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…..

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord, LCMSsermons.com, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at KNFA.net.


Fame and Confessional Lutheranism, by Jon Townsend — 8 Comments

  1. “…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?…”

    There may be more to the answer to that than just intellect, swimming ability, and who-you-know. If the evangelicals (whatever that term means nowadays) actually valued the confession of the gospel that used to make one a proper evangelical, then RJN’s death would be noted as a significant event, a personal loss to those who knew him, and a loss to soc-con movements, but it’s more than that to “the evangelicals.” The evangelical reaction to RJN’s death signals that what matters to “the evangelicals” is not “the evangel” but social-cultural influence and power.

  2. Jon,

    Good post.

    But it only shows that THE most important events on earth (faithful preaching, teaching, and reception of the sacraments) go completely unnoticed and uncelebrated… except by the angels in heaven and those on earth who know where the real headlines are.


  3. Father Neuhaus”s problem, if anything, was that he was to intellectual for his own good. Coming as he did from Pembroke, Ontario, Canada, where I also hail from, he grew up in a staunch confessional atmosphere where his father, an Lcms Minister at St John”s Lutheran Church in the Town of Pembroke, brooked no foolishness as to Lutheranism and what that word meant.

    I fear much of his aberrations concerning the faith were due to, perceived or otherwise, his father”s bullish approach to the faith, which is no judgment on his father”s faith at all.

    Richard John Neuhaus went from the historic faith he was brought up in to the marshes of Fanaticism in the ELCA and then to the apostate church of the Council of Trent, where Roman Catholicism codified it”s confessional character over against the historic faith as confessed in the Lutheran Confessions, by pronouncing a curse. anathema, upon Christ”s true Person and work on the cross,i.e., that we are justified by the forensic declaration of forgiveness without any works to the contrary.

    He knew the truth and yet settled for the Pope as his infallible rule of faith instead of the Word of God. If this was not a Magisterial use of his intellect and reason, what would be.

  4. HAVING AN ORTHODOX LUTHERAN RETURN TO THE VOMIT OF ROME IS NOTHING TO CELEBRATE. Jesus plus is no Savior at all. Who knows where Neuhaus now resides. very very sad.

  5. And all this coming from a Synod that allows laymen [vicars, lay ministers, etc.] to (try to) consecrate the Eucharist. Jesus said, “take the log out of your own eye…”. Lord have mercy.

  6. Fr. Daniel:
    I would never agree with an uncalled and unordained man consecrating the Eucharist. I would not commune in this case. I don’t think it is a valid Eucharist in such a case.

    This is not the question.

    Discuss whether the priorities I have stated are right or wrong. Baptism. The Divine Service. Everything Else.

    I maintain that Neuhaus’ body of work is not in line with these priorities.

  7. Fr. Daniel :And all this coming from a Synod that allows laymen [vicars, lay ministers, etc.] to (try to) consecrate the Eucharist. Jesus said, “take the log out of your own eye…”. Lord have mercy.

    The Catholics call them Eucharistic Ministers. Men and gasp Women, even well revered Catholic High School students have been dubbed with this title in our fair city.

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