TBT: Kilcrease Discusses Forde

Current discussions in confessing Lutheranism involve the teachings of Gerhard Forde. In this article from the 2012 Epiphany Issue of LOGIA Journal, Dr. Kilcrease examines Forde's theology. He provides both a positive assertion of some elements of Forde's theology and a critique of his weaknesses. 

In 2012, Dr. Kilcrease introduced his article on Gerhard Forde: 

The theology of Gerhard O. Forde (1927–2005) has grown in its influence in traditionalist North American Lutheran circles over the last few decades. Ironically, although Forde was a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for many years (and before that the American Lutheran Church), interest in his theology and institutional support for his ideas within that denomination have dwindled.  The real growth of interest in Forde’s theology has been within the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and other confessional Lutheran church bodies. Some have reacted with alarm to the growth of this influence, while others have welcomed it. What I would like to argue in the following short article is that Forde is neither the demon nor the demigod that many have made him out to be. He has made many theological contributions but also many mistakes. Below I will outline several positive contributions that I believe Forde has made to North American Lutheran theological discourse.  Then I will also discuss several areas where he displays weakness or error.

You can download the article here, or purchase the entire issue here


A Response to Woodford


— by Mark Surburg

Editor's note: This article is a response to Rev. Lucas V. Woodford. The original article is linked in the first paragraph.

Last week LOGIA Online posted an article by Pastor Lucas Woodford entitled “Third Use of the Law and Sanctification.” He offered a descriptive analysis of a “debate going among conservative confessional Lutheran circles regarding the nature and use of the Law, particularly its Third Use, as well as the issue of antinomianism and the sanctified life under the Gospel.” He noted in conclusion:

Again, my aim has been to shed some collegial and pastoral light upon this ongoing             debate. I mean no ill will, nor do I mean to antagonize or demonize anyone or any one     position. If I have misspoken, I am open to correction and clarification. 

While I appreciate the descriptive tone of his effort, I believe that Woodford has failed to understand key issues that are at stake. After engaging in this discussion for the last four years and coining the term “soft antinomianism” in describing what I have encountered, I believe that I am in a good position to respond to Pastor Woodford on behalf of the second group he describes. Following Woodford’s lead, I will pursue a descriptive course rather than providing specific argumentation in support of a position.

In Woodford’s estimation the two sides are each defending some specific theological truth, but in so doing they are also excluding “a corollary and very important truth” as they each fall off one side of Luther’s horse. Woodford describes the first group in the following manner:

For example, one group appears to be aiming to reach disaffected evangelicals who have     been repeatedly bludgeoned by the law. They want to “liberate” them from the bonds of   the law and teach them how to “hold fast” to Christ and the “radical” freedom the Gospel     affords. Thus, they begin to speak in terms of limited categories.

He adds latter:

Though perhaps well intentioned, and maybe having a particular disaffected evangelical       audience in mind, this tends to seem like a repetitious single note being played over and over again, and is often aided by the sensationalism of digital media, and corresponding       bumper sticker-like slogans, complete with all kinds of catchy sound bites. It may be well     received by the specific audience they desire to hear it, but the legs seem to be falling off   the saddle for the rest of us.

While this description is an entirely accurate one of several prominent groups online and in social media, Woodford has focused too narrowly. Instead, this approach that sees only the accusing role of the law in revealing sin and emphasizes salvation by grace through faith in Christ apart from works is symptomatic of a far deeper problem in modern Lutheranism. It does not simply describe a small group seeking to reach out to disaffected former evangelicals. Instead it includes many Lutherans today and the debate that has gone on for the last four years has focused on how Lutheran pastors talk to Lutheran congregations.

The denial of the third use of the law that emerged after World War II (associated chiefly with Werner Elert, but involving others as well) has created an enduring theological outlook in which the law only delivers sin-revealing accusation, while the Gospel frees us from this apart from works. With the law limited in this way, the abundant New Testament paraenesis (exhortation to live a God-pleasing life in response to the Gospel) becomes intelligible only as more accusation intended to reveal sin. Lutheranism loses the ability to speak to Christians about living as Christians in the way of the New Testament and Luther’s postils (sermons), because this is viewed as just more accusing and condemning law.

When we turn to the second group Woodford describes, which I represent, I must confess that I am genuinely puzzled by his description. He focuses on “progressive sanctification” and uses this term to describe instances where “this position has a tendency to set forth quotes from the confessions that assert an increase in sanctification.” This becomes the centerpiece of his presentation as he critiques problems with the position and tells us, “However, the term ‘progressive sanctification’ is not in the Lutheran confessions.”

I am puzzled because I don’t know of anyone who uses the term “progressive sanctification” nor anyone who places the central emphasis on the need to see an ongoing increase in sanctification. Woodford has imported this concern and in doing so has missed the reason that I and others have cited biblical and confessional texts that speak of increase: it is because they substantiate the fact that according to Scripture and the Confessions, the work of the Holy Spirit actually makes a difference in the individual.

The position I represent has three basic points about which it is concerned. The first point is about what the Gospel really means. The Gospel does not provide merely a forensic declaration of change in status before God that leaves individuals basically unchanged in relation to how they live. Instead, the Gospel provides a forensic declaration of change in status before God, while the Holy Spirit also creates the new man who through the work of the Spirit is now able to live in ways that reflect God’s will (something the Confessions call “cooperation”).

The second point is that when we understand how the Sprit creates, sustains, and enables the new man through the Means of Grace, then we can understand how the Confessions teach about the third use. The law always accuses, but it doesn’t always do one thing as it accuses. God uses the law as it accuses to reveal sin (second use). He also uses the law as it accuses the old man to guide, teach, compel, and repress (third use).

In the third use the Spirit uses the Law so that the actual behavior of the Christian reflects God’s will. It is the Spirit who always supports the new man through the Gospel so that he can struggle against the old man (the Spirit is the source of any God-pleasing life). It is the new man who struggles against the old man. The Spirit applies the Law in its third use to the old man and the Spirit's use of the law to guide and repress the old man aids the new man in his struggle so that the new man determines what the individual actually does. In this way it is entirely correct to say that the Law helps the Christian live according to God’s will. To be clear, this is different from a Calvinistic view where the law itself is the means of producing obedience in the Christian.

The third point is that when we understand that God can use the law in this way, we are free to speak in the language of Scripture by exhorting and encouraging Christians in how they should live. Certainly we can’t determine how the Spirit will use the law. St. Paul couldn’t either. But we can be certain that the Spirit does use the law in this way and so we can follow the inspired model of Paul and the other biblical writers. Robust preaching of the Gospel present for the believer in the Means of Grace is complemented by robust exhortation, encouragement, and teaching about what it means for how they live. This is what one finds in Luther’s postils as well.

These three points are absent from the first group that Woodford describes (there is a range within this group and while most would not explicitly deny the first point, whether this happens functionally in their theology is a different matter). In addition, when he sets forth his “third perspective” that sanctification “is the result of Christ and his Spirit in action in the life of the believer,” he seems unaware that he has not in any way addressed these concerns. I presume he would affirm the first point. But what does his position have to say about the second and third? This is the real issue at hand. From what I have seen, since the idea of sanctification being “Christ in action” became widely discussed in the early 1990’s, it has generally had a very poor record on this. But perhaps Pastor Woodford deploys it in a new way.

I hope this is helpful in explaining why Pastor Woodford’s piece has for the most part failed to address the composition of the first group, and how his focus on “progressive sanctification” has not described the second group, which I represent. Hopefully it will also aid him and others in explaining how a “Christ in action” view deals with the concerns I have listed.

The Rev. Mark P. Surburg serves Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Marion, IL and has published articles in the Concordia Journal, Concordia Theological Quarterly, and the American Lutheran Theological Journal.

As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.

Third Use of the Law and Sanctification

—by Lucas V. Woodford

There is debate going among conservative confessional Lutheran circles regarding the nature and use of the Law, particularly its Third Use, as well as the issue of antinomianism and the sanctified life under the Gospel.

I normally don’t do this on these forums. I know it is a bit risky. But perhaps it might offer some clarity and shed some collegial and pastoral light upon this ongoing debate. I’ve published a number of things pertaining to this indirectly and directly, with two more journal articles coming out this spring and summer. In any case, here’s my take:

What I have observed is that in many instances the differences are really a turf war. In other words, there are those who have a theological and/or spiritual turf they are trying to assert or a position they are trying to protect over against a threat to that position or theological truth. But sometimes in so doing one excludes a corollary and very important truth. I believe it was the good doctor Luther who said there are two sides to fall off a horse.

For example, one group appears to be aiming to reach disaffected evangelicals who have been repeatedly bludgeoned by the law. They want to “liberate” them from the bonds of the law and teach them how to “hold fast” to Christ and the “radical” freedom the Gospel affords. Thus, they begin to speak in terms of limited categories.

Others, wanting to protect against licentious living and “soft antinomianism” or outright antinomianism, assert the language of the Lutheran confessions that speak in terms of “increase” when it comes to sanctification, or more specifically, the good works of believers. (I haven’t yet noted any article of faith that actually uses the word “progressive” but I could be wrong). Therefore, the 3rd Use of the Law is invoked as a corrective to the perception of those pushing a “radical Gospel” and making it appear that the law only accuses (though, of course, it has two other functions). Although these groups may not necessarily openly say the law only accuses, the very clear appearance to many is that this is the only issue they are dealing with (i.e. they are constantly only dealing with the accusing nature of the law and the radical freedom of the Gospel).  

However, a third perspective, (and one that I assert) comes from those of us who desire to retain the clear Lutheran confession of the truth regarding sanctification (and really the whole life of the believer), which is the result of Christ and his Spirit in action in the life of the believer. In other words, one cannot progress in degree of holiness when that holiness is always borrowed and received from the one and same Christ and his Spirit.

To be sure, this position retains that if all things were to remain equal, wherein the life of a believer is lived out in a mildly docile and uneventful life, the believer will ordinarily decrease in vice and evil desires and increase in good works as they live out their baptismal identity and life in daily contrition and repentance (as both the Small and Large Catechisms teach). However, once the devil and his lies of darkness afflict and oppress a believer, in many cases extraordinarily so, that trajectory of faith will invariable have peaks and valleys as the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh contaminate, afflict, and defile the soul. At times an increase of good works might be detectable, at other times it might be a decrease in vice and evil desires. However, depending upon the particular defilement or contamination of sin a soul is dealing with at any given time, an increase may not necessarily be the case for a season of life. But yes, in general, the sanctified Christian life moves away from vice and toward an increase of the fruits of the Spirit.

But even so, to speak in the abstract, apart from the reality of souls living in sin and dealing with their sin, is a dubious business when it comes to asserting one must increase in good works. Yes, the confessions speak this way, but not merely for abstract purposes, but for the real life lived in faith.

What seems to be the common thread in all of these positions is how works are being viewed by each position. The first position deals primarily from the angle of justification, and wants to free believers from the accusation of the law, so much so that they seem to routinely ignore or do not treat the other elements of the sanctified Christian life. Again, they appear only to be dealing with justification and are constantly trying to dispel the need of works in view of the Gospel.


Though perhaps well intentioned, and maybe having a particular disaffected evangelical audience in mind, this tends to seem like a repetitious single note being played over and over again, and is often aided by the sensationalism of digital media, and corresponding bumper sticker-like slogans, complete with all kinds of catchy sound bites. It may be well received by the specific audience they desire to hear it, but the legs seem to be falling off the saddle for the rest of us.

The second position wants to fight this radicalism by (at times myopically) focusing on the good works of sanctification. But unfortunately at times these works end up being called sanctification, to the exclusion of what actually sanctifies (Christ and His Spirit). Thus, this position has a tendency to set forth quotes from the confessions that assert an increase in sanctification. However, in my opinion this position really means to say an increase in good works, which are the fruit of sanctification. In an eagerness to fight the licentious life, which must certainly be done, there is the danger of falling off the horse on the other side.

What is more, if I were to say something like “there is no such thing as progressive sanctification” to someone of this second position, they would likely have an adverse reaction. They would not necessarily hear that phrase with the baggage of evangelicalism with which I hear it, i.e., the belief that one actually increases and climbs a latter of holiness the further they go in the Christian life. Rather, they would hear me saying sanctification will not create an increase of good works (which I would not, in fact, be saying) and thus flat out think I am an antinomian.

However, the term “progressive sanctification” is not in the Lutheran confessions. And sanctification proper refers directly to the holiness we receive from Christ, wherein the only progress we make is one of constant return to Christ and His holiness, but yet wherein the power of the Gospel is such that it will certainly bring cleansing, healing, forgiveness, holiness, and subsequently an increase of fruit (works), as well as a decrease in evil desires and vice. To be sure, the law can certainly instruct and even guide, but it can never deliver or create these good works.

Nonetheless, to put such good works or the Gospel on a quantifiable continuum or measureable scale will never do. (Whose scale will it be?) The Gospel is never measurable in the sense that we want it to be. “It is not quantifiable,” to quote a beloved professor of many. In other words, Jesus forgives us more sins than we’ve got. Yes, the Confessions certainly speak of an increase in works, but that must understood as relative to the Gospel and not to someone else’s predetermined numerical calculation or quantification.

Thus, in the end, it’s my contention that it does us well to see our theology pastorally and through the care of souls as they deal with the devil, the world, and their sinful flesh on a daily basis, rather than from only a position of theological abstractions or theological sound bites.

Again, my aim has been to shed some collegial and pastoral light upon this ongoing debate. I mean no ill will, nor do I mean to antagonize or demonize anyone or any one position. If I have misspoken, I am open to correction and clarification.          


The Rev. Lucas V. Woodford serves Zion Lutheran Church, Mayer, Minnesota and is author of Great Commission, Great Confusion, or Great Confession.

As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.

Book Review: Confessing the Scriptural Christ against Modern Idolatry

Confessing the Scriptural Christ against Modern Idolatry: Inspiration, Inerrancy, and Truth in Scientific and Biblical Conflict. By Philip Hale. Omaha, NE: Mercinator Press, 2016. Click here.

The Rev. Philip Hale, pastor at Zion West Lutheran Church, Omaha, NE, takes on a problem that may suggest itself to anyone keeping up with exegetical theology produced in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod at present, and that is—for want of a better way of putting it—turning the Gospel into a wax nose of the exegete’s own making (see pages 208, 211). If the authority of Scripture does not stand or fall with inspiration and inerrancy, Hale avers, the theological position—no matter how learned or cutesy—has nothing to commend it. This could apply to hermeneutical approaches grounded only “in Christ” rather than his words (202-03, 205, 206, 209, 211, 213, etc.), or those approaches that find undefined “sacraments” under every scriptural rock (245). In Hale’s opinion, historical criticism still dogs the LCMS even though the conservatives prevailed at St. Louis forty-some years ago (229, 248). Hale’s solution is to return to so-called “propositional revelation” (23; cf. 29-30, 75, 105, 163, 196, 206, 218, 227, etc.).  Faith in Christ is created by “static, meaningful words” (231). The Scripture’s “it is written” trumps everything else, so “why do we demand more?” (285). Only the “bare words” of God avail (179); everything else is an idol, one’s “own personal cathedral” (179; cf. 181, 205, 217). Hale makes plenty of other points as well, though the ideas identified here provide a reasonably accurate picture of what this book is about.

