LQ provides annual book reviews as a resource for you
Book Reviews are one of Lutheran Quarterly's greatest strengths. New LQ book reviews are regularly added to this page. You can also find Book Reviews by year by hovering over the top menu Book Review item above and selecting the year you wish to view. A handful of previously featured reviews are available below.
Edited by Luka Ilic´ and Martin J. Lohrmann. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2021. 268 + xx pp.
Featuring studies of historical figures and texts and contributions that address the life of the church and the proclamation of the gospel today, this is a fitting celebration of the work of Timothy J. Wengert. Wengert’s career as professor, pastor, and servant of the church has been so productive that to attempt to summarize his contributions here would leave no room for discussion of the book. Happily, Paul Rorem provides an introduction to Wengert’s career (1–2), as well as a bibliography of Wengert’s scholarly contributions (253–62) that will benefit scholars, teachers, and students. In between, the reader is treated to a collection that, like Dr. Wengert, speaks to both academy and church.
Teaching Reformation has three parts. Part 1 focuses on “Luther, Melanchthon, and Reformation Colleagues.” Here, some studies (for example, Theodor Dieter’s study of Luther’s Tractatus de indulgentiis) will appeal to specialist scholars, while others (especially Scott Hendrix’s introduction to Philip Melanchthon and Urbanus Rhegius) are written for a broader audience. Irene Dingel situates Luther’s Freedom of a Christian in its historical context, while suggesting the productivity of bringing Luther into dialogue with discussions of freedom and responsibility today. Contributions by Amy Nelson Burnett, Robert Kolb, and Hans Wiersma remind scholars how much remains to be learned by attending to the colleagues and successors of more famous reformers. Burnett distinguishes Oecolam-padius’ use of the church fathers in the eucharistic controversy from Melanchthon’s, showing that neither reformer engaged in a “dispassionate study”; rather, they employed rhetoric to claim that the fathers supported their view. Burnett calls for more study of Oecolam-padius’ significant influence “on all participants” in the “negotiations for eucharistic concord” of the 1530s (55–56). Kolb’s essay reveals the “critical role” of Joachim Mörlin “in determining the agenda addressed in the Formula of Concord and laying the groundwork for the solutions it proposed” (57). Wiersma attends to the role of interpersonal relations in the clash between Albert van Hardenberg and his opponents in Bremen; Hardenberg lost his post after fourteen years, but his Gnesio-Lutheran opponents were soon outmaneuvered by the new mayor. Wiersma draws a lesson for contemporary Lutherans about the need for “love and charity” amid debate, while also highlighting the role of contingent relationships and events in historical developments often treated as inexorable.
Part 2, “Reading and Interpreting Texts in the Reformation” opens with Volker Leppin’s judicious evaluation of the lectures on Judges that Georg Buchwald attributed to Luther in 1884. Leppin deems the text “a compilation and combination of Augustinian reform ideas and Luther’s theological novelties, showing how people involved in the process slowly adopted something that, in retrospect, we call a kind of Reformation theology” (103). Erik H. Hermann analyzes how the exegetical tradition and Luther dealt with three genitive phrases from scripture—plenitudo temporis, lex peccati, and opera legis. According to Hermann, “the ambiguity and versatility of the genitive construct . . . served as catalyst for Luther’s theological reflection” (104–5). Richard A. Muller’s study of Calvin’s interpretation of Acts 2:23 and 4:28 yields significant insight into the development and intricacies of the reformer’s understanding of providence; Muller also cautions against relying too exclusively on the Institutes to understand Calvin’s perspectives. Ulrich Bubenheimer’s historical detective work reveals Melanchthon to be the compiler of a single-sheet chronology of world history that was published in 1521 and that survives only because Johannes Lang pasted a copy into his Latin Bible. Taken from Pseudo-Philo, the single sheet reveals how early Melanchthon and the Wittenbergers were preoccupied with “religiously motivated historical research” (167). Contributions by Derek Cooper and Stefan Rhein consider Reformation readings of 1 Samuel 28 and the themes and sources of Melanchthon’s Historiae.
Part 3, “Forming the Faith,” begins with several textual studies that point toward large areas needing further exploration: Mickey Mattox explores Luther’s idea of God as simul requiescens et operans. Mark Tranvik examines how Luther’s teachings on baptism were reflected in several significant Lutheran catechisms of the sixteenth century. Mary Jane Haemig offers a fascinating reconstruction of Henry Melchior Mühlenberg’s catechetical efforts in colonial America between 1742 and 1752 through a careful study of his correspondence. Tranvik’s chapter especially keeps the church audience in view; he concludes that “many in Luther’s circle unwittingly diluted baptism and turned it into a mere ‘sign’ that provides information about our status before God,” thus losing the gospel “framework” of “death and resurrection” and opening the door to “a legal scheme to enter into the way we think about our relationship with God” (211). Martin Lohrmann is also concerned to keep legalism at bay, proposing that a dialectic of “faith and love” can be used to read Luther’s Small Catechism. Kirsi Stjerna, meanwhile, finds in the “twin concepts of freedom and service” a “Lutheran offering” for the present moment. She encourages “the theologically rooted willingness to promote change when the gospel principles of justice, mercy, and freedom are compromised or at risk” (242). Finally, Gordon Lathrop recalls how Wengert once found the marks of the church at a Roman Catholic Easter vigil and reflects on his own discovery of these marks in the architecture of La Sagrada Família.
This volume has something to offer professional historians and church and lay leaders alike. Perhaps the general reader will take the invitation to wander into the specialist’s territory and vice versa— which would be a fitting tribute to Timothy Wengert.
UNITED LUTHERAN SEMINARY Vincent Evener
GETTYSBURG AND PHILADELPHIS, PENNSYLVANIA
By Jon Meacham. New York: Random House, 2022. 676 pp.
Do we need another book on Abraham Lincoln? Among the multitude of others, what makes And There Was Light stand out is Jon Meacham’s remarkable effort to let America’s sixteenth President provide an illuminating perspective on a nation that is currently as deeply divided and struggling to survive as a democracy as it was before and during the Civil War. As helpful as this book may be for any American citizen to read, I am motivated to review it for this church-related journal because I believe the historical insights this noted author provides are potentially useful to Lutheran clergy and other ecclesiastical leaders seeking to navigate these same troubled waters and to address the socio-political divisions that continue to wash into their congregations and church bodies.
