Video Ministries – September 2022

Lutheran CORE is always looking for ways to take our ministry to the next level and expand our work of being a Voice for Biblical Truth and a Network for Confessing Lutherans.  Our most recent new effort is to expand our video ministry.

For about two years we have been posting on our You Tube channel a new video book review on the first day of every month.  Many thanks to the Lutheran pastors and theologians who have been recording these reviews of books of interest and importance. 

We are calling our new video ministry CORE Convictions.   This new video series is being planned particularly for those who are looking to strengthen and renew their Christian faith. We believe that these videos will be a valuable resource for those who wish to grow in their knowledge of Biblical teaching and Christian living as well as for those who want to know more about how Lutherans understand the Bible. We also want to provide this resource for those who do not have the opportunity or the option of attending a church where the preaching and teaching is Biblical, orthodox, and confessional.

Here is a link to our You Tube channel.  In the top row you will find recordings from both sets of videos – in the order in which they were posted, beginning with the most recent.  In the second row you will find links to the Playlists for both sets of videos – Book Reviews and CORE Convictions.  Here is some more information about our two most recent video book reviews.



Many thanks to NALC pastor Dennis DiMauro for recording a video review of Robert Benne’s book, Thanks Be to God: Memoirs of a Practical Theologian.  A link to his review can be found here. 

Dr. Benne is the Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion Emeritus at Roanoke College in Virginia as well as the founder of the college’s Benne Center for Religion and Society.  He currently serves as Professor of Christian Ethics at the Institute of Lutheran Theology.

In this book Robert Benne tells the story of his life from a small-town upbringing in an ethnically German area of Nebraska (which Dennis DiMauro describes as like Ozzie and Harriet wearing Luther Rose t-shirts), to the University of Chicago and a few sabbaticals in Germany.  At first enthralled with the seminary radicalism of the 1960’s, he soon discovers that this is not for him.  He moves from Chicago to Roanoke College in Virginia, where he works to reclaim the Lutheran identity of the college. 

In 1982 he founded the college’s Center for Religion and Society, which later was named after him.  He worked with Lutheran CORE in a failed attempt to uphold traditional views on marriage in the ELCA and worked with Carl Braaten to start the NALC’s annual theology conference (which later was renamed the Braaten-Benne Lectures), and the younger theologians colloquium, of which Dennis DiMauro is a member.  

Dennis DiMauro concludes this enthusiastic recommendation of this book by saying that it is a wonderful memoir that details Dr. Benne’s journey from left-wing activist to iconic Christian ethicist.  It demonstrates how one person can fight the good fight for God’s Law and Gospel and make a difference in the world while succeeding in academia against all odds.


Many thanks to Ethan Zimmerman for his review of the debate between Desiderius Erasmus and Martin Luther on the issue of free will.  Ethan is a first-year student at the North American Lutheran Seminary.  A link to his review can be found here.   

This debate took place in the mid-1520’s as Erasmus stated in his Diatribe that the will is free, while Luther insisted in his Bondage of the Will that the will is bound to Satan or to God.  Erasmus’ work is a very methodical, precise piece according to the best tradition of the humanists.  Erasmus uses Scripture to support his point because he knows that Scripture is the only authority that Luther will accept.  Luther argues his point on the basis of the same passages of Scripture which Erasmus uses, plus some additional passages.

A major difference between the work of these two men is the tone.  Erasmus’ writing is very professional, polite, concise, and academic.  Luther’s is emotionally charged, vehement, and down to earth.  Reading Erasmus is like reading a textbook.  Reading Luther is like reading a fiery sermon.

Ethan Zimmerman concludes by saying that reading these two books “will more clearly elucidate both the men of the debate, the issues of the reformation, and shed light on the core tenants of the Lutheran tradition and why we are the way we are today.”  