Clearly Hale is on to something, though his solutions are nearly as problematic as the errors he identifies. The Kloha-Montgomery debate reveals that there are important parallels between the current situation and the Seminex debacle of yesteryear. Still, there are important differences also, and the tendency of some to look askance at all teachers of theology—just because they hold higher degrees—is not helpful. One may always quote an orthodox teacher out of context or even at an unguarded moment (e.g., 74 n. 43; 87 n. 24; 124 n. 12; 156 n. 13; 184 n. 22, etc.), but the way Hale links all seminary professors together—both “pre-walkout” and “post-walkout”—is unsettling to say the least and could deceive the laity. He repeatedly chides historical critics for their “arrogance” (66, 68, 83, 97, 139, 216, etc) yet rather high-handedly opines that theological degrees and scholarly tools are “not required” (180, 181). Oh really? Did Pastor Hale himself not receive his M.Div. in 2007 from Concordia Theological Seminary? Did he not learn anything during the years he was privileged to study theology at the seminary? Are all LCMS seminary professors suspect because they learned “critical methodology from pagan professors to become professors themselves” (184)? Such unfortunate thinking is unfair to the many teachers of Synod who labor faithfully in the seminaries, universities, and institutions of our church. Hale, though, endorses a hermeneutics of suspicion against anyone who may have gone on for further study. He does not realize that specialization could be among God’s gifts to the church, the way pastors themselves are (Eph 4:11). Of course, God in Christ Jesus will bless one’s use of the Word of God, even when treated ham-handedly; but exegetical theology has for a long time coexisted peaceably with other useful arts and disciplines—such as, classics, papyrology, ancient history, philosophy, text criticism, and the like. Such outside disciplines cast a bright light upon Holy Scripture and contribute mightily to the theological enterprise. Hale seems not to realize that by growing as a young pastor—by becoming more adept in Greek, let us say—it is sometimes possible to beat the hostile critics at their own game. Moreover, a careful read of his book reveals his positive citation of several theologians who stood opposed to the Lutheran Confessions—for example, Johann Major (138 n. 13), Matthias Flacius (161 n.4; 163 n. 16; 171 n. 27; 173 n. 35; 289 n. 17), and John Calvin (296 n. 21). Granted, sometimes substandard theologians contribute something positive, and that is why Hale cites them in his book. In general, however, Hale’s writing is not carefully nuanced and so can be picked apart by checking the facts. The book was painful to read on account of the author’s mixing of fact and fiction—multiple times, on many pages. Indeed, Hale would benefit immensely from the rigors of further theological training, even though “critical thinking” is something he routinely condemns.

I concede that many of the matters Hale takes up constitute real problems in our church at present and require attention—such as the current flap over text criticism. Still, today’s problems are not the same as those over which our church agonized in the 60s and 70s. The candidates of theology our seminaries produce must contend not only with the errors of yesteryear, but be in a position to wrestle carefully with the problems of today and tomorrow (when new heresies shall emerge). Which is to say that critical thinking remains a necessary part of the theological task, not knee-jerk reaction. Of course, historical criticism should be not be permitted back into our church, the way it was enthusiastically endorsed at St. Louis prior to 1974; nevertheless, the historical grammatical method could help interpreters to submit to Scripture as the Word of God while allowing the useful arts that inform scripture studies to flourish. How should that be done? Carefully, humbly, being ready always to beg forgiveness for perhaps having caused offense, and ever mindful of the fact that Holy Scripture is pre-eminent to which all outside documents and methodologies submit. On the use of historical methods of biblical interpretation our own church body provided guidance many years ago that seems quite pertinent now:

Since God is the Lord of history and has revealed Himself by acts in history and has in the person of His Son actually entered into man’s history, we acknowledge that the historical framework in which the Gospel message is set in Scripture is an essential part of the Word.

Furthermore, we recognize that the inspired Scriptures are historical documents written in various times, places and circumstances.  We therefore believe that the Scriptures invite historical investigation and are to be taken seriously as historical documents.  We affirm, however, that the Christian interpreter of Scripture cannot adopt uncritically the presuppositions and canons of the secular historian, but that he will be guided in his use of historical techniques by the presuppositions of his faith in the Lord of history, who reveals Himself in Holy Scripture as the one who creates, sustains, and even enters our history in order to lead it to His end.[1]


John G. Nordling

Department of Exegetical Theology

Concordia Theological Seminary

Fort Wayne, IN


[1] A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles (The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, 1973; reprinted November 2000) 8.

Book Review: Lex Aeterna

Lex Aeterna: A Defense of the Orthodox Lutheran Doctrine of God’s Law and Critique of Gerhard Forde. By Jordan Cooper Eugene. Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2017. Click here

In Lex Aeterna, Jordan Cooper strives to defend the scholastic view of the eternal law and a positive use of the law. He seeks to do so over against what he perceives to be Gerhard Forde’s view of the law and its place in Christian preaching and the Christian life. Cooper writes well and accessibly. The book has exceptional flow and is clearly organized. Furthermore, Cooper demonstrates a deep concern for getting doctrine right, which is admirable and of course most Christian and Lutheran. Moreover, the reader will recognize early on that Cooper has an obvious familiarity with Lutheran scholasticism. These are great strengths. Unfortunately, the book is not without its weaknesses. This review will focus on weaknesses especially in Cooper’s critique of the theology of Forde.

Before delving into some of the potential pitfalls of the book, I do think it would be helpful to know the audience for which this book is intended. If it is written for the laity, some of the weaknesses addressed in this review are more understandable, as Cooper may not have wanted to bog such readers down in footnotes and, for their benefit, striven to largely summarize Forde as he understood him. If, however, this book is intended for academic consideration and debate—the fact that the first footnote indicates it is a revised “Master’s thesis” seems to indicate that (1)—and for theologically astute clergy and laypeople, the lack of footnotes and the number of assertions made without support hurts its cause, even if a number of his assertions are correct. This is more true of the sections dealing with Forde or non-scholastic theologians, but this issue does manifest itself throughout the book.

A few examples of assertions without support come to mind as emblematic, if not most critical. First, early on Cooper makes comparisons between Forde and Werner Elert and intimates the latter’s influence on the former. Although he concedes that they had differences, which he does not, however, explain, he proceeds without engaging Elert’s thought in any substantive way. He does not cite any of Elert’s works (2). We are left to trust Cooper’s very brief summary of Elert’s theology. He does make reference to Elert’s The Structure of Lutheranism, but Elert wrote very clearly on the matter of law and gospel in several much shorter and more focused works as well, which could have been explored in at least some cursory manner, if he is so important to the story of Forde’s writings as to garner mention on the second page of a critique of them. Cooper’s approach thus undermines his argument, whether or not there is merit to his argument. Moreover, while he feels Elert important enough to mention on the second page of the book, he fails to pick up on or elaborate the importance of Elert vis-à-vis Forde’s theology much beyond this second page.

Chapter Four is perhaps where the problem of citation and demonstration is most evident. Cooper here makes a number of assertions, many, in my opinion, that are in and of themselves worthwhile, but unfortunately fails to amply support them or elaborate upon key terms and concepts. This will leave the unversed above their heads and the well-versed unsatisfied. Quite simply, Cooper needs to demonstrate his familiarity with the actual works of those whose names he throws about and back up his contentions. While in many places I agreed with him, I found myself writing repeatedly in the margins things like, “Define,” “Cite,” “Demonstrate.” This is seen, for instance, with respect to Cooper’s treatment of Bultmann. Cooper argues for strong similarities, while not identicalness, between the thought of Forde and Bultmann, specifically in eschatology (84), as well as a clear neo-orthodox influence upon Forde’s thinking (82). That is fine and good. What he fails to do, though, is meaningfully argue it with sufficient explanation, and from primary sources. Here, for an academic book, he needs to establish connections clearly, with textual backing. Unsubstantiated claims, even when true, undermine arguments. Cooper needs to bring his reader along with him, giving us a ride on his train of thought, including what has informed it.  

Cooper also too often fails to give a proper sense for the secondary sources he utilized to shape his opinions. Even when it seems clear he has a grasp on the general ideas of the matter, there are too many particulars that need substantiation. If he did not comprehensively engage the actual writings of the authors he mentions in connection to Forde, whether as disciples or influences, or at least does not reference them in a way reflective of such a comprehensive approach, he needs at least to show more regarding the secondary sources which shaped and corroborate his opinions. Labels and allegations of error are serious things. They ought not just be tossed about. He needs to justify his use of them and make clear where he got the pieces he put together to form the framework of his theses.

Less seriously, but illustrative of Cooper’s failure to show his work (here, once again, I am not claiming he did no work, but rather that he has fallen short of the academic’s responsibility to provide evidence of it), when trying to argue for a Kantian influence upon Forde—which, once again, is all well and good if he wants to provide a more reasoned, supported, and cited argument for it—he contends that “without Kant, existentialism could likely not exist” (83). While there might be something there, it is thrown out with little explanation and is at best a very generalized simplification. Such generalizations appear too often in Lex Aeterna. In this regard, it should also be noted that Cooper sometimes confuses, or at least causes potential confusion for his readers, between existentialism and an existential experience of a word of God. While Elert, for instance, does approach law and gospel along existential lines, that does not mean that he was an existentialist in the sense of existentialism, the belief that existence precedes essence, or in a way similar to the way Heidegger or Sartre or even Kierkegaard were existentialists (2). This might seem minor, but it becomes even more problematic when we remember that this factors rather prominently into his evaluation of Forde’s thought.

Cooper largely operates in his critique on the basis of his reading of two of Forde’s writings, which he describes as definitional (9). This would be understandable, if he made a clear case for why they are definitional. He fails to do so, though. We are left to take his word for it and wondering to what extent he immersed himself in and is conversant with the rest of Forde’s corpus. Of the two works Cooper declares definitional, one is a revision of Forde’s dissertation (The Law-Gospel Debate). I do not know any scholar who would want to be judged largely upon his or her dissertation. Moreover, this approach fails to take into consideration development in Forde’s thought. With respect to the second critical work in Cooper’s mind (Where God Meets Man), he fails to prove sufficiently that it encapsulates Forde’s thought in a manner that justifies (let alone sanctifies) Cooper writing a critique largely upon the basis of it and one other work. If these works are definitional, it needs to be demonstrated why they can stand alone apart from any significant treatment of his other writings. Moreover, these writings, if they provide the backbone of his arguments, need to be contextualized. With regard to Where God Meets Man, Cooper devotes less than two pages to its background, scope, and purpose, and two footnotes in his summary of it. If we are to trust his take on these works, we should be given adequate information about them and from them.

Ultimately, it is impossible to declare any author’s works definitional without demonstrating a fluency with the rest of their work. With respect to Forde, this ought not be too difficult, either. Forde wrote a lot, but not too much to work through for a study like this, and his work is certainly navigable. Such investigation surely was not “impossible for this current project,” unless Cooper has in mind his Master’s thesis and not this book (9). I cannot think of any pressing reason the book would have needed to be published posthaste, so that more careful and extensive research was prohibited. If he wanted to track Forde’s intellectual history, he could have wrestled with Forde’s own words about it, for instance, in “One Acted Upon.”[1] Or he could have taken up the thoughts of some of Forde’s longtime colleagues, students, and dear friends about it, such as Nestingen’s essay in the Forde Festschrift, which deals with a lot of the contentions Cooper makes.[2] In short, Cooper cites writings about Forde in unbecoming proportion to writings by Forde. He cites reactions to Forde’s works similarly, even in the parts of the book explicitly devoted to dealing with Forde’s theology. This is not to say he did not consult or reference some of Forde’s other writings. It does mean, though, that he casts a wide net without enough twine.  

Here another problem arises. Given the widespread use Cooper makes of the term “Radical Lutheran” throughout the book, and especially at the end, it would make good sense to have included Forde’s seminal essay, “Radical Lutheranism,” as a third definitional work.[3] If the title of that work serves as definitive for Cooper, it is perplexing that the work itself would not also be definitional. Without having treated it as such, the term “Radical Lutheran” as denotive of a group of pastors or theologians or a broader movement proves troublesome, especially since he casts a wide net with it and leaves its boundaries ill-delineated, with the exception of a rather strange section near the end where he gives several rulings on who is or is not, may be or may not be a “Radical Lutheran,” from respected and very well-established theologians in the LCMS (entirely without evidence) to members of the ELCA (127ff).

While many readers from the churches of the former Synodical Conference, like myself, will sympathize with some of Cooper’s objections to the theology of Gerhard Forde, for instance, with respect to penal substitution, other objections Cooper raises could be undermined in their minds because of a failure to present Forde’s case with a more thoroughgoing engagement with his actual words and a more referenced approach to his corpus. This is critical, because those familiar with Forde’s writings will realize that many of his most important works are not monographs with a single, consistent thread throughout, but rather short treatises tackling very specific matters. Without such information, the skeptical reader is left to wonder whether the book contains a critique of Forde’s theology or of Forde’s theology as Cooper understands it. Cooper, whether deliberately or not, gives the impression that he reads Forde’s essays together as a whole, a totality, and not as individual essays. Forde is not Gerhard, at least not Johann Gerhard. Unlike the great dogmatician, his volumes do not build upon each other systematically. Thus, Cooper seeks a thread where there is not necessarily one to be found. This is not conducive to any meaningful engagement with Forde’s works, and because of it Forde too often seems more a foil, a boogeyman (and do we Lutherans ever love a bogeyman?!), than a theologian being seriously engaged. This is seen, for example, as happens more than once, when he makes reference to something from one of Forde’s essays with only a mention of the title of the book in which the essay could be found (96), not alerting the reader that the book does not stand as a whole, but includes a variety of Forde’s writings, each written in reaction to and in order to address different things.

One more example of academic inadequacy deserves mention here, supposing Cooper is writing for academics (since he is responding to one). Too often Cooper simplifies complex matters. In the introduction, for instance, where, among a slew of assertions, Cooper commends David Scaer for upholding a positive use for the law (without defining what all that entails), he leaves the reader to assume Forde did not do so (3). One need only read Forde’s “Luther’s Ethics” to recognize that the matter is not so simple as Cooper presents it.[4] Cooper might not like where Forde locates a positive use for the law, but that is a different matter. While Scaer and Forde might well, and likely certainly do, disagree on what a positive use of the law is and how it operates, this needs to be addressed and expanded more. Moreover, on the same page, while praising Joel Biermann for espousing two kinds of righteousness, Cooper gives the impression that Forde disavowed law and gospel as good and that he denied a positive use for the law as a guide for righteousness coram mundo. Forde addresses this in his essay “Lex semper accusat?” and specifically acknowledges that we can see a positive use of the law when it has an end [in Christ] and “is intended for this world” as a “civic righteousness.”[5] Forde, like Biermann, clearly recognizes a use of the law as a guide for righteousness coram mundo, then. He certainly does so differently, though, subsumed under the political use and extended beyond believers to all. The law, Forde makes plain, does bring benefits for society through its first use, and this is surely good.[6] Finally, all it would have taken to clear up a good deal of misunderstanding regarding Forde’s view of the commandments in the Christian life would have been to address his book, Free to Be, written with James A. Nestingen, whom Cooper, to Nestingen’s great relief, I am sure, absolves of some of Forde’s alleged sins (127). There Forde certainly shows that in his view the pastor’s task was not as limited as Cooper claims in his conclusion (144) and that he did see a very clear place for the law in Christian instruction and daily life.

