Do you have more in common with Martin Luther or Joan Osborne?
In 1970 Judy Collins sold a million records by recording “Amazing Grace,” the joyful lament of a long ago slave trader who had turned to Jesus. Today, people outside the church may be more familiar with Joan Osborne’s lyrics:
What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us.
Just a stranger on the bus,
Trying to make his way home?
Joan Osborne’s song is one example of the cultural shift known as Postmodernism in which institutions, norms and humanity itself face continual re-assessment based on subjective criteria.
Every generation needs the same Jesus. Every generation is in darkness, but the windows for awakening the lost shift from generation to generation. The windows may have been larger in the house of the lost during the Reformation. Our task, however, is to offer the light of Christ to those who are lost today. If we aim the light at where the windows are now rather than where the windows used to be, lost people are more likely to come into the light of Christ.
Lutheran congregations, however, have inherited a lot of baggage—medieval European style, sixteenth-century jargon, and a scholastically tilted clergy. Carl Braaten warns, “Theology becomes boring and preaching irrelevant when their interpretation of salvation loses touch with reality.” Ray Anderson captures the Lutheran plight with playful simplicity, “When the church inhales too much of the incense of its ancestors, it tends to become either droopy or dopey.”
Sixteenth-century religious jargon may be incoherent to today’s ears, but today’s empty hearts will welcome the truth of the Word Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone and Christ Alone if this truth can shine through today’s windows. Which century are you talking to?
I’ll follow up on these thoughts in the next entry. I’ll overview this month’s message series rethinking the Reformation.