Because I've been a runner for 35 years there appear to be, according to my doctor, some wear and tear on my middle aged body. A couple of physicals ago he observed that I am a "legal runner." By this comment he meant that my "pictures" show that I probably run against the traffic routinely and therefore my left foot is repeatedly striking on the curvature of the road that slips into the ditch. It is true; therefore, my hip and knee show the effects of being too far to one side.
I remember the grin on his face when he said, "Never quote me on this because if you get hit I'll be blamed for your accidental death. But living way out in the boonies as you do, you should run down the middle of the road where it is the flattest and most level. That is the most natural place for you to be because you aren't hanging off of one edge or the other."
It is, of course, the most dangerous place to travel. There is a rather high likelihood that one is going to collide with on-coming traffic, get hit from behind and thus be good ol' road kill. The middle of the road is the place of death and life, so it seems. As it is on the highway for the runner so it should be for the Lutheran church.
Lutherans cannot, by definition and pure identity, travel on the right or the left extreme edges. On the edge we find ourselves either in the ditch of relativism, reductionism, revisionism or the ditch of legalism and literalism. Neither fits with our confessions. The "isms" define the ditches and extreme edges, slippery slopes. Neither are "the way" traveled by Lutherans for 500 years.
"Radical Lutheranism" finds itself in the middle of the road--always in danger, always moving forward, always experiencing death--and dependent on daily divine resurrection. There are no fences to ride in the middle of the road. There is no "going with the flow" with the world or even the institutional churches that race by on our left and right.
"Radical Lutheranism" is not a catchy slogan or creative line that should be recklessly used. Radical Lutheranism takes deep discernment of its theological base and knowledge of and acknowledgment of the body of work of the fine theologian who coined the phrase. Dr. Gerhard Forde in his writings, sermons and lectures explored the radicality of God's grace revealed in Jesus Christ and how the chief article (Article IV of the Augsburg Confession) on justification captured that good news. His life of teaching and preaching as a theologian of the cross left him in the very middle of the road--misunderstood by those on his left and his right.
Some continue to attack his understanding of the life of the forgiven Christian. Others use his words in a construct of antinomianism that is absolutely foreign to his understanding of the law and the Gospel. Too many times I have listened to the present presiding bishop of the ELCA misquote Dr. Forde and use this rich and descriptive term "radical Lutheranism" as a cheer to rally the gathered to be more inclusive and reckless in their ministry to all. I don't recall his relating it at all to repentance. I can't remember his mentioning the reality of sin and the need for forgiveness. I just remember thinking as I heard his eloquent speeches, "Was he saying that when Jesus died on the cross with arms outstretched it was a big group hug for everybody so 'don't worry, be happy'?"
There was nothing "radical" about what the presiding bishop said by way of "conviction of the heart," only radical in how extremely un-Lutheran this ideology really was. I intentionally use "ideology" not "theology" because theology is about God and ideology is about a concept.
When any person stands in authority over the Word in order to interpret it rather than prostrates oneself under the authority of the Word so that the Word interprets the sinner then the radicality of the Lutheran Christian message is lost. Perhaps that is why our Lutheran Christian birthright is so easily frittered away these days or apologized for in attempts to be more appealing, contemporary or ecumenical.
Radical Lutherans live not on the fence or in the ditch but travel on the centerline. Too often we are road kill under the careening wheels of contemporary thoughts and ideals and agendas, but the centerline it is--for life and for death and for life again as the repentant, forgiven, radical Lutherans we are called to be.
Traveling mercies and Godspeed to you all.