On Joel Hess’s Inability To Find His Ass With Both Hands

I searched Google for “Joel Hess” and this is what came up. Seems about right.

Among the many blogs by Lutherans that you should never bother reading, the Jagged Word comes in near the top of the list. Staffed by a tank of insecure Gen-Xers, this blog has featured absolutely nothing worth reading in its entire history of existence. It has, however, served the useful purpose of adequately showcasing the Everymoron’s opinion in any number of Lutheran controversies every couple of months, ever since…whenever. How the jagged decide among themselves which LARPing manchild writes what, and when, is surely a process which no algorithm could approximate. Mysterious. Needless to say, it is a blog devoted to signaling. Not a single post is excepted from this generalization.

The Jagged Word

In any event, there’s this guy Joel Hess who writes terrible articles at the Jagged Word with a frequency of something like one to ten articles per year. I don’t know. His latest is awful. Just…pitifully stupid. Like, worse than the ones that Scott Keith’s son writes, if you can imagine that. A lot of this can be explained by the fact that Hess went to the St. Louis seminary (sorry, I know there are exceptions— he’s not one), although one gets the feeling that the guy is such a dunce that, had he gone to the Ft. Wayne seminary, he would have emerged in a state of similar puerility and written articles that sucked just as hard. Though he went to seminary, I don’t think he’s a pastor, but I haven’t checked, and this is the Missouri Synod, so I could be wrong. To quote a friend who just recently read Hess’s latest:

“Wow. This guy couldn’t find his ass with both hands.”

And that is about exactly the size of it.

If you want to read Hess’s article for reference purposes, you can do so by visiting this link. In his article, Hess asserts that the desire for liturgical uniformity makes one a partisan of the Prussian Union/a Romanizer. There is no argument, only assertion and B-grade snark, the sort you’d expect from twerps who white-knight on Facebook all day and look like bearded guppies. Hess says it because, again, as stated above, he’s insecure, and he hasn’t read very much. It’s never occurred to him to listen to men who are wiser than he, because as far as he knows, this is an imaginary category. That’s why he blogs at the Jagged Word.

Anyway, all of this is an overlong intro to this, the meat of this piece, which is just a link to this article by Dr. Holger Sonntag, who, unlike Hess, is a scholar:

“Freedom Shall Be and Remain a Servant of Love”: Luther on Liturgical Diversity and Uniformity as an Exercise in Distinguishing Faith and Love

And if you don’t want to slog through that— at all or just yet— consider this:

[​W]e teach that in these matters​ (i.e., adiaphora)​ the use of liberty is to be so controlled that the inexperienced may not be offended, and, on account of the abuse of liberty, may not become more hostile to the true doctrine of the Gospel, or that without a reasonable cause nothing in customary rites be changed, but that, in order to cherish harmony, such old customs be observed as can be observed without sin or without great inconvenience. And in this very assembly we have shown sufficiently that for love’s sake we do not refuse to observe adiaphora with others, even though they should have some disadvantage; but we have judged that such public harmony as could indeed be produced without offense to consciences ought to be preferred to all other advantages [all other less important matters]. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, XVI, 51-52)

QED. Joel Hess is an ignoramus.

The Price is Wrong

“Experience had taught me that innocence seldom utters outraged shrieks.
Guilt does. Innocence is a mighty shield, and the man or woman covered by it, is
much more likely to answer calmly: ‘My life is blameless. Look into it, if you
like, for you will find nothing.’”
– Whittaker Chambers, Witness

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
– Queen Gertrude (Shakespeare’s Hamlet)

“Generalizations, like brooms, are supposed to sweep.”
– John Lukacs, The Last European War

Very unsurprising that the regnant faux-Lutheran perv-pastor of northwest Arkansas has taken umbrage at Pastor Todd Wilken’s recent denunciation of “Radical Lutheranism,” made in the context of his keynote talk at the 2017 Redeemer Ft. Wayne Free Conference (videos here).

