Tuesday, June 22, 2010

We Live in an Opportune Moment for Lutheranism

Some 38 years ago when I started out my college prep for the Pastoral Office, the bookstores at seminaries and colleges were filled with works by Tillich and Moltmann.  These were the cutting edge names of theologians and these were the things that dominated the marketplace of ideas.  You could still find Henry Esther Jacobs or Charles Porterfield Krauth but you had to dig through stacks of other works to get to them.  There were wonderful little books available by Ernst Koenker but in order to find them you had to dig through liturgical works of a more speculative and fringe nature.  You could still find Paul H. D. Lang and Frederick Webber around but they were passe' by then.  Now the marketplace is filled with the reprints of the classics from the past and wonderful new works by confessional and liturgical authors.

I remember how hard it was for me to find a copy of Regin Prenter's Spiritus Creator or Von Schenk's The Presence and now these are rather easy to come by.  I recall sitting in front of that large microfiche viewer at articles that were long out of print and unavailable in paper form and now the internet is filled with pdf copies of such things.  I cannot forget typing for hours (3 times no less) all 202 pages of my master's thesis with its requirement of less than 3 corrections per page (can we say carpal tunnel) and now I sit down and push out articles for a daily blog, write mini-treatises on theological forums, and finesse sermons with the aid of cut and paste.

No, if Lutheranism finds itself under the gun, it will not be for a lack of the richest library, the deepest periodical pool, and the widest selection of resources available.  We can give thanks to some of the good folks at Concordia Publishing House for their amazing turn out of new and old books (a real power house of late) and some smaller publishing houses (Repristination Press, ALPB Books, Ballast, Wipf and Stock, and the Luther Academy (to name but a bare few). Oh, it is true that some of the mighty have fallen (witness the deterioration of a once wonderful and strong publisher of orthodox Lutheran works -- namely Fortress Press).  Overall, however, we are heirs of an astonishingly rich tradition that is largely still available and accessible to us in print.

We have great new authors pumping out books that both inform and challenge us (think Art Just for example) and translators making things available in English that were once lost to us (unless we could translate Latin or German).  We have more of Luther's works underway and commentaries and commentators galore to open up the full treasure of the Scriptures, study Bibles to assist our reading and learning of God's Word, hymnals and their accompanying resources to make us as conversant with what is on the page as were those who brought out the LSB.  We have spiritual guides and prayer books to help us maintain a regular and rich devotional life (think Treasury or John Kleinig).  God bless us for the tools... can we develop the skills to us those tools?

But are we reading them?  What good are these treasures of they are not mined?  What good are these resources if they are not used?  What are we left with if we listen only to the moment and not the voices of the fathers (early and Lutheran included)?  I lament that we live in such an opportune time and yet so often the richness of this moment is lost to us.  We rush out to buy the latest church growth promise in paperback form or can eloquently discuss the latest Parish Paper from Lyle Schaller or know intimately that latest tracks from the newest Christian diva, but we do not know our own tradition.  We talk in a language foreign to us instead of the vocabulary of the Confessions so that Lutherans actually speak of decisions for Christ, for example.

No, it is not for lack of resources.  For we live in a rich moment and one of the most opportune times for Lutherans to learn about Lutheranism and come to terms with who we say we are...  You can find things on YouTube about Bach and his witness through music, you can purchase facsimiles of the ancient papyrii or Dead Sea Scrolls, you can download to podcasts of great teachers, and you watch dvds of great teaching series on the six chief parts... but unless we are conversant with these great resources, we are like those who choose fast food to answer a craving for boeuf bourguignon and then wonder why all that we eat tastes the same.  There is a richness and depth to the Lutheran fathers that is completely lost to us -- not for lack of resources but for our lack of interest.  Here is a voice to say read, learn, and inwardly digest...


Anonymous said...

Reader's edition "Law and Gospel" by Walther just out....sweet! 3rd greatest theological work known to man, after the Bible and Book of Concord.

Randy Bosch said...

Great points! If the books that proclaim the Truth are not read, the people are left with the cacophony of false teaching, the New Tower of Babel: http://wp.me/pVUDj-6Y

Thank you.

Carl Vehse said...

Online is C.F.W. Walther's The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel (trans. W.H.T. Dau, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 1929).

It includes theses and lectures.

Anonymous said...

Carl, I thought you were dead? Glad to hear you are this side of eternity. The Reader's Edition cites shortcomings in the Dau translation. Several experts worked on this to ensure it is accurate and an enhanced translation over Dau.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Thanks for mentioning the CPH resources, and congrats on your blog redesign. You stained glass window is beautiful and I'm glad to see it on your blog site. Looking great, Larry.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

The new edition of LAW AND GOSPEL is far superior to the Dau translation, which, frankly, turned Walther into a 19th century British academician. Dau also botched Walther's original words, often, and interjected, or removed, what Wather said.

Bill S. said...

Pastor, the problem is not just neglect, the problem is that adult converts like me have never heard of many (or most) of these works!
Sure, I can go over to the Concordia site and see page after page of books---but there's only so much money to spend, and which ones are really classics? Which ones are really important?
Maybe you could write on some of the books that you consider important for Lutherans to know and have in their library.