95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Reformations – A Rejoinder

October 22, 2014 at 11:39 am 2 comments

Don’t take my word for it – read the original. And the original of the original.

95 Theses for the 21st Century Church

Disputation of Doctor Clint Schnekloth on the Power and Efficacy of Reformations (2014)

Rejoinder by The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, STS, M.Div.

(Original theses in regular type – rejoinders in bold italics.)

Martin Luther famously posted 95 theses for consideration and discussion (though there is some debate as to where he posted them, and whether they were as singularly nailed to a blank door as is often depicted). Although the following theses make no claim to the same cohesion and rigor as Luther’s 95, they do riff on them.


These are indeed not as good as Luther’s. However, they are better than Matthew Fox’s.

1. Jesus Christ, when he said, “Repent,” willed that our whole lives should be lives of repentance.

The Ninety-Five Theses, or the Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences indeed are not truly about indulgences, but about repentance.


2. Although penitential disciplines are infrequently exercised in the contemporary religious landscape, they are still the starting point for life.
3. This stands in tension with the dominant faith of North America, moralistic therapeutic deism, which emphasizes that God exists, helps me live a good life, and is there for me in my needs.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, the dominant faith of Americans, excludes true repentance, because repentance involves a God who stands against us in judgment, the very antithesis of the God of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.


4. Because moralistic therapeutic deism is the dominant faith of most people in our culture, regardless of actual religious tradition, true repentance will be misunderstood by many.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism misunderstands repentance as turning to the true self and self-actualization. The purchase of self-help methods is the practical mode of repentance in Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

5. When it is misunderstood, it will also not be practiced, and instead practices will arise to take its place–especially self-sufficiency, partisanship, and closed confessionalism.

Where closed confessionalism is present, the judgment which is God’s will be abrogated to those who are office-holders in closed confessionalism, without the assent or understanding of the community.


However, true confessionalism, if, when, and where it is practiced, will exercise God’s judgment within the confessional community. It will also invite others outside the community to stand within the community and therefore under God’s judgment as comprehended by the community.


I await enlightenment as to whether a true confessionalism is possible, and if not, if there is an alternative.

6. Glory and success will become the markers of communities that forget repentance; the weakness and suffering of God (and the human) will in those places be denigrated.

As the preaching of indulgences led to a neglect of true repentance, so the preaching of the indulgence of the self has also led to a neglect of true repentance. Both theologies are and were theologies of glory.
7. In large part, although secularism is not to blame for this shift, it is the rise of secularities that has created the conditions for this type of religiosity to take hold in our context(s).

If the preaching of indulgences granted by the Pope was the product of a religious society, one wonders if the preaching of indulgence granted by ‘secular’ society can be seen as the product of an similarly religious society, dedicated not to the authority of the Pope, but to the authority of the will-ing self.
8. We have before us the condition where the religious and non-religious can equally disregard repentance because selves have become buffered.

The differentiation between the religious and secular should not be seen as the opposition of religion to secularism, but instead as the opposition of the religion of the individual will-ing self, to religions in which individuals find themselves within communities within space and time.
9. This rampant individualism, each buffered self doing its own thing, is actually a shift in the culture away from rather than towards true freedom.

“Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” 
John Calvin
10. We find ourselves each doing our own thing, which amounts to the same thing, so we live under the hegemony of experiencing bondage as freedom.

The fiction of ‘doing one’s own thing’ is experienced in much the same way as the fiction of a bought plenary indulgence. It keeps one in the slavery of experiencing oneself as an agent unbounded by God, and it is preached to the ruin of souls for the financial profit of the few.
10. True freedom arises in recognizing our common humanity, our common createdness, and in so doing letting down the barriers to our individual selves.

To experience one as a created being is to accept the limit of both our death-bound selves and the limit of the other. But an individual self, like a confession, must have semi-permeable barriers, without which there are no distinct selves which may encounter others and be encountered as others by others. Only dead things have impermeable barriers or no barriers. This is true physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
11. This, or something like it, is an aspect of repentance; being open to the other in order for the other to free us from who we have caged ourselves into being.

The first ‘other’ to whom we are to be open is Christ. We are not to encounter others except through the medium of Christ Jesus, who stands both among us and between us (Bonhoeffer)
12. One of those others to which we are open is Scripture. We are open to the possibility that the Scripture might tell us who we are.

