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).Read More
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.Read More
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
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)
Dona Gratis Donata: Essays in Honor of Norman Nagel on the Occasion of His Ninetieth Birthday. Edited by Jon D. Vieker, Bart Day, and Albert B. Collver III. Manchester, MO: The Nagel Festschrift Committee, 2015. Xiv + 309 pages.
Few scholars receive the honor of two Festschrifts. Norman Nagel is one of them. And Every Tongue Confess was presented to Nagel in honor of his sixty-fifth birthday. Dona Gratis Donata is in honor of his ninetieth birthday. The first book presents outstanding essays furthering Nagel’s legacy. The second, in my judgment, sets the gold bar in festschrifts, at least for confessional Lutherans. Not only does each essay build on the theological legacy of those topics most important to Nagel, such as Christology, liturgy, hymnody, Hermann Sasse, and ministry, but each one is both finely-crafted and rich with insights. If you think you’ve mastered Lutheran theology, read this book. You’ll be proven wrong. You will find some angle or perspective on Luther and the Confessions which is new.
The best way to review this book is to provide a snippet from each essay which hopefully will offer a sense of the book’s excellence as a whole. William Cwirla presents the classroom Nagel who had internalized a Socratic approach to theology, never spoon-feeding, but eager to get his students to weigh the sources and publicly defend their positions. Cwirla notes that Nagel’s confessionalism, unlike Reformed theology, offers not a logically consistent systematization of faith but instead honors the grammar of faith through a catechetical or topics approach to theology (1). The gospel sets limits on human reason’s ability to systematize. Likewise, Nagel teaches us to place Luther’s various theological positions within their contexts, since the anti-papal Luther can sound, at times, like a Schwärmer, while the anti-Schwärmer Luther can sound like a papist (5). Rudolph Blank describes visiting Nagel in the Convalescent Home where he resides. Insightfully he notes that for Nagel prayer is never a chore but always a struggle (16), surely a prayer life with which many of us can identify.
David Maxwell builds on Nagel’s work on Luther’s Christology, particularly Jesus’ Cry of Dereliction, and so alters how divine impassability should be understood. God is not in need of or dependent on anything in his creation, but in Jesus’ death God the Son bears not only human sin but also divine wrath. So, Jesus’ atonement does not square with a Platonism in which God is completely unaffected by the world, at least in the person and ministry of the Son. Now, the doctrine of divine impassibility is not completely thrown out; after all, for Nagel, God is “always the one doing the verbs” (20), is always active with respect to man. But building on the church father Cyril of Alexandria’s comments on the Cry of Dereliction, Jesus makes human forsakenness his own “and puts himself in the position where he can address God as one forsaken, just like the rest of the human race” (29). This he does “not as an expression of suffering but as an invocation of the Father’s graciousness” (29). While Cyril fails to fully break with Platonism, he certainly shows us how in the person of the Son one of the members of the Trinity suffered divine wrath for the sake of human salvation. Kent Heimbigner develops the theodicy of an earlier church father than Cyril, Athanasius. He notes that for Athanasius evil does not exist as human nature has been created by God. Instead, evil is a result of the misuse of human will. What is clear is that Athanasius’ approach is incompatible with Manicheism.
In light of Luther’s translation of Ephesians 4:12, Brian Mosemann takes on the Pietistical cliché that “everyone is a minister” (48) and notes that the office of ministry is a gift and not a right, and through which the means of grace is administered to sinners for the building up of the body of Christ (59). In a provocative article, Jonathan Mumme contrasts the medieval view of ministry in which the clergy exercised power over the laity, from that of today in which the laity exercise power over the clergy. In a confessional perspective, the power of the church is a “pneumatic reality constantly locating itself in the world, without being of the world, or impinged by its imperium,” especially for administering God’s gracious gifts (79). Naomichi Masaki builds on his work on nineteenth-century German Church administrator Theodor Kliefoth. Masaki notes that faith is “never autonomous” (95) and that it is in the means of grace where sinners find a “concrete place” where they can meet their Lord (99). Thomas Winger defends the reading of the epistle lesson in the divine service as not adiaphoral but instead as an apostolic response to the Son’s sending of the Spirit to guild the church and empowering apostolic witness in the world. Charles Henrickson (tune by Henry Gerike) offers a hymn in honor of Nagel’s ministry, “Always More than We can Measure,” highlighting the triune work of delivering good news in word and sacrament to Christians.
Reacting against the Danish Pietist Erik Pontoppidan’s catechism that urges sinners not to “blindly depend” on baptism as if “true repentance and faith” were not required, Eugene Boe claims that “It [baptism] is a water word that does not recoil from the dirt of sin but seeks it out that it may wash it away resulting in a cleansing that passes the inspection of the law” (138). Al Collver notes that unlike modern ecumenical approaches to the “real presence” of Christ in the Lord’s Supper which pit Christ’s “person” against his “body and blood” (162), even, as in the case of the Arnoldshain Theses disassociate the person of Christ from the body and blood (165) that such separation is abstract, artificial, and unscriptural. Joel Brondos says that overall Luther’s view of suffering the cross as a path not to be sidestepped overturned the Augustinian favoring of the Christian life as continuous progress from matters “lower” to ones “higher” (177). Hence, the sacrament should not be understood as a sign (signum) but as a testament (testamentum) and the gospel is not configured through dualism of lower and higher but paradox, the “higher” coming as the “lower,” (181), incarnationally seen asthe infinite as capable of the finite. John Pless illustrates cross-bearing as endemic to those in church vocations, modeled after Herman Sasse, who suffered hardships as he confessed Christian faith before both Nazis and union Protestant Church in Germany.
Charles Arand develops a sacramental approach to creation, based on Luther, and seeing all creation as filled with wonder and mystery, opened for the eyes of faith for delight. Geral Krispin develops the theology embedded in the hymnody of Nicolai, highlighting forgiveness granted in the Lord’s Supper as the basis for communion with Christ and the saints, both here and hereafter (231). Jon Vieker notes that C F W Walther’s heritage in hymnody occasionally fell short of orthodox doctrine since some hymns of the Pietists included in his hymnbook assumed an “internalizing of spirituality” (273). William Weedon notes though that hymns written by Reformed, Roman, or Anglican authors can be appropriated in church when distinct Lutheran confessional criteria are maintained (288). Finally, Norman Nagel’s famous essay “Heresy, Doctor Luther, Heresy!” is reprinted in this Festschrift. Nagel’s point is that Western Christologies of the ancient church fall short of the truth of the incarnation since they wish to configure the relation between the divine and the human in the one person of Christ in terms of proportion. But Christ is not to be understood as a man in God or from God but a man who is God (306). Luther’s est conveys the truth that in Christ the creator is the creature (308).
These essays in honor of Nagel are brilliant, conveying a loyalty to the Lutheran tradition and commending it to the world as the best way to convey the gospel. They merit your diligence and attention.
Grand View University
Des Moines, IA
Luther Reed: The Legacy of a Gentleman and a Churchman by Philip H. Pfatteicher (Minneapolis: Lutheran University Press), 2015.
The shock of the past is how utterly unlike our own time it is. The shock of the recent past is how quickly it became so unlike our own. This brief biography of Luther D. Reed by the liturgical scholar Philip Pfatteicher is an exercise in justification, an attempt to provide a fresh analysis of Reed’s relevance for the present day. It succeeds in this but not because the line between today and Reed’s day is straight and highly visible.
Reed was born a few years after the Civil War to a parish pastor in suburban Philadelphia and spent his entire life in Pennsylvania. His brief trips of liturgical and artistic reconnaissance in Europe are the exceptions that prove the rule. His father’s parishes included several stops in suburban Philadelphia, the upper Susquehanna Valley, and in Lancaster, where Reed took his BA and MA at Franklin and Marshall College. He attended the Mount Airy Seminary and served two parishes near Pittsburgh for a total of ten years before being recalled to Mount Airy in 1906 to oversee the building and operation of Krauth Memorial Library, named for C.P. Krauth, the founding father of the General Council and the Seminary to which Reed devoted the great majority of his life.
This Eastern Lutheran world was German by descent but English in language and American in outlook. It was 150 years old when Reed was born and intimately connected to the country from before its founding. By Reed’s birth it was so devoted to the thought and life of the past that it had outstripped its own fathers in that devotion. Krauth had repudiated the theology of the seminary at Gettysburg at which his father had taught. Reed and other proponents of the Common Service would promote and promulgate a liturgical service and standard hitherto unseen in the United States. In his pastorate and in his writing and activity throughout his life Reed represented well the spirit of recovery and renaissance in doctrine and especially worship that was in the General Council and at Mount Airy from their founding. This spirit may rightly be criticized as “romantic,” a term Tappert used for Reed, but in its intense desire to bring the best of the past into the present, it often succeeded, changing American Lutheran liturgy decisively and in the chapel overseen by Reed, modeling that change for the church.
It was the world that then was, and from the postbellum era down to the early 1960s it prevailed. Reed was a large part of that, building up the library at Philadelphia with funds from an incredibly generous layman he had known in Pittsburgh, enriching the worship life of the Seminary and promoting that richness for his students over a half-century, guiding the Seminary after the sudden death of its scholarly light, C.M. Jacobs. All of these duties came as surprises to the self-deprecating Reed. There is much to appreciate and to revisit in this slim volume: the rise of liturgical interests among American Lutheran pastors, the churchmanship Reed exhibited in his tireless service, the broad artistic tastes he had and cultivated in his students. The best part of the book, though, is Reed’s rebuttal of Theodore Tappert’s 1964 History of the Philadelphia Seminary.
Pfatteicher includes Tappert’s acerbic summation of Reed’s life and works and then gives the reader the entirety of Reed’s nine-page, semi-public response to Tappert. It is a marvel of cutting wit, but it is above all a ninety-one-year-old man’s justification of his deeds. Reed believes Tappert was scholarly to the exclusion of churchmanship, perfunctory in the liturgy to the destruction of the Seminary’s chapel services, focused on books to the detriment of humans. He cites the fathers, Krauth, H.E. Jacobs, Schmauk, and many other earlier lights, as those who hoped in the future of confessional English-language American Lutheranism. Reed senses that his part was to carry on that legacy of renewal into his day of work and the realms of liturgy, hymnody, and church architecture. As you read, you can feel that world slipping away. He had outlived his world.
That is no justification of Tappert’s malevolence. It is a recognition that by Reed’s death in the early 1970s, the world outside and inside the church had changed so drastically as to be unrecognizable. The change was a deluge, not a development. The reader is surprised to learn that Service Book and Hymnal in 1955 was Reed’s second major hymnal on which he had worked and was in its time the longed-for appearing of Muhlenberg’s fabled “one book” that would bring about the one Lutheran church body in America so many then wished to see. One is surprised because the book to which Pfatteicher contributed so much, 1978’s Lutheran Book of Worship, is now thought to have been that book, and it itself is now obsolete even in the church bodies that used it, not to speak of those that never did. Reed promoted the Common Service, now almost forgotten in the successors to his own church body, and with LCA President Franklin Clark Fry vastly preferred Jacobean English to all others. These are all liturgical reflections of an Eastern Lutheranism that then ordained only men, officially communed only Lutheran Christians, and celebrated the Divine Service only according to a few different musical settings of the Common Service of 1888.
When one lives almost a century, he is sure to see change, but Reed lived to see a new world. Yet he was not a Columbus, nor do his books remain valuable because they herald changes to come. One can still read The Lutheran Liturgy or Worship for the same reason one might read Krauth’s The Conservative Reformation or Jacobs’ dogmatics. They are valuable in themselves and historically as witnesses to a world and a seminary and a tradition of churchmanship now gone, though buildings and names remain for now. He was the last man of the world that then was, parts of which survive in unexpected places. If he isn’t Columbus, he may be Montezuma. The Common Service is still used in American Lutheranism, but not by his direct heirs. Krauth and Schmauk are still read by some, but perhaps not so much anymore inside Krauth Memorial Library. This book is valuable to know the world before the deluge, especially if it is not your particular ancestral strain of American Lutheranism. It is also valuable to see what may be recovered from the past, as Krauth and Jacobs and Beale Schmucker and in his own way Luther Reed did in their day.
Mount Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church (LCMS)
Lititz, Lancaster County, PA
Fundamental Theology: A Protestant Perspective. By Matthew L. Becker. New York: T & T Clark, 2014). Click here.
Matthew Becker’s Fundamental Theology is a textbook designated for college undergraduates. “Fundamental theology” refers to theological subjects that Protestants commonly associate with the prolegomena to dogmatics. As Becker explicates these various subjects, he reveals his theological views on a variety of issues that have made him a controversial figure within the LCMS.
That said, the first few chapters of Becker’s book are relatively uncontroversial. Becker does an excellent job describing the history of the early Church and the development of theology (44–59). He discusses how a series of major theologians (Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Gerhard, Schleiermacher, etc.) have defined theology is as a discipline (59–102). A few more chapters discuss the question of natural theology and various post-Enlightenment philosophical challenges to theism. Enlightenment thinkers, such as David Hume and Immanuel Kant, are discussed. Becker also engages contemporary figures such as Richard Dawkins and the other so-called “New Atheists” (131–40). Becker does a good job demonstrating the problems with scientism and metaphysical materialism. Becker also deftly summarizes the work of contemporary Christian philosophers like Richard Swinburne (198–9) and Alvin Plantinga (202–3) who defend theism.
