ELCA Presiding Bishop Eaton and “the cross”
What kind of Lutheran is Elizabeth Eaton, the new ELCA Presiding Bishop?
Outgoing Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson says of her: “She is a wise theologian committed to a strong Lutheran evangelical witness….”
To be sure, she’s known to point to the cross:
“On our own we are helpless and lost. We cannot effect our deliverance. We are, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “like prisoners who must wait for someone from the outside to unlock our cell.” The death of Jesus has done that. That is our core belief. That is the faith. It is Christ and Christ crucified that is the unshakeable foundation of the church.”
“Lutherans have a history of living with paradox. There are some things that are nonnegotiable for us. But there are other things that it is possible for people who love Jesus holding the same faith together, can have very strong, very sharp disagreements, but it does not have to lead to disunity. Things like marriage or the ordering of government or certain political positions, we can and we do disagree, but we agree on the cross.”
Eaton affirms “the cross” and she supports major ELCA agendas, including but not limited to, changing the ELCA constitution in 1999 to require an Episcopal, sacramental priesthood, supporting the 2009 decision to approve gay marriage and families, altering God-language to comply with feminist objections as found in the ELCA hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship.
The problem is:
What is “the cross”? Don’t all Christians “agree on the cross”? Isn’t the cross “the unshakeable foundation” of all Christian churches, not just Lutherans?
Lutheran identity is not a matter of waving the cross more vigorously than Catholics or Baptists.
Rather, Luther rediscovered that salvation is all God’s doing. Now that cuts. It excludes semi-pelagianism in all its pious forms, both personal and institutional. It excludes revelation outside of the cross. It means that the only proper use of the cross is in proclaiming salvation in Christ alone, through the cross alone, by faith alone, through grace alone.
Properly used, “the cross” shows the edges of the gospel, edges which offend modern sensibilities as they did medieval ones. Properly used, “the cross” has necessary, real world consequences that cut.
What kind of Lutheran is Elizabeth Eaton? She’s like her predecessors: Hanson, Anderson, and Chilstrom. Richard Koenig, a prominent LCA Lutheran who died in 2011, put the ELCA problem succinctly:
“The ELCA knows all the Lutheran jargon and recites the epigrams regularly — Christ the center of the Scriptures, Law and Gospel, justification by faith alone, faith active in love — but in stuff coming from the headquarters, there’s no signal that anyone knows how to USE them.”
 The Lutheran, August 2013, p. 50. Bolding added for emphasis added here and hereafter.
 Northeast Iowa Synod Letter, Dec. 15, 2009, Bishop’s column
 Meet the Woman Who Will Lead Evangelical Lutherans: ‘Religious’ but not Spiritual” Time, Interview of Elizabeth Eaton by Elizabeth Diaz, August 18, 2013.
 Richard Koenig, www.crossings.org/Thursday/Thur091803.htm.
Christ the Center
The Predella of the
Cranach Altar Triptych
This painting is the bottom panel of the Cranach altar in Wittenberg’s Town Church. It is the best known among the altar’s paintings and shows Luther in the pulpit preaching the “Word of the Cross.” One hand is on the open Bible; the other points toward the crucifix as the incarnation of the Word of God. The cross, in central position, symbolizes the foundations on which religious life is built, and there is a wave in the loincloth revealing that Christ crucified is alive and present among us.
On the left, the congregation is gathered – Luther’s family with Katharina von Bora holding their son Hans by the hand. The girl with the round face behind them might be Magdalena, a daughter who died at a young age. The man with the full long beard in the background is Lucas Cranach “the Elder” who has deliberately chosen to join the Protestant group. The narrow red band around Luther’s neck is reminiscent of a cardinal’s collar as if to make Luther the secret bishop of the Protestant church. A comparison of the two wings of the Cranach triptych and the bottom panel reveals the same interior design, making the altar a uniform and compact whole.
“The distinctive character of current Lutheranism, however, is largely the result of its continuing search for its own roots in the Reformation and Luther’s thought itself. Beginning in about the 1840s, when J.C.K. von Hofmann appealed to Luther in the argument over atonement, Luther was for the first time set against Lutheran orthodoxy on a substantive doctrinal issue (Hirsch, 1954, vol. 5, p. 427) and the uniqueness of Luther’s own thought began to emerge as a viable alternative.”
 Forde, “Lutheranism,” Blackwell’s Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Thought, Ed. Alister McGrath (Cambridge, MA; Blackwell, 1993) 357; emphasis added.