The Scripture’s primary revelation is the revelation of God. The witness of Moses, the prophets and the apostles was to God first of all and his revelation through Christ. The self is experienced in relation to God, the ‘wholly Other’ (Barth). When one is open to the ‘possibility’ of Scripture, one needs to beware of being open also only to the ‘possibility’ of the God whom Scripture proclaims.


13. However, we also read Scripture against Scripture, because the past errors of our reading have read themselves into Scripture itself.

Great care must be taken when one reads Scripture against Scripture. One wonders how a way of reading Scripture which takes as its hermeneutic principle reading Scripture against Scripture does not fulfill the rule of reading itself (and quite probably its own errors) into Scripture itself.
14. So we read Scripture against Scripture in order to repair gender inequality, address racism, overcome heterosexism, break down the stratification of classes.

A dominant hermeneutic always runs the risk of reading the Scripture through the lens of the hermeneutic rather than the hermeneutic under the lens of Scripture. This is the error of Moralistic Therapeutic Deists, but it is not exclusive to them. Scripture indeed must be interpreted, but in being interpreted must retain its function of expressing God’s judgment rather than human judgment. A sense of humility under the Scripture is an indispensable part of reading the Scripture. So is reading Scripture with the Church throughout time and space.
15. “The secular is not the taken-for-granted opposite of religion but a set of conditions in which modern ideas of religion are constructed.” (Varieties of Secularism, 25)

Indeed, secularism becomes its own religion, or as with therapeutic moralistic deism, a parasitic religion which attaches itself to other religions.
16. The fragilizing of our options, secular or sacred, is another instance of the centrality of repentance, of mutual repentance, in order to honor the conditions of our mutual fragility.

‘For the unity of the Church, it is not necessary…’ etc.
17. In this way, new communities can exist in place of the old.

As long as these communities maintain their continuity with the ‘old,’ which of course were not ‘old,’ but appropriate to their time and situation, and took as their constituting rationale the deposit of faith, however uncritically examined.
18. Where there was the parish, hierarchical and centered in the church, now there are new parishes, patterned networks of mutual reciprocity that share geographical space and exist for the good of the neighborhood.

Both hierarchy and reciprocity are necessary for the old and new parishes; hierarchy, for the sake of the identification with Christ of the parish within the community and not simply as an extension or reflection of the community; and mutual reciprocity, so that the parish does not exist simply for the sake of the hierarchy.
19. It is not good to live above place.

Seeing as I cannot fly, I agree with this statement.

Living-in-place has become nearly impossible in a highly mobile, virtual world. Even those who ‘live-in-place’ do so by choice, which makes one think that it is not truly ‘living-in-place.’
20. In a quantum world, the idea of being localized to a place, though not relativized, has been radicalized.

The idea of place has become another consumer product – something which can be entered into and out of for the sake of a new experience, even one of habituation, but never a given in the sense of the ‘places’ in which humans were once born, lived, and died.
21. So the new parish is both local and in one place, but also networked to all the places where there are places.

22. We know that the secular is truly present not when the new parish has lost its sacredness, but rather when the blend of secularities within a place is held sacred in its mutual indwelling.
23. Everywhere secularities happen, cuius regio, eius religio becomes true again but differently.
24. The whose of whose region (cuius) becomes the network itself rather than the governor.

Non-governed networks sound awfully nice. Let me know when the first one works. The first thing every online forum needs is a team of moderators. I’ve seen what happens when this doesn’t happen.
25./The network in the new parish becomes the new parish when it recognizes itself.
26. The first mark of this network is repentance, repentance to living above place, setting up dividing walls, living inattentively.

The need for dividing walls (permeable membranes) is a non-negotiable feature of the current structure of reality. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, but people have skin and bones, and communities need structure and boundaries.
27. Repentance is paying attention.

‘The first service one owes to others in the community involves listening to them.’ – Bonhoeffer, Life Together
28. Repentance is laughing again.

‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.’ Philippians 4

‘Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongues with shouts of joy.’ –Psalm 126


29. Repentance laughs at itself, and its inattentions.

30. The buffered self lacks humor because its only posture can be ironic, but ironic in the sense of you standing there, being seriously ironic.
31. A mark of repentance is laughing at things others find funny.

