Issue 27-2 Adiaphora, Antinomianism, & Legalism

Editor's Introduction

LOGIA 27-2 Cover Image.jpg

In any serious discussion on the power and purpose of the law in the Christian life after baptism, certain questions have always remained the same: What power does the law have in the Christian life? Does the law only accuse? Do the righteous even need the law? What is the law’s relationship to sanctification and holy living? Should preachers use the law to motivate Christians to good works? Or do good works happen spontaneously from the gospel?

The recent publication of The Necessary Distinction: A Continuing Conversation on Law and Gospel (CPH, 2017), a collection of essays from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, North American Lutheran Church, and Lutheran Church—Canada theologians, takes up these questions and demonstrates once again that the distinction between law and gospel is still very much at the heart of Lutheran theology. Where the distinction becomes unnecessary, preachers and hearers fall into error on either one of two sides: either they hear the gospel and assume that they can ignore the power of sin that still remains in the Christian life, or else they turn to the law to correct what the gospel apparently could not accomplish on its own.

On the surface, the disagreements in the sixteenth century that required a Lutheran confession concerning the “third use of the law” in the Formula of Concord appear to be similar to those at present. Those who follow St. Paul’s warning in 1 Timothy 1:9, that the law is not laid down for the righteous but the ungodly, have argued (see the articles by Steven Paulson and William Cwirla in LOGIA, Reformation 2016, “Simul justus et peccator”) that the law should be preached only to sinners, to accuse them of sin and bring about repentance. Thus the Christian who is righteous by faith does not need the law to motivate him to good works, since works spring forth from faith in the gospel, freely and out of joy. To preach the law to the righteous is, according to this view, anachronistic, since the law does not apply to the new man, but only to the old. Insofar as the old man and sin remain, the law must constantly be preached among Christians. Others have argued, however, that, although the law must be preached to Christians, it must not only be preached to the old man. The new man also needs the law, to exhort him to good works, since good works do not happen spontaneously when one believes the gospel. According to this view, the Holy Spirit uses the law to increase sanctification by pushing and prodding the old nature against its will, while still exhorting the new nature to do the will of God.

This issue of LOGIA, “Adiaphora, Antinomianism, & Legalism,” is an effort on the part of the editors to give voice to these various concerns about the place and power of the law in the Christian life. Although all the authors in this issue are deeply concerned with the proper distinction of law and gospel, readers will undoubtedly be able to hear two voices emerge.

Mark Surburg’s article represents one voice. Surburg is rightly concerned with antinomianism infecting Lutheran pulpits. He challenges pastors to address the need for good works in the Christian life and to model their preaching after the apostolic model of paranesis, that is, exhortation to good works. He argues that it was the view of Luther and the Lutheran Confessions that the law must be preached to Christians, because the Holy Spirit uses the law to admonish Christians to good works (see, for example, FC SD VI, 12). Surburg’s concern that, because of sin, works do not happen automatically in the Christian by the powerful working of God through the gospel seems to echo similar concerns raised by Joel Biermann in his book A Case for Character: Towards a Lutheran Virtue Ethics (Concordia, 2014). Lucas Woodford, in his article, offers a response to Biermann’s call to virtue ethics. After a critique of Biermann’s virtue ethics as anthropocentric, Woodford argues that we should consider a Christocentric, “baptismal virtue ethic,” which places Christ and his gifts at the center of the Christian life. Wade Johnston’s article also offers a contrasting view to that of Surburg, in which a sharp distinction must be made between death and life. The law kills and the gospel alone makes alive. According to Johnston, the life-giving gospel is God’s only means to make sinners righteous and to sanctify them. Therefore, the gospel must be preached, since it can do what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not.

Bror Erickson’s article, though historical, is refreshingly contemporary in its application. He explores the theological influences of Bo Giertz, particularly the influence of Henric Schartau on Giertz’s view of the Christian life. Schartau’s gospel-filled sermon for Transfiguration Day, we may remember from The Hammer of God, helped liberate the young curate Fridfeldt from the condemnation of the law. Erickson compares specifically Schartau and Giertz on the order of salvation (ordo salutis) and demonstrates how Giertz was able to appropriate Schartau’s emphasis on Christian living while avoiding the legalism that was often inherent in Pietistic preaching on the Christian life. Harold Senkbeil’s timely article on sanctification in a sexual age urges pastors to cultivate a robust teaching and application of sanctification in their pastoral care. Senkbeil offers a case study on sins against the Sixth Commandment, the pandemic of pornography and sexual sins in our decadent twenty-first-century culture, and offers pastors some concrete ways to apply both law and gospel to those enslaved by sexual sins.

