National Lutheran News

Theologian says, “Don’t give away the store!”

George Forell

George Forell

George Forell spoke to WordAlone Network Assembly in November

A high-profile Lutheran theologian, retired following a distinguished teaching career in the School of Religion at the University of Iowa, told a Twin Cities audience on November 19 that Lutherans should not “give away the store” by diluting their theology through compromising ecumenical agreements with other churches.

Speaking to participants at a WordAlone Network conference in Mahtomedi, Minn-esota, Dr. George Forell said, “It’s worth being Lutheran, but not for the reasons too many people like to give — such as, ‘I’ve always been one’; ‘The church can entertain me’; ‘It makes you healthy, wealthy and wise’; or even ‘It gives us a platform for finding our way back to the Roman Catholic Church.’”

The reason for being Lutheran, he argued, is Lutheran theology. Lutherans, he argued, have a doctrinal system that is powerfully unique in Christianity. He enumerated several linchpin concepts which, he said, make Lutheran theology unusual, and without which Christian-ity beyond Lutheranism would be impoverished. He enumerated the following:

* A theology of the cross. Jesus’ death on the cross has changed everything, he said. Our lives are not the same when we interpret them in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

* A proper distinction between Law and Gospel. Forell said, “The Law (that which properly condemns us) is what makes us realize our sickness unto death. Without Law, the Gospel is emptied of its meaning.”

He said, “When the Twin Towers collapsed on Septem-ber 11, ‘Keep Smiling’ didn’t cut it. The Gospel, with its message of forgiveness and hope, is what people needed then, and need right now.”

* The concept of “sim-ultaneously righteous and sinful.” When we look at ourselves, he said, we are sinners. When we look at Christ, we are righteous. Both are true at the same time. This idea, he said, is a unique Lutheran contribution to the rest of the church. It teaches us hope and humility at the same time.

* The idea that “The finite contains the infinite.” One consequence of this Lutheran idea is that God can be truly present in bread and wine without obliterating the bread and wine. No other Christian community believes this. It also means God can be truly present in the Beth-lehem manger, and also in our sinful hearts.

* Martin Luther’s concept of Christian vocation. Lutherans believe we are all bearers of God’s presence, not just ordained people. Forell said, “Vocation has nothing to do with success and failure. It has to do with God’s working in our lives, whatever may happen.” He said, “You can be unemployed and have a vocation. And there is no age limit.”

He said, “If you forget how human the church is, you get Roman Catholicism.” He continued, “Rome’s current problems (with cover-ups, sex scandals, and a rigid hierarchy) are a direct result of their theology. Their disaster is that nobody can talk back to the leadership. Ordinary input is discouraged, if not forbidden.

“In Lutheran understanding,” he said, “bishops are fallible. Let’s not forget that.”

He told his listeners, “I think Lutherans should help the Roman Catholic Church, not by adopting its machinery, but by witnessing to the Gospel and the truth about justification (how God saves us, with no merit on our part).”

Also addressing the conference were Roy Harrisville, Steven Paulson, James Nestingen and Gracia Grindal.