On close examination one learns that this DVD series, developed by two United Methodist pastors in Phoenix, Arizona, is intended for "thinking (progressive) Christians" who want to explore "progressive Christianity". It is described as an "unapologetically liberal alternative to Alpha" where "participants can discuss the revolutionary re-visioning of Christianity already emerging in the world".
To help "seekers" to discover 'new' ways of interpreting scripture and "what a meaningful faith can look like in today's world" the LTQ study series includes presentations by the likes of Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, and John Shelby Spong, who are among today's most radical, liberal scholars and theologians, all known for their revisionist views of Christian tradition.
The emergence of this study series, which is calling for a radical theological makeover ("the revolutionary re-visioning") of the Christian church as we know it and is being propagated by an ELCIC congregation, prompts a lay member of the Alberta Synod to ask:Is this where the Lutheran church is heading?
April 5, 2007
Is This Where the Lutheran Church is Heading?
On page 16 of the March 2007 issue of the Canada Lutheran, within the B.C. Synod's pages, an advertisement, presented as if it were news or information, identifies All Saints Lutheran, Kelowna, a mission church of the British Columbia Synod, as the Canadian distributor for "Living the Questions" (LTQ), "a stimulating study series that uses DVD-based presentations". LTQ is described as having been "used very effectively in several congregations around the synod" and at All Saints. If one goes to All Saints' web site, one learns that two other ELCIC Lutheran churches in the Kelowna area (Christ Lutheran and Faith Lutheran) as well as a United and an Anglican church have offered the LTQ study series. If one Googles "Living the Question + ELCA", you will find that this resource is also being used by numerous congregations in the ELCA.
The All Saints' 'infomercial' invites "churches across Canada" to order the study materials from them. According to All Saints' pastor, Tyler Gingrich, LTQ "opened up great conversation and dialogue around how we might interpret scripture in new ways - how we live as faithful people in our context, and what it means to be a part of a faith community today".
So how does the LTQ program inform us about "how we might interpret scripture in new ways" and, in particular, how we might live as faithful people today in the context of a Lutheran church? To get some answers to such questions, I went to the LTQ web site and, as well, watched the seven-hour DVD program.
At the LTQ web site I learned that this DVD series, developed by two United Methodist pastors in Phoenix, is intended for "thinking (progressive) Christians" who want to explore "progressive Christianity". It is described as an "unapologetically liberal alternative to Alpha" where "participants can discuss the revolutionary re-visioning of Christianity already emerging in the world" and will help "seekers" to discover "the significance of Christianity in the 21st Century and what a meaningful faith can look like in today's world". The intention of LTQ is "to expose people to ideas and concepts that have been taught and discussed for generations in the seminaries but don't get taught or discussed in our churches."
The "noted scholars and theologians" - Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, John Shelby Spong, Lloyd Geering, and John B. Cobb Jr. - whose presentations are featured in the LTQ series are among today's most radical, liberal scholars and theologians, all known for their revisionist views of Christian tradition. Crossan was a cofounder in 1985 of the Jesus Seminar, a group of academic scholars, which includes Marcus Borg and Lloyd Geering, who seek to "demythologize" Jesus using a radical "historical critical" approach to understanding Scripture, which purports to rely extensively on human reason. Their proclaimed goal was to isolate the "historical Jesus" from the "God-man" who has been worshipped and adored by the Church for two millennia. In his essay, "Lessons from Luther on the Inerrancy of Holy Writ", author John Warwick Montgomery makes this vivid distinction between how historical or higher critical scholars and Luther approached Scripture: "While Higher Criticism poses its questions in a posture of rationalistic dominance over the text, Luther asks his questions of God's Word on his knees.The contrast could hardly be sharper."
According to the Jesus Seminar:
- The Bible is not a divine product but a human product, the response of two ancient communities to the spirit of God. It is not how God sees things but how the ancient people saw things.
- Jesus' mother's name was Mary, and he had a human father whose name may not have been Joseph.
- Jesus was born in Nazareth, not in Bethlehem.
- Jesus was an itinerant sage who shared meals with social outcasts.