Hat-tip to Philopponus for these absurd and hilarious screenshots. These comments absolutely define logomachy.






Best comment, although I don’t know if the guy who made it knew how truly apropos of Price it was:

Perhaps I should have heeded the Proverb: “Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.”

I mean, woof. By their fruits and creepy tank-tops shall ye know them. Maybe it’s just me, but if I were a preacher-man cult-leader type who was trying to convince people that I hadn’t in fact cheated on my wife and banged one of my female disciples, I’d probably try to look a little more presentable/less chi-mo-ish. But, oh wait— I forgot that the “broken” grunge-potato look is part of this group’s bag. Cue 3EB, “Misfits,” which I’m sure they all headbang to during “worship” when they’re not raving to gospel-tarded EDM. These people are such idiots.

Over the last year I have gotten to know several ex-fans of this passing dog’s crapulous output. Listen to any one of Price’s signally “sermons,” and you’ll find a consistent subtext: “Why it’s OK that I’m still a pastor.” Which is good, in a way, I guess, as it indicates that he still has nagging doubts. For the sake of his soul, he should entertain those doubts and let them sink in a bit more. A “preacher-man” he might be, but a pastor he is not: as many a scarred Scottish sheep could tell you, the mere fact that a man has gathered a flock around him by no means makes him a shepherd.


On “Being Lutheran”

CPH’s latest attempt to claw and grasp at ‘popular culture’ or ‘relevancy’ is titled ‘Being Lutheran.’ Now, besides the ontological and metaphysical questions raised by the title of the book which are certainly never addressed, it’s quite a confusing compilation of sentences. I’m not just trying to use interesting language when I say ‘compilation of sentences,’ though, because that seems to be the style that Rev. Sutton has chosen to use. For the purposes of this review, I won’t be discussing anything other than the free chapter available online, not because I haven’t read more of the book, but because this is the portion which assumedly the author, editors, and publisher have decided is the best ‘hook’ to get the young, trendy, Lutheran hipster kids to buy the book. You can download it here: http://books.cph.org/being-lutheran-download

being lutheran

It’s tough to understand where Rev. Sutton is going with this book without him telling you himself. This is because apart from the vague title (Is it prescriptive? descriptive? questioning? Etc.), the flow of thought is very scattered.  When I decided to write this review I realized that I couldn’t quite nail down what the structure and flow of the book was, so I went to the CPH website and found this helpful and yet confusing description: ‘Thus, he divides his book into two parts: what Lutherans challenge (being closed, lukewarm, confused, lazy, and ‘pastel’), followed by what Lutherans cherish (the new, the ordinary, the unresolved, purpose, and the local.’

Those are pastels. We hate those as Lutherans. Except on Easter Sunday (the peak of the Church Year) when we paint eggs and hide them in our lawns. As Lutherans do.

On the surface, one could look at this and twist and contort your mind in order to say ‘Well the Lutheran Confessions speak this way. “They speak specifically about what we agree and disagree with.” But one of the main problems I have with this is that these listings of what we challenge and cherish are weak at best and misleading at worst. In my reading of the book, it seems to be rhetorically geared towards 5th-8th graders. The sentences are simple and utterly devoid of any nuance, especially when it comes to speaking of aspects of Lutheran theology where the nuance is crucial. Take for example this passage from the book: ‘Uncertainty fueled the selling of indulgences. The Church during that time in history taught that God’s grace was a spiritual steroid for doing good works. Grace empowered believers to reach salvation. Forgiveness was earned by doing good works as repayment for sin.’ While this is not explicitly incorrect, it certainly keeps alive and actively promotes this Lutheran caricature of Roman Catholic doctrine that involves confession and then paying for an indulgence which grants absolution. This was not Roman doctrine at the time of Luther, nor is it the case now. The indulgence merely was seen as a remittance of the temporal consequences of sin which remained after the sin was forgiven by a priest. This is not a challenging thing to present in simple language (2 parts vs 3 parts to forgiveness).

