by Mark D. Menacher, PhD
Dr. Dennis Bielfeldt, a professor at South Dakota State University - Brookings, has recently issued seven theses which he claims represent the "fundamentals" of the theology of the WordAlone Network (WAN). Dr. Bielfeldt is also the Director of the Institute of Lutheran Theology, likewise located in Brookings. Dr. Bielfeldt's theses and argumentation, entitled "WordAlone Fundamentalism? ... No, Fundamentals!," can be found on the Internet at:
Contrary to Dr. Bielfeldt's theses, WAN's "fundamentals" are not "consistent with the thinking of Luther and the Lutheran Reformation." Instead, they misrepresent the basics of Lutheran theology. This is necessarily the case for two reasons. First, Dr. Bielfeldt uses the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) rather than Jesus Christ as the point of reference for his argumentation. Second, Dr. Bielfeldt's reliance upon a particular philosophical-linguistic foundation for his theology ironically undermines that same theology. Dr. Bielfeldt's "science-fiction-like" language is apparently employed to ward off Kantian subjectivism and Feuerbachian projectionism. This, however, leaves God neither "causally related to the universe" nor concretely related to the cause of theology, namely the homo peccator and the deusiustificans.
The following, friendly commentary to each of Dr. Bielfeldt's seven theses elucidates the methodological flaws of his argumentation and thereby questions the conceptual foundations of the WordAlone Network.
[Bielfeldt Thesis 1] "Theological statements have truth-conditions."
Dr. Bielfeldt claims that "WordAlone dares to suppose that theological statements have definite truth-conditions ..." According to the Lutheran Reformers, the "truth-condition" for theological statements is not supposition but rather Jesus Christ who is "the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6). Unfortunately, WAN is unable to name Jesus Christ as the "truth-condition" for its theological statements. Instead, as Dr. Bielfeldt makes clear, WAN prefers the institutional ELCA as its point of reference for establishing its pseudo-theological, ecclesial-political "fundamentals." WAN came into existence due to the passage of the ELCA's fraudulent ecumenical accord Called to Common Mission (CCM) in 1999. That WAN has had the foresight nearly a decade after its founding to establish its "fundamentals," unfortunately, calls the reality and relevance of WAN's "truth-conditions" irretrievably into question.
[Bielfeldt Thesis 2] "God is causally related to the universe."
God is not merely "causally related to the universe." Lutherans (and all Christians) confess that God is the Creator of the universe. God called the universe into existence through his word (Genesis 1), and through that same word, namely Jesus Christ, all things were made (John 1:1-3). That same creation awaits its final liberation and redemption through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8, I Corinthians 15). Thus, the relationship of God to the universe is not "causal" but rather creational and incarnational and consummational.
[Bielfeldt Thesis 3] "All temporal structures, institutions and conceptual frameworks are historically-conditioned."
When God speaks, God creates history. When God spoke in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God fulfilled all history which now awaits its temporal consummation. Thus, Jesus Christ as the incarnate word of God is the mediator between God and history. Dr. Bielfeldt claims that theology bridges "the gap between the eternal Word of God and the concrete temporal situation" and that the "divine Word of Scripture [is] wholly human at the same time." These claims, respectively, usurp Christ alone as mediator and denature Christ's humanity as being "without sin" (Hebrews 4:15).
[Bielfeldt Thesis 4] "Nothing finite is infinite."
The notion that "nothing finite is infinite" undermines the aseity of God as Creator in whom all finitude and infinitude have their origin and existence. It further undermines the lordship of Jesus Christ who by virtue of his incarnation and resurrection enters into but also transcends both time and space. As the word of God, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever" (Hebrews 13:8). Therefore, all those who are justified through the faith invoked and evoked by the gospel of Jesus Christ already participate in the eternal life and reality which is Jesus Christ. As Christ says, "What is impossible with human beings is possible with God" (Luke 18:27).
[Bielfeldt Thesis 5] "The True Church is not visible, but remains hidden."
The notion of "true" church fails to acknowledge and to confess that there is only "one, holy, Christian, apostolic church." This church is solely created, sustained, and communicated by the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed purely in word and sacrament. Thus, the one church is solely a matter of promissory word and corresponding faith. All other expressions of human religiosity masquerading under the name "church" only make visible the sin which human beings strive to conceal, particularly through their self-righteous religiosity. Contrary to Dr. Bielfeldt, "The being of the church is" not "found in the justified being of those wearing the external righteousness of Christ." Instead, the church is founded by the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ which alone creates the only faith through which sinners are justified. The proclamation of the gospel is only hidden when it is deliberately silenced, or cleverly camouflaged by causal kerfuffle.
[Bielfeldt Thesis 6] "The basic human orientation is to turn away from God in pride, sin and unbelief. Original sin is the condition of humanity's freely, but inevitably, turning from God toward something finite."
Contrary to Dr. Bielfeldt, human sin is not an "orientation" like the Roman Catholic understanding of concupiscence or like politically correct views of human sexuality. Instead, sin is the inescapable condition of all humanity. Sin does not exist due to "turning away from God in pride, sin and unbelief." Rather, unbelief is the essence and realization of human sin. Unbelief leads human beings away from God while simultaneously driving them to make gods (idols) of their own manipulation which manifest themselves as deliberate perversions of God's creation. WAN's use of the institutional ELCA, instead of Jesus Christ, as its causal point of reference is therefore an expression of such sin.
[Bielfeldt Thesis 7] "The Holy Spirit works monergistically, not synergistically, upon sinners effecting saving faith."
Contrary to Dr. Bielfeldt, the Holy Spirit works neither monergistically nor synergistically but instead freely and verbally in the purely proclaimed gospel of Jesus Christ. Through this gospel the Spirit of truth (John 14:17) communicates the word of truth which truly justifies sinners through the person of truth, namely Jesus Christ. Through faith alone, Christ frees (eleutheroo) fallen human beings from domination by sin, death, and the devil (John 8:31-36). Spurning this gift of Christian freedom in faith, i.e. being Lutheran, WAN has fundamentally, synergistically, and unequivocally bound itself to the institutional ELCA whose temporal, finite, and sinfully conditioned existence provides WAN with its only reason for existing. In so doing, WAN has "exchanged the truth about God for a lie and has worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator" (Romans 1:25). Unfortunately, Dr. Bielfeldt's daring statements shy away from the truth of this lamentable condition.
To conclude, if Dr. Bielfeldt's theses represent the conceptual foundations of the WordAlone Network, then it would seem that WordAlone's self-styled reformation has "No Fundamentals" which can truthfully be described as "consistent with the thinking of Luther and the Lutheran Reformation."