Adam Smith and his idea of specialization have come to roost with a vengeance in the nests of the Leucorean [Wittenberger] university and college. The result? History is the job of the historians; philosophy that of the philosophers; worse, theology, that of the theologians. Lutheran colleges and universities have “specialized” theology out of the life of the faculty, if not de iure, then certainly de facto. What to do?
Precious faculty development dollars need to go to things that colleges and universities need to do largely for purposes of accreditation. What follows is a modest proposal to divert a modest amount of those funds toward understanding Lutheranism within the university. How?
Give an annual, and significant ($100/month/participant), grant to a small and therefore competitive faculty reading group that will read, examine, peruse, discuss, ponder, argue over, and write about a classic Lutheran text, finally producing a cache of essays short or long that bring the text into conversation with their disciplines. This cache of essays should be intellectually responsible (as the object of serious wrangling within the reading group), communicative, and thus also inspiring to others to think about how their own discipline and its bases and preconceptions and fundamentals speak to Lutheran theology, or rather vice versa.
For example, a theater professor might discover that, far from what we Americans think of the provenance of theater in the modern West—that it’s the stuff of dissolute, drug- and sex-addicted oddballs like Poe—it was actually vigorously used during the Reformation and post-Reformation eras by Lutherans (Luther, Melanchthon, Strigelius, von Rist, to mention but a few) frequently for Lutheran purposes. Aha! What a discovery! And this is rooted deeply in Lutheran realism which is a sort of “Egyptian-gold worldliness” (as opposed, e.g., to the non-realism and other-worldliness that permeates Calvinist theology; we Lutherans can sing, “Our God is dead,” it being otherwise difficult to say exactly what happened at the Place of the Skull; but it’s anathema in Geneva. And this difference can be traced to respective stances on realia, or the data of theology and of, well, thought.). Lutheran realism, in turn, lies at the heart of Wittenberg’s pursuit of, e.g., what we know as the hard sciences (on which see the relevant essays by Philipp in Kusukawa and Salazar).
Where to start, then? Oswald Bayer, for example, or Hermann Sasse, or Luther’s Address to the German Nobility, should be, and in fact are, eminently intelligible to anyone qualified to serve on a college or university faculty. But find your own list of goodies—and yet make sure they’re goodies. That’s why you need a learned Lutheran running the show: C.S. Lewis, as fun as he is to read, just isn’t going to cut the mustard here. (This point has been driven home to me in the last month as a clergy reading group I’m in has taken up Mere Christianity, which is woefully inadequate from the perspective of and as a vehicle for Lutheran thinking. Sorry, Clive.).
So why not? Why not give it a shot? Why not “de-specialize” theology? And now I’m talking to you, whoever you are: why not become the Lutheran Socrates? Of the real Socrates Cicero claimed he was the first to bring philosophy from the sky and put it in the streets and marketplace and make it dwell among men. Why not take Lutheran theology from the theology department and make it the province of the whole faculty?
Actually, that’s too soft a peddle. The case really needs to be stated like this: how can we afford not to make Lutheran theology the province of the whole campus? What makes a college Lutheran isn’t just its chapel (the University of Minnesota and Univ. of Wyoming have very fine Lutheran chapels, but they’re not for that reason Lutheran universities). The faculty alone doesn’t do it (there are lots of Lutherans teaching at lots of different places, but they don’t make their colleges Lutheran). Nor does the student body (again, the U of M, etc., etc.). Let all of those things be present; but if the intellectual framework is missing, it means nothing. And the only way you can get the framework is to work at it, and read, and think, and argue, and wonder, and write.
So share a good book; learn to think Lutheranly with your fellow Lutherans; and most, learn to think about yourself, your work, your discipline like a Lutheran.
Who knows what might come of it?