Along these lines, Cooper sometimes, certainly unintentionally, conflates, or leaves his readers to conflate, the law always accusing and the law only accusing. He also sometimes fails to make clear that it is the established doctrine of confessional Lutheranism that the law always accuses. He writes of Jack Kilcrease, for example, that “he agrees [with Forde] that the law always accuses” (26). I would certainly hope so, since the Apology teaches this, as I am sure Cooper knows.[7] The problem is the lack of clarity of the statement, what the reader is assumed to know or left to assume.

Finally, Forde certainly did criticize the third use of the law and reject a third use built upon the views of Melanchthon and Calvin, but he did so especially as he had experienced it in pietistic preaching. This, too, needs further explanation, especially since Forde clearly outlines it in “Radical Lutheranism” (6ff). It is impossible to understand Forde without understanding his experience with and aversion to pietism. Forde’s aversion to the third use as expressed by decadent pietism does not mean that he held that the Christian will not serve and love his or her neighbor after having come to faith. Forde explained, “The good person, the one saved, is given creation back again as sheer gift, an arena in which to do the good.”[8] To his credit, Cooper does sometimes come back elsewhere in the book to some of these things in a more thoughtful and sharp manner, but that does not mitigate the fact that there are too many instances where the reader is left hanging and thoughts go underdeveloped and ill-defined. What the Formula of Concord describes as the third use can be found in Forde under the political use of the law and that is indeed where Luther most often included it. This is not an apology for Forde’s teaching on the third use, nor is it an attempt to deny that there are problematic aspects for those from the synods of the former Synodical Conference, but it is to say that it is more nuanced than Cooper presents it.

As noted at the beginning of this review, Cooper has an established interest in Lutheran scholasticism and in this book seeks to evaluate Forde’s writings in the light of it. There are several challenges this presents, though. Three especially come to mind. First, Forde, like Luther, was not a systematic theologian in any Synodical Conference sense. Second, Forde’s theology is especially homiletical in its focus, and so it is rightly centered in justification (whether or not it is weak on sanctification, as some, including Cooper, charge). Third, Forde’s writings often deal over against some threat to the central doctrine of justification. So, first, Cooper faces the temptation to systematize Forde’s writings in order to critique him. In so doing, he sometimes reacts to things not actually expressed in Forde’s theology and analyzes supposed presuppositions and influences which may or may not have actually factored into what Forde wrote. Second, this approach runs the risk of reading something Forde wrote as a reaction as if he were presenting a positive theology, something created in a vacuum, which becomes particularly precarious when dealing with Forde’s essays, such as those included in A More Radical Gospel. Third, Cooper seems to approach Forde with the expressed concern of protecting sanctification, something Forde himself noted people teased him about being weak on. Here we might note that the Confessions themselves could be accused of being weak on sanctification when it comes to the believer’s cooperation in sanctification after conversion, which is done in “great weakness,” and not like two horses pulling a wagon.[9] One must be excessively clear in this regard, therefore. Context is crucial, and this requires comprehensive research and a demonstration of it.

It is important to note as well, as we approach the close of this review, that Forde himself was concerned with antinomianism, a much more dangerous antinomianism.[10] This antinomianism seeks in the law or gives hearers the impression that they can find in it something of which it is not capable. Even more, such antinomianism can leave its hearers with the understanding that the law reflects or effects something that it does not and cannot, namely, one’s status before God as anything other than a sinner. Here I think a weakness in the scholastic approach espoused by Cooper becomes particularly clear. Cooper wants to defend law and gospel, Scripture, God, etc. as each is. He sees it as a weakness that Forde approaches them primarily as they do (88ff.). This is how the Christian comes to know and experiences these things, though—by, through, and in what they do. That is not to deny that there is an are to all of these things, but, functionally, Cooper’s scholasticism is too abstract to preach and not concrete enough to fully confess Christ as a person, flesh and blood, whose incarnation, when it comes to us, was not primarily about being something, but about doing things. Moreover, in this approach Cooper falls more than a little into Milton’s error, striving to justify the ways of God to men.[11] The problem isn’t always what Cooper says, but rather why he seems to feel the need to say it. Scripture, law and gospel, God, all these things do not need our help nearly so much as we fear. Rather, they need to be let out of their cage, and Cooper’s scholasticism sometimes closes the gate much more than it opens it. Christ, as the sinner knows him, will not become more Savior by the chasing of windmills.

Those of us who struggled at mathematics throughout grade school and high school likely remember that we could at least score some points by showing our work. Whether or not Cooper is right or wrong in many of his conclusions, in too many instances he loses points for not showing his work. The reader needs to be taken along on the journey. In Lex Aeterna, Cooper fails to do that. While many might agree with him, they will be left doing so on Cooper’s word or on the basis of previously formed opinions, and thus, through an intellectual veil, dimly. Disagree with Forde or not, any distinguished theologian deserves more and better treatment than what is provided in Lex Aeterna. A good book may create an echo chamber (sad a consequence as that is), but it does not speak to one. There is too much assumed or taken for granted in Cooper’s book to win over those not already convinced of his arguments and just enough to win praise from those itching to catch the next bogeyman.


Wade Johnston
Wisconsin Lutheran College
Milwaukee, WI


[1] Gerhard Forde, “One Acted Upon,” Dialogue 36, no. 1 (Winter, 1997): 54–61.

[2] Nestingen’s essay can be found, among other helpful essays by those who knew Forde and his work well, in By Faith Alone: Essays on Justification in Honor of Gerhard O. Forde, edited by Joseph A. Burgess and Marc Kolden (Grand Rapids Michigan: Eerdmans, 2004).

[3] Gerhard O. Forde, “Radical Lutheranism” in A More Radical Gospel, edited by Mark C. Mattes and Steven D. Paulson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2004), 3–16.

[4]   Gerhard O. Forde, “Luther’s Ethics” in A More Radical Gospel, edited by Mark C. Mattes and Steven D. Paulson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2004), 154.

[5] Gerhard O. Forde, “Lex semper accusat?” in A More Radical Gospel, edited by Mark C. Mattes and Steven D. Paulson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2004), 49.

[6] Forde, “Luther’s Ethics,” 154.

[7] Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV in Kolb and Wengert, 166.

[8] Forde, “Luther’s Ethics,” 149.

[9] Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration II.65 in Kolb and Wengert, 556; Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration II.66 in Kolb and Wengert, 557.  

[10] For example, see Forde, “Radical Lutheranism,” 15ff. To be fair, Cooper does briefly mention Forde’s views on antinomianism and lists two kinds of antinomianism Forde opposed—overt and covert—but in two paragraphs, largely, again, without sufficient engagement with Forde’s own words and extensive citation, and mostly as a springboard. Given that many of the charges Cooper levels are rooted in Forde’s relationship with the law, this seems highly insufficient. Moreover, I think Cooper misses or fails to fully address what Forde sees as some of the very real dangers of such antinomianism, which ultimately makes the law less than the law, a toothless threat, a measuring stick, or a sword too dull to kill. While the term “antinomianism” has historically been used for other threats to true doctrine or proper preaching, that does not mean that Forde is not correct in his diagnoses of some abuses or misunderstandings of the law in his day and ours.

[11] John Milton, Paradise Lost, I.25–26.


Luther On the Psalm 51 by Pless

Editor's Note: This post is a handout from Prof. John T. Pless's class on the Psalms. 

Points from Luther’s Commentary on Psalm 51 (AE 12:303-410) for Pastoral Theology

For background of Luther’s work on Psalm 51 in 1532 see “The Teacher of Justification” in Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation 1521–1532 (Fortress), 451–59.

  1. Luther says that David speaks of a twofold theological knowledge in this psalm, a theological knowledge of man and of God. Hence “The proper subject of theology is man guilty of sin and condemned, and God the Justifier and Savior of man the sinner. Whatever is asked or discussed in theology outside this subject, is error and poison” (311).
  2. Note Luther’s definition of the knowledge of sin: “it means to feel and to experience the intolerable burden of the wrath of God” (310). Luther writes “. . . the sinful man is one who is oppressed by his conscience and tossed to and fro, not knowing where to turn. Therefore we are not dealing here with a philosophical knowledge of man, which defines man as a rational animal and so forth. Such things are for science to discuss, not theology. So a lawyer speaks of man as an owner and master of property, and a physician speaks of man as healthy or sick. But a theologian discusses man as a sinner” (310). Luther says that David speaks of a twofold theological knowledge in this psalm, a theological knowledge of man and of God. Hence, “The proper subject of theology is man guilty of sin and condemned, and God the Justifier and Savior of man the sinner. Whatever is asked or discussed in theology outside this subject, is error and poison” (311). Also see Ngien’s discussion of Luther’s distinction between man the “conscious” sinner and man the “unconscious” sinner (Dennis Ngien, Fruit for the Soul: Luther on the Lament Psalms, 38). When all is said and done all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That is, there are finally two kinds of sinners, “holy sinners” (those who justify God) and hypocrites (those who justify themselves).
  3. Psalm 51 shows us the depth of sin. Luther observes that the psalm teaches us not to look superficially at the external sins but go deeper to the root of sin, that is, to see “the whole nature, source, and origin of sin.” (305) “Therefore our sin is that we are born and conceived in sin” (310).
  4. The psalm sets forth the two elements in true repentance: recognition of sin and recognition of mercy-fear of God and trust in mercy (305). On the development of Luther’s understanding of repentance, see Korey Maas, “The Place of Repentance in Luther’s Theological Development” in Theologia et Apologia: Essays in Reformation Theology and its Defense Presented to Rod Rosenbladt edited by Adam Francisco et al (Wipf & Stock), 137-154 and Berndt Hamm, “The Ninety-five Thesis: A Reformation Text in the Context of Luther’s Early Theology of Repentance” in The Early Luther: Stages in a Reformation Reorientation (Eerdmans, 2014), 85–109.
  5. Luther uses Psalm 51 to clarify the distinction between deus absconditus and deus revelatus. Deus absconditus is what Luther calls the “absolute God” or the “naked God.” Luther writes “Let no one therefore, interpret David as speaking with the absolute God. He is speaking with God as He is dressed and clothed in His Word and promises, so that from the name ‘God’ we cannot exclude Christ, whom God promised to Adam and the other patriarchs. We must take hold of this God, not naked but clothed and revealed in His Word, otherwise certain despair will crush us” (312).  Also see G. Forde’s discussion in “Absolution: Systematic Considerations” in The Preached God (152–62), noting Forde’s argument that “The only solution to the problem of the absolute is actual absolution” (152). Also see Steven Paulson, “Luther on the Hidden God” Word & World (Fall 1999), 363–71 and Oswald Bayer’s distinction between God’s “understandable wrath” and His “Incomprehensible Wrath” in Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation, 196–201.
  6.  Unbelievers speak with God “outside His Word and promises, according to the thoughts of their own hearts; but the Prophets speak with God as He is clothed and revealed in His promises and Word. This God, clothed in such a kind appearance and, so to speak, in such a pleasant mask, that is to say, dressed in His promises — this God we can grasp and look at with joy and trust. The absolute God, on the other hand, is like an iron wall, against which we cannot bump without destroying ourselves. Therefore Satan is busy day and night, making us run to the naked God so that we forget His promises and blessings shown in Christ and think about the judgment of God. When this happens, we perish utterly and fall into despair” (312). Outside the Word and promises of God, sinners devised their own means of accessing God.
  7. David has been crushed by the hammer of the Law (316). His terrorized conscience does not turn back to the Law or flee to the naked God but to the mercy of God. Thus Luther can speak of David’s prayer for mercy “as though he were praying against the whole Decalog” (314). Commenting on verse 1 of Psalm 51, Luther says that “at the very beginning David shows an art and a wisdom that is above the wisdom of the Decalog, a truly heavenly wisdom, which is neither taught by the Law nor imagined or understood by reason without the Holy Spirit” (314). Note the section on “Guilt and Shame” in the PCC: “For the Christian who is driven by the Law to despair of the mercies of Christ Jesus, the pastor ‘must set the whole Decalogue aside’ (Luther) and make the most of the Gospel” (PCC, 307). This is taken from Luther’s letter to Jerome Weller where he says “When the devil attacks and torments us, we must completely set aside the whole Decalogue” (Tappert, Luther’s Letters of Spiritual Counsel, 86). Without this heavenly wisdom, Luther says that trouble consciences are like geese, they see the hawk coming and they attempt to escape by flying when they should run. They see the wolves threatening and they attempt to run when they would have a better chance of escaping if they were to run (368).
  8. The divine wisdom of the Gospel is that God is merciful to sinners for the sake of Christ Jesus. To pray for mercy as David does is not to trust in oneself or works. “God does not want the prayer of a sinner who does not feel his sins, because he neither understands nor wants what he is praying for” (315). Such praying, Luther says, is to be compared to a beggar who cries out for alms and when offered money begins to brag of his riches (315). “Thus mercy is our whole life even until death; yet Christians yield obedience to the Law, but imperfect obedience because of the sin dwelling in us. For this reason let us learn to extend the word ‘Have mercy’ not only to our actual sins but to all the blessings of God as well: that we are righteous by the merit of another; that we have God as our Father; that God the Father loves sinners who feel their sins — in short, that all our life is by mercy because all our life is sin and cannot be set against the judgment and wrath of God” (321). David is like a beggar, he asks for forgiveness for no other reason than that he is a sinner (334).
  9. The psalm sets forth these two principal teachings of Holy Scripture: First, that our whole nature is condemned and destroyed by sin and cannot emerge from this calamity and death by its own power. Second, God alone is righteous. Political, domestic or ceremonial righteousness will not free us. Even a prince or husband who is righteous in the execution of his office, must confess “Against Thee only have I sinned; Thou only art righteous” (339). Also see The Righteousness of Faith According to Luther by Hans Joachim Iwand.
  10. To confess your sin is to cease the futile attempt to self-justify. Rather it is to join with David in saying to God: “Against you, you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you might be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4). In confession, the sinner acknowledges that God is right. It is to agree with God’s verdict: Guilty. “When sins are thus revealed by the Word, two different kinds of men manifest themselves. One kind justifies God and by a humble confession agrees to His denunciation of sin; the other kind condemns God and calls Him a liar when He denounces sin” (341). Note Johann Georg Hamann: “With respect to my life I have justified God and accused myself, indicated and discovered myself — all for the praise of the solely good God, who has forgiven me, in the blood of his only begotten Son, and in the testimony which the Spirit of God confirms in his word and in my heart" (quoted by Bayer, A Contemporary in Dissent: Johann Georg Hamann as a Radical Enlightener, 50). Also Elert: “We must agree with the men of the Bible that God’s word concerning the question of guilt (Psalm 51:4; Romans 3:4) is decisive; and this means not only that His decree is infallible, but also that His whole course of action is blameless. The recognition of this fact, despite our inability to fathom all His motives is expressed in the biblical idea of holiness (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8). It means not merely that He can stand every moral test, but that His moral quality is an unsearchable mystery and superior to every human judgment” (Werner Elert, An Outline of Christian Doctrine, 40–41).
  11. Luther’s interpretation of Psalm 51 reflects the reality that the whole of the Christian life is lived baptismally, in repentance: The Christian “is not formally righteous” . . . that is, righteous according to substance or quality. Rather the Christian’s righteousness is “according to his relation to something, namely, only in respect to divine grace . . . which comes to those who acknowledge their sin and believe that God is gracious and forgiving for Christ’s sake” (329). The bath or washing of which the psalm speaks in verse 2 is continual as while sin cannot condemn us it continues to vex us and ever threatens to drag us down in unbelief (329).
  12. “Human nature such as it is cannot be without the worship of God; and if it does not have the Word, it invents services, as the examples of both the heathen and the pope show” (361).
  13. Only when the Gospel is preached does the ear of the sinner “hear joy and gladness” and the bones that God has broken rejoice. Luther says that both “the man of thought as well as the man of action” are in error (369). Justification by faith alone brings an end to both justifying thinking and justifying action (see O. Bayer, Living by Faith, 25). Luther: “As far as we are concerned, the whole procedure in justification is passive. But when we are most holy, we want to be justified actively by our works. Here we ought to do nothing but this, that we open our ears, as Psalm 45:10 tells us, and believe what is told us. Only this hearing is the hearing of gladness, and this is the only thing we do, through the Holy Spirit in the matter of justification” (368). Also see “Faith and Promise” in Lutheran Theology by Steven Paulson (114-137)

— Prof. John T. Pless

As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.

