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  • Nineteenth-Century Lutheran Theologians ed. by Matthew L. Becker
  • Joshua C. Miller
Nineteenth-Century Lutheran Theologians. Edited by Matthew L. Becker. Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 2016. 359pp.

This compendium reflects on sixteen theologians of the time between the revolutions at the end of the 1700s through the end of World War I, beginning with Friedrich Schleiermacher and ending before Karl Barth (7–8). Six of the excellent essays (those on Schleiermacher, Hegel, Thomasius, Hoffmann, Kähler, and Söderblom) were first published in Lutheran Quarterly; their collection and publication together was undertaken jointly by Lutheran Quarterly and Vandenhoek & Ruprecht (8). The authors present concise biographical sketches of these theologians, drawn from various currents in the stream of Lutheran theology, and demonstrate how they have exercised great influence and deserve to be studied by Lutherans today.

Several theologians—such as Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Ritschl— may be recognized as chief figures of European thought in the modern era. Beyond the familiar lines of thought and intellectual influences of these thinkers, the authors explore how these men functioned as Lutheran theologians, explaining how Lutheran theological impulses consequently shaped their thought as each sought to be faithful Lutherans in the modern world. Mark Mattes demonstrates Hegel’s desire to articulate a “genuinely Lutheran view of the [Lord’s] supper” in arguing that the finite can indeed bear the infinite and against Kant that the secular is not cut off from the sacred (55). Darrell Jodock argues that Ritschl focused on Christ’s justifying work rather than on Christ’s person out of a deep commitment to [End Page 452] Melanchthon’s teaching that “to know Christ is to know his benefits” (288). Carl Hughes highlights how Kierkegaard, while drawing inspiration from Luther and Lutheranism, also reacted against them through his criticism of the law/gospel dialectic. Kierkegaard felt that Luther and Lutheranism were too one-sided in a preference towards the gospel, leading to the cheapening of grace, dogmatization of faith, and immorality in society (245–248).

The systematic theologians Theodosius Harnack, Gottfried Thomasius, and Johannes C. K. von Hoffmann may not be as well-known as the giants of modern European intellectual thought, but they influenced future generations of Lutheran theologians. Harnack pioneered the modern interpretation of Luther’s theology, beyond the hagiography of pietism or the repristination of some confessionalists (273), and opened the door to the study of Luther’s distinction between the hidden and the revealed God (271). The Franconian theologian Thomasius was both an influential educator of Lutheran pastors and one of the founding thinkers of the Erlangen theological school (119). Hoffmann, whose work influenced Gerhard Forde’s radical Lutheranism, brought a renewal of a theological reading of the Bible not simply as an historical source but as the means by which God seeks to have a relationship with his creatures (195).

Wilhelm Löhe, C.F.W. Walther, and Charles Krauth are known for their leadership in confessional Lutheran resistance to Protestant unionism and the mainlining of Lutheranism. Krauth proclaimed full subscription to the Augsburg Confession at a time when his teacher Schmucker had popularized an Americanization of Lutheranism that rejected baptismal regeneration and the real presence as “medieval remnants” (298–299). Löhe combined a confessional zeal with a missional heart, emphasizing not only the importance of the guidance of the Lutheran Confessions for preaching the word and administering the sacraments, but also that all Christians participate in the mission of God to bring the gospel to everyone (182, 185). Walther’s confessional full subscription to the entire Book of Concord, was democratized by his insistence on congregational church government and that safeguarding the teaching of right doctrine belonged not just to the ordained clergy but to all Christians (220–224). [End Page 453]

Others presented here have been influential in biblical studies, ethics, ecumenism, and public theology. Roy Harrisville points out how Johann Beck united historical studies of Scripture with private devotion and public proclamation (132–133). Mark Seifrid notes that although a “theological reading” of the Bible may be more in vogue now than the historical methods pioneered by F.C. Bauer, discounting the wisdom of Bauer may cause reading the Bible to...


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