Overall, Becker is convinced of the reality of natural revelation. However, as with most Protestants theologians, he emphasizes that such knowledge is law and not gospel (186–200). Natural reason therefore cannot reveal God’s true heart of grace. Likewise, in this section there is also a fairly good summary of Luther’s theology of the cross and the dialectic of the hidden and revealed God (205–18). There is little that is problematic about Becker’s interpretation at the point. He captures Luther’s understanding of God’s hiddenness very nearly perfectly. These sections of the book are well written, informative, and accurate.
This being said, Becker begins to move in a more controversial direction in the chapters dealing with revelation and then Scripture. In the chapter on revelation, Becker employs Avery Dulles’ fivefold delineation of the various Christian approaches to revelation. The first is the notion of revelation as propositional truth, a concept shared by conservative Catholics and “Protestant Fundamentalists” (225–6). Becker frequently uses the term “Fundamentalist.” He seems to define a “Fundamentalist” as a Protestant committed to creedal orthodoxy and a high view of Scripture. This would seemingly encompass all Protestant Christians outside the current American Mainline establishment.
Becker argues that these conservative theologians, who view revelation in propositional terms, wrongly assume that infallible authority is necessary to establish the true propositions of the faith. For such propositionalists, this necessary authority could either be an infallible Pope or an inerrant Bible. Becker is of course critical of this approach for a variety of reasons that we will discuss below. It never seems to occur to Becker that, given the historic Lutheran definition of faith as unconditional trust in the content of revelation (“This is most certainly true!”), it is difficult to see how one could unconditionally trust revelation if it were a mixture of truth and error. As we will later observe, Becker partially solves this problem through a form of Gospel-Reductionism.
Becker then takes a not-so-veiled swipe at the LCMS’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations, stating that many conservative Protestant denominations claim that Scripture alone is the supreme authority, but in practice make the denomination’s interpretation of Scriptures the supreme authority. This is a rather odd remark on a number of levels. First of all, it rather significantly misconstrues what the magisterial Reformers meant by the principle of Sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura did not mean (as it has come to in later forms of Protestantism) a free-for-all regarding the meaning of the biblical text. The Reformers held that Scripture was to be read within the context of the Church, while remaining the supreme authority within the Church. Moreover, the principle of Scripture alone did not render a lack of public teaching authorities (See Augsburg Confession XXVIII). Rather, the Reformers held that those teaching authorities should be held accountable to the Word of God. This made the magisterial Reformers’ understanding quite different than that of Rome, in that the latter refused to set up any mechanisms whereby public teaching authorities could be held responsible to Scripture.
In any case, one could very well reverse Becker’s argument (or better yet, his insinuation). Mainline Protestants have often rejected the notion of formal limits on acceptable teaching, but nevertheless covertly apply limits through national assembly votes and the persecution of more conservative members by denying them academic or otherwise influential positions. Ultimately, since this procedure eventually comes to appear arbitrary and tyrannical, ecclesiastical authorities begin to attribute divine inspiration to denominational voting assemblies with familiar slogans such as, “the Spirit is doing a new thing.” An example of this may be readily found in Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s election speech to the ELCA assembly. Having rejected a divinely inspired, infallible Bible, there is an inevitable drift to an infallible and divinely inspired Church.
It should also be observed that Becker’s argument makes very little sense in light of what the LCMS and other conservative Protestant denominations claim with regard to their official statements on various doctrinal issues. LCMS pronouncements on various theological matters represent the official position of the denomination on a given issue. The LCMS and other conservative Protestant denominations would accept that everyone (including Matthew Becker) is free to test the all official statements against the teaching of Scripture.
In this, ecclesiastical authorities are held accountable to the teaching of Scripture in a number of ways. First, they are either directly or indirectly elected by the priesthood of all believers, who have the right to test their teachings on the basis of Scripture. Secondly, it should also be observed that no one is under any obligation to continue to be a member of the LCMS if he does not believe the denomination’s official teachings agree with Scripture. In light of both these mechanisms of accountability, Scripture does indeed remain the final and supreme authority, since no one is forced to join, or submits himself to the authority of the denomination and its doctrinal statements, without first accepting its teaching as scriptural. In any case, the real issue is not that Becker thinks that the LCMS has misinterpreted the Bible, but rather that Becker simply chooses for a variety of reasons to reject portions of Scripture.
In the end, the real question is whether or not any denomination will have official positions that they enforce on those who hold ecclesiastical offices. Just as no one is obliged to be a member of a particular denomination, likewise, no one is entitled to hold an official position or membership in of a given denomination if he does not agree with its teachings. For this reason Becker’s implicit argument about the actual limits of acceptable teaching in a given denomination is simply illogical. Ultimately, beyond the New Testament’s repeated admonitions about fleeing from false teachers and the necessity of imposing church discipline on those promoting heretical beliefs, there is the rather commonsensical point that it is illogical to expect any organization to tolerate members who do not want to obey its rules. If a Church body cannot hold members and teachers accountable to the core tenets of the faith, then what is the point of having such an organization in the first place? If no one expects the American Communist party to tolerate members who promote capitalism, why should the LCMS (or any Church body) tolerate ministers or professors who reject its core teachings?
Returning to Fundamental Theology, the next theory of revelation is that of salvation history (226–9). This theory of revelation sees God as revealing himself through the historical process of the history of Israel culminating in Jesus Christ and the Church. As Becker correctly observes, this model does not contradict the propositional model per se. Rather, for theologians adhering to this paradigm, the emphasis lies on the fact that Bible is revelatory because it is a witness to the process of God’s self-revelation in history. It is less a list of ahistorical propositional truths to which Christians must give their assent to, than it is a description of God’s character as revealed through his dealing with his people over time. Among the varieties of salvation history models, Becker notes his preference for Hofmann’s and Ebeling’s version over against that of Pannenberg (228). This is mainly because Hofmann and Ebeling recognize the need for a proper interpretation of salvation history as it is presented by the Word of God, found in the Scriptures. On the other hand, Pannenberg typically tends to argue that the divine purpose in salvation history is simply transparent to human reason. On this point, Becker is quite correct (228–9). Moreover, Becker is right to not play off the propositional model off against the salvation history model. By not doing so, he recognizes necessity of a propositional dimension to Christian doctrine. He is similarly correct to acknowledge that God’s truth is never abstract, but necessarily embedded in concrete history.
This being said, what is problematic about Becker’s use of this model is his insistence that it allows one to discard revelations proved to be inauthentic in later eras of salvation history. Among these supposedly inauthentic revelations, he cites the Old Testament’s acceptance of slavery, polygamy, and the subordination of women (228). Such a theological perspective presupposes that on some level God bungled the communication of his revelation in some earlier eras of salvation. Then later on, he somehow became more competent, as time went on, in communicating it. Becker’s procedure also comes off as extremely arbitrary, since the discarded revelations seem to consistently correlate to things that upper-middle class, white Americans would find objectionable.
Such a notion dovetails with Becker’s conception of scriptural authority. Much like Barth, Becker sees Scripture as a witness to the Word of God rather than the Word of God itself. The Bible can be called “the Word of God” in an indirect sense, not because it is verbally inspired and inerrant, but because it is a primary source for the Church’s witness to the gospel (272–3). The most he will grant to a notion of inspiration is that this witness possesses the existential force to inspire faith (273).
According to Becker, since the central mission of the Church is the proclamation of the gospel, it is only minimally necessary to believe the content of Scripture to the extent that it makes the gospel capable of being proclaimed. Implicitly, this means that in Becker’s mind scriptural doctrines like the Trinity and the Incarnation are still necessary, insofar as it would be impossible to proclaim the gospel without them. Nevertheless, one may also infer that Becker sees little need to maintain male-headship, a literal reading of Genesis 1–11, and the biblical strictures against homosexuality in order to logically maintain a belief in justification by faith alone. In this, Becker largely affirms the version of “Gospel-Reductionism” articulated by the late Erlangen school (notably in Althaus and Elert).
Since the perspicuity and validity of revelation progresses throughout the scriptural witness, there is a hierarchy of scriptural normativity within the canon. The gospel is the actual norm of all revelation (285). Consequently, the writings in the apostolic witness that most directly relate the historical Christ are the clearest and most noble witnesses to revelation. These can be found in the homologoumena, that is, those books of the New Testament universally attested as apostolic and authoritative in the early Church. Below these rank contested books of the New Testament, the antilegomena. Still lower in the hierarchy rank the books of the Old Testament, in large part a superseded revelation, since they contain practices and norms rejected by Jesus and the New Testament authors, and only indirectly witness to Christ and his gospel (285–292, 296–99).
If Becker were merely suggesting the homologoumena have interpretative priority over both the antilegomena and Old Testament, he would be on fairly solid ground. Such a position is not only in keeping with the logical unfolding of salvation history, but also the historic Lutheran tradition as taught by Luther and the subsequent fathers of scholastic orthodoxy. This is not what Becker means. Under the principle that the Bible is not actually the Word of God (or perhaps only in a very qualified sense!), Becker posits that those earlier eras’ written witness to revelation can, in many cases, be discarded altogether in favor of the better human apprehensions of God and his ways during later stages of salvation history (289–90).
Becker cites in favor of this conclusion the fact that Jesus and Paul reject portions of the Old Testament revelation as being no longer authoritative. Two points should be made about this. First, the idea that aspects of the Old Testament are no longer authoritative (for example the ritual laws of Leviticus) does not mean that they are any less divinely inspired—something repeatedly implied by Becker, though never directly stated. It merely means that within the historical development of his relationship with humanity, God placed persons and peoples under the authority of different revelations for a variety of purposes. This fact is recognized by Jesus, Paul, and the author of Hebrews. Secondly, the portions of Scripture which Jesus and Paul assert are no longer binding on the New Testament Church are nevertheless the Word of God. Jesus and Paul use scriptural arguments in favor of this abrogation. In Jesus’ cases, Moses’ allowance of divorce (and implicitly also such practices as polygamy) lack binding force because they were concessions to sin and not in keeping with God’s original creative purposes expressed in Genesis 2. Likewise, for Paul, the Abrahamic covenant promised Christ and communicated salvation through faith long before the curses of Deuteronomy (which were exhausted in the cross of Jesus) were put into place. Hence, Jesus and Paul’s teachings do not so much represent a criticism of Scripture as the recognition that certain portions of Scripture relativize others in light of God’s variegated purposes within the economy of salvation.
What is perhaps even more disturbing is that Becker asserts that Scripture can be criticized on the basis of what he calls “contemporary experience” (295, 310). The scriptural authors lived in a different environment where slavery, polygamy, the subordination of women, and anti-democratic political structures were the norm. According to Becker, now that we have “discovered” human rights (an odd claim, in light of the present philosophical crisis of foundations of secular modernity), as well as eliminated slavery, the portions of Scripture that seemingly validate slavery or the subordination of women can be eliminated or rejected. Indeed, the conflict between Scripture and “contemporary experience” (read: upper-middle class white American values) is one of the reasons that Becker cites for rejecting the notion of scriptural inerrancy (309–10).
There are a number of problems with these remarks. First, in keeping with his notion that revelation is both progressive and imperfectly received by human beings, Becker seems to be positing that the values of contemporary American upper middle class whites are essentially on par with the scriptural revelation—indeed, superior to the Scriptures, insofar as they can serve as a basis and criterion for the criticism of the Scriptures. In this Enthusiasm of historical progress, one hears echoes both of Hegel’s concept of the Geist, as well as the tagline of the United Church of Christ’s cable ad campaign from the mid-2000s: “God is still speaking.” Secondly, as noted above, Becker’s “contemporary experience” privileges a particular kind of contemporary experience, namely, that of upper-middle class American whites. Indeed, later on in a discussion of how to interpret Scripture, Becker also posits the necessity of taking into consideration the perspective and experiences of oppressed minorities and the poor of the Third World. This is of course in keeping with various Liberationist and Feminist interpretative schemes. Nevertheless, the value of Third World perspectives is limited to economic issues which promote governmental redistributionist schemes that contemporary upper-middle class whites are often all too ready to embrace (Read: David Brook’s so-called Bobos or Charles Murray’s New Upper Class). With regard the status of women, or sexual morality, Becker’s interest in affirming the consciousness of contemporary minorities and the inhabitants of Third-World nations (the latter being fairly notorious for their rejection of both women’s rights and homosexual behavior) completely fizzles.
This is one reason why “contemporary experience” cannot be revelatory. Not only does it represent a form of Enthusiasm, which Luther identifies as the oldest of all heresies, but it is ultimately a dead end. On the one hand, “contemporary experiences” contradict one another, as the aforementioned examples of differing ideas regarding human rights and sexuality demonstrate. Moreover, if one attempts to overcome this aporia by appealing to a particular group’s experience of reality (as Becker seemingly does), then theology degrades into a sort of ploy to deify that particular group’s set of values. Indeed, as Karl Barth correctly noted, this was the ultimate problem with both the Liberal Protestant support for World War I, as well as the “German Christians’” exaltation of volkish consciousness above the Word of God. The result of both forms of Enthusiasm were ultimately a divine mandate for German imperial ambition and, later on, genocidal racism. Though Becker would of course reject all of this, one cannot help but see that his reliance on contemporary experience results in a critical mechanism insufficient to counteract such destructive theologies.
