It's Time to Turn and Face the Flag

No one grows up in America without some relationship to the flag. As a girl, I went to a private school where we all lined up by grade in neat rows for the Pledge of Allegiance. In sixth grade, I was part of the team that raised, lowered, and folded the flag gingerly, mindful to the point of anxiety about any part of it touching the ground. But my feeling regarding the flag had nothing to do with my feeling about God. It’s not supposed to. This essential truth is woven into the fabric of the promise of being an American: you don’t have to believe in God to be a good citizen. And being Christian does not make you a better or more important American than anyone else. 

The Philosophy of Bolshevism, Fascism, and Hitlerism, Parts I & II

Born in 1888 in the district of Senica, Samuel Štefan Osuský lived until 1975. He studied in the Lutheran Lýceum in Bratislava and at the theological seminary of the same church; he then studied in Germany at Erlangen and Jena from 1914 to 1916; he was awarded the PhD by the philosophy faculty of Charles University in Prague in 1922. He began to serve as a vicar in 1911, then as a pastor during the war years until 1919. He became an adjunct professor on the staff of the Lutheran seminary in Bratislava in 1919, a regular professor in 1920, and a full professor in 1933. He taught at the seminary until the Communist purge of the faculty in 1951, when he was prematurely retired. Osuský was elected one of two bishops of the Slovak Lutheran Church in 1933 and served in that capacity until 1946. He was imprisoned during the years of the First Slovak Republic for his opposition to the wartime fascist government, whose inhumane treatment of the Jews he protested alongside the leadership of his church in a public letter in 1942 during the time of the first deportation of Slovak Jews to Auschwitz.[1] Apart from responding to crises, Osuský’s many-sided academic work was focused on gathering philosophical, historical, and scientific resources for education in support of faith in the modern world; he conceived of this theological work as “a service to the nation,” lifting up the contributions of Slovak Lutherans to the formation of the first Czechoslovak Republic and its renewal after 1945. This work put him into conflict with the political Catholicism of the 1930s and 1940s as well as with the Stalinists who captured the government in 1948.

A Leap In The Dark (LF Summer 2019)

Karl Barth gave a nod to his publisher and close friend, Arthur Frey, in the preface to Church Dogmatics III/4. In 1937, and just before he completed volume I/2, the Nazis censored Barth from publishing his work with presses located on German soil. Forced to end his longstanding relationship with Christian Kaiser Verlag in Munich, Barth switched over to the Swiss press Evangelische Buchhandlung (later Evangelischer Verlag), which Frey piloted from before the war until his death in 1955.

Barth ended up publishing with the Swiss firm for the rest of his life, partnering with Frey on many of the remaining volumes of the Church Dogmatics (up to IV/2) and on numerous shorter books on various themes in Christian theology. “I do not think that there are many publishers,” Barth remarks in 1951, reflecting upon his years working with Frey, “who could have brought with them the understanding and the love, but also the skill and width of vision, which were necessary for something which more than once perhaps looked like a leap in the dark.”

Evangelical Hope Against Cultural Anxiety

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

—Jeremiah 29:11

The seductive siren’s call of societal decline is a preoccupation of conservative Americans, and so it is also a preoccupation of conservative American Lutherans. While the verse from Jeremiah above has been misapplied countless times to more trivial matters—and matters having nothing to do with the verse’s context at all—it is pertinent in an article that hopes to give hope from within Babylon. American Lutheran church bodies are in decline, and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod is no stranger to this phenomenon. As of this issue’s publication, we are just a year away from the results of another election for synod president, and just over a year away from another synod convention. No matter who you may support as synod president, the question at this point should be: what will be the hope-filled vision for the future of the LCMS?

The Holy Christian Memory

”The power of the memory is prodigious, my God. It is a vast, immeasurable sanctuary. Who can plumb its depths? And yet it is a faculty of my soul. Although it is part of my nature, I cannot understand all that I am.”
—St. Augustine

The ability to store and retrieve information is a mysterious and wonderful capacity with which human beings have been blessed. Augustine devotes several pages of his Confessions to pondering the mysteries of memory. Neuroscientists are only beginning to understand its inner workings.

