Daniel Deen and Joel Oesch: The Lutheran Voice and Crosswise Institute

How does this interact with and situate itself with artificial intelligence?

AI usually fits within the ‘Super-Intelligence’ wing of transhumanist thought, at least in my experience. The other two prongs are Super-longevity, which deals with the indefinite prolonging of life, and Super-wellbeing, the pursuit of bliss.

Some researchers, such as Nick Bostrom, identify two markers for reaching super-intelligence, certainly aided by artificial intelligence. One, we’ve reached it once computers have reached a place where they vastly outperform human thinking across a variety of intelligent tasks. Deep Blue was not considered such a moment because it could effectively only do one thing: calculate chess moves. General intelligence is still a ways off, though I imagine it gets closer every day. Two, super-intelligence is upon us once we’ve integrated technologies into our very bodies to produce thinking that is far superior to current levels of human processing speeds. Advanced AI, as I understand it, is crucial because it allows for recursive self-improvement. In other words, rather than having teams of tech guys fixing bugs in the system, the computer itself autonomously improves itself.

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@joel.oesch, do you ever engage with science fiction? It seems this might be the really interesting ways your work might engage with popular culture. I know @CPArand is a science fiction fan too, as is @AndyWalsh.

Also, it is clear that technology has been altering us for centuries. So I’m not sure how to engage with these concerns. Why should we be concerned about a changing notion of human? After all, our notions of “human” have been changing all the time since the rise of civilization?

Once again, in this, I find myself at home with you. In Jesus I find something salient about what it means to be human. This is where, it seems, more work should be done.

Can you point us to a couple of your articles on this?

@Philosurfer can you also comment on this?

Two things.

  1. What are you seeing happen in dialogue at Peaceful Science that gives hope? How can we do better?

  2. What do you think your students are wanting to see as we map out a new way forward here?

@Philosurfer, thank you for the summary of crosswise, and how you included @swamidass.

@joel.oesch, I like your point about not avoiding the conversation. To “keep the peace,” we do avoid the conversation, far too often… to our detriment

I agree with Joel entirely on this point. The issue is in large part of symbolic importance in the culture wars. That is to say, it is symbolic of the church’s loss of influence in shaping the larger intellectual world regarding science (see Okamoto’s excellent article on this in the 2017 CJ). As a result, It is such a hot button issue that no one dares to touch without getting seriously burned. So no one talks about it. In its absence, I believe that lay people find their own way of reconciling things.

Guys. I just emailed you a number of documents. These are what the LCMS has publicly affirmed about creation. We are called to uphold the public position of the Missouri Synod and are not called to go beyond it (unless the church adopts something further). Of some interest, it was pointed out to me that what is surprising in some ways is how few statements have been adopted by the LCMS on this topic, perhaps because we in the the LCMS have been reticent say more publicly or to bind people to more than Scripture says (e.g. I have been told that they synod has consistently declined to adopt a statement using the language of “24 hours” to define a day). Now, I have no problem stating what we as theologians or exegetes believe the text says exegetically about the meaning of a day in Genesis 1 (as we did in the Adams-Arand piece). But other issues come to the foreground when it comes to adopting a doctrinal statement.

For example, in speaking where Scripture speaks and being silent where scripture is silent, we have never publicly adopted a statement that identifies which portions of scripture are certain genres, for example, the Psalms as poetry. Do we think that that they are? No doubt. But the Bible doesn’t tell us that they are poetry. We draw that conclusion for other reasons, the same with canon. We have never publicly declared that the canon is closed and that there are only 66 books (including antilegoumena). Why? Cuz the Bible doesn’t tell us how many.

Also, we have normally distinguished between exegesis and doctrine (for example, see the 1967 CTCR Statement on “What is a Doctrine?” not to mention Walther’s point that I still repeated in the conclusion of the Brief Statement that’s we do not subscribe to every exegetical detail as found in confessions or historical statements) but those distinctions seem often forgotten or neglected. Now, I don’t want to push too hard on that point or be cavalier about it, but historically, we have generally been careful not to make a particular interpretation of a particular passage a matter of confession or doctrine. I suspect that this may be because we have usually required two passages to establish a doctrine (am I right in that?). For example, John 6, Formula of Concord says that it is not about the Lord’s Supper. I bet more than half our pastors and professors believe it is. In some ways, it doesn’t matter in that other passages establish our understanding of the Lord’s Supper. The same can be said for Matthew 28. The Brief statement says that Christ commissions all believers. I bet many pastors say, no, it is given to pastors. Right? Similarly, we say that Nimrod was a mighty hunter. But is that a doctrine? Is it an article of faith?