Aptly subtitled “Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle,” Meacham’s book covers most of the bases one would expect to find in a comprehensive biography, including Lincoln’s family of origin, his hardscrabble upbringing, his first love Ann Rutledge, his turbulent marriage to Mary Todd and the loss of two of their progeny, his elections to office, as well as his anguished presidency and subsequent assassination. But in most every chapter on Lincoln’s life, Meacham chooses to give us a measure of insight into the role religion played as the Illinois rail splitter sought to deal with the towering and divisive problem of slavery.
At work in Lincoln’s mind, in Meacham’s estimation, were history, reason, and faith. For him, the Constitution, which viewed slaves as the property of their owners, took a back seat in America’s history to the Declaration of Independence, which unequivocally stated that “all men are created equal.” In contrast to historians who have stated that Lincoln’s opposition to slavery evolved, Meacham provides ample evidence to substantiate the resident’s later BOOK REVIEWS 189 conscience-grounded claim that it was always in his nature to believe that “if slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.”
As Meacham sees it, what evolved was Lincoln’s continuous search for a reasonable political solution to the problem. While African colonization of slaves piqued his interest, this proposal quickly proved to be less than feasible. Recognizing that various legislative compromises would only extend the Southern slave empire, he felt compelled to oppose them. The political necessity of gaining the support of Whites in order to outlaw slavery prompted his willingness to concede that Blacks were an inferior breed. The “popular sovereignty” solution advocated by Stephen Douglas in his campaigns for office only seemed to fan the flames of self-interest and secession. What Meacham in fact demonstrates is that as Lincoln’s reliance on reason waned and as “war came,” his faith in God took on a much greater role.
According to Meacham, Lincoln’s “creed was of his own making—and it was always evolving with enormous consequences for the nation he led and for the nation he left behind” (xxxv). His piety included regular reading of the King James Bible and, at his most critical hours, getting on his knees to pray to God. At the same time, his reading of Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason (“my own mind is my own church”) made him a “doubting Thomas” among believers, and for this reason, he never became the member of a Christian congregation. Lincoln found some of the Evangelical Protestant beliefs featured by the Second Great Awakening, such as the divinity of Jesus, too difficult to embrace. Instead, he favored the brand of theology set forth by the New England ranscendentalists. Theodore Parker in particular helped him focus on Nature’s God and to believe that the universe was inherently moral, and that its history arced in the direction of justice.
Nevertheless, Meacham reveals elements of Lincoln’s religion that coincide with those of the Christian faith. For one thing, he recognized the pervasiveness of human depravity. Persistent awareness of his own shortcomings prevented any consideration of himself as a “great man” in the shaping of America’s destiny. During his single term in Congress (1847–49), moreover, he recognized the simul of 190 LUTHERAN QUARTERLY good and evil and told the House, “There are few things wholly evil, or wholly good. Almost everything, especially governmental policy, is an inseparable compound of the two; so that our best judgment of the preponderance between them is continually demanded” (112). Influential as well was the theological conundrum that the tragic deaths of Lincoln’s two sons, Eddie and Willie, created for him. Here, Meacham highlights the role of Phineas Gurley, the pastor of Washington’s New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, where he ttended services as president with his family. It was Gurley’s care and counsel that enabled him to accept “tragedy in the hope that pain was but a prelude to light and peace” (261). According to Meacham, this experience contributed to Lincoln’s framing of the Civil War as a divine drama engulfing the nation he was elected to serve, one in which “[t]he darkness of Good Friday was but . . . a miserable and bloody gateway . . . to he light of Easter and of resurrection” (368).
In Meacham’s careful exegesis of Lincoln’s iconic Second Inaugural Address one finds several takeaways for today’s churches, often as deeply divided as our society on key ocial issues. The first is to consistently refrain, as did Lincoln, from identifying God with one’s own position or cause. “Men are not flattered,” he argued elsewhere, “by being hown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them. To eny it, however, in this case, is to deny that there is a God governing the world” (364). ven as Lincoln dared to speculate that the high cost of lives for both North and South in he war might be a form of expiation for “every drop of blood drawn from the lash” used on he enslaved, he insisted that only “the judgments of the Lord” could be regarded as true and righteous altogether” (368).
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, to assert in times of crisis that “God is in charge” is not a warrant for Stoic passivity. On the contrary, what comes with such faith in God is a call to action. Here Meacham takes a deep dive into Psalm 19, from which Lincoln borrowed his reference to the “judgments of the Lord,” and argues that in this context, it points as much to the love as to the majesty of God. With his well-known final words of the Second Inaugural Address about showing “malice toward none” and exercising “charity for all” in an effort to “bind up the nation’s wounds,” or so BOOK REVIEWS 191 LUTHERAN QUARTERLY Volume 37 (2023): 191–193 © 2023 Johns Hopkins University Press and Lutheran Quarterly, Inc. Meacham concludes, “[t]he president was summoning the nation to see itself as a player in a divinely charged—and ultimately merciful and just—creation” (369). Acts of this type may still be the best hope of healing and reunion among us in the church as well as the land in which find ourselves today.
Annapolis, Maryland Jon Diefenthaler
The Augsburg Confession: Renewing Lutheran Faith and Practice. By Timothy J. Wengert. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2020. 349 pp.
This commentary on the Augsburg Confession (CA) aims to do what it says in the subtitle—to renew Lutheran faith and practice. Written by a coeditor of the Book of Concord (2000), the author demonstrates deep knowledge of the context and contents of this key Lutheran confessional document. Robert Kolb, fellow coeditor of the Book of Concord, writes in the Foreword that this commentary focuses on “the living voice of the gospel and its application in the world in which believers experience the blessings of God” (ix). This book, then, is much more than just another commentary on the CA.
In the introduction, the author stresses the importance of the confessional nature of the CA. It is far different from a series of doctrinal articles. “Luther put readers on notice that the real point of the Augsburg Confession was not simply stating correct doctrine or compelling compliance to such doctrine … but rather as a moment of confessing” (1). An overview of the context and history of events leading to the writing and public reading of the CA on June 25, 1530, follows.
