Michael Spencer, in his latest podcast, has some interesting things to say on improving the conversation between Lutherans and other evangelicals. The relevant segment begins around 23m 30s into the podcast, and continues for about seven minutes.
If you’ve listened to this – and if you haven’t, I suggest you go and do so right now – Michael has some very nice things to say about Lutherans and what we have to offer the wider church: clarity about the continuing role of the gospel in the Christian life, liturgy that is both accessible and dignified, and so on.
However, he also criticises us for (a) keeping these things to ourselves instead of doing more to share them with other Christians, and (b) turning every Lutheran/evangelical conversation into a disagreement about the sacraments, with (c) a corresponding implication that non-Lutheran evangelicals should just drop everything and join the Lutheran church post-haste.
There is some justice in these criticisms – though as regards the sacraments, this is largely because baptism and the Lord’s supper occupy a much more central role in Lutheran spirituality than for most other evangelicals. For most evangelicals – certainly this was my own experience – the sacraments may be important, but they are only one part of a Christian life whose centre lies elsewhere (for example, in the essentially interior experience of the “personal relationship with Jesus”). For Lutherans, the whole Christian life is a daily return to our baptism, and everything else in that life – including all our other “distinctives” – flows out of this understanding. Hence the tendency for the conversation to gravitate towards those topics.
However, setting that aside, I do think Michael is right that we sometimes need to “park” those issues and concentrate on other areas where other evangelicals are likely to be more receptive to the Lutheran perspective . Areas such as vocation, being theologians of the cross rather than of glory, distinguishing law/gospel, the nature of worship, and so on – all these being areas where I had benefited from Lutheran insights for some time before actually encountering the Lutheran church itself.
So I’d urge any Lutheran bloggers reading this to take up Michael’s challenge and find ways to promote the conversation he’s talking about (and it is a conversation, not a one-way declamation of the Truths of Lutheranism). I hope, but can’t promise, to contribute something on this site over the next few days, but in the meantime I look forward to seeing any other contributions people can make elsewhere.