A comment left this morning on an old post suggested some interesting terminology to describe different tendencies among Lutherans, namely “canonical” and “organic” Lutheranism. The commenter describes this distinction as follows:
Canonical Lutherans represent the “by the book” Lutherans who resoundingly agree with the Confessions and the traditional Liturgy without hesitation. An example would be that a Canonical Lutheran, in response to a question or given problem might say… “the Formula of Concord says…” or even “Luther states…”
An Organic Lutheran might see the deeper roots presupposing the Confessions as well as Lutheranism in its entire import. He might see the varied “matrices” that guide and form the discussion. In other words, he may not demonstrate this by quoting the Formula or the Apology, but rather by assessing given problems in light of a Lutheran framework such as, but not limited to: Theology of the Cross, Active and Passive Righteousness, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura, Coram Deo/Coram Hominibus and so forth.
That rings very true for me. I think this can be seen on the Lutheran blogosphere, as well as in “real life”. Certainly my own sympathies and temperament lean more towards the “organic” rather than the “canonical” end.
Note that I don’t see this as being a matter of whether or not one subscribes to the Book of Concord wholeheartedly, or as a means of subdividing and categorising Lutherans. Rather, these are two poles, or two dynamics, within the Lutheranism of the confessions. Most people will exhibit a mixture of “canonical” and “organic” tendencies to a greater or lesser degree, depending on circumstances and temperament.
Both approaches have their uses. Within a Lutheran context, where the Book of Concord is accepted as common ground, “canonical” appeals to the confessions will carry more weight than they will in dialogue with Christians from other traditions. However, “organic” concepts such as the theology of the cross and so on are often greatly appreciated by other Christians, and for many of us were the main route by which we were brought into the Lutheran tradition.
To that extent, I disagree with some of the commenter’s further remarks, which seem to drive more of a wedge between the two approaches. However, rather than dissecting those further comments, I’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts on the general concept of distinguishing between “organic” and “canonical” approaches to Lutheran theology and practice. Is this a helpful analysis?