This is true unless the laughter is irredeemably ironic. For example, I do not find Chelsea Handler funny. Ironically, I find her sad.

32. Communities arise and take shape when they can be humorously human together.

The current Pope has this down pat.
33. Reformation is formation, and formation is neurological. Reformation includes reforming the brain.

34. But the brain isn’t everything, even if consciousness has been an obsession of theologians and philosophers since Schliermacher through Husserl.

What involves the brain necessarily involves the body, since brain is body. We are not Gnostics. (Does that mean we’re a-gnostics?)

35. Reformation includes the the formation of all things, tending towards the grain of the universe and the future of God.

Now you’re starting to sound too much like Matthew Fox. J
36. This formation requires repetition.

Catechesis is central to all religions, including secular and moralistic therapeutic deistic religions. Those who refuse to accept this don’t deserve a break today and cannot live their best life now.
37. Repetition is central to identity in an age of distraction (Kierkegaard, Deleuze, Pickstock)

Distraction is itself a repetition which de-links itself from culture which is learned or formed by repetition. In this way, the repetitive experience of distraction immerses us in a culture in which our identity is not fixed in a community, but is permanently fluid, endlessly morphing as it attaches itself to various ephemeral experiences and opinions which it tries on for size and then discards as last season’s fashions.

38. The future of the faith is linked to our best approaches to non-identical, or complex, repetition.
39. Repetition of some kind is integral to repentance properly understood, repentance not as grief over wrong-doing, or shame at failure, but turning and moving in a different direction.

In this sense, the theology and practices of penance can be revitalized, as Luther desired them to be, shorn of the doctrines of ‘satisfaction.’ Repentance must also include confession or return to baptism, a regular repetition of the experience of knowing oneself both as sinner under the judgment of God and beloved prodigal welcomed to the Father’s house.
40. The new direction to which we are to turn is the one promised to us, and given to us, in Christ.

I would only say that the direction in which we are to turn is toward Christ and to follow after Him. (This may be saying the same thing in different words.)
41. The age of distraction attempts to cloud the articulation of promise, and hide the gift.

The age of distraction is a denial of gift itself. It denies the gift of vocation and negates the possibility of ‘a long obedience in the same direction (Nietzsche, quoted by Eugene Peterson)’
42. Christians are to be taught again and again to enter into solidarity with the poor.
43. Christians are to learn again and again to think of themselves based on what they have been given, not what they earn.
44. Christians are to understand their whole lives as non-identical repetition of Christ’s own life in them.

It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God; who loved me and gave his life for me. (Galatians 2)
45. Christians are to be taught this means they are completely open to the other, and the discovery of faith in the other as the rediscovery of their own.

46. Christians are to be taught this includes the religious other, perhaps especially the very other.

Christians are to be taught to respect the faith of the religious other precisely as an-other faith.


Christians are to be taught not to co-opt and domesticate an-other faith as the same as or similar to their own for the sake of easing their own consciences, silencing their own questions, and quieting their own witness.


Christians are to be taught not to judge others into heaven, just as they are taught not to judge others into hell.

47. Christians are to be taught that their very identity rests not in bounded identity, but open solidarity.

Christians are to be taught that their very identity rests in Christ. Their identity is bound to Christ, and as he was open to the other, so they are to be made open to suffering the other for the sake of Christ. Such an identity will not infringe upon the identities of others, but it will invite them to identify with Christ, even at the cost of discipleship. Christians are to be taught that such an invitation is not to be ruled out prima facie as an exercise of naked power.


Christians to be taught that solidarity with others does not extend to an unqualified ‘yes’ to their expressed wants, needs and desires. Christians are to be taught that solidarity with others might involve speaking truth to them. Christians are to be taught that solidarity with others gets messy. Christians are to be taught that God may have his own purposes (Lincoln, 2nd Inaugural).


48. Christians are to be taught they will discover this identity again and again in the Eucharist.
49. Christians are to be taught they are washed into this identity in baptism.
50. Christians are to be taught that this identity is sustained in Scripture, but never at the expense of the other or the community.