Reformation Reading by Pless

— by John T. Pless

A number of pastors have asked me for suggestions for recent books on Luther as we are now into the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. What follows are my suggestions for books that would be valuable in a congregational library and for reading by interested laity. Several of these books would serve well as the basis for an adult Christian education class. Those marked with an * fit that category.

Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and his Career* by James M. Kittelson and Hans H. Wiersma (Fortress, 2016) is an accessible and informative account of Luther’s life and career. The narrative moves at a good pace but does justice to the Reformer’s personality and the critical episodes of his life. Shorter but given to a pointed engagement of Luther’s theology is the fine little book by Steven Paulson, A Brief Introduction to Martin Luther* (Westminster/John Knox, 2017). Paulson is a sparkling writer, and he presents a lively summary of the Reformer’s theology. Also compact but helpful is Thomas Kaufmann’s A Short Life of Martin Luther*(Eerdmans, 2016).  More comprehensive is Martin Luther: Visionary and Reformer by Scott Hendrix (Yale University Press, 2015). Not really a biography, but an interesting look at Luther’s career in light of its impact on the publishing industry is Andrew Pedigree’s Brand Luther (Penguin Press, 2015). The Early Luther: Stages in a Reformation Reorientation by Berndt Hamm (Eerdmans, 2014) traces both the continuity and discontinuity of Luther’s early thought with medieval thought. True Faith in the True God: An Introduction to Luther’s Life and Thought by Hans Schwarz (Fortress, 2015) is a topical approach to Luther with chapters on such items as Luther on marriage and the family, Luther on music, Luther on economics, and so forth. More in depth topical treatments are two books edited by Timothy Wengert, Harvesting Martin Luther’s Reflections on Theology, Ethics, and the Church (Eerdmans, 2004) and The Pastoral Luther: Essays on Martin Luther’s Practical Theology (Eerdmans, 2009).

The best single volume summaries of Luther’s theology are Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation by Oswald Bayer (Eerdmans, 2008) and Robert Kolb’s Martin Luther Confessor of the Faith (Oxford, 2009). Bayer’s book has the advantage of using Luther’s catechetical outline as way of viewing the coherence of Luther’s teaching while Kolb goes a bit deeper into historical development. There is also the impressive new study by Kolb of how Luther and his Wittenberg team understood the Holy Scriptures and preaching, Martin Luther and the Enduring Word of God (Baker Academic, 2016). Shorter recent books by Kolb also include Luther and the Stories of God(Baker Academic, 2012) and his book with Charles Arand, The Genius of Luther’s Theology* (Baker Academic, 2008).

There are several relatively new books that deal with different aspects of Luther’s life and work. From the perspective of Luther’s care of souls there is Martin Luther-Preacher of the Cross: A Study of Luther’s Pastoral Theology(Concordia, 2013) as this book deals with how Luther counseled the sick, the dying, the grieving, prisoners, married couples, the anxious, and people in various callings. Stephen Pietsch’s Of Good Comfort: Martin Luther’s Letters to the Depressed and Their Significance for Pastoral Care Today (ATF Theology, 2016) looks at Luther’s strategies for dealing with depression. Dennis Ngien’s Fruit for the Soul: Luther on the Lament Psalms* (Fortress, 2015) explains Luther's use of the lament Psalms. Praying Luther’s Catechismby John T. Pless (Concordia, 2016) is a study of Luther’s theology and practice of prayer from the perspective of the Small Catechism. A free, downloadable study guide on this book is available from the Concordia Publishing House website as well. The Righteousness of Faith According to Luther* by Hans Joachim Iwand (Wipf and Stock, 2008) is a fine study of Luther on the doctrine of justification and the necessity of the distinction of the law from the gospel. Carl Trueman’s Luther and the Christian Life* (Crossways, 2015) is solid study of Luther’s understanding of the cross and freedom in the life of the Christian. Gerhard Forde’s The Captivation of the Will: Luther vs Erasmus on Freedom and Bondage (Eerdmans, 2005) is a brief but finely-tuned and bracing commentary on one of Luther’s most important works The Bondage of the Will. A helpful study of Luther’s doctrine of vocation is Mark Tranvik’s Martin Luther and the Called Life* (Fortress, 2016). Australian scholar, Michael Lockwood, explores Luther’s teaching on the First Commandment in The Unholy Trinity: Martin Luther Against the Idol of Me Myself, and I* (Concordia, 2016). The five-volume set by Albrecht Peters, Commentary on Luther’s Catechism (Concordia, 2009–2013) is a magisterial study of Luther’s catechisms and a “must have” for Lutheran pastors.

Those looking for daily devotional readings from Luther will be well served by Athina Lexutt’s A Year with Luther: From the Great Reformer for Our Times (ATF Theology, 2016).  Good reference works for the study of Luther are The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology edited by Robert Kolb et al (Oxford, 2014) and  A Dictionary of Luther and the Lutheran Traditions edited by Timothy Wengert et al (Baker Academic, 2017).

Concordia Publishing House continues to publish volumes in the extension of the American Edition of Luther’s Works, the most recent being Volume 79: Church Postils V. Fortress Press is in the process of releasing a nicely done six volume set, The Annotated Luther. Enriched with Reformation art, spacious margins for note-taking, concise historical introductions and generally insightful commentaries this set will contain core Luther texts. Four of the six volumes are now available.

EDITOR's NOTE: All the links above contain Amazon Affiliates link. If you use those links, LOGIA receives a little extra support. 

As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.


— by Martin R. Noland

During the January 2017 Symposia week at the Fort Wayne seminary, I had the opportunity to not only hear many excellent lectures, but also to renew many friendships with people in my synod—The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (hereafter LCMS)—and in other Lutheran synods here in North America and around the world. 

One little episode stands out in mind. I was waiting for the next lecture to start in the auditorium when a former seminary classmate of mine sat down next to Walter Dissen. Mr. Dissen is, among other things, presently a member of the Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Board of Regents. My classmate said a few words, and then came the memorable phrase: “You know, Walter—you are a national treasure!” Nearly six years ago, my friend “Johannes” (a pseudonym) said that Mr. Dissen was a “synod treasure”[1] in his response to Dissen’s receipt of the Miles Christi Award. All plaudits are well deserved!

After the January Symposia, it occurred to me that I have had the unusual privilege of meeting, working with, being taught by, or working under a good number of “synodical treasures” like Mr. Dissen. These are steadfast confessors of the Lutheran faith, who throughout their lives have carried the burden of Lutheran orthodoxy and Scriptural inerrancy to the next generation. In many cases, they were in the middle of the “Battle for the Bible” in the LCMS. Some have suffered in various ways for their convictions. Others labored endlessly because of their convictions. All deserve our thanks, respect, and special consideration!

As a small gesture of thanks, respect, and consideration, I offer the following brief “Hall of Fame” of LCMS synodical treasures. Criteria are: a) steadfast confession in both the doctrine of orthodox Lutheranism as found in the Book of Concord and the issue of Biblical inerrancy and authority; b) national influence within the LCMS, either through its national offices, seminaries, universities, auxiliaries, ministerial training programs, national conventions, or publications directed to the membership; c) retired or of retirement age. 

I have excluded those who have passed to glory, since their names belong to the history of our synod. In the listing of what I consider some of their most significant contributions to the synod, I apologize in advance for any errors of fact or detail. Names are listed in alphabetical order by surname, not in order of distinction.


(1) Rev. Dr. Thomas Baker — leader among conservative students at the St. Louis seminary prior to the walk-out (he graduated in 1971); author of Watershed at the Rivergate[2]; former editor of Affirm newsletter; and career-long work in and with Balance, Inc., later with Affirm, Inc.

(2) Rev. Dr. Karl Barth — member of the President’s “Fact-Finding Committee” (1970–71) investigating the St. Louis seminary; South Wisconsin District President (1970–82); and President of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (1982–90).[3]

(3) Mr. Walter Dissen — attorney; key member of the Concordia Seminary, St. Louis Board of Control (1971–83) during the seminary’s crisis, walkout, and rebuilding phases; member of the Commission on Appeals (1983–95) during the Robert Preus case; member of the Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne Board of Regents (1995–2007) during its rebuilding phase; member of the Concordia Seminary, St. Louis Board of Regents (2013–present); president of the Lutheran Concerns Association (2010–present); and editor of The Lutheran Clarion newsletter (2010–present).[4]

(4) Mr. Richard Hannnenberg — lay member of the 1969 “Continuation Committee”[5]; one of the lay founders of Balance, Inc. (later Balance-Concord), which published Affirm newsletter, with career-long work in and with these organizations and a persuasive lay voice at national and district conventions.

(5) Rev. Dr. Steven Hein — assistant to J.A.O. Preus, LCMS President, in the turbulent years just prior to the Concordia Seminary, St. Louis crisis and walkout (1972–73); leading on-campus conservative theological voice and Professor of Theology at Concordia Teacher’s College/Concordia University, River Forest, IL (1975–98); author of The Christian Life: Cross or Glory[6]; director of the Concordia Institute for Christian Studies (1988–present); and member of the Board of Directors of the Consortium of Classical and Lutheran Education (2001–present).[7]

(6) Rev. Dr. Robert Kuhn — Central Illinois District President (1985–95), during which time he was a close friend and ally of Dr. Al Barry in the Council of Presidents; First Vice-President of the LCMS (1995–2000), in which office he continued his support for Dr. Barry; member of the LCMS Board of Directors, nine years as chairman (2001–13); and LCMS 6th Vice-President for East-Southeast Region (2013–2015).

(7) Rev. Dr. Walter A. Maier, Jr. — professor of Exegetical Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary, Springfield/Fort Wayne (1965–present); editor of Affirm newsletter (1970–73); author of Form Criticism Re-Examined [8]; author of “Crossroads” letter to 1973 synodical delegates; and 2nd-5th LCMS Vice-President (1973–95).

(8) Rev. Dr. John W. Montgomery — after colloquizing into the LCMS in 1965, Dr. Montgomery gave a series of ground-breaking lectures (November 1965 to May 1966) to the LCMS Council of Presidents, the joint seminary faculties, and to Midwestern LCMS Pastor and Teacher Conferences, which lectures were published in volume one of Crisis in Lutheran Theology[9]; regular columnist for the Evangelical flagship journal Christianity Today (1965–83); and a leading critic of the theologies of Karl Barth, Paul Tillich and Rudolf Bultmann, summing up much of his opposition to Liberal Christianity and radical theologies in works such as Crisis in Lutheran Theology, The Suicide of Christian Theology, and God's Inerrant Word.[10]

(9) Deaconess Betty Mulholland — leader among nine deaconesses, who together with Dr. Paul Zimmerman, President of Concordia Teachers College, River Forest, Illinois, established the Concordia Deaconess Conference in 1979 for LCMS deaconesses and deaconess students who wanted to be faithful to the official LCMS doctrinal position.[11]

(10) Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel — Preceptor of Westfield House, Cambridge, U.K., the seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (1958–1967); Dean of Chapel and Professor of Theology at Valparaiso University (1967–1983); Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (1983–2008); translator of Hermann Sasse’s essays in the Concordia Publishing House We Confess series[12] and of other Sasse material; and co-founder and co-mentor with Ronald Feuerhahn of the Colloquium Viatorum group of LCMS graduate theology students, meeting annually at the Concordia Seminary in St. Louis (ca. 1992–99).[13]

(11) Rev. Herman Otten, Jr. — leader among conservative students at the St. Louis seminary during its liberal years (he graduated in 1957); editor of Christian News newspaper (1962–present); and publisher of numerous books and resources through Lutheran News, Inc.[14] 

(12) Rev. Walter Otten — pastor of Saint Paul Lutheran Church, Brookfield, Illinois for most of his career; in his early years, a member of the Chicago Study Club, meeting in Oak Park, Illinois in order to counteract the influence of ecumenism and liberalism on the LCMS; in his later years, a founder and leader of the Northern Illinois Confessional Lutherans (aka NICL), which met in the western suburbs of Chicago for the same purposes; and an effective opponent of liberal professors at Concordia Teacher’s College, River Forest, IL in the years prior to the formation of Seminex and the AELC.

(13) Rev. Dr. Daniel Preus — a founder of the Minnesota Confessional Lutherans during his years as a pastor at Truman, Minnesota (1978–86); a founder of the Association of Confessional Lutherans (1992–present); Director of the Concordia Historical Institute (1995–2001); First Vice-President of the LCMS, during which time he spoke publicly about the error of the district president who was involved in the Yankee Stadium worship service (2001–2004); Director of the Luther Academy (2005–2012); 3rd-5th LCMS Vice President (2010–present); and author of Why I Am A Lutheran: Jesus at the Center.[15]

(14) Rev. Dr. David Scaer — leader among conservative students at the St. Louis seminary during its liberal years (he graduated in 1960); Professor of Systematic Theology and New Testament at Concordia Theological Seminary, Springfield/Fort Wayne (1966–present); editor of Concordia Theological Quarterly[16] (1970–94, 1999–present); author of three volumes in the Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics series[17]; and prodigious author of theological articles, sermons, and books.[18]

(15) Rev. Dr. Wallace Schulz — Lutheran Hour Associate Speaker (1977–2002); 2nd, 4th, and 5th LCMS Vice-President (1995–2004); Evangelist for the Lutheran Heritage Foundation (2002–10); editor and publisher of Good News magazine; and while serving as Vice-President, he became the judge of the church-court case involving the Atlantic District President for his participation in the ecumenical, inter-faith worship service at Yankee Stadium in September 2001.[19]

(16) Rev. Dr. Edwin S. Suelflow — for many years, his congregation in Milwaukee, Walther Memorial Lutheran Church, was the mailing address and production base for the Affirm newsletter of Balance, Inc.; District President of South Wisconsin District (1988–94), during which years he was a close ally and supporter of Dr. Al Barry; and during which time, he and Dr. Barry worked together to convince the various conservative and confessional Lutheran organizations in the LCMS to cooperate in the nomination and election of synodical officers and board members.