- He did not walk on water, feed the multitude with loaves and fishes, change water into wine or raise Lazarus from the dead.
- Jesus was arrested in Jerusalem and crucified by the Romans.
- He was executed as a public nuisance, not for claiming to be the Son of God.
- The empty tomb is a fiction - Jesus was not raised bodily from the dead.
The Jesus Seminar's reconstruction of Jesus portrays him as a wandering wisdom sage who did not found a religion or rise from the dead. For example, in one of his presentations in the LTQ study series, Marcus Borg explains that, "The difference between you and Jesus is a difference in degree but not a difference in kind". WithinLTQ, Borg makes the observation that, "The church in North America today, especially the Protestant church, is deeply divided and the single most divisive issue is the Bible. Whether the Bible is to be seen as a divine product, the inerrant and infallible words of God, orwhether it is to be seen as a human product, a product of these ancient communities". Lloyd Geering elaborates claiming that one of the great discoveries of religious scholars that the modern world has not yet come to terms with is that, "The Bible is written by humans and it reflects all the prejudices of the people who wrote it". Applying such an understanding of the Bible, much of LTQ is devoted to articulating what these "progressive Christians" do not believe in, which includes the miracle stories in the Bible, virgin birth (such "stories", according to Spong, are "a dime a dozen") and the divinity and physical resurrection of Christ. That is, LTQ dismisses all of the basic tenets of what I understand it means to be a Christian, as concisely expressed, for example, by the Apostles' Creed. The theological understanding promoted by these self-declared "progressive Christians" rejects the very heart of Lutheran doctrine, namely, justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour - a doctrine, according to Martin Luther, upon which the Christian church stands or falls!
Thus, if the LTQ study series was "used very effectively" whereby the participants were convinced by its message, then it would be impossible for such people to any longer call themselves Lutheran Christians. One would basically have to disavow Article II (Confession of Faith) of the ELCIC's constitution, which members of this church pledge to uphold. Furthermore, one could not imagine how pastors promoting such a theological understanding could be true to their ordination vow. Upon ordination, pastors in the ELCIC answer "I will, and I ask God to help me" to the following question posed by the bishop conducting their ordination:
"The Church in which you are to be ordained confesses that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God and are the norm of its faith and life. We accept, teach, and confess the Apostles', the Nicene, and the Anthanasian Creeds. We also acknowledge the Lutheran Confessions as true witnesses and faithful expositions of the Holy Scriptures. Will you therefore preach and teach in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and these creeds and confessions?"
So one seriously has to ask the question how pastors who are promoting such a theological understanding can be allowed to do so within the confines and sanctuary of a Lutheran church?
From watching the DVDs, I also learned, according to the viewpoint of Nancy Ammerman, professor of sociology of religion, Boston University, that over most of the 20th century a growing gap developed - an 80-100 year lag - between the theological understanding of the people in the pews and that of the pastors coming out of the seminaries. However, Ammerman noted that she was most "delightfully surprised" that more progressive Christians are nowadays beginning to forthrightly declare their liberalism (coming out of the closet so to speak). Ammerman was excited about the possibility that congregational pastors, who she referred to as "resident theologians", would now more boldly transmit their 'progressive Christian' understanding, picked up at the predominantly liberal-thinking seminaries, to the people in the pews. This raises the question as to whether the activity among the ELCIC churches in Kelowna is just the tip of the iceberg as far as a 'progressive Christian' movement within the ELCIC.
During the 2005 National Convention debate on the National Church Council's local option resolution, the first speaker, a pastor from the Eastern Synod who is a strong proponent of same-sex blessings, made the revealing observation that, "There are two theologies in the hearts and minds of our people". Similarly, the bishop of Alberta and the Territories, Ron Mayan, has talked about how different understandings of Scripture have led to two different theologies in this church with accompanying incompatible teachings and practices. Is the radical "revolutionary re-visioning of Christianity" that is being promoted by the self-declared 'progressive Christians', the "Emerging Theology" of which Lothar Schwabe spoke in his essay, "Conflict in ELCIC Congregations Concerning Two Theologies"?