Monday, August 12, 2013
Sources of Catechesis. . .
While reading a number of different sources, it occurred to me that from various sources (Baptist to generic evangelicalism to more new age Christianity) I found the same thing -- catechesis tends to come from books by popular Christian authors and not by intentional resources or programs within their various churches. I have to admit this was a shocking revelation to me. Not surprising but still shocking. My fear is that much of what Lutherans get in the way of instruction in the faith (at least post new member class or youth confirmation) may similarly be from popular Christian authors (books and articles). Although it was not specifically mentioned, I would also suggest that popular Christian music (the radio kind and the banter between the songs) probably constitutes another significant source of adult catechesis.
Surprising no, but shocking yes... what I mean is that I am not at all surprised by this conclusion even though it is a shocking, dare I say "alarming!" Some may be credible conservative evangelical sources (John MacArthur or Max Lucado or the like) but others are on the fringes of Christianity -- people whose orthodoxy is at best unknown or at worst downright suspect (Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, T. D. Jakes, etc...). Yet these popular writers wield great influence over what Christians believe and how they understand Scripture and the Christian faith. Without the benefit of a creedal or confessional identity, this means that the vast majority of Christians within the conservative evangelical and non-denominational spheres read diverse sources and are influenced by authors who may or may not reflect anything close to the theological position of the local congregation to which these folks connect.
In essence, one can no longer presume that members and attenders of a congregations are actually adherents to the faith officially confessed by that congregation (or, in some cases, denominations). This diversity of thought is fed and even encouraged by the vast Christian marketplace of books (from the realm of inspirational to formally dogmatic) and from the popular Christian media (internet and print). Among other things, some blogs have been talking about Calvinistic Baptists and wondering of there are such things as Lutheran Baptists out there. As a Lutheran I am much concerned about whether there are Baptist Lutherans out there (among other strange bedfellows of Christian theology and thought.
Some years ago a fellow in my parish died and his funeral was attended by a large cross section of public employees more of the Baptists or evangelical persuasion. In the funeral we confessed the Apostles' Creed and my members mentioned that they have friends and acquaintances who were shocked by the creed (especially the assertion "He descended into hell..."). Where did that screwy idea come from? Is that some sort of Lutheran thingy? One mentioned how she brought her Luther's Small Catechism to work and left it on her desk for folks to borrow because of the many questions. For months Luther's words the and questions of the Synodical catechism made the rounds. People were impressed by the clarity, conciseness, and Scriptural basis to this exposition of the faith. Most of them had never read such a book before and many of them were set to thinking about what they read.
Lutheran faith and practice is not informed by the most recent gleanings from Saddleback and Rick Warren. We are not shaped by popular Christian radio music and the the segues of CCM disk jockeys. We are a people taught by catechism, creed, and confession. We do not believe whatever prevails in the marketplace. We believe, confess, and teach the Scriptures and the glorious evangelical and catholic faith espoused by our Confessions and summarized by two of those Confessions -- Luther's Catechism and the Augsburg Confession. We have forgotten who we are and have forsaken the great legacy of the Reformation when we are satisfied by the uncertain, bland, and scandalous assertions of the latest and greatest authors or Christian celebrities. This is not strictly a Lutheran problem but it is a problem for Lutherans in particular. We claim a doctrinal standard which is specific and we adhere to the tenets of a faith which do not change with whim or trend. We insist with Luther: Here we stand. But this may be merely a matter of words unless and until we disown the teaching magisterium of popular Christian authors in favor of the one tie that really binds.
I hate it when our laity walk around with purpose driven or best life now stuff. I hate it when some Lutheran Pastors betray the faith by recommending and leading studies of these Christian celebrities and best selling books. I hate it when we listen to so much pop Christian radio that we have lost our taste for the great Lutheran chorales that actually sing the faith and not simply how I feel about it. I hate it when we abdicate our identity to the fads of Christian marketing. We have good resources available -- solidly Scriptural, theological, and accessible. We have a great publishing house that has these things available for reasonable cost (have you ever priced some of the Christian authors in the local bookstores?). The real question is do we have the will and the courage to make this case to our people and live as examples (at least the Pastors) to those sheep entrusted to our care?