the realm of government.  God rules in both kingdoms and he rules, according to Lutheran theologian Paul Althaus, in “goodness, mercy, and love.”  Althaus adds: “Through the political authorities, God protects his people from the violent acts of evil men.” Luther believed in a state where justice prevails as a glimpse–but only a glimpse–of the kingdom of God.

As Christians, we are called to different vocations in this civil kingdom  As Stone writes, “without faith in Christ, no amount of civil righteousness obtains salvation.”  But this does not mean that Christians are not called by God to be engaged citizens.  We must exercise citizenship as a vocational act.

Stone adds:

Does this mean that Luther’s Two Kingdoms should be viewed ignominiously today? I do not think so. Rather, Lutherans should reconsider this doctrine in light of Luther’s teaching on vocation.

In this light, several facts become clear. Citizens have a different vocation than subjects. Modern governments place a duty and a burden upon citizens, demanding that they participate in governance. No modern American has a ruler, in the sense that the Christians did to whom Paul wrote his letters. All the scriptural teachings about governments apply, but the reality of democratic and participatory governments means that a vocation-centered theology cannot view Christians as merely the subjects of the state: By having voice, Christians are participants in the rulership of their state. As such, when considering what sins they should confess, they must consider sins of rebellion against lawful sovereigns and sins of misgovernment, that is, failures to discharge the duties of self-governing citizens.

Beyond this, Lutherans must avoid the mistake of the Reformation leaders who failed to cry out against the sins of monarchs. We must exhort all “sword-bearers,” that is, all agents of the state and public servants, from schoolteachers to the president, to live up to the demands of their vocations. Our Lutheran forefathers failed in this task; all the more reason Lutherans today must not.

Conservatives who fear that President Trump may be more like the decadent Belshazzar, feasting while the kingdom falls, than like the liberating Cyrus must pray that Lutherans remember the Two Kingdoms Doctrine. How we discharge the duties of citizenship—whether by accepting the creeping authoritarianism of the last two decades, or by raising our voices on behalf of the laws and democratic norms of our country—is a question of moral conscience, suitable for confession, and demanding repentance if we err.

A similar Two Kingdoms argument comes from Glenn Tinder in The Political Meaning of Christianity: An Interpretation.  He writes:

Christianity, then, requires acceptance of society, and such acceptance cannot be a matter simply of bowing to bitter worldly necessity.  It is more appreciative than that.  Even if society is not community, it serves community in various and essential ways; and a responsible person will feel obligated to defend society when it is threatened…. (pp. 56-57).

Christians are traditionally, in their relations with governments, obedient yet disrespectful.  Thus, they violate the ethos of both secular radicals (disobedience grounded in disrespect) and of conservatives (obedience grounded in respect).  Eschewing absolute principles, they are unreliable allies of either left or right.  Their attitude, however, is anything but frivolous.  It goes down to the first principles of Christian faith.  Estranged from God, from human beings, and even from ourselves, and in our perversity continually reaffirming our estrangement, we would be overwhelmed by chaos if we did not ordinarily submit to the order contrived by political rulers.  On the other hand, we are, in the Christian vision, recipients of the mercy of God, and if we obeyed unconditionally, we would replace the exalted individual with exalted governments…As an eschatological being, man is always critical, normally acquiescent, and potentially rebellious. (p.210-211).

Falwell Jr’s view of government is dangerous.  It is a corruption of the Two Kingdoms view.  Such a corruption is what led German Lutherans to sit quietly as the Nazis took control of Germany in the 1930s.  Here is University of Virginia theologian Charles Marsh in Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Acting in the name of Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms–that God has established two kingdoms (zwei Reiche): the kingdom of the earth, which he rules through human government and law; and the kingdom of heaven, which he directs by grace and through the church–the German Christians determined to achieve an accommodation (however tortured) of the Fuhrer principle and Aryan paragraph under church law.  And this they would do in a spirit of obedience to God!  Under this accommodation, baptized Jews, being a difference race altogether, could no longer serve in the German Protestant Church, whose identity was now rooted in ethnicity, or racial sameness, rather than in the confession of Christ as Lord. (p.162).

