One of the things he covers in several areas of the book is division within the Synod. Give him credit for admitting that there is division within the Synod. At the same time, he would have us believe that the majority of this division should be attributed to things other than doctrinal controversy, and instead are the result of disagreements about practice and the result of a “party spirit.” He asks a series of rhetorical questions in which he obviously wants you to select the later of the two suggested responses:
Do the points of disagreement and division in our Synod deal with doctrinal matters or with matters of implementation of doctrinal principles?
Are the divisions or disagreements that exist among us primarily matters of faith and practice, or are they for the most part differences of opinion in matters of adiaphora—matters neither commanded nor forbidden by Holy Scripture?
Is the LCMS deeply divided theologically, or are our disagreements primarily related to the fact that for a variety of reasons some members of the Synod, prompted by the presence of a pesky political penchant and party spirit, have grown to dislike or distrust one another? (37-38)
...doctrine and practice are totally intertwined according to the theology of Luther. Practice is the doing and application of the gospel, or the doctrine. The moment that doctrine is taught or articulated in any way, practice is taking place. …It is clear from Luther's high view of the purity of doctrine and the necessity for confessing it that the essential work of a pastor, called to the public ministry of preaching the Word and administering the sacraments, is simply confession, confession of Christ and His doctrine.3
While most major considerations regarding these serious doctrinal issues [such as “the battle for the Bible”] are no longer in contention, we nevertheless continue to experience in our Synod disagreement and divisiveness on several issues. Most such issues have to do with the practical application of our doctrinal principles, notwithstanding [in spite of] the reality that some among us would say that it is impossible to separate doctrine and practice. (41) (Brackets added)
Accompanying President Kieschnick’s severance of practice from doctrine is a fundamentalist approach to doctrine. He is fond of listing the major articles of faith, but beyond that, other articles of faith seem to be dismissed as unimportant – as something open for discussion. He presents a list of the major LCMS doctrinal and theological positions on pages 28-30, and on page 168, he points out that “people know and will always know where we stand on the infallibility of God’s Word, on life issues, on marriage and family, on the godly education of our children, on moral absolutes and the reality of sin, and on the fact that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation and eternal life.” Once the high points have been mentioned, other “less important” doctrinal issues are marginalized, lest we commit the cardinal sin of “even appearing sectarian in a climate and culture radically different from when our church was formed” (23).
Luther had a much different perspective according to Dr. Preus:
Luther …sees doctrine as an organic whole, not a linear progression of ideas. It is at just this point that Lutherans in name deviate from each other: Lutherans following the linear, pietistic, and fundamentalistic model, separate the articles of faith, trying vainly to classify them according to some order of importance or logic; the true and confessional Lutherans, following their mentor, see all the articles as essentially one. Christ is the center and focal point of every article of faith….
…the genuine concern for doctrinal purity, together with a lack of clear communication between individuals and groups within our Synod who do not agree on matters theological, has the potential of diluting our focus on mission. In many ways our inward focus has become a preoccupation that has contributed to the sleepyheadedness the LCMS has experienced in the past four decades. (38-39)
…the genuine concern for mission, together with a lack of clear communication between individuals and groups within our Synod who do not agree on matters theological, has the potential to suffocate our waning focus on doctrine. In many ways our mission obsession has become a preoccupation that has contributed to the sleepyheadedness the LCMS has experienced in the past four decades.
One doctrinal area where we seem to be daydreaming, as an example, is that of the Lord’s Supper. President Kieschnick includes a solid description of Communion in his list of major doctrinal positions on page 30:
- That in, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion, we receive Christ’s true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of eternal salvation.
Do I have to be a member to take communion at xyz?
No, you don’t. There are Lutheran churches that require church membership to commune as a way of ensuring a higher degree of unity among those communing. However, at xyz, we don’t want to have a human rule (church membership) stand in the way of a gift of God’s grace (His undeserved love and desire). We do, however, desire that you come to communion as one trusting in Jesus as your Savior and believing that He gives you Himself in the Lord’s Supper.7
How else does the rending of practice from doctrine show up in Waking the Sleeping Giant? In large part, it shows up in an overemphasis on all things church growth. There’s a highly visible emphasis on leadership in the book. For example, he thinks the main point of Jesus calming the storm in Mark 4 was to teach “His future church leaders” (the apostles) “key leadership points” (186-7). We see the usual church growth insistence on vision. There’s the familiar pandering to unbelievers:
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. (132)
In fairness, we must note that in multiple places, President Kieschnick does present a bare-bones presentation of how one is saved – for this he should be commended. Unfortunately, the diminution of doctrine prevents him from preaching the whole counsel of God, something that one would expect from the President of a church body. It should again be noted that this post is critical of President Kieschnick’s ideas, not his person. As President of the LCMS, he is one who has been appointed by God, and his office and his person should be respected.
In summary, Waking the Sleeping Giant contains very little lehre (doctrine) and even less wehre (defense). What it does contain is a summary of President Kieschnick’s ideas, which we’ve all seen and heard before. Its attempts to elevate practice over doctrine and advance an unsound church growth movement agenda should be cause for concern. It is therefore with a heavy heart that I recommend you skip reading the book – your time can be spent more fruitfully elsewhere. This is one sleeping giant you should tiptoe past.
This document may be downloaded here.
1. Gerald B. Keischnick, Waking the Sleeping Giant: The Birth, Growth, Decline, and Rebirth of an American Church?, (St. Louis: CPH, 2009).
2. For a discussion of the “Battle for the Bible,” listen to the interview of Dr. Paul Zimmerman on the Issues, Etc. segment titled “The 35th Anniversary of the ‘Walk-Out’ in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod” on February 19, 2009: www.issuesetc.org/podcast/169021909H2S1.mp3
3. Robert D. Preus, “Luther: Word, Doctrine, and Confession,” Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 3, July 1996: http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/preusrdlutherworddoctrine
4. A series of quotes of President Kieschnick’s references to “incessant internal purification” can be found on the blog TUEBOR: Honoring the Office of Holy Ministry in a post titled “Protecting My Family from False Doctrine and Bad Pastors”: http://honoringtheministry.blogspot.com/2007/10/protecting-my-family-from-false.html
5. The quote of President Barack Obama comes from the intro to several Issues, Etc. segments, including the one on February 10, 2010: http://www.issuesetc.org/podcast/423021010H2S1.mp3
6. John T. Pless, “The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Congregation,” paper presented to the Congress of the Lutheran Confessions: http://www.ctsfw.edu/Document.Doc?id=300
7. The reference for this quote is omitted because it is not the purpose of the post to single out a particular congregation. Reference available upon request.
8. Robert D. Newton, “Accountability and Faithfulness in Reaching the Lost,” available on the Transforming Churches Network website: http://portal.tcnbackup.com/Portals/0/newtonnashvillepaper.pdf.
9. Dr. Mark Nispel’s response to Dr. Newton’s paper can be found here: http://mnispel.net/MDNispel/Other%20Nispel%20Documents_files/ResponseToNewton_2008_04_26.pdf