The Wind Stirs Up The Leaves In All The Gardens: A Crown of Sonnets On the Fourteen Stations of the Cross

The way of the cross meditations take as their origin the stations of the cross piety of the Middle Ages from the close of the fourteenth century.  The tradition arose from a wish to have the Via Dolorosa in a closer environment where people, during the period before Easter, could undertake a pilgrimage along mountain paths, marked by pictures with motifs from Jesus’ way of sorrow. Soon it came to pass that there was a growth of stations and meaning in these images, with texts from the Bible mixed in with legends, and prayers and texts for meditating upon during the pilgrimage. 

The Unambiguous Cross and the Interconnectedness of All Things

In this issue we are excited to also be featuring the artwork of Alice Sielle. Ms. Sielle, of the United Kingdom, is an abstract painter by trade but will also do figurative work, “when the subject demands no ambiguity.”[1] There are few subjects that project less ambiguity than the crucified Christ.

To be sure, there has been plenty of interpretive hand-wringing over the meaning of the cross, but its method of torment for its subject is intentionally cruel. Its natural for us to pivot towards our favorite atonement theories in order to make sense of the cross, but we don’t seem just as quick to simply allow the horror of the cross to stay before our eyes. We have a habit of anesthetizing the cross when we turn the awe of its stunning inhumanity into a graduate school lecture (even if an advanced lecture). 

New Wine: The Art of Makoto Fujimura

Makoto Fujimura, the director of Culture Care Initiative at Fuller Seminary's Brehm Center, is an artist, writer, and speaker who is recognized worldwide as a cultural shaper. A presidential appointee to the National Council on the Arts from 2003-2009, Fujimura served as an international advocate for the arts, speaking with decision makers and advising governmental policies on the arts. In 2014, the American Academy of Religion named Makoto Fujimura as its “2014 Religion and the Arts” award recipient. He has had numerous museum exhibits including Tikotin Museum in Israel and the upcoming Gonzaga Museum. New York's Waterfall Mansion Gallery and Taipei's Artrue Gallery have had regular exhibits of his work. 

Review of "Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion And What To Do About It"

Author David Zahl is the founder of the Law-Gospel focused Mockingbird Ministries ( I’ve long been a reader of David Zahl. We initially were introduced over coffee some several Thursday mornings by the pastor for whom I was interning in New York City during the summer of 2009. Since that summer I have been a reader of both Zahl and the ministry he founded. There was a time when a Friday afternoon wouldn’t turn into Friday evening until I had read Zahl’s “Another Week Ends” column on his website. I subscribe to The Mockingbird quarterly journal he publishes and own several of his books. I  also annually attend the conference he runs through Mockingbird in New York City every April.

Book Review: At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl

Ever since I started the Hagiography project at Lutheran Forum I’ve been on the hunt for Lutheran saints, so it was inevitable that before long I’d stumble across Sophie Scholl and Hans Scholl, siblings beheaded by the Nazi regime for their resistance activities. Since Germans are on the whole a pretty good bet (whether as sixteenth-century reformers or twentieth-century resisters), I hoped they’d qualify.

Learning To Pray

A baby makes her entrance into this world needing to be held close, and then bathed, and then swaddled. She may have been handed from midwife to young assistant to father before she is at last embraced at her mother’s heart, a short distance from where she had been clothed in the perfect love of amniotic fluid, held in a holy suspension where every need was met by her creator, Who designed it all. Now in this world, we will hear her cry and soon see her reach out with arms flailing until her needs for comfort, sleep, and nourishment are met.

Curating Worship, Culture, and the Church

It has become common to think about worship styles as merely a matter of taste or preference, but I’m not sure that’s the best way to think about our worship. After all, most of the language we use to describe worship styles invites more questions than it answers. For example, take the common designations “contemporary” and “traditional.” Traditional? Which tradition do you mean? The historic liturgy? Which one and whose history? Contemporary? Contemporary compared to what? What happens when “contemporary worship” is a thirty-year-old movement? A closer look at recent trends in worship practice reveals that there are actually whole families of responses to contemporary global culture.

