- Der Homiletische Entwurf von Gerhard Aho (1923–1987): Studie zur Rekonstruktion eines Nordamerikanischen Lutherischen Predigtkonzepts by Daniel J. Schmidt
Based on his doctoral dissertation at an institution of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church, a German church in fellowship [End Page 485] with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Schmidt’s title translates as The Homiletical Proposal of Gerhard Aho (1923–1987): Study for the Reconstruction of a North American Lutheran Preaching Concept.
Some information about the author’s experiences establishes the interest of this German scholar in North American preaching. After Schmidt’s ordination in Germany in 1991, he served as a missionary in Congo and Botswana, where he preached in French and the local languages. While attending a preaching seminar in South Africa, he reflected on how theology is communicated in these different cultures. How useful is it to talk about “sin” when the word for such in the local language describes something different than what is meant by Lutheran theology? How does one preach effectively when listeners come from a variety of Christian traditions or none at all? How does one speak meaningfully to communities ravaged by AIDS?
This “crisis” of cross-cultural communication led him to reflect on his time as an exchange student at Concordia Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The different educational approach that he experienced there left a deep impression on him. In seeking to address the question of cross-cultural preaching, he was drawn once again to the teaching of his former homiletics professor at Fort Wayne, Gerhard Aho. Schmidt justifies the use of the word “reconstruction” in reference to Aho’s work, noting that Aho’s career was devoted mostly to teaching, resulting in a paucity of published writings.
Schmidt argues that Aho’s teaching is an example of how to communicate theology not only cross-culturally, but also in the midst of shifting cultural trends. In the first section, Schmidt provides a brief overview of Aho’s life, noting his Finnish background as a part of the National Evangelical Lutheran Church, which merged into the Missouri Synod in 1963. This Finnish revival tradition was rooted in the theology of Fredrik Gabriel Hedberg and focused on the power of the proclaimed Word of God. The second section discusses the complex homiletical situation in the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, touching on issues such as the influence of European theology and rhetorical style, the struggle to maintain a law and gospel focus in Lutheran preaching given the popularity of liberal and moralistic theology, and especially the emergence of a “new homiletic” in response to the changed situation of the second [End Page 486] half of the twentieth century. The last major section discusses Aho’s concept of preaching, which responds to the changed situation with a call for a more relational preaching style, geared toward listeners in their context while maintaining a Lutheran confessional focus on the external Word.
Schmidt’s German is relatively basic, but it still requires a strong reading knowledge, all the while being peppered with English language quotations from Aho and others. He also assumes knowledge of twentieth century German theology, making this book useful for advanced students in homiletics. Yet he highlights many issues, such as sermon preparation, homiletical style, and the role of personality in preaching, that are relevant to any preacher. The book’s general usefulness, however, might lie in the way it prods North American Lutherans to seek out and be shaped by expressions of the faith in other parts of the world. Finally, though understandably outside the scope of Schmidt’s work, one longs for greater discussion of how he understands Hedberg’s Finnish revival tradition to contrast to other Finnish pietistic revival movements of the time.