Even I understand the nuance of indugences…

In presenting things this way at multiple points in the first chapter alone, the author does a serious disservice to all of the seemingly intended target markets. The young or inexperienced Lutheran will now be given insufficient glosses of their own theology. The ‘other’ Christian will either see no difference between their Baptist roots and Lutheranism or, if they are Catholic, they will say ‘That’s not what my church teaches.’ For the unchurched individual, the purpose, characters, and Reformation itself will seem trite and simple. 

I can hear the objections now: ‘But sir, this isn’t a book for theologians! It’s for the youth and the under educated…’ Indeed! We need more resources for that area! Train up a child in the way he should go… and so on! (That’s Proverbs 22)  This is why we need to be so strict about the quality of such publications! It was the book of the month for our seemingly only effective Lutheran public outreach! This is important!

issues etc.png
We support this book!

The other objection which I feel could be raised against my review is that of ‘context.’ Any Lutheran who has debated or investigated church doctrine knows that in everything ‘context is key.’ This book provides many simplistic statements followed by a related anecdote, and the topic moves on. This means that there is no context by which the simplistic statements can be saved. The result is that the book gives young people what they should have (proverbs which they can extrapolate from in their daily life) but rarely gives them the best or most discerning.

So we come back to the stated structure from the foreword: “what Lutherans challenge (being closed, lukewarm, confused, lazy, and ‘pastel’), followed by what Lutherans cherish (the new, the ordinary, the unresolved, purpose, and the local).” I repeat this because it so perfectly encapsulates how the book reads. Speaking as a theologically trained Lutheran, I can read those lists and in my head complete them ‘Lutheranly.’ For example, I as a Lutheran cherish the new (Adam), the ordinary (ordinaries, actually), the unresolved (tension between the reality of the now and not yet),  the purpose (honestly, I can’t shoehorn this one) and the local(ized presence of Christ Himself in the Eucharist). However, since the printed words on the pages are empty platitudes with no self-contained linguistic identity within the Lutheran tradition, anyone could read them, apply their own theological tradition and ‘be Lutheran.’

Also, let’s be honest here, Lutherans don’t ‘challenge being closed,’ unless of course your communion policy advocates for being pretty gosh darn open. Lutherans cherish closed-ness because Christ did as well. He is The Way, The Truth, and The Life. Nobody will reach salvation without Him. In order for us to comfort those within the fold of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, we need to retain ‘being closed’ as a virtue. It is not those who advocate for closed communion who are the problem, in fact, in my experience they are often more effective at bringing people to the faith than those who equate ‘closed’ with ‘close enough,’ (see above) which is a false and harmful thing to do.

As Lutherans (not Being Lutherans….) we have a great tradition of doing things well.  Luther was a great writer, translator, preacher, and scholar. Paul Gerhard and Bach are remembered and honored outside of the Lutheran church even in our modern age for their contributions to music. Countless great churches  have the title ‘Lutheran’ engraved upon their cornerstones. I would in fact argue against Gretchen Jameson in her review and say that we need much more ‘blatant Lutheran grandstanding,’ because we do actually have countless grand treasures on which to stand. The aesthetics, style, writing, and tone of this book take the pressure-formed and highly polished diamonds of Lutheran history and theology and presents them not as valuable treasures, but rather as bubblegum machine trinkets.


Dear Most Reverend Pirate

Hullo. Stanislas the Webmaster here. This is a message for Captain Roseborough:

You know what it is to assume. It’s to make an ass out of u and me. In this case, though, your assumptions regarding the authorship of a recent certain post here at The Cellar Door make only one person an ass: you. Since you are already a thundering ass, assuming further will simply push you past ass-saturation to a point of severe volatility. Don’t risk it.

Submit comments if you wish. None of them will be posted – you have been blacklisted. This is not an open discussion forum. That is, it is not open to vexatious and double-minded men such as yourself.

Go fish. And don’t come back.


