15 September 2010

New Lutheran Quote of the Day

The cross alone is our theology.  These are the words of Doctor Luther and, too, of every Lutheran sermon.  If the cross is not in the sermon, it is not a Lutheran sermon.  Or if you can take the cross out of the sermon, and it can get along just as well without it, it is not a Lutheran sermon.  -- Dr. Norman Nagel, Selected Sermons, p. 290.


Chris said...

If such is the criterion for a "Lutheran" sermon, then why do so many Lutherans (e.g. Todd Wilken) feel the need to judge Orthodox sermons by that criterion? Why can't our sermons be Orthodox to be "good?" Why can't they just be Orthodox and leave it at that?

Another thing, where is the Resurrection? If you leave everything at the cross, is the Resurrection then only an afterthought?

William Weedon said...

Orthodox sermons may be fine by Orthodox standards; but if they fail to proclaim the cross, they fail by Lutheran standards. Why can't a Lutheran critique an Orthodox sermon from his own perspective?

As for the resurrection - it is anything but an afterthought: "He was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification." The good news of the Resurrection is that the Crucified One - who died bearing the sin of the world - has been set free from death and so death has been destroyed, has lost its claim upon us. Think of it from the Orthodox perspective: the proclamation is not that "through the resurrection joy has come into the world!" Rather, we praise and glorify the holy resurrection because BY THE CROSS joy has come into all the world. Pax!

Chris said...

But you forget that the Resurrection and Christ's Crucifixion are one event. "Through the cross, joy has come into the world" the priest says at Sunday Matins before the veneration of the Gospel and during the censing of the altar at the Cherubicon. In Lutheran theology, the cross is given all the attention with its lopsided emphasis on juridical terminology and forensic justification, that the new life in Christ's Resurrection is thrown into the corner.

So, if Orthodox sermons are fine by Orthodox standards why then do Todd Wilken and Paul McCain feel the consistent need to rate them on the Lutheran scale? I didn't know that many Lutherans were listening to Orthodox sermons that it was a problem.

Pr. Lehmann said...

The problem, Chris, is that Orthodox sermons are not Christian sermons if they don't proclaim the cross.

It's that simple. Since the Orthodox claim to be Christian, it's perfectly legitimate to assess that claim on the basis of what the Scriptures say we should be preaching.

William Weedon said...

And when have Prs. Wilken or McCain featured Orthodox sermons? I know that Pr. Wilken evaluates all kinds of sermons - but I think - and I may be wrong - I only remember him doing two Orthodox homilies?

Certainly as Christians we take the Paschal Mystery as one whole. But essential to the Resurrection itself is the Crucifixion. It is by DEATH that He tramples down death.

Pr. Lehmann said...

I should add that a Lutheran sermon is not a Christian sermon if it fails to proclaim the cross. A Baptist sermon is not a Christian sermon if it fails to proclaim the cross... etc.

Christian sermons proclaim the cross. If they don't, they aren't Christian sermons, regardless of where they happen to be preached.

"Did it proclaim Jesus' death on the cross for my salvation?" is a legitimate question to ask of any sermon that claims to be Christian.

Trent said...

Pastor Weedon,

You say that if a sermon fails to proclaim the cross it fails by Lutheran standards. However, I think Pastor Lehmanm presents a more accurate assessment of Pastor Wilken and many within Lutheranism that it is not a self proclaimed "Lutheran standard" but a universal "Christian standard". If you don't proclaim the cross in EVERY sermon then its NOT Christian (as Pastor Lehmann posted here).

Why not apply the same standard to the Resurrection or the Incarnation? In the end, I think this type of thinking can lead (not that is always does) to severe gospel reductionism. I have experienced gospel reductionism with LCMS Pastors over the years and I’m sure you have as well. Don’t you think that overly formulaic sermon standards can play into this reductionism or am I mistaken here?

My own personal opinion is that formulaic sermon standards are a bit silly. If the gospel text calls for preaching on the cross, then do it. But maybe it does not. I know for many in Lutheranism that signals you don't think the cross and Christ’s sacrifice as important if it is not mentioned every time, but again, where does one start and stop with that logic? James says faith without works is dead…does that mean if you don’t’ mention works in every sermon when you mention faith that renders your sermon dead to faith? Of course not.

