When we don’t speak for ourselves…
On a recent browse-through of a local Christian book store, I took a look at a number of systematic theology / dogmatics books on offer, paying attention (naturally, given my profession(s)) to how Lutheran teaching was represented. These titles were all from Baptist / Reformed / Anabaptist authors, so it is to be expected that the Lutheran position, especially on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, would not be presented as the correct understanding of Scripture on these matters, just as theirs are not in our dogmatics. What is to be expected, however, is that Lutheran teaching, when specifically discussed, would be accurately presented. This was not the case in any of these works, primarily where the Lord’s Supper is concerned, with Baptism a close second.
In these works are found the usual mistaken representations of Lutheran teaching — the Lutheran view of the Lord’s Supper is due to Luther’s only partial disentanglement from the medieval Church, Lutherans teach consubstatiation, Lutheran teaching is the result of mistaking metaphorical speech for literal, and so forth. Only quotes from Luther himself — notably, quotes from his works which are not contained in the Lutheran Confessions — are used, and then most often to show that “early” and “late” Luther held different views on the subject; the Lutheran Confessions — which is where the buck stops for Lutheran teaching, rather than in Luther’s works not found in them — are never cited, referenced, or even mentioned.
So what ought be done about this? Letters to the authors or publishers of such texts detailing problems with them will likely do little to spur change (though it would likely be worth the effort). Teaching our own members as clearly as we can is a good start, but only goes so far. I’d love to hear suggestions. Perhaps we could start republishing Lutheran classics with “contemporary” covers and titles. For example, Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics could be renamed The Bones of Your Faith, the cover a garish painting of a tanned, he-man Samson clutching the jawbone of an ass, surrounded by heaps of dead Philistines. Or maybe not. We have no visibility; we have no publicly-recognized ground on which we might even do so much as set things straight when we are misrepresented. We’re trying, as a national church body, to spread the Good News on a grass-roots level; let’s also try to make sure that what we teach is stated publicly, concisely, clearly, and faithfully. If the time is not now, then when?