– The Cellar Door

Against Ad Pseudonym Attacks

It appears my fellow writer here at DoorCellarTheCellarDoor or however you wish to make reference in your Facebook posts (Personal fave so far was the comparison to Christian News. Keep’em coming, guys. 1000 points to the most creative slams), has stirred up a bit of a ruckus. Now, I’m not sure that I personally agree with all of his assertions or style (and have told him as much), but good golly did some people get their Hanes in a bunch. Among the responses which I watched with half-hearted interest, there was one complaint which came up several times with which I took personal umbrage: the charge that writing under a pseudonym was a) cowardly, b) weak,  or c) invalidated whatever was said in the piece.

These objections struck me as odd. It’s a well-known fact that a sizeable number of writers, poets, theologians, and philosophers throughout history have used some sort of pseudonym. Kierkegaard himself had at least 9 known pseudonyms. Mathias Flacius had over 15. Give me a few minutes and I’ll hop in my time machine to ask them why they were such cowards.


Ok. I’m back. I realized when I got there that I haven’t kept my Danish skills up to snuff, but I’m pretty sure Soren answered the accusation with the Copenhagen equivalent of “That’s the dumbest set of objections I’ve ever heard.”  Flacius was too busy trying to put sugar in Melanchthon’s gas tank to respond, but I’m sure he’d agree.

These men and the many other great publishers of essays and treatises like them did not write with false names because they were timid. They had a multitude of reasons from grouping their works by thematic aim, avoiding their own previously known reputations, and sometimes even personal safety. Hell, even Stephen King started using a nom de plume for a bit to see if people were buying his books because they were good or because they had the name King on the cover. Turns out that there’s a lot in a name. The book sold 10 times better when the secret was out.

You see, when it comes to opinions, thoughts, writings, musings, and other types of literary diarrhea which get posted on the internet, their inherent nature is usually ridiculously egotistical. The thoughts, arguments, points, and rhetoric get immediately weighed and measured before they are read and processed. The measure of a man and his ideas in this age of glowing screens and smartphones is no longer his capability of communicating, but rather the little blue name next to his attempted Facebook wit or Twitter blather. Not only that, but those who build their own little following in the world of the tubes begin to get careless with their method and statements and, like the American Church, begin to say and signal whatever will continue to grow their number of likes and retweets. It’s all pretty disgusting.

It’s then no surprise that the loudest complaints about the pseudonymous nature of DoorCellarThe came from those among the Lutheran milieu for whom the descriptor “self-aggrandizing” is an all too perfect fit.

Cowardly? Eh, maybe, but not likely. That’s not the reason for the editorial choice for fake names. Instead, we aspire to be a place where ideas, poetry, essays, and just plain suggestions can be floated out among the web-o-sphere without the weight or curse of nonymous reputations. The ideas have to stand for themselves because that’s the only thing any reader will know about what he’s reading. Maybe you’ll be able to read into the choices different people have made for their pseudonyms, maybe not. Maybe you’ll be convinced you know who wrote this or that. Maybe you’ll be right, but more than likely you’d be surprised. To tell the truth, I know that there are several accounts for this little e-think tank of whom I am unaware of the “real” identity. It’s more fun that way. We are Cellar for we are many….or at least several.

So maybe some of you will get offended by some of the things presented there. Feel free to respond, but be aware that since the nature of the Cellar is one centered on rhetoric and discussion, you may wish to check your emotional reactions and self-importance at the door.

Episode 2: Higher Things—TOYOTA

It appears I chose a rather ripe topic for my debut here at The Cellar Door. (“A Dinitarian Higher Things Conference?”) I certainly did not realize that by laying a hand on the sacred rump of the Higher Things cow—not even tipping it, simply laying a hand on it!—I would elicit such spirited ire from some of its principals and organizational boosters. Given that I am but a lowly author who hath not the power of the sceptre on this blog, I didn’t immediately get the memo. Anyway, I’ve got it now: I am to put the new cover sheets on all TPS reports, mmkay?