I would also say that many of the greatest cross sermon givers (Sts Chrysostom, Basil and others) have many sermons that don't mention the Cross, but whom among us would claim that they are not Christian sermons or that they somehow downplay the cross.

Just a few random thoughts.

William Weedon said...

"I determined to know nothing among you, except Jesus Christ and Him crucified." "But we preach Christ crucified."

The Apostle teaches us that a sermon that fails in proclaiming the Cross is not an apostolic sermon. Check out the sermons in Acts! I am rather floored that anyone would suggest that the cross could be ABSENT from any Biblical text, for the Scriptures are given to us to give us Christ Crucified, Risen, and promising to appear again in glory. The Spirit inspired them to witness to Him and to show us the gifts freely given in Him, and the new life that is ours in Him.

Peter once was interested in having a Jesus without a cross; Jesus let him know where that idea originated! Now, I know none of you would argue that you want a Jesus without a cross - for you have no other Jesus than the one whose blot has blotted out the sin of the world and whose death has ripped a hole right through death itself. So why should it be thought extraordinary that sermons should always connect to the cross and from His cross to our own?

William Weedon said...

whose blood...

Pr. Lehmann said...

As Pr. Weedon says, the standard for Christian preaching is apostolic preaching. Saint Paul has said that the cross is absolutely everything.

The heart of proclamation is the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. Without the cross, there is no Gospel.

I realize that Dr. Nagel was talking about Lutheran sermons, but I'm also pretty sure that Dr. Nagel realizes that when Luther said, "The cross is our theology" he wasn't talking as a Lutheran but as a Doctor of the Church. His comments are no more limited to Lutherans than Saint Paul's words are.

Dr. Nagel's words about Lutheran preaching are true because Lutherans are Christians.

Chris said...

so, when St. Paul says "We preach Christ crucified" did he mean that anything that happened after that is not relevant? Of course not! But the standard Lutheran practice, following Luther, to put the German allein after every verse of Scripture does exactly what Trent describes: the Gospel is redacted to the point that the parts become the whole. Derrida would be proud!

I suppose Lutherans are well within their rights as to assess what constitutes a "Christian" sermon. I suppose then that my priest can talk about any Gospel periocope of the day and end with "And, by the way, in case Orthros, Vespers and the Liturgy haven't proclaimed it enough already, Christ died for your sins" and then it would be an acceptable Lutheran/Christian sermon?

I can't tell you how many times I've heard Todd Wilken go off on Orthodox sermons, but it was enough. I guess he's doing his job, but maybe he should be more concerned that not all Lutheran churches are giving Lutheran sermons before he worries about Baptists giving Lutheran sermons or Catholics giving Lutheran sermons or Orthodox giving Lutheran sermons.

Pr. Lehmann said...

The cross isn't just necessary, it is the heart and soul of every Christian sermon.

Tacking the cross on as an afterthought doesn't make a sermon Christian. It allows a non-Christian sermon to pretend that it is a Christian one.

Paul said that he resolved to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. If you don't like that, then take it up with the God who inspired him to write it.

Don't create straw men in order to attack what the Scripture clearly teaches. We preach the whole counsel of God while knowing, as Paul did, that "Christ and Him crucified" is the whole counsel of God condensed into four words.

If you don't like Todd Wilken, don't listen to him. If you don't want him to criticize Orthodox preaching (though, like Pr. Weedon, I don't know when he has), there is an easy (well, no, not easy, probably impossible) way to get him to stop. Change Orthodox preaching.

William Weedon said...


You know, I wonder if Fr. Behr would disagree with the Nagel quote. He did write, after all: "It is the Gospel, Scripture read in a particular fashion, through the prism of the Cross of Christ, that is salvific -- if the Law itself were salvific, then Christ would died in vain, as Paul points out." [From Orthodoxy: A Talk given at the University of North Carolina / March 23, 1998]