JUNE 3, 2002
Soundings Old and New
-- Martin E. Marty
I attended two fiftieth reunions with fellow seminary alumni last weekend, having Masters of Divinity diplomas from both Concordia in St. Louis and utheran in Chicago. At the former I was chosen to speak to all alumni on social change in the new 21st century." The final part had to do with he condition of society. The hosts wanted me to be current, so I resented the following twenty-six "soundings" comprising notices and indictments. Picture the audience in both cases being mainly Lutheran clergy and their spouses. (You just may detect some Lutheran viewpoints.)
Here goes: 1. The Christian church is facing persecution. 2. Few citizens are reading the Gospel. 3. Even fewer accept it. 4. Even those who accept the Gospel tend to be apathetic, listless. 5. Society is allowing schools to decay. 6. There is widespread inattention to pastoral activity. 7. The pulpit often goes unheard. 8. Militant Muslims are threatening. 9. Some are tempted to respond to these threats by engaging wrongly in crusades. 10. Muslim attacks do expose our culture's social injustice. 11. These attacks also expose our own religious torpor. 12. Anomie at home is more dangerous than the Islamic threat. 13. The deadly sin of pride afflicts our culture. 14. Luxury colors the life-styles of choice. 15. High-interest rates are a problem for the poor. 16. The wealthy are especially guilty, because they exploit the underclass. 17. And the upper classes exploit religion to justify their ways. 18. "Spirituality" is a disguised threat to the gospel. 19. Religious "enthusiasts" claim personal revelations. 20. Materialists and epicureans have taken over the prospering churches. 21. The intellectuals and artists are indifferent to Christianity. 22. There is neglect of the sacraments, especially Holy Communion. 23. "House churches" are escapes and refuges for many. 24. Atheism is favored in intellectual circles. 25. Too many theological educators stress the humanity of Christ, not the deity. 26. Through most of these issues, Roman Catholicism today complicates the picture.
Many readers of these "soundings" may not sit where the Lutheran audience sat, and may not share all the theological judgments. But I think most may recognize the combination as a) part, accurate reporting; b) some whining about contemporary culture; c) bits of prophetic judgment. These days we frequently hear all three.
I've played long enough. Every "sounding" was taken from Martin Luther; I interrupted my writing this year of a biography of Luther prepare my alumni talk. He directed many of his "soundings" to the congregation in little Wittenberg, where he preached and where his gospel had had its chance for three decades. Our current reporting, whining, and prophetic judgments echo voices heard through the ages in situations not wholly unlike our own. What's new?
-- Editor's note: Martin Marty drew these twenty-six points from a sub-chapter "Signs of the End" in John M. Headley, Luther's View of Church History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963) pp. 240-57.