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We now have four videos posted in our CORE Convictions series –

  • “Defending Christian faith and morality without being a nasty jerk or a defensive Bible thumper” by NALC pastor Cathy Ammlung
  • “Jesus is the only way to salvation” by Russell Lackey, campus pastor at Grand View University (ELCA)
  • “Teaching the faith to children of all ages” by NALC pastor Jim Lehmann
  • “What does it mean to be Confessional?” by NALC pastor Jeffray Greene

More videos will be posted as they become available.  My August letter from the director contained a summary of and a link to Cathy’s video.  Here is a summary of and a link to Russell’s video.


Many thanks to Russell Lackey, senior campus pastor at Grand View University in Des Moines, for his answer to the question, Is Jesus the only way to salvation?  A link to his video can be found here.

Some will interpret John 14: 6 as Jesus’ narrowing the way to God.  “No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  Instead Dr. Lackey points out that here Jesus is providing a way to the Father.  “No one comes to the Father.”  On our own we would never be able to come to the Father.  “Except through Me.”  Jesus provides the way.  It is as if we were all stuck in a dark room and were unable to find our way out.  Someone needs to open the door, provide a light, and show the way.

Pastor Lackey also refers to Revelation 5: 2-5, where the question is asked, “Who is worthy to open the scroll?”  Only Jesus is worthy.  No one else is able to provide the way. 

We will all die.  No one can escape that.  Jesus alone overcame the grave, opened the way, and provides a way beyond the grave.  The best news of all is this – Jesus has made a way to the Father. 

Video Book Review – “Martin Luther’s Theology of Beauty”

Lutheran CORE continues to provide monthly video reviews of books of interest and importance.  Many thanks to Maurice Lee, NALC pastor and theologian, for doing a review of Mark Mattes’ book, Martin Luther’s Theology of Beauty: A Reappraisal.  Dr. Mattes is Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Grand View University in Des Moines.

Dr. Lee begins by referring to Dr. Mattes’ “astonishingly prolific and insightful scholarship over many years.”  He then goes on to mention how Luther would have come to a conclusion similar to that of the philosophical tradition — that truth, goodness, and beauty are closely interconnected — but only on the basis of his rigorously Christological perspective, in that we can rightly see truth, goodness, and beauty only in the light of Christ crucified and risen.

Luther and the Lutheran tradition did not remove music and the visual arts from the church.  In fact, Luther’s praise for music was second only to his praise for the Word of God. This deep appreciation for beauty was in line with Luther’s understanding that God’s Word comes through earthly, physical, and bodily means.  The finite is capable of bearing the infinite.  The body and earthly things can be channels of grace when appropriated by the Word of God.

This review, as well as 18 others, has been posted on our YouTube channel.  A link to the channel can be found here.


If you would like to watch Lutheran CORE’s playlist of all of our video book reviews, click here, then scroll down and start the video by selecting the play button or click on the three vertical lines near the top right of the first video to select a new video from the list that will pop up. 

Spineless Christianity

The life of a Christian isn’t always an easy one. Wasn’t it Jesus who said, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14)? Not only that, but a cursory reading of the many letters of the New Testament, including Revelation 2 and 3, shows that life in the early Church was “everything” but idyllic. If that was the case 2000 years ago, why should it be any different today?

The challenges we face now, many of which we try to articulate and address at Lutheran CORE, are myriad: Critical Race Theory, soup-de-jour sexual ethics, finding a pitcher large enough to contain “gender fluidity,” the waning of Scriptural authority, substantial clergy shortages, a high degree of apathy among the “nones” in America (to say nothing about spiritual malaise among some of the faithful). Life in the Church today is everything but idyllic. The challenges we are facing seem, at times, overwhelming.

What if something else is amiss? What if we have gone too soft, lost our moxie, can’t find our “get up and go” because it “hurried up and went”? It’s easy to point fingers at many things out there, and there certainly are viruses more noxious than COVID-19 which have entered the bloodstream of American Lutheranism. But what if the fundamental issue isn’t out there but a problem with in here? C.S. Lewis wrote about “men without chests” in the Abolition of Man, a staggering assessment and stinging indictment on modern man (the 1940’s British man, at least) for their lack of character. Or to put it in another way, I’ve heard criticisms of a heartless or a mindless Christianity, but what about a spineless Christianity? The body of Christ surely has a spine, does it not? Surely we aren’t just a sagging bag of skin!

