Book Review

A Love for Life

A Love for Life

“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.

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The Hope of Eternal Life


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 The final report as entitled above was released on November 15, 2010, and was originally made available for download in Portable Document Format (PDF).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

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.

You, My People, Shall be Holy

You, My People, Shall be Holy

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

Book Review: The Righteous One

Book Review: The Righteous One

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.

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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


Book Review: Theology is Eminently Practical


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.

Mark Mattes

Grand View University

Des Moines, IA

Book Review: Who is Jesus?

Who Is Jesus

Who Is Jesus

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

Book Review: Martin Luther's Anti-Semitism

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


A Lutheran Response to Justification: Five Views

—by Jordan Cooper

 If one were asked to explain the distinctiveness of Lutheran theology within the church catholic, one word would likely come to mind: justification. If one aspect of doctrine defines Lutheran theology over against other theologies, it is the centrality of justification by faith alone. This issue, described by Luther as “the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls,” was the heart of the conservative Reformation and remains so within churches of the Augsburg Confession. This being the case, it is surprising that the recent volume Justification: Five Views,1 neglects to include a Lutheran contributor. The editor explains that this is because Michael Horton’s confessional Reformed approach is thought to encapsulate confessional Lutheran approaches to the doctrine.2 Despite the similarities however, Horton’s essay fails to display the uniquely Lutheran approach to justification as it is expounded upon in Luther’s Galatians commentary and explained and defended in the Lutheran Confessions. This article is an attempt to bring a Lutheran voice into this dialogue, offering a unique and biblical approach to Paul’s theological concerns in Galatians and Romans...




1. James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy et al, Justification: Five Views (Westmont, IL: IVP, 2011). Contributors to the volume of essays include Michael S. Horton, Michael F. Bird, James D.G. Dunn, Veli-Matti Karkainen, Gerald O’Collins, and Oliver Rafferty.

2. “Horton’s traditional Reformed view is functionally identical in all the significant theological aspects to the traditional Lutheran view.” Justification, 10.

Book Review: As Christ Submits to the Church

A book review of: As Christ Submits to the Church: a Biblical Understanding of Leadership and Mutual Submission. By Alan G. Padgett. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011. Paper. 151 + xviii pages. Review by John G. Nordling.

Unwary Lutherans might at first suppose that Padgett presents here a Christ who serves sinners humbly through the means of grace, rather the way God himself does at the Divine Service (cf. P. Brunner, Worship in the Name of Jesus [St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1968] 126-196).  One quickly realizes, however, that the “submission” Padgett envisions is of a rather different sort.  To be sure, Padgett does pay brief lip service to the gospel in the narrow sense: “evangelical is contrasted with moralistic or legalistic religion” (16 n. 22).  Mainly what Padgett has in mind, however, is a profoundly moralistic Christ who models a type of mutual submission that all Christians should be about in their day-to-day lives.  Thus, on almost every page is presented an extremely meek, servile, and even pusillanimous Christ who serves admirably as “the standard and moral exemplar” (46) of strong, empowered Christians serving weaker sisters and brothers—which may be a noble objective, admittedly.  This ethic of mutual submission, moreover, is the whole point of Jesus’ washing of Peter’s feet (John 13:13-14; cf. 54-55, 64, 126, 130), an eighth-century mural of which quite handsomely adorns the book’s front cover.  Hence, I think it safe to say that Padgett’s Christ is at some remove from the one assumed by most Lutheran readers of Logia.  But this should not surprise: Padgett is an ordained minister of the United Methodist Church, serving as professor of systematic theology at Luther Seminary (dust cover).

Padgett supposes that the ethic of mutual submission has the potential of freeing the church from oppressive gender roles.   Gender hierarchy derives not from Scripture itself, but rather the patriarchal philosophies of Greece and Rome (2, 88).  Three lengthy chapters wrestle exegetically with the type of passages Padgett thinks have been wrongly used over time to keep women down:

Chapter 3: Mutual Submission or Male Dominion?: Christ and Gender Roles in Ephesians and 1 Corinthians (57-77);

Chapter 4: Mission and Submission: 1 Peter and the Pastoral Epistles (79-101);

Chapter 5: Headship and Head-Coverings: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 from the Bottom Up (103-124).

A first chapter documents Evangelical approaches to gender roles since the Reformation (1-30), and in a second Padgett advances his thesis that mutual submission and the form of “servant leadership” that Christ exemplified are virtually one and the same (31-56).  A final chapter (125-131) attempts to apply the ethic of mutual submission to the contemporary situation: those who are weak (women, the poor, the oppressed, etc.) should not have to submit to those in power (abusive husbands, male senior pastors in large congregations).  So the overall message of the book and its concerns are not particularly surprising, given where Padgett is coming from.

What truly is remarkable and so should be addressed here is how Padgett engages Scripture and uses the traditional passages to advance a quite radical agenda.  In his opinion, mere biblical exegesis is “not enough” to determine meaning (3, 14, 21), provide the mind of an author (19-20), nor can one single verse ever decide an issue (30).  Nevertheless, Padgett devotes the bulk of the book (chapters 3-5) to the relevant texts of Scripture and thereby tries to provide biblical affirmations of equality.

The passage upon which so much depends is Eph 5:21ff.: “Being subject to one another [ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις] in the fear of Christ, [let] the wives [be subject] to their own husbands as to the Lord…” (my own translation, paying attention to the NRSV which Padgett prefers).  Padgett’s translation “submitting yourselves one to another” (41) for ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις already favors mutual submission.  After all, the present participle ὑποτασσόμενοι does indeed occur in the middle voice (“submitting yourselves”) and Padgett makes much of the reflexive pronoun ἀλλήλοις: “the term one another (allēlois) in Ephesians (4:2, 32) and in Paul’s letters in general indicates something that applies to each member of the church and not merely to a few” (41, original emphasis).  So, reasons Padgett, husbands should “submit” to their wives out of “self-sacrificial love and voluntary self-submission” (41) and the wives should “return the same” (42), just as Christ willingly and joyfully submits to the Church.  The reasoning here seems cogent enough, and I predict many well-intended Christians will enthusiastically accept Padgett’s arguments without a second thought.

Observation reveals, however, that Eph 5:21 is not complete in itself but functions as a kind of “general heading” (so A.T. Lincoln, Ephesians [Dallas, TX: Word, 1990] 365) for the specific callings of Christians that follow in the household code of 5:22-6:9 (wives/husbands, children/parents, slaves/masters).  Padgett would do well, therefore, to heed the following arguments (distilled from P.T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians [Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 1999]401-405): first, in the NT ὑποτάσσω (“to submit”) regularly describes the submission of someone in an ordered arrangement to another who is above the first—that is, in authority over that person.[1]  In the many passages listed in the preceding footnote, none of the relationships wherein this verb appears is ever reversed—that is, husbands are not subject to their wives (as Padgett himself admits, 60, 66), nor parents to children, nor the government to citizens, nor the disciples to demons, nor God the Father to Christ the Son.  Therefore, ὑποτάσσω does not describe “symmetrical” relationships at all, but rather ordered relationships wherein some persons are “over” and others “under.”

