Friday, August 12, 2005

Charles Porterfield Krauth on Christian Ecumenism

Josh S. and Dave H. have posted their frustration with the intellectual narrowness of many practicioners of confessional Lutheranism, who are not content simply to have a right guide on all the controversial questions in the Book of Concord, but to further claims to have in it and the writings of Luther and C.F.W. Walther the absolutely sole allowable framework for every aspect of the Christian life.

In my on-going series from the Conservative Reformation and Its Theology (full text here) by Dr. Krauth (picture here and biography here), he makes some interesting comment about Puritanism, that are relevant here. He is reviewing a book about the history of Christian theology by the New England theologian William Shedd, and criticizing him for his misrepresentation of Lutheranism. In the course of so doing, he remarks on the significance of a New England theologian, heir of the Puritans, writing a history of theology:

Much of Shedd's mode of thinking is certainly not the outgrowth of anything characteristic of New England. The attitude of the original extreme Puritanism to the history of the ancient Church, was very different from his. Puritanism, as separatism, had no history for it, and hence it repudiated history. It has lived long enough to have a history, to recede from its extreme positions, and to receive new elements of life; and Dr. Shedd's book is one among many evidences that Puritanism seeks a history, and begins to appreciate its value--the value not only of its own history, but of the history of the whole Church. After all the diversities and terrible internal strifes of the nominally Christian Church, there is not any great part of it that can safely ignore absolutely any other great part. Puritanism cannot say, even to Romanism, "I have no need of thee," still less can it say so to the grand portions of evangelical Protestantism. Dr. Shedd's book shows that he has escaped from many of the narrownesses which obscured the genuine glory of Puritanism, for genuine glory it has, and a great deal of it. No book of which we know, emanating from a New England mind, shows as much acquaintance as this book does with the character and weight of Lutheran theology.

Nevertheless . . . [and here he begins to rip Dr. Shedd to shreds]

(From The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1871, pp. 330-31.)

Once simply cannot imagine Dr. C.F.W. Walther writing this paragraph. Not only would Dr. Walther see absolutely no purpose in reviewing a book by an avowed non-Lutheran, he would hardly have risked the clear implication that confessional Lutheranism, like Puritanism, needs (in any sense) the other Christian traditions.

Dr. Krauth, while unquestionably a confessional Lutheran, was a leader in the Lutheran General Synod that is the ancestor of a main component of the ELCA today. So at the time, Dr. Walther and Dr. Krauth were not in communion, and presumably Dr. Walther viewed Dr. Krauth as someone willing to associate with non-confessional Lutherans, while Dr. Krauth perhaps saw Dr. Walther as promoting a narrow, sectarian version of Lutheranism. (That Dr. Krauth wrote in English and Dr. Walther solely in German undoubtedly kept them from engaging each other intellectually to any great degree.)

So we must ask, does the rot in the ELCA today prove that Dr. Krauth's intellectually open confessional Lutheranism was misguided from the beginning? Is the possibility of some future apostasy by our misguided intellectual descendants a price we must pay for an honest appreciation of the fullness of the Christian Church today? Or indeed was the ongoing apostasy of the ELCA not inevitable? Should it be laid not at the feet of the generation of Dr. Krauth, but at the irresponsible custodianship of his legacy by succeeding generations?

For a list of all my posts on Charles Porterfield Krauth, go here.

Originally posted at Here We Stand