We believe these articles together will further discussions concerning the law in the Christian life and the application of the third use of the law in the church today. Since confessional pastors and congregations have promised to uphold the biblical doctrine of the Lutheran Confessions, we pray that reflection on these articles will lead readers back to a careful study of Article VI of the Formula of Concord, “Concerning the Third Use of the Law.”

Jason D. Lane
Mequon, Wisconsin

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TBT: Kilcrease Discusses Forde

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

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

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

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Issue 26-1: Lutheran Triumphalism


— by Paul Lehninger

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

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

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

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

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

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

Issue 25-4: Simul justus et peccator


—by Aaron Moldenhauer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


—by Wade Johnston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Issue 25-1: Reading John's Gospel


“For God so loved the world . . . ” LOGIA readers will recognize that passage from John’s Gospel; many of them have known it since their earliest days of devotions at home or Sunday School. Perhaps they have sung it in hymns or anthems. It is a foundational passage that shapes even the most carefully constructed statements on the Trinity, Christology, and justification. 

John’s Gospel is different from the Synoptics. He presents the person and words of Jesus Christ in a manner that has inspired the church to represent him with the symbol of the eagle, soaring “close to the sun,” with an eye that sees with the greatest clarity. Luther, in his 1522 Preface to the New Testament, extols the Fourth Gospel: 

If I had to do without one or the other—either the works or the preaching of Christ—I would rather do without the works than without his preaching. For the works do not help me, but his words give life, as he himself says (John 6:63). Now John writes very little about the works of Christ, but very much about his preaching, while the other evangelists write much about his works and little about his preaching. Therefore John’s Gospel is the one, fine, true, and chief gospel, and is far, far to be preferred over the other three and placed high above them. (LW 35:362) 

In Eric Chafe’s study, J. S. Bach’s Johannine Theology: e St. John Passion and the Cantatas for Spring 1725, the author suggests that Luther may have been drawn to the qualities that lend this Gospel “a spiritual, meditative, even mystical quality, as opposed to the narrative character of the Synoptic Gospels” (p. 110). These qualities continue to engage the reader, and the reader’s imagination. Those who wrote by inspiration opened our eyes to eternal mysteries, but they did not write works that need a secret mystical key for our understanding. They used human words that can be understood by humanity, despite the passage of centuries. Still, we continue to ask, what do the words mean? What did Jesus mean? Why did John record it the way he did? What did John mean? How have others understood these words? Was Luther always correct in his interpretation? Does it matter? 

These questions may seem to border on hermeneutic impertinence or impropriety, but they are increasingly a part of the current conversation when readers, preachers, and scholars en- counter the words of the Fourth Gospel. This issue is, finally, about words and their value and reliability in a time in which we are increasingly led to believe that all meaning is relative and conditioned by personal experience. 

Below, Armand Boehme leads us through a study of John 6. Here we have an example of what has been called the “historical-grammatical” approach to exegesis. Boehme encourages the reader to look at the words using this Renaissance methodology, which has been the bedrock for the Lutheran understanding of Scripture for centuries. 

Patrick James Bayens presents an overview of John based on the literary key of the concluding verses. In this essay the author suggests that the entire Gospel is best understood in light of John 20:30–31 and John 21:24–25. These verses, along with the Evangelist’s eyewitness testimony, John 19:34–35, are taken to indicate John’s desire to draw his readers into the present and abiding life offered by the risen Christ in the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Eucharist. 