Second, the pronoun ἀλλήλοις (“to one another”) is not always reciprocal as Padgett imagines.  Sometimes it is, so the translation “everyone to everyone” is in order (so John 13:34, 35; 15:12, 17; Rom 1:12; Eph 4:25, etc).  But as is often the case with words that occur frequently in Scripture, context determines meaning and one size does not necessarily fit all.  Thus, elsewhere in the NT symmetrical relationships cannot possibly be in view even though the pronoun “one another” occurs.[2]  In the passage at hand, therefore, “submitting to one another” does not indicate mutual submission because—as has already been demonstrated above—the submission is not reciprocal but one-directional.

Third, the flow of Paul’s argument as expressed in the Greek text does not permit the reciprocal interpretation.  Eph 5:21 (“being subject to one another in the fear of Christ”) introduces programmatically the notion of “submission” in the letter, and this is unpacked in the household code of 5:22-6:9.  The “general heading” (as Lincoln calls 5:21) is closely connected to what follows immediately in 5:22: there is no verb in the latter passage, so accurate readers of Greek will naturally carry forward the idea of “submit” (a second or third person imperative would do nicely) from the ὑποτασσόμενοι in 5:21.[3]  In 5:24 where ὑποτάσσεται does indeed occur (“as the church submits to Christ”) Paul adds, “so also the wives [submit] to their husbands in everything” (οὕτως καὶ αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἐν παντί).  Again, Paul does not have to add the verb “submit” to clarify what already is quite clear.  This is a stylistic matter, and so Paul—like all other writers of Greek and Latin—never adds a superfluous word to clarify his thinking, even though (to be sure!) many writers of English do so routinely.  But Paul cannot be subject to English style: he thinks and writes in Greek, an accommodation to which any adequate interpretation pays heed.  A stupid argument (that Padgett does not actually make) would be that because ὑποτάσσω is not actually paired with “women” in Eph 5:21, 22, and 24b Paul could not be thinking of wives submitting to their husbands in the overall passage.  But that he does have such submission in mind is clear enough from context (and he makes the point about wives submitting to their husbands explicitly in Col 3:18 and Titus 2:5; cf. also 1 Pet 3:5).

Preceding arguments should scupper any notion of “mutual submission” that Padgett may think Paul is establishing in Eph 5:21ff.  Instead, it is as though Paul were saying: “Submit to one another, and what I mean is, wives submit to your husbands, children to your parents, and slaves to your masters” (O’Brien, Ephesians, 403).  Another worthy interpreter has written: “Let each of you subordinate himself or herself to the one he or she should be subordinate to” (S.B. Clark, Man and Woman in Christ [Ann Arbor, MI: Servant, 1980] 76).

An even more radical interpretation comes to light in Padgett’s treatment of 1 Cor 11:2-16 (women’s head-covering, deportment during worship), which he attempts to read “from the bottom up”—that is, starting from the end of Paul’s argument and working toward the beginning (103-124).  Padgett believes Paul is taking on an unfortunate custom at Corinth that women should not pray or prophesy “with uncovered head” (ἀκατακαλύπτῳ τῇ κεφαλῇ, 11:5).  That this was the errant Corinthian custom (so not Paul’s own teaching) is supported, Padgett believes, by taking 11:13b as a statement (which, however, is punctuated in the UBS, Nestle-Aland, and most English versions as a question).  Thus, “judge for yourselves: it is proper for an uncovered woman to pray to God” (Padgett’s translation of 11:13b).  This exegetical sleight-of-hand allows Padgett to argue that there is no shame in a man with long hair at worship (which argues against traditional interpretations of 11:14 [cf. 11:7a]), and that nature herself has given women long hair instead of head coverings (which argues against traditional interpretations of 11:5, 6, 15a).  So, reasons Padgett, “women ought to have freedom to wear their hair however they want in church” (112).  Furthermore, the “authority” (ἐξουσίαν, 11:10) that a woman has “over her head” (ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς, 11:10)—far from being a symbol of any type of head-covering (κάλυμα is a variant for ἐξουσίαν in many versions)—is a type of warrant early Christian women had to spread the gospel publicly and without hindrance: “Should not such a ‘messenger’ have the freedom to wear her hair however she wishes in church?” (113).  Thus, what Paul really means throughout this vexed passage—which has suffered centuries of abuse by mistranslation and “man-centered” interpretation—is that

…gender distinctions were of no importance.  This is where the saying “of the Lord” [ἐν κυρίῳ, 11:11] comes in: Jesus teaches that in the resurrection, sexuality as we know it will be no more.  So sexual distinctions, like head-coverings, should, in the Lord, be of no importance.  Therefore, “because of the angels” women should not have to cover themselves when men do not.  They should have freedom (to cover or not to cover) over their heads (115).

What shall we make of Padgett’s interpretation?  Well, we shall have to say, first, that it is nothing short of magnificent on many levels, and one’s sneaking suspicion is that such reasoning is destined to persuade many.  Padgett has been working on 1 Cor 11:2-16 “for over twenty years” (103) and has generated the impressive scholarship to demonstrate competency.[4]  Nevertheless, and speaking only for myself, I shall have to confess that I am not persuaded by most of Padgett’s arguments here, ingenious though they are.  The possibility that Paul is opposing a Corinthian custom (instead of giving vent to his own authoritative teaching) almost entirely depends on interpreting 11:13b as a statement instead of as a question, as demonstrated above.  However, it seems entirely natural to interpret the passage as Paul’s incredulous question with respect to what was routinely going on at Corinth during worship: “Is it proper for an uncovered woman [γυναῖκα ἀκατακάλυπτον] to pray to God?” (my added emphasis).  And the answer, though not actually stated, would be: “No, such deportment is not proper!” (cf. G.J. Lockwood, 1 Corinthians [St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 2000], 376).  So Paul is a bit perturbed by the Corinthian license in this respect: “Surely it cannot be right for a woman to participate in public worship without the appropriate head-covering” (Lockwood, 1 Corinthians, 376).  Paul’s sense of incredulity continues in 11:14-15b which, as all acknowledge (including Padgett, 108), is another question: “Does not nature herself teach you that if a man has long hair it is a disgrace to him, but if a woman has long hair it is her glory?”  Here the answer to the question must be, “Yes, nature herself does teach that such activity is a disgrace!” (positive answer expected in response to the particle οὐδέ in 11:14a).  Padgett stumbles here by interpreting the οὐδέ negatively: “The clear and sensible answer to this question is no” (109).  But Padgett’s interpretation violates an important principle of Greek grammar whereby questions introduced by the negative particles οὐ/οὐκ, οὐδείς, οὐδέ, etc. invariably expect the answer yes (so H.W. Smyth, Greek Grammar [Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1920] 598, §2651).  With this prop out of the way Padgett’s argument quickly falls.  The idea that a woman brings “shame” on herself while praying “uncovered” is clearly repeated in 11:5 and 6; likewise, the idea that a man ought not be covered with respect to his head is repeated in 11:7: “since he is the image and glory of God [εἰκὼν καὶ δόξα θεοῦ ὑπαρχων]; but the woman is the glory of man [ἡ γυνὴ δὲ δόξα ἀνδρός ἐστιν].”