When I talk with some of the older members of the churches I currently serve and think about those saints I have served, one of the common comments I hear about pastors of ages past is how forthright they were. They weren’t forthright in a mean-spirited way, something akin to a rabid political protestor or a politician trying to show their constituents how righteous they are or (perhaps more likely) to show off the deep pockets that fund their ambitions. They were forthright in a pastoral, Christian way. Of course, the occasional mean, curmudgeon of a pastor would happen from time to time. But at least the coarse pastors got their point across clearly.

Perhaps we need to recapture or revamp that old “Herr Pastor” model of ministry. Those “Herr Pastors” had a strong backbone. The pastor spoke and led; the parish listened and followed (sometimes). The prophets and apostles spoke and led; Israel and the Church (sometimes) listened and (sometimes) followed. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, spoke and led and like the prophets before and the apostles after Him; some listened, some followed. This might not be considered the “perfect” way to lead a Church but it is a Biblical way to lead. It is a way to lead with a spine, a spine that is held steady and secure, like a good back brace, by God’s grace and power.

Perhaps this is the kind of moxie we should like to see in our pastors and church leaders.  Forthright, yet tender; stern and loving, just like Jesus. Not domineering but also not flapping back and forth like a reed in the wind. Jovial without being trivial. Gentle (a fruit of the spirit!) while also having gravitas. And this is the kind of character we should like to see in the people of God, the flock of Christ’s pasture, is it not?

Think of the saints of the New Testament whose spines were strong because of the one true faith passed on to them through their preachers and pastors; Priscilla and Aquilla, Lydia, the authors of the Gospels, and all those names Paul often mentions at the end of his letters. Think of all those early Church fathers who wrote voluminously against heresy and paganism, even at the cost of their lives and livelihood. Think of all those faithful women through the ages who taught the faith to their children and, through their love and devotion, many of them became the means by which their unbelieving husbands came to be saved (1 Corinthians 7:16).

Like the Church today, they all no doubt had bouts of uncertainty, seeing an easy road to travel through compromise…if they only gave in just a little. But as we all know and have seen, especially in various denominations, when you give an inch, soon you will be giving up a mile. Perhaps those early Christians failed more than we realize as did those who lived during decades of swelling Church numbers in the 1940’s and 50’s. But they had a burly backbone, a strong spine.

We also know that we share in the same faith, the same baptism, the same Lord: Jesus who is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Jesus, the Lamb of God, has conquered the world (John 16:33) and will return to this weary world soon (Revelation 22:20). And Jesus has promised that even the gates of hell will never overwhelm the Church (Matthew 16:18), the “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Because of Jesus and Him alone, can we have a spine capable of withstanding any backlash against the Church from wherever it may come. Because of Jesus can we witness to the truth of God “with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience” so that if we are slandered, those who “revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16).

January 2022 Newsletter

A Review of Think.Believe.Do

A concerned member of the ELCA contacted me, asking me to do a review of a new curriculum from Augsburg Fortress’s Sparkhouse. That curriculum is entitled T.B.D.: Think. Believe. Do.  Sparkhouse touts it as their newest youth curriculum.  A blogpost describes T.B.D.

as a new small group series that gives students the tools to articulate, investigate, and test out their beliefs on a broad range of topics that connect to their daily lives. However, the goal isn’t to come away from each series with a settled idea about the topic. Although they might feel more settled than they did before. Instead. T.B.D. focuses on how students think, not just what they think.

