Senkbeil in CSL Quarterly: Cultural Accomodation is What Ails Confessional Lutheran Church

Readers of this site know how theologically vacuous and banal the writings are of many who have held themselves out as experts in the area of missions.  Constant are their calls to “accomodate” or even import the world’s culture into the church in hopes of “reaching Jesus’ lost ones” with anything but the voice of the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep.

It was deeply refreshing, then, to see Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, dedicate a significant number of pages to an extremely thoughtful and thought provoking article entitled, “Engaging Our Culture Faithfully,” in their Fall edition.  In this article, Dr. Harold Senkbeil, the executive director for spiritual care for DOXOLOGY: The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care, not only expertly diagnoses the primary disease plaguing the Church as she seeks to connect people to Christ and his word, but does so by pointing us to Jesus and His promised ongoing presence for the world in Word and Sacrament.  For that, I can only say, “Thank you, Dr. Senkbeil.”

The article is PACKED with food for thought.  Here are 17 thought provoking quotes taken from Dr. Senkbeil’s article.  Chew slowly and savor the wisdom and faithfulness of Dr. Senkbeil’s approach.

Death and Resurrection: Disentanglement from the Culture

  • “…it seems that much of what is ailing us [the confessional Lutheran church] can be traced to cultural accomodation.”
  • “…we are going to have to first step away from our culture if we are to truly embrace it and connect it to Christ and his word.”
  • “The marriage between the culture and the church was ill advised in the first place and is no longer tenable.”
  • “The Word of God, not the world, determines the mission.  The missionary task of the church is to bring an eternal biblical gospel to bear, tailored for the challenges unique to each generation.”

What Goes Around Comes Around – “Despite the broad theological divide between liberals and conservatives, they have a remarkable affinity.  While classic liberalism capitulated to the intelligentsia of its day . . . conservative evangelicalism has adjusted its compass to the trends of pop culture…”

The New Babylonian Captivity of the Church – “What I describe as the new Babylonian captivity is what we have done to ourselves, namely, the strange fascination with our contemporary culture evident across denominational and confessional lines.”

From Eternal Verities to Personal Fulfillment – “There has been a shift within the church, almost a conscious decision, to turn away from the eternal truths of the word of God and focus on human fulfillment.  It is tragic, it is inexplicable, and it is suicidal.”

From Chastity to Decadance –“The sexual disaster unfolding in our society and increasingly among those who bear the name of Christ is but another symptom of what has happened as the church has capitulated to expressive individualism and built its corporate life around the gratification of the individual.  We have sown to the wind and reaped the whirlwind.”

From Soul to Self –“How catastrophic is it when the church herself becomes secularized and expressive individualism sits in the driver’s seat in the church’s life and mission.  When the church has lost connection with Christ her living head, she loses her soul.”

Diagnosis: Acedia

  • “The prevailing boredom with holy things that we see in the contemporary church is the telltale sign of acedia.  . . . our duty is to keep God’s sacred things holy among us.  God’s word must not only be taught faithfully in all its truth and purity, but those who receive that word are to live holy lives in conformity to it.”
  • “The frenzy with which much of the church busies herself with things peripheral to the kingdom in a frantic attempt by her own ingenuity and effort to make God’s name holy or make his kingdom come is a sign that something is radically wrong.  The church has lost connection with Christ, her living head; she has listened to the siren calls of this world; she has succumbed to the prevailing culture instead of what Christ Jesus created her to be.”

Treatment: Recovering the Corporate Life – “It is time to revive and recover the third article of the Creed; to live corporately and communally in a world of expressive individualism.  . . . We need to show how the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies people one by one through the gospel, and then draws them into communion in his holy church.”

Prescription: Treatment Plan for Evangelization

  • “For too long we have seen the ministry of the church and the mission of the church as distinct compartments, outreach and inreach, making disciples and keeping disciples.  Yet the life of the church revolves around the central article: the justification of the ungodly by grace through faith in the Son of God, who is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.  Like the hub of a wheel, the church’s corporate life is an extension of the good news that God was in Christ reconciling the whole world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.”
  • Proclamation and Ministry – “Listen carefully to much of preaching today . . . there may be a lot of references to the love of God, but precious little of the entire forgiveness of sins in the shed blood of Jesus Christ his Son, crucified and ascended, yet present in his word and sacraments for our forgiveness, life and salvation.”
  • Catechesis for Faith and Life – “We have the tools to [step forward and engage]. . . they are the Scriptures, Creeds and Confessions of the church by which is taught the faith once delivered to the saints.  To evangelize the world and catehize the faithful, we need to be a teaching church once more.”
  • Prayer and Meditation – “In our busy world, we could use a bit more peace and quiet.  How much better if it were to regularly be still and listen carefully to hear God speak in his word . . . In such prayer, formed and framed by the Spirit of God by his word, there is peace in the midst of turmoil . . .”