Just what is Paul driving at here?  The special relationship that obtained between Adam and Eve at the beginning? (this could be suggested by 11:8-9).  The special relationship that also obtains between a Christian husband who exercises godly authority over his wife and family, and a wife who willingly submits to her husband in this matter? (so Lockwood, 1 Corinthians, 372).  I shall refrain from answering the question dogmatically because, as I think, a certain mystery pervades the entire passage: Paul here provides various intimations regarding the glorious relationship that can potentially exist between a man and woman in Christ, so the question is not easily reduced to a single, binding answer (which is the problem with much rather legalistically “conservative” interpretation on the Reformed side, as Padgett rightly notes [10]).  But what I would argue at the very least is that Paul suggests that there are certain undeniable, God-given, and created differences between the two genders that are not supposed to be overlooked, minimized, or denied.  And this precisely is what Padgett’s scholarship routinely does.  By “gender balance” (111, 112, 118, 119) Padgett means that there just are no appreciable differences between man and woman; in the name of “equality” the two sexes ought simply to be blended together, and so what emerges is a kind of benign unisexuality: “the distinguishing marks of short hair on men and head-coverings for women are of no consequence in the Lord or in church” (111).  Well, perhaps not at the resurrection of all flesh, or at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ on the Last Day.  But until then and “here below” where we live now, I submit, sexuality and the type of ordering that God intends to exist between the two genders continues to matter a great deal.  Here I defer to scholars who have written at greater length on these matters than have I:

The created distinction between man and woman should be honored in the church.  Symbolic “gender-bending” actions in which women and men seek to reject their specific sexual identities are a sign not of authentic spirituality but of an adolescent impatience with the world in which God has placed us.  We are not disembodied spirits; consequently, spiritual maturity in Christ will lead us to become mature women and men in Christ.  Our dress and outward appearance should appropriately reflect our gender identity; to blur these distinctions is to bring needless shame upon the community.  In a time of rampant confusion about gender identity in our culture, Paul’s teaching on this matter is timely for us.  A healthy community needs men and women together ([11:]11), not a group of people striving for sexless neutrality (R.B. Hays, First Corinthians [Louisville, KY: John Knox, 1997] 191; in Lockwood, 1 Corinthians, 378-379; original emphasis).

Padgett is familiar with the work of much traditional scholarship but routinely dismisses it as evocative of “man-centered leadership” (so 2, 10, 27, 57, 68, 101, 130), “traditional Christian patriarchy” (4), or the type of “complementarian” positions (2, 11, 32, 39, 43, 130) he supposes have been outmoded by the “Gospel” as he defines it.  Padgett is no slouch exegetically but, unfortunately, uses his powers to undermine traditional positions and (as the ancient rhetoricians used to say) “make the worse appear the better cause.”  So anyone reading this book needs constantly to be on guard and prepared to wage battle exegetically.  Space does not permit me to expose everything, though another book of equal length could well be written to engage Padgett’s faulty interpretations of the other passages and set matters straight.  In this review I have managed to engage Padgett’s substandard interpretations of Eph 5:21ff. and 1 Cor 11:2-16.  It goes without saying that much more of this work could and should be done.  So perhaps pastors who have the time and training could purchase the book and engage it deeply with each other before instructing their laypersons suitably.  Gender confusion runs rampant in our churches and pastors are needed who can confront this growing menace, yet do so without alienating the godly women who comprise more than half of our congregations.  I would like to see our pastors engage such scholarship as Padgett has produced, and get to work in this matter.

John G. Nordling serves in the Department of Exegetical Theology Concordia Theological Seminary Fort Wayne, IN


 1  E.g., the submission of Jesus to his parents (Luke 2:51); of demons to the disciples (Luke 10:17, 20); of citizens to governing authorities (Rom 13:1; Titus 3:1; 1 Pet 2:13); of the universe to Christ (1 Cor 15:27; Eph 1:22); of unseen powers to Christ (1 Pet 3:22); of Christ to God the Father (1 Cor 15:28); of church members to their leaders (1 Cor 16:15-16; 1 Pet 5:5); of the church to Christ (Eph 5:24); of slaves to their masters (Titus 2:9; 1 Pet 2:18); of Christians to God (Heb 12:9; James 4:7); and of wives to their husbands (Col 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Pet 3:5).

 2  O’Brien, Ephesians, 403 (original emphases): “For example, Revelation 6:4, ‘so that men should slay one another’, cannot mean that each killed the other at precisely the same time as he or she was killed.  Likewise, Galatians 6:2, ‘Bear one another’s burdens’, does not signify that ‘everyone should exchange burdens with everyone else’, but that ‘some who are more able should help bear the burdens of others who are less able’ (cf. also 1 Cor 11:33; Luke 2:15; 21:1 [in error for 12:1]; 24:32).”

 3  Later witnesses read either ὑποτάσσεσθε (“submit,” 2 plur. pres. impv. mid.) or ὑποτασσέσθωσαν (“let them submit,” 3 plur. pres. impv. mid.) in 5:22 to give absolutely no doubt what Paul’s intent here was.  Such excessive wordiness, however, violates “the succinct style of the author’s admonitions” (B.M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Second Edition [Deutche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994]541).

 4  “Paul on Women in the Church: The Contradictions of Coiffure in 1 Corinthians 11.2-16.” JSNT 20 (1984) 69-86; “Feminism in First Corinthians: A Dialogue with Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza.” EvQ 58 (1986) 121-132; “The Significance of ἀντί in 1 Corinthians 11:15.” TynBul 45 (1994) 181-187.

A Book That Could Change American Lutheran History?

Another review of: Power Politics and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict That Changed American Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011) by James C. Burkee. This review by David Ramirez.


