Veith, Gene Edward Jr., & A. Trevor Sutton. Authentic Christianity: How Lutheran Theology Speaks to a Postmodern World. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2017. “Chapter 1, Introduction: Mega-Church or Metachurch” pp. 33-59.
Veith and Sutton acknowledge the popular opinion that Christianity is ripe for reformation. However, they suggest it may be that reformation will come from the same theology which was affirmed in the 16th century (Veith & Sutton 2017, 33). They find a large group of Americans who are possibly “disaffected” and have removed themselves from a former religious group. Many also report having no prior affiliation, but often confess to belief in God and to having a desire for a rich spiritual life. “These disaffected believers have not rejected the existence of God or the need for meaningful spirituality; however, they have strongly rejected whatever it is they think churches today have to offer” (Veith & Sutton 2017, 35). Although some churches have made an attempt to tailor their services and message to a secular audience, these efforts can weaken the message of the Church. There is some doubt about the long-term effectiveness of the basic modes of church adaptation to fit a culture (Veith & Sutton 2017, 36). Veith and Sutton conclude that the alleged improvement in church practice can go only so far to engage people. However, the authentic an historic understanding of Christianity reaches to people in a way that variations on the broader culture cannot (Veith & Sutton 2017, 41). Veith and Sutton identify this form of Christianity as Lutheran (Veith & Sutton 2017, 42).
Veith and Sutton remind their readers that Luther did not act as an inventive revolutionary but he was more interested in uncovering the idea of Christ for sinners, which had been obscured by vaious elements of the institutional church (Veith & Sutton 2017, 42). Luther’s reforms did spur the Roman church to evaluate some of its practices and to encourage a life of personal piety. His work was also conservative in nature, encouraging those who wished to reinvent Christianity to retain such elements as they could (Veith & Sutton 2017, 43). At its heart, the Lutheran Reformation held to the Gospel of Jesus, the only one who could die for sins in place of others, then rise from the dead, showing his work to conquer death (Veith & Sutton 2017, 44). Because this centrality of the Gospel is so important, and since the historic description of such a church (catholic) has been co-opted by the Roman church, Veith and Sutton propose a new term, “metatheology” (Veith & Sutton 2017, 45). This term can be understood as indicating that Lutheranism has a clear theology of how theology is done. It derives from the Scripture, as a “formal principle” and bears fruit in the “material principle of the outworking of justification by grace through faith (Veith & Sutton 2017, 46). Lutheranism is at one and the same time sacramental, liturgical, biblical, and evangelical. Veith and Sutton observe this is all derived from its being soundly biblical and not rejecting biblical practices which were held by the Roman church. Lutheran theology emphasizes God’s grace and the universal atonement of Christ, but unlike Calvinists or Arminians, the matters can be held in tension by Lutherans rather than attempting to explain anything away. In this way, Lutherans allow the whole Bible to speak. Veith and Sutton explain a Lutheran view of these difficulties, “What reconciles these seeming contradictions is Lutheran sacramentalism. Christ died for all, and all have access to His saving work by receiving the Word and the Sacraments” (Veith & Sutton 2017, 47). Assurance comes through reception of Word and Sacraments, which nourishes the Christian faith. Veith and Sutton speak specifically to weaknesses in several theological streams, showing how a Lutheran understanding reconciles the difficulties. Furthermore, a Lutheran theology will engage other church bodies, asking why they cannot be wholeheartedly in agreement with their doctrine. For example, Charismatics emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit who gives gifts, but then they look within themselves for this power, rather than embracing the gifts given objectively by the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament (Veith & Sutton 2017, 49).
Veith and Sutton preview a few of the areas in which they think Lutheran thought could reform society today. Of course, the overarching issue is sin, which requires the forgiveness of God. Specifically, in our culture, God has been separated from the objective and is considered abstract and irrelevant. The incarnation of Christ answers this issue, and is shown clearly in the Lutheran sacraments (Veith & Sutton 2017, 51). Another important area is the resurgent Gnosticism implicit in postmodern thought. The idea of objective morality is central to Lutheran thought and is a needed corrective to the subjectivism which is harmful to our society. This leads Veith and Sutton directly to the idea of an objective view of Law and Gospel which can allow people to deal effectively with the societal guilt and shame which leads them to invent alternative moralities (Veith & Sutton 2017, 53). The clearly articulated framework and application of transcendent principles in a consistent way bear a power which Veith and Sutton do not think exists in other theological streams.
Because different church bodies have attempted to engage the culture in different ways, generally resulting in a confused and ineffectual way of life, Veith and Sutton think Lutheranism can prevail. The teaching of the two kingdoms, of Law and Gospel, and of vocation approach cultural issues with coherence and power (Veith & Sutton 2017, 55). The Christian, knowing God rightly, can find his or her way in the world. Veith and Sutton close the chapter with eleven paragraphs describing common ways in which Americans have been disappointed by Christianity, along with a Lutheran answer, which is sharply different from the described disappointment (Veith & Sutton 2017, 56-58).