Online Articles

Review of “Abundant Harvest: Stories of Asian Lutherans”

To the average American Christian imagination, Africa is still the continent in need of missionaries. The slightly better informed imagination realizes that Christianity is already a vibrant reality in Africa, neck in neck with Islam for religious dominance. Europe’s Christianity is dying, South America is being traded between Catholics and Pentecostals, and North America we know all too well. But… Asia? Somehow Asia has fallen from the radar, or never got picked up on it in the first place…

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Review of The Pastoral Epistles with Philemon and Jude by Risto Saarinen

In the spring 2010 issue of Lutheran Forum, the Finnish Lutheran theologian Risto Saarinen contributed an article called “The Letter of Jude, a Christian Midrash,” based on his work for this volume in the Brazos series. But his whole commentary not only fleshes out Jude (“the most neglected book in the New Testament”) a bit further: it also gives extensive treatment on four pauline epistles. A curious combination—one wonders if the editors just rounded up the ragtag leftovers to be lumped together in one book—but Saarinen manages to treat each book on its own terms, which makes for rewarding reading, however odd the assortment…

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Review of Quest for the Living God by Elizabeth A. Johnson

Like many others, I first heard of Elizabeth Johnson’s 2007 book Quest for the Living God from the media frenzy following the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ criticism of it earlier this year. (The news release can be found here, but the link to the actual statement no longer works; if you can get your hands on paper copies of the Catholic news service Origins, you can follow all the exchanges between the bishops and Johnson.) A matter of particular dismay was that the whole process of criticism and subsequent publication of it was done, to all appearances, in secret; Johnson didn’t know about it much before anyone else in the general public did. There were procedural issues, not to matter principles of basic civility, that seem not to have been taken into account. Johnson herself eventually responded with a 38-page response concluding: “Ideas are taken out of context and twisted to mean what they patently do not mean. Sentences are run to a conclusion far from what I think or the text says. False dilemmas are composed. Numerous omissions, distortions, and outright misstatements of fact riddle the reading. As a work of theology, Quest for the Living God was thoroughly misunderstood and consistently misrepresented in the committee’s Statement”…

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Review of Martin Luther’s Theology by Oswald Bayer

Martin Luther’s Theology, a masterly and mature summary by the grand old man of Luther studies in Germany, is not just a review of the reformer’s thought across the doctrinal loci: it is a handbook for life. This is quite deliberate on Bayer’s part. “Intellectual knowledge about faith,” he writes in the Preface, “is not separated from the affective experience of faith; the art of disputation serves the task of caring for souls” (xvi). Bayer consistently refuses the “God’s-eye” approach to theology, which looks down from heaven upon a complete and seamless whole. Instead he, with Luther, with all sinners struggling toward faith, looks up from the midst of the struggle, sorting out the interplay of human hope and doubt surrounding the promise of Jesus Christ…

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Review of Seventeenth-Century Lutheran Meditations and Hymns

This latest in the massive Classics of Western Spirituality Series helps to fill in a hole in the anglophone world’s knowledge of Lutheranism after the Reformation. The three devotional writers featured here—Johann Gerhard, Heinrich Müller, and Christian Scriver—as well as the assorted hymnwriters were all seventeenth-century men, well after the Reformation but just before the flowering of Pietism. They held their own, Gerhard in particular, in the confessionalization of European Christianity, but, as editor Eric Lund is at pains to point out, that didn’t mean they were dry-as-dust concretizers of orthodoxy, penning erudite but irrelevant volumes on esoteric themes. Quite the contrary, living in one of the most traumatic periods of European history, and dealing with the fallout in their parishioners’ lives, they were very much concerned with the personal faith of Lutherans and how it was expressed in daily life…

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Review of Parade of Faith by Ruth A. Tucker

“As church history marches into the twenty-first century, we find Billy Graham on the final night of his final crusade, March 12, 2006, leading a parade of sixteen thousand followers from the vast New Orleans Arena to Bourbon Street to claim the infamous French Quarter for Christ. Riding a motor scooter, Graham serves as grand marshal, as Christians lift their voices singing, ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’ What a fitting climax to one man’s career and to a two-thousand-year parade of history! Problem is, the story is an Internet hoax. It is a reminder that even sacred history includes lies and urban legends.” So writes historian Ruth Tucker near the end of her remarkable nearly five hundred-page biographical pilgrimage through Church history. She willingly looks at the good, the bad, and the ugly of Christian history as she portrays many of the greats from down through the ages…

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Review of Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels by James D. G. Dunn

In the compass of a relatively short book Professor Dunn has assumed a monumental task. He describes it, ‘to fill up the gap between Jesus and the Gospels, as well as to explain how the Gospels formed a new literary genre, and how the Fourth Gospel fitted with the others”…

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Review of Who Is Jesus? Disputed Questions and Answers by Carl E. Braaten

I have had the experience more than once before of spending most of my time reading a book being utterly perplexed as to what it was supposed to be about, not because of any unclarity on the part of the writer but because of the title. Perhaps this is a marketing department issue more than anything else. In any event, such was my experience in working my way through this latest offering of Carl Braaten. At the end, my hunch was confirmed by the author himself…

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Review of Feasts, Fasts and Seasons in Early Christianity

The past is always changing, which is rather confusing for us since we think of it as fixed and finished. But it does change, in the sense that what we know about it and how we interpret it changes. In particular, it is separating out our interpretations based on our contemporary notions from “the way it really happened” that makes a regular reassessment of evidence about the past an extremely necessary task. This is what Paul F. Bradshaw and Maxwell E. Johnson (the latter an ELCA pastor and professor at Notre Dame) set out to do…

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Review of Critical Issues in Ecclesiology: Essays in Honor of Carl Braaten

Carl Braaten is one of today’s Lutheran theological giants. Here is a Festschrift, a fitting tribute to his contributions from his peers and the students nurtured by his distinguished and skillful teaching. His bibliography of his published work included in this volume is 17 pages long!…

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