James C. Burkee’s recent book, Power Politics and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict That Changed American Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011), has received a fair amount of attention in American Lutheran circles. It is not a definitive or comprehensive history of the struggle within the Missouri Synod during the mid-twentieth century, nor does it seek to be. It is best considered a supplemental text for those who wish to study the conflict. It is certainly not going to change American Lutheran history, or how we view it. Prof. Burkee is to be commended for the hard work and long hours that went into researching, studying primary documents, and interviewing key players in the conflict. However, it is a work weak in analysis with little proof for its many sweeping assertions.


Uncharted Waters?


Burkee obviously believes that not enough attention has been given to the political and cultural context of Missouri’s conflict, and he may be right. Unfortunately in his Introduction, he vastly overstates his case, “almost all of what little has been written about the period addresses the theological debate that divided the church, as if the schism happened within a contextual vacuum” (2). Who would be an example of a writer who treats this conflict as if took place in a “contextual vacuum”? It is true that many writers do not specifically dwell much on the American political context of the conflict. However, Marquart devotes almost a full third of his book, Anatomy of an Explosion, to the philosophical, cultural, and theological context. And certainly the liberal/moderate accounts are all very cognizant of the context, political and otherwise, describing the Missouri Synod emerging from the parochial “ghetto” into modern America. If anything, the complaint was and still has been made that the liberals/moderates were unwilling to admit the extent of the theological factors in the conflict.


Surveying the conservative writings of the time yields abundant evidence that they were aware of the context. In Crisis in Lutheran Theology (Vol. I)[i], John Warwick Montgomery goes so far as to explain that the reason for the rise of the liberal/moderate movement, “…is in many ways sociological. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is an immigrant Church, and the standard pattern among immigrant groups is to remain walled off from the new society by language and by tradition for a time, and then for a younger generation to react violently to its past and to seek to identify completely – generally to over-identify – with the new environment.” In a collection of essays by conservatives, Evangelical Directions for the Lutheran Church[ii], attention is given by several authors to the political, cultural, and philosophical context of the conflict.


Again in the Introduction, Burkee makes another exaggerated, and unproven, assertion, “I argue here what I believe everyone knows but few will confess: the schismatic history of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is about more than just theology” (2). Who are these people who won’t confess this? I have never met these people. I grew up in the AELC and then the ELCA amongst former Missourians and Seminex families. (My father is a graduate from Seminex ) I attended Valparaiso University with folks across the Lutheran spectrum. I graduated from Fort Wayne with plenty of “conservatives.” There has not been a time in my life that the Seminex conflict has not been a hot topic for discussion. I can recall no one who claimed it was only about theology! It is true that most of the writers thus far focused primarily upon the theological arguments. And it is helpful to have a study focused on the political context in which the conflict took place. However, a humbler thesis would be more appropriate.


Underlying Problems


Two of the greatest underlying problems with Burkee’s study are: first, errors concerning the time period discussed (and American Lutheran history in general); second, the lack of comprehension in regards to the theological arguments. It leads one to believe that Burkee does not have a firm grasp on the narrative and the theological issues of the conflict. His intense focus on the political parallels weakens and misleads his analysis in several places.


One erroneous claim that repeatedly occurs in the book is that Robert is the older brother of J.A.O. Preus! It is astounding that this error survived Burkee’s research into the topic, dissertation readers, and Augsburg Fortress editors. More serious is Burkee’s assertion that, “For much of its history, the LCMS enjoyed “fellowship” with one or more of the nation’s major Lutheran church bodies” (11). Historically, this is an indefensible statement. The Missouri Synod was in fellowship with the ALC from 1969 to 1981, however, 12 years hardly make up “much of its history”. And lest you think Burkee is referring to the Wisconsin Synod or other groups which were in the Synodical Conference, in the very next sentence he refers to the WELS as “a minor body.”


He grossly mischaracterizes the conservative response to the Social Gospel, civil rights, and their overall understanding of Christian charity. Burkee writes, “To Otten and his followers, one could not demonstrate the love of Christ through actions; it had to be spoken (apparently, spoken only)” (59). I would like to see this straw man produced, as I have never met a real person who has ever fallen into such an absurd false dichotomy. Ironically, Otten is shown to have a more complex position in the very next sentence when quoted saying, “the primary work of the Church is to preach the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Richard Klann in Evangelical Directions for the Lutheran Church[iii] goes so far as to say, “Members of the churches should assume responsibilities for social action in accordance with their callings, opportunities and abilities.” While commenting on Otten’s statement that, “Christians are to obey the laws of their government,” he claims that Otten was “reviving the pre-Brown vs. Board of Education doctrine of obedience” (59). We may safely assume that Otten, as a Lutheran pastor, had St. Paul more in mind.


Burkee’s weakness in historical theology is most clearly seen in his reaction to church politics:


Richard Koenig had dubbed the “conservative reaction” in Missouri a gathering of “fearful” men: I fully expected allusions to Nixon, but I did not expect this cloak-and-dagger, Deep Throat dynamic, surely not in a conservative Christian church (4).


It is not pleasant to think about church politics, especially dirty politics. And sin ought to be scandalous to the believer; it should not be glossed over. However, for a fuller historical perspective, one ought to remember the extensive church politics during every age of the church. There always has and always will be church politics this side of glory. And speaking of “cloak-and-dagger” shenanigans, consider what the Arian and the orthodox sides were willing to do, or call on the secular rulers to do, in order to stand victorious in their struggle. The partisans of that particular conflict make J.A.O. Preus and John Teitjen look like boy scouts. A student, much less a scholar, of historical theology cannot afford a naïve picture of the church militant.


Appropriation of the Liberal/Moderate Narrative of the Conflict


In a book that is presented in contrast to the “emotional, partisan, and triumphalist works” written thus far, it is disappointing to find a capitulation to the liberal/moderate meta-narrative of the conflict and overtly hostile jabs (many gratuitous) against the conservative side.


Burkee’s acceptance of the liberal/moderate narrative of the conflict is seen in a variety of places, yet a few examples will suffice. While describing the lead up to the conflict, he refers to “[Missouri’s] isolationist legacy,” which is a common, yet ahistorical, view of Missouri’s past made by liberals/moderates (20). Along the same lines, he makes an unsubstantiated claim that, “Anti-intellectualism resonated with some Missouri Synod pastors because until recently its seminaries had not encouraged intellectualism.” This serious charge is made without rationale or proof, and ought not be irresponsibly tossed about as if it were self evident.