Currently, T.B.D. offers six topical courses on Prayer, Sin, Mission, Salvation, and Bible, broken up into four sessions each.  Each session begins with a “Provocative Statement” before moving through three major sections: Think, Believe and Do.  After answering a series of thought provoking questions in their journals, students watch a video and reflect on two Bible Passages.  Following this, they come up with an honest statement of what they believe as individuals and as a group.  Finally, the group brainstorms a low risk way to test out that belief in the following week. 

The Video

In the videos that accompany each session, a young person wrestles with questions about the topic of the session.  This is very interesting.  Like many people today, both young and old, the character in each video turns to the internet, searching for an answer.  As you would expect, answers come from all quarters.  The internet search yields many quotes from the Bible.  Quotes are also given by Luther, Augustine, Calvin, Bonhoeffer, St. Benedict, and other Christian teachers.  Others come from more dubious places, like Bart Ehrman and Richard Dawkins.  This is what you would expect from an internet search.   The character in the video is left with more questions than answers as a result.  Pastors and catechists are very familiar with the kind of idiosyncratic views that people develop from their use of the internet. 

Values Clarification

The question is where to turn.  The answer is more than a little surprising.  After pondering challenging statements, watching the video, and looking up two Bible verses, the students are immediately asked to formulate their own responses to the questions.  The result is something very similar to the kind of “values clarification” that was practiced decades ago.  It’s almost as if the students are told, “You’re on your own.  The Bible is unclear and unreliable.  The Christian tradition is too varied and contradictory.  Who’s to say what is true.  You need to chart your own path.”

As a person who grew up in the 1970s, I am quite familiar with this way of teaching.  I learned to ask open ended questions and to accept the challenge to decide for myself.  Fortunately for me, I had pastors and college professors who pointed me to the answers.  (I attended a Lutheran college.) Otherwise, I would have been lost.  During my senior year of college, the process of asking open questions and deciding for myself overwhelmed me.  I realized that I was drowning in a sea of meaninglessness and purposelessness.  In the midst of this, I became acutely aware of my sinfulness.  It was then that I turned to the things I had learned from my pastors and professors.  In particular, I remembered what I had learned about the Cross and the Resurrection.  If I had been left entirely to my own resources, I don’t know where I would be.

A Third Resource?

In T.B.D., youth are presented with two resources with which to interpret the Bible: 1) the confusing diversity of answers given by the internet and 2) their own wisdom and the wisdom of their peers.   It’s too bad that a third resource is not introduced into the discussion, namely, the wisdom of the Creedal and Lutheran tradition of interpreting the Bible. If the person teaching this curriculum is a pastor or a well catechized lay person, T.B.D. might not be harmful.  The same would be true if it was used with well catechized youth.  As one reads the lesson book and watches the video, it is easy to identify answers to the questions that are raised. 

For instance, in the unit on Prayer, the video character, a young woman, wrestles with the meaning and purpose of prayer.  What does the Bible teach?  How is one to pray?  Does prayer change things?  Why pray if God already knows everything?  As I watched, I thought to myself, “It’s too bad the Lutheran tradition doesn’t have a simple but profound explanation of the meaning of prayer; or even better an explanation of the Lord’s Prayer.”  At one point, the character finds a link to an article on St. Benedict.  She decides to download his daily prayer schedule to her calendar, only to be shocked by the notion that it calls for prayer seven times a day.  Again, I found myself thinking, “Too bad Luther didn’t simplify the seven hours of prayer on behalf of the laity, reducing them to two or three times a day.”   At another point, the character does a search for the Ten Commandments, hoping that there is something there about prayer.  She concludes that the Ten Commandments are no help, since prayer is not mentioned.  As one knows, however, Luther’s interpretation of the Second Commandment has a lot to say about prayer. 

Unanswered Questions

After reflecting on this curriculum, I am left with a final question.  Is the failure to use the catholic and Lutheran tradition a bug or a feature of T.B.D.?  In other words, do the developers of T.B.D. assume that teachers and facilitators will make use of the Great Tradition and the Lutheran Confessions?  Have they simply forgotten to explicitly remind facilitators of these resources?  Or is the intent to encourage students to utilize the widest possible resources, from St. Benedict to Richard Dawkins, to formulate their own system of beliefs?  If so, the result will not be formation in the Christian faith, but instead in an eclectic post-Christian form of spirituality. 

