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

Alberto L. Garcia and Susan K. Wood (editors) Critical Issues in Ecclesiology: Essays in Honor of Carl E. Braaten (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011).

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!

Robert Jenson introduces the Festschrift as his own longest standing collaborator. Indeed, the two have completed so many projects together that the names “Braaten and Jenson” roll off the tongues of modern American Lutherans, whether in agreement or not.

Jenson emphasizes that Carl Braaten has been single mindedly dedicated to the church throughout his life. First, he has been a reformer as was noticed early when he was denounced by Christian Century for proposing that reunion with the Bishop of Rome is a valid ecumenical goal. Secondly, he is a missionary, committed to bringing pagans to Christ, as his parents did in Madagascar. Finally he remains specifically Lutheran and Jenson predicts that should he someday be “the last theological Lutheran standing in the officially Lutheran church to which he belongs, he will register the fact and carry on protesting.”

Ecclesiology is not usually considered important to Lutherans. When Gustav Aulen was writing on the Lutheran concept of the church Cheryl Peterson reports someone saying,  “I congratulate Swedish theology that it has so much time and peace that it can occupy itself with something so peripheral.” We are partial to an American evangelicalism to which Timothy George attributes “two besetting diseases”: “amnesia –we have forgotten who we are; and myopia –whoever we are, we are glad we are not ‘them’!”

Widespread reading of this Braaten Festschrift could begin our cure from the besetting diseases. When we American Lutherans are challenged to a stronger, more robust ecclesiology, we often try to dismiss the challenge with one or more weapons from our arsenal of Lutheran slogans. “Justification,.” “Real Presence,” “Sola Scriptura,” “Priesthood of All Believers,” etc. Braaten’s admirers argue that such distinctive Lutheran axioms do not impede our developing a stronger, more wholesome ecclesiology.

All of the essays are rich in biblical reflection. All can be said to be in serious conversation with the Lutheran tradition, even though not all authors are Lutheran. Braaten himself is quoted frequently either as a “spring board” or to demonstrate agreement in conclusions. Always the Great Tradition is respected in these essays which, in some, results in questioning how the structures American Lutherans have created actually function. They may not function well at all.

That will be no surprise to Carl Braaten. If more of us will read this book we may not have to worry that Carl will be the “last theological Lutheran standing.”

The Real Deal

Posted by Padre Dave Poedel, STS at March 11, 2012 00:04 I have had the privilege, these past 4 or 5 years, of getting to know Dr. Braaten, mainly as the Teaching Theologian for recent Society of the Holy Trinity Chapter retreats, the most recent one I hosted here in Phoenix where we both, coincidentally reside.

What a joy it has been to get to know this theological powerhouse! I doubt I would had the respect for Carl I now have if I would have had him as my Professor in my formative years as a Lutheran Pastor, as my conservatism would have prevented me from really hearing him. I thank God we have met in these more mature years as I have a great appreciation for his theology as an Evangelical Catholic, a moniker I claim for myself.

This collection of essays is a small beginning to the unpacking of Braaten’s theology mainly because his contribution continues as he is now heard by a new, more catholic generation of Lutherans.

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