Indeed, that being said, it is perfectly compatible with a doctrine of verbal inspiration and inerrancy to say that slavery, polygamy, and the like do not embody God’s ideal purpose for creation. Nevertheless, one comes to recognize this by listening to Jesus when he tells the Pharisees that God made many concessions to sin (as indeed do all civil codes) in giving the law to Moses. In doing this, Jesus does not appeal to some now-discredited High-Modernist concept of “the Progress of Man,” but rather goes back to the Edenic harmony of the first man and woman (Mt. 19:3–9). Unfortunately for Becker, although the words of Jesus serve as a basis for the rejection of slavery, polygamy, and divorce, they also keep intact male-headship and heterosexual marriage as God’s plan for humanity.
Indeed, in the past, Becker has appealed to the protological humanity as posited by evolutionary biology in order to discredit the male/female relationship as suggested by Genesis 1–3. Becker has stated that biological evolution proves that there was no Eve derived from Adam as her head. There is thus no reason to assume that male-headship is valid. Nonetheless, Becker must certainly recognize that, as Jane Goodall showed many years ago, apes are patriarchal, and presumably our supposed hominid ancestors would have been as well. Likewise, homosexuality (which Becker also believes is acceptable) possesses no evolutionary value (Stephen Jay Gould’s claims notwithstanding) and therefore stands in contradiction of what Becker considers to be the law of nature. It would seem that in any appeal to the protological situation (either theistic evolution or the Bible), one ends up getting more or less the same results.
For Becker, “contemporary experience” trumps the Bible with regard to science as well. Francis Pieper’s rather eccentric position (at least for the early-20th century) that scriptural inerrancy entails the rejection of heliocentricism is the object of derision by Becker (268–9). For those familiar with Becker’s writings, this is a point repeatedly brought up, presumably to demonstrate the backwardness of the LCMS and its formative theologians. Beyond this, Becker seems implicitly to be suggesting that if earlier generations of LCMS theologians eventually caved on heliocentricism, then why not also cave on evolution? Becker states that Pieper’s position makes Scripture supreme, even when it contradicts science. Nevertheless, Pieper’s position is unsustainable unless free scientific inquiry is interfered with by authoritarian theological norms, and, by implication, Church leaders (269). For Becker, one should simply accept that the Bible is in error with regard to many things scientific (such as references to the “pillars of the earth”, etc.). Indeed, Becker argues, the Bible contains many minor errors and contradictions, and consequently cannot be judged to be inerrant at all.
A couple of points should be made here. First, Pieper’s position was a rather eccentric one, even for the Age of Orthodoxy. As Robert Preus notes, the Lutheran Scholastics accept a notion of inerrancy compatible with idea that Scripture often described things as they appear (“the sun is setting”) rather than in literal scientific descriptions of the world. This does not undermine inerrancy or the scientific accuracy of scriptural statements any more than contemporary people lie when speaking in the same manner (“the sun is setting”). They are not speaking a falsehood, but using a turn of phrase. It should also be noted that this hermeneutical principle was by no means a desperate attempt to shore up inerrancy in the face of Copernicus, but rather one taken over directly from the Church Fathers, who lived long before any supposed crisis caused by heliocentricism. Interestingly, there is currently a historical debate about whether heliocentricism caused a theological crisis at all!
In any case, one can view references to the “pillars of the earth” in a similar fashion. Much as contemporary poets do not base their descriptions of nature on quantifiable scientific descriptions of the universe, neither did the Biblical poets (notably in the Psalms, or Job). Indeed, as Peter Leithart has pointed out, language like “pillars of the earth” has the very specific theological/poetic function of describing creation in non-literal terms as cosmic temple. Ultimately, trying to take poetic descriptions of nature by the Biblical authors as scientific propositions of the era is a highly questionable procedure. The Biblical poets did not use literal cosmological language for describing the world any more than contemporary ones do.
Secondly, the claim that the issue is matter of free inquiry vs. ecclesiastical authoritarianism is highly naïve. As Thomas Kuhn has shown, the scientific community operates with its own paradigmatic communal lens through which reality is interpreted authoritatively. Such a lens consists of the dogmatic commitments of the scientific community. Hence, for Scientists to do science they must accept certain dogmas. Such dogmas are enforced by a magisterial authority in some cases far more powerful and vindictive than contemporary ecclesiastical ones, as the persecution of advocates of scientific beliefs outside the current paradigm (such as of Intelligent Design) clearly demonstrates. Hence, the question of teaching evolution at a Christianity university is not really a matter of free inquiry vs. arbitrary Church authority, but rather whose dogma and whose magisterium one will accept.
However, this does not mean that theologians should not strive to find agreement between contemporary science and the teaching of Scripture. All truth is one, and one should expect that when humans investigate nature and other fields of inquiry with right reason, then there should ultimately be no conflict with Scripture. Moreover, it should be noted that, contrary to Becker’s misrepresentations, Pieper actually shared this sentiment. In the passage in Christian Dogmatics in which he rejects heliocentricism, Pieper also expresses hope that Einstein and the theory of relativity would in fact vindicate geocentricism.
Obviously, although human beings are finite and have damaged noetic capacities due to sin, regarding that which is below them, they are still competent to gain some knowledge of the created world. Moreover, in that our noetic capacities are damaged, human beings are likewise capable of misinterpreting Scripture when they resist the Holy Spirit and do not follow the literal sense and the analogy of faith. Consequently, just as Scripture can expose the errors of science, scientific truth when pitted against a particular interpretation of Scripture may prompt the interpreter to rethink his interpretation. Perhaps a particular traditional interpretation and not the genuine teaching of Scripture itself may be the barrier to seeing agreement between certain historical or scientific facts and the text. That being said, if there is no way of reconciling certain scientific claims to the text understood on the basis of the literal sense and the analogy of faith, then Scripture must rule supreme. Damaged and finite human reason cannot place a priori limitations on what the Word of God can and cannot say.
In a later section on science and theology, Becker protests against this perspective. He asserts that our knowledge of scientific facts must, generally speaking, almost always be correct. If it were not, then God would be attempting to fool us by giving us access to faulty data through our minds and senses (440). Becker states at one point that he would like to see mutuality, cooperation, and dialogue between theology and science. His example here is the reality and moral impact of man-made global warming (446–7). However, ultimately he asserts that if science says that Scripture is wrong, Scripture must simply bow to the superior wisdom of science and modify its claims. For example, Becker tells us, that we can no longer believe that the wages of sin is death, since the theory of biological evolution presupposes that death is simply another cog in the cosmic machine of life.
Such a perspective is problematic for several reasons. First it presupposes that raw scientific data simply reveals the inner structures of reality to rational and autonomous human beings in an absolutely transparent manner. Nevertheless, although humans have access to the data of reality, their finitude means that such data is always incomplete. Moreover, such data is always interpreted within a scientific paradigm, or interpretive lens, that organizes the information. Since these lenses are always provisional and not infrequently wrong, humans cannot claim any scientific judgment is infallible.
Hence, if a scientific theory, or piece of historical or scientific datum seems to contradict Scripture, there is no particular reason to think Scripture is wrong. Many scientific theories have turned out to be wrong. These incorrect theories and discredited paradigms included many that contradicted Scripture. In these cases the error was in the minds of the interpreters and not in Scripture itself. If we follow Becker’s suggestion, we would operate under the assumption that the Word of God is fallible, but human reason is not. In light of history, this is an untenable position.
Indeed, if Christians of the past had followed Becker and his seeming faith in the near infallibility of science, they would have been proven wrong in the long term on numerous occasions. One wonders how Becker would answer such a challenge. Should Thomas Aquinas have simply rejected creation ex nihilo because Aristotle and the Arabic philosophers posited the eternity of the universe? What about scientific racism and eugenics? Should early-20th century Christian have simply rejected the scriptural teaching of a common origin of humanity and gone for what was then considered to be a highly scientific theory of polygenesis and racial gradations? To this latter point, Becker would likely say that scientific racism and eugenics were simply junk science, whereas macroevolution is not. Nonetheless, just as contemporary macroevolution is taught at all major universities and forms the basis of many governmental policies, so too was scientific racism and eugenics. Secondly, in light of the paradigmatic anomalies of irreducible complexity, gene entropy, and the lack of transitional species in the fossil record, macroevolution is not exactly the scientific slam-dunk that Becker seems to think it is.
Beyond his claim that modern science contradicts the Bible, Becker offers a few other criticisms of verbal inspiration and inerrancy. Becker suggests that verbal inspiration and inerrancy erase human agency in the production of the Scriptures (305–6). Becker claims that Johann Gerhard taught that divine inspiration makes the inspired author like a “flute” played by God (305). Becker does not provide a citation for the flute remark, and the author of this review was unable to find any passages in which Gerhard uses the flute analogy. In any case, recent scholarship on the subject has clearly demonstrated that this view of inspiration was quite specifically rejected by the Lutheran Scholastics. In fact, the Protestant Scholastics in general inherited a strong aversion to the notion of inspiration as a kind of mania from the late Patristic and Medieval theologians. This manic concept of inspiration would be more characteristic of the Ante-Nicene Fathers than it would be of the Protestant Scholastics.
Secondly, Becker also posits that prior to affirming scriptural inerrancy and verbal inspiration one would have to thoroughly examine every jot and tittle before believing that Scripture was true on every point (307). Instead, we are converted by the gospel and acknowledge God prior to believing in any theories of inspiration. Seemingly Becker wishes to prioritize the centrality of the gospel in his concept of theological authority.
Nevertheless, if understood properly, acknowledgment of the primacy of the gospel necessarily and logically leads to an acknowledgment of the authority of the whole of Scripture. If I come to believe in Jesus and that his promises are trustworthy, the trustworthiness of Jesus will also necessarily including his promise that the prophets and the apostles are infallible in all they teach (Luke 10:16; John 10:35, 15:26). I can directly affirm that what they teach is true because Jesus tells me that it is, and because God the Father has placed his stamp of approval on all that he has said by vindicating him through his resurrection from the dead. In the same manner, I can believe that his body and blood are present in the Lord’s Supper because he promises that they are, not by rationally verifying them.
Lastly, Becker argues that affirming verbal inspiration and inerrancy has a flattening effect on the content of Scripture (307). If every word of Scripture is divinely inspired, then even the most innocuous historical facts become as important as the chief article of the gospel. First, among the many points that might be made here, Becker seems to be unaware of the steady drum beat of “all theology is Christology” from major proponents of inerrancy in the LCMS, such as David Scaer and Robert Preus. Obviously, whatever he may say about the flattening effect, it does not work out that way in practice!
Secondly, Becker’s concern here represents an obvious category confusion, wherein the category “truthful” is being confused with the category “important.” To illustrate this with a thought-experiment, theoretically, if we posit a husband who was programmed to be utterly unable to tell a lie to his wife, every truthful utterance he made would still not be equally important. For example, the statement “I got gas on the way home from work” would be both equally true and nevertheless, considerably less important than his wedding vows. Moreover, to take another example, if our spouses regularly lied to us about petty things, then we might also begin doubt their general veracity, even perhaps when it came to their love and loyalty to us. Indeed, often people come to suspect an affair when such small lies are told on a regular basis, often with considerable justification. Becker would probably say in response that all couples lie to one another in small measures, and it does not disrupt the relationship or call into question the love present. Likewise, he would probably argue that the gospel could still be true, even if there are small errors in the biblical reports.
Like Hofmann and later Althaus (perhaps in a more limited way, also Elert), Becker seems to implicitly make a distinction between certain historical facts in Scripture that need to be true to make the gospel true (Jesus existed, died and rose, etc.) and others that do not. The difficulty with this that it is impossible to draw the line clearly between “essential” and “non-essential” facts in order to differentiate them from one another.
Ultimately though, the gospel does in fact depend on certain historical facts being true and infallibly so. To say that we can only believe them to be true insofar as they are verified by historical science would be to assert that the gospel is only probably true since all secular historical knowledge is merely probable. Nonetheless, since the gospel gives full assurance (“this is most certainly true”), then the history that it narrates must also be fully assured and not merely highly probable. Similarly, since the gospel makes no sense apart from the whole scriptural narrative of creation and redemption, to say that the gospel is certain and true logically entails that the whole of Scripture is inerrant and without falsehood.
Overall, Becker’s book is extremely illuminating. It is a clear and consistent exposition of his theological agenda. It reveals his rationale for rejecting key doctrines of historic biblical Lutheranism. At its heart, Becker’s theological vision is essentially provisionalist. Because history is one long sequence of ever greater and greater degrees of divine self-communication, no truth can ever be eternal and final for Becker. Moreover, the progress of secular history and science have the power ever to qualify what is credible in Scripture and what is not. Belief in any historical truth taught in Scripture must also be provisional, since belief in that truth may or may not be falsified at some point in the future. Likewise, the moral teaching of Scripture is ever capable of being revised by Western cultural trends. At the heart of this theological vision is the recognition that, as human beings, we live within the dynamic finitude of history and creation.
