Lutheran Apologetics Is 'An Apologetic Of The Cross'

My ongoing study of Apologetics from a distinctly Lutheran perspective has led me to another compelling piece that was written a couple of years ago as a Senior Thesis paper by a WELS Lutheran.

A paper titled "An Apologetic of The Cross As A Lutheran Approach To 21st Century Apologetics Centered On The Hiddenness Of God" by Luke George Thompson, provides us with some excellent spiritual food for thought on this topic.


The goal of Lutheran Apologetics is not to demonstrate how reasonable our faith is, but rather to point out that the unreasonable did, in fact, take place. When the unreasonable Gospel message of forgiveness and the historical event of the incarnation, are brought together, then Apologetics has been properly united with the Gospel ministry.


It's an intriguing opening for sure. The rest of the Abstract goes on to add...


 
This research examines contemporary Christian apologetics to contextualize current apologetic developments and demonstrate where Lutheran theology departs from popular evangelical approaches to apologetics. It then proposes a Confessional Lutheran approach to 21st century Christian apologetics, exploring how the concepts of reason, total depravity, the theology of the cross, the hiddenness of God (i.e., God’s masks in nature, Christ’s incarnation and crucifixion, and the Christian himself through vocation) interact with evangelism and conversion. This paper proposes an apologetic of the cross as an evangelism tool for the Lutheran pastor/apologist. Although strictly speaking only special revelation carries the gospel message, all masks bear witness to the God of Scripture and are at the evangelist/apologist’s disposal to bring unbelievers into an encounter with the gospel. This apologetic of the cross alters the traditional view of apologetics and its relationship to evangelism.


Now, at this point, if you're anything like me, then you might be a little reluctant about where this might be heading and are wondering if this is going to suddenly pivot and become a pro- "Church Growth" and "Missional" puff piece.

Thankfully, the author clearly states that "the main goal of this thesis will be to propose how Lutheran pastors ought to approach the broad field of 21st century Christian apologetics, given the nuances of Confessional Lutheran theology."

Ok, great! You still have my attention!

I hate to cite another lengthy section so soon, but it's really good stuff.

Take, for instance, Thompson's clear intentions...


I will propose an apologetic of the cross. The Lutheran apologist ought to approach the defense of the faith with the doctrine of the hiddenness of God in the forefront: God’s masking himself in nature, his masking himself in Christ’s incarnation and crucifixion, and his masking himself in the Christian. This approach will provide Christians with an apologetic that stresses continual reference to God’s Word and the goal of evangelism. This approach will also help not only contextualize the Lutheran amid 21st century developments (such as scientific, historical, philosophical, and literary apologetics), but also clearly delineate where Lutheran theology departs from popular evangelical apologetic theologies today (such as conceptions of the use of reason in apologetics and conversion). ... This paper examines four areas of theology -- contemporary Christian apologetics, Lutheran scholarship in apologetics, the theology of the cross (and divine hiddenness), and the doctrine of vocation -- to develop a Lutheran approach to apologetics: an apologetic of the cross.


So, once again, just like we saw in previous posts published on this subject in recent days, one Lutheran distinctive is that there's this direct and obvious connection between Apologetics and the Doctrine of Vocation.

We see that the author agrees with others in that Confessional Lutheran commentary on Apologetics is limited. In fact, he points out that John Warwick Montgomery, Siegbert Becker, Craig Parton, Allen Quist, Gene Edward Veith, and Angus Menuge are generally thought of as the only significant Lutheran voices in this area of study (in case you're interested in researching their material for yourself).

Of course, I would have to add Rev. Jonathan Fisk, Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller, Rev. Evan Goeglein, Rev. Matt Richard, and Rev. Jordan Cooper as being the newest, more contemporary Apologetics voices from Confessional Lutheranism, and I hope it also goes without saying that your own local Pastor should be viewed as the most authoritative Apologetics voice in your own personal life too.

This paper was written in 2013 (or 3 years ago already), but I'm wondering if it's still the case that "in neither the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), WELS, nor Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS), is apologetics a required course."

If so, then that certainly needs to change, and changing it at the college and Seminary level would be a great place for Confessional Lutheranism to start.