The book has twenty-eight chapters, one for each article in the CA. These chapters are divided into two parts. The first covers the preface to the CA plus articles I through XXI (13–203). Each chapter follows a pattern. After what this reviewer terms a “teaser” chapter title, the author shares a personal experience or observation, drawn from his years as a scholar, teacher, and pastor. In part one, translations of both the German and Latin texts follow. Thereafter the author shares phrase by phrase reflections or commentary. Each chapter closes with “We Teach and Confess,” which links the
doctrine to present day teachings and practices. Of interest for this reviewer is the title of the fourth chapter, “The Christian’s Two Religions,” and its longer first section on Article IV (49–57). The author expands on the terms “Up Religion” and “Down Religion” to set the context for understanding the unconditional nature of God’s grace, as set forth in this key article on justification “on account of Christ through faith” (52).
Part two is entitled “Practicing the Faith” and focuses on articles XXII–XXVIII (215–299). The chapters follow the same pattern as earlier chapters, but reflections are limited to key sections of these much longer articles, with the text of the articles in an appendix with the German and Latin translations side-by-side on two-page
The epilogue, entitled “We Confess and Teach,” begins with a chilling first sentence. “They were caught in the act of confessing their faith” (293). A list and brief description of each of the signers of the original document follows. “This act of confessing shaped not just the document but also, more importantly, their witness within the church catholic down to the present day” (294). While the author then mentions ordination practice in the 1950s in the New York Ministerium where candidates were required to subscribe their names to the Augsburg Confession, this reviewer has witnessed this
same requirement for ordinands in the current Lutheran liturgies for ordination. The Augsburg Confession is as vibrant a confession now as it was in the sixteenth century!
Throughout, the author threads articles with common themes together, resulting in a beautiful confessional fabric, e.g., IV to III and VI (53–54), V to XVIII (59), VII to VIII and XV (83). This unifies the confession, thus discouraging reading the articles as a list
of disparate doctrines. Less key but helpful is the shift to sans serif typeface for longer quotations, as well as footnotes and an index to aid study of the text.
This book was a delight to read. For teachers, pastors and all interested in the distinctive nature of Lutheran confessions, this commentary, together with A Formula for Parish Practice: Using the Formula of Concord in Congregations (Wengert, Fortress Press, 2006), should be included as standard for classes on Lutheran confessional writings.
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Ronald K. Rittgers. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2021. 318 pp.
“O living God and consoler of all the sad-hearted, I have lost my most beloved treasure on
earth, for you have torn away a piece of my heart” (57). With these heart-wrenching words,
Johann Christoph Oelhafen (1574-1631) begins his Pious Meditations, a personal journal of
lament recording his year-long journey (1619-1620) through the grief and anguish caused by the
death of Anna Maria, his beloved wife of eighteen years and the mother of his eight children.
The loss of “my dear AMICO” (122) – the pet name he gave his wife, made up of their joint
initials – left him “a sad and miserable widower” (57) and his children as “poor orphans” (59).
History books often speak broadly of trends, controversies, and developments. Stories of
individuals, if they are included, are often told from a distance. That is not the case here. Here
one encounters in first person rhetoric a man from four hundred years ago from Nuremberg
revealing his heart with haunting candor as he cries out to God in prayerful sorrow, despair,
repentance, faith, and hope. The entries vary widely. Some appear measured, while others are
obviously marked by raw emotion. Johann Christoph was a rather skillful song writer and several
entries are hymns composed of multiple verses addressing God. In one poignant entry, on the
day of their wedding anniversary, he composed a song with the verses arranged in the form of a
dialogue with his precious AMICO in heaven: “[Verse 1:] AMICO, beloved darling, where have
you gone? …Speak or cry out, and help me lessen my heart’s sorrow. [Verse 2:] In this world,
ICO, you shall not find me…for I am, praise God, without pain, in the hall of joy; so now let
your worry completely pass away.” (124)
Rittgers’ translation of Johann Christoph’s Pious Meditations is much more than a mere
devotional for those today confronted by personal tragedy and sorrow. Indeed, it is rare to find a
book like this that can be used for personal devotions (as this reviewer did), while at the same
time serving as an invaluable primary source for academic research into early modern lay
spirituality in the midst of suffering. In this regard, it is an important complement to Rittgers’
earlier work The Reformation of Suffering: Pastoral Theology and Lay Piety in Late Medieval
and Early Modern Germany (Oxford University Press, 2012). This is no mere translation. Yes,
Rittgers has prepared a fluent translation that maintains the flow and rhythm (and color!) of the
original text. But he has also prefaced it with a well-researched introduction including copious
annotations situating the work within the wider context of current research on early modern
“piety theology” (Frömmigkeitstheologie), consolation literature, the ars moriendi, evangelical
lament literature, Lutheran funeral sermons, the Protestant duty of self-consolation, the place of
self-narratives in historiography, an intriguing possible connection to the Unio Christiana
brotherhood (an evangelical revival group found in surrounding cities), and much more. Useful
translation notes are located conveniently at the end of each journal entry, including specific
dates, biblical references, translation conundrums, possible interpretations, and connections and
allusions to existing hymns, songs, poems, and liturgical ordinances.
While studies of seventeenth-century Lutheranism have grown in recent years, a dire need
persists for “micro-historical narratives” to clarify, adjust, and augment the existing and, at
times, less than accurate “macro-historical narrative” of this time. This book does precisely that.
It is an exceedingly rare and valuable find precisely because it allows a glimpse into lay
spirituality. Although surely not a common villager, Johann Christoph was also not an academic
theologian, like Johann Gerhard, who wrote copious volumes of loci theologici, nor was he a
pastor, like Johann Arndt, exhorting his parishioners toward pious faithfulness. His is a lay
perspective, and yet his Pious Meditations are exceedingly rich with Reformation theology,
deeply rooted in Luther’s evangelical re-discovery, and closely connected to the sacraments. This
challenges any notion of a wide separation or discrepancy between academic theology and
pastoral exhortation, on the one hand, and lay spirituality, on the other. They were more closely
aligned than we might imagine.