No, but apparently I’ve rustled some feathers with what I wrote. Stanislas forwarded me some notification emails heralding comments from Greg Eilers (who writes under the pseudonym “Gina”), Rev. William Cwirla (who, I am told, bakes a lot of bread), and Rev. Christopher Rosebrough (who apparently owns a pirate ship—well, shiver me timbers!). Mr. Eilers’ comment was long, made no sense, and wasn’t funny. Rev. Cwirla’s comment was short, made sense, and was funny. Rev. Rosebrough’s comment was a duplication of a post on his blog. It was something else. But there are so many people who like to ride on his pirate ship (if you know what I mean) that we’ve been getting a lot of click-throughs to my post from his. Since I’m not sorry for having written what I wrote (not even a little bit), and since I cannot take anything that pompous muckraking fraud says with even an iota of seriousness, I’ll refrain from offering a sardonic “thanks, matey”, but will nonetheless express my approval of the fact that his website is directing so much traffic our way.

First of all, I thought that everyone thought Merovech was actually Trent Demerest, the Pseudepigraphus blogger. Now I’m told that I’m Trent Demerest. All this time, I’ve been living a lie, thinking I was someone else. The logic seems to be that if you indicate mild agreement with the Enfant Terrible of Lutheran bloggers, and you use a pseudonym, you become him. Rumor has it there’s even a betting pool. “Argh, mateys! Odds be five-to-one it’s me sworn enemy, Demerest! Argh!” I’d like to cash in for some of Captain Rosebrough’s seed-money booty that he pillaged from Creflo Dollar’s yacht.

If you’re betting on this, you’re just plain stupid. Go play internet poker. If you are unable to think of any good reasons someone might have for writing under a pseudonym, then you probably have spent too much time on the internet, specifically comment sections. Sort of a given for most of us these days, so don’t take it too hard.

Second…goodness gracious, I am getting absolutely smoked for having written “dinitarian” rather than “binitarian.” Check this out; here’s Cwirla:

First of all, the term is “binitarian” not “dinitarian.” If you’re going to charge someone with something, at least name it correctly.

The effect is better if you crane your neck way back, sneer, squint, and sort of speak through your nose as you read it aloud.

Here’s Rosebrough:

That’s hardly what one would expect from an organization that is drifting into Dinitarian [sic] Antinomianism (the correct theological word is Binitarian).

…and then he writes “Dinitarian [sic]” like eight times! This guy, with the signaling.

Alright, you two exceedingly sagacious men. You caught me. I’m not a theologian (then again, neither is Rosebrough). I’m an engineer. Give me a little credit for using “Pneumatomachians”, will you? I’ll go to sleep tonight rubbing my temples and chanting “Bi, not Di.” I sure hope my subconscious doesn’t do weird things with that; dreams will tell.

More distressing than my confusion over Latin prefixes, though, is the fact that neither of these men seems to know how to read. For Blackbeard, there’s some excuse—there’s little time for phonics on the high seas. But there is no excuse for Breadloaf, who I’m sure has at least read bread recipes.

I certainly did not accuse Higher Things of being binitarian, dynamite, or Pneumatomachian. And I quote myself:

Needless to say, I’m not truly worried that the folks who run Higher Things are Pneumatomachians.

I simply observed that Higher Things has become very sloppy. I also brought up the inconvenient truth that an increasing number of people have soured on the organization, and I gave examples of some reasons why. As a springboard for these observations, I made an intentionally overwrought observation of the fact that no mention was made of the Holy Spirit in an advert that seemed to start out with a creedal structure and sequence. The implication was that the things we do without thinking often are the most revealing of our habits and priorities.

Doesn’t matter. There be leaden plates lining yon pirate captain’s tri-cornered dunce-cap! Yargh!

