Here's "What's Up" With Lutherans: A Response to Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung of The Gospel Coalition wrote an article five years ago that has just come to my attention. The article is called "What's Up With Lutherans?" The original article can be found here: https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/kevindeyoung/2011/06/23/whats-up-with-lutherans/

What follows is my response to the article.


 It is helpful to read DeYoung's article recognizing how he thinks. To put it bluntly, he does not think like a Lutheran. Most would say this is an obvious point that needs no comment, but nonetheless it is vital to understand that his whole article views Lutherans incorrectly. I can understand this, because before I was a Lutheran I thought of Lutherans the same way DeYoung does.

How does he think of Lutherans? One need only go to his "UPDATE" at the end of his article, where he says the following:

"My central question was about the place of Lutherans in the big tent of evangelicalism."

That is precisely where DeYoung goes wrong.

Historic and confessional Lutheranism is simply not in "the big tent of evangelicalism."

This wrong way of viewing Lutherans reminds me of similarly how Roman Catholics view the Eastern Orthodox. Catholics think the Orthodox are just a "sister church" that is "like them" in many ways.

But ask an Orthodox person about how Orthodoxy views herself, and they will tell you that they are nothing like Rome, and most definitely not a "sister church."

Historic and confessional Lutheranism does not view itself as "one option among many."

I'm not speaking of those "Lutheran" churches that have fallen prey to non-denominational and American evangelical thinking.

I'm talking about Lutheran churches that subscribe to the Book of Concord. If you want to know what a Lutheran is, it is simply someone who believes, teaches, and confesses what is written in the Book of Concord. You can read it for free at www.bookofconcord.org as well.

Given the above, DeYoung's whole article goes wrong. It treats Lutherans like we are supposed to act like today's evangelicals or today's reformed.

But we are not.

So what follows now is quick answers to his article that views us Lutherans like we are supposed to act or believe in ways that are not us. DeYoung's questions will be in quotes, with my responses below them.


"What up with Lutherans?"


"where are they?"

Right here.

"I’m genuinely curious to know why the big tent of conservative, confessional evangelicalism doesn’t have more Lutherans."

Because we do not consider ourselves part of the big tent of conservative, confessional evangelicalism. We are our own thing. We are not Protestants in today's sense. We are not evangelical. We are not reformed. We are not Eastern Orthodox. We are not Roman. We are Lutherans.

"Where have all the Lutherans gone?"

You'll find us in our Lutheran parishes. You are welcome to visit. Heck, we'll even commune you if you go through catechesis and become Lutheran. :)

"I just don’t know all the good they are doing and saying."

We have a tremendous presence in the mission field. Especially the LCMS. We are involved in the culture and our communities frequently.

"Lutheranism has always been a little out of place with the sometimes rootless, low church expressions of evangelicalism. They never got on board with evangelicalism after the Great Awakening."

Correct! Not only are we out of place in evangelicalism, it is completely antithetical to who we are. We are Sacramental to the core and we believe the Spirit only acts in the Word and Sacraments, and not apart from them. You can probably now guess what we think about the "Great Awakening". :)

"but evangelicalism has been influenced by many Anglican theologians and preachers, hasn’t it?"

Of course it has. Anglicanism from its inception was always less interested in precise doctrine. I often consider Anglicanism to be liturgical non-denominationalism.

"Lutherans are content to remain in ethnic enclaves."

This is a fair concern for many Lutherans, and it is something Lutherans should indeed repent of.

"The Lutheran view of the sacraments is a bridge too far for many evangelicals, and the faddish nature of evangelicalism is a bridge too far for many Lutherans."

Yes indeed. 100% agreement there.

"The bulk of Lutherans have gone liberal and the rest have gone into bunker mode."

That's like saying that the bulk of Christians have gone unitarian-universalist, etc. There are still plenty of confessional Lutherans around. The LCMS is a huge denomination. The WELS, although smaller, has influence as well. And there are numerous Lutheran church bodies the LCMS is in fellowship with across the globe and on the mission field.


I know DeYoung sincerely was trying to understand Lutherans and the various questions of why. My advice not only for DeYoung, but for anyone--including myself--is that when we research folks that think differently than we ourselves do, it is very important that we try to view the research through the lens of the folks we are researching. I know this is not always easy, but it will help us to understand better.

Thanks go to DeYoung for his honest questions.