(17) Rev. Dr. William Weinrich — resisting the lure of liberalism at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (he graduated in 1972), he went on to receive the doctoral degree Insigni cum laude from the Faculty of Theology at Basel, Switzerland in October 1977; Professor of Early Church History and Patristic Studies at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN (1975–present); president pro tem of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (1995–96), during its difficult transition year; academic dean at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (1996–2006); 3rd and 4th LCMS Vice-President (1998–2004); editor of Revelation[20] in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; editor of Greek Commentaries on Revelation[21] and Latin Commentaries on Revelation[22] in Ancient Christian Texts; and author of numerous other books and articles.[23]

(18) Rev. Dr. Dean Wenthe — resisting the lure of liberalism at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (he graduated in 1971), he went on to receive the Th.M. degree from Princeton Theological Seminary (1975) and the Ph.D. degree from the University of Notre Dame (1991); Professor of Old Testament at Concordia Theological Seminary, Springfield/Fort Wayne (1971–77, 1980–present); President of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (1996–2011); President of the Concordia University System (2014–present); Associate Editor of the Concordia Self-Study Bible[24]; General Editor of the Concordia Commentary Series by Concordia Publishing House; editor of Jeremiah/Lamentations[25] in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; and author of numerous other books and articles.[26]

(19) Mr. Al Wipperman — lay member of the 1969 “Continuation Committee”; one of the lay founders of Balance, Inc. (later Balance-Concord), which was the publisher of Affirm newsletter, with career-long work in and with these organizations; and a persuasive lay voice at national and district conventions.

If you have the privilege of meeting any of these persons in the days and years ahead, make sure that you thank them for their service to our synod and to confessional Lutheranism world-wide. If you have the time, ask them out to lunch or dinner to learn about their experiences in the church. If you have the time and skills, consider recording and telling some of their stories—with their permission—in journals such as the Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly, LOGIA, and other venues that will pass on these stories to the next generation of faithful Lutherans.

  As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.  


[1] See http://steadfastlutherans.org/2011/06/concordia-theological-seminary-awards-miles-christe-award-to-walter-dissen; “Johannes” attribution is #2 in the comment section; accessed January 31, 2017.

[2] (Sturgis, MI: T. Baker 1973).

[3] For a sampling of Dr. Barth’s engaging style of speaking and writing, see his collection of blog articles in: Karl L. Barth, Just a Chip Off the Old Blog (Milwaukee: PIP Printing, 2008).

[4] For current subscriptions and resources, see http://lutheranclarion.org; accessed January 31, 2017.

[5] On the “Continuation Committee,” see James C. Burkee, Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), 105.

[6] (Irvine, CA: New Reformation Publications, 2015).

[7] For a brief curriculum vitae of Dr. Hein, see http://www.sslc-cos.org/bio_hein.htm; accessed January 31, 2017.

[8] (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1973).

[9] John Warwick Montgomery, Crisis in Lutheran Theology, vol. 1 (Minneapolis: Bethany Lutheran Fellowship, 1967).

[10] For Dr. Montgomery’s biography and extensive bibliography, see http://www.jwm.christendom.co.uk and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Warwick_Montgomery; accessed January 31, 2017. For other biographical details, see his festschrift’s foreword and tribute sections: Dembski & Schirrmaker, eds., Tough-Minded Christianity: Honoring the Legacy of John Warwick Montgomery (Nashville: B &H Academic, 2009).

[11] The official doctrinal position of the LCMS is described in Article Two of its Constitution. The other eight deaconesses were: Mildred Brillinger, Kay Gudgeon, Clara Strehlow, Luella Mickley, Cheryl Naumann, Nancy Nemoyer, Joyce Ostermann, and Ruth Stallmann. The full story is told in: Cheryl D. Naumann, In the Footsteps of Phoebe (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009).

[12] Hermann Sasse, We Confess, 3 vols., tr. Norman Nagel (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1984–86); this is primarily translations of selected essays from Sasse’s In Statu Confessionis.

[13] Biographical essays on Dr. Nagel may be found here: L. Dean Hempelmann, “Foreword,” in his festschrift: Krispin and Vieker, eds., And To Every Tongue Confess: Essays in Honor of Norman Nagel on the Occasion of his Sixty-Fifth Birthday (Dearborn, MI: Nagel Festschrift Committee, 1990), ix-xiv; and his second festschrift: Matthew Harrison, “Foreword,” William M. Cwirla, “In the Way of the Law and the Gospel: Classroom Reminscences,” and Rudolph H. Blank, “A Visit with Norman Nagel,” in Vieker, Day, Collver, eds., Dona Gratis Donata: Essays in Honor of Norman Nagel on the Occasion of His Ninetieth Birthday (Manchester, MO: Nagel Festschrift Committee, 2015), xi–17.

[14] For current subscriptions and resources, see http://www.christiannewsmo.com; accessed January 31, 2017.. Some persons may question whether Pastor Otten should be included in this “honor roll,” citing his journalistic methods, or pointing to various political or theological opinions which he advocates; but no one can deny his influence in the period being considered or his steadfast confession of the authority of the Lutheran Confessions and the inerrancy of Scriptures. Therefore he belongs in this group of LCMS “confessors.”

[15] (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2004). For a brief biography of Vice-President Preus, see Klemet Preus, “Daniel Preus: Protecting and Promoting the Lutheran Ethos,” in his festschrift: Scott Murray, et.al., eds., Propter Christum: Christ at the Center, Essays in Honor of Daniel Preus (n.p.: Luther Academy, 2013), xiii–xix.

[16] For current subscriptions, see http://www.ctsfw.edu/resources/concordia-theological-quarterly/subscribe-to-ctq; accessed January 31, 2017.

[17] For this series, see http://www.logia.org/luther-academy-books; accessed January 31, 2017. Dr. Scaer wrote the volumes in the series on “Baptism,” “Christology,” and “Law and Gospel and the Means of Grace.”

[18] For a complete bibliography of Dr. Scaer’s writings from 1963 to 2008, see Peter C. Bender, et.al., eds., In Christ: The Collected Works of David P. Scaer Lutheran Confessor, vol. 2 (Sussex, WI: Concordia Catechetical Academy, 2008), 245–288. For a brief biography of Dr. Scaer, see Lawrence R. Rast, “David P. Scaer: A Biographical Appreciation,” in his festschrift: Dean O. Wenthe, et.al., eds., All Theology is Christology: Essays in Honor of David P. Scaer (Fort Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 2000),15–18. Another bibliography and his works hosted on the CTS-FW website may be found here: http://www.ctsfw.edu/about/faculty/dr-david-scaer

[19] For details on the Yankee Stadium case, see Herman Otten, ed., Crisis in Christendom: Seminex Ablaze (New Haven, MO: Lutheran News, Inc., 2004).

[20] New Testament Vol. 12, general ed. Thomas Oden (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2005).

[21] General ed., Thomas Oden (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2011).

[22] General eds., Thomas Oden and Gerald Bray (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2011).

[23] A curriculum vitae and his works hosted on the CTS-FW website can be found here: http://www.ctsfw.edu/about/faculty/dr-william-weinrich

[24] General ed., Robert G. Hoerber (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, ca. 1986).

[25] Old Testament Vol. 12, general ed., Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2009).

[26] For a brief biography of Dr. Wenthe, see: Lawrence R. Rast, Jr., “Dean O. Wenthe: A Biographical Appreciation,” in his festschrift: Just and Grime, eds., The Restoration of Creation in Christ: Essays in Honor of Dean O. Wenthe (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2014), xvii-xxi; for a brief bibliography, see “A Select Bibliography,” in ibid., xxii–xxv. Works of note by Dr. Wenthe and his works hosted on the CTSFW website can be found here: http://www.ctsfw.edu/about/faculty/dr-dean-wenthe

Book Review: Biblical Authority after Babel

The “solas” are at the forefront, appropriately so, of a lot of Reformation jubilee discussion and literature as October 31, 2017 approaches. Because they can be seen as providing a content-rich but extremely compact summary of the Reformation movement, Reformation teaching, or of the motivations of the Reformers, even the fact that they’re in Latin is overlooked. I myself find, as I pastor in a setting where Lutherans are one of the rarer breeds of Christianity, that a short reference to sola gratia,sola fide, and sola scriptura can go a long way, not only to describe who we are, but also to garner some respect among those who otherwise suspect me of having a shrine to Martin Luther in my house.

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Issue 26-1: Lutheran Triumphalism


— by Paul Lehninger

According to a quotation making the rounds recently, “Success without decency is a hollow victory”or perhaps a “hollow triumph”? The articles in this issue provide valuable insights as to the nature of Lutheran triumphalism, its relative decency, and its contemporary relevance, especially in light of the forthcoming Reformation 500 observances.

For an explanation of the cover, click here.

For an explanation of the cover, click here.

Michael Albrecht takes us all the way back to Reformation 100 and carries us through the centuries to the present, demonstrating how in the past century Luther and the Reformation were reimagined to suit Unitarian and Communist ideologies. His description of J. P. Koehler’s term for triumphalism, the “hurrah sentiment,” which causes individuals to substitute a charismatic leader for the gospel as a means of salvation, is especially chilling during election years.

Compelling leaders who champion pseudo-theologies that obscure the gospel have always been with us. Arnold Koelpin argues that a misunderstanding of the two kinds of righteousness lies at the heart of this deception, and he sets forth the example of liberation theology to demonstrate this.

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A more prevalent pseudo-theology in America today is that the music used for worship is a means of grace, or at least a necessary handmaiden of the gospel, and Luther has been quoted and misquoted to support this view. Too often the lines have been drawn between those who believe that the pews will empty unless the language of worship is accompanied by “contemporary” music, and those who are convinced that only chant and Baroque-era compositions have the Holy Spirit’s stamp of approval. Both are forms of triumphalism, and James Crockford does the church a great service in his analysis of the three senses of music. His reminder that, while music is a great gift  from God, like any gift  it can be abused in this sinful world.

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For those of us who have fond memories of the Synodical Conference, Mark Braun and Erling Teigen provide evidence that triumphalism is a debilitating disease that can contaminate even confessional Lutherans when they ignore the symptoms of their illness. Missouri is still medicating (as must we all), while the ELS ultimately had to amputate the gangrenous limb.

While Michael Albrecht took us back to Reformation 100, Carl Springer turns our attention all the way to pagan Greece and Rome. Springer’s pagans dealt seriously with death as well as life.  They celebrated their triumphs thoroughly, but in the background they were always conscious of death, the memento mori. Of course, they had no concept of the Lutheran theology of the cross. This is the only valid answer to the question of Lutheran triumphalism. Surely, “In the midst of earthly life snares of death surround us,” but even more surely, “Who there my cross has shared finds here a crown prepared; who there with me has died shall here be glorified.”

A Word about the Cover

— by Aaron Moldenhauer, Senior Editor, LOGIA

The anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 is a big year for Luther and Lutherans. All kinds of Reformation celebrations are being planned, and many are already underway. Perhaps what will be lost in the celebrations is Luther's own emphasis on humility. Some of the last words from his pen said that "we are all beggars," a final reiteration of his point that it is God who works good in his church through his word. Man is merely the instrument through whom God works, and Luther would remind us that this calls for a healthy dose of humility.

LOGIA XXVI-1 Cover.jpg

The Epiphany issue of LOGIA examines times when Lutherans have forgotten this point and fallen into the danger of triumphalism. The articles in the issue provide opportunity for confessional Lutherans to reflect on our own approaches to confessing the faith, and to ask if we have always done so with the humility befitting fallen sinners redeemed by Christ's grace and enlightened by his Holy Spirit. We feel this is a salutary reminder at the beginning of a year of Luther celebrations.

The cover image is meant to be a visual way to reflect on such themes, and to inspire thought and reflection. How does one picture Lutheran triumphalism? The cover image is one attempt to do so. It is not meant to portray a faithful pastor whose doctrine and life is normed by scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.

The artist—a strong confessional Lutheran—had in mind those who heroically profess to be Lutheran while paying mere lip service to the Book of Concord. These are the kinds of Lutherans whom Kurt Marquart criticized for using the Confessions as a kind of "rabbit's foot," ignoring the content of the Confessions and stripping them of binding force while working for triumphal unions based on empty words about confessional subscription (Anatomy of an Explosion, Ft. Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1977, 66-76). The image is an intentional parody of the heroic realism of socialist art. We feel that it is an effective image to lead Lutherans to look at their own attitudes and to reflect on how they might continue to speak the truth in love to those inside and outside of the church. And, personally, I find it striking and thought-provoking that the cross is pushed to the background of this image and nearly invisible.



Being Dad: Father as a Picture of God’s Grace. By Scott Keith. Irvine: NRP Books, 2015. Order here.

Much ink has been spilled over the subject of Christian parenting, especially the vocation of “father.” The critique of modern Western society that the role of father has been degraded to the point that we no longer recognize the true purpose or value of having a father is more than accurate. Doubtless this is a contributing factor to the Western acceptance of the equivalence of mother and father or much worse the irrelevance of the father. Yet many recognize the need of some sort of father-like figure—certainly all the super-villains and heroes in the movies having “daddy issues” is no coincidence. So what is a father? Is he necessary? What does he look like? What does he do?

Scott Keith, executive director of “1517 the Legacy Project,” adjunct professor of theology at Concordia University, Irvine, and (more relevant) husband and father of three children, brings the light of Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, and even some anecdotal experience to these questions with the book Being Dad: Father as a Picture of God’s Grace. Rather than being a how-to manual on raising children as a man, Keith examines what the Scriptures tell us about being a father from the example given us in our heavenly Father. Keith’s stated purpose for the book: “This book . . . will draw a picture of a good father given as a gift by a good God in order to bring children, to bring little sinners, to Himself” (6). For this reason, Keith suggests, it is the father’s first God-given duty to bring the Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins to the children entrusted to his care. 

The emphasis throughout the entire book is that the father should be a theologian who properly distinguishes Law and Gospel in the home. Keith never suggests that the father ignore the Law and be a passive patron of cheap grace, rather Keith constructs the book to demonstrate that a father is a God-given picture of His divine grace.

Keith’s first step is the ever-familiar parable of the prodigal son. He gives an in-depth study of the characters, motivations, and emotions involved in this parable. While Keith offers no novel ideas, he gives an absolutely necessary starting point for understanding the vocation of father: the benefactor and teacher of grace, and of children: receivers and witnesses of grace.

At this point Keith discusses the necessity of manly men, or in his words “masculine fathers.” He attempts to discern from the dim mirror what a masculine man is like. Certainly being a real man is more than drinking beer, smoking, shooting guns, and eating red meat. Keith suggests—and I believe correctly—that a truly masculine man is not only capable of performing “manly tasks” (whatever those may be according to his vocation) but he is gracious and loving. Keith defines “loving” in the sense of the Greek virtue “philia” brotherly friendship and love, or what our confessions would call “the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren” (SA III:IV). A masculine father demonstrates this virtue to his children and exposes them to it through his various interactions with them and others in the world. Yet here no exhaustive list of characteristics can be made for the masculine man, instead we simply accept the flesh and blood examples.

It is no coincidence that God places great importance on the estate of marriage. This clearly is for the protection and good of both husband and wife, but also for the protection and raising up of children. For this reason, Keith devotes an entire chapter to the father fulfilling his vocation as husband. He discusses that the vocations of father and mother are neither equivalent nor opposite each other; rather father and mother complement each other.

Keith devotes the rest of the book to discussing what it is to be a father, the “magic” and wonderment a father can and should bring into his children’s lives, what it means that the father is the “head of the household,” and finally what a healthy reliance of children on fathers looks like. Keith closes the book with helpful anecdotes from those in the vocation of father and/or child. He uses these to illustrate the single point successfully made throughout the entire book that the foremost duty of the father is to be a picture of our gracious, heavenly Father.

