Sunday, August 7, 2011

An Interesting Discussion/Debate with Dr. Matthew Becker

On many occasions this blog site has highlighted and critiqued Dr. Becker's own blog posts and other comments. Recently one of his posts spilled over into the realm of the Brothers of John the Steadfast site.  He also made an appearance on the ALPB site under the thread "Women's Ordination in the LCMS."  The dialogues have been spirited, to say the least.  After reading many of the posts on both sites (which I encourage readers here to review as well), a few thoughts occur to me:
  • Dr. Becker expresses a theology that more and more resembles what I thought we battled and put to rest in the 1970's (more or less).  He does not seem to like the idea of a fully infallible and inerrant scripture, preferring to retreat instead to a culturally conditioned message of questionable relevancy (for some sections of scripture, at least.)  
  • Although he quite willingly airs his views publicly and forcefully (on his blog and in other forums such as Gottesdienst, ALBP and Steadfast Lutherans), knowing that they are in opposition to the official stance of the Synod, he seems nevertheless quite defensive and indignant that his views would be challenged to such a degree. Does he realize that the appeal for women's ordination, according to Synod, is no longer an issue of debate?  As Dr. Gard expressed on the ALBS site: "Please try to understand that for the vast majority of Synod this is a dead issue. It is settled. Missouri does not and will not ordain women."
  • He seems to believe that certain topics of theology are never quite decided in a definitive way, such as the issue of the role of women in the church.  I am all for open discussion in order to learn.  Yet even the ancient church drew a line at some point and said: "Decided!"  It reminds me of children who believe that an absolute "no" should always be open to appeal, at least until they get it changed to a "yes." 
  • Although Dr. Becker believes that Luther and the Confessions support his convictions, one might still legitimately question whether his theological home is more comfortable with the ELCA or the LCMS.  Unless one believes that a sizable number of people in the Synod agree with him and it is up to him to fight for the right to change.  Or, is it a matter of "This is my home too and I should be able to stay whether the powers that be agree with me or not"?  In the end what does Dr. Becker hope to gain?  Any reasonable look at Missouri will tell you that if his view were to prevail and the Synod did eventually ordain women, many, many pastors and laity would most likely leave.  I can hardly think of a more divisive decision at present. This, for a number of clergy, is the 'deal breaker' of whether to stay or leave the LCMS (although some would argue that other issues should have long ago fulfilled this role.)  Does Dr. Becker want to push the issue until this happens?  Obviously he is not content simply to achieve an "agree to disagree" stalemate in the debate.  To stop at this would still leave the apparent injustice in tact.  He must push until the goal is reached.  Yet many women who wished to be ordained have quietly moved on to other denominations that were open to this, and it would seem that they are pleased with their move.  Or do they feel disenfranchised and wish to have someone like Dr. Becker rectify the injustice?  Is he the chosen champion, the one elected to be the public voice for an unseen mass that are simply waiting for the chance at victory?  The questions elude me. 
  • Some of his thinking, especially as it touches on Christology, appears to be wandering into areas that do not seem at all orthodox.  A while back I commented on his remark about an "androgynous Christ."  Recent remarks on sites referenced above move in similar directions where the maleness of our Lord is considered, philosophically speaking, an "accident" to the real "substance" of what it means to be the Redeemer.  In other words, the fact that He was born a man is really neither important nor critical to who He is or what He did.  To assert that Jesus' maleness is at all important to the essence of who He is, Becker would claim, is itself to wander into areas less orthodox.  I do not see how, considering the very clear biblical identity of God as Father and the second person of the Trinity as Son, that we can claim his maleness as "accidental" to who He is.  Am I missing something here?  
Dr. Becker might well be commended for his honesty and forthrightness, and seeming courage of entering into realms usually found more comfortable by conservative, confessional Lutherans.  Nevertheless, I remain confused as to his ultimate purpose and goal.  That would be most revealing in light of the nature of his higher profile in the last year or so.  There must be a larger or broader agenda at play here.....


Pr Mark Henderson said...

Interesting reading about majority votes and now Dr Becker's theology, Donald. In the LCA we've had two synodical votes on women's ordination. Both have been lost, but because they were lost by slim margins (actually, the 'pro' vote was a simple majority in both cases, but not the required two-thirds majority)) the issue has been allowed to remain on the church's agenda. So, we've had 25 years of discussion now. I know that's an inconsiderable period of time historically, but the debate has sapped much of the church's energy and opened up wide divisions in areas of hermeneutics. Sigh! However, it's certainly encouraging to hear that it's a dead issue on the LCMS.

The Rev. Donald V. Engebretson said...

