The "Unit Principle" and LCMS Divisions

Started by R. T. Fouts, January 15, 2013, 10:34:37 PM

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R. T. Fouts

This recent article by Dr. Timothy Dost from Concordia Seminary - St. Louis in the November edition of Missio Apostolica confirms a lot of what I've suspected is behind many of our differences within the LC-MS.  I've seen this on many occasions.  Once I begin to suggest that context should be taken into account when evaluating theological statements, expressions, rites, etc., there are some who believe that contextualized language leads down the road of "postmodern relativism," while others insist that because context shifts, language and symbols must shift precisely in order to adequately reflect the same theology as one would express with different language elsewhere.   Because context "shifts," uniformity in language and symbol actually guarantees that different substance, and theologies, are being taught even though they appear (outwardly) the same.

The essay unpacks the tension between those who believe that "once doctrinal formulae are derived, their language is completely adequate in every situation and should not be altered" AND the alternative position that "the impact of the original teaching may be weakened by maintaining fixed terminology, because usage, context, and even thought patters change." This essay provides a fascinating treatment of the topic, it's history in Synod, and gives insight to many of the theological debates that have "derailed" us in recent years.  I thought this would be a helpful place to engage this topic as it deals with some of the presuppositions that lurk BEHIND our disagreements that need to be uncovered before actually making any progress on the issues themselves  – download the entire journal at http://lsfmissiology.org/?p=511 

It is the first article in the journal.   

Thoughts?
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Dr. R.T. Fouts, M.Div, Ph.D.

J.L. Precup

I thoroughly enjoyed the article, and am glad I read it.  Some of his examples were extremely clear and revealing, for example, the insight that a NY congregation is probably more conservative in terms if its cultural milieu than a rural IN congregation.  There also seemed to be an undertone in the article that hinted at circumstances which the author seems to know, but of which I am unaware, for example, I have not heard what the different emphasis in teaching between the two seminaries might be.  I do think he relegated the Seminex event to history too quickly, unless he is linking that experience to an ongoing bifurcation of Article II and Article VI.

I look forward to more comments here that will help me understand better.  I do think he is on to something.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.

R. T. Fouts

In terms of the two seminaries, from my observation I would suggest that St. Louis tends toward a contextualized approach, whereas Ft. Wayne probably pushes more toward the unit principle.  Some accents emerge, such as more emphasis on the Two Kinds of Righteousness, a first article emphasis at St. Louis.  There tends to be more emphasis on Luther's theology in general, whereas Ft. Wayne grads tend to emphasize more of the post-Luther dogmatic tradition of Lutheranism.   St. Louis faculty also tends to address issues more in terms of speaking to currents in contemporary theology, whereas Ft Wayne often speaks to more "in house" matters within Lutheran theology. I think this difference in emphasis can be seem in the different approaches the two journals take from either seminary.  I would also suggest that St. Louis spends more time trying to form students into theological thinkers (how to think as a Lutheran theologian), but Ft. Wayne emphasizes more in terms of "what" to think content wise. In short, there is a consistent theology upheld between the two, but different approaches and accents are hilighted.
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Dr. R.T. Fouts, M.Div, Ph.D.

Mike Gehlhausen

Given his expertise in semiotics,  I am interested in hearing Pr. Yakimow's review.

I know he is busier these days and does not have much time to post. I am willing to be patient, but I hope he will consider offering his thoughts when time permits.

Mike

Buckeye Deaconess

Quote from: Ryan Fouts on January 16, 2013, 07:24:09 AM
In terms of the two seminaries, from my observation I would suggest that St. Louis tends toward a contextualized approach, whereas Ft. Wayne probably pushes more toward the unit principle.  Some accents emerge, such as more emphasis on the Two Kinds of Righteousness, a first article emphasis at St. Louis.  There tends to be more emphasis on Luther's theology in general, whereas Ft. Wayne grads tend to emphasize more of the post-Luther dogmatic tradition of Lutheranism.   St. Louis faculty also tends to address issues more in terms of speaking to currents in contemporary theology, whereas Ft Wayne often speaks to more "in house" matters within Lutheran theology. I think this difference in emphasis can be seem in the different approaches the two journals take from either seminary.  I would also suggest that St. Louis spends more time trying to form students into theological thinkers (how to think as a Lutheran theologian), but Ft. Wayne emphasizes more in terms of "what" to think content wise. In short, there is a consistent theology upheld between the two, but different approaches and accents are hilighted.

Have you been a student of both seminaries to lend more credence to your conclusions?

