Just Give Me That Old Time Religion…

olc_markAbout a year ago, I was in a continuing ed class, and I was talking to the professor about some concerns in our synod. He mentioned “Radical Lutheranism” as an option to help resolve this troubling trend. Apparently, it’s taking what Luther taught so seriously, that you are a super-Lutheran, or something. That explains why I was still struggling with some proponents of this new theology – I had only been using regular old Lutheranism. This past week, I was introduced to the concept of “Radical Grace”. Apparently, since I have never heard of it, and can’t articulate it’s wonders to the satisfaction of all, I am a Particular Baptist. I hadn’t realized that. Meanwhile, we have professors at our seminaries, who have learned that the only immutable law is “publish or perish”, and so have decided that Law and Gospel aren’t good enough. We need to ditch those old albatrosses in favor of the radical new paradigm. Once again, I am not hip enough to be radical. I am stuck with the regular old grace and properly divided Law and Gospel that I was taught in my catechism class, lo those many years ago.

I have never been one of the cool kids. I don’t do radical very well. My favorite restaurant meal is a hot turkey sandwich. I generally vote for whichever candidate seems most boring. I like my hymns to be old, and my liturgy to be older.

And it’s not just that I’m getting up there in years, and settling into my ways. When I was in college (when most people try radicalism) my brother asked my mom “If Lincoln’s this conservative now, what will he be like when he is old“? Apparently, I’ll be conservative, but with grey hairs. I don’t drive too fast, anymore. I sometimes bike to work. I like to watch movies that tell a nice story, and read books that end happily. I enjoy C.S. Lewis. I read Luther. I read a Steven King novel in High School once for a book report, and I’ve looked at a few of his short stories, but mostly, I prefer my authors to be boring and pleasant.

You get the idea.

Wouldn’t the grace taught in Scripture be better if it was supercharged? Wouldn’t Luther be more relevant if we really focused on his radicalness, instead of his continuity with the long history of the church?

No and no. What can be more radical than the idea that “Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy previous blood, and with his innocent suffering and death, that I may be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness”?

I learned those words back before Luther or Grace were radical. So I assume that I only learned plain Jane vanilla Luther, and regular old boring grace. The church doesn’t need trends, in worship or in theology. God has been teaching the same thing since the creation. He has sent prophets, apostles and pastors to teach those things. It’s all they have ever done. And if you’ve got some “fancy new theology, that’s really radical and will liven up the church like it’s never been livened before!” then you are, by definition, a heretic.

The real problem with radical whatever (Luther, Grace…) is that it’s sort of like neo-whatever (orthodoxy, conservative…) It really isn’t. And so we have the New Perspective on Paul, which is neither new, nor actually Pauline, we have the successor to law and Gospel, which is merely a way of saying “Not having Law and Gospel”, we have radical Lutheranism which focuses on part of Luther to the exclusion of the rest, and so really isn’t all that Lutheran, and we have radical Grace, which gives grace such predominance that it becomes anti-nomian, which as I’ve shown elsewhere, doesn’t get rid of the law. It leads to only the law.  Which is a fancy way of saying Radical Grace will end in no grace at all.

I’m sure the “radical whatever” phase of theology will pass away as soon as we find another buzzword from twenty years ago to use. But, for me, the Small Catechism is great. It’s got all you need for salvation. A handbook, one might, say, for all of scripture. In the form we have it, it’s 500 years old. But Luther built on earlier versions of the catechism from the Middle Ages. Nothing he said about the Word of God was especially radical. You should see how often he quotes people who had long been dead. The reformation was so conservative that one of the definitive theological histories of the period is called, “The Conservative Reformation and It’s Theology.”

I don’t think we need extra-super-duper-radical-whatever to do what the church has been doing for millennia. Be it the liturgy, or the grace of God, the proper distinction between Law and Gospel, or even the teachings of the blessed Reformer.

Boring Grace – the kind Paul talked about in that boring old book, Holy Scripture – is enough for me. Regular old dead white guy Luther will have to do. His catechism is enough to spend a lifetime studying. So far, I’m only about 42 years into that. I still have a ways to go (I hope!).

If you want to be radical, and hip, and groovy, and do your 23 skidoo, or whatever they’re calling it these days, go ahead. But I think I’ll just take some of that old-timey scriptural and churchly Lutheranism, with it’s boring old justification by grace through faith.

And, if you don’t mind, I’d like it with a cup of warm milk and some crackers.

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