You Do Have Options: Evangelicals (and other Reformed/Calvinist folks) Discover Luther
It often seems that when a person who has been a part of Evangelicalism/Reformed traditions/Calvinism becomes frustrated and weary of forms of worship that are rather hollow and lack much by way of rich artistry and visual images, or when they recognize that they are hungry for a genuinely sacramental life by which they can experience the very “up close and personal” contact with the Creator of the Universe who does give Himself in the bread and wine of the Sacrament — (phew, long sentence, sorry!) — they often think they have to run over to the Eastern Orthodox Church, or to the Roman Church.
As much as Evangelicals/Reformed/Calvinists love to talk about Luther, it is the really “Lutheran” bits of Luther that they seem to want to overlook and even push away; namely, Luther’s firm commitment to the Biblical means of grace: the Word and the Sacraments.
[Now, if we can only help Lutherans understand and appreciate the right treasure that is their spiritual birthright and stop hankering after the flesh pots of non-denominational Evangelicalism! Another post there.]
Dr. Gene Edward Veith, himself a convert to Lutheranism, and author of one of the most influential books that lead many to Lutheranism, titles, The Spirituality of the Cross, shared this “testimony” from a person coming out of a Protestantism heavily influenced by Calvin, who thought he had to go over to Rome or elsewhere, but then he discovered Lutheran spirituality and theology. Here is Dr. Veith’s post:
Daniel Siedell is a Christian art critic and curator, the author of God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art. In a recent post on his Patheos blog Cultivare, he describes how frustrated he became with evangelical and Reformed scholarship on the arts, leading him to turn to Catholic and Orthodox theologians. But then he discovered Luther and Lutheranism, who were not at all the way he had assumed. McCain note at this point: I’m going to post all of Dr. Siedell’s post from his blog:
“Modern and contemporary painting is the heart of my theology of culture. It is not the kind of cultural practice, however, that receives any positive attention from evangelical cultural theologians and critics, for whom art is irrelevant at best and harmful at worst. But painting is much more than meets the eye, as both the tradition of icon painting within the church and the history of modern art outside the church testify. But a theology of culture that cannot offer a positive account of the arts in practice—not in theory—is ultimately deaf to the diverse and unexpected sounds of grace in the world.
“While finishing my doctoral dissertation and teaching modern art at a state university in the mid-1990s, I read Francis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible and H.R. Rookmaaker’s Modern Art and the Death of a Culture, and I was shocked. Their conclusions about modern art bore no resemblance to the work I had devoted years of my life to understanding from within the history and development of modern art.
“In response to Schaeffer and Rookmaaker, I began to develop a more robust theological account for my interest in modern and contemporary art, which didn’t begin in the seminar room but where I live my professional a life as an art critic and curator: face to face with a work of art in an art museum, gallery, or studio. My goal was not to develop a “theology of the arts” that gets “applied” like a cookie-cutter to particular works of art or hovers abstractly in the ether, but to give a theological account for my interest in and love for particular artifacts of an especially despised and misunderstood cultural practice, which as an evangelical, I had been called to serve. One of the results was God in the Gallery (Baker Academic, 2008), in which I moved outside the operative Reformed worldview framework, which I found too limiting, toward the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions of the faith, to bring a more robust aesthetic, sacramental, and liturgical mindfulness to modern and contemporary art.
“The outlier in my aesthetic evangelical resourcement was Luther, whom I had simply lumped into the Protestant tradition as a “pre-Calvinist” and a “post-Catholic,” shaped as I was by the biases of Catholic and Reformed interpreters, and art historians like Joseph Leo Koerner, who blamed the Reformer for a privatized, relativized, and disenchanted Protestant faith. But things changed when my family and I became members of a confessional Lutheran Church (LCMS), and I discovered through the weekly practice of the preached Word and Sacrament, that Philip Cary is right: Luther is not quite Protestant. And for the sake of enriching evangelical cultural thought, that is a very good thing, as even Reformed historian Mark Noll observed in his classic essay, “The Lutheran Difference,” published in 1992 in First Things. But, unfortunately, as Kevin DeYoung admitted last summer, Luther and the Lutheran tradition remain virtually unknown to conference-circuit evangelicalism.
“Although I practiced the Christian faith in the Lutheran tradition for almost eight years, it was not until I encountered Luther, liberated from a confessional tradition that had domesticated it and non-Lutheran thinkers who had distorted it, and interpreted through sensitive readers like the Hamann scholar Oswald Bayer, Steve Paulson, Gerhard Ebeling, and Gerhard Forde, that he came alive for me, presenting to me a Luther I never knew. And a Luther evangelicalism desperately needs.
“What I discovered is a Luther whose thought offers fertile ground for a desperately needed re-evaluation of evangelical approaches to art and culture, from his understanding of the distinctions between the letter and the spirit; law and gospel; theology of the cross and theology of glory; the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world; the human being as simultaneously sinner and saint; God hidden and revealed; and nature and grace. In addition, in his revolutionary understanding of vocation and through his emphasis on the sacramental nature of the preached Word, Luther opens up space to think freely and creatively about modern art, without expectations for what art should look like. For Luther, it is not what we see, but what we hear from paintings, when the bullets are flying, when push comes to shove, as we live and feel the pressure of life and the strained relationship between God and neighbor.
“And so I find Luther a welcome and helpful companion on visits to art museums and art galleries, especially when I am confronted by work that looks different, that frustrates my expectations, and distracts me by its strangeness. Luther is teaching me to wait in faith, and listen, with love.”