Dave Benke

Really good topic, Ryan Fouts, and one that forms/should inform the Koinonia dialogs for exactly the reason you mention - the presuppositions BEHIND disagreements are often in the way of conversation even before conversation begins.  Of course, a few have been naming that "the hermeneutic of suspicion" for some time now.  Figuring out why it's there is important.

I had a conversation about this over twenty years ago at one of the seminaries.  I stated positively that the categories of theological language and discourse had been thoroughly imbued in the students so if someone said "objective justification", for instance, they could pop/pop/pop through the categories on down the line on that doctrine.  So my point was that I knew nobody in the neighborhood I served who had heard or would immediately understand that term, and that part of the seminary training in my opinion had to be how to unpack or translate the essence of those terms and concepts into usable language in context. 

The response was that this was not their job.  Their job was to train the student thoroughly with those concepts in that language and framework.  If translation were needed, it would be up to the pastor in the field to develop it. 

My thought then and now is that if alongside the doctrine in its original formulations there is not an emphasis on being a nimble enough theologian to frame those formulations in understandable terms, then what transpires is
a) a training system that emphasizes repristination - thinking and living in a past time
b) an interest among those in the field to talk among themselves in the language they know rather than be among those who speak the "other" languages of discourse - ie an over-interest in internal dialogs
c) a small but extremely devoted band of indoctrinatees who have learned the repristinated language of discourse but again are mostly concerned with speaking with one another
d) Confessional Lutheranism becomes over time not a global movement for grace and the Means of Grace but an object on the shelf -a gilt-edged vase that's being polished rather than a worldful of earthen vessels being used for the Gospel.

In this regard therefore I speak in favor of an earthy/incarnational action-arena Confessional Lutheranism that is engaged in mercy and justice as a way out of that miasma, coupled with an energetic and continual reframing and refreshing of terms that harbor the doctrine. 

The question is whether by refreshing the container, the thing contained gets damaged.  I say it doesn't have to be so, and the theological reason is the incarnation of the Son of God.

Dave Benke
It's OK to Pray

Norman Teigen

Pastor Benke's comment is illuminating for me, personally.  A Lutheran layman, I was raised in the close confines of a conservative Lutheran group.  I can now see that the conservative approach isn't the only approach.   That doesn't mean that one becomes a revolutionary in one's old age. One doesn't renounce one's individual church membership.   It just means that there is more than one way to approach these matters.    It's a matter of having a decent respect for the opinions of others and of keeping an open mind.

One of the irritants for my wife and I over the years has been to hear a poorly prepared substitute pastor barely expound on the text of the day but to include a warning against the evils of the liberal churches with whom "we are not in fellowship."  Our church group warns casual viewers of its web site not to confuse the ELS with the ELCA.  Well, that's not too likely to occur.

Professor Mark Noll has written on this subject.  The title of one of his books has something to do with the tragedy of the evangelical mind.

The 'Unit Principle' discussion will be something that I follow with great interest.
Norman Teigen

Daniel L. Gard

Quote from: Ryan Fouts on January 16, 2013, 07:24:09 AM
In terms of the two seminaries, from my observation I would suggest that St. Louis tends toward a contextualized approach, whereas Ft. Wayne probably pushes more toward the unit principle.  Some accents emerge, such as more emphasis on the Two Kinds of Righteousness, a first article emphasis at St. Louis.  There tends to be more emphasis on Luther's theology in general, whereas Ft. Wayne grads tend to emphasize more of the post-Luther dogmatic tradition of Lutheranism.   St. Louis faculty also tends to address issues more in terms of speaking to currents in contemporary theology, whereas Ft Wayne often speaks to more "in house" matters within Lutheran theology. I think this difference in emphasis can be seem in the different approaches the two journals take from either seminary.  I would also suggest that St. Louis spends more time trying to form students into theological thinkers (how to think as a Lutheran theologian), but Ft. Wayne emphasizes more in terms of "what" to think content wise. In short, there is a consistent theology upheld between the two, but different approaches and accents are hilighted.

Pastor Fouts,

An interesting post but it does leave me a bit confused as to how you reached these conclusions. I suspect that your opinion, though you are certainly free to hold it, would not be shared by those actually familiar with Fort Wayne.

Johan Bergfest

Quote from: Dave Benke on January 16, 2013, 08:14:32 AMIn this regard therefore I speak in favor of an earthy/incarnational action-arena Confessional Lutheranism that is engaged in mercy and justice as a way out of that miasma, coupled with an energetic and continual reframing and refreshing of terms that harbor the doctrine. 

Pr. Benke - I appreciate your post.  The understanding that I take from it is that the "nimble theologian" understands that it is more important for him to pastor his flock to live in the Lutheran faith than it is to teach them to speak the language of the Lutheran faith.  If so, I wholeheartedly agree.