Following the classic storyline of the liberal/moderate partisans, he considers that “[t]he years bracketing World War II had been the glory days for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.” The years following the conflict were “an era of chronic decline,” and, “a once-thriving church poised for growth had become an also-ran, struggling for existence and relevance” (2, 182). It is true that the Missouri Synod has declined in membership since the conflict. However, an in-depth analysis, including more than the scanty data Burkee offers, is required for this bleak description. (The most obvious explanation of Missouri’s declining membership isn’t even mentioned: Missouri Synod Lutherans are not having children at a rate anywhere near that they were a half century ago!) Throughout his book, Burkee heavily relies upon insights from Mary Todd and Richard Koenig to shape the narrative and guide his analysis. He also highlights Ralph Bohlmann’s influence by thanking him for “sage counsel” in the Preface (xv). When one follows such a pattern, one can hardly be considered nonpartisan.


One is truly disappointed to find salacious and unnecessary descriptions of conservatives littered throughout the narrative. Burkee engages in pop psychology when he states that “[Hermann] Otten was rapidly developing a messiah complex…” (36). And I still am not quite sure what was meant to be conveyed by calling David Scaer the “seminary altar boy” (34).  On the same page, “a bright young graduate,” “quick-minded [Martin] Marty,” makes mince meat out of the outclassed President Behnken in a debate. At times the descriptions of conservative figures seem purposefully cruel. William F. Beck, an expert in biblical languages, author of numerous books, and former professor at Concordia Seminary, is described as, “an eccentric Otten enthusiast who worked in a freezing office to keep his mind alert, translating the Bible with fingerless gloves and without socks” (169). This is an utterly unnecessary description that does not advance any germane point, but is merely gratuitous. The conflict does not need sensationalizing, it is dramatic enough already.


Perhaps the biggest “cheap shot” in the volume comes from Martin Marty while describing the conservatives in his Foreword:


To the surprise of no one who follows plots like this in religion or politics, Burkee follows the parties and plotters in statu nascendi as they gain in power through unitive activity that almost instantly gives way to factions fighting over the division of the spoils. It is not a happy story; there are side-glances at the divorces, alcoholism, perhaps abuse that colored the biography of significant participants, though Burkee does not exploit his knowledge of these.


This is like alluding to the oft-bemoaned, high rate of divorce and sexual misconduct of the former Missourians in the ELCA, so as to paint with broad strokes a dark and sinister background, before telling the wretched tale of theological deviancy in the Missouri Synod. The weakest shot also came from Marty when he writes,


[Burkee] concentrates on the theology, motives, and strategies of the conservative party. His range is wide, but what will be striking to the reader is how little gospel, good news, or anything positive shows up in the documentation on their side. I have asked some readers of the dissertation and asked myself with this book in hand, is there, even once, a paragraph or a couple lines that could be described as “spiritual,” “evangelical,” or “positive”?


To judge the conservative theological movement in the Missouri Synod by the testimony in one book, focused on the context and not the theology, is irresponsible and unscholarly. A cursory glance at the hundreds of articles, books, and sermons written by the conservatives quickly disabuses any fair-minded reader of such an unwarranted conclusion.


So Why Has Hermann Otten Promoted this book?


The answer to this question is simple. Hermann Otten comes out ahead of, and far better off, than those he has for a long time has termed “the organized conservatives.” Otten is given grudging respect from Burkee who contrasts him with many other conservative figures as one ready to do open battle against liberals. Furthermore, Burkee unquestioningly identifies him as the “most significant figure in modern LCMS history.” Otten is shrewd enough to know that this volume is not going to change anyone’s mind about the theological issues, nor does it even openly attempt to do so. Liberals/moderates will still hold him in contempt, and there is no doubt that his conservative enemies won’t be changing their minds anytime soon. But in Burkee’s book, he certainly gains some vindication, particularly concerning two points that he has hammered away on for decades. First, he and Christian News cannot be ignored by any serious historical investigation or conversation concerning the Seminex conflict and the modern Missouri Synod. And second, that many of the “organized conservatives” have indeed used him and acted duplicitously.


Where Do Your Loyalties Lie?


While considering the theology of Seminex in his review of Burkee’s book at, Paul Hinlicky finds precisely the right tone for analyzing the conflict, even if he hits the wrong note:


If Preus’s brand of Machiavellian duplicity and abuse in tandem with Herman Otten’s xenophobic, racist, sexist, crude, and vulgar extremism—amply documented from the horse’s mouth in Burkee’s book—was what one actually got from self-righteous upholders of the “third use of the Law,” we can and should cut Schroeder and his “Gospel reductionism” some slack. Indeed, Schroeder and his colleagues were right on all the major issues: biblical criticism is a fact of life today every bit as much as the heliocentric solar system; social justice is a gospel concern, if we are with the Bible preaching the gospel of the kingdom, not Gnostic flight to heaven for a handful of true believers; the ordination of women is matter of Christian freedom and missiological judgment; at the heart of Lutheran theology is the justification of the ungodly in the resurrection of the Crucified, the righteousness of God that prevails wherever and whenever the Spirit raises those dead to God to repentance and faith; the church is there wherever this message is effectively at work, thus the Gospel is the actual basis for ecumenical endeavor to overcome Christian disunity by a process of doctrinal dialogue admitting of degrees of fellowship. Moreover, when one contrasts these positions with what Burkee uncovers as the actual alternative being advocated at the time in the yellow journalism of Otten’s Christian News, namely, of “John Birch society extremism,” one can understand the provocation my teachers felt, and forgive, or at least contextualize, the one-sidedness of Seminex theology [iv]  (emphasis mine).


Except in the sterile and sectarian world of liberal and slightly less liberal Lutheranism, it is clear that the conservatives in the Missouri Synod were right on all the major issues: God’s Word does not lie; the primary work of the church is the proclamation of the Gospel in its purity for the sake of sinners; the ordination of women is a Gnostic absurdity in clear violation of the Holy Scriptures; false ecumenism based upon compromising the truth for the sake of outward harmony is always an enemy of true Christian unity.


I doubt a definitive history of the Seminex conflict, encompassing the theology, context, and major players of the period, will ever be written. In a couple decades, few will care about the plots, lies, and intimate stories of the parties involved. As with many defining struggles in the church, distance gives helpful perspective. The personalities, personal failings, and delicate details will fade and give focus to what was at the heart of the conflict- theology. Kurt Marquart’s account, Anatomy of an Explosion, will remain the definitive theological analysis of the conflict. His work will stand the test of time because Lutherans will be the only ones who will care about the studying the conflict, and they will not find a more faithful guide to the issues at stake.


What is a Churchman?


