A Harvest of Lutheran Dogmatics and Ethics: The Life and Work of Twelve Theologians 1960–2020

Edited by Carl E. Braaten

Delhi, NY: ALPB Books, 2021. Paperback. 228 Pages. $21.00.

Reviewed by David P. Scaer on 03/01/2022

Established to bring the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) into the American religious mainstream, the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau (ALPB) fosters views that are more common in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) than in the LCMS. Irreconcilable are the stances on abortion, same sex marriage, homosexuality, women and transgender clergy, and church fellowship, with the ELCA in communion with nearly every major mainline denomination. These are ho-hum issues in that the pastors of one synod are rarely inclined to discuss them with those of the other. Things are pretty well-set in cement. Since there is little more to say, it is a surprise that no LCMS theologian is included in this book. In effecting how Lutherans in America are separated from one another, perhaps no one was of more importance than Robert D. Preus. Kurt E. Marquart was well known in the LCMS for upholding its traditional theology. There is no mention of them. Irony upon irony, the ALPB, established as a LCMS auxiliary, has cut its veins to the main artery. (See Changeless World, Changeless Christ [ALPB 2018]). It is as if what happened in the LCMS in the 1960s and 70s never happened—but it did happen, and it shaped how Lutheranism in American is now. Here is an opportunity for a second edition without changing the title.

With that necessary prolegomenon, Braaten has produced a readable overview into theologians who, in their time, made a difference in the synods that now comprise the ELCA. R. Sponheim, Philip Heffner and Ted Peters are largley unknown in the LCMS. Robert Bertram and Edward Schroeder may still be familiar to LCMS septuagenarians and those older. Of interest is William H. Lazareth, one-time bishop of the ELCA Metropolitan Synod. One evening, with members of the Fort Wayne faculty, he bemoaned the decline of his parent synod. Regarding good works, he proposed a “second use of the gospel,” but could not totally reject the third use of the law, which remains cliché among up-and-coming theologians (71). He was willing to talk about coming to an accommodation on the issue. Gerhard Forde is also one of Braaten’s chosen twelve and coined the phrase “radical Lutheranism,” a program that offers a caricature of the Lutheran doctrine of justification that holds to the first and second uses of the law but not the third. Christians spontaneously do good works, and so there is no need for the law. God is also exempted so that justification takes place by faith in the preached word without Christ making an atonement for sin. God forgives simply because he can and is merciful (40–44). Braaten includes himself as the twelfth theologian. Self-critique is the reverse image of the one who has sin throwing the stone at himself. Theological self-flagellation is rare. His approach to his subjects is relaxed with no axes to grind, and so he gets at the core of the matter without malice. This is a delightful read. It should be noted that Braaten, along with Robert Jensen and Forde, two of his twelve subjects, was involved in the Christian Dogmatics, a textbook of sorts for the ELCA.