Monday, October 26, 2009

LHP Review: The Gerhard Reboot

Gerhard, Johann. On the Nature of Theology and Scripture (Theological Commonplaces I) 2nd Edition. St. Louis: Concordia, 2009. 606 Pages. Cloth. $54.99. (LHP)

It is a brave thing to reboot. Windows users are often wary of the results. I thought I had problems with XP. Windows Vista 64-bit has been an even bigger headache. I wonder what joys Windows 7 will bring?

Star Trek had a major motion picture “reboot” last summer with mixed responses from fans.

Concordia Publishing House was wise and brave in their “reboot” of their series of Gerhard’s dogmatics, Theological Commonplaces. The original first volume was released under a different series editor. Readers and subscribers to the series noticed a significant “upgrade” when the second published volume appeared. Some reviewers (myself included) wrote that it would have been nice if the first volume had been published with the wealth of the appendices and supplemental resources of the second. Now it is here. (See QBR 3.1 for our positive review of the previous edition.)

CPH has given us the Second Edition of Theological Commonplaces I, presenting Johann Gerhard On the Nature of Theology as well as On the Nature of Scripture. The former serves as a preface to the whole series. The latter is the first locus.

One will note that this is a translation of the 1863 edition, rather than the 1864 source before. The reader is treated to a more clear Table of Contents, an Editor’s Preface explaining the “reboot” (xi), a wonderful new introduction (xiii ff), and several totally new additions.  The additions to this second edition include the two original Dedicatory Epistles (1ff), use of Greek and Hebrew, a very necessary glossary (489ff), a Name Index (492), the Scripture Index (506ff), and a mammoth Works Cited section (524ff).

These resources enhance a better more readable translation, as well as a better outline system for the text. The outline of the original edition frankly confused me. Seeing this makes the system abundantly clear.

I had the luxury of comparing the first and second editions side by side. As much as I loved having more Gerhard in English the first time, I’m even more pleased now.

In a time when theology and practice are divided in the minds of many even in our own beloved Synod, hearing Gerhard on what theology is and what it does could not be more timely. Please read this fourteen-page introduction to the topic. What have you to lose? Perhaps the LCMS could gain some clarity of mind and purpose of what is at stake in our task as a Church, as theologians and pastors and congregations who need to preserve pure teaching and also vigorously present that clear Gospel teaching to the world. (One may also better understand the significant changes in theology and practice in the Constitutional changes proposed by the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance. Pastors, share a little Gerhard with the delegates elected to represent your circuit in Houston and the upcoming regional caucuses.)

As before, I particularly appreciated Gerhard’s presentation of the usefulness and weakness of the Apocrypha. Reading Gerhard will equip you to field questions about the many PBS/History Channel/Discovery Channel programs about the “banned books of the Bible.” If only the watchers of such programs were more familiar with the facts as Gerhard presents them, the great unwashed masses wouldn’t so gullibly accept such historical and theological atrocities as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. If the producers of such shows/books were better informed, perhaps their art forms, novels, documentaries, or films would be edifying for faith in Christ than working to destroy faith in Christ.

Benjamin T. G. Mayes has a tremendous project on his hands, no doubt a worthy work to which he will likely dedicate a couple decades of his life to complete. Making the monumental work of Johann Gerhard available to English-speaking Lutheranism is worth such a sacrifice of time dedication.

I love this “reboot.” Budget for it. Concordia has not yet released a third volume so they could bring you this new and improved edition of On the Nature of Theology and Scripture (Theological Commonplaces I). On Christ is forthcoming. I can't wait!

I doubt CPH has a “trade-in” policy or an automatic discount for previous purchasers, but your congregational library would no doubt benefit if you chose to give them your copy of the former edition when you purchase the second edition.

A pdf "Addendum" to the first edition is available for download at:

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.