- Book of Harmony. Spirit and Service in the Lutheran Confessions by Martin J. Lohrmann
Lohrmann teaches at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. Here he offers an overview of the The Book of Concord, the Lutheran collection of confessional documents from the sixteenth century. Lohrmann wants to make the case that this compendium of creeds, catechisms, and confessions needs to be dusted off, studied, and used to inform the life of the contemporary church. One can see the teacher at work on almost every page as Lohrmann carefully explains why we should still care about doctrines such as predestination or the real presence of Christ in the sacraments. In [End Page 205] a style that is admirably clear and accessible, he takes complicated theological concepts and makes them relevant for students, pastors, and laypeople.
The pastoral dimension of the confessional writings is clearly important to Lohrmann. He rightly recognizes that these texts often get labeled as the "pure teaching," a designation that sometimes authorizes their use as a weapon in theological controversies. The focus of this book is decidedly more irenic. A good example is Lohrmann's treatment of the controversies that swirled around the Lord's Supper. As most students of the sixteenth century know, Holy Communion was a flashpoint for arguments between Lutherans and the Reformed—to say nothing of how Luther and his followers collided with the so-called "left-wing" of the Reformation. The language was often intemperate and the disputes fierce. The confessions themselves reflect this fire and passion. Lohrmann, however, takes a different tack and tries to underline why the understanding of Christ's presence mattered so much to the Lutheran reformers. He rightly points to the pastoral issue of assurance and stresses how consciences wrestling with doubts and uncertainty need to anchor their faith securely in a Christ who is tangibly present in the bread and wine.
Lohrmann is also a student of Timothy Wengert, the well-known authority on Philip Melanchthon, who is responsible for a number of the writings in The Book of Concord. Melanchthon's reputation has often suffered as one who "betrayed" Luther. Wengert has done a masterful job trying to correct this image and it is not surprising that these pages reflect a similar opinion of Philip. I have no quibbles with this as I think Wengert is largely right. But it might have been helpful on occasion for Lohrmann to note the significant (but not public) differences between the two reformers. Melanchthon never had a robust understanding of Luther's belief that the "finite can contain the infinite." Further, a troubling gap eventually developed between the two on the issue of the freedom of the will. Perhaps a more nuanced view of their theologies would have made more clear the way Lutherans tolerated diverse views in their own camp.
Overall, Lohrmann's book has successfully completed a difficult mission. It interprets the confessional writings for readers in a [End Page 206] post-modern age in a way that makes them living documents. This work opens up new insights for faith and Christian life. It demonstrates that the theological ideas which animated the Lutheran reformers some five centuries ago still have the power to stir hearts and minds today.