A mistake being made by some opposed to recent developments in the ELCA, I think, is to blame everything simply on ‘liberalism.’ Omitted is a reflection on how modern developments within Lutheranism, even and especially among some counted as confessionalists, are a large part of the problem.
Take this quotation from Werner Elert I ran across today (The Structure of Lutheranism, p. 412 – p. 361 of Vol 1 in the German): “Christ’s righteousness is my righteousness because the Word pertains to me. But it pertains to me only if this righteousness remains unentangled with my empirical existence. Faith, which hears this Word, has no other function than this hearing and exists only by hearing. If in spite of this it is my I that hears and believes, it can be only the ‘pure’ I, that is, the I cannot be further qualified in an empirico-psychological manner, therefore the transcendental I.” Once this move is made (and it is made in a similar manner by Gerhard Forde, without the Kantian trappings), the ‘empirico-psychological’ self, the self that actually lives in the world, is cut off from the self that truly lives in Christ. Ethics, especially as it relates to physical actions, then exists in a different dimension than faith. From here, it is downhill to where we are today in the ELCA. The church cannot be divided over an ethical question. Granted, it may be a ways down this hill to get to where we are now and admirers of Elert (and Forde) may believe they have ways of stopping the slide down the hill, but this sheltering of the new self in Christ from life in the world (the ‘gnostic’ move in Forde that David Yeago has identified) is one element in the mix that has produced our present mess.
FOLLOW UP LATER IN THE DAY:
Two comments have asked for further information on the critique mentioned but not developed in the posting. David Yeago’s analysis of Forde is developed in two pieces from the early 1990s:
David S. Yeago, “Theological Impasse and Ecclesial Future.” Lutheran Forum 26.4 (Nov 1992): 36–45.
David S. Yeago, “Gnosticism, Antinomianism, and Reformation Theology: Reflections on the Cost of a Construal.” Pro Ecclesia 2 (1993): 37–49.
Unfortunately, neither is online. I find his argument devastating, all the more because it is unpolemical in tone. I utilize (but don’t really expand much further) his analysis in an essay on “Preaching Justification” in the new book on preaching by members of the Southern Seminary faculty: Proclaiming the Gospel: Preaching for the Life of the Church (Fortress).