- Bound Choice, Election, and Wittenberg Method: From Martin Luther to the Formula of Concord
Robert Kolb has been one of the most productive Reformation scholars during the past three decades, especially in the English-speaking world. While he has written on a variety of subjects, his particular research interests and most important scholarly contributions have focused on Martin Luther's immediate students and heirs. His intensive study of a volatile period in Lutheran history, namely, the decades from 1550 to 1580; his broad acquaintance with the primary sources; and his balanced perspective on the two competing and often conflicting Lutheran theological communities, the so-called Gnesio-Lutherans and the Philippists, are clearly evident in this admirable study of intellectual history or, more precisely, historical theology. [End Page 282]
Kolb focuses on the crucial issues of the human will and predestination as he explores the reception of Luther's and Philip Melanchthon's theology among their students. He begins his work with an analysis of the two Reformers' assertions regarding bound choice, particularly in Luther's De servo arbitrio and Melanchthon's Loci communes. His analysis notes that while these influential figures in the creation of the evangelical, or Lutheran, theological heritage shared much in common, they also differed, particularly since Luther was primarily a preacher and Melanchthon a teacher. Both colleagues sought to affirm God's total responsibility to save and the total human responsibility to trust God's promises and obey God's will. Both theologians also recognized the paradoxical relationship of these two realities and sought to retain the paradox. However, Melanchthon wanted to avoid the notion of absolute necessity and was more concerned about the psychological dimensions of humanity. Hence, the Reformers often approached the themes of bound choice and predestination with differing perspectives. The heart of this study, and its most important contribution, is Kolb's careful analysis of the Wittenberg circle of Luther's and Melanchthon's students and the theological debates in which they engaged during the third quarter of the sixteenth century, particularly the synergistic controversy. As he identifies the antagonists in these conflicts, places their debates into their historical contexts, explores the content of the theologians' arguments, and clarifies particular presuppositions and perspectives, the theological, ecclesiastical, and pastoral priorities of such thinkers as Viktorin Strigel, Nikolaus Gallus, Cyriakus Spangenberg, Jakob Andreae, and Martin Chemnitz come into clear focus.
Kolb accomplishes a great deal in this volume. His analysis of Luther's and Melanchthon's insights regarding bound choice and predestination is concise, yet incisive. His balanced description of the theological feud between the Gnesio-Lutherans and the Philippists is instructive. His thorough, empathic, and nuanced analysis of the second-generation Lutheran theologians and their writings serves to bring them further out of the shadow of historical anonymity. Although the work is primarily an exploration of historical theology, Kolb does not ignore the historical context and places the theological debates into their ecclesiastical and political settings. His attention to the reception of Luther's and Melanchthon's theological perspectives indicates that the impact of their ideas was pervasive, even though their heirs did not cite their teachers extensively, not because of disrespect but because they, like the Reformers themselves, considered their own theology to be scripturally based and normed. Kolb is also to be commended for his consistent use of inclusive language when referring to human beings, although his God-language is quite traditional.
The hermeneutical key employed by Kolb, namely, that the whole Wittenberg circle of theologians attempted to retain the paradox of God's total responsibility and human total responsibility in the divine-human relationship, is surely defensible. However, Kolb is reluctant to admit that Luther, Melanchthon, and their students were not always consistent in maintaining the paradox and, thus, periodically espoused a double-predestinarian or synergistic position. [End Page 283] They did so precisely because they sought to preserve God's integrity and human integrity by insisting on God's...