Is a churchman a man who is above the politicking and the muck of living in the church militant? If we take the example of our fathers in faith seriously, we see that those “churchmen” fought hard, and yes, and sometimes dirty. We should call their sin, when they fell into it, sin. We should not emulate their “less than stellar moments.” But life in the church militant looks much more like a turf war than a U.N. peace treaty. And this is a good thing since turf wars actually accomplish something! The failings of our forefathers ought not be swept under a rock or explained away, just as the failings of older and greater saints were not. But Lutherans can no more throw the conservatives of the Seminex era under the bus for their sins than we could throw Abraham, David, Peter, Athanasius, or Luther under the bus.


The Missouri Synod conflict of mid-century was (and still is) fundamentally about theology, about what we confess concerning the Living God. That is the primary reason why churchmen ought to continue to study it. Men in the Missouri Synod who sought to teach against the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church were fought by sinners who loved their Lord.


Doctrine is decided by the Word if God, yet historical observations many times point in the right direction, if you have the ears to listen. Surveying the modern Lutheran landscape ought to leave little doubt concerning the consequences of the beliefs espoused decades ago in the Missouri Synod. A parting question for those who wrestle with their evaluation of this conflict: As the chosen paths of the parties become further sundered, whose descendents, biological and theological, will remain Christians? If you can answer that question, you know where your loyalties lie concerning the great mid-twentieth century conflict in the Missouri Synod, commonly known as Seminex.  


David Ramirez is Pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Lincoln, IL

[i] John Warwick Montgomery, “Theological Issues and Problems of Biblical Interpretation in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod,” in John Warwick Montgomery, ed., Crisis in Lutheran Theology: Volume I (Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Book House, 1967), 104.

[ii] Erich Kiehl and Waldo Werning, eds., Evangelical Directions for the Lutheran Church (Chicago: Lutheran Congress), 1970.

[iii] Richard Klann, "Shaping Society-Social Action," in Erich Kiehl and Waldo Werning, eds., Evangelical Directions for the Lutheran Church (Chicago: Lutheran Congress, 1970), 34.

[iv] Paul Hinlicky, “A Book That Could Change American Lutheran History,” January 22, 2011.  (accessed March 12, 2011).

Book Review: Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod

Book Review of James C. Burkee's Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict that Changed American Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011). 272 pages. Hardcover. Review by Martin Noland.


Martin Luther once said that a historian must be a “first-rate man who has a lion’s heart, unafraid to write the truth. For the greater number write in such a way that they readily pass over or put the best construction on the vices and deficiencies of their own times in the interest of their lords or friends and in turn glorify all too highly some trifling or vain virtue. . . . In that way histories become extremely unreliable and God’s work is shamefully obscured, as the Greeks are accused of doing and as the pope’s flatterers have done up to now and still do. In the end it comes down to this that one does not know what one should believe. Thus the noble, fine, and loftiest use of histories is ruined and they become nothing but bearers of gossip.” (AE 34:277).


Although the book Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod by James Burkee has some merits and usefulness, it would not pass the muster of Luther’s criteria. Burkee glorifies the “vain virtues” (Luther’s term) of the academic world over against the Missouri Synod’s alleged “anti-intellectualism” (Burkee, pp. 69, 70, & 72). One wonders whether Burkee wrote “in the interest of his lords or friends” (Luther’s term), since the book is a matter of personal interest to Martin Marty, who has been constantly attacked by Herman Otten’s Christian News (pp. 57 & 62; see also Marty’s foreword). Much of this book is little more than gossip, as one person being interviewed tells juicy stories and anecdotes about his enemy, and vice versa. All these characteristics of Burkee’s book result in exactly what Luther predicted, namely, that “the noble, fine, and loftiest use of histories is ruined.”


Having said that, I want to thank Dr. Burkee for telling the inside story of the Missouri Synod’s conservative leadership in more than a cursory way. When I was appointed director of the Concordia Historical Institute in 2002, I realized that someone had better get this story soon, before the leading characters were all deceased. Burkee is correct to note that most of the conservative leaders were reluctant to talk about their story. My impression, in talking with some of those former synodical leaders, is that they felt that what needed to be said had already been published. Anything more, they said, would simply be rubbing salt into old wounds on both sides of the conflict. After hearing this from many, I agreed that this was the kind and Christian thing to do.


Not all of the characters in this story had this attitude. Burkee lets his readers know up front that he was granted hours of interviews by protagonists Herman Otten, Waldo Werning, and Ralph Bohlmann (p. xv). Burkee also lets his readers know that “In this book I rely heavily on quotation” (p. 14). That is both the forte and the weakness of this book. It is the forte, because the quotes provide eye-witness testimony from the perspective of those interviewed. It is the weakness, because Burkee does not indicate to what extent, or for what reason, the people he interviewed might be biased or be distorting their testimony.


The biggest offenders in this respect are the testimonies that give unfavorable reports of what someone else did or said. How do we know that Rev. Pfarrherr (a hypothetical example), who was heavily committed to the liberal cause, did not distort what a conservative did or said; or vice versa? When an early draft of this book was released publicly, there was a flurry of activity as many people mentioned in the book said, “I didn’t say that” and “I didn’t do that.” So whom should we believe? How can we determine the truth between two conflicting stories? That is the essential problem with “gossip.” It can never provide grounds for writing an objective history. Maybe Burkee didn’t intend to write objective history. If not, then what is it?


I am not going to give a detailed list of what I think are errors or misguided interpretations in Burkee’s book, though there are many. I will limit myself to a critique of three central themes in his book. First, that Herman Otten was the father of conservatism in the Missouri Synod and its single most influential leader before 1969 (pp. 6-9). Second, that conservatism in the Missouri Synod was as much about cultural and political issues as about theology (pp. 4-5, 12-15). Third, the conclusion that the conflicts in this period were the cause of the Missouri Synod’s statistical decline (pp. 182-183).


With regard to the first theme, Otten was hardly the father of Missouri Synod conservatism. The synod was established as a conservative religious organization right from the start. Look at its founding primary purpose “to conserve and promote the unity of the true faith” (LCMS Constitution III.1). In Theodore Tappert’s classic Lutheran Confessional Theology in America 1840-1880 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972), Tappert exhibited the treatises of C.F.W. Walther as “The Conservative Posture” among other Lutherans. With rare exceptions, the laymen and clergy of the Missouri Synod were religious, moral, and social conservatives from its founding up until the start of the postwar period in the United States. Whether they were politically conservative is another matter—and difficult to determine—primarily because the meaning of “American political conservatism” has changed several times in the Missouri Synod’s 160 year history.


Burkee gives the impression that the Missouri Synod would not have known about the liberalism at the Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis without Otten’s efforts. This gives too much credit to Otten and demonstrates that Burkee does not understand the social character of the synod. My mother’s family has been LCMS for six generations. Without reading Christian News, they knew early in the 1960s that something was wrong at the seminary.


