A friend and I were talking just the other day about why we're so drawn to conversations outside of Lutheranism. He's ordained, and leans toward a certain spectrum of Evangelical conversations; I'm lay, and lean toward a certain spectrum of Reformed conversations. He's starting doctoral studies in New Testament at Trinity Evangelical; I'm preparing to be ABD so I can write on Barth. And we were discussing why that is, when we're both Lutheran. What's missing in Lutheran theology?

And what's missing, by and large, seems to be the discussions. Not, to be sure, the social issues. And we could always be doing more and better scriptural interpretation but I wouldn't exactly say that's lacking. But "they" are doing dogmatics, and we're not. While that may not be strictly true, and there are a goodly number doing Lutheran theology, when we do ethics, it doesn't drive us to rethink dogma.

And having said that, I have to say that it's a patently false statement. For one example, the work done in Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, if we could get off of our improper biblicism and the fact that it's a new position on sex and sexuality, is some of the most novel and faithful self-examination of church proclamation in light of the Word of God that I have ever seen from us. But the statement still feels true in my gut. Why does it feel true in my gut? I realize I study Barth, but why can't I throw a stone without hitting Reformed systematic theology and re-evaluation of dogma in light of ethical questions? Why do I have to look so hard for Lutherans doing this work?

And obviously I'm acquainted with Tillich, though I hardly count his systematics as first and foremost a Lutheran theology. Which points me next to the combination work done by Braaten, Jenson, Sponheim, Hefner, Forde, and Schwarz. And, of course, to Jenson's own work. And to Braaten's foundation and piecemeal work, more self-consciously and insistently Lutheran across the board (once he left Moltmann behind). And Forde has a goodly number of books to his name, too. But these voices are the cap of the post-war wellspring in liberal American Lutheranism. And that's leaving aside the work of the conservative branches of the family tree, as Missouri isn't short of theologians who feel the need to handle doctrines repeatedly. Of defensive orthodox compendia, there will never be a shortage. And yet the market for such "confessionalism" seems to be awfully bullish of late.

What is there for our generation of Lutherans to do, besides reiterate? We do an awfully large amount of hermeneutics, but of what use is it? We engage in an awfully large amount of interdisciplinary and ecumenical and inter-religious work. But where does it land, when we come home at the end of the day? We do a lot of social advocacy, for whatever side. But most of it does not come down to dogmatic arguments. It is as though that business has been settled. And yet maybe if we were actively arguing about it like there was something to be determined -- like there was dogmatic work "left" to do -- maybe we would still be making Lutheran dogmatic arguments, and not relying on scripture and tradition and looking around for an authoritative teaching office to set "heretics" straight. That, of all things, is not what it means that we are catholic! Internal doctrinal authority is not proper to us, least of all when we make the Bible that internal authority. Self-critical attentiveness to the Word of God, based in critical attentiveness to that Word in scripture, is proper to us.

And maybe it takes a Barthian to remember that.


  1. Forgive my asking what might be seen as an ignorant question . . . What is ABD? I simply don't know the acronym or abbreviation

    1. "All But Dissertation," generally.

    2. Also, Anchor Bible Dictionary, among other things. :)

  2. That's as far as I got with my D.Min. I thoroughly enjoyed my course work and even getting my project proposal approved. Just couldn't get my act together enough to complete the project.


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