Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Founder's Day Lectures

Last week professors Dr. Davidson and Dr. Balch gave their inaugural lectures on the theme "Reading the Bible: Identity and Adaptation." The message that I took away from their presentation was four-fold:
  1. That it is important to understand that the book we call the Bible is a collection of texts which were written by unique and differing communities as inspired expressions of themselves, and their understandings of life and God.
  2. That the list of texts that composes the canon of scripture is a source of cultural and ideological power has changed over time to match the communities which controlled it.
  3. That the theologians and theological traditions (Augustinian, Lutheran, Calvinist) in which we are embedded act as an additional canon because we instinctively read the scriptures through their lenses.
  4. That we are able to create a new canon by finding new ways to interpret the scriptures; and that not only are we able to do this, but perhaps we ought to do so in order to make a an ancient text inspired and meaningful for a modern audience.

In response to these lectures, former PLTS President Wally Stuhr questioned the two professors, who had just sworn to teach in accordance with Lutheran doctrine, as to how their ideas related to Lutheranism--whatever that may be. I feel that this touches upon a question that we as Lutherans must actively discuss as a community: What does Luther's slogan of "Sola Scriptura" mean when scripture is conceived as a living organism?

From this comes a host of other questions, not the least of which include:

  • Does being Lutheran require having the same scriptures that Luther had?
  • Can we reinterpret the interpretations of Luther?
  • Should we even be bound to Luther's ideas when he himself pointed solely to the gospels?
  • If it is possible to change canon through interpretation, should it be possible to change canon by adding new texts?

These are just some of the questions bouncing around my head. I hope to hear your insights!


Lucas Johnson said...

A phrase attributed to Luther is "Ecclesia semper reformanda est" which means "the church must always reform." I think we must absolutely interpret what the bible says and not just how Luther might have interpreted the bible.

Luther is our heritage, but our church can also be immobilized by Luther which I think would disturb Luther for a church bearing his own name. If we defer too much to Luther, we risk becoming that which he rebelled against.

A battle cry of Luther's was "only scripture." He might have thought it odd that we rely so heavily on his writings today rather than discern for ourselves through our own reading of the Gospel. Unless we add the writings of Luther to our canon, it is better that we instead consider what Jesus might do in our day from the living word.

Aside from the Gospel, the writings of Luther do tend to serve as a sort of guiding dogma for the Lutheran Church; however, we have already decided to depart from Luther's views on issues that he was vehement against in his day.

While we should never abandon the cornerstone of Lutheran belief that we are justified by grace through faith, we must accept that the task Luther left us, that of reforming the church, goes on. Luther's writings were written for his day and saved for posterity, but our church was not created for Luther's writings. We should continue to focus on the bible and especially on the Gospel as it speaks anew to every generation.

Professorial Episcopal Person said...

As for what religious texts Lutherans should read, my reaction is that you have put your finger on a complicated question. It seems to me that the emphasis in all Christian denominations should be on Jesus, so the four gospels should be considered the most important.
Obviously Luther himself, even though he said Sola Scriptura, read
other texts, and participated in contemporary controversies with people like Erasmus. Christians should focus on Jesus' teachings, but turn secondarily to later writers for help in understanding him. And in this regard, it seems strange to me that Lutherans still call themselves that.
Other denominations put the emphasis in their name on Christ or some theological concept. Even the Calvinists switched their name to Presbyterians. It almost sounds as though Lutherans worship Luther instead of Christ. So here are some alternative names for the
denomination: NorhternEuropeanChristians, Salvationbygracists (or
Gracefuls Hopefully), and Sinboldlyists. Or course some denominations
have names based on their behavior, such as the Baptists or the Holy
Rollers. How about the Casserollers? There is another suggestion for The Church of
Sensible Shoes.