Saturday, February 6, 2010

More Thoughts on President Kieschnick's Book

In the midst of this BJS post, Pr. Todd Wilken asked me a series of questions regarding my take on Pres. Kieschnick's book. Here are his questions and my responses:

I’m curious. Having read the book, what would you say is its overall purpose?

I would say that his overall purpose is to appeal to those in the middle within our synod by convincing them that our synod has the potential to be the "giant" it was meant to be, if only we would realize a) how united we are on the "essential" doctrines of the Church, b) that our differences and infighting cause us to slumber and make us an embarrassment, c) that the church of our grandfathers has changed because the world around us has changed, d) that "creative thinking" and "cultural sensitivity" need to drive our ministry and mission, and e) that we need to abide by our "covenants of love" (doctrinal resolutions passed in Convention), agreeing to disagree on issues that could potentially hold us back from proclaiming the Gospel to the lost.

In short, PK doesn't really give us anything new in his book. His overall purpose is to get more and more people to buy into what he has been selling all along, namely that "this is not your grandfather's church," and "we do not have time for incessant, internal purification when so many out there are being lost."

Is this President Kieschnick “vision” for the LCMS? If so, what is it?

Yes, I think it is fair to say that this book does present PK's vision for the LCMS. He speaks of "vision" often, and even includes a whole chapter on this topic. Not surprisingly, PK's vision is shaped by non-Lutheran church and leadership "consultants." If you've ever read books written by John Maxwell, you can understand PK's vision. Within the chapter on vision, PK includes a lengthy quote from Greg Morris of Leadership Development, which basically observes that tradition is okay, but traditionalism is deadly. It is obvious why PK includes this quote. He believes that many of us who defend the traditions of our fathers in matters of doctrine and practice are guilty of becoming Pharisaical, falling into the pit of traditionalism. In his "vision," we must be flexible enough to allow our traditions to embrace new ways of putting our doctrine into practice, ways that involve creative thinking and cultural sensitivity, ways that put the "felt needs" of those around us in this "non-churched" culture ahead of our desire to hang on too tightly to our traditions.

Anyone who has studied the Church Growth Movement can easily see just how influenced by it PK has been. He simply cannot avoid using CGM vocabulary and argumentation in his writing, precisely because he is a product and proponent of the same.

Does he address the deepening division, distrust, numerical decline and financial shortfalls during his eight years in office?

He does address all these things, but not in relation to his service in office. In fact, what came screaming through to me as I read the book was PK's belief that, under his leadership, our synod has been addressing, and will continue to address, these problems. I think it is safe to say that PK is proud of what he believes he has accomplished during his time as our president, and that we would be wise to retain him as our president, so that he can continue to lead us in the right direction. He is very careful to avoid any blame for the problems we face in our synod. He includes a plethora of quotations, charts, and stats which give the reader the impression that our problems pre-date his service, and that he, as president, has fervently been about the business of re-unifying us, rebuilding trust, and addressing the numerical and financial shortfalls (which have been felt throughout Christendom). If we would but jump on his coattails and follow his vision, he will lead us to the Promised Land.

Does he address the obvious split in the LCMS between those who hold a quia and quatenus subscription to the Confessions?

Not at all. How can PK address this split when he himself obviously holds a quatenus subscription, while thinking that he holds a quia subscription? You're getting way too theological, Todd. This stuff is way over Jerry's head.

Our Lutheran Confessions are decidedly absent in PK's book. The only quotations from our Confessions in the book occur in Appendix A, which is Rev Samuel Nafzger's "An Introduction to The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod." PK mentions our Confessions, but never quotes from them, at least not that I can recall. Instead, he fills his book with statements he has made, references to our Constitution and Bylaws, and quotations of many doctrinal resolutions and CTCR statements, along with lengthy quotations from others.