Dan, your assessment of the Lutheran traditions on these points is right on target!

I agree with the point about many in the LCMS being functionally fundamentalistic. We have even gotten responses from pastors like, “why is the faculty so opposed to fundamentalism?” I think it is like the political parties. You can’t criticize anyone further to the right or left of you as long as they are kind of in your camp.


Wow, I want to be a Transhumanist! If I get multifocus lens for cataracts, new knee and hip replacements, and perhaps a few more medical marvals of the future, I can a live a longer, more purposeful and meaningful life. Perhaps transhumanism is another name for what Yuval Harari calls the next human species - Homo Deus.

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Of course you do @patrick, who wouldn’t when you put it this way alone? The point is that there is real risk of dystopia too. This is one of the major themes of a lot of science fiction right now. @AndyWalsh might add some of his own examples, but a recent one worth looking at is The Titan, which is precisely about Homo Deus.

So, can one of the Lutherans unpack this quote from another thread about one of CS Lewis’s greatest novels…

What is the original context of this Luther quote? What type of experience is it to which Luther is referring?

(emphasis above, mine)
This jumped out at me as a non sequitur… Does one not ever desire to break free of this constraint and look to God’s own book, the creation, as well (as with the Belgic Confession?) It seems that this other book has much to say and there is no contextual prejudice (as there may be with a literal, historical view of Genesis 1-2, for instance, found in scripture.) Is there any latitude in reviewing (or applying) the doctrinal position in light of these potential issues?

@CPArand may have indicated that this is an area that you may personally desire to go, but professionally not? I thought I would ask, though.

What a wonderful quote and position! It does seem that the issue at the top may tend slightly toward this kind of fundamentalism, would you agree or no? In other words, is this same pursuit of truth allowed in the situation above (regarding understanding of creation) as it would be below (regarding a challenging beliefs in general, with confidence, knowing your faith in Christ is a pursuit of the Truth?)

Thanks to you all for taking the time to share with us!


I am still trying to wrap my head around this one. If you @TedDavis have any further comments or resources on this, I’m all ears. What happened between Reformation Wittenberg and early 20th century American Lutheranism regarding Copernicus? I can only assume that this had something to do with American fundamentalism and educational practice, but it still boggles my mind and I haven’t seen anybody really address it.

Generally, it seems that your forum is working to bring together a range of voices, academic and non-academic, concerning the various topics put forward by moderators. The fact that much of the conversations have remained civil (this doesn’t mean they aren’t heated) and that they do not seem to devolve into grandstanding is to your moderators credit. I hope it can continue as the forum continues to grow! People are really struggling to come to terms with each other; this is how it should be.

The examples that really stick in my mind were discussions with Ewert and Gauger. Of course there was a bit of disciplinary turf war or boundary disputes in play, but overall I thought the conversations were productive. It is rare to see somebody from one side of the tracks reach out to somebody on the other side of the tracks and make a conscious effort to improve each other’s thinking.

I’m not sure how to do it better except to keep doing it as differently as possible than the other sites.

Last academic year, a group of faculty members across the disciplines got together and read Jonathan Haidt’s, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. One thing that really stuck with me was something he mentions in the introduction. I paraphrase: Haidt used to yearn for world peace, but now he desires the more realistic goal of a world where conflicting ideologies are kept in balance, keeping us ALL from getting away with too much (p. xx). I don’t know if my students “want” this, but I think as a university professor I have a duty to NOT create ideologues. This doesn’t mean we give up on a robust and, ultimately, true sense of goodness, truth, and beauty, but that we come to terms with our pluralistic world and seek better ways to walk in wisdom toward outsiders (Col. 4:5).

