I am not a good Lutheran. I have only been around reformation theology for a few years. I have trouble articulating why my son was baptized in a Lutheran church. I am terrible at exegesis. I fumble through discussions about the third use of the law, trying my hardest not to sound like an antinomian. In general, I know more about the history of various cults than the history of the Church, let alone the Reformation. I don’t know everything about the Augsburg Confession. And lastly, my wife and I have yet to find a Lutheran assembly to call our home. It is no wonder that I often wonder if I should even consider myself Lutheran at all. Hey! But I did see (and quite enjoy) the 2003 historical drama and motion picture, Luther! That has to count for something.
My denominational mid-life crisis is most obvious when I am interrogated by a family member, friend, or fellow inhabitant of the Bible Belt. Having grown up in evangelicalism with ties to N.A.R. charismania, I feel as though I have a Spiderman-like sense for heretical or otherwise dangerous teaching. This superpower does me no good, however, when my interviewers want to know why I think they may have been exposed to dangerous teaching. As it turns out, it is a bad idea to have lengthy doctrinal arguments solely based on a premonition. Likewise, they expect my answers to their questions about paedobaptism, sanctification, and the Law-Gospel distinction to be scholarly and reasonable. Instead, I use the little theological terminology that I know to sound smart enough to get by, but really, I am only flexing my expertise in bovine scatology.
I think it is clear that I am not a theologian or pastor, and although I am a somewhat confused Lutheran, there is one thing I am not puzzled by; The Gospel. Articulating the Gospel is easy for me, it is the one theological idea that is the least confusing to me. God is holy and has issued death to those who are not. I sinned, am sinning, and will sin. Therefore, I will be destroyed by death. Christ is God and lived a holy life. He was destroyed and died on my behalf. God has forgotten my lifetime of sins in remembrance of Christ. By the grace of God, I believe these truths and am baptized. Therefore, I am holy and will not be destroyed by death. Short, sweet, and profoundly deep.
I need the Gospel. I need it for my salvation. I need to be reminded of my sin, of Christ’s death, and of my baptism. This Gospel is reminded unto me every time I witness a baptism, partake of the Lord’s Supper, or recite the Lord’s prayer. When I hear the Gospel preached in clarity, prefixed by rightly handled Law, I am often brought to tears of joy and freedom. When absolution is pronounced over me by my friends, pastor, or wife, I am lightened and feel free to confess. When I hear of the freedom we now have in the Christ, I often feel it is okay to be socially awkward by proselytizing strangers to join my Gospel friends around a good beer.
My neighbor needs the Gospel too. It seems that no matter which Starbucks I go to in the Bible Belt, a Christian coffee conversation can always be heard containing either heartbreaking captivity to sin and doubt or annoyingly deceptive self-righteousness. I was on both sides of that table for over ten years, and looking back, I wish the Gospel as I know it today would have been discussed instead. The Gospel is found in Christ, the living Word, and through it being spoken aloud in those coffee shops (and hopefully in their churches), my neighbor may come to faith or have their faith strengthened.
You may think I am a bad Lutheran. You may even think I am a worse writer. I may not be able to give cross-references defending the cessation of direct revelation or the importance of monergism. I cannot exegete the entire Old Testament as Chad Bird can, but I can exegete John 3:16, Romans 6:23 and 1 Timothy 1:15. I know what Christ's forgiveness is and that I need it. I know that my neighbor needs it as well. In this way, I feel like a theological Forest Gump. I may not be a smart man, but I know what the Gospel is.