Christians are to be taught that the community which stands under Scripture must discern how it together will stand under Scripture. Members of a community must be bound to each other in truth and unity. Let Euodia and Syntyche be of the same mind in the Lord. (Philippians 4).


Those Christians who rewrite Scripture out of desire to love others as Christ has loved them ought to first listen to the experiences of those who experience themselves as other and yet consider themselves bound by Christ to the plain sense of Scripture. (See the blog http://spiritualfriendship.org/ to hear some of these voices.)
51. Christians are to be taught again and again to confess their faith, but hold it light.

I am afraid that this says everything and nothing.

52. Those fully committed to secularism are still haunted by the transcendent. Immanence is too full for itself.

This is true, as some of the most ardent converts are those who were without God and who were convinced not by rational argument, but by beauty.
53. Those convicted in faith are still haunted by secularism, for the transcendent is ever-receding in greater and greater immanence.

The immanence of God is a starting point for witness in the world, but witness to God is never content with pointing to God’s immanence.

54. Part of the continuing reformation is recognizing that not everyone is haunted by secularization, and so not everyone is haunted like we are.

We must try and understand them, as they must try to understand us.

55. All institutions who have entered into full communion agreements in the late modern era who have agreed about communion but have not yet joined up their institutions have not actually entered into full communion.

Even those in full communion who have joined up their institutions (in 1988, for instance) may have never entered into full communion. Full communion this side of paradise may, like ‘free will,’ be nothing but a word (see Luther, Heidelberg Disputation XIII). And yet, the unity of the Church must be sought, and it will only be received in the continuing experience of its lack.
56. The speck in the eye is the best magnifying glass. (Adorno)

57. To magnify our sin, perhaps God has hardened our hearts so as to remain in the institutions we deserve.

58. Yet just deserts are not at the heart of repentance. True repentance leads to dessert.

A feast of fat things, indeed.

59. That there are food deserts gives indication we have not yet accomplished Christian unity.
60. The failure of each religion is entwined in the success of the others, and the hunger of the poor.

The success of religion should be seen in the ways in which the hungry have been fed, the naked have been clothed, etc. The hungry who have been fed rarely make the twenty-four hour news cycle. This is not to ignore the fact that there are those who go without.
61.No direct correlation between the disunity of the church and the hunger of the poor has been established, but unity and an end to hunger both should be tried.
62. There is one church.
63. The church is holy.
64. The church is catholic.
65. The church is apostolic.
66. No one knows what these terms mean in a divided church in a secular age.

Has anyone ever known what these terms meant?
67. If it means anything it means unity in diversity.

How much unity? How much diversity?
68. If holy, then holy precisely in lowliness.

Now you’re talking.
69. If catholic, then whole only in part.

Amen, brother.
70. If apostolic, then apostolic arising from the grass rather than handed down by the hands of the apostles.

And you were going so well, too.
71. If the 20th century was the century of the Luther Renaissance, the ecumenical movement, and Vatican II, then the 21st century will be the century of the Nietzschean Renaissance, the ecological movement, and Vatican III.

Be careful what you wish for. You may get it.
72. Which is to say, Reformation will include the atheist, the earth, and Rome.

73. It remains to be see whether this new conversation will include the Holy Spirit.

It will. It will also include the Zeitgeist. The task of the theologian is to distinguish between the two.
74. If it does, the task of this century will be to properly think through the work of the Spirit in penitential reform.
75. The further task of this century will be to reconsider architecture and faith, architecture once again wedded to the suffering of the world.
76. The worship wars will end, and those who worship may simply go home.

And yet, those who worship will seek community, if only in the home or in the virtual world, and those communities will desire liturgy of every kind, catholic or otherwise, in order to worship.
77. The economic forces of late modernity will send most clergy home as well, blending once again what has too long been put asunder… the laity and clergy.

The so-called ‘conservatives’ are probably way ahead of the curve here.
78. But all prognostications, all future theorizing, will be proven wrong, sometimes by being proven right.

Everything and nothing is true.
79. The end will not happen, because it already has.
80. The end will not happen, because it is on the way.
81. The end will not happen, because it is happening.