You should check out Zoltan Istvan, he is a trip. He even wrote a book where he blows up all the dogmatic Christians (as well as Transhumanist deniers) in the end. I asked him about that when he was with us at Crosswise as he was/is also running for CA governor. He just smiled, making some claim about the fictional characters not representing reality… He really was a great guest to have on board.

It is an oddly worded statement. Lutherans do not deny the book of nature, but will always defer to the revealed Word regardless of what nature seems to be telling us about herself through scientific theory at any given time. The argumentative form of the statement is poor because the “since” signals a premise or reason why we should look to Scripture. However, “no man present” is not logically related to the conclusion “we must look…to the Bible.” Therefore, your intuition of a non sequitur is correct. A better phrasing would have been something like, “Since all scientific theory (or natural philosophy or theory of nature – pick your favorite expression) are contingent, we must look to the eternal Word of God to provide an accurate account of creation found in God’s own book, the Bible.”

I’ll let @CPArand definitively answer, but I read it as a dual warning. On the one hand, we have NOT been good about upholding the official “public position.” We, and I’m using a very corporate we, have continually pushed beyond what is required of any professional church worker. In other words, sides have been chosen where, perhaps, agnosticism was the more warranted stance according to official documents. Thus, certain conversations have been silenced or discouraged or downright afraid to be had due to an “unprofessional” acceptance of a certain way to understand the “professional” documents. This stifles, not encourages, open dialogue.

On the other hand, as we think through these issues, we must be careful to always control or account for what is our personal opinion, no matter how reflective, on these issues. One might have great arguments, practical and theoretical, for some position, but we must keep it in check against the “official” position as professional church workers are called to uphold the official positions. This isn’t to silence discussion, but to positively encourage it in the sense that the “official” position is more accommodating than any single pastor’s or professor’s or teacher’s opinion.


I wish I had a better answer, Daniel, but I’ve never studied this episode. I can point to one source that covers Walter Lang’s involvement with geocentricity:

However, I don’t recall the work trying to give the longer historical picture you want. I’ve written a little about other modern geocentrists, particularly those with Reformed roots, but never focused on the MSL folks.

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Harari, no doubt, has H+ in his field of vision as he writes Homo Deus. There is a distinction about H+ that may be useful as you consider its value going forward. Many people have therapeutic surgeries to give themselves a higher quality of life. Some of them you mentioned: hip or knee surgeries, for example. They’re not particularly controversial but would also not necessarily make you a transhumanist, as they simply bring the person back to a “normal” level of functioning. Yet there is a sizable difference between “therapeutic” uses of technology (I myself have had Lasik eye surgery–and it’s wonderful) and what would be called “enhancement” surgeries. The latter give you capacities that largely surpass the normal functioning of the human body (e.g., a brain chip that would give you unlimited memory). I leave it to you to decide whether or not this distinction raises any red flags for you. I myself have deep concerns about the mind-body dualism that emerges from human enhancement; concerns that are not solely based in my Christian commitments. Luddism isn’t the answer, either, I suspect … so, I’m not totally sure where that leaves us.

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@swamidass Oh yeah. I’m into all sorts of fiction, including fantasy and science fiction. My favorite dystopia/scifi/action series is Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series. I’m not sure why it has such a hold on my imagination, but it does. Many of the subtle issues that are brought forth center around, once again, ‘what it means to be human?’ and ‘how do I understand my community in relation to my humanity?’ Maybe that’s why the story works for me.

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I definitely want the enhancements. I had Lasik many years ago but now there are new lens replacement that get much better than evolution has provided. These are multifocus lens that have dual focus one for distance and one for reading. No need for reading glasses or distance glasses and no need for glasses at all as they replace your natural lens. To me, it is the basis of humanism to develop the best technology to ENHANCE the human experience. To me, Google is more omnipotent than any God. Google is all knowing, is available all the time, is everywhere and no where. I am now convinced that Google knows me better than I know myself.

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We are Lutheran enough to have had two children baptized as Lutherans though we take projects in new locations every year and usually find other churches more accessible than Lutheran ones when you are not a long-time member of the community.

