How Things Have Come to Where They Are in Liberal Lutheranism
Dr. Jack Kilcrease, a former member of the ELCA, had a great blog post recently, talking about his reading in the word by Werner Elert titled The Christian Faith. It has never been formally published, but a translation done years ago has been available for quite some time. Dr. Kilcrease makes some great points, well worth pondering. How did liberal Lutheranism in this country reach a point where they eschew Trinitarian language, and embrace deviant human sexuality, all in “light of the Gospel.” Here’s how:
“I’m in the process of re-reading Werner Elert’s The Christian Faith. It’s a bootlegged translation done back in the 70s (I have the manuscript from Luther Seminary, which I still have borrowing rights from). From what I heard (and Pr. McCain can correct me) CPH bought the rights and then found that a lot of it was heretical. So they translated the non-heretical parts and then not the rest. I will grant that a great deal of it is heretical. It is interesting and insightful at certain points though.
“This brings me to one of the points where Elert fails seriously, namely the doctrine of inspiration. He makes a series of weird statements about the authority of the Bible. First, he thinks that all Scriptural authority is based on the gospel. I don’t even know what that means. When I was in the ELCA, I had professors claim this- but I never really bought it. The difficulty with this that the gospel makes no sense if you don’t have the law. Both together don’t make any sense if you don’t have them within the context of salvation history. So, saying “the gospel” is the thing that makes the Scriptures authoritative, doesn’t make any sense, since the gospel makes no sense without things that aren’t gospel. Consequently, they must also be authoritative and then logically a subset of a larger phenomenon known as the “Word of God.”
“What I think is really going on is his existentializing and psychologizing tendency. This leads us into the next weird claim, that it’s the content of the Scriptures, not the Scriptures themselves which are authoritative.
“What? How can the content be authoritative, without the thing itself being authoritative? In other words, are you claiming that the Lutheran scholastic authors claimed that if the Scriptures were stripped of their content their would be something left over which would be authoritative? Certainly not. The content and the thing itself is no different.
“What he’s really getting at is this: he thinks that a person denigrates the authority of the gospel if you ground it in a prior theory of inspiration. In his way of thinking you’re saying “I believe the gospel, because I believe in a theory about inspiration.”
“But of course, not one really says this. David Scaer has consistently pointed to the Christological basis of the doctrine of inspiration particularly in his early work The Apostolic Scriptures. The Scriptures are authoritative because they are inspired. This inspiration is anchored in the authorization of the Old Testament (“the scriptures cannot be broken…) and the authority of the Apostles who wrote the New Testament (“those who hear you, hear me…” “I will send you the comforter, who will lead you into all truth…”) by Jesus.
“If I believe in Jesus, I will believe in the inerrant Biblical Word that he authorized. In fact, I will no other access to his person and work than to that witness. So, by believing in him and his trustworthiness, I will automatically believe in the trustworthiness of his Bible. This is what was often referred to by the Lutheran scholastics as the inner testimony of the Spirit regarding the authority and infallibility of the Scriptures.
“In the end, what Elert wants is to place authority in act of believing in Christ and his gospel and then to exclude a doctrine of inerrancy and Scripture inspiration on this basis. No one is disputing that faith comes first and this faith leads one to acknowledge the Scriptures. What Elert’s move does is in fact internalize authority in a psychological event of coming to faith. It takes the locus of authority away from the external Word and places it within the individual and their faith in Jesus.
“In the end, as we can see, this is a false decision of either/or. Faith in Christ automatically means both/and. Ultimately Elert’s reductionism gives us the current LWF and the ELCA. For this he and his companion at Erlangen have much to account for.”