Fame and Confessional Lutheranism, by Jon Townsend

(Jon’s posts can be seen on the Regular Columns page under the title “God Desires Mercy, Not Sarcasm.

Every week a copy of Christian News arrives at our congregation. Our Pastor reads it and then passes it on to the chairman of the Board of Elders and he passes it on to me at one of our meetings or in my mail box at church. I can’t remember an issue that didn’t mention Father Richard John Neuhaus in some way, shape or form and the September 27 edition with the article “Long History of Apathy in LCMS” was no exception.

Even contributors to John the Steadfast had nothing but high praise for Neuhaus. (Page 5)

I beg to differ on this. Here is the article I remember from www.steadfastlutherans.org in the wake of Neuhaus’ death. Read it, it is hardly high praise. (There was a Lutheran hero of the faith that died in the last week of 2008 and it wasn’t Neuhaus. Praise be to God that Lutheran Bishops in war torn African countries have something far greater than fame as their reward…..although unlike Neuhaus they may leave a wife and several children behind.)

Back to the topic at hand, queue David Bowie, FAME! Father Richard John Neuhaus may be the most famous Lutheran who wasn’t Lutheran in the last 30 years. I admit to “consuming” media that involved him: EWTN, First Things, various appearances on talk shows, etc. In a world of talking heads, I found that his was one I could relate to. Every once in a while, I could delude myself into thinking, “Hey, he is still a child of the Reformation.” These thoughts were fleeting however, mostly because Neuhaus himself would find a way to ruin the warm and fuzzy ecumenical moment through some kind or errant or ambiguous doctrinal statement.

Neuhaus raises a nagging question in the back of my mind that is always there: What qualities did the ex-Lutheran Neuhaus have, that made him famous, that are lacking amongst the more well known adherents to authentic Lutheranism? Please note that I know the question is horribly flawed for numerous reasons – the greatest of which is that fame is straw in terms of biblical building material.

Neuhaus had a sort of intellectual flair that translates well on TV and radio. True, but tune in to Issues, Etc. any day of the week and you will hear those with equal intellect and greater charisma.

Neuhaus gained notoriety by being a good swimmer. Ever been to the Tiber? It’s not that big, or swift or deep. Other people swam the same river or the Bosphorus, also highly intellectual and in previous times more Confessional than Neuhaus. In the case I know best, the man who is now an Orthodox priest is arguably less well known than when he was Lutheran.

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. I think this is probably the reason. In his life journey, he went from LCMS, to the ALC/ELCA and then to Rome – so, conservative, liberal then ….other. He was at the Rockford Institute, made his own institute and published his own works. He was associated with clergy outside of Christianity. These broad associations and experiences established the connections to make fame possible.

In short the Neuhaus equation for fame looks something like this: Who you know(Intellect+Swimming Ability)=Mainstream Fame. Let’s test the hypothesis and use the Father Richard John Neuhaus equation to make a Confessional Lutheran Media Darling!

Intellect: If one wanted to try and create a Confessional Lutheran Media Darling, I think we have the market cornered on intellect. One could take pictures of all the well known Confessionals out there, put them on a wall, throw a dart and hit someone with enough mental wherewithal to go toe to toe with the best eggheads out there.

Who you know: I don’t have a social networking diagram on said wall of well known Confessionals, so I am not sure who knows whom, but I bet one could narrow the wall of Confessional pictures down to some people who have high Social Networking Potential. Social Networking Potential measures the ability of an individual to impact the thinking and opinion of a group. As a result of knowing people who know people who can get one access to other people who control influential media outlets, one could potentially get one’s message out into the public square – be it naked or clothed. Bottom line – the wall of well known Confessional Lutherans gets narrowed down to 3 feet by 3 feet, but there is definitely potential there.

Swimming Ability: There is a legend, and this is maybe completely false and fabricated, that there was once a prince of a very small Germanic land, who was a Calvinist and wanted to root out Confessional Lutheran clergy from his state churches. It was a small state and he called all of the clergy out to a dock at the port. He lined them up on the edge of the dock and his soldiers pushed them in. He could tell right away who was Confessional, because they sank and couldn’t swim. Swimming is not in the Confessional DNA, so the equation must be changed.

Neuhaus’ Tiber swim was just a critical event that gave him just enough attention to make the equation work. So let’s try the equation like this:

Critical Event (Intellect+ Who you know)=Mainstream Fame(?)

Critical Event: Ouch…..Aside from the misuse of the term that we have seen over the last few years, what are the Critical Events in the Confessional’s life – or the Objective Ordering of Confessional Lutheran Priorities: 1. Baptism. 2. What happens every Lord’s Day and Feast Day – Forgiveness, the Word is preached and the Body and Blood of Christ are administered. 3. Miscellaneous Noteworthy Stuff.

The whole problem of fame in the Confessional Lutheran’s life is that all the Miscellaneous Noteworthy Stuff is relegated to spot 3. If it is good, praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost! If it is bad, repeat Critical Event number 2. Childbirth starts immediately at number 1, of course!

Being famous requires one to take Number 3, or Miscellaneous Noteworthy Stuff and push it into positions 1 or 2 in order to get Social Networks to notice so that one can impress the larger Social Network through controlled media outlets!  The equation works, if one is willing to break with the Objective Ordering of Confessional Lutheran Priorities! This isn’t too promising……

At times I have wondered if it would be worth it to gain notoriety for Confessional Lutheranism by finding a Hollywood star who could Tweet about receiving Absolution or about hearing an awesome Law and Gospel sermon and have this broadcast to 100,000 fans of said star. Said star would probably lack intellect, but they would have the Network baby, yeah!

This may not break the Objective Ordering of Confessional Lutheran Priorities, but it just seems kind of cheesy. Said star would probably get pulled over for drunk driving, insult the officer and bring disrepute on Lutheranism. What?!? A famous catholic did that already?

Seems kind of hopeless. I better go repeat Confessional Lutheran Priority number 2.

First things first…..

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