I’d like @Philosurfer and Joel Oesch to comment on how acceptably “Lutheran” it is to consider the idea that no matter how long the six days of creation were there is an unspecified amount of time Before the First Day.
The idea goes like this…

A careful reading of the text shows that the first “day” does not begin until verse three. God does not create the heavens and the land on “day one”. Rather, on day one He separates darkness from light in a universe which had previously been created, as is stated in verse one. Therefore the universe had existed for an unstated amount of time prior to the first day.

I support that claim based on two things. First, in verse one the Hebrew word translated “created” ( bara ) is in the “Qal perfect” form. That form is used to indicate completed action. That means it is talking about something which had already happened. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The text moves on from there to say that the earth was formless and void “and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters”.

So verses one and two are like a “set-up” of the account of God’s intervention on the earth, which starts off “formless and void”. These two verses are not a part of the first “day”. Instead they are setting the scene for the account of the days, each an intervention of God in some area, which follow.

Just look at the structure of the other days. Each one starts with “And God said”. God makes a statement, creation responds, the text describes God doing something related to His statement, and then the text says (in all but the seventh day) that the “evening and the morning” of this process was day “X”. Here is the pattern of the six days….

  1. God speaks…

  2. Creation responds (sometimes recorded only as “and it was so”)

  3. God acts (sometimes only “seeing” and sometimes more direct action)

  4. Day is summed up: The evening and the morning, day X.

Each of Creation’s days starts off with “And God said”. To fit the pattern, this would include the first day. The first “And God said” is found in verse three. Therefore verse three is the beginning of the first “day”. The first two verses then can only be referring to things which occurred before the first “day” occurred.

Ok, it’s clear from the structure of the six days that day one does not start until verse three. That leaves us with “in the beginning” as something before that. “The beginning” started before the first days of creation started. How long before that? One might be tempted to ask “how long does the beginning take”? Actually I think that is asking the wrong question here.

Young earth creationists often point to Mathew 19:4 and Mark 10:6 to show that Jesus considered the creation of mankind to have occurred “in the beginning of creation”. Their thinking is that since the creation of the cosmos was also “in the beginning” then the heavens and the earth could not have been created billions of years before people. So even if heaven and earth were created “before the first day” they assume they were made in a very brief period of time.

This argument does not make sense logically. Jesus said male and female were made “at the beginning of creation” when the text shows they were made at the end of the creation “week.” So either Jesus is referring to the beginning of the creation of men and women, or He considers the beginning of creation to be when the creating is finished on the end of sixth day. Either way makes no statement about how long it took to create the heavens and the earth or how long the earth stayed formless.

In earlier versions of this work I also had more speculative textual answers to that objection. But I now think the better answer is to keep it simple. We are the ones bound by time, not God. We are the ones who have trouble with the idea that “the beginning” can take immense amounts of time while the middle and end of the story are wrapped up in a comparatively brief time. To us, it should not take vastly more time to create a world than that world is scheduled to last. But that’s us. The whole objection is based on the idea that God views time the same way we do, but that idea is explicitly rejected in scripture. 2nd Peter 3:8 says…

“But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”

Peter asks believers not to be ignorant about just one thing, but apparently that’s too much for us! We are so wrapped up in ourselves that we just can’t get out of our own time-bound skin to appreciate things the way that God sees them. God is not bound by time. He has no problem taking fifteen-billion years to set up a story that plays itself out in tens of thousands of years. Nor to Him does the set up necessarily take any longer than the playing out. That we have trouble grasping this is no limitation on Him, it’s our limitation.

Haven’t you see elaborate patterns of dominoes which have been set up just for the purpose of watching them fall in a particular way? It may have taken hours for the creator to set up a series of dominoes which fall in a matter of seconds. The first six dominos to fall may be the “beginning” of the story playing out- but it took a lot of time to even prepare that beginning. So even we humans, made in His likeness, sometimes have a penchant for similar things. The joy comes from the setting up of the event as much as the event itself. The beginning of the event comes long after the set-up for the event. The life of the event takes much less time than the set-up.

Further, we don’t even know if God considered the set up as “taking more time”. The amount of time one perceives passing depends on the position of the observer- and remember no humans were around to observe the events of Genesis chapter one until the very end of it. From our view setting up the dominoes was a lengthy process. To Him, the falling of the dominoes may be the lengthy process. And we were not around!