That human beings are the products of finitude and situatedness within creation and history cannot, of course, be denied. Nevertheless, the Lutheran claim is that the “finite is capable of the infinite” (finitum capax infiniti). Those of us who adhere to the historic biblical, creedal, and confessional faith of Church know that the infinite has definitively appeared in the finite in Christ. By his eschatological act of death and resurrection, he ended all provisionality and vouchsafed the goal and purpose of creation in the unconditional promise of the gospel. In this, he sums up all things in himself (Eph 1:10). Moreover, he promised that the perfection and infinity of his truth would be present in the finitude of the Scripture and the sacraments. In light of the Lutheran capax, Becker’s provisionalist approach to fundamental theology is largely sterile.
Grand Rapids, MI
Lutherans in America: A New History. By Mark Granquist. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015.
At long last there is a successor to The Lutherans in North America, edited by E. Clifford Nelson and first published when Gerald Ford was our president. Comparison between the Nelson volume and Mark Granquist’s new history of the Lutheran churches in America is difficult because the former had a stable of authors, each contributing on his period of expertise. There was an unevenness going from Theodore Tappert to some of the lesser lights. Now Granquist tells the story himself, so the strengths and weaknesses are at least equal throughout. The comparison is not between apples and oranges but between different kinds of apples. They have much in common but finally are not meant to taste exactly the same.
Granquist frames the story of American Lutheranism as a history of who came to America and when, who came into fellowship with whom and when, and how the faithful dealt with the innumerable changes America constantly brings. Granquist offers with the greatest possible precision tables and charts tracking Lutheran population, membership figures, and the various church foundations, mergers, and splits throughout all the years since Rasmus Jensen, the Danish pastor, was the first Lutheran minister to serve and to die in the New World. Anyone interested in telling this story will have to touch on common themes and figures. The derelict pastor Jacob Fabricius appears in colonial New York and then on the Delaware. Muhlenberg arrives in 1742 from Halle by way of London to set things in order and establish the first American Lutheran synod in 1748. In him the worlds of German Lutheran Pietism and British America meet: he is sent by the Halle Fathers with the urging and benediction of Michael Ziegenhagen, Lutheran chaplain to the Hanoverian English court. The Missouri Synod is established and grows extremely rapidly in the nineteenth century, even as Eastern Lutherans differ widely about what it means to be Lutheran. In the twentieth century Lutheran union eventually becomes almost everyone’s spoken or unspoken goal, and in a certain skepticism about the ultimate value of merger Granquist makes a very valuable contribution to Lutheran historiography.
This pessimism about merger is the child of the disappointing story of the ELCA. Readers learn that the Commission for a New Lutheran Church (CNLC), established in 1982 to bring the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America, and the American Evangelical Lutheran Church together, bequeathed all of its own tensions to the ELCA, when the new church came into existence in 1988. Strife over the doctrine of the ministry, the nature of ecumenism, the role of quotas in church governance, and the nature of human sexuality were all present on the CNLC, and so have been with the ELCA from its founding. Since 1988 it has in some measure declined in membership each year, and as early as the mid-1990s a task force on human sexuality drew up a report commending the ordination of actively homosexual candidates for the ministry. This report was hastily withdrawn when prematurely leaked to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
To go deeper into the past, Granquist even observes that the bureaucratic difficulties of streamlining various groups into one and financially sustaining the one new church were present even in the ALC and LCA, although they had formed more than twenty-five years before the ELCA’s birth. He sees the difficulties experienced by the ELCA, the fruit of the hopes of so many Lutherans throughout American history, as endemic to any church body seeking to be nationwide and multiethnic in America. The General Synod, established in 1820, experienced theological dissension almost immediately, despite the relatively much greater homogeneity of the church body and the nation in the Era of Good Feelings. It even was the cause of a church split before its founding, when the Tennessee Synod formed as an exodus from the North Carolina Synod in opposition to a potentially nationwide church body. How much more, then, will there be dissension and variation in church bodies today that span across the United States and throughout the numerous social classes and ethnic groups America contains?
With a much appreciated lack of noticeable rancor toward the Missouri Synod and other Synodical Conference church bodies, Granquist points out the growing theological heterogeneity of the LCMS in the 1950s and 1960s, in part explaining it by the great demographic changes coming to the Synod with an influx of non-Lutheran, non-Germanic adult converts as the LCMS spread out into the growing suburbs of postwar America. At the very same time lifelong Missourians pursued theological degrees outside of the Synod in large numbers, so that in both church and academe Missouri was less separate than ever. Missouri then began to face the same challenges of integration and Americanization that the General Synod had debated back when the Ministerium of Pennsylvania withdrew to preserve its German heritage. All American Lutherans struggle with almost all the same social, political, and economic challenges, but their different histories lie in how they respond in their preaching and teaching.
It’s in that crisis of confession and theological discernment that one wishes Granquist presented a more theological view of theology. Words drawn from diplomacy crowd out theological words, so that a controversy over confessional subscription or the election of grace is often described in terms of “balance,” “moderates,” “the extreme,” as if everything is finally political. If the church’s history has anything to do with the calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying of the whole Christian church by the Holy Spirit, then a church historian has to make theological judgments. At any given time someone made a true confession and someone did not; if that is not the case, then church historians awash in relativism are of all theologians most to be pitied.
Granquist rightly notes that S.S. Schmucker was more Lutheran than his immediate predecessors in early America, but he is fuzzier on the exact differences between the General Synod and the General Council. It makes it hard for the student to see what all the fuss was about. The Missouri Synod is described in relation to seventeenth-century Lutheran orthodoxy, rather than particularly stringent adherence to the Lutheran confessions. This makes it hard to see why the LCMS objected to the General Council’s Akron-Galesburg Rule, since everyone claimed to be Lutheran. This lack of theological precision makes the old ULCA’s offer of fellowship to any church claiming to be Lutheran seem reasonable and even logical, whereas Missouri and much of Midwestern Lutheranism saw it as the acceptance of error.
Granquist points out succinctly and brilliantly that where nineteenth-century Lutherans presumed the Bible’s authority and clashed over the Confessions’ authority, twentieth-century Lutherans simply clashed over the Bible’s authority. Full-blown Protestant liberalism came late to American Lutheranism, and his suggestion that what he and Maria Erling have called the Lutheran Left, devoted to social and political progressivism as well as theological liberalism, rose to prominence only with the formation of the ELCA is fascinating but undeveloped. Even in the 1920s Charles M. Jacobs’ promotion of Erlangen theology at the Philadelphia seminary provided a way for American Lutherans to differentiate between the Word of God and Scripture. Much work remains to be done on both the Lutheran Left and the rise of biblical criticism in American Lutheranism, without which we have a lot of trouble explaining the events of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in both the LCMS and the ELCA and her predecessor bodies.
There is a disappointingly large number of typos in the book. Tulpehocken, the site of an early congregation in frontier Pennsylvania, is sometimes spelled correctly but most often spelled “Tuplehocken.” If that seems obtuse, words like “programming” and the last name of The Lutheran Hour’s founder, Walter A. Maier, are both misspelled, along with a host of other names. At one point the Formula of Concord appears to have been written in 1580, but three years are the difference between that single confessional document and the entire Book of Concord. More effort on its own history would be appreciated from Fortress. The very brief “excurses” between chapters, taken from columns appearing in the Metro Lutheran, repeat things said better elsewhere, except the pieces on Thea Ronning, a Norwegian-American missionary to China, and on Hispanic Lutheranism, the book’s final excursus touching on the Lutheran churches in Puerto Rico and Mexico. Granquist admirably seeks to cover the entirety of his subject’s breadth, although this will leave the author and the reader at times breathless. Based on his knowledge of the Augustana Synod, the reader will learn more about it than, say, the Wauwatosa gospel or the doctrinal differences on the ministry between the LCMS and the WELS. But space and time are limited, and Granquist covers all the main events and characters with as much thoroughness as 300-odd pages allow. His coverage of American history at the opening of each chapter sets the church’s history within the world’s history, where it belongs, since we are “in the world.”
If the world is impossible to escape, then every Lutheran church will face the challenges and opportunities it offers. Nothing will ever stay exactly the same, for better or worse. We all became or are even now still becoming Americans. The question at the end of reading this very valuable book is how an American can be a confessional Lutheran. All sorts of answers have been offered to that question, but one should pay particular attention to the Synodical Conference, which alone of any large church body did not pursue an organic union of its various constituent parts. While requiring a stringent confessional standard and actual teaching and practice in accord with that standard, the Synodical Conference contained the Midwestern and partly Eastern Germans of the LCMS (eventually with its annexed English District and the Finns of the old Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of America), the Midwestern Germans of what became the Wisconsin Synod, the Norwegians of the old Norwegian Synod and then the ELS, the Slovaks of the SELC, and in the LCMS what was by far American Lutheranism’s largest contingent of African-Americans. This is greater geographic and ethnic diversity than almost any other nationwide Lutheran confessional group, with perhaps greater doctrinal and practical unity than anything preceding or succeeding it. It could be that the organic merger and bureaucratic efficiency so long sought missed the point; that one hymnal, one seminary, or one church body cannot contain the linguistic, ethnic, and regional variety of American Lutherans. Yet unity might be found again as it has been found in the past: in a clear and unanimous confession.
Rev. Adam Koontz
Rev. Lucas Woodford is a pastor on a quest for a strategic plan faithful to the Scriptures and Catechism.Great Commission, Great Confusion, or Great Confession: The Mission of the Holy Christian Church is his travel log.Read More
By any benchmark Hermann Sasse was one of the foremost twentieth-century Lutheran theologians. He incisively analyzed how modern trends in church life eclipse doctrinal truth.Read More
“Open your mouth on behalf of the dumb,” commands Proverbs 31:8, “for the cause of all children who are passing away.” In his concise, well-researched book, A Love for Life: Christianity’s Consistent Protection of the Unborn, Dennis Di Mauro demonstrates how the Lord’s people through the ages have responded to this call by opening their mouths with a clear, unequivocal defense of the health and welfare of vulnerable life in utero.Read More
The Hope of Eternal Life—Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue XI. Edited by Lowell G. Almen and Richard J. Sklba. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Lutheran University Press, 2011. 211 pages. Click here.
The eleventh round of Lutheran—Roman Catholic (L-RC) dialogue in the United States began in December 2005 and concluded in October 2010. The final report as entitled above was released on November 15, 2010, and was originally made available for download in Portable Document Format (PDF). Edited by Lowell G. Almen, Lutheran co-chair of the dialogue and retired secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and Auxiliary Bishop Richard J. Sklba of Milwaukee, Roman Catholic co-chair of the dialogue, this novella of Lutheran ecumenical remythologization provides almost interesting reading. A table of contents, a preface, four chapters, four appendices, and two background papers comprise this volume. Appendix Three, by Stephen Hultgren, is included for no discernable reason, and Appendix Four might also be categorized as background information. The latter, “The Intermediate State: Patristic and Medieval Doctrinal Development and Recent Receptions” by Jared Wicks (133–175), is arguably the only useful part of this book. The two background papers proper were presumably incorporated based on author gender (female). Although formally listed as participants on the Lutheran side, Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) theologians Samuel H. Nafzger and Dean O. Wenthe do not appear to have played an active role, other than providing personal, confessional authenticity to the designation “Lutheran” used in the dialogue.
The dialogue’s Preface cites the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds as providing precedent for a study of the hope of eternal life. Notably, however, “The foundation for the discussions and findings of Round XI was established by the ‘Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,’” as “officially received by the Catholic Church and member churches of the Lutheran World Federation on October 31, 1999.” Despite listing numerous, insurmountable ecclesial and social obstacles, the dialogue participants seek the restoration of “full, sacramental communion” between Lutherans and Catholics (7; see also 118, 125–126). To that end, “Round XI offers fresh insights” into the “continuity in the communion of saints, prayers for or about the dead, the meaning of death, purgation, an interim state between death and the final general judgment, and the promise of the resurrection” (8). This review essay examines this dialogue’s claimed foundational use of the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ),” the dialogue’s content and methodology, and finally the biblical and confessional reliability of its conclusions.
Chapter One, “Our Common Hope of Eternal Life,” opens with subsection heading “A. Positive Developments in the Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue in Light of the ‘Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification’” (pp. 11–13, §§1–8, hereafter page number(s), § number(s)). The text claims that in Augsburg, Germany, an “ecumenically historic moment transpired” when JDDJ was signed by representatives of the Vatican and Lutheran World Federation (LWF) (11, §1)—except that the “Official Common Statement” (OCS) with Annex was signed instead. “Their signatures attested to the official reception in our churches of the fruit of years of ecumenical dialogue on the topic of justification,...” (11, §2)—except that no LWF member church has approved the OCS with Annex. “The findings, statements of consensus, and even expressions of certain divergent convictions related to ‘The Hope of Eternal Life’ are built upon” JDDJ ¶15 (11, §3)—although Lutheran objections in part to JDDJ ¶15 and its exclusion of salvation by “faith alone” necessitated the drafting of the OCS with Annex to rescue JDDJ from ecumenical purgatory. “The method of the ‘Joint Declaration’ is reflected in this report” (11, §4), which essentially means that Lutherans abandon biblical and Lutheran confessional positions to merit religious congruence with the Council of Trent. Even though “[w]e wrestled with descriptions of the contemporary character of indulgences in Catholic practice, especially in the light of the ‘Joint Declaration’” (13, §7), nonetheless “[t]he ‘Joint Declaration’ affirms that the ‘Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church will continue to strive together to deepen this common understanding of justification and to make it bear fruit in the life and teaching of the churches’ (JDDJ, ¶43)” (13, §8).