“God provides fathers so that children can know His love in this denotative way. Fathers provide the opportunity for children to point at their dads and say, ‘God’s love is like that. Like him over there. Like my dad,’” (82). Keith’s book is a welcome and necessary contribution to the ongoing discussion on the necessity and qualities of that thing we call “fatherhood.” In this book, he hits on the necessary points to show from Scripture and experience how the father is an absolutely necessary God-given vocation in this life.

Aaron M. Hambleton
Redeemer Lutheran
Lisbon, ND

Issue 25-4: Simul justus et peccator


—by Aaron Moldenhauer

Some years ago in Bible class I led a discussion that as Christians we are simul iustus et peccator. Class members readily and heartily acknowledged that they were sinners. But the group struggled to see themselves as saints and declined to call themselves such. Saints, they reasoned, were holy, while they were sinful. They could not look past their sin to see the righteousness of Christ that is theirs through faith, the righteousness by which they are accounted saints. By only confessing half of the equation, they demonstrated that they had not internalized the concept of being simul.

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While instructing parishioners about being simul is challenging, this instruction pays rich rewards for the person who grasps the simul. Parish pastors do well to offer this instruction both in Bible classes and in private counseling. The simul is especially effective for those who, for one reason or another, question their faith. Pointing the parishioner to the father in Mark 9:24 who cries “I believe, help my unbelief!” can bring immense comfort to one who recognizes that his faith is weak. Walking through Romans 7 with a parishioner beat up by legalistic preaching is an effective means to show them that they are Christ’s, even when they see sin in themselves. Conversely, the simul allows the pastor to preach to the self-righteous that they are sinful without driving them to despair. The simul remains an excellent resource for pastoral care and theology. This issue of LOGIA offers several perspectives on the simul in Lutheran theology.

The simul is deeply rooted in Lutheran theology. From an early date in his life, Martin Luther delights in placing paradoxical statements beside one another. The simul is one instance of Luther’s paradoxical pairs, appearing early in his career. These apparent contradictions appear at least as early as The Freedom of a Christian (1520), where Luther famously asserts that the Christian is both a perfectly free lord of all and a most dutiful servant, subject to all (LW 31:344). In the same work Luther describes the exchange between Christ and the Christian by which Christ shares in the believer’s sins while the believer receives Christ’s righteousness. As Christ and the believer hold all things in common, they are both sinners and righteous at the same time (LW 31:351–53). This identification of the believer as both sinful and holy begins in Luther and persists in Lutheran theology as the simul iustus et peccator. The persistence of this concept is seen clearly in the authors analyzing and using it in this issue of LOGIA.

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In the first article of this issue William Cwirla draws connections between scriptural expressions containing the content of the simul, Luther’s thought, the Formula of Concord, and the parish. His article analyzes how the simul functions in the Formula’s articulation of the third use of the law, and how this relates to conceptions of spirit and flesh, old and new, inner and outer. Cwirla shows the relevance of these doctrines for the pastor. His contribution highlights the often-overlooked truth that the pastor must first see himself as simul. Then Cwirla continues to discuss how parishioners and the church are also simul.

Steven Paulson’s contribution to this issue examines the two kingdoms in light of the simul. Paulson highlights how the simul cuts against natural intuition and experience. By looking at the two kingdoms in light of the simul, Paulson identifies temptations to turn the church into an instrument for social action, a move that can collapse the two kingdoms into one. His article offers a unique look at the role of the church in liberal democracy by applying the simul to the question of the two kingdoms.

The simul Christian lives in a creation that is also simul. Our lives as simul iustus et peccator are lived in this simul creation, and the implications of this setting are explored by Joshua Miller’s analysis and application of Oswald Bayer’s thought on the rupture of the ages. Bayer’s idea of the rupture highlights how sin closes ears to the message that God speaks through creation. The result is that God is hidden, along with his eschatological answer to sin. By casting the believer and creation in this light, Bayer opens up room to understand the Christian life as lament — an insight offering rich applications in pastoral care.

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The simul offers one way to examine developments within the understanding of the office of the ministry. Mark Menacher’s article follows this tack. Menacher cautions against the dangers that come when the simul is forgotten in thinking about the ministry, both on a personal and an ecclesial level. Menacher develops this argument by using Luther and the Confessions as resources for thinking about the ministry and the simul.

Menacher’s article leads into Kristian Baudler’s essay on Luther and the priesthood of all believers. Baudler argues that Luther espouses the idea, and contends that recent efforts to argue that Luther does not hold to the priesthood of all believers serve an ecumenical agenda.

Together, these articles offer a rich array of material for contemplating the simul. The themes of simul and office continue into the Forum section, with diverse voices from Lutheranism represented there. Taken together, the writings in this issue of LOGIA provide resources for a Lutheran perspective that sees oneself as both sinner and saint, and then speaks the gospel to others who are likewise sinners, those to whom Christ grants his forgiveness and so accounts them saints.

Not the Same

EXCERPT: In other words, the U.S. Supreme Court, its allied judges, and its like-minded politicians are engendering the American republican-democratic state into establishing or into becoming the state Church of Neopaganism in the USA with the Supreme Court Justices in majority ruling as its self-ordained high priests.

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The Ministry of a New Covenant

The Ministry of the New Covenant

Text: II Corinthians 3:4-6

— by John T. Pless

Editor’s Note: The Rev. John T. Pless preached this sermon for the ordination of Michael Daniels on Trinity XI (August 7, 2016) at Salem Lutheran Church, Taylorsville, NC.

 This past month in Cleveland and then in Philadelphia, the attention of our nation and even the world was turned to decisions being made by the two leading political parties as to who would be put forward as their respective candidates for president of the United States. There were stirring speeches and rhetorical appeals. Those gatherings captured media coverage and commentary, and no doubt the dust will not settle until the election takes place in November. 

Prof. John T. Pless

Prof. John T. Pless

By way of contrast, we are gathered here this afternoon not to put forward a man for political office with all the ruckus of a convention. Instead, we are here on this lazy August afternoon because Christ Jesus is putting a man in a spiritual office, the office of preaching, the office of the holy ministry of Word and Sacraments. This is not an office of worldly authority, but it is an authority for it is the office of the Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life. So Dr. Luther says in one of his many sermons of John 20: “This was not Christ’s mandate to His disciples, and He did not send them forth for secular government. Rather, He committed to them the preaching office, and the government over sin, so that the proper definition of the office of preaching is that one should preach the Gospel of Christ and forgive the sins of the crushed, fearful consciences, but retain those of the impenitent and secure, and bind them” (LW 69:383). 

That is the office, Michael, into which you are placed today. The media might yawn at a church service which seems so pale and insignificant when set alongside the commotion of a convention hall, but I would submit to you that what is taking place today will have a significance — yes an eternal significance — long after the names of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are forgotten (and for that matter, even your own name is no longer remembered). The kingdoms of men and nations rise up and pass away, but the Word of the Lord endures forever. It is an everlasting Gospel, this word of the cross, which you, Michael, are ordained, that is, put under orders to proclaim.

The person who is put into the office of president has weighty responsibility on their shoulders. The man who is put into the office of preaching has an even heavier burden to bear. Presidents and prime ministers, kings and emperors are given charge over things temporal. Pastors exercise an office with eternal consequences as they are charged to forgive the sins of the broken and retain the sins of the self-righteous, those who in their fleshly security refuse to repent.

The Rev. Michael Daniels and his wife, Emily

The Rev. Michael Daniels and his wife, Emily

Political candidates recommend themselves for secular offices even as they seek to the approval and recommendation of others. But who can recommend himself for the office of preaching? As he writes II Corinthians, Paul does not commend himself, but Christ Jesus. So also with this young man, this son of Salem congregation, who is ordained today; it is finally not about Michael but about Jesus. 

Certainly, there is much to celebrate and give thanks for this afternoon. It is fitting that the congregation has a godly pride in the fact that one of your own, taught the Holy Scriptures and the Catechism in your midst, nurtured in the fear, love, and trust in God above all things, confirmed in the faith at this altar and fed here with the body and blood of Christ has been led to prepare for the pastoral office. On behalf of the whole church, I speak a word of thanksgiving for the gift that you have given in providing Michael for the work of the ministry. It is good and right that his parents and family who have supported and encourage him at each step along the way, now rejoice that Michael has come to this day. And Michael and Emily are no doubt relieved that the rigors of seminary education are in the rear view mirror and a big bright Texas-size future awaits them. There is eagerness and excitement now to get on to the work which you have been preparing for these past years. That is all well and good, but there is more. There is the one thing which you are to know and never forget. It is this: Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead is alone your sufficiency for preaching office.

The Rev. Chris Hull, senior pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, Tomball, TX

The Rev. Chris Hull, senior pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, Tomball, TX

Your confidence is finally not that you have a Master of Divinity degree from Concordia Theological Seminary, or that you have the set of skills required for effective ministry, or that Zion Lutheran Church in Tomball, Texas thinks that you will be a good fit to work with Pastor Hull. All of that may be helpful but you have something greater. The Apostle puts it like this: “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.” In a few minutes, Michael, you will make some God-sized vows, solemn promises that your teaching will be completely bound to the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions and that your life will adorn and reflect the doctrine of Christ you are sworn to deliver in season and out of season. These vows should cause you to tremble more than a little. You can finally give a full-throated and unqualified “yes” to these questions because your confidence is toward God through Christ.

That little phrase that Paul uses “through Christ” is the key. Paul’s ministry was not validated by his cleverness or perseverance, by his eloquence or appearance, by his credentials of heritage or education but only through Christ. So it is with you, Michael. You are sufficient for this work only because your sufficiency is from God through Christ. 

He has made you competent to be a minister of the new covenant. The prophet Jeremiah spoke of the new covenant that God would make with His people. The old covenant made at Sinai was shattered by Israel’s sin. There is no salvation there. The Law can only curb and condemn sin; it is powerless to forgive sin. Instead, Jeremiah proclaims a new covenant. That new covenant contains a promise absent in the old covenant. And the promise is this says Jeremiah: “ I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34).

You are a minister not of the letter that kills (that’s the Law) but of the Spirit who gives life (that’s the Gospel). Yes, you will preach the Law in all of its sternness to those who are hardened in their unbelief but that preaching will never take their sin away. You will preach the Law only so your hearers might come to hear the promise of the new covenant: “ I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” The letter kills, the Spirit gives life. The law never finds righteousness, and it is powerless to create it. The Gospel only finds sinners, but it is the power of God for salvation for it bestows righteousness in the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ.

You, Michael, are today authorized to be an agent and ambassador of the new covenant, on your lips are the words of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes way the sin of the world. His words are spirit and life (John 6:63). Your competence and your confidence are in them. Move away from Jesus’ words, start referencing yourself, proclaiming something other than the Law and Gospel or mixing and muddling the two, and then you will have neither competence nor confidence. For this reason, your confession like that of the disciples can only and ever be: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” 

Preach the Law? Yes, for it is necessary to bring secure sinners to repentance. Afflict those who are comfortable in and with their sin. To those who have been so afflicted, preach the comfort of Jesus Christ who atoned for the sins of the world and by His resurrection gives forgiveness of sins to all you will receive it. That is the work of the minister of the new covenant. Today, Michael, it is the work committed to you.

Christ Jesus is sending you on your way today as a minister of the new covenant, not the letter that kills but the Spirit who gives life. You cannot see the ending of the path set before you. The Lord who sends you does not promise that the journey on which you are now embarking will be an easy one. This culture of death into which you are sent despises Christ. The ever-deceiving world, your own stubborn flesh, and the clever devil will always be on the attack. But you have a promise that is guaranteed by the Lord Jesus Christ who has been raised from the dead never to die again. This is the lively and life-giving hope which will not disappoint you. In Him your life and work are secure for in this Jesus your sufficiency is from God. He has made you competent to be a minister of the new covenant, not the letter that kills but the Spirit who gives life. You have His promise. That is enough. Amen. 


Prof. John T. Pless is assistant professor of pastoral ministry and missions at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.



Book Review: Praying Luther’s Small Catechism

Praying Luther’s Small Catechism. By John T. Pless. Concordia Publishing House, 2016. 182 pages. Paperback. $8.99

In a day and age where there is a great famine of God’s Word and a culture beset on removing all voices of a distinctly Christian worldview, Pless’s Praying Luther’s Small Catechism must find a space on your bookshelf. In the preface, Pless sets the tone that there is always more to learn and receive in this exemplary reformational and catechetical text. “Readers will be drawn into a deeper and lasting appreciation of this handbook for doctrine, vocation, and prayer. It is especially desired that your own praying of the catechism will be enlivened and enlarged” (ix).

Chapter 1 begins by emphasizing that Luther’s Catechism is more than an adolescent text used for a short period of instruction. It is a book to be prayed and digested for a lifetime, confessed before the world, and uttered incessantly against the devil. These simple words, Pless says, “are not too difficult for the young pupil yet they contain abyssal mysteries into which the mature Christian sinks” (2).

Chapter 2 is devoted to the Ten Commandments. The Law is inscribed upon creation. The voice of prayer lies in every throat. The question however, as Pless aptly points out, is to what god are your prayers addressed? Is it a voice searching and hoping that a divine ear will hear? Or is it the voice of faith that our heavenly Father always listens to with joy and thanksgiving? Drawing on Luther’s “Simple Way to Pray,” Pless shows the reader how to pray through the formula of instruction, thanksgiving, Confession, and prayer. This formula helps the reader to see that Luther’s Small Catechism is not just one book, but a “school text, song book, penitential book, and prayer book” (16).

Chapter 3 turns to the Apostles’ Creed. The Creed instructs the Christian over what kind of God he has, what He has done, and what He will do, for God has bound Himself graciously to His own promise and gift of creating, redeeming, and sanctifying the sinful creature. Drawing upon Oswald Bayer, Pless concretely expresses the reality of the relationship of faith, giver, gift, and response, showing the reader how he should rightly confess, pray, and give thanks to God for such marvelous gifts. Pless helps the reader to see how Luther understood everything which is contained in the Creed is pure gift, “without any merit or worthiness in me.” “Luther’s whole exposition of the Creed proceeds in terms of divine giving” (50). 

Pless then turns his attention to the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is the prayer that governs all Christian prayer. Not only is it our Father’s words, but they are words placed into the mouth of the Christian that he might pray aright, according to the will and desire of his heavenly Father. Pless shows how the first three chief parts of the Small Catechism come together in command, promise, and petition. Not to be missed in this chapter is how Pless cuts through every false theology of prayer, demonstrating that all prayer is prayed under the crucible of the cross: “The Lord’s Prayer is a cry wrung from the crucible, an exposition of the shape of life lived under the sign of the cross in the hope of the resurrection” (53).

After the Lord’s Prayer, Pless moves to consider Baptism. In order to pray in God’s Name, one must first be given His Name, and that is precisely what God gives in baptism. The instituting words are the gift and the gift is embedded in the words. In baptism God is not out to make religious people, but rather He creates new creations by water and Word. Pless seeks to reclaim the understanding of the present tense reality of baptism. Baptism is not an empty religious ritual, an invisible force field that protects the sinful man by the mere performance of the rite. Rather the Christian hears in the word spoken a new reality being declared. “Baptism works for the forgiveness of sins, and as such it brings about a change of lords. Sin is no longer lord. Jesus is” (83). The sinful creature is now a new born creature, water and Word, promise and gift, all at work by the Triune God, giving sinful creatures new born names by which they petition and plea for grace and mercy to the open ears of their Father.