In 1938, Freidrich Werner, the director of Germany’s Protestant consistory, was tasked with bringing Lutheran clergy into line with Hitler.  He required that all clergy swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler and the Third Reich.  Marsh writes:

Refusing the oath subjected one to dismissal and criminal detention.  To some degree, the underlying idea was consistent with the traditional Lutheran doctrine of two kingdoms: Christians must be obedient to the earthly authorities unto God.  But Werner went to an unprecedented extreme, turning a doctrine that had historically yielded a variety of views on church-state matters into an absolutist principle: make a “personal commitment to the Fuhrer under the solemn summons of God,” and forge an “intimate solidarity with the Third Reich” and with the saintly man who both “created that community and embodies it.”  “Submit to Hitler with a joyful heart, in gratitude, as pleasing to the Lord.

In the end, Christians–whether they embrace the Reformed, Catholic, or Lutheran tradition–are called to live out their vocations as citizens.  In this sense, they agree with my good friend Philip Vickers Fithian who believed, with the authors of Cato’s Letters, that “political jealousy” is a “laudable passion.

Evangelical = “One who believes the Good News about Jesus Christ”

2ELCA17

Herbert Chilstrom

This definition of evangelicalism does not come from David Bebbington, but from Herbert Chilstrom, the first presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

As Chris Gehrz shows us in his recent piece at The Anxious Bench, the word “evangelical” has a long history:

Chilstrom’s spiritual forebears ultimately seized the term not only from their “Romish” antagonists, but from other Protestants. “The newly self-identified Lutherans,” writes Diarmaid MacCulloch of late 16th century Germany, “took over the once-general Protestant label ‘Evangelical’ to describe their Churches, just as the non-Lutherans were monopolizing the name ‘Reformed.’”

It was such Lutheran churches that Philipp Spener hoped to reform in 1675, when he lamented the spiritual deadness of “our Evangelical church, which according to its outward confession embraces the precious and pure gospel, brought clearly to light once again during the previous century through that blessed instrument of God, Dr. Luther, and in which alone we must therefore recognize that the true church is visible…”

This leads Gehrz to wonder whether American evangelicals have “kidnapped” the term:

In a sense, Chilstrom is absolutely right. Even many of those participating in last week’s “evangelical consultation” at Wheaton College — the “evangelical Harvard” — fear that their cherished word has been taken over by a particularly noxious political movement. “When people say what does it mean to be an evangelical,” complained convener Doug Birdsall of the Lausanne Movement, “people don’t say evangelism or the gospel. There’s a grotesque caricature of what it means to be an evangelical.” What Fuller Seminary president Mark Labberton calls the “crisis of evangelicalism” has been “caused by the way a toxic evangelicalism has engaged with these issues in such a way as to turn the gospel into Good News that is fake.”

And yet… even if Birdsall and Labberton could somehow bring evangelicals back to the Evangel in such a way that they renounce the culture warring of the Religious Right, wouldn’t Chilstrom still feel like his term had been kidnapped? Wouldn’t any leader of an avowedly “Evangelical” mainline church want to contest the notion that other Protestants — but not him — have a high view of Scripture, recognize the centrality of the Cross, seek conversion, and practice evangelism and social action?

Read his entire piece here.

Not All “Two Kingdom” Christians Ignore the Government’s Unethical Behavior

Tinder 2People like Robert Jeffress give “two-kingdom” theologians a bad name.  (Get up to speed here).

Even if one embraces the idea that the Sermon on the Mount or the Great Commission should not dictate government policy, Christians are still required to speak and act when the government exerts itself in unjust, untruthful, and hateful ways.