That is the foundation for Round XI of US L-RC dialogue. Unfortunately, the JDDJ edifice is worse. Conveniently having misplaced scripture, “... Lutheranism has no widely received doctrinal texts beyond the Book of Concord (with the possible exception of the JDDJ), ...” (19, §23). On topic, in Chapter II under the heading “3. Common Teaching in the ‘Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” this dialogue stresses that in JDDJ the “respective Catholic and Lutheran paragraphs on good works link merit and reward to God’s promise” to be realized “in heaven” as “eternal life,” respectively (53, §108). Propagandistically, the “affirmation that Catholic teaching on justification as presented in the JDDJ does not fall under Lutheran condemnation places Catholic practices of [meritorious] prayers for the dead in a new context,” (107, §251)—which might have ecumenical veracity and meaning if the Lutheran confessions contained condemnations of the Roman Church’s doctrine and if such prayers were not unilaterally considered meritorious. Finally, this “document has pursued a similar method, although not written in the style of the JDDJ. Our discussions of purgatory and prayer for the dead in Chapter III must not be read in isolation from Chapter II, in which we develop our common convictions. Those common convictions form the necessary interpretative context for what we say about traditionally divisive topics” (118, §281). In other words, JDDJ and its application, rather than scripture and the Lutheran confessions, provide the “interpretative context” for the ELCA’s aspired relations with the Roman Church. Opponents of the “Joint Declaration” forewarned that JDDJ might be used in this way, and this dialogue justifies their concerns.
All vacuous JDDJ pageantry aside, the ELCA has a problem. Although “[b]oth Lutherans and Catholics affirm that the justified who die in faith will be granted eschatological perfection” (whatever that means) and although “[t]he justified in this life are one in Christ with those who have died in Christ” (12, §6), unfortunately ELCA Lutherans are neither perfect enough nor dead enough either to merit or to be granted “full, sacramental communion” with the papal church. How can one earn such favor?
To understand this dialogue’s role in the ELCA’s pursuit of reintegration into the Roman fold, two issues are at stake. First, JDDJ is wholly undermined by Canon 30 of the Council of Trent’s Decree on Justification, and subsequently by catchall Canon 33, in that Canon 30 condemns (anathematizes, curses) those who do not accept purgatory. Thus, contrary to JDDJ’s stated goal and claimed achievement, the sixteenth-century condemnations of Lutherans by the Vatican in this decree still apply, and the ecumenists’ foil to slay the justification dragon barring a Protestant return to Rome is itself foiled. Second, it would be nigh on impossible for the Vatican to celebrate Luther’s Ninety-five Theses against indulgences with the Lutheran World Federation in 2017 if the Vatican had nothing to celebrate. Therefore, ways must be found for latter day Lutherans to recant what Luther would not. These goals account for the retrograde state of the content and the methodology of The Hope of Eternal Life.
In order to minimize objections to this eventual goal, Luther himself, as well as scripture and the Lutheran confessions, must be neutralized, and agreement on “intermediate states” of the dead for whom prayers can be offered, especially in purgatory, must be re-established. Thus, in addition to Lutheranism having “no widely received doctrinal texts beyond the Book of Concord,” except JDDJ, and although the Book of Concord describes Luther as the “most distinguished teacher of the churches which confess the Augsburg Confession” (“der fürnehmbste Lehrer,” see Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche [BSLK], 984, 41), this dialogue surmises,
What is the status of the self between death and resurrection? This question was not a focus of controversy during the sixteenth century, although a few Lutheran theologians (most notable, Luther) were willing to entertain possibilities excluded by Catholic teaching. More recently, the question of intermediate states has been debated within each of our traditions. How these questions are answered affects the discussion of other topics, e.g., purgatory (21, §28).
With Luther safely relegated to a minority position of inconsequential, esoteric views, the ELCA’s ecumenical Pelagianism can continue encumbered. To remove other obstacles on the Lutheran side, the dialogue asserts, “The Lutheran Reformation had no distinctive teaching about death or intermediate states. The Lutheran Confessions simply assume that the souls of the dead exist and are in a blessed communion with Christ” (25–26, §43). Therefore, to fill this void and to feign some sort of parity with Vatican doctrine, “reference will be made to material from particular Lutheran churches, even though they have not received universal Lutheran acceptance” (19, §22). This tactic favors especially those texts and liturgical materials which have been strategically brought into Lutheran “practice” since Vatican II with an ecumenical lex orandi, lex credendi, intention of making a future reintegration into the papal fold as unobtrusive as possible.
In order to propose the notion that purgatory is not “church-dividing,” The Hope of Eternal Life gradually guides its Protestant reader to a dead end. Selected “Common Affirmations” exemplify this as follows: “Our churches affirm that death cannot destroy the communion with God of those redeemed and justified” (35, §59). “Our churches thus teach an ongoing personal existence beyond death, to which our divine Creator relates in saving love” (35, §60). The “interrelation between the general judgment of all humanity on the Last Day and the particular judgment of individuals upon their death…has never been a church-dividing matter between our churches, but does affect issues that have been disputed, e.g., purgatory” (43, §84, italics original). “Hans Martensen, bishop of Sjaelland in the Church of Denmark, thought judgment might be postponed at death for some who might benefit by further time for repentance” (45–46, §91). “Wolfhart Pannenberg, while critical of the concept of purgatory as a distinct, temporally-extended intermediate state, affirms purgation as an aspect of judgment...He develops this view in a discussion of the ideas of Joseph Ratzinger and concludes: ‘There is thus no more reason for the Reformation opposition’” (87, §203). “In light of the analysis given above, this dialogue believes that the topic of purgation, in and of itself, need not divide our communions” (91, §212, bold original). After such preparation for purgatory and despite the qualification that “Lutheran Confessions are uniformly critical of the doctrine of purgatory” (78, §179, the summit has been reached,
270. As with masses for the dead, indulgences appear in a different light when understood within the context of the solidarity of all the justified with Christ and each other. Lutherans in this dialogue have come to see that the intent behind the contemporary practice of indulgences is an expression of an appeal to the mercy of Christ. Whether indulgences do or can adequately embody that intent remains a genuine question for Lutherans. Lutherans also ask whether indulgences are so open to abuse and misunderstanding that their evangelical intent is obscured. Nevertheless, since the practice of indulgences has not been seen as required for communion with the Catholic Church, Lutherans need not adopt these practices for the sake of such communion. Ecumenical rapprochement requires, however, that Lutherans not condemn Catholic teaching about the practice of indulgences as inherently contrary to the Gospel (113–114).
As with all its ecumenical endeavours, this conclusion reiterates the ELCA’s abandonment of Article VII of the Augsburg Confession, which clearly states the sufficiency of the gospel “purely” preached (and taught) as the only foundation for true church unity.
Given the foregoing, it should not be entirely surprising that this dialogue’s use of the Bible and the Lutheran confessions is less than reliable, as an introductory paragraph exemplifies,
This dialogue’s discussion of biblical texts seeks to illumine the scriptural foundations and background of our churches’ respective teachings on the hope of eternal life without completely settling these hermeneutical questions. Judgments whether particular biblical texts adequately ground particular beliefs about heaven, hell, purgatory, etc., often involve judgments on these larger questions. Sometimes our churches have drawn different conclusions from the same biblical texts, e.g., 1 Cor. 3 and Matthew 12:32 (which will be discussed below in a section on purgatory) (20, §26).
Notably, the “dialogue’s discussion” seeks “to illumine the scriptural foundations and background of our churches’ respective teachings” rather than the other way around, i.e., the word being a lamp unto the dialogue participants’ feet. Furthermore, not only uncritically but also unquestioningly, this dialogue repeatedly cites writings from the Apocrypha, particularly 2 Maccabees, as scripture. In other words, this dialogue’s stated methodology precludes the Old and New Testaments from being solely foundational either for the dialogue or for the churches’ respective teachings, particularly regarding purgatory (70–71, §161). In contrast, such scripture did provide the foundation for the Reformers’ confessional critique and rejection of purgatory, which this dialogue readily and repeatedly notes (79, §§181, 182; 82, §191).
Likewise, this dialogue’s use of or reference to material from the Lutheran confessions, taken frequently out of context, is misleading at best. Within the context of this dialogue and its goals, however, such misleading is deliberate, deceptive by design. For example, after describing and quoting Luther’s rejection of purgatory in the Smalcald Articles (SA II, II) as an apparition of the devil (Teufelsgespenst) and idolatry, which one would like (mocht) to discard (or abandon) “even if it were neither error nor idolatry” (Kolb-Wengert, 303), “man es mocht wohl lassen, wenn es schon kein Irrtum noch Abgotterei wäre” (BSLK, 420), this dialogue continues,
The existence of purgatory is not dogmatically denied. Rather, 1) the existence of purgatory is not taught by Scripture and thus cannot be binding doctrine, and 2) belief in purgatory is now hopelessly bound up with unacceptable practices. A belief that could be discussed in principle is concretely objectionable because of its associations (79, §181).
Clearly, Luther’s use of the subjunctive form “would like” (mocht) rather than mag (may), the latter used in both Tappert (295) and Kolb-Wengert (303), indicates what one “would like” to do even if purgatory “were” (ware, again subjunctive) not error or idolatry. This double subjunctive “translated” into the indicative means that purgatory is error and idolatry and thus is not open for discussion, regardless of associations. Whereas the Kolb-Wengert translation of Luther’s subjunctive into an English subjunctive is mechanically correct, it is not meaningfully correct. The Kolb-Wengert translation thus invites this dialogue’s drafters to exploit this mechanical translation as a means to allow Luther to give tacit permission to discuss purgatory stripped of all evils. Meaningfully, however, Tappert has it much more correct: “All this may consequently be discarded, apart entirely from the fact that [purgatory] is error and idolatry.” Confessionally, for both the BSLK and Tappert, the door to discussing purgatory is shut and locked.
Another questionable application of the Lutheran confessions pertains to “meritorious” works and this dialogue’s attempts to harmonize Lutheran and papal positions. With reference to Apology IV on justification (Kolb-Wengert, 171), homogenized for the Council of Trent, this dialogue asserts, “The Apology states that good works, which can only be performed by those who are in Christ, ‘are truly meritorious, but not for the forgiveness of sins or justification. For they are not pleasing to [God] except in those who are justified on account of faith’” (51, §105). This dialogue further states, “In its Decree on Justification, the Council of Trent similarly taught that good works that are meritorious before God are possible only for those in Christ, for the justified.” Thus, the “ecumenical question is the significance of the difference between the Apology’s statement that eternal life is a reward in the sense of a recompense and the Council of Trent’s statement that eternal life is a merited reward” (52–53, §107).
Later, while noting the LCMS’s rejection of such prayer, the dialogue states, “The presence of prayers for the dead in the funeral liturgies” of ELCA hymnals since 1978 “supports a partially shared practice of prayer for the dead [with the Roman Church] and sheds new light on remaining differences on purgatory” (108, §255). Thus, despite differences, ELCA Lutherans and Catholics “agree that such prayer is a good work of the justified. They agree that good works will be rewarded by God in this world and the next, and in that sense can be called meritorious. They agree that prayer constitutes an aspect of penance. They agree that prayer is efficacious; it can truly aid the person prayed for, although that aid does not operate automatically and is always under the will of God” (108, §256). This explains, as per §270 quoted above, why “indulgences appear in a different light when understood within the context of the solidarity of all the justified with Christ and each other,” and thus why Lutherans must “not condemn Catholic teaching about the practice of indulgences as inherently contrary to the Gospel.”
This second example from the Lutheran confessions represents more than exploitable ambiguities in translation. The similar phrasing regarding rewards and “meritorious” works between the Council of Trent and the Apology is possible chiefly because the Kolb-Wengert Book of Concord uses a different Apology. Whereas the quarto edition of Ap IV, 194, standard since 1580, only in a couple lines—almost in passing—describes “good works” as meritoria (BSLK) and “meritorious” (Tappert), the Kolb-Wengert rendition uses the octavo edition instead. The octavo edition omits Ap IV, 194 and elaborately discusses rewards and “meritorious” works in several new paragraphs placed after Ap IV, 257. This elaboration provides ample fodder (39, §72; 50–52, §§103, 105) for the dialogue drafters to conjure confessional congruence, which the BSLK and Tappert, arguably, would not.
According to Kolb-Wengert, “In using this approach, we follow the most recent modern German translation of the Book of Concord” (109) with note 3 referring to the Evangelische Bekenntnisse: Bekenntnisschriften der Reformation und neuere theologische Erklärungen (Evangelical Confessions: Confessional Writings of the Reformation and Newer Theological Declarations). Notably, this collection of Lutheran and Reformed confessional writings was collated by and published for use in the Evangelische Kirche der Union (Evangelical Church of the Union, EKU) and thereafter in the Union Evangelischer Kirchen (Union of Evangelical Churches, UEK) in the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (EKD). In other words, the Apology in Kolb-Wengert is patterned on a translation for use in union churches in Germany. Synergistically, while Kolb-Wengert “unionism” provides a meritorious tool for ELCA ecumenism, the ELCA’s ecumenism again reveals the confessional unreliability of the Kolb-Wengert Book of Concord over against the BSLK benchmark edition used by confessional Lutherans since 1580 (see also Mark D. Menacher, Priesthood, Pastors, Bishops—Public Ministry for the Reformation & Today by Timothy J. Wengert, published in LOGIA: A Journal of Lutheran Theology 19 (Reformation 2010), 48–51).
