When I call myself essentially Lutheran, I mean to say that I am basically Lutheran, or in the main Lutheran, or for the most part Lutheran. The adverb gives warning that stereotypical assumptions about Luther (or Lutheranism) may or may not apply to me. The word is used in a liberating sense, allowing me to go wherever Scripture and conscience leads, not necessarily bound by the doctrinal assertions of Luther, the early confessors or of any of today’s Lutheran church bodies.
At the same time, by using the word “essentially” I hope to convey the meaning that I am in accord with the essentials of Luther’s theology or the essence of it - the core of Luther’s thought - that which makes Luther Luther. This essence refers to Luther’s way of knowing God always through the message of Christ crucified - what has come to be known as his theology of the cross.
Now, this little self-description (essentially Lutheran) may not satisfy many people. Many may not know all the radical implications of Luther’s theology of the cross. On the surface it sounds agreeable enough and uncontroversial, so they will want to know more about what really matters. Like where do I fit on the conservative/liberal theological spectrum?
For Luther, such a spectrum was not relevant. The question was always, were you a theologian of the cross or a theologian of glory? There was no spectrum. It was either/or. Of course, there were in his day a broad spectrum of theologians of glory. These may have run the gamut from conservative to liberal (no doubt defined by different issues then), but that would be of little consequence to Luther. What mattered was that they were all on the glory road and did not comprehend the cross.
For me, to be essentially Lutheran quite simply means to be a theologian of the cross and not a theologian of glory, as Luther understood these two different ways of thinking.