My favorite two-kingdom thinker is retired University of Massachusetts political scientist Glenn Tinder.  Here is what Tinder says in the “Social Transformation” chapter (4) of The Political Meaning of Christianity:

…if Christians are even more pessimistic about human beings than are conservatives how can they favor reform?  How can they do anything but cling to all institutions, however unjust, that counteract the chaotic potentialities of  human beings and achieve a degree of order?  There are three interconnected answers to these questions.

First of all, Christian principles place one in a radical–that is, critical and adverse–relationship to established institutions.  The Kingdom of God is a judgment on the existing society; the imminence of the Kingdom of God symbolizes its impermanence.  Jesus was crucified because his presence and preaching were unsettling to reigning religious and political groups.  Jesus did not seek the violent overthrow of these groups, but neihter did he show much concern for their stability…

The second answer to the foregoing questions is that these basic attitudes have to be acted on.  This is a matter of spiritual integrity.  To be opposed to the established order in principle, but in favor of keeping it exactly as it is, is an incongruity necessarily destructive of prophetic faith.  Beliefs are not genuine unless they affect one’s conduct as well as one’s mind.  To anticipate the coming of the Kingdom of God is merely sentimental, a private frivolity, unless one seeks ways of reshaping society according to the form of the imminent community.  The Christian universe is not, as we have seen, an eternal and changeless order; it is a universe moving, under the impetus of the Word of God, toward radical re-creation…

Finally, however, it must be said that Christianity forbids us to assume the inevitability of failure.  It requires hope, and hope pertains to the immediate, as well as the eschatological, future…It is reasonable to be skeptical concerning the possibilities of social transformation.  But human beings have no warrant for holding fixed opinions in this matter, for they cannot know the kind or degree of change God intends to effect in history.  And those who accept Christian principles do know, through Christ, that all things move toward the Kingdom of God, however humanly incomprehensible the movement may be…

Is Evangelicalism Experiencing a Lutheran Moment?

luther

Back in 1992, Mark Noll published a piece at First Things titled “The Lutheran Difference.”  In that piece he made the following observations:

  • Despite the popularity of Garrison Keillor, Lutherans have always appeared to be “on the fringe of American life”
  • Lutherans are “remarkably unremarkable.”  They are “pretty ordinary” or “ho-hum.”  Unlike evangelicals, for example, they do not have “spectacular stories of conversion.”
  • The history of Lutherans in America is very interesting.  It needs more attention.
  • Lutherans have much to offer Americans if they contribute to the culture “as Lutherans.” Lutherans can offer “resources” to Americans, especially other Protestants,” that “would be an incalculable benefit.”
  • Lutherans have always insisted history is important for the faith, while other American Protestants, especially evangelicals, have “proclaimed that the past is pollution.”  It was Lutheran Jaroslav Pelikan who wrote “tradition is the living faith of the dead” and “traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”  Noll writes: “American liberals, who want to fix things by themselves and right away, both need to learn from Lutherans that God’s concern extends over decades and centuries as well as over days, weeks, and months.”
  • Lutherans have much to offer in thinking about Christian political involvement.  Noll writes: “The dominant pattern of political involvement in America has always been one of direct, aggressive action modeled on Reformed theories of life in the world.”  He adds: “there have been only occasional examples of what could be called ‘Lutheran irony.’ In religious terms, this irony is the sense that precisely when Christians mount their most valiant public efforts for God, they run the greatest risk of substituting their righteousness for the righteousness of Christ, and thereby subverting justification by faith.”

I have been thinking about this piece (and Lutherans) a lot lately.  Evangelicalism may be experiencing (or perhaps should be experiencing) a “Lutheran moment” right now, at least in terms of political engagement.

Let’s remember that Luther believed the purpose of the secular government is to restrain evil, protect citizens, and promote justice. In other words, Lutheranism rejects the idea, made popular by Thomas Aquinas, that government plays a positive role in society by promoting the common good.  God redeems and justifies us in the kingdom of redemption, but government is part of the kingdom of creation.  In other words, government is necessary, but it cannot be redeemed.  Government cannot help in promoting the Kingdom of God.  Most Lutherans call this “2 Kingdom Theology.”