In chapter 6 Pless moves to Confession, Absolution, and the Office of the Keys. Confession is not merely good for the soul, it is the soul’s mercy and life. While giving the historical background of the insertion of this chief part into the Small Catechism, Pless argues that “Luther certainly didn’t want to jettison the practice of individual confession, but filter it through evangelical sieve of justification by faith alone, so that purified from its Roman abuses it might be restored as a means of consolation for those terrified by their sin” (96). Far from a father confessor’s tool to extract tidbits of information, confession is retained for the sake of the absolution, for those well worn by their sins and in need of rescue and respite from the old wicked foe. Burdened consciences need a place where they are not turned inward, but outward to an external Word that pronounces Christ’s forgiveness apart from the internal struggles that haunt them. That outward Word, “Your sins are forgiven,” is the “word which opens the heart and unlocks the lips for prayer, praise, and thanksgiving” (107).

From Confession and Absolution Pless turns to the Sacrament of the Altar. Pless underscores that with the Sacrament of the Altarthe gift must not be confused with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving does not result in gift, but gift always results in thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is not removed from the life of the Christian, but simply relocated, as in the post-communion collect that orders faith and love in their proper spheres. Pless observes that Luther sought to ensure that “Christians know what the Sacrament is, its benefits, and how it is to be used in faith” (110). Pless reminds readers that at time of the Reformation Luther was fighting a battle on two fronts. First against the Roman Catholics who turned the Sacrament into a work of merit; second, against the Sacramentarians who divested Christ’s body of its corporeal presence. Pless demonstrates how Luther was able to confess both the sole divine gift of this Sacrament alongside the true presence of Christ’s body and blood that gave enfleshed comfort to weak and dying sinners. For Pless, as for Luther, Christ’s words are key for “Christ’s words bestow what they promise” (113).

Chapter 8 is devoted to daily Christian prayer. From morning to night, from abundance to scarcity the Christianis a beggar that pray for daily and eternal bread. It is from one’s creatureliness that he pray. “The heavenly Father is to be praised and thanked precisely at those junctures in daily life where it is most clear that we are creatures: when we wake from sleep and again when we take our rest, as well as at mealtimes, when we receive nourishment for our bodies” (120). We always pray as creatures, always dependent upon our heavenly Father’s hand to satisfy the desires of our bodies and souls. In the home, the table of meat and drink become a table of gifts, a little altar where we creatures give thanks that our heavenly Father has given such sustenance out of His pure and divinely gifted hand. Here the Divine Service is “transported into the everyday space of the family dining room” (125).

Pless concludes by considering the Catechism’s Table of Duties. Here Pless instructs the reader in the three estates that God instituted, congregation, civil government, and the family. The Table of Duties are informed by these estates that the Christians inhabits in faith. They are the orders that restrain sin, that allow for life to increase, and provide peace and safety so that the gospel may be preached for the joy and edification of God’s holy people, and that the church be enlarged through this proclamation. Pless notes that Luther spoke often of these three estates, especially in his magisterial work, “Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper.” Here Luther shows that faith is not bound to any one estate but is found in all three. Pless does warn that none of these estates “are paths to righteousness before God . . . they are concrete locations where faith is active in love for the well-being of the neighbor” (128). The various vocations of the Christian lead him to see and act in love for those who are entrusted into his care. He is a slave of love to his neighbor, and yet because of Christ and His gifts, he is lord of all, subject to none, a citizen of heaven. 

Pless’s text is a gem in the church’s work of catechesis. Against the failures of generations fixated upon themselves, and a disintegration of culture, Praying Luther’s Small Catechism will aid all children of God, no matter their station in life, to receive and teach the language of Christ’s church and to confess her Lord’s will that all come to Him, the sole author of grace and mercy, forgiveness and eternal life. In these difficult and perilous days this book that will aid the Christian mightily, not only teaching him how to pray, but how to live in the world according to the heavenly Father’s good pleasure. Most assuredly, this book will teach the Christian how to receive the Father’s gifts through the Son and by the Holy Spirit. Every Lutheran should have a copy of this book. And its pages should be well worn. 


Christopher L. Raffa

Pilgrim Evangelical Lutheran Church

West Bend, WI 

Three Principles of Ecclesiastical Art Production from the Writings of Luther

— by Ted Giese

Art is something that must be perceived. Of course many things in the daily life of the individual are perceivable, but a great deal of things go unnoticed both actively and inactively by the casual observer. There are two kinds of perceivable things in the world: those things touched by human hands and those things that are not. In the case of those things that are touched by human hands, intentionality becomes an essential clue as to the purpose behind their formation, just as Gene Edward Veith suggests in his book Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture, when he states that art “brings abstract philosophies down to earth.” H.W. Janson and Anthony F. Janson in their classic art history textbook History of Art assert that art is the most intentional of humankind's activities, or at least it is the most intentional form of expressing ideas and concepts in nonverbal non-traditional linguistic forms. What has been defined as art has fluctuated over time, and the artisans of one time become the artists of another and vice versa. This is largely due to shifts in social attitudes and tastes.

At the time of the Reformation of the sixteenth century, art was becoming what people generally understand it to be today: drawing, painting, sculpture, and architecture. This Renaissance period that coincided with the Reformation period was a great time of upheaval within Western culture, and some scholars like Erik Erikson believed that Martin Luther had little interest in art at all. This is not true. Luther commented and wrote about art many times, yet he did not give a single list of parameters that one could use in the proper production of ecclesiastical art. For this, one must look more broadly at the writings of Luther and deduce from them useful principles.

When Luther was writing about art, he was writing about architecture, drawings, paintings, and sculptures as they could be found in the secular and religious culture of his time. What is measured as art in our current time has widened considerably to include a vast and varied set of interrelated fields and disciplines far exceeding the confines of drawings, paintings, sculptures, and buildings. Conceptual art, performance art, text-based art, textile art, installation art, earth art, photographic art, cinematic art, time-based art, kinetic art, sound-based art, digital art, printmaking, and assemblage all comprise the current definition, along with drawing, painting, sculpture and architecture. These fields will at times intersect with one another, creating complex relationships and systems.

Luther's writings in no way encompass all of these current fields, yet three essential principles can be taken from Luther's writings when it comes to the production of ecclesiastical art and its proper function in the church.

  1. Christian ecclesiastical art must respect the inerrancy of Scripture, that is the Old and New Testaments contained in the Christian canon, and them alone;
  2. Christian ecclesiastical art is to act as secondary instructional materials in the form of memorials and reminders for the Christian, which is to say it must serve a pedagogical purpose;
  3. Contextual matters are to be taken into consideration when producing ecclesiastical art for the divine service.

These principles will all be examined briefly to give a better understanding of how Luther looked at ecclesiastical art and its proper function in the church.

First, scriptural inerrancy is a key building block of confessional Lutheran thought, second only to Christ himself, for scripture is the infallible word of God and must be respected as such. A great deal of the assurance of the Christian is based on the fact that the scriptures are true and contain no falsehoods or errors. Scriptural inerrancy then becomes the first rule by which Luther discerns art of any kind. If it is in adherence to Scripture, it is good and useful; if it is not, then it is dangerous to faith. Producing ecclesiastical art that is good and faithful can only be accomplished through respect for scriptural inerrancy.

An example of this approach by Luther can be found in his 1539 Lectures on Genesis where Luther notes, concerning contemporary images of the patriarch Abraham's near sacrifice of his son Isaac on mountain of the Lord, that "it was not a sword, and the picture commonly painted of Abraham about to kill his son is incorrect. It was a knife, such as butchers and priests were accustomed to use." (LW 4:110–11). Two very different things are conveyed when the sword of a king is compared and contrasted with the knife of a butcher or an Old Testament priest. The first is a symbol of government and the vocation of the sword, the other is a symbol of the sacrifice, particularly in the case of an Old Testament priest. With the cross of Christ and Jesus' death upon that cross as the center of Scripture and with the account of Abraham and Isaac typologically pointing to the sacrifice of God's only Son, the question can be asked: Which better conveys visually what the text of Scripture teaches? The sword or the knife? Artistic licence in this case can introduce error at worst and theological dissonance at best.

Earlier in 1522 Luther likewise pointed out, in his sermon for the festival of Epiphany, that the common misconception promulgated by artists that there were three Wise Men from the east just because there were three gifts (gold, frankincense and myrrh) was in fact incorrect, because Scripture never numbered the wise men (LW 52:160). These examples may seem nitpicky to some, but they show the serious attitude Luther had concerning the inerrancy of Scripture and the potential pitfalls of bearing false witness in ecclesiastical art production. There is also an element of common sense in Luther's statements: if the text of Scripture does not say it, do not make it so in art. To do anything else would be a lie, as well as subversive. If the intent is to produce faithful ecclesiastical art, then hyperbole becomes a dangerous ground upon which to build, even if it is well intentioned or has become traditional. It should be noted that Luther does not specifically insist on scriptural inerrancy, while at the same time it is important to note that Luther singles out as "incorrect" works of ecclesiastical art that do not adhere to scriptural inerrancy.

Second, ecclesiastical art contains a pedagogical purpose in the form of memorials and reminders. While discussing the use and production of personal prayer books (LW 43:43), Luther advocates the daily remembrance of Scripture through imagery in a similar fashion as he advocates the daily remembrance of baptism in his Small Catechism. Scripturally, Luther accepts the use of images, even including crucifixes and images of saints, based on Joshua 24:26 and 1 Samuel 7:12, because examples of ecclesiastical art such as these serve the same function of memorial and witness as is sanctioned in the Old Testament with the proper use of witness stones (LW 40:87).

For Luther, ecclesiastical art was permissible only when it was not the object of worship. Consider the bronze serpent made by Moses in Numbers 21:8–9 under the specific direction of God. It began as a useful object and had a specific pedagogical purpose. It was there to teach the people to trust in God and his promise. When it was being misused later in the time of Hezekiah, Hezekiah destroyed it (2 Ki 18:4) because it was being worshiped (LW 40:87). Between the time of Moses and Hezekiah there was no problem with the bronze serpent because its only function during that time was to serve as a reminder of the grace of God for his afflicted people.

Because of the value of ecclesiastical art as pedagogical, it is necessary at this point to take a short detour into Luther's response to iconoclasm in his time. Luther preferred to avoid the destruction of ecclesiastical art if it did not have to be physically destroyed, or rather he preferred teaching as opposed to hammer, chisel, and torch (LW 40:58). Luther's approach in this regard was much more pastoral. On the one side, the Roman church taught falsely concerning images, claiming that just seeing, and/or praying to, or being in the presences of certain material objects could forgive sin (SA II.23), produce miracles, and be counted as meritorious. On the other side, Luther had the iconoclasts and enthusiasts who wished to strip the world bare of all ecclesiastical art, seeing it as inherently idolatrous. Luther stuck with Scripture and promoted an alternative approach. His main concern was the worship of images, and in his treatise of 1525 "Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments," Luther provides the above discussion concerning the bronze serpent, as well as his philosophy for avoiding idolatry, as he debated the iconoclasm of Karlstadt. He states:

“[I] approach the task of destroying images by first tearing them out of the heart through God's Word and making them worthless and despised. This indeed took place before Dr. Karlstadt ever dreamed of destroying images. For when they are no longer in the heart, they can do no harm when seen with the eyes. But Dr. Karlstadt, who pays no attention to matters of the heart, has reversed the order by removing them from the sight and leaving them in the heart. For he does not preach faith, nor can he preach it; unfortunately, only now do I see that. Which of these two forms destroy images best, I will let each man judge for himself (LW 40:84).”

On the one hand having ecclesiastical art and keeping it present within the worship and devotional life of the Christian provides opportunity for pedagogy. Conversely, on the other hand, the absence of such art will hamper and/or shift pedagogy away from visual learning. The latter was not the intention of Luther. He certainly understood such visual learning as valuable, and made a case that it would be beneficial if images like those printed in his translation of the Bible would find greater uses.

Before leaving this second principle, consider how Luther suggests that such prints as found in books should be painted on walls because, as he puts it, they "do no more harm on walls than in books." He continues saying, “It is better to paint pictures on walls of how God created the world, how Noah built the ark, and whatever other good stories there may be, than to paint shameless worldly things. Yes, would to God that I could persuade the rich and mighty that they would permit the whole Bible to be painted on houses, on the inside and outside, so that all can see it” (LW, 40:99).

Third, ecclesiastical art best serves the church when context is considered. This might best be thought of as a natural refinement coming out of the first two principles. These principles being a deep and careful regard for scriptural inerrancy and the desire to produce works of art which focus themselves as pedagogical reminder and witness.

The question of context for Luther utilizes the most basic form of common sense flowing from the first two principles. Luther gives a very strong opinion concerning this as he writes about the Sacrament of the Altar on the basis of Psalm 111 in 1530:

Whoever is inclined to put pictures on an altar ought to have the Lord's Supper of Christ painted, with these two verses written around in golden letters: ‘The gracious and merciful Lord has instituted a remembrance of His wonderful works.’ Then they would stand before our eyes for our heart to contemplate them, and even our eyes, in reading, would have to thank and praise God. Since the altar is designated for the administration of the sacrament, one could not find a better painting for it. Other pictures of God or Christ can be painted somewhere else. (LW 13:375)

Luther wishes to reinforce the fact that "the Lord is gracious and merciful" (LW 13:373). The trouble comes when individuals approach the Sacrament of the Altar in confusion, when the recipient of the body and blood of Christ is afraid of Jesus, afraid of God the Father because Jesus has been "painted" either with words or presumably with paint, to varying degrees, as angry or displeased in the institution of his sacrament. Luther assures the Christian that "[Jesus] will not devour you or stand over you with a club when you go to the Sacrament" (LW 13:374).

Here we can see how Luther is making the distinction between what is appropriate and what is not, and how an individual piece of art in the wrong place can bear false witness concerning the true teachings of the church. The preceding block quote provides a positive example of how art can be employed to get the right message across to the troubled soul, becoming that proper reminder and witness. When applied, this third principle would suggest quite strongly that there is a proper place for ecclesiastical art.

For example, one would be encouraged to put ecclesiastical art concerning baptism around a baptismal font. In contemporary art theory, this is called site-specific; the fabrication or production of aesthetic elements that interact with the pre-existing environment. This is most common in the field of installation art where a change in the environment is attempted; the success of such a change is largely determined by how seamless the integration of the preexistent merges with the aesthetic additions. The desire is generally one of two things: either to create unease or inquiry by the use of juxtaposition, or to create harmony by the use of common homogeny or winsomely developed homogeny. Luther appears to desire the latter. Juxtaposition is not generally useful in ecclesiastical art unless it serves the first two principles and is contextually appropriate.

To put a finer point on the necessity of context, consider this example. King David is a prominent individual recorded in holy Scripture. It is entirely possible to produce a painting or sculpture of David that would be faithful to the text of Scripture, an image that contained no spurious errors. Such a work of ecclesiastical art could rightly be understood as serving as a witness to the personage of David and his life lived in the grace of God's promise of salvation, yet it would be contextually inappropriate to place such a work of ecclesiastical art predominantly at the altar. Doing so would be an elevation of David over Christ and would then retroactively break the first two principles. The work of art would, because of its placement, teach falsely and if it taught falsely it would subsequently no longer be respectful of Scripture and scriptural inerrancy.