Rittgers has made accessible a document that serves as an invitation to explore further the
relation between seventeenth-century academic theology, pastoral care, lay spirituality, personal
faith, and Christian lament and, perhaps, to discover that these enduring questions are just as
relevant today as they were four centuries ago.
Concordia University Glenn K. Fluegge
By Philippa Koch. New York: New York University Press,
2021. 263 pp.
During the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, St. Michael’s and Zion Lutheran hurch, then the largest Lutheran parish in the American colonies, continued to gather for worship each Sunday, despite much criticism from those who thought it unsafe. Pastor Heinrich Helmut defended their decision, noting that the congregation practiced what we would today call “social distancing,” kept the windows open, and shortened the service to mitigate potential spread of the contagion. The services, he argued, helped address the “hurtful fear” (129) that had engulfed the city.
This anecdote is one of many enlightening limpses offered by Koch in her study of religion and health in the eighteenth-century trans-Atlantic world. The book was conceived and begun before we had heard of COVID- 19, but its timely release in the midst of the ongoing pandemic offers an opportunity to earn from our forebears how to think religiously about sickness and death in the context of God’s Providence.
Koch examines a variety of sources, including “sickness narratives,” in which Christians wrote accounts of their own illnesses or those of their loved ones, and Christian tracts offering medical advice, such as John Wesley’s oft-reprinted Primitive Physic. It goes without saying that eighteenth-century people lived in much more immediate contact with sickness nd death than we do—one reason the coronavirus has been such a disruptive force in society and church. Listening, then, to how our ancestors tried to make sense of sickness can help us reconceptualize our own pandemic experiences.
Not that epidemics re Koch’s primary focus; the Philadelphia yellow fever outbreak is one chapter, but there s much more. She shows us how Christians understood more mundane illness, maternal ortality, and infant and child death. Cotton Mather, she tells us, was widowed three times nd fathered fifteen children, only two of whom survived him, and his reflections are sobering. One of the strengths of Koch’s work is that she gets beyond the too common reliance on Puritan writings in trying to understand Protestant 196 LUTHERAN QUARTERLY views. Mather is a major source for her, but so are the Lutheran Salzburgers in Georgia and the evangelicals influenced by Wesley. She
reveals the sometimes unexpected mutual influences among these individuals and groups, and she argues persuasively that there was a common Protestant approach to sickness and health, albeit with some different nuances among Calvinists, Lutherans, and Arminians.
That common approach was rooted in a robust sense of God’s Providence. Koch rightly demonstrates that even among the Calvinists, this must not be viewed as simple fatalism. While these Protestants wrestled every bit as much as we do with the question of why a gracious God would allow suffering and death, they seldom doubted God’s steadfast benevolence. The Christian’s task, they believed, is to submit, yes, but also to struggle to make sense of it. The way to do this was through retrospection —a faithful and honest examination of one’s past life and present suffering with the goal of finding the transcendent meaning in these experiences. To the extent that one can believe their accounts, they often got there.
Many pastors and others have faced the same struggle intensely these past two years. In that context, this book may have a wider usefulness than just an interesting study of one minor topic in American religious history. The perceptive reader will be moved by surprising insights into how eighteenth-century Christians faced sickness and death with confident assurance—lessons, we are discovering, we still need to learn.
Webster, New York Richard O. Johnson
The Course of God’s Providence: Religion, Health, and the Body in Early
America. By Philippa Koch. New York: New York University Press,
2021. 263 pp.
During the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, St. Michael’s and Zion Lutheran Church, then the largest Lutheran parish in the American colonies, continued to gather for worship each Sunday, despite much criticism from those who thought it unsafe. Pastor Heinrich Helmut defended their decision, noting that the congregation practiced what we would today call “social distancing,” kept the windows open, and shortened the service to mitigate potential spread of the contagion. The services, he argued, helped address the “hurtful fear” (129) that had engulfed the city.
This anecdote is one of many enlightening glimpses offered by Koch in her study of religion and health in the eighteenth-century trans-Atlantic world. The book was conceived and begun before we had heard of COVID-19, but its timely release in the midst of the ongoing pandemic offers an opportunity to learn from our forebears how to think religiously about sickness and death in the context of God’s Providence.
Koch examines a variety of sources, including “sickness narratives,” in which hristians wrote accounts of their own illnesses or those of their loved ones, and Christian tracts offering medical advice, such as John Wesley’s oft-reprinted Primitive Physic. It goes without saying that eighteenth-century people lived in much more immediate contact with sickness and death than we do—one reason the coronavirus has been such a disruptive force in society and church. Listening, then, to how our ancestors tried to make sense of sickness can help us reconceptualize our own pandemic experiences.
Not that epidemics are Koch’s primary focus; the Philadelphia yellow fever outbreak is one chapter, but there is much more. She shows us how Christians understood more mundane illness, maternal mortality, and infant and child death. Cotton Mather, she tells us, was widowed three times and fathered fifteen children, only two of whom survived him, and his reflections are sobering. One of the strengths of Koch’s work is that she gets beyond the too common reliance on Puritan writings in trying to understand Protestant views. Mather is a major source for her, but so are the Lutheran Salzburgers in Georgia and the evangelicals influenced by Wesley. She reveals the sometimes unexpected mutual influences among these individuals and groups, and she argues persuasively that there was a common Protestant approach to sickness and health, albeit with some different nuances among Calvinists, Lutherans, and Arminians.
That common approach was rooted in a robust sense of God’s Providence. Koch rightly demonstrates that even among the Calvinists, this must not be viewed as simple fatalism. While these Protestants wrestled every bit as much as we do with the question of why a gracious God would allow suffering and death, they seldom doubted God’s steadfast benevolence. The Christian’s task, they believed, is to submit, yes, but also to struggle to make sense of it. The way to do this was through retrospection—a faithful and honest examination of one’s past life and present suffering with the goal of finding the transcendent meaning in these experiences. To the extent that one can believe their accounts, they often got there.
Many pastors and others have faced the same struggle intensely these past two years. In that context, this book may have a wider usefulness than just an interesting study of one minor topic in American religious history. The perceptive reader will be moved by surprising insights into how eighteenth-century Christians faced
sickness and death with confident assurance—lessons, we are discovering, we still need to learn.