One of my cousins, who was a student at Saint Louis, came home for Christmas in the 1960s arguing that many historical accounts in the Bible were myths. My father, a layman, was unable to convince my cousin otherwise, even though my dad had superior arguments. One of my uncles, who was an LCMS pastor, had constant problems with a neighboring LCMS campus minister—a 1960s Saint Louis graduate—who didn’t believe any doctrine of the Christian faith. By the middle 1960s, my LCMS relatives knew that the Saint Louis seminary was destroying the faith of its students and that it intended to change the faith of the whole church-body.


You might say that this was just the experience of our family. But the Missouri Synod is a small place; at least it used to be. We Missourians were a tightly knit social organization, due to our parochial schools, the old Walther League, and the former tendency for German-Americans to marry each other. News traveled quickly by word of mouth at semi-annual family gatherings about events and trends in the church. Older pastors talked for hours at their semi-annual district conferences and monthly circuit gatherings, both with their friends and with the newer pastors fresh out of the seminary.


Thus the laymen and pastors of the synod didn’t need Christian News to know that something had really changed for the worse at the Saint Louis seminary by the end of the 1960s. Before the advent of Affirm in 1970, concerned laymen and pastors relied on Christian News to provide the details of what was being taught at the seminary and why it was wrong. For that service, Herman Otten has his place in Lutheran history.


Herman Otten is not an enigma, if you get to know him. I know Pastor Otten. He is Captain Ahab in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Captain Ahab was maimed for life by the white whale. Otten was vocationally maimed for life by the “white whale” of Concordia Seminary. The result was that, for Otten, Concordia Seminary became “the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them . . . he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil . . . were visibly personified and made practically assailable in” Concordia Seminary (quotes from Moby-Dick).


With regard to the second theme, Burkee is right that political and social issues affected the debates and the conflicts in the Missouri Synod in this period of its history. But he doesn’t seem to understand that open advocacy for issues in secular politics were a new and upsetting thing for the synod. The Missouri Synod had followed the pattern of traditional Lutheranism by being politically passive, i.e., the church’s officers, agencies, and clergy avoided political partisanship or advocacy.


Lutheran laymen were free, of course, to vote their conscience or interests and be involved in the political process as they pleased. It was a great matter of pride if a Lutheran layman became a mayor or congressman, as it still is today. But the LCMS clergy traditionally did not tell such officers of the state what to do, and vice versa. Each knew their place, based on the Lutheran doctrine of the two-kingdoms. Even Reinhold Niebuhr, neither conservative nor Lutheran, understood the moral ambiguity of the political enterprise.


So when the editors of the Lutheran Witness “promoted racial progress and ecumenism with increasing frequency after 1960s,” (Burkee, p. 47), this was something new and suspect. In the Witness, LCMS clergy, officers, and agencies were telling Lutheran statesmen what to do and were trying to rally the electorate to the causes of the synodical elite. This was politics, pure and simple. Whether or not one thinks their political causes were good, it opened the door for secular politics as a source of conflict within the church.


When Herman Otten saw what the Lutheran Witness was doing, he replied with his own political opinions. Most LCMS conservatives found Otten’s journalistic ethics and political opinions noisome, and his opinions on the Jewish people particularly reprehensible. That is the reason that the synod’s conservatives formed other organizations and other news sources, beginning in 1964.


Burkee’s biggest failure in this matter is the inability to distinguish between political and theological conservatism. As a result, his interpretive model distorts what really happened in this period of synodical history.


With regard to the third theme, the statistical decline of the Missouri Synod, compared to conservative Evangelical churches (pp. 182-183), is a complex matter caused by any number of factors. Burkee should know better than to blame decline just on the 1960s and 1970s conflict. Let me mention ten factors that may be contributing to statistical decline:


1) The declining birth-rate and emigration out of the Midwest counties where 85% of the synod is located.


2) The declining birth-rate and emigration out of Lutheran-majority counties, where marriages are most likely to produce Lutheran families.


3) The movement of Lutheran populations in metropolitan areas, from the old German-Scandinavian-Baltic-Slovak compact “neighborhoods” to the scattered suburbs, which has affected the viability of parochial schools and weekday activities.


4) The decreased emphasis in the synod on the parochial school, in general, and specifically as a tool of catechesis, evangelism, and socialization.


5) The increased mobility of the US population has worked against the Lutheran way of socialization, which traditionally relied on a non-transient population; while the conservative Evangelicals’ approach to socialization is optimized for a transient population.


6) The LCMS, like other Midwest-based denominations, has been reluctant to intentionally shift its resources (manpower, money, etc.) to those regions in the US where the population is growing; instead, the trend has been to devote those resources to build huge churches at the outskirts of Midwestern cities, which are really only attracting LCMS people moving out from the urban and old suburban areas (e.g., Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit, Saginaw, Fort Wayne, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Saint Louis, and Kansas City).


7) Lutherans are not supported by the plethora of para-church organizations like the conservative Evangelicals and Catholics. Evangelical bookstores, Evangelical radio, Evangelical revivals, and Evangelical movements are sapping the membership of Lutheran churches, often with the consent of Lutheran pastors.


8) Many liberals did not leave with Seminex, but continued to fight against conservative leaders and traditional Lutheran theology, especially through organizations such as Lutherans Alive, Jesus First, Renewal in Missouri, Daystar, and sometimes the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. After the formation of the AELC in 1976, John Tietjen estimated that 950 congregations remained in the LCMS which continued to sympathize with Seminex and its ideology (see John Tietjen, Memoirs in Exile [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990], 269). This fight has sapped morale and energy in the LCMS for over 35 years.


9) Many LCMS circuits, which are supposed to be support networks for pastors and other church-workers, are sources of conflict and discouragement because of the ongoing fight between liberals and conservatives. This too saps morale and energy.


10) The growing conservative Evangelical churches have not suffered twenty-five years of assault on their creedal ideas, from WITHIN their organization, as the Missouri Synod suffered from 1945 to 1974. I define “creedal ideas” as the doctrines and practices that distinguish a church from its rivals and competitors. In addition, the synod has continued to suffer sniper attacks on its creedal ideas since 1974. There has been no peace; and apparently there will not be peace, until the last Seminex sympathizer passes from the scene.


I was disappointed by this book. Burkee makes an almost convincing case that secular politics is what drove the conflict in the Missouri Synod, but those of us who lived through it know better. It will only convince the ignorant. With regard to his argument that characters on both side of the conflict were fighting for personal power and prestige—I have no doubt of that. That happens in every church fight, even at the congregational level. But I know many of the characters personally.  The majority of them got involved only to defend their church and the Word of God; a few had less noble motives.