In short summary, from a biblical and Lutheran confessional standpoint, The Hope of Eternal Life—Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue XI was dead on arrival and does not have a prayer for purgation or for anything else either in this life or in the life to come.
Mark D. Menacher
La Mesa, California
You, My People, Shall be Holy: A Festschrift in Honour of John W. Kleinig. Edited by John R. Stephenson and Thomas M. Winger. St. Catharines, Ontario: Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, 2013. Hard cover, 336 pages. Click here.
The influence of Dr. John W. Kleinig (b. 1942) has extended far beyond the boundaries of his native Australia, as this well-deserved festschrift amply attests, including essays by colleagues not only from “down under” but by grateful co-workers in the United States, Canada, Finland and Germany. Even as Dr. Kleinig’s work has been multifaceted, engaging Old Testament exegesis, doctrinal theology, liturgical studies and pastoral care, so the essays in this handsomely executed volume testify to the depth and breadth of the honoree’s academic and churchly interest.
Years of teaching the book of Leviticus came to culmination in the publication of Dr. Kleinig’s commentary by Concordia Publishing House in 2003. In that work, he demonstrated the liturgical/sacramental dimensions of the Old Testament in general and Leviticus in particular. It is fitting, therefore, that this volume includes Chad Bird’s “The Tabernacle as a New Creation” and William Weinrich’s “Leviticus as a Christian Book: Patristic Instances.” Bird demonstrates how the Garden of Eden functioned as a prototype of the tabernacle, giving it both temporal and teleological significance in salvation history. Weinrich examines the use of Leviticus by patristic writers on Christological confession and ecclesial practice.
Several of the essays engage questions of church and office. Norman Nagel addresses ordination and authority in “Bestowing Hands and Potestas ordinis.” John Stephenson assesses the Reformer’s thoughts on the episcopal office in “Towards an Exegetical and Systematic Appraisal of Luther’s Scattered Thoughts on Episcopacy.” Thomas Winger takes a fresh look at the way in which the royal priesthood has often and wrongly been pitted against the office of the holy ministry, suggesting a more sure-footed and faithful path in confessing both as gifts from the Lord. Dr. Kleinig has faithfully and with significant suffering contended against those in his own Lutheran Church of Australia who would introduce to the church the novelty of women’s ordination. A telling essay, recounting how it was that women’s ordination was brought into European Lutheran churches, is provided by Gottfried Martens. Juhana Pohjola of Finland examines Luther’s understanding of the office in “Reflections on the Office of the Holy Ministry on the Basis of Martin Luther’s Genesis Commentary.”
Two essays echo Dr. Kleinig’s aversion to all forms of antinomianism, taking up the third use of the law, one by Kurt Marquart, “The Third Use of The Law as Confessed in the Formula of Concord,” and the other by David Scaer, “The Third Use of the Law: Resolving the Tension.”
Both in his classroom calling at Adelaide and in seminars and conversations around the world, Dr. Kleinig has surely demonstrated that he is a pastoral theologian par excellence. Themes of pastoral theology are expressed in essays by Ronald Feuerhahn, “Luther on Preaching the Word of God;” Andrew Pfeiffer, “Luther and the Pastor at Prayer;” and Harold Senkbeil, “Lead Us Not into Temptation: Acedia, the Pastoral Pandemic.”
Like his sainted teacher, Hermann Sasse, Dr. Kleinig has championed the place of the Lord’s Supper not only in the church’s doctrine but also in practice and in piety. Two essays are devoted to the Sacrament of the Altar. Pastor Brent Kuhlmann treats readers to Luther’s confession of Jesus’ body and blood in “Da er sagt. Solchs thut! Dr. Luther’s Confession Regarding the Consecration in His 1528 Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper.” Dr. Kleinig’s brother, Pastor Vernon Kleinig, surveys how the benefits of the Sacrament were confessed in Lutheran Orthodoxy in “The Benefits of the Lord’s Supper in Seventeenth-Century Lutheranism.”
Like Luther, Dr. Kleinig knows that God comes to us deeply in the flesh, in the things of creation. Scott Murray’s essay on the “Resurrection of the Flesh” and Roger J. Humann’s “John 2:1-11—Water into Wine: A Sign of the Messianic Kingdom” both demonstrate the anti-gnostic theme so dominant in Dr. Kleinig’s theology and spirituality. A theologically astute layman in the Lutheran Church of Australia, and a medical doctor, Ian Hamer has provided a very helpful critique of the tendency toward autonomy in contrast to holiness in “From Autonomy to Holiness.”
A former student, Adam G. Cooper, contributed a chapter on “Hierarchy, Humility, and Holiness: Ecclesial Rank in Dionysius the Areopagite.” Gregory P. Lockwood, a longtime friend and colleague of Dr. Kleinig on the faculty in Adelaide reflects on how peace is understood biblically in “Holiness and Wholeness: towards a Truly Holistic Understanding of ‘Peace’ in the Scriptures.”
A final feature of this festschrift is the inclusion of two hymns. “As Dear Children of the Father,” by Canadian pastor Kurt E. Reinhardt, reflects the evangelical nature of prayer from a baptismal perspective. A commemorative hymn commissioned by DOXOLOGY: The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care and Counsel was written by Stephen Starke and set to music composed by Phillip Magness, “You, My People, Shall be Holy,” demonstrates that the theology so eloquently taught and proclaimed by Dr. Kleinig is indeed doxological. Through the life and ministry of Dr. John W. Kleinig, the song of the church indeed goes on as God is invoked as our Father through His Son in the power of the Spirit. These hymns along with the essays in this Festschrift are a worthy tribute to a doctor of the church and confessor of Christ Jesus, whose patient and careful work in the Lord’s vineyard will continue to bear rich fruit in the years to come.
John T. Pless
Fort Wayne, In
This book is to be praised for offering a new historical examination of the debate surrounding St. Paulʼs soteriology, especially in regard to the early church fathers and Martin Luther. Jordan Cooper engages the Lutheran tradition and catholicity in a spirited, critical way that serves a larger agenda: to critique the New Perspective on Paul by way of the Finnish Lutheran school of Luther research, specifically the work of Tuomo Mannermaa.Read More
Seldom do sermons catch your breath as if you were standing on a precipice overlooking the Grand Canyon. These sermons do just that.Read More
Editor's Note: As an extra for the Eastertide 2013 issue of LOGIA, we are posting this book review from the Eastertide 1997 edition of LOGIA. If you'd like to purchase a copy of all the back issues of LOGIA, please click here. Die Erlanger Theologie (no. 67 in Einzelarbeiten aus der Kirchengeschichte Bayerns). By Karlmann Beyschlag. Erlangen: Martin-Luther-Verlag with the Verein für bayerische Kirchengeschichte, 1993. 295 pages.
Since the nineteenth century, the theological faculty at the University of Erlangen has been the citadel of confessional Lutheranism. In the 1940s and 1950s, students from America and other foreign countries streamed to Erlangen, attracted by the world theological leadership of its university.
But after the deaths of Elert and Althaus, a reaction set in the theological faculty as well as in the Lutheran churches of Germany. The teachings of Karl Barth, the Barmen Declaration, and the “Confessing Church” began to suppress confessional Lutheranism. Principles of the Union Church, including intercommunion and open communion (Leuenberg Concord), were accepted by the Lutheran churches. A much less talented group of theologians replaced the great ones at Erlangen. Several of these sought notoriety by denouncing Elert and Althaus. In 1971, they succeeded in having the traditional subscription of the Lutheran Book of Concord abolished at Erlangen. Since then, Erlangen has been the launching pad for attacks upon the Lutheran Church and its symbolic books. The special target of their assaults has been the Lutheran distinction of law and gospel and the doctrine of the two realms.
The significance of this new book is that Karlmann Beyschlag, a pupil of Elert and Althaus, has written both a brilliant historical work and a strong defense against many falsehoods that have been leveled against these stalwart Lutherans.
The author begins by delineating the background of Erlangen theology, stemming from the Awakening Movement of the nineteenth century. Important impulses came from Christian Krafft, Carl von Raumer, and the earlier thinker Johann Georg Hamann. He then gives sketches of the most important theologians at Erlangen.
First is Adolf von Harleß (1806–79), who was both an important scholar and a powerful church leader. As theologian he was the founder of Erlangen theology and one of its most important writers; as churchman and friend of Löhe he was able to separate the Lutheran and Reformed parts of the Protestant state church and to create a confessional Lutheran church in Bavaria (33–57). Next, Beyschlag discusses the greatest Erlangen theologian of the nineteenth century, Johann Christian Konrad von Hofmann (1810–77), giving a brilliant presentation of his complicated thought. Hofmann made a deep impression upon several Americans, including the Dubuque theologian Johann Michael Reu.
Within the scope of this theology came the “Erlangen School,” a movement that built upon the theologian’s personal experience of salvation and emphasized the Lutheran Confessions. Beginning with Harleß and explicated through Höfling, Hofmann, Thomasius, Delitzsch, Theodosius Harnack, von Zezschwitz, Schmid, and Frank, the movement spread from Erlangen to the universities of Leipzig, Rostock, Greifswald, and Dorpat. The “Erlangen School” as a specific theological movement ended with the death of Frank in 1894, but another important theological program was to appear at Erlangen in the twentieth century, building upon the earlier movement.
In a separate chapter, Beyschlag characterizes a group of church historians at the university who did not really belong to the “Erlangen School” movement, especially Theodor Zahn, Albert Hauck, and Reinhold Seeberg. He then discusses three other important historians: Gustav Plitt, Theodore Kolde, and Karl Schornbaum.
In chapter 7 he presents “the second blossoming of Erlangen theology” (143–203). This movement began with the criticism of the old “Erlangen School” by a pupil of Frank, Ludwig Ihmels. Without rejecting the importance of the religious certainty of the theologian, Ihmels warned that not human experience but divine revelation must be the true basis of a sound theology (143–145). Beyschlag names three great men in the rebirth of Erlangen theology: Otto Procksch, Werner Elert, and Paul Althaus.
The Old Testament scholar Procksch, who was a very strong teacher as well as writer, renewed Hofmann’s conception of Heilsgeschichte. Unfortunately, Procksch’s important theology of the Old Testament was not published until after his death (1950), so that it was already superseded by the fine work of his pupil Walter Eichrodt (148). Procksch is remembered equally for his firm confessional Lutheranism and for his determined stand against the Nazi movement.
Beyschlag ranks Elert and Hofmann as the two most important Erlangen scholars in the past two centuries. He describes Elert as “the totally unclerical man who, in his outward appearance, looked more like a general in civilian clothing than a theologian” (151). Elert, “like all intellectual giants,” was “an uncommonly complicated character, who was just as easily offended as he was polemically feared” (151–152). He cites the remark of Trillhaas: “Elert had not a single friend with whom he had not at least once had a sturdy fight” (151).
Elert’s early writings were historical and systematic, and were largely devoted to Luther, Melanchthon, the Lutheran Confessions, and subsequent developments in the history of theology. In some way or other, the distinction of law and gospel took an important place in all these writings. ((A balanced evaluation of Elert appears in the new monograph by the Icelander Sigurjon Arni Eyjolfsson, Rechtfertigung und Schöpfung in der Theologie Werner Elerts, no. 10 in new series of Arbeiten zur Geschichte und Theologie des Luthertums (Hannover: Lutherisches Verlagshaus, 1994).)) After 1945 he turned increasingly toward his long-projected history of dogma; however, except for the volume on church fellowship and several important essays, this work lay uncompleted at his death, after which Wilhelm Maurer and Elisabeth Bergsträßer edited an additional volume from the materials that he had left. ((Since Werner Elert is of special interest to American readers, we present here his principal writings. The first major work of Werner Elert, written while he was still head of the Old Lutheran seminary in Breslau, appeared in 1921 under the title Der Kampf um das Christentum; this was an investigation and evaluation of recent philosophy and apologetics, mainly of the nineteenth century. In 1924 appeared the first edition of his Die Lehre des Luthertums im Abriß, which was translated and published by Charles M. Jacobs under the title An Outline of Christian Doctrine, 1927; the second German edition, 1926, was greatly revised and enlarged. Elert’s chief work was his two-volume Morphologie des Luthertums, 1931, of which volume 1 was translated by Walter A. Hansen and published by Concordia Publishing House as The Structure of Lutheranism, 1962. The first edition of his dogmatics, Der christliche Glaube, appeared in 1940; parts of this have been published in English by Concordia Publishing House. His Das christliche Ethos followed in 1949 and was translated and published as The Christian Ethos by Carl Schindler, 1957. The last work that he prepared for publication was Abendmahl und Kirchengemeinschaft in der alten Kirche, hauptsächlich des Ostens, 1954, translated by Norman E. Nagel and published by Concordia Publishing House under the title Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries. This book interprets communio sanctorum in the Apostles’ Creed as a neuter, i.e., as the participation in the sacraments, and it presents a spirited case for closed communion. An important essay by Elert, Gesetz und Evangelium, 1948, was translated and published by Edward H. Schroeder as Law and Gospel, 1967. Posthumously appeared Der Ausgang der altkirchlichen Christologie, 1957, edited by Maurer and Bergsträßer.)) Elert had a revolutionary concept: whereas previous historians had traced the “beginnings” of a dogma, proceeding chronologically from an early date and working downward, Elert proposed starting with the outgoings or conclusion of a churchly dogma, tracing it back toward its beginnings. Thereby Harnack’s speculations that the development of dogma was the hellenization of Christianity could be refuted by showing instead that the completed dogma represented the dehellenisation of Christian doctrine (176–177).
