The Lutheran Option?

Important Developments in the LCMS Lutheran Church

This last summer, I had the privilege of writing an article in the LCMS Lutheran Theology Journal. Chaos ensued, but not because of me this time. One of the other authors suggested that “day” could be interpreted as an age, and the crowds with pitchforks came.

A very interesting conversation has been playing out that is worth following. A couple of the key links I’m including here…

The Journal in question is here. I wrote the last article on a “Lutheran Voice in Science.” If there is interest, I’ll post that article here.

A follow editorial to address the controversy was written by a seminary professor, Chuck Arand, who you might get a chance to meet at ASA. Brilliant and thoughtful guy.

Unfortunately, the article on Day Age views of Genesis was retraced because the heat grew too much:

For better or worse, the President of the denomination weighed in with a fairly political statement. On a positive note, this article from a LCMS Lutheran is in the mix and entirely on point:

Perhaps the most subtle error of all, the film leaves the Christian with the wrong cornerstone of faith. Scripture is very clear. The foundation of our faith is Christ and His life and work, most especially His Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). However, the film explicitly sets up a literal reading of Genesis as the foundation of our faith ignoring the primacy of the Resurrection, which is never mentioned in the film to my recollection.
Movie Review: Is Genesis History?

Through this, however, Chuck has been putting together a multipart guide to origins debate. The first post si out, and it is really good.

He makes, what I think, is an important observation about the absence of a Lutheran Voice in the origins debate, a voice that I hope can be recovered.

The Missing Lutheran Voice

I feel four cautions are critical for us keep in mind.

FIRST, Lutherans have largely been silent in these debates, so only a minority of voices in any camp will be consistent with Lutheranism. We can and will find common ground with some of them, but we also do not want to lose our distinctive voice (See Josh Swamidass’ article in the Summer 2017 issue of the Concordia Journal).

SECOND, all these “camps” are more than mere positions, but complex groups of organizations and people. There is often significant diversity and disagreements within each camp. We usually will find a range of theological positions within each camp, which will not equally align with or oppose our own. Again, our distinctive theological voice was not considered as these camps formed, so we may come to very different assessments of individual positions within an individual camp.

THIRD, the seeds that grew into fruition in these various camps germinated in non-Lutheran theological soil. They grew in soil that we may say is (broadly speaking) Evangelical soil. This in turn shaped the specific Reformed/Calvinistic or Fundamentalist forms that they took in response to the intellectual winds of Western culture. This means that these schools of thought bring with them a certain relationship between faith and reason that we may not hold (and this is an old debate going back to the Reformation).

FOURTH, these camps were defined in the crucible of the culture wars that themselves grew out of a particularly premillennial-dispensationalist vision of a “Christian nation” in which America is the heir of Israel. Consequently, they are often caught up in the American “culture wars” in a way that is alien to Lutheranism, and may even explain why our voice has not been included.

I’m waiting for the Lutheran Option…

For these reasons, I caution against identifying too closely with any specific camp or approach to the science-faith issues they address. It would be better for us to define a distinctively Lutheran option that brings our theological values into dialogue with others, without losing our own voice.

In the post, some people (e.g. @Jon_Garvey) have questioned what I meant by the origns debate being too one sidedly influenced by Reformed thought. It may makes sense what I mean as this series develops. Right now, five follow ups are on the table:

  1. What is Old Earth Creationism?
  2. What is Young Earth Creationism?
  3. What is Evolutionary Creationism?
  4. An Exegetical Case for the Lutheran Option
  5. A Theological Case for the Lutheran Option

I’ve seen some early drafts of these posts. They are going to be uncommonly good. Its not typical to watch the inner workings of another denomination, but there is something really interesting happening here. It is worth seeing what we can learn. There is some real thoughtfulness going on here at Concordia. I predict these blog posts are going to rival most books in their insight on the origins debate.

Let’s see what the Lutheran option ends up looking like.