Here is a quote from PK I found interesting and revealing:
In sum, the strength of The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod is directly connected to its biblical foundation. While sincerely endeavoring to preach and teach the truths of Holy Scripture, informed by the Lutheran Confessions, our Synod is simultaneously engaged in intentional mission work in many parts of the world" (p. 33).
What I find interesting is the phrase, "informed by the Lutheran Confessions." I'm probably being a little too nit-picky, but this is just plain weak, and seems like our Confessions were thrown in just to pay them lip service. Indeed, lip service is all that our Confessions get throughout the book. Our Confessions are just not all that important to the president. He says he swears by them and that his doctrine is shaped by them, but he all but ignores them. Reading PK feels more like reading a Fundamentalist than a confessional Lutheran.

Does he address the failure of doctrinal oversight and discipline in virtually every corner of the synod?

No, this never comes up in his book. The only part of the book that comes close to this is the section in which he discusses the "Yankee Stadium" event with Benke (pp. 138-149). He goes out of his way to defend his actions as Benke's "ecclesiastical supervisor." Interesting reading, but nothing we haven't already heard.

In sum, the crux of PK's book really centers around chapter five, titled "The Giant Encounters Other Giants - The Witness of Our Church In a Post-Church Culture - In the World But Not of the World," the same chapter at the end of which PK discusses "Yankee Stadium." The heart of the matter for PK is that we must realize that we live in a "post-church" culture and adapt accordingly. The book can really be summed up with the following paragraph:
"In this process, many LCMS congregations are thinking, planning, staffing, and budgeting creatively, no longer assuming that patterns of the past will work in the present or future. Holistic ministry and mission efforts with a view toward identifying and responding to the needs of unchurched people in the community surrounding the church are emerging in congregations whose leaders understand the post-church culture" (p. 132)
PK is convinced that we simply cannot "do Church" the way we used to. We live in a "post-church" culture and need to change with that culture. Those pastors and congregations who have realized this truth are implementing the kinds of changes that will bring successful interaction with their surrounding culture. They are the "trail-blazers" we need to follow if we are going to remain relevant voices for Christ in this world. They have learned to step outside of their comfort zone and embrace people with the Gospel in new ways, and we should all follow suit.

I disagree wholeheartedly with the president's sentiments. It is precisely because we do live in a "post-church" culture that we need, now more than ever, to be THE CHURCH, not a social club, appealing to the wants and desires of the unchurched, while sprinkling in a little Jesus here and there. Now more than ever, as people are searching and longing for something substantive, we need to be especially attentive to our doctrine and practice, making sure that it is pure and undefiled by the culture that surrounds us. PK would have us sell out, or at least, compromise to meet the needs of those around us. To do so would result (already is resulting) in "a church for people who don't like church," which is no church at all, where a repackaged "gospel," which is no Gospel at all, reigns.

My $.02, anyway, fwiw.


IggyAntiochus said...

I'm with you on the phrase, "informed by the Lutheran Confessions."

Even a quatanus subscriber could say that!

Our church should not be "informed by" the Lutheran Confessions, it should be "in accord with" the Lutheran Confessions. Then the sentence would read...

While sincerely endeavoring to preach and teach the truths of Holy Scripture, in accord with the Lutheran Confessions, our Synod is simultaneously engaged in intentional mission work in many parts of the world.

LambertsOnline said...

What a sad commentary on the LC-MS when our Synod President is so confused. Unfortunately his thoughts are a reflection of too many clergy and laity within our Synod.

DrZeile said...

Thank you, Tom, for reading through this statement of our synod president. It appears that PK does not examine the REAL church growth story in the U.S., Roman Catholicism. The more they embrace tradition, the more they grow (and the more criticism they receive). Why do we neglect the sociology of the the growingest church in America? The LCMS has been accused of being a clergy-dominated church, notably by Mary Todd (former LCMS feminist), and she is right. Especially in its decades of growth, LCMS WAS clergy-dominated (though not centralized) like the RC's.