Higher Things and BJS: Really?

Seventeen years ago, I was blessed to be involved with the formation of a youth organization that became Higher Things. It began with the Dare to Be Lutheran conference in Laramie, Wyoming, in the summer of 2000. Since that time, tens of thousands of youth have received Christ, received the gifts of God, and have embraced what it means to be Lutheran in a world that continues to fall apart at the seams.

I haven’t been involved with Higher Things in a leadership capacity for ten years or so. For the most part, I go to conferences, occasionally preach, and do sectionals about depression, suicide, the liturgy, or whatever else they want. I am much more of an attendee today than on the inside of any decision making process.

What I do see is the benefit it has for my own children, and the youth of my congregation. As a congregation, Holy Cross goes every year. I would face an utter rebellion if we did anything else. The young people of our church look forward to the trip, raise money for it, and talk about it in Bible class and Sunday School. What’s more, they talk about Jesus, about good theology and worship, and about how awesome it is to know and recognize that they aren’t the only Lutherans in the world. There are other churches out there that use the hymnal, that practice closed communion, and that preach the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. They, we, aren’t alone.

Our conference group from 2016, plus the group from Zion in Terra Bella, CA.

I won’t claim to like or agree with every jot or tittle of every decision that they make about conferences. Or worship. Or even play (A chant off? Really? That’s just unhelpful and irreverent). But I do so from the perspective of honor and respect, and a recognition that what they are about is precisely what I am about as a Lutheran pastor, and what we are about as a congregation. In this world we call earth and in this place we call the LCMS, things aren’t perfect. Sometimes there are speakers I like, sometimes not. Sometimes articles in the magazine maybe take the wrong tactic on a tough topic (see the Eilers débâcle from a couple years ago). If they make decisions that I think are wrong, I’ll tell them. I have. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they ignore the old guy. I’m okay with that. It’s called working together, and churchmanship.

All of this is why the piece published by BJS on Higher Things is so wrong-headed and just plain bad. It assumes that because the 1517 Legacy Project sponsors a T-Shirt, they are somehow now tied at the hip with HT. And when a former professor at Concordia University Irvine is scheduled to speak at an HT conference, somehow that means everything he’s ever said is now what Higher Things stands for.

Nonsense.

I don’t know Dr. Dan Van Voorhis. I’ve never met him. I’ve listened to the podcast, though. He’s engaging and worth learning more about. I look forward to hearing him speak at Higher Things in Bozeman in a few weeks. I expect it will be Lutheran, hold up Law and Gospel, and will put Jesus at the center of everything we are and everything we do. I have no reason to believe otherwise.

I would also point out that since the above article is unsigned and as listed as by “the editors,” one doesn’t know who wrote it. Have they attended Higher Things conferences? Spoken with any of the leadership? Actually had a two way dialogue with the Board of Directors, or for that matter with Dr. Voorhis or anyone from 1517 Legacy Project?

The BJS article isn’t courageous, a necessary corrective, or somehow bringing to light some deep and dark problem. All the BJS piece does is create division, foster mistrust, and make confessional Lutheranism look, again, like all it wants to do is make a small circle even smaller.

I want no part of that kind of confessional Lutheranism.

So if you want to find me, look for me with my youth at Higher Things in Bozeman. And at Tacoma next year, and wherever they go the year after that. I’ll be right there. I hope to see you there, too.

Rev. Todd Peperkorn, STM
Co-Founder, Higher Things
Magazine Editor, 2001-2006

4 thoughts on “Higher Things and BJS: Really?

  1. Thanks for speaking up Todd. May God continue to bless us with many organizations who faithful teach God’s Word and instill a love of the means of grace.

  2. Wow! Good stuff.

    I was reading BJS for a while. I noticed that after I had been reading it for a couple of months, I began to think of myself as the “judge” of all that is and is not consistent with “confessional” Lutheranism. Ironically, I had only been a Lutheran for less than a year at that time!

    I like 1517, but I don’t agree with all that they say. I like the ViW podcast, but I certainly don’t agree with all that they say. Dr. Van Voorhis (and co-host Dr. Mallinson) frequently makes the case that he is simply trying to let people speak for themselves, rather than arguing with them or trying to tell them what they are supposed to think or feel. I think that’s what the Gina Eilers show was all about.

    It’s easy to dismiss people (like Eilers) by giving them short, canned answers, without ever actually listening to them. It’s a lot harder to hear them out and truly consider their perspective. In the end, you can respectfully disagree, and then reasonably try to point them in the right direction. If you take the first approach (as maybe the BJS staff would), you right people off easily and never show them any real love. If you take the second approach, you come to empathize with them and can truly love them before you come around calling them to repentance.

    I think what ViW does, which BJS maybe fails to do, is that they treat people like human beings, and not issues that need to be argued against. There’s a lot to be said for that approach.

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