So why might we be having a Lutheran moment right now?  Let me suggest two reasons.

  1.  Many evangelicals who support Donald Trump have justified their vote based on something akin to Lutheranism. (Although they never reference it this way).  They argue that we should not expect government to do anything beyond protecting us and giving us liberty.  Government, for example, is not required to conform to the Sermon on the Mount or other teachings of Jesus.  This is the approach to government I hear most often from court evangelical Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas.  And while I think Jeffress misrepresents Lutheranism in several ways, his view of church-state relations seems closer to Luther (and Augustine?) than it does to Calvin or Aquinas.  As long as Trump is protecting us (building a wall, keeping Muslims out of the country, giving us religious liberty, etc.) then he deserves our vote despite his character.  (Of course even this theory does not explain everything, because many evangelical Trumpers voted for Trump because they believed he was a Christian.  I unpack some of this in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. (Pre-order here).
  2.  Lutherans always remind us that there is a difference between the kingdom of redemption–the place where we are saved–and the kingdom of creation–the place where government resides.  Evangelicals always need to be reminded of this so they don’t confuse the two kingdoms.  Court evangelicals like Jeffress say that the character or policies of the president do not matter as long as he is protecting us. But they don’t usually behave this way.  Their behavior suggests that they REALLY believe that government should be active–very active.  It should be active in promoting their Christian agenda.

Are Missouri Synod Lutherans “Evangelical?”

7954c-sasse

Senator Ben Sasse

Some of you may remember my post on Saturday in which I presented the various “evangelical” voting options for the presidential election in November.

Over at Old Life blog, Darryl Hart, a historian at Hillsdale College, apparently took umbrage with a small part of the post.  Here is what he wrote:

Just noticed this in John Fea’s odds making for the evangelical vote this November:

“Some evangelicals continue to oppose Trump and have not made it clear what they will do in November. I am thinking here of Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse (if you can call a Missouri-Synod Lutheran an “evangelical”) and Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore. Perhaps some of these folks are praying that something might happen in Cleveland next week that leads the GOP to pick another candidate. Others might be praying that an independent candidate will arise at this late date. These are long shots, but let’s remember that evangelicals believe in miracles.”

Now, regulars at Old Life know that Ben Sasse, despite having grown up in the Missouri Synod, is actually a Reformed Protestant — even an elder in the United Reformed Churches I believe. That may be too much insider 2k baseball for John Fea. But there it is.

The main point pertains to John’s parenthetical remark about whether we can call Lutherans “evangelical.” For starters, the original Protestants, the followers of Martin Luther, were and still are known as evangelical. So don’t Lutherans have the copyright on being evangelical?

A related concern is if a good historian has enough sense to wonder about classifying a Lutheran as evangelical, why are the same historians so ready to put put Presbyterians in the same round hole as Pentecostals and Wesleyans? I mean, if you have the slightest hesitation about Lutherans, shouldn’t you also wonder about Protestants who didn’t like Billy Graham (for his pro-choice theology)?

I am glad my parenthetical remark about Sasse, the LCMS Church, and “evangelicals” prompted Darryl Hart to write an ENTIRE POST on it at his blog. LCMS

According to Sasse’s Wikipedia page:”Sasse grew up a Lutheran and was baptized in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. He later became an elder in the United Reformed Churches in North America, and served on the board of trustees for Westminster Seminary California. He is now currently a member at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, a church of the LCMS.” The Wiki page cites this website:

For what it’s worth.

Maybe Senator Sasse, who also has a Ph.D in history, is out there and can weigh-in.

Maybe the Wikipedia page or the source it cites is wrong.

Hart’s point about Lutherans as “evangelicals” is a fair one, but I do think that calling the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod “evangelical” is complicated. I am no expert on the LCMS so I can only appeal to anecdotes from my experience teaching a lot of LCMS students at Valparaiso University between 2000-2002. Many of them did not entirely connect with the evangelical subculture and certainly did not talk very much about being “born-again” apart from their catechism and confirmation classes.