WEBSTER, NEW YORK
Richard O. Johnson
Who Rules the World: Divine Providence and the Existence of Evil. By Hans Schwarz. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2021. x + 210 pp.
Prolific German theologian Hans Schwarz examines theodicy, the defense of God, in his latest volume. If God is beneficent and omnipotent, then why is there evil? Before offering constructive thoughts, he surveys the major world religions, including those from antiquity which influenced Judaism and Christianity, the various presentations of evil in the Bible, and Christian thinkers from ancient times until the present. All the while he is sensitive to modern developments in the natural and social sciences. Schwarz is ever diplomatic, balanced, and charitable to whichever voice he is entertaining. The question of theodicy is urgent because, in the words of Georg Büchner, suffering is the “rock of atheism.”
The Bible presents a number of perspectives about the relationship between God and evil, including that God is himself the cause of good and evil (30). Even so, Genesis does not present the tempter, presumably the devil, as a participant in God’s heavenly court (though the Adversary is presented so in Job) (26). Jesus’ ministry included exorcism, a frontal attack on evil. Paul acknowledged that human nature is itself overshadowed by evil (49), and that humanity as a whole is alienated from God.
The mature Augustine, in contrast to his Manichean youth, which adhered to a conflict between an all-good spiritual deity and an all-evil bodily deity, argued that everything evil somehow contributes to oodness, indeed, ultimately the perfection of all created things. In contrast to Augustine, who viewed evil as a privation or lack of goodness, Martin Luther saw evil as having its own agency over against God. That said, Luther also acknowledged that God worked through evil “instruments,” evil persons. He also described God as doing an “alien work,” punishment designed to bring us to God’s mercy or grace. Nevertheless, God does not cause Satan or people to be evil; but, if they happen to be evil, that does not inhibit God’s agency to work through them. Indeed, God punishes thieves through other thieves.
In the early modern period, Leibniz, like Augustine, interpreted evil as a privation in our universe. In contrast to the Enlightenment’s tendency to affirm natural human goodness, Kant actually affirmed that the human will is prone to evil, apt to heed desires as opposed to ethical directives provided by reason (91). Twentieth-century thinkers, such as Dorothee Sölle, John Hick, or Process theologians, in light of world wars, the holocaust, nuclear proliferation, and the like, have been apt to emphasize the “weakness” of God.
Schwarz is at his best when he assesses matters. It is clear that God has ade a universe with various levels of interdependence amongst creatures and that he does not govern by coercion. Appealing to Martin Luther, Schwarz agrees that God orders all things in the world (154), but there are degrees of freedom, especially in matters of human choice, in which humans can either accord with God’s will or not, as codified in the Decalogue (whose statutes are echoed in many other cultures) (158). Luther’s great insight from his theology of the cross is that because God reveals himself under the “sign of his opposite,” that is, in the crucified Jesus, we cannot trace God’s working in history (164). God’s agency is not transparent. Unlike Calvin, God is no puppeteer “who simply pulls strings or who preordains every detail of history. While God is above and beyond the details of this world, allowing creation and humans freedom and a degree of independence, God is also in his creation and in history providing, where necessary, predictability in the natural processes and help from self-destruction through moral norms” (166). Thereby we need neither to buy into a facile optimism nor a fatalistic pessimism (183). It is clear that Job is onto something: bad things do happen to good people (191). Hence, evil is no mere privation but a power in its own right (193). Schwarz’s conclusion is that “God’s working toward fulfillment and perfection of creation is, so to speak, on the home stretch. Nevertheless, the evil forces in both nature and humanity should not be taken lightly” (193).
This book is accessible to pastors and educated laity. It deals with a topic of perennial interest and Schwarz handles it in a thorough, judicious, and responsible way.
GRAND VIEW UNIVERSITY
Des Moines, Iowa
Enemies of the Cross: Suffering, Truth, and Mysticism in the Early
Reformation. By Vincent Evener. New York: Oxford University Press,
2021. xi + 420 pp.
In the last generation the influence of mysticism on the Protestant Reformation has received a good deal of attention. While earlier studies focused on Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt and Thomas Müntzer, often with the goal of showing when and how each man deviated from Martin Luther, more recent work has highlighted the mystical elements in Luther’s early theology. Vincent Evener takes a different approach, showing how a theme prominent in late medieval German mysticism influenced the thought of all three reformers. The result is a fresh and fascinating view of the early Reformation in Wittenberg.
Evener argues that all three reformers adopted the annihilation of self-will and rejection of self-trust found in the post-Eckhartian mystical tradition. In doing so, they democratized a central element of late medieval mysticism, making it a necessary part of each Christian’s experience. The three men differed, however, in their definition of union with God, which had implications for the Christian’s life in the world. For Luther, union with Christ came through faith in God’s promise of forgiveness. In contrast, Karlstadt saw union as the soul’s sinking into the divine will. Müntzer understood union with God as the result of the soul’s emptying itself of created things and being possessed by the Creator, a process that begins with passing through tribulation.
Evener summarizes his argument in the Introduction, and then builds his case carefully in six chapters. The first chapter lays the foundation by tracing the development of the Eckhartian mystical tradition in the writings of Heinrich Suso, John Tauler, and the anonymous author of the German Theology. He then looks at the marginal annotations made by both Luther and Karlstadt in their copies of Tauler’s sermons, demonstrating that both men harmonized Tauler with Augustine’s understanding of the bondage of the will and prevenient grace. The next chapters look at developments in Wittenberg in the early years of the Reformation. Chapter Two examines Luther’s 95 Theses with their Explanations and the Heidelberg Disputation, showing how Luther’s theology of the cross picked up on mystical ideas of self-accusation and salvation as God’s work grasped by faith rather than achieved through one’s own natural powers. Chapter Three discusses the influence of mystical concepts in the works of both Luther and Karlstadt from 1519 up to 1522, pointing to what would become a significant difference between the two Wittenbergers: while Luther saw union with God as the result of trust amid trials, Karlstadt defined that union as a progressive sinking into the divine will. This difference became more pronounced in Karlstadt’s publications from 1522 to 1524, analyzed in Chapter Four. Rather than emphasizing faith, Karlstadt wrote of the knowledge of God and the Christian’s self-hatred. Christians were to pursue increased conformity to God’s will in process that would not be completed until after death. In the fifth chapter Evener turns to Thomas Müntzer, who shared with the Wittenbergers the fundamental conviction that Christians must suffer the complete destruction of their own efforts to receive salvation from God. Unlike the Wittenbergers, however, Müntzer saw suffering and tribulation as an initial experience for the elect. Once they had passed through this experience, the elect were possessed by God and able to act as his instruments gainst the godless. The final chapter brings together all three reformers. How to discern true from false suffering was an important concern for all three, for each regarded his own understanding of suffering as true and as attesting to the truth of his own teaching. Equally important are the corollaries for the Christian life each drew from his understanding of union with God through suffering, whether passive acceptance of suffering within daily life (Luther), active obedience to God’s law as an expression of his will (Karlstadt), or resistance to ungodly rulers (Müntzer).
