From the LCA Hermeneutics Symposium – an extract from Prof. Kit Kleinhans

03 Jul

Kit Kleinhans – professor of religion and department chair, Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa

Professor Kit Kleinhans, from the ELCA, was one of the guests invited to speak at the LCA Hermeneutics Symposium in the Barossa Valley, October 2011.  The following, with permission, is extracted from her presentation.  It was published in the Lutheran Theological Journal, May 2012.

It is precisely in the process of interpreting and applying our Lutheran confessional heritage in new contexts that reason and experience play a role, not as external sources sitting in judgement over the Scriptures and the Confessions but as important resources for us in our theological work.  Luther himself did not exclude the legitimate use of reason and experience in interpreting the Scriptures.  Luther’s appeal at the Diet of Worms in 1521 to ‘scripture or clear reason’ is not an isolated instance but a recurring reference in his writings.  Luther does not acknowledge reason as an independent authority equal to the Scriptures.  Rather, his point is that Christian teaching need not be found verbatim in the Scriptures but can be arrived at by rational deduction from the Scriptures (homoousios being a case in point). I think this approach is appropriate for the Confessions as well.  Reason, while never in and of itself a warrant for doctrine, is useful – even essential – in the interpretation and application of the Scriptures and Confessions in new contexts.

Lutherans will not always agree with each other.  Thus one of the core points of the Confessions for the global Lutheran communion is the satis est of Augsburg Confession VII.  Except for those times when an issue rises to the level of status confessionis, different interpretations need not signify a loss of our heritage or a rejection or diminution of our commitments to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.  Rather, new interpretations and applications can be profound embodiments of the Lutheran heritage in new and changing contexts.

‘The law says “Do this,” and it is never done’. For the sinner, this is a word of judgement.  Let me suggest that for the church as an institution, as an ‘earthen vessel’, this may be understood as a word of encouragement.  The Lutheran church is not finished yet. God is not finished with the Lutheran church yet.  As American practical theologian Loren Mean puts it, ‘God is always calling us to be more than we have been’. The question is not “What would Jesus do?’  That we already know from the cross.  The question rather is ‘What would Jesus have us do in order that the good news be heard and that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven?’

I close with the words of the hymn writer Fred Pratt Green:

“The church of Christ in ev’ry age, beset by change but Spirit led,
“Must claim and test its heritage and keep on rising from the dead.

Reference: The complete presentation by Kit Klein .pdf

1 Comment

Posted by on July 3, 2012 in Hermeneutics, theology


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One response to “From the LCA Hermeneutics Symposium – an extract from Prof. Kit Kleinhans

  1. Beach Martin (Korean word order)

    July 7, 2012 at 11:05 pm

    At least the Editor of LTJ is onside, or at least not offside enough to prevent the publication of this little gem.

    I’m also a little concerned that some of the articles published in this blog are perhaps a little too strident to influence the uncommitted “swinging” voters or perhaps those who are overwhelmed by the small 180 yrs of tradition that our LCA has managed to build up since 1838. I’d like to repeat what I said a few yrs ago in an earlier response, perhaps I can say it more kindly now.

    The powers that be, the gerontocracy if you like are scared of losing their stranglehold on “power” as far as it can be said that church leaders exercise power. I recall an article Vic Pfitzner wrote in Lutheran Student in the late 70’s. His main point (as far as I recall) was that God ultimately has authority, so it doesn’t matter too much what our church leaders do as far as the big picture of the Kingdom of God is concerned. One could even say I guess, that their authority is directly related to the specific traditions of our LCA. They claim authority from God, though perhaps this is only between the lines of what they say. They understand the letter of the law very well, but seem to be a little lacking in their understanding of the spirit of the law.

    This reminds me of an encyclical from the AFL when I was umpiring, that Umpires need also to consider the spirit of the AFL rules in making their decisions. What they meant, was don’t clog the game with a spate of unnecessary penalties, unless the game is getting out of control. It was important not to damage the spectacular nature of the game.

    In the same way, we need to leave room for the Holy Spirit to do her work among the hard of heart & stiff necked types. We can all be stubborn & stiffnecked. We don’t want to be a skandalon (stumbling block) for these guys. Rather we can pray “Father forgive these guys for the hurt & pain they cause to those of another gender who feel a calling to ministry.” I leave out the last part of that quote from Jesus on the cross, because who am I to say “they know not what they do.” They might not know or thaey might not, but sometimes I do stupid things too. So I leave them to the mercy of God.

    Yet this still comes across as arrogance & will be quickly and rightly dismissed by the lovers of the status quo, just as we rightly dismiss some of their declarations (for want of a better word). There is no room for black & white thinking here. Let’s remember that these guys are also our brothers, & I don’t think they should be excommunicated for their intransigence. They are strongly convinced they are right as we are strongly conviced we are.

    Thankfully God’s heart is bigger than that of either of our tending to be exclusivist positions. I always feel thankful that at least most of the LCA has moved on from the fear of being defiled by drinking from the same cup as a woman who might currently be menstruating. And I should remind you that LCA is probly more likely to ordain women before the LCKorea.
    But who knows, there’s a strong possibility of a woman president being elected in Korea on Dec 19. What a nice birthday present that would be for Ricky Ponting & me! She’s the daughter of the notorious (in Western Countries) Park Cheong Hee (Pres 1961-79).

    Perhaps we could do worse than make a plea on the floor of the synod that delegates consider the spirit of the law before they prayerfully cast their votes.


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