In a recent blog post written by pseudonymous author John Philoponus which was posted at The Cellar-Door, Higher Things, an organization for which I sit on the Board of Directors, was charged with the very serious theological crime of being antinomian. The evidence that was put forth to substantiate the author’s charge was an advertising blurb for an upcoming Higher Things retreat. Below is my response to this slanderous and sinful blog post. (emphasis and high-dudgeon in original)

Theological crime! Somebody call Torquemada, and—just to be safe—Van Helsing.

Such keening is one reason why a rapidly diminishing number of people take this guy seriously.

Then this:

I strongly admonish the author of this post to repent, seek out their [sic] pastor to confess this sin and be absolved for it and then bear fruit in keeping with repentance by immediately publishing a retraction.

Make sure that your pronouns match their antecedents in number, Cap’n.

You’ll not be getting a retraction. The fact that Higher Things allows you to sit on its board should be sufficient to destroy any sane man’s confidence in the organization. Put that in your four-pounder and fire it, “matey.”

Then there’s Padre Breadloaf Headphones:


Yes, well, I can call you a flaming arrogant (you carry your fair share of ignorance, too) jackass knowing exactly who you are. But I won’t. However, I will take your suggestion and waste no time, energy, or words addressing asininity. As such I won’t be responding to any more of your “feedback”, such as has made its way to me. As Jack Preus used to say, “Never get into a pissing contest with a skunk.”

I didn’t think that my little thinkpiece was going to cause such a firestorm. But if I’ve got the ear of “the public” or, more likely, “a handful of fellow Lutherans”, I suppose I’ll capitalize on my Joe the Plumber moment.

The thrust of my concern with Higher Things has less to do with the details of what they’re putting out, and more to do with the fact that big “Youth Gatherings” are root-and-branch the product of erroneous thinking regarding the Church, the Ministry, and the Christian home. Rev. Phillip Hoppe’s article was the buried lede of my whole piece. If all I did in my post was get more people to read and seriously consider what he wrote, then I will consider my first foray into Lutheran blogging a mild success.

Compare two admittedly caricatured genres of event:

  1. “Hey, you folks in the area, and others who may want to make the trip, come to our church for a thing. It’s for the whole family.”
  2. “Hey, youth everywhere! We, a group of Lutheran superstars, are going to travel the country and put on big things! The things we’ll be putting on will be so big that we might not be able to use church buildings for the services…but, boy-oh-boy will your heart just bleed at how beautiful (topically popular hymn/something besides the Common Service) sounds when we all sing it together! You’ll be overcome with togetherness and a feeling of transportive Lutheran solidarity! Hip and cool pastors whom you don’t know and who don’t know you will teach breakout sessions that will make your own pastor seem bland and forgettable! Afterwards you can friend them all on Facebook, watch their videos, listen to their podcasts…basically just hang onto every thought that surfaces in their craniums throughout the day. Anyway, be sure to find the big thing we’re doing nearest to you. It’ll be the experience of a lifetime the year, and you can mope and languish in come-down for months afterwards…UNTIL THE NEXT BIG THING! Be sure to stay in touch with us 24/7/365 via the internet, and buy some swag!”

^ High energy. Just a lot of energy there. Yuge.

It should be readily apparent that I’m doing more than summarizing Rev. Hoppe, who may not agree with my riffs on the points he made and should not be blamed for them.

I don’t think that genre #2—which includes both the National Youth Gathering and Higher Things—is a wise idea, or that it ever has been a wise idea. I will freely acknowledge, and applaud, the fact that Higher Things also sponsors events which fit under genre #1. Still, I wonder what the point is of branding them as “Higher Things” events.

Having an alternative to the National Youth Gathering was once a very attractive idea for us confessional types. From the late nineties through most of the aughts, we were very down. We felt like we were “losing the Synod.” Gerald Kieschnick and his church-growth hatchet-men were sauntering oily-shod over everything we loved and held dear. There was more finger-snapping going on than at a dress-rehearsal of West Side Story. All sorts of things were Ablaze that never even should have been exposed to sunlight. We were surly and we kicked the cat, sometimes twice a day.