His advice on engaging others in Apologetics debates and discussions is also a sound reminder for us to prayerfully consider...


The word as used by Scripture never refers to a formal discipline of study or as a formal defensive polemic. Instead, when in the context of the gospel, we find more the general idea of a lawyer preparing a response that has an appropriate form of delivery: Christian love. This is because the aim of the Christian is always the saving of souls, not a propositional defense; the delivery of a message of hope, not the delivery of a message of being right; the building up of the family of Christ, not a verbal defense that antagonizes.


Wise words indeed.

I agree with the author's assertion that "the theology of the cross offers the proper model for both understanding evidence's role in Christianity as well as how God has provided that evidence (and how Christians can take that evidence along in their witness)."

At this point, Thompson introduces and begins to unpack this concept that "this fundamental truth, that God is surely one who hides himself (Isaiah 45:15), is the foundational thought for a Lutheran approach to apologetics."

While I find this idea quite intriguing, I'm still left wondering if the use of words like "hidden" and "hiddenness" within Apologetics (particularly Apologetics debates and discussions with non-Christians) is helpful since you wouldn't want to imply that Christ can never be "found" since we know that He most certainly is found in the Word of God and in the Holy Sacraments.

Then again, he does point out that...


It is interesting, though, that the hiddenness of God was not popularized by non-Christian philosophers attempting to refute theism, but rather it was first formally brought to light by Martin Luther in his reply to Erasmus in his Heidelberg Disputation and the Bondage of the Will. He writes concerning Erasmus’ work, “The Diatribe makes itself ridiculous by its ignorance in making no distinction between God as preached and God as hidden, that is, between the Word of God and God himself.”30 The distinction Luther is making is between knowing God directly and knowing God through special limited means. Since God hides his full nature and identity from us, we are limited in what we know about God by what God has told or shown to us. This notion of God showing himself in limited ways we might call the masks of God, the places God has chosen to “hide” behind and let himself be known through, the chief place being the cross. This is the foundation for what has been called Luther’s theology of the cross, and I will suggest it ought to also be the foundation of a Lutheran apologetic approach, what we might term an apologetic of the cross, an apologetic approach that begins with the presupposition that God hides himself (the chief mask he hides behind being the cross of Christ). 
An apologetic of the cross takes seriously God’s hiddenness, but instead of viewing it as a problem to be solved, it is where the discussion begins. And the question, given a Christian anthropology and the role of reason in the life of a human, is not whether one CAN find God, but instead what are the modes in which God finds us? To answer this, we must first look at in quite some detail the role of reason in Christian anthropology. This will allow us to see that the use of reason for the Lutheran apologist is not to CONVINCE as the world understands the word CONVINCE, but rather to bring about a psychological encounter in which the Holy Spirit does the supernatural work of bringing the dead to life.


Isn't that great?

That definitely helps to clarify things and put to rest any concerns about "hidden" and "hiddenness" language I think.

In addition, I like that he comments on the role of "reason" too and doesn't just cast it aside as being useless in Apologetics.


This means sinful man, regardless of how powerful his faculty of reason, cannot on his own come to know God rightly or do good. Reason is completely useless as a means of salvation, just as every other tool a human has, if we are speaking about man’s own efforts to reconcile himself with God.32 But this does not mean reason does not have a role to play in the reconciliation of man to God. Man on his own cannot use reason to his benefit, but God does use man’s reason to his benefit THROUGH THE MEANS OF GRACE. The Word of God works both SUPERNATURALLY on the heart of man as well as PSYCHOLOGICALLY on the mind of man.


A few sentences later, he makes a statement that I absolutely love: "Christianity is only rational to the Christian."

This is most certainly true.

In short, "Lutheran theologians distinguish between the ministerial and magisterial roles of reason" (and I'll let this paper provide you with the specifics about them both).

Just wait until you get to that portion of the paper, because there's a beautifully poetic excerpt found there.

While all of that is true, at the end of the day, we need to remind ourselves that there is factual, hard, historical evidence we can point to during such Apologetics back-and-forth...