John_Hannah

This is an excellent reflection piece, indeed! Historically incisive and accurate. Anyone who wants to understand the modern LCMS better should read this article.

I believe that a consideration of how the "liturgical factor" has played out in Missouri's stance toward the "Unit Principle" would complete the hypothesis. It is around "liturgical" issues where it often plays out. We see that here on ALPB Online.


Peace, JOHN
Pr. JOHN HANNAH, STS

R. T. Fouts

Quote from: Daniel L. Gard on January 16, 2013, 09:06:39 AM
Quote from: Ryan Fouts on January 16, 2013, 07:24:09 AM
In terms of the two seminaries, from my observation I would suggest that St. Louis tends toward a contextualized approach, whereas Ft. Wayne probably pushes more toward the unit principle.  Some accents emerge, such as more emphasis on the Two Kinds of Righteousness, a first article emphasis at St. Louis.  There tends to be more emphasis on Luther's theology in general, whereas Ft. Wayne grads tend to emphasize more of the post-Luther dogmatic tradition of Lutheranism.   St. Louis faculty also tends to address issues more in terms of speaking to currents in contemporary theology, whereas Ft Wayne often speaks to more "in house" matters within Lutheran theology. I think this difference in emphasis can be seem in the different approaches the two journals take from either seminary.  I would also suggest that St. Louis spends more time trying to form students into theological thinkers (how to think as a Lutheran theologian), but Ft. Wayne emphasizes more in terms of "what" to think content wise. In short, there is a consistent theology upheld between the two, but different approaches and accents are hilighted.

Pastor Fouts,

An interesting post but it does leave me a bit confused as to how you reached these conclusions. I suspect that your opinion, though you are certainly free to hold it, would not be shared by thos
e actually familiar with Fort Wayne.

Well you would certainly be in a position to correct me on that.  As I said before, these observations have more to do with emphasis than a substantive difference.  My observations depended wholly upon the comparisons that several Ft. Wayne graduated friends of mine have indicated regarding their experience as I have similarly shared my own experience with them.  I can see merit to the ways both seminaries do things.  I would say they reflect also comparison between either seminary's journal, both of which cotribute greatly to the life of the church.  Frankly, it is good that the emphases are different.   When I studied the confessions, for example, we spent a great deal of time examining Melanchthon's rhetorical structures, etc., and worked through the text rather quickly.  The emphasis was first on "how" to understand the Apology, not to the exclusion of what the Apology explicitly says of course... But the assumption was that if we knew how to read it we would better be able to read it and apply it later.  Again, there is merit to either pedagogical approach.   
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Dr. R.T. Fouts, M.Div, Ph.D.

Dave Benke

Quote from: Johan Bergfest on January 16, 2013, 09:12:24 AM
Quote from: Dave Benke on January 16, 2013, 08:14:32 AMIn this regard therefore I speak in favor of an earthy/incarnational action-arena Confessional Lutheranism that is engaged in mercy and justice as a way out of that miasma, coupled with an energetic and continual reframing and refreshing of terms that harbor the doctrine. 

Pr. Benke - I appreciate your post.  The understanding that I take from it is that the "nimble theologian" understands that it is more important for him to pastor his flock to live in the Lutheran faith than it is to teach them to speak the language of the Lutheran faith.  If so, I wholeheartedly agree.

I think it's a little more complex than that, Bergfest.  The exactness of formulations through the centuries of orthodox catholic tradition, all of which are based on the apostles' teaching/Scripture, are bedrock.  So they become not only part of how I speak as a pastor, but who I am as a pastor.  My formation should include those formulations.  I'm not denigrating the importance of that aspect of formation.

However, if formation ends there, then I am sort of like an immigrant to the US who never learns English but goes to work where those who speak my language work, watches TV on my language channel, hangs out only with those who speak my language, and speaks to the kids only in my language.  In the end I'm out of touch with my own family and with my own future. 

Formation in that regard, and this is where it gets dicey, is a two way street.  I have to listen and learn FROM what's going on outside in order to reformulate my terms.  Does this listening and reconceiving deconstruct the essence of the doctrinal formulations? 

Guess what - it could.  As John astutely notes, this gets talked about here around the liturgy - if I add that screen, can I really be adhering to the tradition of the Church through the ages, or have I already watered it down formulationally by adding extra visuals? 

What this topic gets down to is terms of engagement for pastoral ministry in the 21st century.  What you see on the one hand is kind of a "whatever works" mentality, an indiscriminate borrowing and utilization from the terms and functions of society.  What you see on the other hand is an apologetic throw-down mentality - the world is very evil, and I can prove it by quoting a Lutheran or other church father using their terms.

