Treating the Bible like an instruction manual for getting to heaven is a path toward pride and despair, said the Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller during a lecture at Hillsdale College.
The Lutheran Society invited Wolfmueller — a Lutheran pastor and author of “Has American Christianity Failed?” — to speak to a crowd of 30 students and professors on Thursday Sept. 27.
Wolfmueller said American Christianity places too much emphasis on individual will. He discussed why he said he believes Christianity has failed in the United States.
“American Christianity is built on the idea that, to be a Christian, you have to make the decision to be for Christ,” he said. “But our will is not part of our conversion; in fact, our will is what Jesus converts.”
Wolfmueller, who was raised in a liberal evangelical church, highlighted the difference between the Old Testament commands and Gospel promises in the New Testament.
“You keep commands by work, but you keep a promise by faith and believing,” Wolfmueller said.
This is what American Christians are getting wrong, according to him.
Christians in America find their confidence in growth and good works, Wolfmueller said. Those who preach to Christians, therefore, preach the law, and Christians only preach the Gospel to unbelievers. He believes this is wrong, and instead, Christians must place their confidence in God.
“When we find confidence in the source of faith, mainly word and promises, we don’t look downstream, but upstream from faith,” he said.
Followers of Luther during the late Middle Ages were willing to die for their belief in the distinction between law and Gospel. This distinction, Wolfmueller said, shapes the way Lutherans approach conversations with other Christians, non-Christians, and even the devil.
“We Lutherans ask a little different question,” he said. “Instead of asking if you prayed, surrendering your life to Christ, we ask if Christ has accepted you.”
Assistant Professor of History Korey Maas attended the lecture.
“He distilled in less than 50 minutes the essence of Lutheranism and the law of gospel,” Maas said.
Though Wolfmueller claimed American Christianity has failed, he said he believes there is still hope through Christ.
“The bulk has failed to make the distinction between law and God, but Jesus will continue to bless through it all,” Wolfmueller said. “He will never fail, and his church will stand forever.”
Junior Andrew Simpson is Lutheran, and he said Wolfmueller’s distinction between the law and the Gospel is key to understanding Lutheranism.
“This is one aspect we very much differ with other denominations on,” he said. “It’s something that is a point of misunderstanding.”
Lutheran Society Vice President and junior Josh Pautz said he too appreciated how Wolfmueller explained this distinction.
“We were really happy that Wolfmueller could come give a talk on some of the Lutheran essentials and how he sees that as something lacking in American Christianity in various religious traditions present in the United States,” Pautz said. “He really focused on the law and Gospel as distinct aspects.”
He encouraged students or others who have questions about Lutheranism to reach out to the Lutheran Society.
Wolfmueller said Christians must show the difference between the law and the Gospel.
“In the final courtroom, we plead guilty and we plead Jesus,” Wolfmueller said.