Lutherans Today: American Lutheran Identity in the Twenty-First Century

Lutherans Today: American Lutheran Identity in the Twenty-First Century

Lutherans Today: American Lutheran Identity in the Twenty-First Century

Lutherans Today: American Lutheran Identity in the Twenty-First Century

Synopsis

In the middle of the twentieth century, American Lutherans were newsworthy enough to find themselves on the cover of Time magazine. Their claim to fame? In an era when American churches were beginning to look and act alike, Lutherans' strong confessional nature and stress on theology as well as their liturgy and ethnicity set them apart. They were "Protestants with a difference" at a time when differences were supposed to be dissolving in the American melting pot.

Subsequent years have posed serious questions to Lutheran identity, as disputes about the true nature of Lutheranism and the meaning of the Lutheran confessions, the structure of ministry, ecumenism, sexuality, and multiculturalism have all left their mark on Lutheran denominations. In Lutherans Today several historians, social scientists, journalists, and other leading experts map out the place of Lutheranism in the landscape of contemporary American Christianity and explore the directions in which it is heading in the new millennium.

Presenting new and original research, the book is divided into two sections. The first examines change and movements within American Lutheranism. Distinguished church historian Mark Noll here sets the scene by arguing that the predicament of American Lutheranism has always been the struggle to remain faithful to the enduring witness of the European Reformation while also accommodating itself to the democratic pluralism of the New World. Six other chapters discuss the Missouri Synod, the "Lutheran Left," the Called to Common Mission agreement, the evangelical catholic movement within Lutheranism, the rise of "megachurches," and Lutheran charismatics.

The second section considers trends and issues related to Lutheran identity, including politics and the pastorate, the impact of immigration and multiculturalism, the loss of Lutheran identity at Lutheran colleges and universities, and conflicting patterns of commitment among Lutheran youth.

As a whole, Lutherans Today will be valuable not only to all Lutherans but also to those interested in the development and current state of religious life in America.

Excerpt

In 1958 American Lutherans were newsworthy enough to find themselves on the cover of Time magazine. They had not done anything sensational, but they stood out in an era when American churches of different denominations were beginning to look and act alike as they moved to suburbia and assimilated to mainstream America. Lutherans were influenced by the same forces, but their strong confessional nature, with a stress on theology rather than practical Christian living, as well as their liturgy and ethnicity, set this tradition apart from other Protestants, suggesting a promising future. They were Protestants with a difference at a time when differences were supposed to be dissolving in the American melting pot.

Whether or not the 1950s was a golden age for American Lutheranism, there is the wide perception that the years that have followed are posing serious questions to Lutheran identity. Disputes and concerns about the true nature of Lutheranism and the meaning of the confessions in the United States have raged since the descendants of the Reformation came ashore nearly four hundred years ago. But in the current period of cultural and religious pluralism, the need for traditions and institutions to understand themselves and the routes they should take in the future becomes more pressing. In fact, the pitched battles over sexuality, the structure of ministry, ecumenism, and multiculturalism that have rocked Lutheranism in recent years all touch on the central question of identity.

1. Time magazine, April 7, 1958; Forum Letter, April 25, 1987.

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