So let me throw this out to my readers.  Do Missouri Synod Lutherans identity themselves as “evangelicals?”  (I know this opens up a whole can of worms about the definition of the word “evangelical,” but I thought I would bring it up anyway and see what readers have to say).

 

Seminary Ridge Museum is Shaping Up

The exhibits are going up at the Seminary Ridge Museum in Gettysburg.  This is great news.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this museum, it is housed in Schmucker Hall, the flagship building of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg.  The seminary was founded in 1826, but it became famous for its role in the Battle of Gettysburg.

Schmucker Hall was built in 1832 and it is named after noted Lutheran minister Samuel Schmucker.  Work on the Seminary Ridge Museum got underway a couple of years ago under the direction of Barbara Franco.  Make sure you add the museum to your list of places to see in Gettysburg.

I have an interest in this museum for several reasons.  First, I have had the privilege of working with Barbara Franco when she was running the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and even appeared on a local radio program with her.  Second, a significant part of the museum will be devoted to religious history.  Third, I only live about thirty miles from Gettysburg so it will be easy to visit.  Fourth, two of my students interned at the museum last summer.

Read more about the developments at the Seminary Ridge Museum here.

Sunday Morning with the Carlisle Lutherans

I spent part of my Sunday morning in Carlisle, PA speaking to the members of the weekly Adult Forum at the First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Carlisle, a congregation that is over 250 years old.

It was a very knowledgeable crowd.  One person in attendance argued that since the passing of the14th amendment, which forced the states to abide by the Bill of Rights, it was no longer possible, at least legally, to declare that the United States was a Christian nation.  It was certainly hard to argue with his point, although I did suggest that his argument rested on one of several definitions of “Christian nation.”

Thanks to Pastor Charles Brophy for the invitation.

Sunday Morning at Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church

Yesterday morning I had a nice visit to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where I spoke about Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?:  A Historical Introduction during the Christian education hour.  What a great church!  The room was full and those in attendance seem to be very engaged with the subject.

Thanks to Dr. Greg Carey, the church’s “Scholar in Residence” and a New Testament professor at Lancaster Theological Seminary, for inviting me to speak.  During one of our conversations I learned that the congregation was organized in 1730 and the church building was dedicated by Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the most important American Lutheran of the eighteenth-century.

Original Bass Player for Megadeth is in Seminary

For all of you 1980s heavy metal fans:

In the 1980s and 1990s, Megadeth gained a reputation for an intelligent take on heavy metal, earning several Grammy Award nominations, and was known for its album covers, many of which depicted a character named Vic Rattlehead, a skeleton whose eyes, ears and mouth were fused closed with metal. 

But by the time Ellefson was 25, the rock star lifestyle had caught up to him. In a 12-step recovery program, he was reintroduced to his faith and embraced it. He moved to Arizona, married and had children. He also began church shopping, eventually landing at Shepherd of the Desert Lutheran Church, a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregation in Scottsdale.

“I came from a good family, not a broken home,” said Ellefson, 47. “That became a model for me, and I saw church at center of it.”

The Rev. Jon Bjorgaard , pastor of Shepherd of the Desert, asked Ellefson to start a contemporary worship service. Ellefson began to use lyrics from the Old Testament as a springboard for songwriting, penning praise music — worship songs with a soft-rock hook.
“For a Christmas service, I remixed some classics, not quite in a Megadeth fashion, but in a pretty heavy rock fashion,” Ellefson said.

Combining his musical abilities and his faith led Ellefson to a deeper exploration of Christianity, he said. And it led him to start a new music ministry within the walls of Shepherd of the Desert. 

He called it MEGA Life, partially a play on Megadeth. But it’s also a reference to a verse from the Gospel of John: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

MEGA Life became so popular in Scottsdale that Shepherd of the Desert bought a new space for the ministry. 

And last year, Bjorgaard asked Ellefson and MEGA Life director Jeremy DaPena to enroll in Concordia’s Specific Ministry Program.