April 29, 2013
The Canon of Scripture: A Guide for the Perplexed
“The insistence that scripture interprets itself is simply the hermeneutical
correlate of justification by faith alone.”
10:00 – 2:00 p.m.
Holy Nativity Lutheran Church, 3900 Winnetka Ave No., New Hope, MN
Sign up by contacting one of the three people below:
Stew Carlson email@example.com (651-207-3939)
Brad Jenson firstname.lastname@example.org (218-625-2430)
Meg Madson email@example.com (763-475-0577)
Sponsored by The CrossAlone District of LCMC
 Forde, “Authority in the Church: The Lutheran Reformation,” A More Radical Gospel: Essays on Eschatology, Authority, Atonement, and Ecumenism, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004) 66.
Problem #1: Where’s the beef? Pastor Steven Gjerde, in “Tempering Troublesome Spirits,” faults fellow Lutherans for dealing with “style” rather than doctrine, but he himself has the same problem.
He does not want to suggest that “every division is wrong and hateful” (60), but he laments that the NALC and LCMC divide “so sharply over matters of order and style rather than doctrine” (58) and advises the leaders of these bodies “to deal directly with their own constituencies’ tendencies to caricature one another and divide over questions of church culture” (59). When we “caricature each other on the basis of cultural choice and churchly style… we are failing to love our neighbors as ourselves” (60).
What are the substantive gospel issues that keep Gjerde in the ELCA? He ducks: “I have chosen to stay within that body for the foreseeable future, within certain conditions and for reasons we consider faithful and wise….” (57, emphasis added); “Sometimes there must be divisions for the sake of highlighting all the more clearly God’s righteousness and truth” (60).
What conditions? What reasons?
The whole dilemma lies in such “conditions” and “reasons.” After all, there is no pure church, no pure doctrine. There is only pure gospel. Because salvation is at stake in the pure gospel and its consequences, the devil’s in the details of Gjerde’s illusive “conditions” and “reasons.”
Gjerde ends: We “should temper all our actions, and even more, our actions toward brothers and sisters trying to confess the same truth about him” (60, emphasis added).
What is the content of “the same truth”? Gjerde doesn’t deliver the beef.
The “truth of the gospel” (Gal 2:5, 14) is that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone through the cross alone.
This gospel has necessary, practical consequences. Because the cross is all-sufficient, nothing more can be required – not a particular structure or priesthood, not a conversion experience, not inerrancy, or the like.
CA VII: It is enough that the gospel be “preached purely….” “Purely” = by faith alone in Christ alone through the cross alone.
The ELCA, however, compromised this gospel in 1999 when it changed its constitution to require the Episcopal, sacramental episcopate (§10.81.01). This was the status confessionis action that spurred the creation of LCMC. It made the ELCA a gospel-plus church. Every pulpit is tainted by this required add-on.
Problem #2. Massive misinformation. Gjerde is silent about the 1999 constitutional change and its significance for faith and life.
He is wrong about basic facts: For example: “Even the LCMC did not become ‘separately incorporated” until the ELCA declared that it must” (57).
Not true at all. The Articles of Incorporation for LCMC were filed with the Minnesota Secretary of State on September 20, 2000. The LCMC constitution and bylaws were approved by the WordAlone Convention in February 2001. The LCMC constituting convention was held in October 2001. The ELCA had nothing to do with any of these actions.
Gjerde chides conservative Lutherans: “I’d even venture to say that the tendency among conservative Lutherans to eschew institution (sic) has partly led to the problems we’re facing. Rather than fight, rather than appearing mean, rather than care as servants of the church should care, we withdraw, let it go to hell” (59).
To the contrary, Lutherans from coast to coast fought the good fight for many years but realized by the constitutional changes in 1999 that the battle was lost. Constitutional changes set the wickets for the future.
Gjerde incorrectly describes the NALC. The NALC doesn’t just have bishops, as if bishops per se were the problem, as Gjerde implies others think.
Rather, the NALC requires that its head bishop be installed by a bishop, with prayer and the laying on of hands. The NALC has formal agreements with Episcopal seminaries to educate its seminarians. The NALC objects to the ELCA’s 2009 decisions on gay sex, but it has adopted a hierarchical structure similar to the ELCA’s.
Problem #3: Knocking down the straw man “absolute.” Gjerde claims: “Whence comes the basis for making either the NALC or the LCMC or both the absolute means of a more orthodox ministry?” (59)
No one claims that LCMC or the NALC are absolute. Perhaps Gjerde uses “absolute” to absolve himself from making a move to a provisional organization which is a life-boat, although not absolute.
