The Takeaway

05.22.2012 by Reed Dunn


This post is part of the the lutheran captivity of the church series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Lutheran* Captivity of the Church: Part 7 of 7 - The Takeaway

I hope this series has been helpful.  I know everyone has not agreed with me and others may think I have made too much of a debate they don’t even think exists, but I have needed this.  Much of this series has been about putting into words things that have been in my head for years.  But, since putting thoughts into words is more powerful than just thinking about them, I can say with certainty that I have learned more than I thought I would. 

This blog series has also been a kind of mixing bowl for thoughts as I have I preached through Romans in my church.  This has forced me to chase theories to their conclusion instead of letting them linger in my head till I get distracted with something else.

In all, there have been two primary impressions that I will take away from this series.  I would mark both with the word “freedom.” 

First, I have the freedom to obey...
I feel like this study has forced me to confront my over arching desire to "feel forgiven."  I think we need to get over ourselves and just obey God.  I think some of us need to quit trying to figure out our motives for obeying and just be free to obey.  Lutheranism is alway asking you to check the motives of your obedience; this is something Paul rarely does.  More than ever I feel free to obey, even if I'm not really "feeling it." 

I struggle for assurance in the Christian life, and the Lutheran drive to feel things does a number on my flesh and my doubts.  The truth of the gospel is that God has taken certain actions in history and it really doesn’t matter how we feel about it.  But then the Lutheran teaching comes in and says my obedience must spring from thankfulness not duty, or that I should always evaluate myself through the wretchedness of my sin.  These are feelings that rarely overtake me.  So, to me, Lutheranism somehow takes the focus off the facts and puts the focus back on me.   

This study has shown me that my tendency to navel-gaze and the Lutheran drive to feel is an unhealthy mix - I tend to misuse Lutheranism.  But now, I realize I am free to obey.  I am free to obey even without knowing all my motives.  I am free to obey knowing that if I sin I am not condemned.  I have the freedom to get over myself and just go do what God wants. 

Secondly, I have discovered the freedom to understand Paul...
I was in seminary, and about 30, when I finally learned how to read fiction.  I learned the skill like a lot of middle schoolers - I discovered Harry Potter.  That's a little embarrassing, yes, but my discovery of fiction has been much like my discovery of the Apostle Paul over the last few years.  Throughout much of my life, I didn't really read fiction, I only looked for quotes.  I wanted to find some great line by Dostoevsky so I could impress my friends, my professors, or myself.  But if you read a novel like that, well, it sucks!  Whatever story I was reading was lost on me - I was there looking for one thing and one thing only.  This is very similar to my relationship with Paul and justification.

My own personal Lutheran captivity meant that much of Paul was lost on me.  I would read him looking around each corner to find justification - even if he was telling people to simply imitate him!  So I often skimmed much of his writing, waiting for "the good stuff" or sometimes I just didn't understand him.  I can’t tell you how much clearer he sounds now.  If I can be really technical: Paul’s whole theology comes alive when you realize that his "indicative" is as much about God’s regenerative work in us as it is about God’s meritorious work for us.

Anyway, that is what I’ve learned.  I hope you have learned some things too.  I hope that my series will not produce dissension, but understanding.  Luther should have made more room for the book of James, just as Lutheran churches should be more understanding of “good Christians.”  Similarly, I hope I have proven in at least the last post, that to overreact to all this with the law would be death.  I hope the labels have made it easier for you to understand that there are different positions on these matters and you may just be hearing one of them.  I hope all this will lead you to read the Apostle Paul over and over again and see what you can discover about our great salvation.

Here are a couple of links you may find helpful...
A wonderful presentation on this topic by Rick Phillips
An online critique of the Lutheran-styled book “Jesus + Nothing = Everything”

* DISCLAIMER - I am not critiquing the Lutheran Church or even formal/historical Lutheran theology.  These posts address a form of Lutheran theology that is active in the Presbyterian Church in America.  Whether the critiques hold true outside the PCA, I would not be the judge.

This post is part of the the lutheran captivity of the church series (click to view the other posts in this series).