(The other posts in this series can be viewed by clicking on the Editor’s Blog in the Brother’s Cafe.)
There is so much to review and critique in President Kieschnick’s presentation that I could easily get ahead of myself so I think I will stick to a chronological approach beginning with his opening remarks then moving to the “Trouble in River City” video, and concluding with a few comments on the softball question and answer segment.
The presentation began with a rather tepid round of applause. I would have thought it would have been more resounding from a district that has embraced so much of the Kieschnick church growth agenda. It may be that people are growing tired of all the division and conflict his presidency has brought to the LCMS.
Opening Remarks – Doctrine as Strategy
The presentation we witnessed is basically the same presentation he makes at each district convention. President Kieschnick begins his spiel with a recitation-like review of basic Lutheran doctrine. It is done in a rapid-fire creedal-like manner. He rattles off every major teaching and asserting his belief in them. This would normally be a fine thing to do but here is the rub. This ten minutes of confessionality does not flow over into the rest of the 50 minutes of his time before the assembly. In other words, it comes off as very defensive and tactical and not the actual heart of the man’s belief and practice.
Much preferred would be a synodical president who does not have to defend his confessional positions but simply lets his entire presentation live and breathe with the inhaling and exhaling of law and gospel, old man/new man, the real presence of our Lord’s body and blood in holy communion, and so forth. Instead we heard a ten minute, defensive recitation of all things Lutheran and then fifty minutes of leadership talk, promotion of new ways of doing church and disdain for the old ways of doing church. Dr. Nagel is fond of praising theology that is “dripping with Scripture.” We would like to see President Kieschnick’s manner of speaking dripping with word and sacramental theology but that is not the case. In my opinion confessional theology was used by him as campaign tool and was not perceived to be part and parcel of his heart and soul.
Trouble in River City – Goofy Fundamentalism
After those introductory remarks the convention delegates were directed to the large screens for the traditional presidential video presentation. I had read all the reports about the “Music Man” motif used in President Kieschnick’s convention video, even here on BJS, but I still had a hard time believing it was true until I saw it myself. Having grown up just fifty miles from the real “River City” (Mason City, Iowa where they have a huge band festival every year with real instruments and not Harold Hill’s imaginary ones), I was acutely interested in this motif.
Everything you have heard and read is true. In the convention video, President Kieschnick fashions himself a modern day Harold Hill who comes in to rescue River City. The irony of that is that Harold Hill is a huckster and swindler who pretends to be a band teacher who will keep the kids of River City out of trouble by forming them into a marching band. That is actually the secondary point of comparison however.
The primary point of comparison is between the world we live in and River City. One of the famous songs from the Music Man refers to trouble in River City. President Kieschnick likewise asserts that there is trouble in the world and the answer to that trouble is the heavily programmatic, felt needs-addressing Ablaze structure that he and his associates have created. This is where he comes off as a fundamentalist. The troubles he points to are all moral. He paints the world as this terrible place that is sinking deeper and deeper into the abyss of immorality. That is certainly true but it is not a big surprise. The problem with this is that the church’s call from God is not to fix an immoral world. God tells us that we the church are the little flock in the world. The world will get more and more immoral and the church’s call is to remain faithful to God’s word and see to that all those God has called out of the world remain in the true faith. By the way, in keeping with the opening devotion video, President Kieschnick uses the changing world point to leverage his desire to change the way we do church.
It appears to me that President Kieschnick is highlights the immorality of the world in order to position himself as a Bible-believing conservative. This is what makes him come off as a fundamentalist. When mixed with the silly Music Man theme this becomes “silly fundamentalism.” Fundamentalism was basically a protestant reaction to the immorality in America in the early 20th century. They identified a few fundamentals of doctrine (the blood atonement, salvation by faith, etc.) and also asserted that the United States is the new promised land and that we must preserve its Christian character. Modern examples of Fundamentalists include the Baptists like Jerry Falwell and the Pentecostals like Pat Robertson. For sure Confessional Lutherans share some common ground with Fundamentalists such as confession of the inerrancy of the Bible, preservation of Biblical morality, and belief in the blood atonement. But that is where the commonalities end. Fundamentalists do not accept the means of grace and also shatter the distinction between the two kingdoms (left hand kingdom of the world and right hand kingdom of grace). God has called the church not to fix a broken world but to preach Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. It we see the church’s challenge to be addressing an immoral world, the forgiveness of sins will become secondary and fancy parish programs will be primary.
This post is becoming a bit lengthy so I need to break it up into two parts. In the next review and critique of President Kieschnick’s report to the convention I will share with you some silly things President Kieschnick said about the history of a parish in Texas, his list of fundamental doctrines (what is revealing is that it does not include things like closed communion, worship practice and other significant issues) and more.