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Cimino, Richard [Ed.]
Lutherans Today. American Lutheran Identity in the Twenty-First Century.
Grand Rapids-Cambridge: Eerdmans 2003. XIV, 248 S. gr.8°. Kart. US$ 20,00. ISBN 0-8028-1365-8.
Steven D. Paulson
Lutherans Today is a journalistic snapshot of current Lutheran churches in America. The chapters are written by notable authors who are largely church journalists or historians. The essays are able to address most aspects of Lutheran life in America – with the notable exception of the decline in American rural life. Issues of the Missouri Synod (Mary Todd) and the predecessor churches of the ELCA are included, as are movements like Charismatics (Robert Longman), Churchgrowth (Scott Thumma and Jim Petersen), and the effects of changes in European immigration and »new ethnics« in the churches (Mark Granquist). This collection of essays specifically avoids theological analysis. Instead, it gives a sociological description of the impact of Lutheran churches on the greater culture of America. Judged in this way the Lutheran churches have had little impact on society and have become examples of the »Christ of culture«, or culture Protestantism in America. The Missouri Synod has been captured by the right wing of political life, while the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is merely an extension of the political left (Walz, Montreal, and Hofrenning, »Pastors in the Two Kingdoms«, 143–165, and Erling, »The Lutheran Left«, 45–61).
The history of most Lutheran Churches in America has been about mergers among immigrant groups, each merger anticipating greater influence in society and growth for the church. But with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), this history of merger has reached its endpoint. Immigration from Lutheran countries has virtually ended, and church bureaucracy and the struggles over the form of church authority (more con gregational or more episcopal) have now created alienation from »churchwide« offices. Consequently, there is crisis of identity among American Lutherans. Preserving identity is a tricky issue in America for any institution, secular or ecclesiastical, because Americans aspire to create unity by diminishing difference in what they call »the melting pot«. Lutheran immigrants have always found themselves in a predominantly Calvinist and anti-Calvinist (or Baptist) milieu with little recognition of the meaning of the theology of the cross. About every century this has caused a crisis of Lutheran identity that has been answered in the past by a clear return to Confessional identity. Mark Noll, an American Evangelical, opens Lutherans Today by calling Lutherans to make a greater difference in American life, but he leaves this unanswered question: »How much genuine Lutheranism is left in American Lutheranism, and [is it possible that] Lutherans can bring this Lutheranism to bear« (21)?
The picture given in this book is generally bleak for Confessional Lutheran identity. Robert Benne documents the loss of identity in church-related colleges that are quickly secularizing (though other directions remain possible). The Missouri Synod Lutherans tend to cut themselves off from other churches (Todd, »The Curious Case of the Missouri Synod«, 26–44), and ELCA Lutherans have engaged in a theologically directionless ecumenism regardless of doctrinal difference.
A Confessional movement is overdue for Lutherans in the present. From whence will it come? Lutheran Charismatics are in decline, mega-churches are not very interested in Lutheran theology and Missouri Synod moderates have not found much of a public voice. That leaves two important movements in the ELCA: Evangelical Catholics (Cimino, 81–101) and Word- Alone (Granquist, 62–80). These two groups (with others) identify one common problem in the ELCA: the constitutional mandate for quotas of women, laypersons and certain selected types of ethnic minorities. Though the intention is for reaching out to new or marginalized groups, the effect has been to replace theological argument with cultural-political agendas. From there Word Alone and Evangelical Catholics divide on basic issues of ecumenical agreements, some liturgical matters, and the nature of the office of the ministry. Many Evangelical Catholics have accepted the theory that »the church is part of the gospel« (Cimino, 91) in which the ministry is necessarily threefold in hierarchical ordering, and that some type of historic episcopacy helps ensure the right kind of ecumenical relations and provides the means of enforcing the theological discipline lacking in the ELCA.
The 1999 approval of the Called to Common Mission (CCM) with the Episcopal Church in the United States was largely considered a victory by Evangelical Catholics. But the unprecedented form of agreement caused dissension. The agreement states that Lutherans did not need to consider episcopal ordinations and installations under a form of historic episco pacy as necessary for »full and visible« church unity (though they were nevertheless required, liturgically and politically, over time), while at the same time Episcopalians would understand such ordinations as necessary. WordAlone developed out of those who saw in this a confusion and rejection of the simple sense of CA VII and Lutheran ecumenism.
The Evangelical Catholics have had substantial theological leadership over the last generation, but a leadership that is often leaving the Lutheran church for its hoped-for home in Rome. Will most leave ELCA, remain loyal, or develop some type of resistance movement (99–101)? Similar issues have arisen in the WordAlone movement, with a number of churches choosing to leave the ELCA, but the majority of people and churches remain as a resistance movement within the Church. The current issue of ordination and marriages of practicing homosexuals has raised issues of some common concern between many Evangelical Catholics, WordAlone and Missourians, including effects on liturgy, ministry and ecumenism. It remains to be seen if there will be ways for the groups to work effectively for the future of the ELCA, or whether the American churches are following the Missouri Synod in a process of disintegration into smaller, closed denominations in a basic struggle with or ac quies cence to surrounding culture. Lutherans Today gives us the best picture of this present circumstance for the major Lutheran bodies in America. The book is not equipped to project very far into the future, but using the instruments of social sciences and journalism, the outlook for unity among America’s Lutherans is poor. Theologically, of course, God specializes in bringing life out of death and therein lays the kind of hope for unity and Lutheran identity in America.