14. Forde got out of Biblicism; you can, too.

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“If our Melanchthonian based free-choice pietism has lost its substance, and if we are appalled or at least worried by the drift of the church toward cultural Protestantism, where do we turn? Here is where the hermeneutic will tend powerfully to influence the choice. If the kind of interpretation suggested by Lindbeck is right, there would seem basically to be two possibilities. The first and most obvious is to turn back towards Rome. If we are a confessing movement in the church catholic, and if, in Tillichian terms, we have pushed our protestant principle to the degree of losing our catholic substance, then the only real way to find our substance again is to go back to Rome, that preeminent custodian of such catholic substance. Rome has had long experience with this sort of thing. Rome knows how to grant free choice with one hand and take it back with the other!”

“The other possibility would be the old Protestant move: back to the Bible, to move, perhaps, in the direction of so-called evangelical or fundamentalist Protestantism, lately dubbed fundagelicalism. If we are denominational Lutherans, basically critical of or anti-Rome, and yet fear the loss of substance, we would likely be attracted by the so-called evangelical or maybe even neo-pentacostal movements in contemporary Protestantism. They too, you might say, have a certain ability to grant freedom of choice with one hand and take it back with the other. You are free to choose Jesus, but once you do you better toe the mark! And one cannot overlook the fact that around the globe these days such movements manifest considerable vitality!”

“Disenchanted Lutherans today are attracted by both possibilities….When free-choice pietism has lost its moorings in the external Word, the only way to get it back in line is by turning to authority structures with the clout to do it. One can find that either in Roman-type hierarchicalism or in Biblicism. In either case, satis est non satis est. The gospel and the sacraments are not enough. They never are when they don’t bring the eschatological end and new beginning. An authority structure above and beyond the gospel must be added – a kind of substitute eschatology to assuage our impatience!”

“Do these hermeneutical alternatives define the parameters of our fate today? Are these the only possibilities available to us? I believe not. But I do think that if there is any fire left now, it will have to come more from Luther than our Melanchthonian tinged pietism.”1


1 Gerhard Forde, “Satis Est? What do we do when other churches don’t agree?” Unpublished lecture given to ELCA Teaching Theologians’ Conference, August 1990, pp. 11-12; emphasis added.