Lutheran Orthodoxy and Evangelical Ecumenicity in the Writings of John Warwick Montgomery -- By: David R. Liefeld

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 50:1 (Spring 1988)
Article: Lutheran Orthodoxy and Evangelical Ecumenicity in the Writings of John Warwick Montgomery
Author: David R. Liefeld

Lutheran Orthodoxy and Evangelical Ecumenicity in the Writings of John Warwick Montgomery

David R. Liefeld

The history of twentieth-century American Lutheran theology is essentially the history of interplay between two viewpoints. It is, largely, a history of the rise of “new” Lutheranism. The major exception to that trend has been the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, which in the 1970s reaffirmed its commitment to “old” Lutheranism but only at the cost of a traumatic civil war.

“Old” Lutherans look positively upon classical Lutheran orthodoxy and the Lutheran confessions. There is a strong tendency to harmonize Luther, the confessions, and orthodoxy. “New” Lutherans generally look first to Martin Luther and then (with modern, “existentialist,” historical-critical presuppositions) take a critical look at the confessions and orthodoxy. There is a strong tendency to drive a wedge between Luther and Lutheranism.

John Warwick Montgomery is a Lutheran controversialist who has participated in this battle between “old” and “new” Lutheranism.1 Raised in a “liberal Presbyterian-Congregational Church” where, he says, the pastor kept him “from hearing the Gospel for 16 years” (Montgomery writing to a friend on July 15, 1965),2 he was converted to faith in Jesus Christ through the ministry of InterVarsity Fellowship while

an undergraduate philosophy and classics major at Cornell University. He thereupon joined a Lutheran church and later became an ordained pastor of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA).

While chairing the history department of Waterloo Lutheran University in Ontario, Canada, Montgomery became disgusted with the liberal direction of the LCA. And so, a year of doctoral study in France (1963–64), he initiated a transfer to the more conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, where he quickly became embroiled in the theological debates of that church body. Aggressively promoting the “old” Lutheran view of biblical and confessional authority, his efforts, combined with those of many others, eventually led to the election of a conservative Synod president and disciplinary action against the president and several faculty members of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.

While promoting this reaffirmation of orthodox, “old” Lutheran theology in the Missouri Synod, however, Montgomery was serving on the faculty of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Trinity is a nominally confessional seminary in that the faculty is required to teach in accordance with the Evangelical Free Church’s brief doctrin...

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