I’m very curious what those currently or in the past associated with LCMS Lutherans thinks. That includes @JustAnotherLutheran, @J.E.S and @jdhardin1959. I wonder also if @TedDavis has any historical context for us, and perhaps even @JohnWalton might have something to add. Walton and I were both advisors for them in the Science for Seminaries program. @DarrelFalk might also have some context to offer. Also, I think Chuck may be proposing a seminar at ASA on the Lutheran Option too. Very curious to see how this develops.

@JeffSchloss, @jstump and @Kathryn_Applegate, given some of our past private conversations about LCMS, I thought you might find this interesting too.

@George Murphy is my favorite Lutheran voice. Personally, I’m not sure I would ever pay attention to a “journal” that retracted a piece for the reasons they did.

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The story is complex. If you follow it, you will see that this is as political as it is theological. The journal did not retrace the piece, but the author himself. At the same time, there has been nothing but positive response to my article. And I affirm evolution!

In the end, do not read these articles to understand science, but to understand how the dialogue between faith and science is unfolding in a critical place.

Missouri Synod… Of course. They aren’t the only Lutherans in town.

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I was alerted to this thread by an email notice of the comment of Stephen Matheson, whose favoritism I appreciate. Otherwise I enter this specific discussion cold. However, I am a Lutheran who grew up in LCMS - though now a (formally retired) ELCA pastor - and I have been involved in discussions about evolution and creation as part of wider science-theology dialogue.

I suppose that I’m one of the few Lutherans whose views in this area may be known very well to evangelicals as a result of having been an ASA member for ~40 years and publishing in that journal. There are, however, certainly other Lutherans who have written about issues connected with evolution and creation. Phil Hefner’s The Human Factor (Fortress, 1993) and Ted Peters’ (with Martinez Hewlett), Evolution from Creation to New Creation (Abingdon, 2003) should be mentioned. I’ll also note a book of my own, Models of Atonement: Speaking about Salvation in a Scientific World (Lutheran University Press, 2013). This deals, inter alia, with original sin and atonement in an evolutionary context.


Good to hear form you George. I hope your retirement is keeping you busy.


While of course I never favor censorship, I do think that the ‘age’ interpretation is a stretch. At the end of each day, Genesis says “and there was evening and there was morning”. There are other considerations. It’s either literal or allegorical, I don’t think to reinterpret the length of the days will make much progress. I use to hold the Day and Age interpretation myself for a long time.

We teach that God has created heaven and earth, and that in the manner and in the space of time recorded in the Holy Scriptures, especially Gen. 1 and 2, namely, by His almighty creative word, and in six days. We reject every doctrine which denies or limits the work of creation as taught in Scripture. In our days it is denied or limited by those who assert, ostensibly in deference to science, that the world came into existence through a process of evolution; that is, that it has, in immense periods of time, developed more or less of itself. Since no man was present when it pleased God to create the world, we must look for a reliable account of creation to God’s own record, found in God’s own book, the Bible. We accept God’s own record with full confidence and confess with Luther’s Catechism: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures.”

The above is the official LCMS stance on origins.

As Lutherans, scripture is our highest authority, as it is the word of God, so we will say what the Bible says. To be sure, some things in the Bible are open to some interpretation, but I am afraid I must tell you that Genesis does not really fit into that category. With the scriptural foundations of Lutheranism in mind, the LCMS decision is not surprising.

The point, also, is not to affirm evoltuion. However, at core is the question about:

As a Christian who affirms evolution, I find no conflict with my understanding of evolution and this statement. I do not “deny or limit” what Scripture said in deference to science. Nor is evolution in conflict with the doctrine that “God has made me and all creatures”.

There are versions of evolution that are in conflict with Lutheran doctrine, but there are also versions consistent with it. That is good news for the LCMS because about 40% of LCMS parishioners affirm evolutionary science.

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Is that like Catholics who use birth control or is the LCMS likely to change?


