Am I a Lutheran?

I once wrote a post explaining three reasons that I’m “almost a Lutheran.” But given how Amazon has categorized my latest book, I’m wondering if I need to drop the modifier.

Screen shot of The Pietist Option on Amazon

I know enough to know that being the “#1 Best Seller” in an Amazon subcategory doesn’t mean that I should start cashing my royalty checks. But I can’t help but notice that we’re faring best not in the general “Discipleship” or “Church History” categories, but in “Lutheran Christianity.” Since the book debuted last week, we’ve been right up there with the two Martins: Luther and Marty.

At first glance, this seems laughable. I’m not a Lutheran. Neither is my co-author. We’re both members of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Broadly speaking, we’re both evangelical Christians, writing for an evangelical publisher that is pitching the book primarily to evangelicals.

And yet…

The three Christians who show up most often in our index are three Lutheran pastors: Philipp Jakob Spener, August Hermann Francke, and Luther himself. At multiple points, we mention Spener’s assumption that — in launching the Pietist movement — he was simply repeating Luther’s ideas. (Especially the early Luther, who wrote of faith as “a living, busy, active, mighty thing” and speculated about the possibility of starting smaller groups outside of Sunday worship.) And we go on to quote 19th century Swedish revivalists like C.O. Rosenius and P.P. Waldenström, who never left the Lutheran state church in Sweden — and whose immigrant followers in America set up Lutheran synods before their “Mission Covenant” and the Augustana Lutheran Church went their separate ways.

While those early Covenanters refused to accept the Augsburg Confession as normative, they and their descendants continued to borrow from Lutheran theology. To support our adherence to the Reformation doctrine of salvation by grace alone, for example, the Covenant Affirmations document quotes article 4 of that classic Lutheran confession. To be confirmed in the Covenant church of my adolescence, I had to memorize parts of Luther’s catechism. John Weborg, arguably the greatest Covenant theologian of the late 20th century and quoted two or three times in our book, proudly describes himself as a “Lutheran Pietist.” And I couldn’t begin to count how many tunes or texts in The Covenant Hymnal were originally composed or written by Lutherans.

Hopeful as we are about “the renewal of Christianity,” Mark and I join Luther and Spener “in arguing that we cannot achieve the good we long for apart from the grace of God.” (To do otherwise would be to articulate what Luther might call a “theology of glory.”) We bind our consciences to the Word of God. We are both members of a common priesthood, though only one of us be called to Word and Sacrament. (And yes, we regard Communion and Baptism as sacraments, not ordinances.)

I even married a Lutheran graduate of Luther College! (And joined her at homecoming this past weekend, where I took a couple of pictures of how Luther is imaged at one of his namesake institutions.) And if we didn’t attend a Covenant church, we’d go to a Lutheran one.

There’s plenty for us evangelical Pietists to debate with our Lutheran brethren. But I’m grateful for the influence of that theological tradition, and I haven’t hesitated to recommend The Pietist Option to its present-day adherents.