In the next three chapters I am going to communicate some pretty heady stuff about time and perspective. By the end of it I hope you will see that the argument being used from Mark 10:6 is based on a flawed assumption about God and time.

To be clear, I am not advocating for the old Scofield “Gap Theory” which postulated a long gap in time between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2 during which a prior creation populated the earth and was destroyed. I am just saying that the test allows that there was a large interval of time between the creation of the heavens and the earth and the start of the first “day” in verse three. I am not claiming there is a missing story there.

My point is simply that the text shows that Creation’s first day does not begin until verse three. So regardless of how long the “days” of chapter one are, verses one and two happened an undetermined amount of time beforehand.

I also want to point out that the heavens are something which God creates, not something He is contained within or bounded by. 1 Kings 8:27 et al point out that “ the highest heaven cannot contain Him. ” God is not constrained to exist “in” Heaven. He is beyond the heavens. He may be “in” heaven in the way that I sit “in” a chair. I am not within the chair. As it is written (Isaiah 66:1) “ Heaven is My throne and the Earth is My footstool ”. Later on, a person of the Trinity does enter within heaven, but I get ahead of myself.

Another thing I want to point out is the condition of creation prior to God filling it with Light. It was not a good place to be. The initial conditions are not good, in any realm of creation. They are dark and foreboding. When it says “the deep” in this passage, the Hebrew word “ tehom ” is used. This term also means “abyss”, and can refer to subterranean waters. It is thus comparable to the Greek term used to describe the place where the spirits who left their proper abode are kept in chains (Jude 1:6), or the place in Revelation from which such creatures emerge (Rev. :11). In Luke 8:31 the demons who possessed a miserable wretch begged Christ not to send them to “the deep.” The word here again refers to an abyss.

The initial conditions of creation were like the realms where the very worst spirit offenders are kept in custody, like some sort of other-worldly super-max facility. Perhaps the “abyss” spoken of in later scripture is a realm or void where things have been left exactly as creation was at this point. It is a space utterly lacking in the light of God’s wisdom, judgement, personality, or word.

Even vice enjoys the fruits produced by virtue, and even evil spirits dread to be confined to a place where the light of God has in no way entered. They don’t want too much of it to shine, they wish to lurk about in the evening shadows. Despite this, they dread the deep and utter darkness.

So did God create the universe as a place of evil? Consider what evil is. He created it as a place of darkness- a place which lacked His Divine light. This is not because He made creation evil, but because He had not at this point illuminated it with His own Word. Evil is not a thing in itself, it’s the absence of good in a thing. It’s the absence of God, or more precisely (since God is omnipresent) an absence of His Word. When He made something outside of Himself, it could not help but be dark until His Word was injected into it.

I know that a lot of people are convinced that God created an unfallen universe which was in a state of perfection comparable to that of heaven at its holiest, but that is not what the text says. The text says that when God creates something outside of Himself it is an undesirable place to be- until He begins to put His Word and His actions into it.

I should also mention something about Exodus 20:11 while I am on this subject, and it is a verse which I will have more to say about later. It says that “For six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth” as well as what is in them. Though the King James Version says “For in six days….” we find that the word “in” is not a part of the original text. Plus the word translated “made” here, and in Genesis, is different from the word translated “created” in Genesis 1:1.

I will go into more detail in a bit but my point is that you cannot equate Exodus 20:11 with Genesis 1:1. This is because 1) Genesis 1:1 speaks of the creation of the earth and the universe before God spoke the first day into existence in Genesis 1:3 while Exodus 20:11 speaks of God’s work on the heavens and the earth during the six days of Genesis chapter one. And 2) the word “in” is not in the text. It is not saying that God created the world “in” six days. Rather He worked on His creation for six days. He created it “in the beginning”.

This fits a lot better with the context of the verse, where it is arguing that man should rest from his own labors on the land for one day out of seven because the Lord Himself did the same. He worked for six “days” and on the seventh He rested. Farmers do not “create” the earth they farm, but they do make it into something productive. That is mostly what the Lord did during the so-called “Creation Days.”

No problem.

Sounds like some student has a dissertation topic ready in hand if they are interested!