Finally, it appears that James Burkee, his dissertation readers at Northwestern University, Martin Marty, and the editors at Fortress Press were so committed to discrediting the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod that they set aside the normal rules for the historical criticism of sources. No small irony there.


Martin R. Noland is Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Evansville, Indiana

Book Review: The Erlangen School of Theology: Its History, Teaching, and Practice

A review of: The Erlangen School of Theology: Its History, Teaching, and Practice. By Lowell C. Green. Fort Wayne, Indiana: Lutheran Legacy Press, 2010. Review by Mark Mattes.

There is no question that Erlangen Theology has impacted North American Lutheran thinking. The wide reception of Werner Elert in the United States, for example, testifies to this. However, to my knowledge, there has been no comprehensive overview and evaluation of Erlangen Theology in English. Lowell Green provides this service in this book, a systematic and comprehensive study of the leading Erlangen theologians. Here one encounters the work of nineteenth-century giants such as Hofmann, Harless, Loehe, Delitzsch, Seeberg, and Zahn. We also encounter twentieth-century luminaries such as Elert, Althaus, Procksch, Sasse, Preuss, Maurer, von Loewenich, and Kuenneth, thinkers with whom Green himself studied in his graduate work at Erlangen from 1952-1955. There is no question that these theologians profoundly impacted Green’s personal theological development and he seeks critically and appreciatively to convey their work. From the start, he acknowledges weaknesses in their approaches, such as Hofmann’s inability to articulate that the atonement propitiates God’s wrath or Thomasius’ “kenotic Christology,” which weakens the union of Christ’s two natures; yet Green is convinced that the strengths of Erlangen Theology outweigh its weaknesses. Indeed, Green defends Erlangen theology as a resource to help Lutheranism not “dissipate within a flood of generic Protestantism” (23).


Erlangen Theology’s importance lies in the fact that in the mid-nineteenth-century it broke with the ideals of Protestant Liberalism that had challenged the authority of Scripture and the role of the Confessions as the true interpretation of salvation. For the Erlangen theologians, the Bible is the norm of theology and the Book of Concord is the true scriptural exposition of Christian doctrine (21). Green notes that these university theologians were the first in Germany to break with theological liberalism. They cut a path that sought to be faithful to Scripture and the Confessions, but the adequacy of these ways is mixed. Some were more successful at breaking with liberalism than others; many had a hard time shedding the Schleiermacherian tendency to ground theology in personal experience, even when they maintained that Scripture is the standard for truth in theology. Hence, Green notes that we cannot accept everything that they wrote (22).

For Green, Erlangen is best seen as a method and not an institution (28). As such, it was indebted to the nineteenth-century renewal movement (Erweckungsbewegung, 28), intense exegesis of the Scriptures, and the renewed study of Luther and the Lutheran Confessions. The reason why experience was important for these thinkers was that it was seen as an antidote to Rationalism’s reduction of truth to what reason can certify and science can verify. Given his upbringing in the American Lutheran Church (1930), Green is sensitive to how Erlangen Theology was critically received by the faculty at Wartburg Seminary, especially by J. Michael Reu and his disciples. Green notes that Erlangen Theology officially came to an end in 1969 when the Erlangen theological faculty voted that its faculty was no longer required to be committed to the Book of Concord (37).

Green’s critical reception of Erlangen Theology includes the following. First, early Erlangen theologians were concerned with liturgical renewal, responding to losses in liturgics due to Pietism and Rationalism. In particular, Hoefling is to be acknowledged for his work in liturgics. In spite of his improvements, he failed fully to affirm worship as primarily God’s service to us. Instead, he sought to balance the theme of sacrifice (our prayer and praise to God) with that of sacrament (God’s generous giving in word and sacrament). Also, he developed the transference theory of ministry, which assumes that all leadership rests in the people’s sovereignty and is delegated to leaders (79)—a view that seems to have its roots in the political philosophy of Rousseau.

Second, in response to traditional theories of the verbal inspiration of Scripture and as sensitive to the nineteenth-century insight that consciousness is historical, both Hoefling and Hofmann developed a theory of Heilsgeschichte, or saving history. In this perspective, it is not the Scripture itself that is verbally inspired but instead the self-revelation of God is found in history, to which Scripture bears witness. Following von Ranke’s theories about history, Hoffman claimed that history does nothing less than diachronically trace the steps of God in human affairs (111). For Hofmann, it is not Scripture itself that is inspired but instead Scripture’s content, the witness to God’s acts of deliverance of his people in history (113). In spite of his rejection of verbal inspiration, Hofmann counter-intuitively rejected much higher criticism (119).

With respect to inerrancy, Hofmann argued that it extends only to matters of faith and not historical or scientific affairs (121). In a critical assessment, Green notes that the Heilsgeschichte approach is indifferent to matters of law and gospel. Hofmann was blind to the fact that God works not only salvation but also condemnation and judgment in history. This error led him to deny that Christ’s atoning death was effectual because it bore God’s wrath. For Hofmann, Christ is a victim of his enemies, not a bearer of God’s anger against sin (124).

Third, Green faults Thomasius for following Melanchthon’s view of God that separates divine volition from divine knowledge, a view so very different from Luther’s in De servo arbitrio where this distinction is not made. Likewise, Green objects to Thomasius’ famous kenosis doctrine, in which God empties himself of his divinity in the incarnation of the Logos, because it cuts short Christ’s divinity (141). Green sees this attempt to describe the self-limiting of God the Son as a remnant of Rationalism (143, 145).

Fourth, Harless is credited with having retrieved Luther’s view of law and gospel (101) while Harnack is acknowledged for having rediscovered Luther’s view of the deus absconditus and the deus revelatus (169) as well as Luther’s view of God as above the law (deus ex lex) (170).

Fifth, with respect to Elert’s dogmatics, the term Schicksal or fate is best seen as referring to “givens” such as our hair or eye color and not some pagan connotation of fate (253). Elert rejected any political view of Christ as seen in Greek theology (258-60) and which creeps up in Barthian and political theologies where law and gospel are unified. Likewise his stance on closed communion is to be affirmed.

In conclusion, Green has done a remarkable task here, summarizing highly complicated material in a readable manner. Helpfully, the book includes a table of Erlangen works in English. If history had been different, and if Green had been called to the chair of systematic theology at Wartburg Seminary, how different today would the direction of that school be? What impact might it have had on The American Lutheran Church (1960) or the ELCA (1988)? There is no question that Green has critically evaluated the Erlangen theologians so as to see where they can augment confessional Lutheran theology and where confessional Lutherans need to back away from them.

Mark Mattes
Grand View University
Des Moines, Iowa