In a world of information, when we learn good things from a number of sources, it is good to be pulled back to the reality of basic doctrinal beliefs. Such was my disappointing experience from reading this book. I cut my teeth on postmodernism ten years ago by reading Postmodern Times by Gene Veith and have learned much about art and culture by his writings. This book, however, is an eye-opening explanation of his Orthodox Lutheranism (Veith belongs to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the more conservative branch of Lutheranism) including his belief in the sacramental nature of grace.
Of the ordinances Veith writes, “Lutheran spirituality is a sacramental spirituality, centered in the conviction that the Holy Spirit actually descends in the waters of Baptism, and that Christ is really present in the bread and wine of Holy Communion” (p. 41). Of baptism Veith asks, “How can Lutherans say that a baptized baby is a Christian, that the child has been born again? . . . A distinctive Lutheran teaching about Baptism is that baptized infants do, in fact, have faith” (p. 43-44). Of the Lord’s Supper he writes, “Just as the Old Testament priests consecrated themselves with the blood of the sacrificial lamb, Christians receive Christ’s blood in the Lord’s Supper. And when Christ gives us His very body and blood in the bread and wine, He is really present, just as He is present in heaven and just as He was present to His disciples” (p. 111). Quoting the Confession of Absolution, the traditional Lutheran liturgy, Veith explains how Lutheran pastors can forgive sins, “Upon this your confession, I by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” (p. 84). He then adds, “Non-Lutherans are often shocked at the notion that the pastor forgives sin, but his ability to do so is simply the proclamation of the Gospel, his ability to ‘announce the grace of God’” (p. 84).
My point is, that we non-Lutherans (and non-Catholics, non-Protestants and non-Sacramentalists) need to be reminded that although we can read, enjoy and learn from writers of other denominations (I have learned much from Anglican C.S. Lewis, Catholic G.K. Chesterton, and even Neo-Orthodox Dietrich Bonhoeffer), we must not read uncritically nor naively sweep the doctrinal differences under the ecumenical rug. Let us continue to read and learn, but let us read with our Biblical and doctrinal eyes open.