Monday, March 26, 2007

On the Curious Scarcity (Online) of Distinctively Lutheran Apologetics

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John Warwick Montgomery is a superb, distinguished Christian apologist (one of the greatest in our time) who is a Lutheran, but not particularly an apologist for Lutheranism.


I had this exchange with several Lutherans on the Three Hierarchies blog, starting here. Color codes:

Josh S. = blue
Eric Phillips = green
Joel = purple
Pirate = orange
BWL = red

I'm still searching for a Lutheran blog that does apologetics and actually likes to interact with Catholics (and preferably not anti-Catholic). Does anyone know of any?

Dave, I'm pretty sure that by your standards, any genuine Lutheran is going to be anti-Catholic, just like anyone who actually subscribes to Trent will of necessity be anti-Lutheran. Our churches exist in mutual anathema.

OK, I don't want to turn this into another protracted Dave vs Josh war, so that's enough of that.

A "genuine Lutheran" is, of course, one who consistently accepts traditional Lutheran beliefs (basically, LCMS and WELS these days, and perhaps some traditionalist European species), whether anti-Catholic or not. Luther and Melanchthon were both anti-Catholics but also had significant pro-Catholic elements in their beliefs.

A Lutheran apologist would be one who defends Lutheran distinctives (just as I defend Catholic distinctives), and who attempts to provide rational reasons for Lutheran distinctiveness and preeminence among Christian belief-systems, and to incorporate the mind and intellect into the Christian witness in Lutheran form.

I am having the greatest difficulty finding this. Are things that bad in Lutheranism that y'all don't have a single active Lutheran apologist on the Internet, whereas Catholics can name many dozens who are defending Catholicism in such a way?

*** CLICK ON "Tolle, lege!" immediately below to finish this article ***

I was referred to one blog, but that person said he doesn't want to do any debates at all, but simply provide Lutheran stuff for Lutherans. I asked him if he knew of any sites along the lines of what I seek. He said he didn't. So I have asked here, because CPA and I have had excellent dialogues in the past (but he said he is doing relatively less apologetic-type discussion now).

I find that astounding, but also a striking fact of the preeminence of Catholicism and the uniqueness of the distinctively Catholic outlook on Christianity.

. . . anyone who actually subscribes to Trent will of necessity be anti-Lutheran. Our churches exist in mutual anathema.

That may be true of Lutherans (and the Confessions describe us as the Antichrist, as I recall), but it is not true of us. See my paper: The Catholic Understanding of the Anathemas of Trent and Excommunication.

As everyone knows, the Catholic Church has rapidly developed a more ecumenical approach, especially since World War II. That is not, unfortunately, true of LCMS. So the Catholic is faced with the fact that the more traditional Lutherans tend to be anti-Catholic, whereas relatively more ecumenical Lutherans tend to be less consistently traditional (or "orthodox") Lutherans.
If I had a blog, I would do that sort of thing when it came up. If I do get one some day, I'm sure you'll find it.

If you're looking for a professional Lutheran apologist, though--meaning someone who does it full-time and makes his living that way--I don't know of any. Come to think of it, you're the only professional Roman Catholic apologist I know of, and there are way more RCs than Lutherans in this country.

I'm not sure Lutherans need any full-time professional apologists to convince inquirers of the truth of their doctrines the same way that Catholics seem to need them. It's enough for Lutherans to quote chapter and verse, since, as St Athanasius says, "The holy and divinely inspired writings are sufficient of themselves alone to make known the truth."
I am having the greatest difficulty finding this. Are things that bad in Lutheranism that y'all don't have a single active Lutheran apologist on the Internet
It's not that things are bad. First, since we regard other Christian churches as actual churches where Christ is truly present, stealing their sheep is not a priority. Second, the theologians in our churches are pastors. Running apologetics websites for arguing with Roman Christians isn't a high priority for them. Third, as Joel said, when your doctrines are simply based on Scripture rather than medieval mythology, complex scholastic re-imaginings of Aristotle, and a mid-20th C rewriting of history in the vision of Newman, they do not look as patently absurd to most Christians and thus do not require a full-time professional to defend and discuss them.