This brief summary cannot convey the richness of detail in the book. Evener’s thematic approach allows him to avoid the Luther-centric approach of much earlier work and to highlight both the agreement among all three reformers regarding the necessity of suffering and the originality of each in their understanding of its consequences. Countering the close association of Karlstadt with Müntzer that goes back to the Wittenberg reformers themselves, Evener underscores the similarities between Karlstadt and Luther in the opening years of the Reformation as well as the significant differences between Karlstadt and Müntzer after 1523. The sensitive and sophisticated presentation of Karlstadt’s theology is one of the book’s strongest points. Without denying the validity of other approaches, Evener has brought to the fore a new way of understanding developments in Wittenberg. His book should be required reading for anyone interested in the origins of the Reformation.
UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA-LINCOLN
Amy Nelson Burnett
The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience. By Simeon Zahl. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020. 272 pp.
In this much-needed corrective, Zahl challenges the silence in mainstream Protestant theology surrounding “experience,” both as method and as data. In the process he invokes the unlikeliest of allies—Luther and Melanchthon. The irony is not lost on Zahl. Although Luther’s initial reform was rooted in his spiritual experience, he got spooked first by Karlstadt and later by other spiritualists,who pitted direct experience of the Spirit against scripture. Inherited Lutheran anxiety about experience got a fresh boost in Karl Barth’s tirade against it for equally understandable reasons.
Zahl demonstrates in detail how mainstream Protestant articulations of the “ontological” change in believers continue to dodge the issue, hiding a refusal to describe “experienced” effects of faith under the cover of, for example, “participation.” “Perhaps the chief contemporary theological target in this book is a certain kind of
complacency with theological abstraction that is often apparent in discussions of the Spirit” (70). The vacuum left in Protestant theology has been filled, in part, by neo-Thomist accounts of cooperation and habituation. While Zahl appreciates their willingness to speak of experience at all, the underlying soteriology and its religious
optimism leave him unconvinced. Indeed, the very Reformation Protestants who reject Roman Catholic accounts of soteriology and sanctification often do so on experiential grounds! Experience, Zahl insists, shapes the very kind of theologians we become.
What this suggests, at a minimum, is that Protestant theology in the tradition of the magisterial Reformation can continue no longer in its refusal to engage the topic of experience. Zahl further exposes this methodological lacuna as both a missional and a pneumatological deficit. After deftly diagnosing the issue, Zahl spends the remainder of his work sketching out a theological account of experience in keeping with Reformation doctrines of grace, faith, and sin.
One of the tools he invokes to this end is affect theory, which examines the interplay of reason, emotion, and bodiliness, with particular interest in “intransigence”—the ways in which our minds and bodies do not feel as we would like them to, and the ways in which human bodily experiences and problems persist over time apart from cultural change or verbal analysis. Zahl observes that affect theory can be described as an “unknowing rearticulation of the Lutheran doctrine of the bondage of the will under the guise of critique of the post-Enlightenment ‘fantasy of sovereignty’” (153).
The other tool is cognitive psychology, which Zahl wields against accusations that, for instance, forensic justification as an external “legal fiction” has no impact on believers whatsoever. To the contrary, there is broad consensus that the ideas people hold bear very directly on their emotions. On the strength of this insight, Zahl gives the warmest appraisal in recent memory of Melanchthon’s Apology and its profound appreciation of he interplay between what is held to be true about God (angry judge or forgiving mediator) and the corresponding emotions (terror or consolation). For Melanchthon, true ideas about God actually transform the believer’s affections toward God. And this is a real-time, historical, individual change. If anyone is talking legal fiction, it is those who claim ontological change in the believer but refuse to see any practically recognizable effects.
Well aware of the dangers of overspecification, Zahl nevertheless challenges theologians to speak of the “practical recognizability” of the believer’s experience of God the Spirit. Such elements will be temporally specific, embodied, affective, and recognized by believers themselves. Zahl explores these with Luther’s law-gospel
distinction and a range of Augustinian insights into desire, the limits of self-knowledge, and spiritual “mediocrity.” Zahl’s constructive account is particularly refreshing in its insistence on taking religious failure and non-transformation as seriously as spiritual success stories.
Zahl’s achievement is not only to demonstrate beyond any question of a doubt the urgency of reconsidering experience in theology but also to chart out a path in deepest fidelity to the Lutheran Reformation’s doctrine of grace.
TOKYO LUTHERAN CHURCH
Sarah Hinlicky Wilson
Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2020.
The first executions of the Protestant Reformation were carried out in russels on July 1, 1523, with the “ritual humiliation” (202–5) and burning of two Augustinian friars from the cloister in Antwerp: Hendrik Vos and Johann van den Esschen. The event is well known to historians of the Reformation yet, as Robert J. Christman points out, scholars have usually treated it as an isolated incident without any noteworthy backstory, connection to events in Wittenberg, or impact beyond its use as propaganda (12). Christman’s detailed analysis persuasively demonstrates that the executions were the culmination of a “proxy battle” between Martin Luther, Johann Lang, and other pro-Reformation leaders of the Congregation of German Reformed Augustinians, on the one side, and the pope and emperor on the other (14). The Congregation had only recently established the Province of Lower Germany, consisting of seven cloisters “located by and large in the patrimonial lands” of Charles V. Luther and his allies sought to advance the Reformation through these cloisters; the other side reacted swiftly, eventually shutting down and destroying the Antwerp cloister and separating the Province from the German Reformed Congregation (15, 60–70).
