*Contributed to Exposing the ELCA by a seminary student*
I am purposely leaving my identity undisclosed for the time being. The reason is this article is not to be about me but to be heard as the voice of many fellow Orthodox Lutheran seminarians who may be suffering in silence, from their toxic experiences at “progressive”/ liberal ELCA seminaries. On the positive note of looking and praying to the future, I am delighted that groups like the NALC and the LCMC are taking great strides and concern in addressing Lutheran Seminary education. I pray as well that this expose on this particular school illumines how far away some people are getting from not only God’s Word but from what it means to be a Christ-Centered Pastor to disciple, feed your flock with the Good News to grow and go for God’s Will!
First, I would like to thank Dan Skogen for inviting me to share with you about the crisis in Christian Leadership Education, not only how I experienced it, but to shed light on a pattern taking shape in theological education today. A part of the problem to begin with, is also a part of the solution; which brings me to sharing this, to be just one of many voices needing to be vocal, needing, for the sake of the Gospel! I am currently studying at an Evangelical seminary not a Lutheran seminary. This wasn’t where my journey began however… With the best of intentions I began answering my call from God to serve back in the fall of 2003 at the church of my conversion experience—Ebenezer Lutheran Church in Chicago. From the fall of 2003, I began to get involved from Bible studies to eventually Stephen’s Ministry, the Diakonia Program which would lead me to officially begin my seminary studies at X Lutheran School, the fall of 2008.
As I’ve told people with both an air of grief and burden in my heart… I attended X Lutheran School part-time for four years in actuality but spiritually I was there full-time for four years. With the best of intentions, I had hoped not to be entangled in evil, polarizing politics and “party-line amoral theology” but this was what I would suffer there with seemingly no way out till my Pastor came with me to visit an Evangelical seminary up north to help me transfer out from X Lutheran School the summer of 2012. I had to both, for the sake of my calling from God and for my mental well-being, transfer out of this toxic and dare I say almost spiritually “satanic” environment as what I and others experienced at X Lutheran School.
Before this begins to sound as a slanted discussion about X Lutheran School to which I am keeping the identity un-disclosed, I would like to make clear that there have been a significant number of peers I have talked to not only from X Lutheran School but from other “progressive”/ liberal Lutheran seminaries who are suffering in silence the injustice they are experiencing in these schools. Just over a year ago, the most tragic witness was a young man, who like myself, experienced political polarization, condemnation and oppression… but was too fragile to seek help and tragically took his life seeing the glass ceiling frankly oppress him to the point of no return, bereft of Hope… What I will be taking you through are some key theological issues, one by one, to what I saw as an educator, IS the crisis in Lutheran leadership education in America.
Let us begin to define some critical key concepts. I don’t know how many people know that the Greek word for church is ἐκκλησία (Ecclesia) which also holds the verbal meaning: called out, summoned. In that same breathe, one of the most significant theological concepts taught in seminary is ecclesiology which is a nice ten dollar word meaning the study and practice of church theology for pastoral leaders. An even more tangible definition is to understand the notion of church as being a ‘culture of belief.’
A culture of belief is one well supported by education, by norms and standards. Luther basically tells us that schools are the preservers of the faith, of the church, quote: “When schools flourish, things go well and the church is secure. The youth is the church’s nursery and fountainhead. When we are dead, where are others to take our place, if there are no schools? God has preserved the church through schools. They are the preservers of the church.” So wouldn’t it be the fact then, that a Lutheran seminary charged with the critical task of equipping men and women such as myself, to be discipleship shepherds, stewards to building and growing the Lutheran faith of their flock be taught about the preservation of Lutheran Christianity and its Spiritual Formation hence reinforcing our culture of belief? No, liberal/progressive theologians and educators alike believe the answer is to fade and adapt into the world’s culture.
This process of conformity or indoctrination more or less lends to and strengthens the amoral culture we are now immersed in, creating Lutheran-in-name-only robots who are more or less “chaplains” to the worldly culture and are not pastors for Christ. It was St. Paul who beckoned us to put on Christ and live into his humility in Philippians chapter two: (Philippians 2:1-5a) "1If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus..."
Going further with St. Paul’s discovery of our spiritual formation call, would be Thomas à Kempis in his devotional, the Imitation of Christ, quote: “As long as you live, you will be subject to change, whether you will it or not - now glad, now sorrowful; now pleased, now displeased; now devout, now un-devout; now vigorous, now slothful; now gloomy, now merry. But a wise person who is well taught in spiritual labor stands unshaken in all such things, and heeds little what they feel, or from what side the wind of instability blows.”