I always wonder about claims such as this one when it seems that the enhancement always are followed by new negative experiences, and I’m not talking about learning curve anxieties, but deeper problems. For instance, social media and depression. And we don’t need to get into a conversation about correlation, causation, confounding variables, experimental reproducibility etc… I am making more a comment that all enhancement seems to come with new problems for human experience. What are the markers of actual or true enhancement then?

Ah yes… the always rib poking @Patrick at his best!

I’m going to hand this off to @pmcelliott for perhaps a bit more careful linguistic analysis if he is able. I’ll read and comment on anything that jumps out at me, but this is a bit above my pay grade!

Could this in any way be related to Augustine’s view of creation where it ALL happened at once? If it is, you might have a position that is something a “Lutheran” can explore, meaning it is not heretical, but not something that would be actively promoted within Lutheran circles.

Total agreement, but how might this insight also work against what you are suggesting?

Does the notion of “good” even make sense at this stage of creation?

Except that He is omnipresent… yes?


That is a bold unsubstantiated statement. Because we are living longer more enjoyable lives we have some new problems to solve like

To the Lutherans here, what could be the most salient contributions of the distinctives of your theology to the larger conversation? What do you think non-Lutherans might most benefit from in your voice?

I am surprised to hear that might be tolerated in Lutheran circles since that would be LESS time than six literal 24 hour days. I don’t see it is connected to what I am curious about. A close look at the text, both here and in Exodus 20, describe a situation where God worked ON a previously existing creation for six days before resting on the seventh. So verses 1 and 2 are talking about what the world was like before the first day and there is no specified amount of time given. It could have been created 15 minutes before the first day or it could have been 15 billion years (except that the objects by which we measure those units of time and not been set in their orderly position and authorized for use to track time until day four).

What I am really suggesting about time is more complicated than what I am asking about here. When you lay it all out how long something takes depends on the position of the observer. In this case the observer is creation itself and so applying our view of what a “day” is does not really apply in either direction. But lest I get side-tracked…

No. Because the illumination of His Word had not yet entered the cosmos. If there was something good about it then it would make sense to use it. The language we have points to things NOT being good prior to the intervention of His Word. (This is going to wind up pointing to Christ in a way other creation models don’t, which ought to be right up the Lutheran Alley). There was darkness, and we know on day one that only the LIGHT was good. On day two when light and darkness were separated so that darkness remained nothing was mentioned as being good. The word for “deep” is the same one used for the very unpleasant place called the “Abyss”. So the text is pointing a direction here. It is not describing a place where everything is wonderful. It is describing a place where “good” does not apply because conditions are not “good”. It is a place which could be good once God’s word brings order and illumination- IOW just like us. This is a creation designed for beings like us.

Omnipresent because even there His spirit was brooding, but being present is not the same thing as intervening. It actually brings God and His Word (and Christ is the Living Word) more glory if creation stewed about for ages unable to pull itself up by its own bootstraps until He spoke than it is for Him to bring forth a creation that He ordered immediately so that creation never had a chance to see how it could do without Him. Creation itself longs for God to speak and order it with the illumination of His Word.

That is the progressive spirit! We can call them “new problems,” but any advance comes with “new problems.” At what point do the problems simply become the reality?

Tolerated is the right attitude. Our early post-Reformation theologians suggested Augustine’s theory of creation was not something to keep him OUT of the faith, even as they rejected it as the correct interpretation of Genesis.

Alright, well I hope that one of our more language gifted guys can spar with you a bit about it. The last time you’ll brought @deuteroKJ in on these sorts of questions, I learned a ton.

I’ve marked your text as something to read as I remember you pushing the Christ-centered nature of it all in other threads.

Okay, I think this is starting to help me to understand your view a bit more clearly and I really like the idea of God speaking being the crux of it with creation’s, as well as our own, longing to hear God/Christ speak. But I would need to read the entire argument. The Lutheran way is to start with Christ’s resurrection and then move backwards to creation. As @CPArand mentioned in his post earlier, exegesis and doctrine have a more complicated relationship within Lutheranism than is typically understood by Lutherans themselves! Thus, I would be very hesitant to make some sort of judgment as to your work’s acceptability within Lutheran circles. You mentioned that you often attend Lutheran churches when they are available in your area. Have you ever run these ideas past your pastors to get a sense of their thinking on it?