Dave, the question is not whether Roman Catholics think Lutherans are going to hell. These days, it seems like even atheists have a hard time getting into the Catholic hell. It's whether or not Lutheran doctrines are rejected by the papacy, and they still are. You can't be a faithful Roman and affirm the doctrines in the Book of Concord. Period. That's what the anathema's about.

You call me an "anti-Catholic" because I think the official doctrines of the papacy are contrary to Scripture and the Gospel, as though I could think anything else and call myself "Lutheran." Yet, you cannot be a Catholic without likewise affirming that Lutheran doctrine is contrary to God's Word and the Gospel, but you are "ecumenical?" Give me a break.

* * *
You call me an "anti-Catholic" because I think the official doctrines of the papacy are contrary to Scripture and the Gospel,

Nope; I call you "quasi-anti-Catholic" primarily because of your manifest prejudice and secondarily because you can't describe Catholic theology accurately to save your life, which is equally obviously a function of your prejudice, that brings on the inaccuracies.

Mere honest theological disagreement has nothing to do with the label "anti" -- at least as I use it (in line with many many Protestant sociologists and historians).

Come to think of it, you're the only professional Roman Catholic apologist I know of

You've never heard of, for example:

Karl Keating
Jimmy Akin
Scott Hahn
Mark Shea
Pat Madrid
John Martignoni
Tim Staples
Steve Ray
Al Kresta
Marcus Grodi
Peter Kreeft
Thomas Howard ??

I'm flattered if you know of me and not any of these, but I'm quite surprised if so.

As for apologetics in general, all Christians, it seems to me, are commanded to defend the faith (1 Peter 3:15 being the classic "proof text"). Paul did it constantly, and he tells us to imitate him. Christians have often played the games of pietism and/or fideism throughout history, but it's not a biblical approach if by this all apologetics is intended to be excluded altogether, because the latter is so prevalent in Scripture, particularly in Paul.

That doesn't mean everyone specializes in it, but it does mean that the biblical command cannot be simply dismissed as of no import in the Christian life, and it means that all Christian groups ought to have those who specialize in such things, just as every other occupation has its experts and practitioners.

John Warwick Montgomery is an exceptionally distinguished Lutheran apologist but he is not active on the Internet that I know of, and he doesn't appear to write much concerning defense of Lutheran distinctives. I see one such book in his bibliography: In Defense of Martin Luther (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing, 1970). See also his website.

Gretchen Passantino is a Lutheran I have known about for over 20 years, who has done a lot of general apologetics; not sure if she (formerly with her late husband Bob) defends Lutheran distinctives much, either. That's specifically what I am looking for.

Paul L. Maier is another who does mostly general Christian apologetics.

I defend general Christianity, too, and do a great deal of that sort of apologetics (especially against atheists and cultists), and I also defend Catholic distinctives.

Yet, you cannot be a Catholic without likewise affirming that Lutheran doctrine is contrary to God's Word and the Gospel, but you are "ecumenical?" Give me a break.

Sheer nonsense. Lutherans are fellow Christians who are in error on various points. of course I am ecumenical, just as my Church is, and as Pope Benedict XVI is.

After all, Lutheran pastor William Weedon cited his words from 1993:
Even a theology along the lines of the concept of apostolic succession, as is in force in the Catholic and the Orthodox Church, should in no way deny the saving presence of the Lord in the Evangelical [i.e., Lutheran] Lord's Supper.
Who said this? Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in a letter to the Lutheran Bishop of Bavaria, Johannes Hanselmann in 1993.

It can be found in print in the volume Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: the Church as Communion by (then) Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. It is on page 248.
I think the pope is pretty well-acquainted with what the Catholic Church holds, or, more specifically, what individual Catholics are allowed to believe about other Christians. Are you saying that you know more about that than he does? Pastor Weedon commented: "From everything I've know about Benedict, I do not believe he's the sort to prevaricate."

Note that the words of the pope do not necessarily imply that he believes Lutherans have the Real Presence. But they are undoubtedly ecumenical and respectful, in sharp contrast to, say, the quasi-anti-Catholic ravings of Josh, or, for that matter, The Book of Concord:

"The Mass in the papacy must be regarded as the greatest and most horrible abomination . . . it has been the supreme and most precious of the papal idolatries . . .
If there were reasonable papists, one would speak to them in the following friendly fashion:

Why do you cling so tenaciously to your Masses?

