Feb 12, 2016

Lutheranism is Messy, and That's Why I Believe It

 By Anna Mussmann

The polarization of our culture is depressingly blatant. Everyone seems to find it difficult to believe that the other side can be so stupid, so wrong, and so evil-minded as to believe what it does; let alone to practice its beliefs. Yet a respectful debate about right and wrong is necessary to a free society--how can one exist if its members reach a point at which they lack enough common ground to talk to each other?

Oddly enough, however, the whole mess has strengthened my appreciation for Lutheranism. Lutheran theology might not initially seem like a panacea for people who are angry at each other. After all, we Lutherans are dogmatic and sometimes even argumentative, quick to call out “error,” or even “heresy!” when our neighbors venture away from Scripture. Throwing a couple of Lutheran theologians into a public debate is unlikely to be analogous to oil on troubled waters.

Yet the theology of our confessions addresses the problem behind all of the anger. The problem is the messiness of truth. Intelligent people in our culture are able to leap to polar conclusions, not because truth isn’t real or because everything is true, but because truth is so multi-faceted that neither side can quite avoid all of it.  

For instance, it is quite true that humans should share generously with each other and that poverty and miserly wealth are evils. Yet it is also true that trying to abolish the two by force has always created yet more poverty and suffering. One is reminded of Winston Churchill’s point that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.”

Another illustration is provided in the sphere of entertainment. Take the trend of revising stories to center on the villain and his or her new, sympathetic backstory. The general effect of these tales is to suggest that right and wrong are relative and that we should distrust anyone who tries to impose them upon us. Yet popular appreciation of these stories is surely also based upon the genuine truth that, if we are honest, we all know that we have a villain inside us. Messy indeed.

It’s a funny thing that even though the real world is far too complex to be tidy or entirely logical, Christianity is criticized for being “too contradictory” or “too inconsistent.” Perhaps we humans seek a simplistic religion as a way to sooth our sense that life is too difficult to understand. Lutherans, however, being the crazy folk we are, take the opposite tack.

“Scripture alone,” we cry, and we embrace the difficulty that is God’s Word. We live in constant theological tension. The bread and wine are true bread and wine, we say--and also truly Christ’s body and blood, because he said so. Our Lord predestined some for salvation, yes; but not for damnation--because He doesn’t say so. The Law is good, and also deadly; the Gospel will bear fruit in good works, yet does not demand them.

We cling to the tightrope walk amongst paradoxical truths that is the Lutheran confessions, and our theology is even messier than that of other Christians. Praise God, because only a truth that is bigger and more complex than we are ourselves could truly answer all the questions created by real life. Scriptural truth is beautifully, starkly, simply, paradoxically enormous.

And that, you know, is a good enough reason to be Lutheran.


After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin, Anna taught in Lutheran schools for several years and became so enthusiastic about Classical Education that she will talk about it to whomever will listen. She is a big fan of Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. Anna and her husband live in Pennsylvania with their two small children. Anna's rather neglected personal blog is Don't Forget the Avocados and her work can also be found in The Federalist

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