Theology That Loves People

As the North American church tries to find her bearings amid our postmodern and post-Christian context, many voices have been clamoring for attention. Some of them have helpful things to say and some of them not so much. One continual critique about the church today is that she has lost her sense of purpose and mission. Consequently, there are masses of books and authors, along with pastors and preachers in North America who have sought to help reorient the church to what they say her real purpose and mission is all about.

Rick Warren has much to say about the purpose of the church, as does C. Peter Wagner and Brian McLaren, not to mention Kevin DeYoung, Mark Driscoll, Bill Hybels, and Rob Bell, just to name a few of the more high profile North American voices. However, the interesting thing is that many, including those noted above, are not in full agreement with the various new movements or proposals of what the church is to be, what it is to do, and what it is to look like. From “Church Growth” and “Seeker Sensitive to “postmodern” and “missional minded,” to being “emerging,” “emergent” or “conversant,” to the slogans of the so-called Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) and Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) there has resulted a great confusion about the mission and purpose of the church.

That this is also true among (LCMS) Lutheran congregations can be noted in the wide variety of congregations embracing one, all, or none of the above emphases as that which defines their mission and ministry. Curious, is that even in these confusing times, LCMS Lutherans have a historic and unchanging understanding of the mission and purpose of the Holy Christian Church present in her confessional documents, which has at times seemingly been disregarded for one of the trends above: “The church is the assembly of saints in which the gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly” (AC VII, Concerning the Church).

This is not to say that what the above authors have to say is all bad and all wrong. Rather, as much as each respective author or pastor might have to say, what must be acknowledged, at least if we are being honest, is that each one of them has a particular theology that drives their understanding about the purpose of the church. Even a disenfranchised Christian who says, “I don’t care about theology or what church you come from. I just want to love people for Jesus,” is still driven by a theology, whether they realize it or not. Consequently, it becomes odd, or at least curious, why it is Lutherans have been sucked into the Great Confusion. What is it about our confession of faith that has caused pastors and parishioners to abandon it?

Perhaps it is the caricature that many in the LCMS have a tendency to love theology more than people. To be sure, this is a fair criticism toward any sinful individual (as we all are) who might lack tact or love for a neighbor, fellow Christian, or unbeliever. However, that in and of itself is not then reason to abandon our theology, for it is not the fault of the theology that someone is rude, unkind, or hurtful. It is the fault of their sinfulness!

The irony is that Lutheran theology is bold to confess this reality, along with its remedy—the unconditional and irreversible love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, given in its oral and sacramental forms. And what is so grand is that Lutheran theology is bold to say, “This is for you, dear sinner.” Thus, it seems to me that Lutheran theology is especially needed and relevant precisely because it is a theology that so passionately loves people!

As this blog aims to foster collegial, honest, and candid dialogue about our Lutheran theology and the mission of the Holy Christian Church in the 21st century, and for those who are willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts and reactions.


Rev. Woodford


7 responses to “Theology That Loves People

  1. Nicely stated. I am continually amazed at how self-described confessional Lutherans indiscriminately have bought into the idea of “the Great Commission”, missionalism, emergent church, etc, etc. It is as if they have forgotten the Small Catechism explanation of the third article of the Creed, not to mention AC VII, XIV, XXIV, etc., etc. What is even more distressing than seeing individual Christians and even pastors falling into this trap is seeing this occuring at the level of entire circuits, districts, educational institutions and the like. I pray your blog will help us all address these issues and discuss them honestly.

    • Pastor Kind,
      Thank you for your post. I do hope to address the majority of your points in a more detailed manner as we progress in the various dialogues on this site.


      Rev. Woodford

  2. Rev. Kevin Jennings

    Good morning, Pastor Woodford! I apologize for ascribing another post of yours to Pastor Senkbeil. My mistake. Sir, won’t happen again, sir!

    Pastor Kind, as one who somewhat bought into a lot of this stuff in the past and since repented (and really has tired of being force fed a lot of it), you’ve hit the nail on the head. If we step back and look objectively at the church in terms of models, several things become apparent. I’d also add that each model would need to be asked a question: “What are you trying to do?” The model given by Holy Scripture and rehearsed in the Confessions is one that generally cares about people. It proclaims a message of repentance and forgiveness of sins (see Luke 24), and thus points them away from their sin and to their crucified, living, ascended Lord Jesus Christ.

    Once again, stepping back and looking objectively at the Church in terms of models, what becomes apparent is that anything short of the model constructed by our Lord in Holy Scripture is a model fashioned and constructed by the world, with the Church sort of “shoe horned” into it. Whether the model is based on pure organizational theory or sales techniques or modern marketing principles (don’t laugh – I’ve asked a marketing professor about this), the grave danger is that the message of repentance and faith is supplanted by a message of empowerment, reaching potential, or something else. The sinner isn’t called to die, but to be coached, retooled, or just to get a little tweeking. Consequently, the Jesus proclaimed in these models is reshaped so He doesn’t quite look like the Jesus of the Bible.

    The illustration I use in Bible class is a child and a hot stove. The loving parent is not the permissive one, but the one who turns the child (repentance) away from what is harmful. To focus anywhere other than repentance and faith, which I dare say should be the goal of sermons, is really not loving at all, for it does not call people away from sin. As Pastor Woodford so rightly states, Lutheran theology loves people because it calls them to repentance and faith in Christ.

    God bless!

  3. “Rick Warren has much to say about the purpose of the church, as does C. Peter Wagner and Brian McLaren, not to mention Kevin DeYoung, Mark Driscoll, Bill Hybels, and Rob Bell, just to name a few of the more high profile North American voices.”

    Are you serious? I’m just asking. I thought confessional lutherans would consider guys like Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, C Peter Wagner, Rob Bell, and Brian McLaren apostate. It’s just a question.

    • Thanks for your question Bill,

      I was not specifically endorsing what any of these gentlemen were and are saying. I will acknowledge they may have some thoughtful things to say from time to time. But my larger point was to demonstrate that first, there is not agreement even among the latest church movement’s leaders, and second, that each individual will have a particular theology to which they (implicitly or explicitly) subscribe to within that movement. In short, you are correct that confessional Lutherans do not subscribe to the theology of these individuals. In fact, some of it can be quite antithetical to Lutheran theology. However, I would suggest that does not mean we cannot read what they have to say and interact with it in a respectful and honest way. I tend to be one who likes to keep up on the theological trends of the day and then compare them to how confessional Lutheran theology addresses the context of today.


      Rev. Woodford

  4. Hey there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this page to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

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