Before taking up Althaus, Beyschlag briefly characterizes some other important men on the faculty: the Old Testament scholar and widely-respected Rechor magnificus Friedrich Baumgärtel, the church historian and Luther scholar Hans Preuß, the “high Lutheran” church historian Hermann Sasse, the Reformation scholar Wilhelm Maurer, the multi-faceted historian and Luther scholar Walter von Loewenich, the art historian Fritz Fichtner, and the practical theologian Eduard Steinwand, who was also important for his work in the eastern churches (178–181).
Beyschlag gives a thorough presentation on the theology and personality of Paul Althaus (182–203). Althaus taught systematic theology, New Testament, and the theology of Luther. ((The most important works of Althaus are as follows: Die Prinzipien der deutschen reformierten Dogmatik im Zeitalter der aristotelischen Scholastik, 1914. Die letzten Dinge. Lehrbuch der Eschatologie, 1922. Grundriß der Ethik, 1931; 2nd ed., 1953. Die christliche Wahrheit. Lehrbuch der Dogmatik 1947; 3rd ed. 1952. Die Theologie Martin Luthers, 1962. Translation by Robert C. Schultz, The Theology of Martin Luther, 1966. Die Ethik Martin Luthers, 1965. Translation by Robert C. Schultz, The Ethics of Martin Luther, 1972. Althaus also edited a commentary, Das Neue Testament Deutsch, 12 vols., for which he wrote Der Brief an die Römer, 1936; 7th ed. 1953. An important part of his work is also reflected in the volumes of collected sermons which he delivered as University Preacher at Erlangen.)) His systematic theology was characterized by his emphasis upon the First Article (Althaus held “a theology of Creation,” 190–194), a theology marked by the contrast between the original revelation (Ur-Offenbarung) and the revelation of salvation (Heilsoffenbarung), “in which the creator will of God included almightily the revelation of salvation” (191). In the discipline of ethics, this theological concept was expressed in a “theology of orders” (Theologie der Ordnungen). These orders were a part of God’s creation: marriage, family, community, government, and cultural development (199). Althaus did not spare criticism of the Nazis. Referring to Althaus’s Theologie der Ordnungen, 1935, Beyschlag cites Althaus: “Also in the Third Reich, our critical ethics of orders cannot resign and rest at ease,” and then Beyschlag adds: “There now follows a public catalog of vices which is so close to reality that one at least wonders that the book was not immediately forbidden. For under this ‘critical ethics’ falls not only the ‘autonomous legality’ of the state and the economy, but also the idolatry of folk, race, destruction of law, and also eugenics, euthanasia, ‘the destruction of unworthy life,’ etc.” (201). In his “creation theology,” Althaus came into fundamental conflict with Karl Barth. Since the death of Althaus, the followers of Barth, of the old Bekennende Kirche, and of the Union Church have leashed a merciless attack upon both Althaus and Elert for rejecting the Barmen Declaration. ((An example is the attack by Arthur C. Cochrane, a Presbyterian professor of theology at a Lutheran seminary, The Church’s Confession under Hitler (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), in which he attacks confessional Lutheranism en masse and takes the intolerant position that only Reformed theology is allowable. He feels that everyone must accept the theology of Barth and the Barmen Declaration. More moderate are the criticisms of Robert P. Ericksen, Theologians under Hitler: Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus and Emanuel Hirsch (New Haven: Yale, 1985). Totally irresponsible and intellectually weak are the attacks on Elert and Althaus by the Erlangen professor Berndt Hamm, “Schuld und Verstrickung der Kirche. Voruberlequngen zu einer Darstellung der Erlanger Theologie in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus,” in Kirche und Nationalsozialismus, ed. Wolfgang Stegemann (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1990), 11–55. Both Ericksen and Hamm lack what American historians call “a historical frame of reference”; instead, they judge and condemn past scholars on the basis of notions contemporary with our time. Ericksen, however, does not write with the malicious invective found in Hamm.))
In view of the attacks upon Elert and Althaus and the allegations that they supported Hitler and National Socialism, Beyschlag presents an excursus, “The Erlangen faculty and the Kirchenkampf ” (160–170). He specifically deals with their statement on the “Aryan Paragraph” and the “Ansbach Resolution” and shows that the former actually protected Jews and that the latter was leveled against the German Christians as well as the Barmen Declaration. He points out that during the long period in which he was dean of the theological faculty (1935–1943), Elert managed to stave off attempts of a Nazi takeover, that he protected professors and students alike from the state, and that Erlangen remained almost the only “intact” theological faculty under National Socialism. In Appendix 8, Beyschlag reprints Elert’s “Report regarding the deanship of the theological faculty of Erlangen 1935–43” (266–286). He wonders why this Report, which obviously clears Elert’s reputation, was officially suppressed for many years. He points out that, in spite of severe pressure over many years that as theological dean he must join the Nazi party or at least the German Christian Movement, Elert stubbornly refused throughout; that not a single Nazi was able to become a regular professor of theology at Erlangen; that Elert as dean and at considerable personal risk protected 40 or 50 students (including Jews) who had been denounced before the Gestapo (161–162; see also 279).
Beyschlag’s book is important for American readers for two reasons. (1) This book is an excellent resource for learning about the confessional Lutheran theology of Erlangen that dominated scholarship in Germany the past 150 years, a subject about which many younger theologians in America are not well informed. (2) Confessional Lutheranism, which has seriously declined since the death of Elert (a decline brought on partly by the dominance of Karl Barth, the Barmen Declaration, and the Union churches, with their attacks upon the Lutheran distinction of law and gospel), receives an important defense in Beyschlag. This book needs to be widely read in America. It is to be hoped that it will be made available in an English translation.
Lowell C. Green
State University of New York at Buffalo
Buffalo, New York
Theology is Eminently Practical: Essays in Honor of John T. Pless. Edited by Jacob Corzine and Bryan Wolfmueller. Fort Wayne, Indiana: Lutheran Legacy Press, 2012. Paper; 272 pages. Click here.
These fourteen essays by Concordia Theological Seminary (CTS) alumni pay tribute to the thirtieth anniversary of the ordination of their teacher, John Pless, who is well known to LOGIA readers and those who uphold confessional Lutheranism. The high academic caliber of these essays testifies to the outstanding education offered at Ft. Wayne—a benchmark due not only to the faculty’s academic stature or to library resources, but also to the quality of the students. The essays are somewhat eclectic, but, in general, focus on issues broadly related to apologetics, the use of reason in Christian theology, aspects of the Christian life, the work of Christ, and Christian theology. While these forays are products of young theologians, it does not mean the essays lack weight. Just the opposite: they are meaty, vigorous, wise, and daring. Several of the papers had been developed originally for CTS’s “Luther Seminar,” a group of faculty and students facilitated by Prof. Pless for presentation and discussion on Luther and Lutheran theology.
Originally raised in The American Lutheran Church, Prof. Pless was persuaded to join The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod due to the efforts of Norman Nagel. Prof. Pless was called as the LCMS campus pastor for University of Minnesota for nearly two decades. Naturally he had a concern for apologetics. Since the summer of 2000, he has taught pastoral theology at CTS. He expresses a passionate commitment to law and gospel preaching and ministry and those who support that view, a voice in right-to-life issues, and a critic of liberal trends in American Lutheranism.
To summarize the essays, we start with Peter Brock who makes a case for apologetics among Lutherans. Apologetics encourages faith and helps with evangelism. For instance, it helps counter hostile objections to faith and can offer arguments for the historicity of the resurrection. Even so, it has its limits. As David Scaer notes, faith is grounded finally in history not logic. Even appealing to evidences from science is limited in its apologetic prospects since science produces knowledge that is ever under constant review. Most importantly our audience, as the late Kurt Marquardt noted, is composed of “condemned criminals searching desperately for escape” but who seldom want the gospel to rescue them (27). For Brock, apologetics is best understood as a secular task of the baptized. Following C. S. Lewis, Brock concludes that the “best apologetics in which Christians can engage will be the best secular work such Christians can produce” (29).
Roy Axel Coats offers an interpretation of Johann Georg Hamann’s political theory, showing how Hamann finds autonomy as a basis for government to be inadequate. Hamann’s work is done in conversation with that of the Enlightenment thinker Moses Mendelsohn. Both Mendelsohn and Hamann seek a path to political theory beyond the voluntarism of Hobbes, based on individual’s agreeing to establish a political state, or the essentialist approach of Leibniz, in which government is etched into human nature. What Hamann sees in Mendelsohn, however, is a stance more Hobbesian than what Mendelsohn intends. Mendelsohn’s political theory grounds the basis for society in the individual agent’s will (42). What he ignores, as Hamann points out, is that the basis from which social contracts can be formulated—reason—is mediated through language (43). Mendelsohn’s approach to government is far too simplistic. Ultimately, for Hamann, Jesus Christ is the Word by which all created reality holds together.
Jacob Corzine raises the question: from where have the Reformation “solas” come? He notes that there is no standard list of solas and that there is often a hidden agenda when someone favors one list of solas over another. A thorough list of proposed solas include: sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura, solo verbo, solus deus, solus Christus, and (new for me) sola experientia. Corzine shows how contemporary German thinkers such as Jüngel, Beintker, and Beutel situate the solas within preestablished commitments. Interestingly, while sola gratia and sola fide have long histories in the Lutheran tradition, the triad of solas can be traced to the work of Theodore Engelder who, in 1916 advocated three: sola gratia, sola fide, and sola scriptura, the latter a likely confessional Lutheran response to modernism’s rejection of scriptural inerrancy (67).
With pastoral sensitivity, Michael Holmen comments on Romans 1–3, focusing especially on the phrase “let God become true and every man a liar.” Given that people tend to be hypocritically pious (self-justifying), if we are to apprehend Christ our savior and thus justify God in his words, it will only happen by agreeing with God against ourselves (79). Thereby our salvation renders all the glory to God.
Jason Lane takes on the critical supposition claiming that since Luther called James as an “epistle of straw” we are not required to maintain the trustworthiness of the Bible. Lane skillfully points out that Luther only seems to reject James. In fact, he preached on James, affirmed that James shows that faith leads to new impulses and good works (93), and finally interpreted Abraham in his Genesis commentary as an example of the working out of such a Jamesian approach to good works within the life of faith (97).
Benjamin T. G. Mayes points out the weakness of Wolfhart Pannenberg’s doctrine of the atonement that is due primarily to Pannenberg’s Hegelian, panentheistic belief that God will not fully be himself until the ultimate fulfillment of all in the eschaton. Given this philosophical commitment, Pannenberg’s view of the gospel does not square with that of historic Christianity.
Finnish pastor Esko Murto situates prayer within the context of battle—the believer as a battlefield between God and the devil. He notes that for Luther the creation is spiritual, a mask (larva) of God, but given the devil’s contention throughout the world, the masks of God are countered with larva diabolic. Christian prayer must pray against such evil powers (137).
Steven Parks examines Johann Gerhard’s classic Loci Theologici as “pastoral care.” Of course, for some, that is a counterintuitive claim. However, Parks makes it clear that the “greatest of dogmaticians” offers pastoral care especially in his polemics (154). He guards the flock from the wolves of false doctrine.
For Mark A. Pierson, Luther’s view of grace is no more compatible with Thomas Aquinas’s than it is with nominalists such as Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and Gabriel Biel. Luther’s Against Scholastic Theology is directed as much against Thomas Aquinas as the nominalists (168). In common with the nominalists, Thomas affirms the exercise of free will and cooperation in our pilgrimage toward God. Pierson wants us to understand that for Luther, the problem about reason in our relation to God is not reason per se, but reason under the control of the bound will that wants to take credit for believing in Christ (167).
David R. Preus shows how the Wittenberg theologian Balthasar Meisner (1587–1626), following Luther, was able to show how philosophy can serve theology. “Since one branch of learning operates with a set of principles that is different from another (geometry deals with shapes and sizes, whereas arithmetic involves the study of quantities), the one cannot deprive the other of its unique properties. Likewise, theology, which assumes the grammar of Scripture and teaches salvation and eternal life, may no more rescind the laws of physics than physics may annul the promises of the Bible” (190). Each discipline can honor its unique sphere making a mixture between them unnecessary.
Mark Preus shows that our original righteousness was destroyed by Adam’s sin, and thus no sinful man can propitiate God’s wrath. Christ’s atonement is absolutely necessary if sinners are to be saved and express the truly human vocation of praising our Creator.