I can see how such a prolonged 'discussion' could cause rifts and take away energy from the overall church. That's the very thing I hope the LCMS doesn't enter into. WO proponents often look longingly to situations like yours and the one in Germany and applaud the fact that they are so open to discussion and not closed-minded like us. It seems, from my perspective, to be a drawn out process of wearing the institution down until it 'gives in.' I hope that Dr. Gard is correct that overall it is essentially a 'dead issue' for us, even though it has active proponents with websites and such. When it comes to conventions, however, they fail to get real traction and their resolutions, if they appear, always fail to secure even a simple majority. Maybe that's why we have avoided having to give it more attention.

Cheryl said...


I decided to come into this discussion having personally sat in on Dr. Matthew Becker's class in 1994. When looking at this, I immediately thought of Edward R. Murrow's response to McCarthy:

"Since he made no reference to any statements of fact that we made, we must conclude that he found no errors of fact. He proved again that anyone who exposes him, anyone who does not share his hysterical disregard for decency and human dignity and the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, must be either a Communist or a fellow traveler.

I fully expected this treatment. The Senator added this reporter's name to a long list of individuals and institutions he has accused of serving the Communist cause. His proposition is very simple: Anyone who criticizes or opposes McCarthy's methods must be a Communist. And if that be true, there are an awful lot of Communists in this country."

Clearly, the rhetoric on this site is McCarthy like and thus I have provided the following links for all of you. Beyond that, I will not say more for now. "Res Ipsa Loquitor"--The thing speaks for itself."

The Rev. Donald V. Engebretson said...

Thank you, Cheryl, for your comments.

I have it admit that this is new for me to be accused of being "Macarthy-like." Given such an accusation I decided to go back and review the post. Unfortunately I fail to see my guilt in this instance. It is true that one post does not 'flesh out' the entirety of the discussion and the issues at hand, and I am always careful to furnish links for readers, if they wish to find more information. I also realized that I have provided numerous posts outlining Dr. Becker's theology, which he has made quite public. The facts are there for all to review. I am always careful to draw conclusions from public writing as opposed to subjective inferences, innuendo or rumor.

Now if your accusation pertains to my interpretation of those facts and the implications you feel I made from them, I see where you could be coming from. It is true that Dr. Becker sees himself well within the history and theology of the LCMS, albeit needing to appeal to a time prior to 1973 for most of his support (E.g. Note a more recent post of his on the CTCR work from 1967 vs. 1973 and beyond.) That said, it is still a matter of debate as to whether he is truly within the established boundaries of the Synod's acceptable teaching on matters such as WO, evolution, etc. Many public, online discussions involving Dr. Becker, some involving this writer, demonstrate that he is theologically at odds with others within the Synod; others who not only have been trained and educated in the 'system' just as he was (Dr. Becker and I, in fact, represent the same era), but who also hold positions of leadership and teaching within Synod and its seminaries.

If this writer has misrepresented Dr. Becker, then it would be appreciated if the specific facts of that error be noted (as I believe I have been careful to do), not just an accusation of engaging in undesirable rhetoric.

Anonymous said...

Your welcome. I will be around to respond to this post. For some answers, however, personal introspection is necessary even in a debate rather than focusing on the actions or beliefs of others. Even if I explain further, you must understand that I feel it is disrespectful and violates the rules of Christianity to pass as much judgment as I see being passed. That isn't just here either. It is a sign of the decay of society. The ordination of women is certainly not an issue for everyone within the Church. Further, even if a minority of others agree with a person, it doesn't make their ideas wrong. Look at the Civil Rights Movement. I hate to use this example, but if the shoe fits. Until next, Cheryl

Donald V. Engebretson said...

If I understand you correctly, are you accusing me of passing judgment in a way that violates the rules of Christianity? If so, I'm sorry that you feel that way. It is not my intention to judge Dr. Becker's heart or to assess where he is at in terms of his personal faith. I am not his pastor, for one thing, and to judge the heart is ultimately God's responsibility. My intent is to judge what he teaches by comparing it to the truth of Scripture. I see this as no different than what Paul did in his various letters, and what countless theologians and church leaders have done throughout the history of the church, up to and including the recent CTCR response to his formal dissent where they called him to repent of his teaching on the issues I have addressed here. In truth, it is also no different than what Dr. Becker has done himself, if you examine what he has written and posted in various places on the internet. As to "personal introspection," I do try to be aware of what motivates me in terms of my responses. While always responding as a redeemed sinner, I do not claim to be without fault, yet I do not think that I have been unnecessarily disrespectful or mean-spirited in my replies to Dr. Becker. If you see evidence of where I was, please let me know how.

Thank you again for your reply.