The Christian God is a God that comes into his creation in direct ways. The Christian God is a God that is part of our history. As such, our religion is a religion of empirical facts. But this first truth stands in direct opposition to faith: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). The naked eye does not see God, despite the infinite evidence found in his creation. For all the gospels’ evidence, one cannot see sins being paid for on that cross. And one cannot tell a believer from an unbeliever; the soul and its beliefs remain hidden and immaterial. As such our religion is a religion of nonempirical truths that cannot be tested or verified. 
The truths regarding God come in two modes, the first being the empirical facts through history that were empirically witnessed and recorded by Scripture: a birth in a manger, a crucifixion, an empty tomb. The second is the unempirical reality behind the facts: the incarnation of God, the atonement of the world’s sins, the resurrection of the Son of God. Between the empirical and unempirical is the territory of 22 signs and wonders performed specifically as evidence that the unempirical stands behind the empirical.


Yes, I know it seems to be an apparent contradiction, but this is where reason must become subservient to the Word of God.

From here, Thompson seamlessly transitions into a deeper analysis of "God's masks" as it relates to this topic. He observes that "although God is hidden, he is not absent."


God is very present, and he is constantly making his presence known through different means, means Lutheran theologians have often called God’s masks. When we speak of God hiding, we are not describing God as conniving or deceptive. Rather, we are simply describing the ways God has made himself known to humankind since he does not, nor cannot, reveal himself in all his glory. But make no mistake, we are teaching that God is really here, really present, really hiding behind the masks we will discuss.


I liked this section and I think he explained it well. It also reminded me of something St. John wrote...

   

John 3:8 (ESV) The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.


Next, the author transitions to a listing of all the different "masks" that God hides behind.

Relevant to yesterday's post on the lecture on Apologetics and the Doctrine of Creation is his statement that "those that look at nature and conclude there is no God are in fact working against the evidence" and that "they are forcibly misinterpreting the data."

One of the footnotes in this particular section adds...


When Scripture states “The fool says in his heart there is no God,” this is a reference to moral and spiritual foolishness, not intellectual foolishness. As explored earlier, the heart of the unbeliever is set against the truth, and so the mind follows the will of the heart. We ought to be very careful that we do not take issue with the intelligence of those with whom we seek to share the gospel. The issue is always the heart.


I felt that was worth mentioning since I've forgotten this key distinction in the past with disastrous results.

A few "masks" are identified along with a brief examination of each one, which is very helpful if you're new to such things like I was.

Finally, in conclusion, Thompson writes...


The goal of Lutheran apologetics is never to show how reasonable our faith is, but rather to point out that the unreasonable did, in fact, take place. There is nothing reasonable about Jesus dying and rising for my sins, but that does not change the fact that it happened and was documented for my benefit.


The rest of his Summary is very encouraging and gives good advice for the future of Apologetics within the Lutheran church.

Apologetics is always necessary to some extent in this fallen, sinful, unbelieving world we live in and it is always about contending for the faith and defending the faith even though we recognize that the Lord does not need our help to accomplish His plans and purposes for humanity (1 Peter 3:15; Jude 1:3).

Christ's Church is a "Confessing Church" indeed, and when you have been given possession of the truth, how can you not stand and speak it to those who desperately need to hear it?

To withhold from the dead the very truth about the Truth Himself that has the power to make them alive is truly unloving.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, such Apologetic discussions with others (Christians and non-Christians alike) should always be viewed as being most certainly helpful and necessary, but we should never believe that such Apologetics debates and discussions somehow serve as a "Means of Grace" in and of themselves.



NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Corporate Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. As another Christian Blogger once wrote, "Please do not see this blog as me attempting to 'publicly teach' the faith, but view it as an informal Public Journal of sorts about my own experiences and journey, and if any of my notes here help you in any way at all, then I say, 'Praise the Lord!' but please do double check them against the Word of God and with your own Pastor." To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm a relatively new convert to Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little more than 3 years ago now. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier/older pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category (and they don't have a disclaimer like this) since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because I now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse footnotes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained under-shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!

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2 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post Jeff. It has brought to light another angle of thinking for me concerning apologetics.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You're quite welcome! Yes, it was an enlightening read for me too.

    ReplyDelete

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