David Ramirez presents the phenomenon of evangelical Catholicism as found in recent decades in North America. He highlights a distinction between the Neo-orthodox type found in the Society of the Holy Trinity from that of Concordia Theological Seminary, who appeal to the standards of orthodoxy. Both are to be contrasted to high church liberals found in the ELCA and who support various unscriptural decisions in the ELCA.
Holger Sonntag notes that in opposition to Catholic views of sanctification and antinomian rejection of sanctification, Luther contends that we need to exhort people to good works that constitute Christian love.
In the concluding article, Bryan Wolfmueller accentuates one of Pless’s favorite topics, law and gospel preaching as able to overcome the devil’s hold on the conscience.
The most important book a teacher will ever write is that of his impact on his students’ lives. That alone makes this collection a powerful tribute to John Pless. More importantly, each essay in its own way witnesses to Christ.
Grand View University
Des Moines, IA
—By Ryan Ogrodowicz
Upon receiving Zondervan’s publication The Story, its subtitle “the Bible as one continuing story of God and his people” suggested I was about to encounter another diluted translation made palatable for the masses. Instead it’s a compilation of various pericopes organized in a narrative format free from chapter-verse divisions. It literally reads like a story, providing readers with an overall feel for the contour and message of Holy Scripture. It uses one translation throughout, the NIV, and finishes with an epilogue followed by study questions relevant to the particular chapters.
Concordia Publishing House published something similar when it released its beautifully illustrated The Story Bible. With clear wording in simple yet faithful grammar, The Story Bible contains select scriptural texts in an easy-to-read format, but also achieved the rare feat of being edifying for both children and adults, a gap few books successfully bridge. The method of selecting certain texts and using a particular translation in order to better communicate a message is worthwhile and can be faithfully done. That said, we should expect our children eventually to grow into a deeper understanding of Scripture, probing its depths and learning to handle the entire Word of God. The Story contains more Scripture and study questions than the normal children’s book; so for adult neophytes and any Christian seeking to understand the outline of Scripture, a book structured like The Story has its benefits. I especially liked how some of Paul’s epistles were inserted into the Acts narrative to give the reader a sense of continuity between the mission work of Acts and the Pauline corpus.
Unfortunately the few benefits offered by The Story’s structure and form cannot compensate for other looming issues.
Setting aside the translation problems intrinsic to the NIV and the fact mature readers receive only a fraction of Scripture, the main problem with The Story is its doctrine. The Story provides its own commentary on the texts. Woven into the text are footnotes with definitions to particular biblical words and phrases that should concern any Lutheran. For example, consider the hint of modalism in The Story’s definition of the Holy Spirit, defined as the “manifestation of God . . . God is one God but acts in three ‘persons’ of God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Also, the righteous person is the one who “values God above everyone and everything. A righteous person lives a life of obedience to God” (230). The Scriptures teach a strikingly opposite doctrine: righteousness is imputed upon the unbeliever by God through the gift of faith in Jesus Christ. In contrast to Lutheran teaching, baptism is defined not as the work of God in water and his Word, but a “symbolic act demonstrating that new believers have abandoned their former ways and have embarked on new life” (322). The true colors of decision theology become fully revealed in the definition of the gospel, “the message that Jesus has come to reconcile humanity to God and that each individual can accept this underserved gift . . .” (354). Perhaps the most egregious is the definition of justification, the core article of the Christian faith, defined as “the process by which one is made acceptable in the sight of God” (409). Consider the stark contrast to the Lutheran definition: God declares the sinner to be justified for the sake of Christ, a gift apprehended by faith. These definitions are in bold on the bottom of the pages, and the reader is bound to see them.
Most of the study questions are fair, without answers, but indicative of The Story’s Baptist-mystical-works righteous doctrine. While explicitly denying the means of grace elsewhere, some passages in The Story implicitly deny them when it calls us to seek communication from God in the manner of Elijah: “God revealed himself to Elijah in a gentle whisper. What does this tell you about God’s character and methods of communication?” (479).
The Story is more than just a compilation of biblical texts organized in an easy-to-read, narrative format. It promulgates a clear doctrinal position akin to much of that pouring out of the camps of American Evangelicalism. It undermines justification and the means of grace, meaning the doctrine it puts forth is incompatible with Lutheranism. In the context of a Bible study focused on comparing and contrasting different theologies led by faithful pastor or layman, The Story would make for a good study.
As the Word of God exhibiting sound biblical doctrine it comes with no such endorsement.
The Rev. Ryan Ogrodowicz serves as pastor of Victory in Christ Lutheran Church in Newark, Texas.
From the Editors: This review will be showing up in a future edition of LOGIA. Who is Jesus? Disputed Questions and Answers. By Carl E. Braaten. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011. Paper; 147 pages.
Carl Braaten has written a little handbook of the faith for laymen without a formal theological education. Only in the book’s conclusion does he show his hand: he has used the scholastic method of quaestiones disputatae to get at some fundamental points of Christian belief. He says what various people are saying about some controverted issue, such as the historical Jesus or the connection between Jesus and the church, and then gives an answer, always lively and plainspoken. The chapter titles themselves are simple and understandable and match various classical loci: prolegomena and the means of grace; Christology; missiology; ecclesiology; and the two governments.
Braaten’s pithy, lucid words are the reader’s well-aged wine. It is everywhere evident that the writer has been turning these things over in his mind for a very long time. So when they come out, they come out full of flavor and body. Savor this from Braaten’s discussion of the Jesus Seminar: “The Jesus of the ‘Jesus Seminar’ is a dead Palestinian Jew who was unlucky enough to get nabbed and nailed to a cross, due to a colossal misunderstanding—just a bad mix-up at city hall.” From his examination of the quest for the historical Jesus to his discussions of interreligious dialogue and ecclesiastical politicking, Braaten is always keen to find where the crucified God has been removed from the equation. Jesus Seminar doyen Robert Funk claimed that Jesus had not even been crucified, let alone God. His body was likely consumed by scavenging dogs. The Jesus resulting from the Seminar’s research decisions is for Braaten “not worth the bother.”
The book is more than an assortment of linguistic goodies. It also provides substantive, critical coverage for the lay reader—or theological student or under-informed pastor—of the critical quest for Jesus and its ultimate futility. Braaten does not find in the historical quests much of actual use for Christian proclamation, since certainty is needed for faith. He finds the canonical Scriptures much more useful and defends them over against gnostic gospels or other ancient Jesus literature by pointing out that the Holy Spirit has used the canonical Scriptures to create and sustain faith, not any of the other gospels long ago written and recently discovered. “A plain reading of Scripture mediates a living impression of ‘the whole Christ of the whole Bible’ without any need to appeal to dogmatic or historical authorities. An essential dependence of faith upon the results of historical research would force faith to rely on the erudition of learned professors.” Braaten avers he doesn’t want to turn back the clock on historical criticism, but in his rejection of scholarly certainty and his embrace of the Spirit’s certainty from a “plain reading,” the sensus literalis peeks out from the pre-critical age.
The loci covered in the book will therefore shock no one because Braaten aims here only to line up his answer to “Who is Jesus?” with the answers he has received from Christian tradition. His applications of that orthodox tradition to contemporary universalism and historical-critical biblical research are particularly interesting, since he sees in both trends the same deep desire to separate Jesus from God. This began with the nineteenth-century exchange of the religion about Jesus for the religion of Jesus, as in von Harnack’s What Is Christianity?, and continues in the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature, whose meetings Braaten regularly attends, “Lots of highfalutin talk goes on about the glorious God of the universe, but embarrassment prevails when it comes to speaking about Jesus, the humiliated God on the cross.” If Christology can be lowered or even altogether abolished, the theology of glory can annex the Lebensraum it demands in the human heart.
The book’s brevity induces some unfortunate historical-theological judgments of the type any pastor is liable to make offhandedly in Bible class. Contra Braaten, the Pastoral Epistles can scarcely be self-evident validation of the threefold form of ministry; the New Testament contains no particular “church order” as he claims. We are certain of a New Testament gospel ministry but less certain of the forms it took in Antioch, Jerusalem, Corinth, and elsewhere, as titles shift and differ, not to speak of enumerated tasks for the various offices. Lutheranism’s continued rejection of the ancient church order long after the Reformation ended is not an historical mistake or inconsistency, making “a virtue out of a necessity” by forever abandoning a threefold ministry. It was Lutheranism’s recognition and confession of only one ministry of the gospel (AC V), unadulterated by dubious historical researches. In his insistence on a particular church order, Braaten reprises the historical dubiousness and passionate assertion of the Jesus questers he elsewhere derides.
The glib equation of the orthodox Protestant doctrine of verbal inspiration with papal infallibility, which Braaten makes at least once, ignores his own discussion of the epistemology of Christian faith. If every Christian has been given the faith he has by the Spirit working through the Word, verbal inspiration is the confession of faith that has learned to trust the Holy Spirit who calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies—the catechetical framework Braaten himself uses to explain conversion. Confession of verbal inspiration is the upwelling of faith in the converted heart, not a rigid, psychologically, and scientifically precarious adherence to preexistent authority. Verbum domini manet in aeternum at the very least means we can trust God’s word, since it endures when all else fails. The doctrine of verbal inspiration is just the application of the Spirit’s own essential trustworthiness to all the words he speaks.
We do not throw away a perfectly good hammer for a few chips in the handle. Braaten’s highly commendable intent in writing the book is for the lay reader to grasp better these basics things of the faith and for pastors to teach faithfully the church’s understanding of Jesus’ identity, purpose, and meaning. Classic Christology, especially the crucified God-man, is at the book’s center. As in anything, a little ability to test the spirits goes a long way, but with that testing, the reader will be richly rewarded by almost all Braaten has to say. In this little book a master is speaking simply and clearly, so we would do well to sit awhile and listen.
Vicar Adam Koontz
St. John Lutheran Church
Sayville, New York
From the Editors: Here's a freebee book review that didn't make it into the upcoming Reformation edition of LOGIA. If you'd like to purchase a subscription, click here.
Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism: Against His Better Judgment. By Eric W. Gritsch. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012. Paper. 158 pages.
Eric Gritsch, veteran church historian and Luther scholar, is a vivid and articulate author. That attribute is abundantly present in his most recent book, Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism: Against His Better Judgment where he describes his undertaking: “The topic ‘Luther and the Jews’ is like a sea crowded with many vessels of various shapes and sizes, ranging from small boats to ocean liners—with an occasional warship! Some are steered well, others sail without reliable navigation, indeed, at times colliding with each other, and a few land on deserted islands sometimes damaged by warlike critique. Studies of the after-effects of Luther’s anti-Semitism disclose a great variety. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, some studies become entangled with ideology, especially during the reign of German National Socialism (‘Nazism’). They then perish like the Titanic, after boasting to be part of a ‘final solution’” (128). Gritsch launches his own considerable craft into these choppy seas in an effort to both understand and critique Luther. Along the way, Gritsch reveals his own theological presuppositions which form a hermeneutic for appropriating Luther’s theology in the twenty-first century.
Drawing on the work of the contemporary New Testament exegete Leander Keck, Gritsch maintains that Paul opposes any mission to the Jews (11, fn 38), arguing that Jews without faith in Christ share with Christians the same divine promise of salvation. Romans 9–11 is understood as making reference to a single, divine covenant that unites Jews and Christians as coheirs of an eschatological mystery. Any hint of “supersessionism” is dismissed. Here, Gritsch believes, Luther got it wrong: “He could have followed Paul’s advice to live with the divine ‘mystery’ regarding the relationship between Jews and Christians. But Luther did not. Instead, he offered his concluding argument for this divine verdict in 1538 when he heard about Jewsish attempts to infiltrate Christian communities, indeed to proselytize” (71). In short, Gritsch sees Luther making a theological move that contradicts his earlier assertions in The Bondage of the Will, for example, not to seek after knowledge of hidden God: “[A]fter fifteen hundred years of Christian anti-Semitism, Luther felt obligated to conclude that the existing hatred of the Jews revealed the hatred of God. This conclusion is a violation of his own rule, so vehemently established and enforced against Erasmus in 1525, that to speculate about the hidden God ‘is no business of ours.’ To do so is against Luther’s better judgment” (77). Thus the subtitle of the book and Gritsch’s thesis. For Gritsch it is not so much a matter of the early Luther (see “That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew,” 1523) devoted to the pastoral evangelization of the Jews in contrast to the old Luther who was given to hateful polemics (see his writings from 1538 onward, especially “On the Jews and Their Lies” 1543) as it is a tragic failure of Luther to consistently apply his own theological method that distinguishes between God revealed and God hidden. It is from this perspective that Gritsch assesses other interpretations of Luther’s attitude toward the Jews, most especially the work of Walther Bienert (1909–1994) and Heiko Oberman (1930–2001).
Gritsch sees Luther’s “anti-Semitism” as a complexity shaped by historical and theological factors. In appealing to Luther’s distinction between God hidden and God revealed, Gritsch seems not only to underestimate but finally reject Luther’s confession of solus Christus as he sees Luther’s christological reading of the Old Testament as untenable. For Gritsch, it would appear, the only proper posture of Christians toward Jews is one of dialogue that excludes missionary witness.
A helpful feature of the book is the overview and summary of the reception of Luther’s writings on the Jews in the later sixteenth century and beyond.
John T. Pless
Fort Wayne, Indiana