Nadia Bolz-Weber: Entering the stream of the faithful
I find comfort in that. That’s something that’s rooted in reality. It’s not about me coming up with the next clever thing or me trying to be as relevant as I can possibly be or any of those things, because it has its own integrity. You can’t deconstruct the truth.
The reason the Bible is important is because it bears Christ into the world; it’s the cradle that holds Christ. As a confessing Christian, the central message of the Bible for me is the revelation of how God chose to reveal God’s self.
Therefore, since we know what the central message is, the gospel itself is at the center. It’s not one thing; it’s like concentric circles.
David J. Lose has this great book, “Making Sense of Scripture.” He writes there is one view where everything in Scripture is a link -- one of them can’t be weak, so they all have to be together and they’re all equal and they’re all equally strong, and if you doubt that, everything will pull apart.
The view I’m talking about is where the gospel is in the middle, and the farther away something in the Bible gets from that, it has less and less authority.
Q: How do you communicate a historic doctrine in today’s culture?
First of all, people should read Martin Luther’s “On the Bondage of the Will” and “The Freedom of a Christian.”
I also think, if given the opportunity, people can actually see [that] the way in which they live can’t live up to even their own values.
At the end of the day, whether you’re a conservative or a liberal, there is something you didn’t recycle that day. There is something you bought that was not fair trade. There’s some thought you had that was lustful. There is no way to escape the fact that no matter what your values are, you cannot live up to them. It is impossible. That’s what we call being convicted by the law. The law is anything that convicts the conscious.
When Adam and Eve were in the garden and they heard the rustling of the leaves, they freaked out. Do you know what the rustling of the leaves was? The law. They’re convicted by the fact that there’s always something within them that is sin.
In that way, a newborn baby is full of sin. It has no thought for God or neighbor. I still don’t have a thought for God or neighbor. It’s so completely clear to me that that is who I am, but then when I hear about and experience who God is for me, when I return again to my identity that I have in my baptism, it’s corrective to that sclerotic posture that I end up always having.
Q: How does this affect you and your work?
It’s something I need. I need to receive the Eucharist. I need to hear the gospel again and again and again, because I forget all of that. I think that’s what we do in Christian communities. We gather. We remind each other of who we are. We remind each other of God’s promises, and that’s what we proclaim.
I think people, especially liberals, conflate sin with low self-esteem. They’re like, “I don’t want to talk about sin anymore,” because [they’ve been told] sin is immorality. They’re like, “I’m tired of having someone tell me I’m immoral when I’m not.”
There’s very little to do with morality. Sometimes it intersects with morality -- absolutely, no question. Being curved in on self can cause some really immoral things.
If you could actually manage to be a completely ethical and moral person, you would still be sinful. It doesn’t mean you’re bad. It just means that God is God and you are not, and that’s actually good news.
I once visited this woman who had a 6-month-old baby die. I spent the day with her. She had a pack of cigarettes next to her bed, and she didn’t have custody of her other four kids, and she was a drug addict. She spent the whole time going, “You know, this all happened because of this cop or this social worker who had it out for me.”
She had this totally external locus of control. I was so sad after I left, and it wasn’t because of the situation, which was sad; I was sad because I felt like she was never going to experience the exquisiteness of God’s grace, because she can’t confess. She needs it, but she can’t get to that place. She’s not going to have the freedom that comes from that, because she keeps going, “No, it’s this, it’s that.” Total denial.
My church always has a confession and absolution at the beginning of our liturgy. A lot of church planters want to jettison the confession, because they don’t want people to feel bad. I’m like, “Oh my God, that’s central to who we are.”
Q: How do you conceive of what you’re doing as a laboratory working for the wider church?
That’s a good question, because we’re taking the essential parts of the liturgy and the theology in the history of the church and enculturating them in our context and then saying, “Oh, look at what we did” -- and then get quoted like, “That’s identifiably Lutheran, but it looks totally different.”
I wasn’t raised Lutheran, and in the end, I feel like part of my work is to re-catechize cradle Lutherans. I’m like an evangelist saying to the Lutherans, “You have no idea what you’re sitting on. You can’t even see it.” To have a theological system based on paradox -- that’s what the Lutheran theological system is based on, a paradox, and it couldn’t be more perfect for postmodern people.
The way we view Scripture, law and gospel -- the tension of living between law and gospel simultaneously sinner and saint, living in the now and the not yet, all of that -- Lutherans aren’t afraid to play the mystery card.
We don’t have to explain everything. We don’t claim to have the answers. We have some great descriptions. I took those essentials and I said, “Well, look at what it looks like.”