A significant discovery is that Luther and his allies capitalized on personal networks and used strategies established by Johann von Staupitz to expand the German Reformed Congregation into the Low Countries in the first place. Luther learned from Staupitz not only theology, but also a method of achieving reform that “relied heavily on the placement of enthusiastic and energetic individuals in key positions, and on the recruitment of young pursue studies in Wittenberg before returning to their home cloisters” (37; see also 98–106). Meanwhile, it was none other than the future Pope Adrian VI (Adrian Floiszoon) who had represented the canons of Antwerp’s Church of Our Lady in their effort to stop the founding of the observant cloister there in 1513–14.
The book is well-researched and well-argued, and Christman resists the temptation to overinterpret sometimes limited evidence while constructing a compelling picture overall. The book contributes to scholars’ understanding of the concrete processes through which the early Reformation succeeded or was stifled. The common assumption that the Reformation was ignited by ideas emanating from Wittenberg is dismantled—first because Luther and his allies did not rely simply on speaking or publishing their views, but on concrete strategies to achieve their goals within and through their order; second, because friars traveled a two-way street between the Low Countries and Wittenberg. Christman shows that friars from the Low Countries participated in the push for swift changes to worship and practice in Wittenberg in late 1521 to early 1522, and he documents the “autonomy and agency” of the Antwerp friars, who were shaped by the “long standing tradition of criticizing church practice and authority in that region” (121). Finally, Christman shows that personal connections heightened the political and theological significance of the executions for Luther; expected heroes of reform caved, but two young friars stood firm 140). Luther may have known Vos and van Esschen (54–55).
In addition to constructing the prehistory of the executions, Christman argues for the significance of the event in the Low Countries and the empire. In so doing, he argues for attention to events in the telling of the Reformation story. We cannot see the Reformation—or the counter to it, I would add— only as a Sprachereignis or as the result of controlled confessionalization; rather, there is need to see “historical events as shapers of opinion and stimulators of change” (222–23). The fact that the executions “worked [their] way into the fabric of early Reformation conflict” (185) and into debates on a wide range of topics (especially Mariology) makes it difficult to measure their broader impact. Christman argues that it is “difficult to overestimate [the] impact” of the executions (212); that said, Christman reminds us especially that sixteenth-century Christians had to process and somehow fit together a series of dramatic and often traumatic events.
UNITED LUTHERAN SEMINARY
Gettysburg and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The End of Empathy: Why White Protestants Stopped Loving Their Neighbors. By John W. Compton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020. 399 pp.
Lutherans make nary an appearance in this book which covers social justice advocacy amongst United States Protestants in the twentieth century. But this is a must-read book for anyone interested in how church, culture, and politics intersect, how denominations numerically grow or shrink, the status of the clergy in the wider public, and Christian engagement with economic inequity, racial injustice, or environmental matters. Compton, a political scientist at Chapman University, masterfully documents his research. In a word, he shows how American Protestantism, as it came to be dominated by Evangelicalism, ceased supporting social reform and instead began to resist it.
Compton contends that throughout much of the twentieth-century, mainline Protestantism led its members to “engage in apparently emphatic or otherwise costly forms of political behavior” precisely because it held a high standing amongst its members (5). Mainliners enjoyed high social status due to the fact that mainline Protestantism assisted people in economic upward mobility by publicly validating its members as upright citizens. Along with other progressives, mainline Protestants worked for and succeeded in the eradication of child labor in factories, the quest for reasonable workplace regulations, the construction of a social safety net, and support for civil rights laws (3). Even the forebears of contemporary Evangelicals often supported progressive causes. For instance, early twentieth-century Fundamentalists, like William Jennings Bryan, were critics of big business and friends of organized labor.
But the groundwork for many on the right was laid in the mid-twentieth-century by men like the oil baron J. Howard Pew who worked to undermine the economic agendas of the Federal Council of Churches which advocated that wealth be redistributed to as to help the poor. For people like Pew, strong unions, price controls, and the minimum wage resulted in producing more human suffering rather than less (107).
For Compton, mainline Protestantism’s greatest accomplishment was assisting in pressing for the 1964 Civil Rights Act (196). But not long thereafter, by the late 1960s, all mainline Protestant churches began to experience decline. He attributes this to a widespread weakening of religious authority, a loss in the social status of the clergy. This loss worked in tandem with the rise of a more individualized religiosity which helped Evangelicals, who championed a private spirituality and “family values,” be more successful in the religious marketplace. Specifically, two factors undercut the hold of the mainline on society. First, the work force sought people educated for more technological or service-related jobs and relied less on a church’s testimony about moral character. Informal social networks were less important as stepping stones to upward mobility. Second, an unprecedented surge in residential mobility resulted in people relocating to the sunbelt which historically had a lower level of religious commitment (11). Baby boomers increasingly could live life without the church (206-7). A majority of Evangelicals valued religion as a support for their lifestyles but not as a means to help the poor. There were exceptions, of course. For instance, Carl Henry was disturbed not only by the sexual revolution but also by pollution, economic inequality, and militarism. However, a progressive agenda was not to prevail.
I suspect that Lutherans play little role in the plotline outlined here because the majority of Lutherans in this country, accustoming themselves in this time period to becoming American, were not on the center stage of religious or political life. No doubt, the ELCA has tried to make up for lost time, but, for good or ill, has suffered the same results with membership loss as other mainline groups.
This book is a valuable read not only for church leaders, whether pastors or denominational judicatories, but also historians and sociologists.
Reviewed by Mark Mattes
Grand View University, Des Moines, Iowa.
Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2018. Volume One 399 pp. Volume Two 527 pp. Reviewed by Mark Mattes
Horton, Professor at Westminster Seminary, California, offers in these two volumes over 900 pages of some of the most important research done on the doctrine of justification from a Protestant perspective in the last several decades. Horton tackles the two most vocal objections to justification by grace alone through faith alone today: in the first volume, Radical Orthodoxy, the school established by John Milbank, and, in the second, the New Perspective on Paul. Both Radical Orthodoxy and the New Perspective on Paul see the classical doctrine of justification (as articulated by the magisterial Reformers) as unfaithful. For the former, the church is an ark saving humans from modern secularism while for the latter Paul was not concerned with delivering people from God’s wrath but instead incorporating Gentiles into the Jewish covenant community. Horton ably dismantles each views’ critiques of traditional Protestant views of justification, all the while upholding anything worthwhile that may arise in each perspective.
The first volume shows that the view of justification as a forensic declaration acquitting sinners due to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness was not an invention of Luther’s but instead a view found in the church fathers, voiced, for example, in the Epistle to Diognetus (I:39), Chrysostom (I:83), and Augustine (I:98). The villain undermining the truth of justification as forensic was Origen of Alexandria, reiterated later by the Pseudo-Dionysius, who schematized justification as a process of ever greater mimetic participation in the divine.
Given Radical Orthodoxy’s approval of Aquinas, Horton gives significant space to the Angelic Doctor. Horton argues that in spite of its appropriation of the Aristotelian views of movement (motus) (I:101), Aquinas’s version of justification, advocating a theory of infused grace which restores the proper order of the higher soul over the lower (I:101), is no semi-Pelagian stance. Instead, it is a defense against the heresy. After all, for Aquinas, salvation is not a result of human effort but instead is God’s work, since God moves the will and whole soul to the good (I:111). True, Aquinas undermines the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer all for the sake of affirming the interior efficacy of grace to transform the soul. But this in no way undermines the assertion that it is God’s mercy assisting the believer from beginning to end. No doubt, for Aquinas, grace is a “medicinal substance,” a formal cause where grace shapes believers’ habits to do good works (I:117), where the “movement” of faith is not perfect unless it is quickened by charity (I:121). Aquinas’ view is to be contrasted with that of John Duns Scotus who tends to pit God’s agency against human agency, since human agency is viewed less as participation in God and more as another agent over against God. Against Radical Orthodoxy, Horton sees greater parallels between Aquinas and Luther than between Scotus and Luther.
An important truth for the Reformers is that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness can serve as the basis for participation in God, that is, union with Christ, so important for both Luther and Calvin (I:212). The key difference between the classical Reformers and medieval thinkers is that union with God was the goal for medieval thinkers while it is the source for the magisterial reformers (I:255). At any rate, the Radical Orthodox criticism that sees Protestants as assuming that a human being’s agency is to be pitted against God’s is challenged. It simply is not the case that for the Reformers human agency is no longer “suspended” in God. Nor do the classical reformers posit a distinction of a “natural end” grounded in “pure nature” which is distinct from humanity’s ultimate “supernatural” end, as did Francisco Suárez. Indeed, for the Reformers, God does not merely act upon or above humans in fictitious decrees but instead within them to effectually bring about their conformity to Christ (I:178). No doubt, those following Gerhard Forde or Johann von Hofmann would disown Horton’s stance on Christ’s active obedience as necessary for human justification as a “legal scheme.” Nevertheless, for Horton, God’s law is only honored if justification includes the imputation of Christ’s active obedience to sinners. In Horton’s logic, justification thereby is no arbitrary decision (I:205). All Lutherans however would not be apt to follow Horton’s enfolding of law and gospel into a Calvinist-inspired “federal theology,” which distinguishes an original “covenant of works” for Adam and a “covenant of grace” for believers through Christ.
The second volume explicates justification through exegesis. It primarily focuses on various theories of “covenantal nomism,” traced back to E. P. Sanders, which argued that Second Temple Judaism believed that one became a member of God’s covenant through grace but one stayed true to this covenant through keeping the law (II:97). This theory believes that forgiveness from God was obtainable through repentance and that works were boundary markers distinguishing but also excluding Jews from Gentiles (II:31). In this perspective, Judaism offered a “robust” doctrine of grace, the key problem for Jews was not the question, “How will I go to heaven,” but instead, “When will the Exile be over?” (II:22) Paul thus was not establishing any individualistic view of salvation but instead interpreted Israel to have a wider mission, one inclusive of Gentiles.
Horton marshals evidence that the Judaism at the time of Jesus was far less grace-oriented than most New Perspective thinkers are willing to admit. He points out inconsistencies of the New Perspective’s re-telling of the faith. He takes Sanders’ contention that the slightest nomism vitiates the gospel (II:124) and runs with it. He notes that ultimately, for many ancient Jews, salvation depended on perfect obedience to the law (II:66), and so was, in Christian terms, Pelagian to one degree or another. Judaism was prone to legalism especially after the Temple’s destruction, since one’s piety and good deeds replaces sacrifices (II:184). For many Jews, salvation meant precisely what Paul said it was: salvation from God’s coming judgment (II:188). Since Paul appeals to Christ alone as the source of salvation, his faith stance offers a radical break with Judaism. Christ, not the Torah, is at the heart of God’s mercy. Paul’s articulation of justification was not merely for advocating Gentile inclusion. If it were, then it is curiously absent from Pauline texts such as 1 Thessalonians (II:181). Christ’s bearing human sin on the cross “was not a cathartic release of anger but a just satisfaction of God’s cosmic and covenantal righteousness that provided the basis for both our forgiveness and rectitude—legal rectitude in justification, moral rectitude in sanctification, and consummate rectitude of body and soul in glorification” (II:226). Indeed, “At the cross, Christ triumphs not by destroying this good and natural order of creation but by bearing the curse for our violation so that a new order based on Christ’s resurrection will emerge” (II:242). Much thinking indebted to the New Perspective on Paul, such as we find it N. T. Wright, is unduly biased against the clear words of Paul. It assumes a priori that Paul and the Reformers could not have shared the same view of the gospel, since they think Paul was concerned with integrating Gentiles into the covenant community and not with the forgiveness of sins. Horton shows that Paul was every bit as much concerned with deliverance from divine wrath as were the Reformers.
This two volume work is indispensable reading for any interested in rebutting current critiques of justification by grace alone through faith alone.
Grand View University
Des Moines, Iowa