Please, Lord, bring us to the end! 🙂
82. To wit: Even if a unity of faith is not possible, a unity of love is. (Hans Urs von Balthasar)

And yet there must be an approximate unity of faith; at least enough to posit the desirability of love and a limited mutual understanding of what living in love might entail. Those who doubt this are asked whether they would like to spend some time talking religion with Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.
83. Again: We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Lutheran pastors are to be taught that those who quote Bonhoeffer, including this respondent, must beware lest they become like the historical Jesus-questers who were skewered so neatly by Schweitzer.
84. Again: Reformation names the disunity in which we currently stand. We who remain in the Protestant tradition want to say that Reformation was a success. (Stanley Hauerwas)

Is the Church a success? And yet God wills it.  
85. Again: To sing about freedom and to pray for its coming is not enough. Freedom must be actualized in history by oppressed peoples who accept the intellectual challenge to analyze the world for the purpose of changing it. (James Cone)

Christians of both leftist and rightist persuasions are to be taught that actualizing freedom in history is dangerous business which usually if not always leads to unintended consequences. Christians are to be taught humility in the presence of the God of history. Christians who desire the actualization of freedom in history ought to be wary lest they be ‘the first up against the wall when the revolution comes.’ (Douglas Adams)
86. Again: “And so I ask God to rid me of God,” Meister Eckhart says. The God who is known and familiar is too small for him.” (Dorothee Soelle)

Christians are to be taught that the apophatic and the cataphatic cannot be exclusionary, but they belong together. Christians are to be taught that the fullness of God is revealed in Jesus Christ, and that this Christ, who will be fully known in the eschaton, can be known, in time, by Scriptures and Sacraments in the Church. A truly apophatic theology is only able to preach no-God, and the apophatic theologians had to start cataphatically.

87. Again: “Once one understands that the evolving community of life on Earth is God’s beloved creation and its ruination an unspeakable sin, then deep affection shown in action on behalf of ecojustice becomes an indivisible part of one’s life.” (Elizabeth Johnson)

One does not need to be a feminist theologian to believe this.

88: Again: This is an anthropological discovery of unimaginable proportions. At exactly the same moment as God is revealed as quite beyond any human understanding marked by death, entirely gratuitous love, so also it is revealed that the human understanding marked by death is something accidental to being human, not something essential. Here we have the linchpin of any understanding of original sin: that what we are as beings-toward-death is itself something capable of forgiveness. Furthermore we can see that the only way we are able to appreciate our true condition as humans-marked-by-death is precisely as it is revealed to us that that condition is unnecessary. It is in this way that the doctrine of original sin is the culmination of the revealed understanding of being human: the shape of divine forgiveness revealed in the resurrection of Jesus shows itself to stretch into our congenial involvement with death. The doctrine of original sin is the doctrine of the un-necessity of death.” (James Alison)

And yet this un-necessity of death is not accessible to us now except through the Christ proclaimed in the Scriptures.

89. In the midst of all this thinking and reforming, we are called to remember that it is music that will carry us forward. Reformation is sung.

Luther said it first.
90. Too many reformations have been iconoclastic, to the detriment of art. Reformations grounded in repentance will honor the icons of the saints.

In refusing to destroy visual art, let us also be merciful to faithful icons/saints, who while living the faith imperfectly, sought to live it within the culturally bound strictures of the parishes of America in the mid-to-late twentieth century; for we are their spiritual heirs. Let us also not forget to minister to them with faithfulness, as they await the fulfillment of the promises made to them by Christ, and not to wantonly cast them aside as relics who have had their day.
91. Additionally, many reformations have been too static, too focused on stability, whereas the mark of true Reformation is agility. Reformation dances.

Does Reformation speak in tongues? I think St Paul had a few things to say about order and stability, for the very sake of agility and freedom.
92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace!
93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross!
94. The Reformation is dead.
95. Long live the Reformation.

Christians are to be taught that ‘Reformation’ is not an eternal principle, but rather a non-repeatable historical event or set of historical events which was given the moniker ‘Reformation.’ This is especially important for Christian theologians.



Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Jesus and the rich young man (Mark 10:17-31) Background on Readings, July 12 (Proper 10)

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. singinjenny  |  October 23, 2014 at 9:39 am

    I think I’m going to need a year to read these. 😉 awesome

  • 2. prfrontz  |  October 23, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Neither are probably worth a year, but thanks! 🙂


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