You Are What You Read (Part 2)
Last month, we considered the goal of the Scriptures in giving us Jesus and transforming us into His Image—not so much by how we read the Scriptures, but by how they read us into the salvation story of the Father and the Son and the Spirit. They read us by the Law, then they read us into the Creed through creation, the Son becoming man, and the Spirit creating faith to trust what Jesus has done for us. We are taught how to pray, and we learn how God has chosen to give us Jesus with His saving work from cross and empty tomb through Baptism, Absolution, and Supper. Then we are sent back out into the world, having received the Love of God in Christ, to serve our neighbors in love by what God has given each of us to do (vocation).
With the Small Catechism as an outline of the Christian life, we can begin to evaluate the various interpretations of the Scriptures we encounter when we read anything, and particularly interpretations given by various Christian authors and books. It strikes me that members of Lutheran congregations are often wary of Roman Catholic theology and authors (and rightly so, since Roman theology departs at key points from the Scriptural witness). You will rarely find a member of a Lutheran congregation reading “popular” (in the sense of being for lay people) Roman Catholic books. But those same congregation members are not nearly as hesitant to read books written from various Protestant traditions, particularly Baptist and non-denominational. And yet, books written by Baptist or Pentecostal authors are just as contrary to the Lutheran confession found in the Small Catechism as books written by Roman Catholic authors (sometimes even more so, since they often ignore or deny the Sacraments altogether). It is a sad state of affairs when members of a Lutheran congregation are more familiar with the latest Christian best-seller than they are with the documents contained in the Book of Concord (which, according to every LCMS constitution, is the basis for all we teach and do!).
Certainly, books from other traditions can teach us about reading the Scriptures; about how those traditions approach the Bible; and, sometimes, how not to read the Scriptures. But if what we consume is mostly or completely books that are written from outside the Lutheran confession, we will not be shaped and formed into the Catechism’s picture of what a Christian life looks like. It would be, in that case, like knowing what health and fitness look like, and then sitting in front of the television eating only pizza and candy bars, while drinking only soda. It will only take you farther from the goal. If we are reading far more from non-Lutheran authors and teachers than from Lutheran ones (which, of course, is not an endorsement of every Lutheran author, or a dismissal of every non-Lutheran one), well…we are what we read.
This is an encouragement and a plea to return to (or look for the first time!) at the basic documents of the Lutheran confession, and to evaluate all other teachers of the Scriptures from that point of view. You can find them all online at bookofconcord.org, or you can get a helpful edition such as Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (A Reader’s Edition) from Concordia Publishing House. After the Small Catechism, I would move to the Large Catechism (originally written for pastors to be able to teach their people), and then to the Augsburg Confession, its Apology (Defense), and the Formula of Concord (the document that unified Lutherans after Luther’s death). You are what you read. Make sure, then, that what you read is giving you the true Scriptural view, and not a stunted or truncated view of what the Scriptures teach.
*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”