Both St. Paul and Thomas à Kempis define not only what Christians are spiritually challenged to do but that this is a significant part of one’s spiritual formation to becoming a future pastoral leader. Soon I would come to discover that not only this wasn’t taught but that it would set myself and others apart from those in favor of softening law and gospel to cater to an amoral world culture where right and wrong are entirely subjective to the self and really no norms and standards apply … My new school has been a bittersweet joy for me, I love how immersed I have been in the Bible, I love their intense focus on Spiritual formation and pastoral care though my heart wonders and dreams… why can’t the Lutheran community make more of a presence with several seminaries being dedicated to Confessional, Orthodox, and Evangelical Lutheran Christianity especially in states where there is only one school? X Lutheran School was essentially the only game in town or in Illinois…
Taking a stand as I had when I was studying at X Lutheran School, had gotten me embroiled into a giant, near “diabolical” political arena along with other peers mind you, either being condemned publically or by grades. In being targeted publically, I was basically never or very rarely asked to serve in the school’s worship rotation… I would soon notice that favored candidates by the synod and the school were given secret preferential treatment. These individuals would either be elevated here or given special internships… As I recall, one young man who was ordained about a year or so ago, was previous to that, given not only a two-year internship at his home church but ordained to serve his home church as his first call before he was finished… since he was implemental in talking his Northern Illinois congregation out of leaving the ELCA…
I never entered seminary to become a politician but down there, I was labeled more or less with a scarlet letter that I’m a burgeoning “conservative” Lutheran and the “party-line” theology and philosophy of that school was ultra-liberal Lutheran “Unitarianism.” I use another ten dollar word, Unitarianism, in its philosophical use as a theological, post-modern movement away from the pillars of faith being our creedal understanding of a Trinitarian God and Jesus as both FULLY Divine and FULLY human. There are other topics stemming to this which I am planning to outline for you.
In calling out the practices of the school to be “Lutheran Unitarianism” brings me to talk about skepticism (or apostasy) and agenda. Both of these words, are worlds in themselves theologically, but the two sub-categories to where skepticism was implemented to deconstruct theological norms or the walls to our culture of belief were Soteriology or Atonement theories and Theodicy. Yes, more ten-dollar words, definitions first: Soteriology or Atonement theories are creedal statements to understanding Christ’s work of Grace upon the Cross for our salvation.
Classically and Confessionally, the Bible defines for us what would be known as Christus Victor, which literally means Christ victorious in Latin. Christus Victor’s atonement theory is that Christ bore the Cross to defeat sin, death and the devil for our Salvation. This would be adapted to a degree to our understanding along with Augustine’s that Christ taking our place illumines the power of Grace.
Theodicy is a whole theological understanding in itself trying to reconcile and rationalize the reality of Satan and evil in the world as well as God’s response. Free Will theodicy has been where liberal theologians have essentially tried to erase the reality of Satan from our understanding of sin and evil in the world. Now with these definitions essentially defined, what did I experience at my former school about these two topics?
In regards to atonement theory, I was taught that the prevailing ‘contemporary view’ of Christ’s work of the Cross is more or less, “the rejected prophet,” model since historical skepticism has taken the liberty of reinterpreting Jesus’ divinity to be both “blurry or murky” and may have only happened during certain events in the stories of the Bible such as John the Baptist’s Baptism of Jesus and Christ’s death upon the Cross. So let me get this straight… If it is planted in my head (as training to be a pastor…) that Jesus may or may not have been divine at all… what is his importance? Why would His Cross and Grace even matter? That’s where agenda comes in which we’ll take a closer look at later.
Agenda being making Jesus into the Social Justice action figure donning the democratic party’ hat and all its ramifications… In speaking about theodicy comes from one of my more painful experiences at my former school where I was failed for a class around a paper I wrote challenging the prevailing free will theory that Satan is merely a metaphor… With concrete statements I proved that not only is Satan real, but even went as far as to quoting Luther himself! This particular Luther quote is rather ironic in light of our conversation today… Quote: “By God's grace, I know Satan very well. If Satan can turn God's Word upside down and pervert the Scriptures, what will he do with my words—or the words of others?”
Speaking further upon Luther’s quote: “If Satan can turn God's Word upside down and pervert the Scriptures…” brings me to talk about agenda and theology—or “progressive”/ liberal education’s process of rounding out pastoral leadership training into chaplaincy to worldly culture. First agenda-based theology I was subjected to at X Lutheran School was Feminist Christology in the Systematic Theology class I had.