In “Educational Horizons in Wilhelm Löhe” author Wolfhart Schlichting guides us through Löhe’s homiletical exegesis by an overview of the Epistle Sermons of 1858 and the 1866 sermons on Holy Communion. John 6 is the object of special attention, framed by Löhe’s concern for preaching that would create religious formation (Bildung) through personal application and inward experience. In his preaching Löhe suggests that Luther may have been mistaken in his understanding of the “Bread of Life” chapter, which, to some extent, impoverished Luther’s presentation of the benefits, the spiritual justifying power, of the sacramental eating and drinking. 

Finally, “JDDJ and Its Official Discussion in the Finnish Lutheran Church: A Clarification or an Obscuration?” highlights the issues and challenges presented by the “limits” of language in contemporary theological discourse, especially when words are the pathstones towards “reconciled diversity” in Christian communities that have used the same words to describe differing theologies for generations. Simo Kiviranta and Timo Laato’s essay merits a careful read. How can we behold the glory of the Word made flesh if the syllables which bring that glory to our eyes are more quicksand than foundation stone? 

This issue of LOGIA highlights aspects of that ongoing conversation about the strengths and limitations of human language. Perhaps the reader will consider again the importance of clarity and continuity in exegetical methods and our words about God, especially if we wish to fly on the wings of an eagle into the brilliant light of the Sun of Righteousness. 

Dennis Marzolf 

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LOGIA Issue 24-1: Martyrdom & Suffering

For a preview of this issue, please read Wade Johnston's preface: 

Cover of Eastertide 2015, Volume XXIV #2

Cover of Eastertide 2015, Volume XXIV #2

God truly blessed the editors of LOGIA with a plethora of fine articles for this issuemore than we could fit within the covers. No doubt, we ought not be too surprised. As Luther so wonderfully put it, crux sola est nostra theologia. The cross is indeed never far from Jesus’ Christianshis cross and theirs. It brings us great joy, therefore, to publish an insightful and perspicuous assortment of studies on various aspects of the theology of the cross, suffering, and martyrdom.

Gregory Schulz and Jeffery Warner both wrestle with suffering in the life of the Christian. Schulz tackles suffering and pain in general and provides counsel and comfort for the afflicted and those who minister to them by laying the groundwork for a theology of lament. Warner’s work will surely capture the attention of parish pastors and any who serve the dying, as he sets aside the euphemisms and unbiblical assumptions that so often cloud our view of death and the dying and centers hospital ministry where all theology must find its center: in the cross of Christ and the promises of God.

Three articles shed light upon attitudes toward and teaching about the cross, martyrdom, and suffering from different ages in the history of the church militant. James Bushur sets forth in a highly accessible manner the theology of counsel and wisdom of Ignatius of Antioch in his Letter to the Romans. C. Matthew Phillips distills and elucidates Luther’s theology of suffering and martyrdom while providing a roadmap for those who wish to study the matter further through his careful source work. Finally, Matthew Heise uses the open archives of the former Soviet Union to uncover an account of the life and martyrdom of two faithful Lutheran pastors and the challenges that faced the Lutheran Church of the Soviet Union. These martyrs take their place with all martyrs as an encouragement for those who labor in the Lord’s vineyard, particularly those who are threatened by harm of any sort.

Adam Koontz rounds out our exploration of suffering and the cross with an exegetical study. Examining apostolic suffering in 2 Corinthians, he brings to light key elements of Paul’s theology of the cross and demonstrates the letter’s lasting relevance for Christians enduring suffering in our own day.

Lastly, Scott Murray broadens the scope of the issue a bit with a fruitful, timely, and discerning overview of Lutheran Orthodoxy and Pietism. He rightly notes that Pietism is not simply a movement resting securely in the past, but remains a very real and active force within the Lutheran Churchone that neither the Lutheran pastor nor layperson does well to overlook or underestimate. Murray does more than sound a warning, however. He offers valuable instruction on how to avoid the pitfalls of a dead orthodoxy (without the unfortunate caricatures that too often attend such a discussion) or an enthusiastic piety.

The editors of LOGIA are pleased to bring these articles to print. It is our prayer that they focus your eyes upon the cross of Christ, buoy weak knees for episodes of suffering and cross-bearing, and deepen our readers’ understanding of a truly biblical, Lutheran theology of the cross.

Wade Johnston 

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Von Loewenich, Walther. Luther’s Theology of the Cross. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1976.

Book Review: Die Erlanger Theologie

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