Ironically, I can remember a time when Augsburg Fortress was criticized for being too Lutheran, too Confessional, too heavy in doctrine.  Other publishers, like Group Publishing and Youth Specialties, were preferred because they were more user friendly, more engaging, and more broadly Evangelical.  To see a curriculum that makes such sparse use of the Catechism and the Lutheran Confessions is surprising, and not an improvement. 

Video Book Review – “Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther”

Lutheran CORE continues to provide monthly video reviews of books of interest and importance.  Many thanks to Ethan Zimmerman for doing this month’s video review of Roland Bainton’s classic, “Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther.”  Ethan is an NALC college student who plans to attend the NALC seminary.  He is part of Lutheran CORE’s younger persons group and has been a college-aged mentor with the NEXUS program of Grand View University.  A link to his review can be found here.

In this review Ethan focuses on three events in the life of the reformer.  The first one is the time when Luther celebrated his first mass.  He was utterly terrified because he did not feel worthy to consecrate the elements.  Ethan mentions that this shows the genuineness and sincerity of Luther’s faith.  He really cared about what he was doing.  The second event is the Diet of Worms, where Luther proclaimed, “Here I stand; I can do no other.”  Having personally come under attack for his faith, Ethan was inspired by the courage and conviction of Luther as he was being attacked for his faith.  Ethan said, “I felt like I was in the room with Luther.”  The third event is the death of his fourteen-year-old daughter Magdalena.  Ethan shares how he was deeply moved by this giant of the faith and giant of history showing his humanity in his expression of sorrow over the death of his daughter. 

This review, as well as ten others, have been posted on our YouTube channel.  A link to the channel can be found here.  Many thanks to those who have made the reviews.   

Our plan is to publish a new video book review during the first week of every month.  Many of the books that are being and will be reviewed are described either in the List of Confessional Resources on the Seminarians page of our website or in the Resources for Youth and Young Adults on the Young Timothy page of our website.  Those lists can be found here and here.

When you look at a video review for the first time, please click on the Subscribe button.  As enough people do that, it will eventually help us to get a channel name that will include our organization’s name.  

March 2021 Newsletter

Weekly Devotional for September 13, 2017

“The authorities are ministers of God.” (Romans 13:6b)

Christians look at civil government differently than some others might.  Just as we see God at work in parents, raising, protecting, and caring for children, so do we view government as a work of God, tasked with protecting and caring for society.  Rulers are, as Luther put it, our “fathers in office,” not in blood (Large Catechism, Fourth Commandment).

We may sometimes wonder why God grants us the fathers that we have.  We may even find ourselves telling our fathers, in office or in blood, “I must obey God rather than you.”  God sustains us in those times with the example of His Son, who made the good confession of faith even as He acknowledged Pilate’s authority to condemn Him (1 Timothy 6:13).

In the end, then, this startling statement—“the authorities are ministers of God”—serves both to confirm and to limit the authority of our earthly rulers.  God establishes them, and just so, they are accountable to God and beneath Him.  In either case, the truth serves to comfort God’s people: God’s providence rests over all!  We love, honor, and pray for our rulers; we may even serve as rulers in good conscience; and at times, we bear witness against these rulers whom we are called to love.  

LET US PRAY: O Lord of lords, bless the government of this land.  Teach me to love those who make, administer, and judge our laws, and to hold them in esteem for Your sake, for truly, they are Your ministers for our good.  Teach them also to turn aside from evil; to seek justice, humility, and mercy; and to temper speech and action with such wisdom that our common life may be wholesome and pleasing to You; through Christ our Lord.  Amen

Pastor Steven K. Gjerde

Zion, Wausau