Yet, there is no “evening and morning” for the seventh day. Thus, entirely apart from science–solely on biblical grounds–there can be very good reasons for questioning the “literal” six-day creation view. In this instance, e.g., many have wondered whether (a) the seventh day has not yet begun and God has not rested yet, but God will do that in the future; (this is often coupled with Jesus’ statement that my father worketh hitherto, and now I work, or the text in Hebrews chap 4 about entering into God’s rest) or (b) God is still resting, and the seventh day hasn’t ended yet, so the creation “days” might not be “literal” days. I have no dog in that fight, except to underscore that interpreting the “days” is not as straightforward as Ken Ham and others like to assume.

Partly guilty as charged. I know George and his work originally through the ASA, though I have also seen him in a few other places.

One of the things I learned from George is that a “Lutheran voice” might emphasize theology of the cross (the suffering servant, who put aside power and allowed himself to be crucified) over theology of glory (the God of the philosophers, as in natural theology). That is Lutheran language, and in many evangelical circles it’s not heard very much (if at all).

Having learned this from George, I’ve repeated it myself in conversations with many friends who promote ID, as a way of emphasizing that the error Paul taught in Romans chapter 1 was not the error of failing to see the evidence for God’s existence, but the error of failing to find the true God–the crucified God that Paul had to tell them about. In other words, Romans One isn’t so much a text about the need to make natural theological arguments (George would probably say this in stronger terms), but about the need to be explicit about the specific God who created all things: Jesus Christ, he who was crucified and raised from the dead. Indeed, the negative results that Paul preaches against are preached to those who “knew God” from nature, but “not as God,” and so they practiced idolatry, worshiping the wrong god(s), serving “the creature more than the Creator.”

When I said those things in ID circles, I was met with incredulity. Many proponents of ID have indeed written the sorts of things I was told: that Romans teaches the need to do natural theology, and that any type of TE (including EC) that de-emphasizes design arguments is actually heretical, or at least in defiance of clear biblical teaching.

Well, I still think George is right about this text. A subsequent thought of my own, as an historian, is as follows. Paul was making common ground with his pagan Roman audience. As a highly literate Greco-Roman Jew, Paul knew perfectly well that the Stoics and other Roman writers (such as Cicero) were natural theologians. For example, Cicero argued that the great regularity and swiftness of celestial motion (remember that for the ancients, the starry heaven revolves daily about the Earth) is powerful evidence for a transcendent wisdom behind nature. Paul knew that many in his audience believed that, and he reminded them of it: “they are without excuse,” they already know that God exists. In other words, Paul wasn’t teaching the need to do natural theology; he was assuming that his audience already accepted the validity of inferring God from nature. The problem he was addressing was idolatry, not atheism: they already knew about the divine power, but were worshiping the wrong kind of divine power(s), false gods that they created for themselves from the creation, failing to see the true Creator.

In my conversations with theologians, biblical scholars, and historians at Concordia these past two years, I deliberately shared my thoughts on this text with them (as outlined above) and asked for comments: was I off base, or on target? Was this an appropriate way to interpret that text? Several affirmed my view, and no one spoke against it. They saw (of course) that it was fully consistent with preaching the theology of the cross, not the theology of glory, and it was also consistent with what they know about the biblical world.

If there is a distinctly Lutheran voice yet to be heard in the evangelical conversation about origins, then, it might indeed be this: don’t be so quick to promote natural theology. Remember that we preach the crucified God, not the God of the philosophers.

With thanks and appreciation to George Murphy, who first helped me see this great truth.


@Swamidass or others:

Is there a post in this thread (or in some other thread) that specifies what the Lutheran Option is?

I assume that this “option” is specific to a particular branch of Lutheran faith?

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I think that these are really missing the point. This is not about the LCMS changing their position as much as them finding their voice. They have been wise to refrain from taking an official position. Even the statement on days by their President is a statement of personal belief, not of official position.