Problem #4: Institutionalism/Pietism. Gjerde acknowledges the importance of institutions: “If we are truly committed to the ministry of word and sacrament….we should easily recognize that the word will require institutions to be its handmaiden and the church will require institutions to be its shelter” (59). Yet institutional differences seem not to matter because we’re all just “trying to confess the same truth” (60).
Gospel-plus churches undermine the gospel. That’s not a problem?
Gjerde ends with teardrops of progressive pietism – lamenting self-righteousness, calling for repentance – yadayadayada. Can’t we all just get along?
If only Luther had “tempered how he conducted himself” (60). If only he had worked harder at “practicing mercy” (60). After all, weren’t they all “trying to confess the same truth” (60)?
 Steven Gjerde, “Tempering Troublesome Spirits,” Lutheran Forum (Fall 2012) 57-60.
Forde Fest 3!
Monday, August 13, 2012
Major Lutheran scholars are wrong
about a third use of the law.
10:00 – 2:00 p.m.
Holy Nativity Lutheran Church, 3900 Winnetka Ave No., New Hope, MN
Cost: $10.00 for lunch and handouts
Sign up by contacting one of the three people below:
Stew Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org (651/207-3939)
Brad Jenson email@example.com (218/625-2430)
Meg Madson firstname.lastname@example.org (763/475-0577)
Sponsored by The CrossAlone District of LCMC
Holy and mighty Lord, who has given us this good land for our inheritance, we ask that
We may always prove ourselves a people, mindful of your favor and glad to do your will.
Bless our nation with honorable industry and sound learning. Save us from violence,
Discord and confusion, from pride and arrogance and from every evil.
Defend our liberties and make into one united people the many brought here out of
Many nations and tongues.
We remember especially those who have made the Supreme sacrifice, defending freedom and justice, and those now serving in our Armed forces.
We also remember the generations that have gone before, especially
Those who built this country and have now gone to their eternal resting place.
Fill with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in your name we entrust the authority of Government, that there may be justice and peace at home and that through law we may
Show forth your praise among the nations of the earth. In time of prosperity fill our hearts
With thankfulness, and in the day of trouble do not allow our trust in you to fail.
All of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord,
Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without
Blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and Authority, before all time and now and forever.
Forde: Neither inerrancy, nor Heilsgeschichte, nor existentialism
From Forde’s theological autobiography:
But in the seminary it soon became apparent that the ancient tradition was under attack. The attack, however, was not from without but from within. It was not, that is, the inroads of criticism and liberalism, etc., that were the ultimate source of trouble. Such inroads could temporarily at least be sidestepped, accommodated, or moderated. So we read Brunner (the most used in dogmatics classes as I recall), and Sittler, and Kantonen, and Nygren, and Tillich, etc., and they assured us that all was well in the “Neo-Orthodox” camp. Yet there was, for me at least, a certain unease. The surrender of biblical inerrancy to various versions of “truth as encounter” and other existentialist ploys seemed to lack the bite of the older views of biblical authority. Perhaps it was that something of the offense was gone. Yet there was no way back. Older views of biblical inerrancy were not an offense, they were just intellectually offensive. I was looking, I think, for something deeper and more compelling, a gospel authority that establishes itself by its own power and attractiveness, not a legal authority that simply demands submission.
Heilsgeschichte, then in vogue, dominated our theological classrooms. But it was at best a half-way house. It freed us from older views of authority based on biblical inerrancy but left us rather with serious questions about history. A Bible that is an authoritative mine for data to construct a historical scheme is, in the end, only somewhat better than a Bible of texts used to “prove” dogmatic propositions. The inchoate desire of my younger days for a more solid foundation was not satisfied.
My own theological education began one day when I was impelled to set off on my own search. That certain independence and reluctance to rely just on the word of my professors once again asserted itself. While attending a class on Galatians one day the question that was to occupy center stage for the rest of my theological career was posed, the question of the relation between human “responsibility” and divine election. The professor, bless his pious heart, stretched out his arms and said, “Men (there were only men in those days!), there are just some things we have to learn to hold in tension!” Something within me shouted NO! There are no doubt some things we might hold in tension, but not this thing, not the question of human salvation! I came to suspect that this was the real threat against the ancient tradition. I had to ask myself, “Was this the theology for which Luther was willing to see the church torn apart?” Was this the position over which he argued so desperately with Erasmus? I couldn’t believe it. This touched off my quest. And that questing centering around divine election, the bondage of the human will, and being a theologian of the cross accounts for the sum and substance of my theology.