1. After all, they are a purely human invention. They are not commanded by God . . . Christ says, 'In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men' (Matt. 15:9).

. . . 3. . . . one can be saved in a better way without the Mass. Will the Mass not then collapse of itself -- not only for the rude rabble, but also for all godly, Christian, sensible, God-fearing people -- especially if they hear that it is a dangerous thing which was fabricated and invented without God's Word and will?

. . . 5. The Mass is and can be nothing else that a human work, even a work of evil scoundrels . . .

Accordingly we are and remain eternally divided and opposed the one to the other. The papists are well aware that if the Mass falls, the papacy will fall with it. Before they would permit this to happen, they would put us all to death.

Besides, this dragon's tail -- that is, the Mass -- has brought forth a brood of vermin and the poison of manifest idolatries.
(Smalcald Articles [1537], Part II, Article II: The Mass, from The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore Tappert, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House / Muhlenberg Press, 1959, pp. 293-294)
So in the papal realm the worship of Baal clings -- namely, the abuse of the Mass . . . And it seems that this worship of Baal will endure together with the papal realm until Christ comes to judge and by the glory of his coming destroys the kingdom of Antichrist. Meanwhile all those who truly believe the Gospel should reject those wicked services invented against God's command to obscure the glory of Christ and the righteousness of faith.

(Apology of the Augsburg Confession [1531], Article XXIV: The Mass, Book of Concord, ibid., 268 )
This is the basis upon which the early Lutherans forbade masses in their territories, and on which they justified stealing thousands of Catholic Church properties. Gotta chase that old devil and the idolatries of Baal-worship out of Christian lands, after all, even if it means stealing, theft, and plunder! Anything goes, fighting papist evil and utter corruption of Christianity!

This is clearly where Josh's quasi-anti-Catholicism derives (not to mention Luther's own frequent anti-Catholic inanities and propagandistic lies about his former Church. It's Lutheran heritage.

But Catholics don't speak in such ridiculous terms. Even Trent didn't condemn Protestant denominations or "Reformers" by name; it simply condemned errors. Individual Protestants and denominations may or may not hold those today. But in any event, you are regarded as our brethren in Christ, and we do not mock your religious services the way you (officially) mock and deride and despise ours.

Individual Lutherans can and do, of course, act in an ecumenical, charitable fashion, but they do so in the teeth of passages such as these in the Confessions they profess to follow in their entirety.

Isn't that what Lutherans are supposed to do? I hope I am wrong. Maybe Lutherans can -- are allowed to, within an "orthodox Lutheran" framework -- interpret such texts as non-binding and capable of more favorable explanation, after nearly 500 years of reflection.
There's something distasteful about going around looking for a fight. No Lutheran should engage you unless he thought he was specially called to do that sort of thing, otherwise he would be casting his pearls before swine, so to speak. (Sorry, no offense!) As you know, these issues have been gone over at length before, e.g.: The Augsburg Confession. Response: The Roman Confutation. Response to that: The Apology of the Augsburg Confession. Etc. To paraphrase the man whose sight Jesus restored, "I have told you already, and ye did not hear: wherefore would you hear it again? will ye also be [Luther's] disciples?
It's the quintuple posting RC apologetics in threads that have nothing to do with RC that makes you so endearing, Dave.

Right.

You might find the two Lutheran apologetic sites below of interest:


Thanks, BWL. My faith in humanity and intellectual confidence within Lutheranism is restored! For a second there, I thought y'all had gone pietist and fideist . . .

Those do look excellent indeed. Thanks for directing me to them. Now if we can get over the significant hurdle of the ones who run these sites being cordial even when they are critiqued . . .
If they can both defend their Lutheran distinctives under scrutiny with some decent arguments and remain amiable and friendly, they will have my eternal respect and admiration.

I have found that those things (among any denomination) are about as rare online as hen's teeth. So anyone who can buck the trend and the fashion truly has my sincere respect.

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