Enter Higher Things, the organization that gave us hope. The organization that raged against the dying of the light, against the unionistic, mainline-wannabe, gutless LCMS of yesterdecade. Finally! A youth conference where Scripture, the Catechism, the Liturgy—in short, “Good Christ-Crucified For-You Lutheranism”—were front and center. Load up the conversion van!

We said it was for the kids, and it was. We do love our kids and we wanted what was best for them. But, really, it was also for us. We were so anxious about “The State of the Synod”, so tired of “losing”, etc., that we forgot that the real wellsprings of Christian faith and piety are the local church and the home altar, not youth gatherings. Our kids became pawns in that weirdly vicarious “battle for the institutions” that we in the Gen-X/young-boomer cohort can never seem to get free from.

The LCMS, Gerald Kieschnick, Ablaze!—these things actually had very little to do with our children. They were, all of them, tails wagging the dog. Or another part of the dog, right below the base of the tail. But they were not actually “the problem”, and our thinking that they were was a grand exercise in blame-displacement.

Bull-corn to English: Higher Things does not exist because “the LCMS” failed to produce a genuinely confessional Lutheran “youth gathering”, “youth organization”, “culture of youth ministry”, what have you. Higher Things exists because of failures at the level of the local church and the Christian home—failures which are more than catechetical, but which are largely and obviously catechetical. 

Even if all of Higher Things’s “content” were grade-A genuinely and confessionally Lutheran (it may have been at one point, but it sure isn’t anymore), that wouldn’t change the fact that the organization should be working to eliminate the need for its own existence (as President Reagan said of welfare). Instead it has become self-conscious, self-perpetuating, and expansionary. Like welfare.

Whatever will your youth do during those long periods of doldrums in between Higher Things conferences? Get them “plugged in” via the Higher Things blog, Higher Things online devotionals, Higher Things Facebook, Higher Things Twitter, Higher Things podcasts, and Higher Things Higher Things. Content! So much content! (Word on the street is that Higher Things will soon be available as an IV-drip.)

As with welfare, the very men whose dereliction has necessitated the rise of the alien institution (read: fathers) realize that Higher Things will continue to “do our job for us” if we let it (or so we think). So we begin to coast. Sure, our children don’t look up to us as their spiritual heads, but, hey, that’s a small price to pay for convenience. The local church and pastor get bypassed, too. Instead, children look at screens where Higher Things gurus (and gurinas) tell them all that they need to know (and, as it turns out, plenty of stuff that they don’t need to know and that you’d rather that they didn’t).

Fellow dads, don’t kid yourself: paying the Verizon bill does not amount to exercising spiritual headship.

“The welfare culture tells the man he is not a necessary part of the family,” George Gilder writes in Wealth & Poverty; “he feels dispensable, his wife knows he is dispensable, his children sense it.” True enough. Yet the other, more insidious reality is that some men are fine with, and even grow to like, feeling dispensable. Delegating the faith-formation of one’s children to a “youth organization” frees up a lot of time for important things like Facebook, fantasy football, and pursuing the American dream your vocation.

All of this has a detrimental effect on pastors, too. The virtuality, ubiquity, immediacy, and illocality of the internet all exacerbate the desire—latent in the heart of every pastor—to make himself into a para-minister, a celebrity, and a leader of men (or youth), someone who can be consulted for theological answers and even spiritual direction from a distance by a host of people who aren’t actually under his spiritual care. But parishioners are not the same as fans, and fans are not the same as parishioners. Being Lutheran doesn’t make one immune to this, and being “confessional” or “liturgical” is no inoculation. While this touches more than just Higher Things, they are still the prime example of Lutherans doing the para-ministry thing and pretending its something else.

When you get right down to it, Higher Things is a function of the same errant thinking which undergirds the “church growth” movement. “The youth” are treated like a clientele whose special spiritual needs are better met by some branded organizations that is neither the local church nor the family. Mercantile ministry. Same game, different team.