The search for an answer to the question about Luther ushered me into a strange and exciting new world. Modern Luther research was just beginning to be imported from Europe. I poured over Luther on Galatians, read and reread Luther’s Bondage of the Will; I gobbled up the essays and monographs I could find on Luther’s “reformation discovery” and his theology in general (Wingren, Nygren, Prenter, Watson, Boehmer, Pauck, Rupp, etc.), as well as on related exegetical questions about the righteousness of God, justification, law and gospel, and so on.
The theology at which I have arrived is the result of a quest for faith. It is not really an option for me. I do not see it, ultimately, as though it were one of many possible “expressions” of faith – even though I try to be as charitable towards those other expressions as I can. I have sought a theology which repeatedly calls me back from the brink of unbelief by its own intrinsic power. I believe I find this particularly in Luther’s understanding of being a theologian of the cross. For me that is not a matter of traditionalism or whatever pejorative charges those who like to play at such games like to hurl around. For “beyond” or “outside” such theology, I am threatened simply by unbelief. Which is to say, I suppose, that I simply cannot live on a “theology of glory.” If I fight adamantly in ecclesiastical circles, that is the reason.
Second, just a note about my work itself. Upon reflection I think that Christology, both the understanding of the work of Christ in atonement and of the person of Christ, might have been highlighted a little more than was immediately evident in Professor Nestingen’s article. Perhaps as a historian he is less impressed by “systematic” theological achievements! But I have been preoccupied not only with atonement, but also with the person of Christ, and it does seem to me – or at least it is my hope – that some of my most significant contributions to theology have been in this area. This is, of course, vital to the task of being a theologian of the cross today. What I have striven for throughout is a theology which relentlessly brings the cross and resurrection home to us, “does” it to us. It has seemed to me that the biggest problem systematically is that theology constantly gets in the way of the cross. I have sought a theology which gets out of the way for the cross. Rightly or wrongly, I think some of my best work is the fruit of that search.
 Gerhard Forde, “The One Acted Upon,” dialog 36:1 (Winter 1997) 57-58.
 Gerhard Forde, “Response to James Nestingen’s article,” dialog 31:1 (Winter 1992) 34-35.
Romans 3:24: “[T]hey are justified by his grace as a gift….”
This verse is used by some to justify a semi-Pelagian view of salvation: To be saved, the gift of faith must be received by responding in faith. Thus the believer has a crucial role in salvation.
Forde: This semi-Pelagian interpretation of Scripture is wrong:
The assertion of “justification by faith” in the sixteenth-century Reformation can be understood only if it is clearly seen as a complete break with ‘justification by grace,’ viewed according to the synthesis we have been describing, as a complete break with the attempt to view justification as a movement according to a given standard or law, either natural or revealed. For the reformers, justification is “solely” a divine act. It is a divine judgment. It is an imputation. It is unconditional. All legal and moral schemes are shattered. Such justification comes neither at the beginning nor at the end of a movement; rather, it establishes an entirely new situation. Since righteousness comes by imputation only, it is absolutely not a movement on our part, either with or without the aid of what was previously termed “grace.” The judgment can be heard and grasped only by faith. Indeed, the judgment creates and calls forth the faith that hears and grasps it. One will mistake the reformation point if one does not see that justification “by faith” is in the first instance precisely a polemic against justification “by grace” according to the medieval scheme. Grace would have to be completely redefined before the word could be safely used in a reformation sense.
See also the footnote to the above paragraph:
The recent penchant for combining grace and faith into the formula “justification by grace through faith” is perhaps understandable given certain modern developments, but (in spite of words suggesting such a formula in the Augsburg Confession IV) it is strictly speaking at best redundant and at worst compounding a felony. When one misses the complete interdependence of grace and faith (grace is the gift of faith; faith alone lets grace be grace), one turns faith into a “subjective response” and can only then cover one’s tracks by saying, “Of course, it comes by grace!” Faith then simply takes the place once occupied by “works” or “merit” in the medieval system and all the problems repeat themselves. Given such misunderstanding it is clear that one cannot use the formula “justification by faith” today without careful work of reclamation. 
 Gerhard Forde, “Justification,” Church Dogmatics II:407. Italics in the original, bolding added.
 Forde, Church Dogmatics II: 407, footnote 7, on page 423. Italics in the original, bolding added.