Ok, you’re probably asking why would this be offensive or bordering on blasphemy for you? Well, we have obviously come to an understanding through the authority of Scripture that women served which I do champion. What I do not believe in and found rather disturbing in my Christology portion of the class is that we spent the entire unit on the identity and person of Christ either debating his sexuality or if he was made to express a bias against women… They would try to strengthen their argument through historically once again disproving and challenging scripture. One of the articles referenced below speaks directly to this. This is my Lord and Savior, how dare they challenge and question the legitimacy of his sexuality? It is disrespectful to our heavenly parent, that’s the first issue; secondly it is agenda by how it politicizes Christ to be quote, “politically correct.” Frankly I believe it is catering to the sin of pride and narcissism. I am woman, hear me roar! Please… I am first and foremost, a child of God, a human being created in His image, Imago Dei, just like you were as well.
Another liberal theological movement within the Lutheran community is what is known as “pure Grace” preaching. My experience of it is that it is really a new label for cheap Grace preaching. This is definitely a “party-line” agenda indoctrinated into X Lutheran School most likely in step with the main synod’s wishes for parish ministry to completely conform to their “Lutheran-in-name-only” manufactured pastors.
Before I talk about what happened to me there as well as a couple of other students… Let me define for you Costly Grace. Costly Grace is a term that comes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great 20th century Lutheran Pastor and martyr, who most excellently defines Christus Victor in light to our loving and Gracious response to a loving and Gracious God. A definition of Costly Grace as defined by Bonhoeffer himself is, quote: "cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. It is Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ." Or, even more clearly, it is to hear the gospel preached as follows: "Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness." The main defect of such a proclamation is that it contains no demand for discipleship.
In contrast to this is costly grace: costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." In tearing down this structure which empowers us to know profoundly the price Christ paid for our sins upon the Cross as well as removing the Law more or less which enables us to respond to God to confess and transform in light of the Gospel, is their solution to reaching out to the world.
You can’t maintain however, our faith this way… it destroys the power and importance of Christ and trivializes him into a Lutheran Unitarian social justice figure head! This once again, is what got me into trouble down at X Lutheran School since I wrote sermons in their preaching class from a Costly Grace perspective. They only had preaching as pass or fail as well as they had one professor there who told me when I argued to set up a trial to refute the fail notice I was given that quote: “You obviously don’t want to learn my technique, so I can’t help you…”
The greatest irony after receiving this grade and all the poor grades and support from them is that my new seminary, upon transferring, actually gave me some scholarships to help me attend… There were two other persons I knew who fought the “Pure-Grace preaching agenda” at X Lutheran School and of course did not get their grades reversed… One has left X Lutheran and went down the street to the University of Chicago’s Divinity School, the other peer I know recently suffered his endorsement being revoked upon his internship supervisor claiming he subconsciously plagiarized one of his sermons! He has since left the school with over $200,000 in student loans and a young daughter to support. He for the moment has given up to the tyrannical arm of that synod and the seminary! But then from what I have heard from many, is that black-balling is a common practice.
My own theory upon this is that the true reality of hell is a graceless wilderness. It is graceless because if you turn away from even remotely coming to learn and grow spiritually what Grace actually means how on earth can you live it and give it? Satan’s rule upon us is through our personal greed and utter indifference to the Will of God and love to neighbor.
In closing with the big picture: How does taught apostasy or skepticism, coupled with feminist Christology, Jesus the Rejected Prophet or Unitarian Lutheranism plus “Pure Grace” or cheap Grace preaching effect the future of the Lutheran church? What church… it will be gone, it will be destroyed unless voices begin to truly be vocal and Reformation takes a bolder march into the 21st century. It saddens me that there are peers out there who are too afraid to be vocal. I have to be vocal not just for my conscience but for the sake of the Gospel… I cannot turn the other way and completely look forward without beckoning for Reform! I am grateful to be in candidacy with a Reforming body of Lutherans who not only care deeply about Lutheranism but truly and most importantly, care deeply for the authority of Scripture and the centrality of Christ, Our Lord and Savior, Our Sanctifier and Redeemer! AMEN
Definitions of all the "ten dollar words"
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
1 Thessalonians 5:21
Former ELCA seminary student and former ELCA member who is fed up with the ELCA's consistent mockery of God's Word.
If you have been helped and blessed by Exposing the ELCA's ministry, please help us continue to proclaim the truth of God's Word to ELCA members who need to hear it.
Give online by clicking the "donate" button below:
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. - Ephesians 5:11