Conclusion: When Worlds Collide – Learning from Augustine

  • “Simply put, here amid the kingdoms of this world we have no continuing city.  That’s why we dare not become attached to the passing values of any human culture.”

But Dr. Senkbeil does not leave us without hope.  In his usual pastoral manner, He is careful to remind us that, as the Church, “we have been in situations like this before.” Therefore, “We should have some sympathy for [the] ancients, for in many ways we live in a world much like theirs.. . . . We live in a time between the age of reason and whatever will come next much like that of late antiquity, when the classic age was collapsing in ruin and the early Middle Ages was beginning.” Therefore, there is hope even for us in these gray and latter days, for “As we search for vitality in the church’s life and mission, we can draw inspiration from St. Augustine in the closing words of City of God. To shed light on their present darkness he points the faithful to their glorious future, to an end without ending, to that time when they would know God’s eternal kingdom no longer by faith, but by sight.”

I, for one, am grateful to Dr. Senkbeil and the editors of CSL for taking on the prevailing drift away from Christ and His plan and purposes for the church and focusing our attention once again on what is important – Christ Crucified for sinners and present among us in the Word, the Water and the Blood to sustain us so that we may faithfully engage the culture as our Lord leads us home through this valley of the shadow of death.

Of course, reading the full length article is best, but elsewhere I’ve posted a review and summary if you’d like to begin to see more of Dr. Senkbeil’s thesis.

About Pastor Matthew Dent

I'm a life-long Lutheran who, prior to formal preparation for the ministry, learned most of my theology from good preaching, solid hymnody, and the consistent pattern of sound words found in the church's liturgy in a small church in Western, NY. A "first generation" pastor in my family, I took the "long route" to seminary, working in startups and small companies in the technology and internet sector for 10 years before completing my Bachelor of Arts at Concordia University, Ann Arbor in December of 2004 and continuing my studies at Concordia Theological Seminary, graduating with my M.Div. in 2008. I completed additional residential studies toward an S.T.M. at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and was ordained and first installed in July, 2009. Since January 2014, I have been serving Jesus' Church as pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Standish, Michigan where I live with my wonderful wife, Kelli, and my two kids, Jonathan and Natalie.


Senkbeil in CSL Quarterly: Cultural Accomodation is What Ails Confessional Lutheran Church — 7 Comments

  1. Don’t all LCMS pastors get a copy of the quarterly? Laymen could ask their pastor to borrow his copy. This article is another positive sign for our beloved Synod.

  2. Dear Pastor Dent,

    Thanks for giving a synopsis of the article. Dr. Senkbeil’s article in Concordia Journal is a great read—everyone in the LCMS needs to get their hands on it and “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” it. Thanks to the editors of CJ and the seminary for publishing it!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  3. Over 20 years ago, my former pastor said, “The Church is being discipled by the culture.” He was spot-on

  4. It was the Rev. Dr. Harold Senkbeil who alerted me many years ago to the problem of the Church being fascinated with the culture. Below is a quote from him when he was at a conference in Phoenix:

    “to take a long, hard look at what it means to be a Lutheran church in our time. Such essential issues as the nature and efficacy of the gospel, the purpose and authority of the Word of God, and the power of the Means of Grace would be excellent places to begin. In all of these areas, I’m afraid, our doctrinal base has been seriously eroded by the inroads of American cultural revivalism. In each instance the question is whether we will divide doctrine from practice, whether we will believe one thing and do another; in short, whether we will practice what we preach. When we treat divinely revealed truth as some kind of vague substance that can be expressed in an infinite variety of styles, I submit that we come dangerously close to denying the very Gospel we claim to profess. We are not Baptists or mega-church non-denominationalists, after all. We have a public confession rooted in the Scriptures, summarized by the ancient creeds of the Church catholic, and eloquently articulated in the Lutheran Confessions. We are Lutheran Christians, that’s who we are and intend to be, without apology or compromise. So when we adopt practices that are foreign to our confession of the one Scriptural faith, then we undermine the very faith we claim to profess”.

    In Christ,

  5. @Joe Strieter #6

    I just finished reading the essay by Dr. Senkbeil, and it is indeed a great read, as Dr. Noland says. He has a distinctly pastoral approach to the problem he identifies, from both a diagnostic and prescriptive perspective. Should be required reading, especially by those who are still steeped in the corrosive broth of Church Growth.

    As to his prescription of “Catechesis for Faith and Life,” I would only add that there’s no small number of clergy in the LCMS who need to be catechized.

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