Monday, September 10, 2007

The Ghost of Seminex Revisited

The "Walkout" at Concordia Seminary in '74 is now more than thirty years removed from us. The ELCA long ago absorbed those who desired a different approach to doctrine and belief and wished to walk a different path than that traditionally traveled in Missouri. With Dr. Paul Zimmerman's book A Seminary in Crises: The Inside Story of the Preus Fact Finding Committee, however, the ghosts of Seminex have again been awakened. And in so far as the lessons of history help us from repeating the mistakes of the past, such works are invaluable.

But they also awaken the resentments of unresolved issues as well. Dr. Ed Schroeder on his "Crossings" site is one of those wounded ones who needed to provide a counter defense to those who had once labeled him "liberal" and deemed that he was not teaching in accordance with the Lutheran faith.

You can read Dr. Schroeder's review of Zimmerman's book on his Thursday Theology section.

He appears to want the record to show that contrary to former assessments, the theology of Seminex was truly Lutheran. In the process he attempts to show that the historical-critical method of biblical study was not the main issue at stake. Instead, he insists, the issue was the character of what it means to be Lutheran in doctrine and ethics. Schroeder states: "The battle was about the heart of Reformation theology, Luther's "Aha!" about the Gospel, not about the historical-critical method."

Schroeder sees the issue ultimately as a Law-Gospel issue. The LCMS was law-oriented over against the freedom of the Gospel: " Missouri's hangup on authority--both for the Bible and for LCMS church life--was its inability to get away from this law-grounded authority paradigm."

As he recounts the way the argument was originally framed, the matter of the inerrancy of the Bible was deemed necessary for the sake of the Gospel. But Schroeder and the other eventual Seminex teachers saw differently: " However, such a prior trust is necessarily grounded on trusting something else than THE Gospel itself, something you got to trust (=law's sort of authority) in order to be able to trust the Gospel. But prerequisites of any sort (which are always law, no matter how sweetly you perfume them) before you can trust the Gospel, is analogous to requiring circumcision before you can become a Christian, isn't it? And the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 made it perfectly clear that THAT was a no-no. It's got to be the other way around with Bible and Gospel. Trusting the gospel comes first, honoring the Scriptures is subordinate."

The above has been known as "Gospel reductionism," a phrase which indicates that all is reduced to a simple definition of Gospel as the 'standard' by which all things are judged. Anything less was just plain law replacing the Gospel. Yet what Schroeder misses even now is the necessity of the foundation upon which that Gospel rests. If you undermine the base (the Word), then the rest of the house will fall. Which is exactly what we are witnessing even today as traditionally held beliefs in such areas of sexuality are quickly falling by the side of the road as unnecessary and extra baggage to be thrown out. Since the Word is less than fully divine and infallible, it can err, and since it can err, know the rest.

Some are saying that the ghosts of Seminex are again haunting the LCMS years later after all was supposedly settled. And to some extent this is true, even in the LCMS (e.g. women's ordination argument). May Zimmerman's book remind the church of the dangers that still exist, and may Schroeder help us to recognize even now the subtleties of the argument we can all too easily miss.

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