The Lord founded the Church upon truth and dedicated it to truth, both of the Law and of the Gospel (Exodus 20:6; John 14:6). It cannot thrive on falsehood. For this reason, practices such as mobbing are particularly damaging to churches and those who serve in them. In the past few days, knowledge of this devastating affliction in churches has grown considerably, which is simply the first step toward addressing the problem. Some of you are clamoring for more information. It’s coming—the persons stepping forward to report the widespread and devastating effects of mobbing are supplementing my over-long 10,000 word essay. I wrote about the Machine (this term was used by proponents in St. Louis). Others are describing similar practices from other parties in the synod. This is helpful for seeing the extent of the issue.

Mobbing: Organized Spiritual Abuse in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod

In 1987 a group of students sat together at the dining hall in Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, sharing stories about church life. One of the students described events at a congregation near his home. He set the story in the tense times surrounding the Walkout from Concordia Seminary (1974). Members of a congregation suspected their pastor of being a liberal/moderate. Instead of dealing with their concerns in a straightforward way, they began to antagonize their pastor by repeating certain clandestine activities. For example, when the pastor was not present, they would remove a rollaway pulpit and put it in a closet. They would enter his office to remove certain books from his library. When the pastor returned these items to where they should be, again and again members of the congregation would move them in an effort to confuse and discourage the pastor. As the student finished this story, those around the table wondered at the bizarre behavior of those in the congregation.

When, Why, and How to Baptize Mormons

I never planned on doubting Mormonism. But a crisis of faith arose anyway, spurred by the collision of my hypersensitive conscience with Mormonism’s high-demand, works-based theology. The Book of Mormon teaches that we are saved by grace “after all we can do” (II Nephi 25:12), a passage that is commonly interpreted to mean that we must perform our very best before God’s grace kicks in to make up for what we lack. By the time I reached my mid-twenties, I was in the throes of crippling despair over the realization that I would never be able to say I’d done “all” I could and incessantly anxious about the state of my eternal soul. But then something unexpected happened: I heard the gospel…

The Church and Happiness

Eleven and a half years ago, I introduced myself as the new editor of Lutheran Forum. In preparing to say words of farewell in this, my final issue, I re-read that article and discovered that I have been thinking the exact same thoughts all these years. I’m not sure whether I should be commended for fidelity to my vision or criticized for the narrowness of my range!

That first editorial was entitled “Church Breaks Your Heart”—and that was back in 2007. Since then, plenty of a heartbreaking nature has taken place in the church (locally, denominationally, ecumenically, globally), even more heartbreaking than I could have foreseen at the time. Meanwhile, our wider society appears to have entered into competition with the church to prove itself even more fractured, disputatious, and heartbreaking.

The Book of Esther and God Hidden and Revealed

I suppose the first thing to say about the book of Esther is that Martin Luther hated it. He absolutely hated it. He called Esther “less worthy of being held canonical” than any other writing of the Old Testament, and he put it on a list with II Maccabees for books that “Judaize too much and contain much pagan naughtiness. Luther may have been uniquely vocal and vitriolic on the matter, but he is far from alone among Esther’s critics, particularly her Christian ones. A robust treatment of Esther’s defects would surely include the book’s famed failure to mention the name of God or to recognize divine providence…

Putting the Advents Back into Advent

A serious misconception concerning Advent has taken hold among Lutherans. This misconception insists on seeing Advent as a season of preparation. In many churches we hear what we are supposed to do during Advent, rather than what God does for us in the past, present, and future advents (arrivals or comings) of Christ. Human actions have become the focal point. Whether phrased in inviting motivational language or harsher command language, listeners are told that they must “prepare” for the coming of Christ at Christmas and now have a wonderful opportunity (four weeks!) to do so. The preparatory works recommended may be psychological (clearing one’s mind of distractions) or spiritual (repentance, meditation, remembering, or “holy waiting”) or social (works for others, even helping others prepare for Christmas)…