The ministry of Jesus was primarily interactive and relational/healing/touching, and extraordinarily contextual and approachable in terms of teaching, no - parables, beatitudes?  What is noticeable is the excoriating ways in which Jesus spoke to those who refused heart and soul for the correct terms and conditions, whom he called "hypocrites."  They knew better when it came to extending the teaching to people but loved talking to and among themselves more, avoiding people.   

I'm not sure exactly how that connects in this conversation, because Jesus at the same time had words to say to those who saw him as a trasher of the tradition, didn't he.  So it's a both/and.

Dave Benke
It's OK to Pray

FrPeters

I am completely confused by this observation.  IF it says that StL is more comfortable with Luther and FtW with the theologians of Lutheran Orthodoxy, I fail to see the real distinction and I fail to see how the StL guys in my district reflect at all the catholic Luther or the catholicity of the Lutheran fathers.  Those beating the drum of no ordo, no liturgy, no hymns, and no Eucharist are all but one StL guys of the past dozen or more years.

IF you are saying that StL guys meet and speak the language of people where they are at but translate Lutheran vocabulary into modern terms while FtW guys use the classic vocabulary and teach the language of the faith to the people, what is the context?  Worship or witness?  Catechesis or outreach?  Some of the most effective folks with technology and outreach I know are FtW grads -- a goodly number involved with Higher Things among others. 

IF you are saying StL guys think and speak theologically while FtW guys mouth the answers they were given in class, I think you are all wet on that one. 

The StL guys in my area of the District I serve do not think theologically -- they think practically.  They are always bringing up new things that might work but they do not seem to think through the theology of some of the things they bring up (they are StL within the last 6-8 years).

IF you are correct, then the StL guys are more keen on selling out Lutheranism for the pottage of mirroring modern culture and I don't think StL would like that any more than FtW would appreciate being labelled mindless machines replaying old answers to modern day questions in a language few understand.

The patristics perspective is at FtW more than StL.  The confessions perspective more powerfully represented at FtW than StL (since Nagel and Feuerhahn no longer teach).  The worship people are at FtW (Just, Grime, etc.) while their are few names of note at StL.  The premier historians are at FtW (Rast especially).  The curriculum at FtW is integrated and coordinated in a very modern way and I do not know of anything similar at StL.

Honestly I do not know what to make of your premise or how you support it.
Fr Larry Peters
Grace LCMS, Clarksville, TN
http://www.pastoralmeanderings.blogspot.com/

MaddogLutheran

Quote from: Norman Teigen on January 16, 2013, 08:45:28 AM
One of the irritants for my wife and I over the years has been to hear a poorly prepared substitute pastor barely expound on the text of the day but to include a warning against the evils of the liberal churches with whom "we are not in fellowship."  Our church group warns casual viewers of its web site not to confuse the ELS with the ELCA.  Well, that's not too likely to occur.
I can share with you that your situation is not unique, only that the target can be varied.  Last night I went to a well-attended "table talk" at my ELCA congregation, where the speaker (a retired synod bishop) had as his topic the "New Atheism", I presume assigned by our senior pastor, as he always has an interest in addressing this topic.  His main point was that the modern Four Horseman (Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Harris) are not as smart as they think they are, relative to classical atheists, and have constructed a straw man of religious zeal, easily targeting both fundamentalist Islam, but also the "Evangelical Right".  I was really tempted to say, during the Q&A period, that the mentions made along the way of the talk, trivializing "Biblical fundamentalists", in his holding up "mainline Protestantism" as being nothing like those intolerant narrow-minded "sinners" (my word choice, not his) the New Atheists railed against. I thought it really undercut his take down of the New Atheists, because he (and by extension some in the ELCA) do exactly the same thing on a regular basis.  Obviously the speaker and my pastor are aware of the Missouri Synod, but I continue to wonder whether their understanding goes any deeper than the caricature applied to the "Evangelical Right".  Perhaps at some point in the future, I will have the opportunity to ask a probing question in a non-confrontational manner, to let my objections to such simplistic characterizations be known.

So, Mr. Teigen, your experience with those in your flock mocking the "other" is not unique.  It is rather universal and is yet another example of our fallen nature.

Sterling Spatz
Sterling Spatz
ELCA pew-sitter

Mike Gehlhausen

I'm just saying that if we really want a St. Louis - Fort Wayne throwdown, then let's please start another thread for that so I can ignore it.

I am interested in the subject matter of the article, and I would hate for inter-seminary squabbles to divert it.

Thanks for your insights, Pr. Benke, relating to the article and how we need to be able to put theological language in wording and images wider society can understand.

Mike

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