“Most people want to become a rock star,” Bjorgaard said. “David’s a rock star who wants to become a pastor.” 

After two years at Concordia, Ellefson will be eligible for ordination, something he hopes will happen.

“People take you more seriously when you’ve gone through the proper training to be able to help them,” he said.

Read the entire piece here.  I have heard of former rock stars becoming evangelicals, but I have never heard of a rock star seeking ordination in the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church!

Hug a Lutheran Day

Would you want to hug Martin Luther? Or better yet, would he want you to hug him?

Courtney, of my students and a future Lutheran seminarian, has informed me (via a post she made on Facebook) that it is “Hug a Lutheran” day. I am not much of a hugger, so I am glad that I no longer teach at Valparaiso University.

In honor of this special day, Courtney passes along this comical post:

You might be a Lutheran if…

…when someone mentions red and green (in terms of Christmas), you immediately think of a battle over hymnals.

…the pastor skips the last hymn to make sure church lasts exactly 60 minutes.

…in response to someone jumping up and shouting “Praise the Lord!”, you politely remind him or her that we don’t do that around here.

…you think a meeting isn’t legitimate unless it’s at least three hours long.

…you have more than five flavors of Jell-O in your pantry.

…when you were little, you actually thought the Reverend’s first name was “Pastor.”

…when you’re watching “Star Wars” in the theatre and when they say, “May the force be with you,” you reply, “and also with you.”

…you tap a church visitor on the shoulder and say, “excuse me, but you’re in my seat.”

…Bach is your favorite composer just because he was Lutheran, too. …your house is a mess because you’re “saved by Grace,” not by works.

…your mother reminds you often that she wishes you’d studied the organ.

…you sing “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” while sitting down. …you feel guilty about not feeling guilty.

(I took these from http://www.oldlutheran.com) But for real…you know you’re a Lutheran if, when someone says “Lord have mercy” you reply by singing “Help, save, comfort, and defend us gracious Lord…Lord have mercy!”

In response to the request of someone in chapel saying “Turn to the people next to you and pray in small groups” you join the group and simply explain, “Sorry, I’m Lutheran, we don’t do this.”

I Think I’ll Become a Medieval Catholic

Well, not quite. Or at least not yet…

No need to panic evangelical friends, but I did find this post by a Lutheran pastor named Paul T. McCain provocative. He argues that the “Evangelical Church” (is this phrase an oxymoron?) is the “medieval Catholic Church purged of heresies and abuses.” Actually, he is citing a Lutheran theologian named Hermann Sasse in a book called Here We Stand.

Lutheran theology differs from Reformed theology in that it lays great emphasis on the fact that the evangelical church is none other than the medieval Catholic Church purged of certain heresies and abuses. The Lutheran theologian acknowledges that he belongs to the same visible church to which Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine and Tertullian, Athanasius and Ireneaus once belonged. The orthodox evangelical church is the legitimate continuation of the medieval Catholic Church, not the church of the Council of Trent and the [First] Vatican Council which renounced evangelical truth when it rejected the Reformation. For the orthodox evangelical church is really identical with the orthodox Catholic Church of all times. And just as the very nature of the Reformed Church emphasizes its strong opposition to the medieval church, so the very nature of the Lutheran Church requires it to go to the farthest possible limit in its insistence on its solidarity and identity with the Catholic Church. It was no mere ecclesiastico-political diplomacy which dictated the emphatic assertion in the Augsburg Confession that the teachings of the Evangelicals were identical with those of the orthodox Catholic Church of all ages, and no more was it romanticism or false conservatism which made our church anxious to retain as much of the old canonical law as possible, and to cling tenaciously to the old forms of worship.”

This might be a good argument for Lutheranism, but I am not sure if it can be applied to evangelicalism more broadly. But perhaps I am missing the point somewhere. I went to seminary, but I am an amateur theologian at best.

Nevertheless, Rev. McCain’s post gave me something to think about during a break from reading Joel Carpenter’s excellent Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism.