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Saturday, June 9, 2012

2 out of 7: LC-MS low score on Walther (Part 3 of 7 - MacKenzie)

This post continues the series of commentaries on the 7 essays from the 2011 Concordia Theological Quarterly "celebrating" the Bicentennial of the birth of C.F.W. Walther.  See the table of contents for the full listing.


This series is getting tiresome for me and this essay does nothing to relieve my pain over today's LC-MS.   Professor MacKenzie starts out seemingly well by saying (page 254):
No matter the issue, no matter the time, Walther looked to Luther. On one occasion, a friend tried to call him "the American Luther"...
Are you a friend of Walther, Prof. MacKenzie?  Let's see...    MacKenzie goes on to make the following statement (page 254-255)
Anyone who has read just a little bit of Walther knows that his theological method routinely involved citations from Luther on doctrinal issues.  But why?  And was Walther true to Luther when he cited him? 
Hmmm...  why would MacKenzie raise these questions?  He goes on (page 262):
[Walther] carefully avoided any reference to sinful indulgence or weakness.  In 1867, Walther insisted that Lutherans have every reason to praise the person of Luther in response to the slanders of the papists and then went on to offer a description of someone who was virtually flawless.  ... There is not a hint of any weakness or character flaw ... [in Walther's description] Luther is extraordinarily brave, talented, and faithful – a real hero in Church history.
Flawless?  Weakness?  Character flaw?  What are you getting at MacKenzie?  Are you praising Walther and Luther... or are you questioning them?  Are you setting up to be their judge?  We find our answer in the many quotes that follow:
  • (page 263) ...it seems reasonable also at least to acknowledge Luther's sinfulness. Luther did, but not Walther. 
  • (page 264) ...Walther did not conceive that Luther ever actually did get it [Christian doctrine] wrong
  • (page 266) ... Did Walther understand Luther correctly and apply him fairly? The answer is ... not always to both of those questions – understanding and application. 
  • (page 266-267) ... one must readily acknowledge that Walther did not always raise the same questions regarding Luther as our contemporaries do.  For example, in his discussion of justification by faith, Walther does not consider whether Luther believed that faith effected a "union with Christ." ... 
  • (page 267) ... [Walther] has not probed into Luther's doctrine as deeply as we might like today. 
  • (page 267) ... it is more interesting to analyze the instances in which Walther was wrong about Luther.  
Ok, Herr Prof. MacKenzie!  Let's hear what the great judge of Walther and Luther has to say!


MacKenzie Point 1
  • (page 268) Clearly, Walther understands "gospel" in the Ninety-five Theses as Luther and Lutherans later defined it; many of us today would be hesitant to understand the theses in a similar manner.  But Walther's "mistake" – if we can call it that – arose out of a misunderstanding of Luther's biography.  For Walther, Luther had come to a correct understanding of justification by faith before the Indulgence Controversy.  Already at the time of his pil­grimage to Rome when he climbed to the top of Pilate's stairway, he heard a voice resounding in his head, "The just shall live by faith." That Luther came to his new understanding of the gospel at that time or shortly there­after was a commonplace in Luther biographies at the time...
Strike 1: Walther misunderstood Luther's 95 Theses (and his Doctrine of Objective Justification?) and Luther's life.

MacKenzie Point 2
  • (page 269) A second error in Walther's citing of Luther is more serious but quite understandable also. Walther is concerned to shield Luther from the charge of Calvinism, especially with respect to the Bondage of the Will. On the one hand, Walther knows that Luther thought this one of his best 
  • Walther gave a qu
  • (page 270 ...[Walther's quote of Luther] is also somewhat misleading, for it contains an ellipsis of over 40 lines (in the Walch edition to which the Proceedings refer) that qualifies greatly what Luther is saying. Walther has omitted the reformer's statements regarding the hidden will of God that is very different from the revealed will. So, for example, Walther has omitted this statement, "But God hidden in his majesty neither deplores nor takes away death, but works life, death, and all in all," and this one, "God does many things that he does not disclose to us in his word; he also wills many things which he does not disclose himself as willing in his word. Thus, he does not will the death of a sinner, according to his word, but he wills it according to that inscrutable will of his." ...
  • (page 270) ...Walther's citation from Luther in this instance is not a sufficient representation of what the reformer actually said. Walther omitted the evidence that did not immediately confirm Walther's own position.

Strike 2: Walther misunderstood Luther in his major treatise Bondage of the Will where Luther, according to MacKenzie, apparently exhibited Calvinism.  And Walther is guilty of omitting key statements of Luther...

MacKenzie Point 3
  • (page 271) In one other matter, Walther also skews evidence from Luther in order to draw a conclusion that Walther prefers but that is not exactly the same as Luther's position, and that has to do with the separation of church and state
  • (page 272) Walther produces many passages from Luther to the effect that government has authority in temporal matters only, not spiritual. The only problem with this approach is that Walther suppresses the evidence that shows just how broad was Luther's understanding of "temporal."   [MacKenzie produces 2 instances of what he judges as inconsistencies in Luther on the doctrine of separation of church and state – Commentary on Psalm 82 and the preface to the Small Catechism.
  • (page 272-273) ... [Walther] should have known that Luther's position on the role of the godly prince in the affairs of the Church was considerably greater than he made it seem in his essay.  Obviously, Walther was willing to see errors in later Lutherans, but not in Luther himself – if in fact, it was Luther who was wrong and not Walther.  (MacKenzie: take your pick – Walther or Luther, but both cannot be right!)
  • (page 273) ... we can see the weaknesses of Walther's approach to Luther's doctrine.  ... Walther typically interprets it as "orthodox" even if that means glossing over some of the counter-evidence.  Similarly, with respect to Luther's biography, the life validates the doc­trine. Therefore, Walther overlooks or explains away what others might see as sinful. 

Strike 3: Walther misrepresented Luther in his teaching and inconsistencies of the doctrine of separation of church and state.

Wow, you're really smart Professor MacKenzie!  How hard you worked to find these "differences" between Walther and Luther, and the "inconsistencies" in Luther.  How wonderful to hear you say that Luther and Walther were not so great teachers and heroes, at least not infallible ones. How uplifting to hear of their "weaknesses" and "mistakes".  I don't know where my Christian faith would be without your outstanding research and scholarship!  Whew!  Now I can really celebrate Walther's Bicentennial!

But MacKenzie isn't finished yet... let's hear his grand finale:

(page 273) ... we can see the weaknesses of Walther's approach to Luther's doctrine.  ... Walther typically interprets it as "orthodox" even if that means glossing over some of the counter-evidence.  Similarly, with respect to Luther's biography, the life validates the doc­trine. Therefore, Walther overlooks or explains away what others might see as sinful.
     We do not do either of these things today.  We expect our heroes both to have weaknesses and to make mistakes – and they do. Martin Luther and oh, yes, C.F.W. Walther.  But Walther is long gone and so is his whole approach to Martin Luther as hero and infallible teacher. Nonetheless, Walther remains correct in the main things: Luther's doctrine is true because it is scriptural, and God used Luther mightily to recover the gospel. And also with Walther, I find it hard to comprehend how the Lutheran church can really remain Lutheran without a hearty dose of Martin Luther. 
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
As Chairman over the Department of Historical Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary, Professor MacKenzie should be the one to teach Historical Theology in a way that Franz Pieper spoke about when he described true Historical Theology:
Where things are as they should be, the Church will, therefore, elect only such men as professors of church history as are thoroughly conversant with the Scripture doctrine in all its parts, well informed in dogmatics, in order that the instruction in church history will not confuse but aid Christian understanding.
Unfortunately Professor MacKenzie's essay does confuse Christian understanding...  and shows his blindness in spiritual matters.

  • Luther is the Reformer
  • Luther, for the sake of the Word, defied pope and emperor 
  • Luther, for the sake of the Word, refused to accommodate Zwingli and the Reformed
  • Luther was extraordinarily brave, talented and faithful
  • Luther's 95 Theses did have at it's heart the Lutheran Doctrine of Justification (Objective!)
  • Luther never taught Calvinism
  • Luther always taught separation of church and state
  • Walther's Luther (not MacKenzie's) is the real Luther!
  • Luther is a real hero in Church history!
MacKenzie is no friend of Walther or Luther.  Dear Christian, don't be confused by the "Historical Theology" of Prof. Cameron MacKenzie, Ph.D., but go

Back To Luther!

Yes, today's LC-MS, your Professor MacKenzie said it well for you:
Walther is long gone and so is his whole approach to Martin Luther as hero...
I just wish MacKenzie had not nailed your coffin so tightly!
As an antidote to this poisonous essay of MacKenzie, read my series of 8 blog posts (starting here) on the real Luther that Pieper and Walther brought to life again. But some relief is on the way as the first of the 2 praiseworthy essays will be reviewed in my next Part 4 of this series of 7 essays.

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