Friday, October 22, 2010

Lutheranism for Dummies

CPH has produced a winning product with a title drawn from an academic setting:  Lutheranism 101.  It has the look and feel of the popular Dummies series of how to books that teaches folks everything from software hints to how to home improvements to learning a foreign language to finding out about a religion.  Although I have not used it much yet, it seems complete, easily accessible, and thoroughly winsome for presenting a pretty in depth cross section of Lutheran Christianity.  We have already sold 10 in my parish and now CPH tells us that they are out of stock awaiting delivery -- tells you something, doesn't it?

My point, though not directed specifically at this book, has to do with the whole premise of the for Dummies style of finding out about something.  As people we like quick looks and brief introductions that can give us the gist of something without really knowing it at all.  Consider, for example, the popularity of the Scriptographic booklets (on every subject from religion to pregnancy to flag etiquette).  And, yes, I admit to using them from time to time when it seems this is the best means of getting people to read and think a bit a Lutheran understanding of baptism, for example.  I have not used any of the for Dummies series.  I sincerely hope that we who use these resources are careful to use them to point people to the direct sources and not as a substitute for getting to know something from the inside.

My post today has more to do with Pastors than it does the people using these resources.  I know how easy it is to feel overwhelmed with responsibilities and duties to the point where we are all looking for a quick and easy way to do this or that.  I don't want to know HTML programming.  I just want to update the web page.  I don't want to know how my word processor works.  I just want to get the newsletter article done.  I don't want to bring an arm load of books to new member class.  I just want to give them a brief but thorough introduction (for now).  The problem is that sometimes you have to know a bit about HTML to know why the web page is not loading like you want it to look and you need to know something about how the word processor works to know why there the extra space on the page or the graphic is not staying where you initially put it.  And, sometimes we need to confront our people with the direct sources as well as books about or books that explain things without but a passing reference to the sources themselves.

When I first came to the parish, the Life with God adult instruction materials were pretty popular.  I bought them and tried them once.  It is not that they were so bad but they were so incomplete.  These materials presented a generic Christianity which may or may not look like Lutheranism, a Christianity lite without much of the heavy stuff that one must also wrestle with.  I understand why.  This was an introduction.  But I soon found that even with 12 weeks of introduction, people tended to stop where I left them.  Some, well, most of them, came to Bible study but as far as their Lutheran identity was concerned, they seldom progressed beyond where I left them.

So my challenge to us who teach is to make sure that we direct people to the sources (ad fontes).  I purposefully bring in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New to every new member class.  I bring in the Small Catechism and Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions.  I bring it the Apocrapha and NT Pseudopigrapha.  I bring in several biographies of Luther (Kittleson's generally).  I bring in a Lutheran prayer book (now Starck's).  I bring in a volume of Luther's sermons, Paul Maier's version of Eusebius history, and Lutheran Service Book.  I have a stack of things for them to look at as well as lots of web links and internet resources.  I use PowerPoint to give them icons and altar pieces, crucifixes and chalices, portraits and paintings, maps and time lines.  I want them to see and touch and dig into the sources.  Yes, we begin with surveys and that is about all we have time for but even in a survey we can pull things from the direct sources so that people know these things are not just for doctrine geeks or history nerds.  These things are for THEM.

Too often we try to give a brief introduction to Lutheran Christianity in a way that leaves our people ill equipped to know where to turn to find the sources or the answers or how to practice the piety that flows from this catholic and evangelical identity.  So go ahead and use Lutheranism 101 even if that is all you plan to offer your people -- it is a better resource than instructional tools like the old Life with God or other introductions.  But I plead with Pastors everywhere not to stop there.  You show these things to your people and lead them into the sources.  Put up a display in your Church library or bookstore (we have sold tons of these resources to our people).  Direct them there.

In a Thursday Eucharist I happened to mention the problem of who is James, brother of Jesus and it began a whole discussion with a half dozen folks about Mary, Mary's ever virginity, the case for half brothers and sisters, and the implications of those conclusions.  They wanted to know.  I sent them to the sources in our parish library and some of them came back to me to dig further (on related subjects of how Theotokos is more about Jesus than a title for Mary, for example).  These are the great conversations of faith that seldom happen if we present answers without sources or give people ONLY the books that give answers without directing them to the sources.  It is my experience that lots of new to Lutheranism folks and lots of old Lutherans want to know... and they will learn and grow if we help them by directing them beyond the introduction to the sources.

So I applaud CPH for putting together one fine resource in Lutheranism 101 but at the same time I plead with Pastors not make this a substitute for the direct sources.  Instead use this tool to lead them there!


Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Pastor P, rest assured one of the most important goals of Lutheranism 101 is precisely leading people into the treasures you mention in our post.


Anonymous said...

BIBLE (CPH 2009) This ESV Bible is
the best daily companion for our
laity as they immerse themselves in
God's Word. The best thing a pastor
can do for his people is to lead them
into a love for Holy Scripture. The
pastor has the responsibility to feed
his flock with the precious and life
giving Word.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

I agree that it is sad that so many people seem to need brevity rather than length in learning things. But this has always been the case. Why else did Luther write his Catechism with such brevity? Because the common people needed such a tool to learn the basics of the Faith.

I think that sometimes we pastors expect all of our members to be doctors of theology, and we get all bent out of shape when someone doesn't read every book put out by CPH, or we get frustrated because people like things to be brief. So what? Be content that a person has a simple faith.

I'm not advocating for less intense catechesis. But recognize that not everyone has the desire or the ability to "delve neck-deep" into theology. Brevity has its place.

Anonymous said...

I got the book and was excited to show it to my sister. It went over great for us girls! I'm still wondering why we only have 9 commandments though? And when it came to the part about why her 2 children needed to be baptized, the reasons why we baptized babies, specifically why?, well I guess it wasn't important enough to make the book. And sure some parts of the content can't be 'too Lutheran' as to upset the -contemporary worship/women leading worship and preaching, openly open communion, laymen doing the Sacraments, women serving communion- crowd. That would eliminate 8/10 potential buyers in our area. Other than that, for us girls who want a tool of discussion, it's a joy!

Carl Vehse said...

Anonymous: "I'm still wondering why we only have 9 commandments though?"

It was noted on another Lutheran blog that in one of the Appendices (p. 268-9) there are only nine commandments listed for Lutherans and Roman Catholics. Furthermore, the Lutheran 9th commandment did not agree with the list provided on p. 15 or the 9th commandment listed in Luther’s Small Catechism, nor was it the LSC’s 10th commandment.

Following that posting Rev. Scot A. Kinnaman, General Editor for Lutheranism 101, announce that the problem was due to a file handling error and the corrected file can be downloaded using this address:

Ted Badje said...

Lutheranism for Dummies? I know at least in the '80s the profs at St. Louis would look down on pre-sem students who just went through the 4-year pre-sem program with a year in the original languages, but this just gives the rest of us a complex. I guess they didn't understand some people did not receive the call in Jr. High, and could no longer afford the gymnasium system at Ann Arbor or St. Paul's.