The "Orthodox Pounce"

Re-reading Pr. Tomczak's excellent Hermeneutics and the Confessions (which deserve a few future blog posts), he discusses one of the problems in the WELS being that we've never had our "Battle for the Bible" like the LCMS did during Seminex. There is a temptation, described by Wauwatosa theologian August Pieper on page 9, that "We know the Scriptures well, but could not use them." A sense of legalism in that "We've got it. We've mastered exegesis. The exegesis is done." by our Lutheran forefathers and that we could simply rest on their theological laurels. This leads to a fear that Wauwatosa theologian J.P. Koehler identified as fear that "right faith" would end up focusing on "right" more than "faith." Later Hummel identified this as the "Orthodox Pounce." While I am critical of the Wauwatosa Theologians (Wauwatosa was turned into an exegetical method, whereas it was really only a useful [valid] critique of "Dead Orthodoxy" - but more on that in future posts), this is a useful insight. Quoting Hummel:

[M]ajor concern must also be given to the theological reasoning behind the answer rather than the mechanical use of some checklist... I think it may be offered as a rule of thumb that a position can theoretically be considered "exegetical" if it can be defined without denial of any articles of faith (not only the "Gospel")... it can be useful in avoiding true legalism or the "orthodox pounce."

Hummel's definition of the orthodox pounce is primarily the mechanical use of faith and criticizing theologians for not hitting certain orthodox words, instead of critiquing the argument (something the WELS dealt with in the Protes'tant controversy where Beitz's paper was a valid critique of Synod, perhaps stinging, hut heavily criticized as he spoke broadly and didn't not using the specific orthodox manner of his day. Paul Hensel's The Hardening is simultaneously fantastic and sobering - also fodder for future posting.)

I see a slightly different version of the "Orthodox Pounce" in our modern social media world. There are many places to discuss theology via the various social media platforms and this is a good thing. While worship and faith must be centered on local, faithful parishes the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren online allows for faithful lay members to engage regardless of location. This is a good thing. 

The "pounce" occurs when a group or individual makes a coordinated attack on another individual for a word selection used support an argument, or an offhand statement that may have been careless, but isn't necessarily wrong. It simply requires clarification. Instead of waiting for the current conversation to die down and asking a clarifying question there is an immediate pounce questioning orthodoxy or asking for immediate repentance. Unless the individual has a past history of denying orthodoxy, it makes an uncharitable claim on the individual, who may have a "mere Christianity" understanding of the Scriptures. Or perhaps they - like all of us - made a sloppy statement that does need a little tidying up. Call this the "defensive pounce." The opposite - the "offensive pounce" - is when an individual poses a statement that is orthodox but require a careful, nuanced parsing to process. If the purpose of this statement is to trigger those weaker or less nuanced in the faith, we are not properly utilizing our Christian freedoms.

The skill of speaking precisely is difficult but the skill of asking the clarifying question can be even more so. It's easier to be brusque than it is to explain patiently, and patience is a virtue most of us could use more of. To be clear this is not a call to allow heterodoxy into Lutheran discussions. Clear error must be addressed clearly in the forum where it occurs. But we should be on our guard not to be overzealous - instead of a pounce, it should be a word fitly spoken. Social media platforms engender, even encourage the Orthodox Pounce and we must be on our guard to avoid it. We need to recognize we only see a thin slice of the people we interact with online; instead of attempting to derail a productive conversation for an orthodoxy check - we should think twice, take their words and actions in the kindest possible way, and engage in such a way as to clarify without derailing. 

(Not calling anyone out, but if you feel seen... "let the reader understand")