Book Reviews


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.

Although the locus “eschatology” had often been a slighted doctrine in public theology until the twentieth century, God’s final judgment of humankind has usually played an important role in popular piety, certainly in part because of its final consequences for every human being. The Last Day, as the conclusion of the human narrative in this frame of existence, lends itself to depiction by graphic artists, composers and hymn writers, poets, and (rarely) playwrights.


Read the full review HERE

This monograph is the translation of Thomas Kaufmann’s Erlöste und Verdammte: Eine Geschichte der Reformation, first published in German in 2017. It represents the effort of this leading historian to  provide an accessible overview of the Reformation and its historical  impact on its five-hundredth anniversary. Not designed to break new  ground, the book offers a succinct, yet summative and insightful  picture and appraisal of the Reformation in the context of Western  and global history. The key question the volume raises for this  reviewer is how Kaufmann presents the Reformation and what he  makes of it as an historical event five hundred years on. 

Read full article HERE.

Edited by Kirsi I. Stjerna. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2022. xxviii 395 pp.

Reviewed by Martin J. Lohrmann, Wartburg Theological Seminary Dubuque, Iowa

This wonderful and important collection shares the stories and writings of many women who worked to reform European Christianity in the early modern era. The majority of the thirty-three articles focus on a single woman or community each, describing their subjects’ respective historical contexts and enduring significance. The primary source material that concludes many entries further enriches contemporary understandings of Reformation-era values and perspectives.

The book’s organization is clear and easy to follow. After a general introduction by editor Kirsi Stjerna, the text begins with studies of women who were either published writers or who worked in publishing in the early Reformation, including Katharina Schütz Zell and Argula von Grumbach. ections on female leaders in different parts of Europe follow. These include political figures like Dorothea Susanna of the Palatinate, Queen Elizabeth I of England, and Marguerite of Navarre, along with local leaders like Katharina von Bora, Anne Askew, and women who influenced the Reformed and Anabaptist movements.

Read the full article HERE

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.




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
spreads (300–343).

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.

Suzanne Hequet

Concordia University
Saint Paul, Minnesota

Translated by
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
Irvine, California

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.



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.



Mark Mattes
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.


Amy Nelson Burnett
Lincoln, Nebraska

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.



Sarah Hinlicky Wilson
Tokyo, Japan

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.