What They are Thinking

People of Reformed persuasion ought to give more attention to what other orthodox Christians are thinking on the significant issues of our day. Calvinists should take careful note of the orthodox and scholarly Missouri-Synod Lutherans. Particular attention is called in what follows to the statements on ecumenicity and neo-orthodoxy made by these orthodox Lutheran theologians.


Missouri-Synod and Ecumenicity

A professor of New Testament at Concordia Theological Seminary sets forth the aims and objectives of his church regarding ecumenicity. He says: “We seek unity… This means: We desire that men be united in a gladly resolute, radical, and total Submission of faith to God as he has revealed himself in his Son Jesus Christ; for we can know and have the God of measureless condescension only in Christ, in the once-for-all historic act of his life, death, and resurrection….We seek unity, then, as we seek it under God and in Christ, in a full and common obedience to the Holy Scriptures.”(Concordia Theological Monthly, November, 1957. p.802f.)

The Missouri-Synod has been accused of being partisan and isolationistic as an end in itself. Prof. Franzmann responds to that charge also. “We believe and hope that nothing in the nature of the unity we seek is peculiarly ‘Missourian’ in the sense that it first came into the life of the church through us or exists only in us. What seems to be peculiarly ‘Missourian’ is the radicalness, or stringency, with which Missouri conceives of and applies the criteria of theocentricity, christocentricity, and bibliocentricity in its quest for church unity.” p. 808. Why, then, does this Church not unite with the existing ecumenical organizations?

Says Dr. Franzmann:

“If we have remained aloof from ecumenical aggregations, it’s because we have not seen in them any real and divinely given opportunity for the advancement of real unity, and not because we have sought to hide our light under a bushel…We seek this unity in meekness,…we have sought to keep ourselves free of arrogance, of doctrinair cocksureness, and of sectarian bigotry…We take no particular pleasure in the role of ‘His majesty’s loyal opposition’ which current ecclesiastical history seems to have thrust upon us; and we would assure all men that we seek unity not on our tenus but on our Lord’s, and that is an act of love.” p. 808f.

These are encouraging and courageous words. But they are rarely heard in present day ecumenical discussions. For a remarkably different approach by a United Lutheran clergyman see the article “Who is Ecumenical?” in the Christian Century of November 6, 1957.

Prof. Mueller Evaluates Neo-orthodoxy

Since 1920 J. Theodore Mueller has been teaching systematic theology at Concordia Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. The 72-year-old professor has written a Significant evaluation of neo-orthodoxy for Christianity Today (October 28, 1957, pp. 7ff.). Prof. Mueller thinks that Barth began his reaction to Liberalism by holding to some Calvinistic or “Geneval fundamentals” but that the dialectical method was all-important in turning his theology into “a religious philosophy” and the “neo-orthodoxy into heterodoxy.”

It was this dialectical method, says Prof. Mueller, which “turned Barthian theologizing back again into the old rationalizing liberal channels of which the world long before had become weary. It took from it its alleged newness and made it old in the sense that it was essentially only a repetition, though in another form, of what Schleiermacher, Ritschl, and Herrmann, together with many others, had said before Barth. So also it [that is, the dialectical method] turned Barthianism away from the orthodoxy of the Reformation, for it deprived Christendom of its message of the sola scriptura and the sola gratia. That may appear as a very severe indictment of neo-orthodoxy, and such indeed it is; nevertheless, it is true. Neo-orthodoxy, in the final analysis, has neither a sure, divine foundation on which the Christian believer may rest his faith, nor has it the infallible, Biblical redemptive message on which the distressed penitent soul may firmly fix its hope of a sure salvation” (p. 7).

It is Significant to note that the Missouri-Synod descendants of Luther, who themselves maintain the inspiration and authority of Scripture and the deity of Jesus Christ, should make such an evaluation of neo-orthodoxy. Mueller goes on to say: “Cornelius Van Til, after all, was right when he judged neo-orthodoxy to be a new form of liberalism, and he was supported in this view by Charles Clayton Morrison.” (p 9. cf. p.10).

For a Missouri-Synod evaluation of another neo-orthodox theologian see the article entitled “A Critique of Aulen’s Christus Victor,” (Concordia Theological Monthly, November, 1957).

Critique of Paul Tillich

In an entirely different strain is the evaluation of Paul Tillich by Nels F. S. Ferre who is now professor at Andover-Newton in Massachusetts. Since the death of Whitehead and Berdyev, says Ferre, “Tillieh stands nearly alone as undeniably a primary source of constructive philosophical theology” (Scottish Journal of Theology, September, 1957. p. 235). Ferre thinks that Barth, Brunner, Aulen, and Nygren “seem somewhat bound by traditional Christian formulations” in comparison with Tillich’s originality.

In the essay Ferre deals critically with three issues in Tillich’s thought, namely, a personal God, supernaturalism, and theological method. Tillich’s method is discussed after the other two issues because Ferre believes that Tillich’s theological method rests upon prior determining assumptions” (p. 255). Thus Ferre contends that Tillich’s “systematic theology becomes filled ultimately by his philosophical presuppositions” (p. 235).

Commenting on Tillich’s “utterly cavalier” manner of dealing with tho historic Jesus, Ferre indicates what meaning the term Christ gets in the system.

“With Tillich Christ meets the demand for constructing a bridge between essence and existence, and also the requirement for a centre of the theological circle that is both perfectly universal and completely concrete. Tillich’s two definitions of the power of Being-itself, namely to resist non-Being and to make for harmony of being, correspond respectively, I believe, to God’s power of creation and his power of redemption.” p. 237.

Although Ferre indicates fundamental agreement with the basic approach of Tillich, his critique is issued in a way which again displays something of his own preference for the Lundensian (Anders and Nygren) Agape motif. Ferre states:

A Critique of Bultmann via Kierkegaard

Neo-orthodoxy is by its own acknowledgment deeply indebted to Soren Kierkegaa.rd, the Dane. J. Heywood Thomas turns the tables on neo-orthodoxy when he engages in criticism of Bultmann based on Kierkegaard’s teaching. Heywood notes that in America “Bultmann’s friend, Professor Paul Tillich, has put before the theological public not only the issue involved in the debate [on demythologizing] but also his own unheSitating support of Bultmann’s programmo” (The Scottish Journal of Theology, September 1957, p. 239).

After sketching Bultmann’s position and indicating Kierkegaard as one of the sources of Bultmann’s thinking (p. 245), he goes on to say:

Our main interest, however, is to show how what Kierkegaard has taught us can be a criticism of Bultmann’s view. This criticism, we would suggest, is threefold.

1. Bultmann makes essentially the same mistake as Hegel in his assumption that understanding the truth is a necessary part of being the truth.

2. In his existentialist interpretation of the mythology, Bultmann seems to be very close to the too empirical understanding of faith which Kierkegaard associated with Schleiermacher.

3. The demythologizing of the New Testament means a translating of Christianity into a philosophy. This was the error Kierkegaard found in Hegelian theologians. This can be done only at the price of losing certain distinctive elements of tile Christian faith. p. 245.