It is not likely that LCMS will endorse evolution, but it is possible they will enter the conversation as a new voice in all camps. This gets to @gbrooks9’s statement…

I would say that the Lutheran Option could be a new framework for thinking about origins, rooted in Lutheran theology. I do not think it will be YEC, OEC, or EC, but it might be a better way of begin YEC, a better way of being OEC, and a better way of being EC.

For example, not the irenic tone in Dr. Arand’s article: A Travel Guide to the Evangelical Creation Debates: Introduction - Concordia Theology. The way he has described it to me is that most Christians in this debate are “first article” Christians, but Lutherans are “second article” Christians. The first article is focused on creation (which Lutherans also affirm), but Lutherans are more focused on Jesus (the second article) as the foundation. From that point of view, they are much more oriented towards finding common ground with all those that follow Jesus across the debate, much as we have seen from other Lutherans, like @J.E.S.

I am not Lutheran myself, but I am certainly a second article Christian too, so this a very compelling model for me. I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops.

I also do want to acknowledge two things:

  1. I am not saying a reformed view is a mistake or wrong, but rather that a reformed orientation has dominated the conversation. Yes, its true that BioLogos was first started in a more Welysian tradition, even leaning towards Open Theism at times, but it overtures currently appeal frequently to reformed though, and its view of the Two Books is distinctly reformed.
  2. @George Murphy is an excellent example of the exception to the rule, but even then he is not LCMS. I’ve personally very much appreciated his work here, and reccomend everyone read his PSCF article critiquing the Two Books metaphore, which I believe is spot on:

The point is not that there has been no contributions from Lutherans, or that all other voices hold no value. Of course a Reformed voice is important too, and we occasionally hear from Lutherans.

Rather, I am point out that the voice has been largely silent and we are suffering from this. Most distinctly is the weak Christology throughout the debate. One can read thousands of pages in the origins conversation without ever encountering Jesus. When he is mentioned, he is often presented as threatened by our human debates, in need of protection. Nothing like the Jesus we find in Scripture.

In particular, some of the points that @TedDavis has raised are really important.

Here here. I agree with that. I find that to be much more grounded than otherwise.

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Thanks to Ted Davis for his statement about the significance of the theology of the cross for these discussions. That has indeed the basis of my approach to science-theology issues for about the last 35 years. In doing that I have been explicit about the fact that I’m extending Luther’s concern from issues of law, sin, and justification to the doctrine of creation - though that’s consistent with Luther’s statement that “true theology and recognition of God are in the crucified Christ.” The event of the cross - which means not just the death of Christ but the resurrection of the Crucified One - reveals the creator most fully.

And as God is paradoxically hidden in his revelation in that event, we shouldn’t be surprised if God is hidden in the work of creation. Luther (as well as Pascal and, I found recently, the Catholic priest and cosmologist Lemaitre), would quote Isaiah 45:15: “Truly, you are a God who hides yourself.”


Interesting response from our old friend @Eddie

Sort of demonstrating @TedDavis’s point, even as he critiques it.

For those curious, I explain more of my position in on the Lutheran Voice in the Concordia journal. That will really help explain what I think Lutherans could add here:

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I’ve read Charles P. Arand’s paper in the same journal, He writes:

Even though the Bible gives the impression of a relatively young universe with its six-day creation it does not give an age; for this reason the age of the earth has not been considered a doctrinal issue.

This seems a bit at odds with actual practice. For example, scientists/professors at Concordia like Jurchen must tiptoe extremely carefully in their public presentations and firmly acknowledge that they adhere to YEC account. Conversation is certainly useful for starting things rolling, but I’d suggest what they really need is a revolution in doctrine to come up to speed.

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A key point that he is correctly making is that even if “days” in Genesis 1 are 24 hrs, the age of the earth cannot be computed from the Scriptural account. Without enumerating the large number of reasons why, suffice it to say there are several ways the earth could be old, but the Genesis 1 day is a 24 hr period.

Rather than a revolution, I think they are beginning a conversation with a great deal of nuance. A revolution in Lutheran doctrine is unlikely.