These three principles for the production of ecclesiastical art give the artist and patron/congregation valuable insight into what best constitutes ecclesiastical art how it can be faithfully utilized by the Christian. In the current milieu, the field of art encompasses virtually all elements of Christian worship. As a result, these three principles may be applied more broadly especially when the entirety of the divine service and its physical setting is deemed to be art. Movement, color, gesture, body language, duration of time, fabric, construction materials, tone, structure, sound, music and all the non-verbal elements are perceivable as art. The principles of respect for scriptural inerrancy, pedagogical reminder and witness, and appropriate context can therefore be applied to an individual element or to the whole of the divine service.

Lastly, because of the common sense nature of these three principles, they have been generally applied by Lutherans, but because they have not been presented as principles formally, their use has been subject to variability due in part to shifts in social attitudes and tastes. As a result the Lutheran church in North America, on the congregational level, has often been influenced more by the artistic principles of other denominations and/or by secular artistic movements than it has been by Luther and its own writers and thinkers. Careful consideration of these three principles from the solid footing of Scripture could provide a way forward toward a comprehensive understanding of ecclesiastical art and its proper function in the church.


Rev. Ted Giese serves as associate pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Regina Saskatchewan Canada.

As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.

Issue 25-3: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness


—by Wade Johnston

This issue was edited as the rhetoric of the United States presidential election primary season came into full swing. Election seasons are often contentious and seldom pretty, but this year’s is vying for a spot in a class all its own. Perhaps as much as any other election, Christians have a vested interest in this one. Much has changed — and more quickly, perhaps than at any other time in the lifetimes of those reading this.  The Bible has not changed, and the doctrine of the two kingdoms remains the same, but culturally and societally life for the American Christian, who holds dual citizenship in the temporal and spiritual kingdoms, has taken on a different sense and feel. It is a salutary thing, then, to review what Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions have to say in this regard and to wrestle with how we apply Lutheran principles to new circumstances.

Purchase the Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness Issue of LOGIA here. 

A particular strength of this issue is that it helps the reader to see how Christians have wrestled with and applied two-kingdom theology not only in our contemporary American context but also across time and space. Seeing the church wrestle with the two kingdoms in various circumstances and settings helps us identify our own personal, cultural, and contemporary blind spots. Moreover, the experience of fellow Christians in the past and across the globe provides lessons for our own setting.

This issue begins with a call from Gene Veith to remember that God, while hidden in the temporal realm, is nevertheless active in that realm — active especially in his Christians, who need not, indeed dare not, neglect their citizenship in this realm. Through their vocations Christians serve for the benefit of their neighbor as masks of God, through engagement in the world and not withdrawal from it. The temporal kingdom is the realm of the law and reason, and yet the same gracious God who provides us with second- and third-article gifts in the spiritual kingdom graciously, mercifully, and undeservedly provides  first-article gifts in the temporal kingdom.

Michael Berg unpacks the natural human desire for life, liberty, and happiness. From Aristotle to America’s fathers, the desire for happiness and the good life has been a driving force. To what extent people have control of the pursuit of the same and what exactly happiness is has been debated, but that happiness (whatever it may be) is something worth having and to be pursued in so far as we are able has been a given. As Berg reminds us, though, only the cross can provide true, meaningful, and lasting perspective, helping Christians to see meaning even in suffering, which is inescapable in this life and undermines all human ploys for the good life (summum bonum) and enduring temporal happiness.

My own article explores Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms and how he responded to the changing political atmosphere of his day. Challenged by a potential imperial invasion, Luther, Melanchthon, and the Wittenberg circle were faced with the very stark question of whether it was appropriate for Lutheran princes and imperial cities to mount a defense. Informed by the jurists of constitutional arguments — and yet, to the jurists’ occasional consternation, steadfast in their commitment to the Scripture’s teaching regarding obedience and just war — they carefully addressed the issue of resistance, which was later taken up by Magdeburg in its legendary opposition to the Augsburg Interim and Leipzig Proposal.

Voldemārs Lauciņš expands our horizons with lessons from Latvia in the previous century. While this may be new ground for many readers, they will find it fruitful. It is good to realize that the temporal realm is organized differently elsewhere and presents various challenges and opportunities throughout the world.

Jack Kilcrease provides valuable insight for Christians as they wrestle with the end of Christendom. His solution is delightfully unoriginal: law and gospel. This is a most welcome call not to lose sight of the church’s task and message in the light of new challenges. Moreover, Kilcrease reminds us that there are opportunities in the midst of contemporary tumult. After tracing how we got to where we find ourselves today, he notes that even persecution can serve for the benefit of the church, as it has in the past. This need not be an age of retreat and decline. What this age needs is nothing other than what sinners in every age have needed, whether the culture bore vestiges of a bygone realization of it or not: Christ.

Finally, changing gears and focus, Frederic W. Baue, like Lauciņš, expands our geographical horizons, this time to Ethiopia. Readers will be thankful that the gospel is being preached, taking root, and charting its course in Ethiopia.  They will also, keenly aware of the challenges it faces here in America, not be surprised that it faces challenges abroad as well. We rejoice that confessional, liturgical Lutheranism is making inroads and we pray that the Lord will allow it to continue to do so in Ethiopia, America, and throughout the world.

We are excited to bring you these articles in print. We pray that you are edified by them, and we look forward to receiving correspondence. Life in two kingdoms is as complicated as ever and yet the Christian is blessed to live and love both God and neighbor in each. We are not the first to struggle with two-kingdom theology and, unless our Lord comes soon, we will not be the last. We are not alone; throughout the world Christians are struggling to live as citizens of two realms and to serve well in both. This issue strives to remind us of that and to inform our own thinking by casting a broad view geographically and temporally.

Standing Bold Upon Firm Ground

— By Gunnar Andersson

Translated by Bror Erickson

At the beginning of this month (June) the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia in synod decided to update the church order to say that only men can be ordained as pastors. The decision reinforced what was already the practice since 1993 when Janis Vanags became archbishop. Seventy-seven percent of the delegation voted for it; only seventy-five perfect was needed for such a change to be made.

The 2016 Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia meets in the Cathedral of Riga. Photo via the ELCL.

The 2016 Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia meets in the Cathedral of Riga. Photo via the ELCL.

It is very encouraging that the church in Latvia has integrity and stands up to pressure from different directions to follow along with the modern agenda. To see that a church dares to go against the stream, towards the word of God and not away, is a sign of hope in our time.

During the same synod a Swede (!), Hans Jönsson, was elected bishop for the Diocese of Liepaja. Because of his faithfulness to the Bible and confession even in the question of holy ministry, Hans could not be a pastor in the Church of Sweden, and this finally led him to Latvia where he was ordained in 2003. Since then he has garnered more and more confidence as dean, as overseer of the Church’s economy, and as chairman of the board of regents for the church’s seminary. His consecration as Bishop takes place on the sixth of August in Riga’s Cathedral.

No church is free of challenges and worries, not even in Latvia. But there is a decisive difference between striving against God’s word and serving with God’s word. The latter has the Lord’s promise with it. For a long time, the Church of Sweden has been on a collision course with the Bible and the confessions and has said no to people the Lord has called to ministry precisely because they are not able to compromise with their consciences that are bound to the word of God. Instead of faithful pastors, many communities have received those that would lead them away from their Savior.

Against this background of the church and congregations in Sweden depriving themselves of the call and gifts of the Lord, it is a joy to note that the church in Latvia values and receives the ministry of those who want to remain faithful to the Lord’s will. Let us pray for the Lord’s blessing and protection for the church in Latvia and her future bishop.

The need in Sweden for genuine evangelical divine service and congregational life is acute. The remaining functional congregations in Sweden are being disposed of at an alarming rate. Many have been anesthetized by continuing to sit under pulpits where God’s word was first diluted before moving on to pure heresy. Congregations and priests, bound to the confessions of the Church of Sweden but independent of the presently politically bound organization are needed in many places, both so that the Christians can be built up and strengthened in faith and trust in Jesus, and so that new converts could be won for him.

Unfortunately, there have been very different opinions both concerning the need and the way forward among groups and individuals within the confessional movement. To judge from the growing number of converts to the Roman Catholic Church many seem to have subsequently given up hope for evangelical Lutheran Church life in Sweden. Perhaps there is reason to question how much the evangelical Lutheran faith really meant for them. Or perhaps the discord within the Church of Sweden become an excuse for them to do what they have always wanted?

Another worry that can be sensed is that we in different areas have been eager to defend our specific spiritual traditions and are not capable or willing to see and affirm that which is good and in other places. Faithfulness to the Bible and confessions is a must, but freedom of expression needs to prevail as it fits.

The most significant initiative to bring forth the great heritage of the Swedish Church is the Missions Province, the college of pastors of which Hans Jönsson is a member. The Province is not big, and it isn’t growing very fast. At the same time, numbers and greatness are not anything the Bible emphasizes as a sign of whether or not we have the Lord’s blessing. However, the Lord asks for faithfulness.

There is every reason for the Mission Province to work boldly, both to nurture the already established congregations, and to establish new congregations. This is especially true in areas where there are few alternatives, organizationally independent of the Swedish Church. The newly established congregations in Borås and Karlskrona are examples of this.

No matter which country one lives in, or how the congregation’s circumstances look, there is great reason for boldness if one stays on the God given firm ground. The Lord remains seated on the throne!

This article was originally published in Kyrka och Folk Nr. 25-26 23 Juni 2016 93 Årg.

As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.

Book Review: Brand Luther

Brand Luther: 1517, Printing, and the Making of the Reformation by Andrew Pettegree (Penguin: New York, 2015), 338 pgs.

The flood of words in books and articles, on blogs, and at conferences commemorating, discussing, and making hay of 1517 is already here. One of the insights of Andrew Pettegree’s new book on Luther and the media of his day is that this flood is nothing new. The German printing market boomed in the first quarter of the sixteenth century in large part thanks to Luther’s very modern ability to write about theology in clear, brief, and convincing vernacular language, and fortunes were made printing and publishing in the German world where each printer could without hindrance reprint the Luther texts from Wittenberg he knew would sell by the hundreds and thousands. Pettegree marshals a very detailed knowledge of that particular story into line with the larger stories of the Reformation and Luther’s life and career.

            Pettegree does not write for the specialist. He uses the word “Reformation” with a capital R and without any discussion of a variety of “reformations,” including a Catholic one. Although the book covers the period from roughly 1480 to 1580, the word “confessionalization” does not appear once even when he is talking about the clarification of confession and political status at events like the Diet of Speyer in 1529 or the publication of the Book of Concord in 1580. Commendably, he wants to make the outline of the history of the Reformation, the biography of Luther, and the role of printing in both comprehensible to someone neither pursuing a degree in or making a living from the subject.

            The narrative heart of the book is the biography of Luther, traced from his father’s investment in copper mines to his death at Eisleben seeking to reconcile feuding brothers. Someone without much or any very clear knowledge of Luther’s life story will gain it from this book. Into the bargain, Pettegree draws Luther without enlisting him as the herald or hero of something much larger than himself. Pettegree’s Luther is not the harbinger of modern freedom of conscience, the German nation, or even of all the Lutheranism that followed him. He was a man of singularly great intellect and facility of expression who was courageously tenacious or foolishly obtuse, depending on one’s sympathies. He was mighty at Worms in defending a conscience captive to the Word of God, uniquely instrumental in the history of the German nation and the German language, and the theological progenitor of what Pettegree calls a new way of being a Christian community instantly recognizable to modern Lutherans in its devotion to Scripture and the primacy of congregational song. Yet Pettegree is careful never to make Luther merely the sum of everything or everyone he influenced, a cipher we fill in for ourselves in commemoration of the great man.

            This is most clear when Pettegree narrates Luther’s two major absences from Wittenberg between 1517 and his death in 1546—his friendly imprisonments at the Wartburg in 1521-22 and at Coburg Castle in 1530. It was during those times that we have the clearest picture of how much Luther was involved in from day to day as he wrote and agonized about all he could not control. He gave detailed instructions to his wife Katie in 1530 about how a manuscript should be yanked from one printer and given to another, even as the first printer sent a beautiful final copy of the book to him, arriving after Luther’s excoriating instructions were already en route home. As he wrote at a superhuman pace in 1520-22 and managed and reviewed everything from university curricula to the placement of pastors in rural Saxon parishes to numerous manuscripts at divers and sundry printers all at once, Luther’s energy is astounding and his very human frustrations and dislikes evident.

            The “brand” the title identifies is the distinctive appearance of Luther’s writings that the reformer promoted after early mishaps with Rhau-Grunenberg, the only printer in Wittenberg when Luther arrived there. There were six other centers of printing in the German world: Leipzig in nearby ducal Saxony with its own university, Augsburg, Nuremberg, Basel, Cologne, and Strasbourg. Wittenberg’s sole printer was terribly backward by comparison, and once the thirty-four-year-old, hitherto obscure professor of Bible began to make a sensation with the publication of the Ninety-Five Theses, which were quickly reprinted throughout the German world, Luther knew that Wittenberg needed a sophisticated, modern look for its German-language Flugschriften, the very brief, very pungent writings so popular across Germany, and for its academic works in Latin and eventually for the German Bible, issued in parts from the September Testament of 1522 to the first complete Bible printed by Hans Lufft in 1534. With the aid of Lucas Cranach and the Lotter printing family, Luther put together a “look” for even the smallest pamphlets that would make his name and Wittenberg’s name sufficiently famous for both “Luther” and “Wittenberg” to be used on writings that were not strictly his and certainly had not been printed in Wittenberg. A specialist in the history of books, especially printed books, Pettegree is at his most detailed when laying out the nature of early modern printing and why, for instance, a Leipzig printer with Catholic convictions would petition his staunchly Catholic ruler for the right to print Luther’s works for sale in his staunchly Catholic territory. The interconnection of Luther with the emerging print media of his time is so necessary to understanding his success in view of his early obscurity and later ignominy, and Pettegree demonstrates the interdependence of the writer and his market masterfully.

            In connection with that central story of Luther and his use of what were then new media in ways before unused by any theologian, Pettegree deftly adds a general sense of the flow of the Reformation (including the humanists like Erasmus and Pirckheimer initially sympathetic to it), political and theological opposition to it (including a very sympathetic portrait of John Eck), and its eventual theological diversity, introducing at least briefly everyone from the more famous Zwingli, Bucer, and Calvin to the less famous but important Rhegius, Zell, and Müntzer. He is eloquent obviously on the role of printing and its suppression in markets more highly regulated than Germany’s, like France, England, or the Low Countries, where the suppression of early print media meant the suppression of nascent Lutheran sympathies. In a few paragraphs or a few pages, he covers topics as various as Zwingli’s progression from parish priest to his battlefield death, the relationship between Duke George of Saxony and Jerome Emser, and the southwestern German origins of the Bundschuh cause leading to the Peasants’ War of 1525. He is able to discuss all of this without becoming pondersome or superficial.

            There is much to enjoy here, not least the detailed maps of Luther’s world and well-chosen illustrations of major figures. There is much Pettegree says that is characteristically concise and precise that we cannot here discuss. Amid a flood already begun and perhaps now itself 500 years old of Lutheriana, this new book can retell the story you may already know with accuracy and fresh facts and insights and tell a newer story about Luther’s relationship to media fruitful for reflection on our own time of massive changes in how people come to see what they see and know what they know and finally to believe what they believe.


Rev. Adam Koontz

Mount Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church (LCMS)

Lititz, Pennsylvania