When I look back over the years, I really do think that we confessional refugees should have read the signs better back when Higher Things got started. We should have thought a little more deeply about how—indeed, whether—organizations of its kind actually help the confessional/ genuine/ historic Lutheran “cause.” More to the point, we should have realized that Lutheranism is not a cause at all.

We Lutherans claim that Lutheranism is the purest idiom of the catholic faith, thus Christianity, thus a religion. (No, it is not “just” a confession.) When it comes to religion there actually is quite a bit more to the thing than dumping GOOD-CHRIST-CRUCIFIED-FOR-YOU-LUTHERANISM!!! into the youth (or anyone) raw from the top at giant traveling filling stations.

There’s a radio advert that’s played on Issues Etc. periodically. I know you’ve heard it. This super enthusiastic voice (got to be Rev. George Borghardt—a genuinely nice guy) comes on over an organ motet: “If you want Good Christ-Crucified-For-You Lutheran Youth…put Good Christ-Crucified-For-You-Lutheranism IN YOUR YOUTH!!!” I don’t remember the wording exactly, and I’m not going to skip through an Issues, Etc. episode to find it right now. I know it’s not significantly different than that. But what is it even supposed to mean? Does anyone even know? We’re not talking about limes and coconuts here; we’re talking about human beings. Does anyone think this is actually how religion works, or how the human person works?

I have a better idea. If you want Good Christ-Crucified-For-You Lutheran Youth, you should get married, have kids, get them baptized, teach them to pray, teach them the Catechism, teach them the liturgy and our great hymns, get them educated, and have them learn a trade or profession from a young age that accords with their gifts so that they can serve their neighbor rather than melt their brains staring at an iPhone for eighteen hours a day. In fact, take away their iPhones, or their Galaxy Nexi, or their HTCs. Your child needs a smartphone like he needs a hole in the head. I should know—I build them. Smartphones, that is, not holes in the head.

If you want to be more serious about your family’s Lutheran piety, but you really get no support from your local church; if your pastor really is not doing his job; if Sunday morning really is a depressing stew of pathetically un-Lutheran garbage, &c… then you really should consider moving—either to another church or, if there is no better option, to another area, i.e., pack up the U-Haul and leave Ur of the Chaldees. Maybe it’s outside the realm of possibility for you for various reasons. But maybe it’s not. A truly reverent Lutheran liturgy should not be something you regard as a special event to be patronized on special occasions, like a theme park or some other diverting novelty. Quite the opposite—it should be one of the determining factors in where you choose to locate your family. I, for one, wish I had realized this much sooner.

At no point have I argued that Higher Things has never done any good. That would be a ridiculous claim. Maybe you were awakened from indifference at a Higher Things conference. Maybe you even came to faith because of the Word that was preached at one. Thanks be to God! And thanks be to God that people have come to real saving faith during the time of the Great Awakening, or at a Billy Graham crusade, or after hearing a sermon in a Catholic church. That doesn’t negate the fact that the “Great Awakening” was propelled by pernicious sectarianism, that “decision theology” is formally heretical, and that the Roman Catholic Church officially anathematized the Gospel itself in 1563. That good effects have followed dubious enterprises is no argument on behalf of the dubious enterprises themselves. I know that you or your teenage son might get the opposite impression from reading any one of Rev. Riley’s many self-aggrandizing posts about his edgy past, but…no, it’s simply a reminder that God is merciful, and that He works all things together for good for His elect children. If He didn’t, I don’t know how any of us would ever be saved.

One final note…

Perhaps it will seem strange, but I have not written any of this in an effort to convince people who disagree with me. That’s not why I’m writing. I have a very limited purpose. I’m simply writing to let you know—no, not you, but you—that you are not crazy. A lot of us see what you see. You’re not the only one. Your doubts are well-founded. You are not a pietist, a wet blanket, overly scrupulous, weird, disconnected from reality, &c. If you are, in fact, behind the times, count yourself blessed, because the times are about to steamroll everyone currently skipping gaily ahead of them.