Friday, August 13, 2010

LHP Review: Law & Gospel!

Walther, C. F. W. Law & Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible (A Reader's Edition). St. Louis: Concordia, 2010. 514 Pages. Cloth. $29.99. (Purchase 5 or more for $19.99 each.) (LHP)

This is a big book. It's importance to pastoral care and preaching cannot be underestimated. I am very thankful that this new edition by Concordia has brought it back into prominences as part of The Essential Lutheran Library.

Far too often, laypeople haven't known about this work by our synod's first president. Pastors may have thought that it was just for pastors since it has been used as a text for homiletics courses. Why not start teaching these theses in age appropriate ways in Sunday School, VBS, and Confirmation classes? In the past, I have used Walther's masterwork as a Bible Study outline for a Sunday morning series.

Dr. Walther introduces his hearers (and readers) to the difficult theological art of properly distinguishing Law and Gospel with his first of twenty-five Theses:

The doctrinal contents of all Holy Scripture, both of the Old and the New Testaments, consist of two doctrines that differ fundamentally from each other. These two doctrines are Law and Gospel.

Missouri Synod laypeople are generally aware of this truth because of generations of faithful preachers. Now, many more will be able to read and better understand why it is so important.

If Law and Gospel are not properly distinguished, God's Word is not properly understood. This impacts faith in Christ. The clear, pure teaching of the gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ alone is at stake. Misunderstandings of the Law turn the Law into a do-it-yourself salvation. Misunderstandings of Gospel turn Christ into a new lawgiver, or one way to God among many. In Christianity, focus only on the law leads to hypocrisy, despair, or both. Everyone else has the law (false religions, civil government, etc.). Only the Christian Church has the Gospel!

Thesis XXV is an essential bookend:

You are not rightly distinguishing Law and Gospel in the Word of God if you do not allow the Gospel to predominate in your teaching.

How many Christian preachers would find their sermons and pastoral care improved just by adopting Theses I and XXV?

This edition is different from the abbreviated version called God's No and God's Yes. It contains the whole of Walther's Luther Hour Lectures on Law and Gospel. It differs from the previous brown and blue/black editions used in the homiletics classroom. Walther's German is given a hearty English translation that echos his own personal style, similar in many ways to Luther's own.

Concordia Publishing House has already produced an excellent reader's edition of the Lutheran Confessions. They have duplicated that previous success with this reader's edition including a brief biography of Walther, a helpful timeline connecting Luther's time to that of Walther, a timeline and overview of Law and Gospel from an historical theology perspective, and appendices putting this work into its proper context. Particularly helpful were abundant footnotes showing original Latin or German terms and providing contextual helps. I loved seeing the marginal notes with Bible citations, scholarly identification of Luther quotes, and the dates of the original lectures. Photos introduce most thesis "chapters," complementing the fascinating map section earlier in the book.

Good Christian preachers properly distinguish between Law and Gospel. Some do it by accident, others by intention. It is my intention to share this Lutheran strength with the rest of Christendom. Calvin, Zwingli, and Arminius have had indirect influence on countless Christian congregations and church bodies beyond their own. Why has Lutheran influence been so muted? Yes, pastors should go ahead and encourage their circuit brothers to purchase this volume and engage in a study of it at monthly Winkel meetings. In addition, why not encourage a study at local ministerial associations or with a handful of evangelical pastors who take the Scriptures seriously?

I pray that strong sales of Law & Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible will encourage CPH pursue even more of the work encouraged by the 2007 LCMS Convention:

At the 2007 convention, the LCMS adopted two resolutions that called for specific action on the part of Concordia Publishing House.
Res. 2-08, “To Celebrate Significant Synod Anniversaries,” directed Concordia Publishing House “to consider the production of an electronic (e-book) anniversary edition of Walther’s works, to be published with computer CD-ROM technology, using all available English translations as well as German printed texts and manuscripts for materials not available in English.” Upon study and consideration, it was determined that, in light of the materials by Dr. C. F. W. Walther already available in digital format and others available in print editions and what would be required to gather all extant German materials, this would not be feasible without a considerable and ongoing amount of external grant monies, which are not available.
However, in response to this resolution, Concordia Publishing House has announced an annual Reformation Research Theology Award, the first topic to be dealt with to be C. F. W. Walther, in honor of the 200th anniversary of his birth. A juried contest is being held, and the submission of scholarly papers, sermons, and hymns devoted to the topic has been invited. As a result of this contest, a book of essays will be published in 2011 on the significance of Dr. Walther. Additionally, in late 2010, CPH will be releasing a new edition of Dr. Walther’s The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel in an updated and improved translation, prepared in a manner that will make the book more accessible to laypersons. This reader’s edition will be titled Law & Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible (2010 Convention Workbook, 46).

Perhaps a new reader's edition of Walther's Church & Ministry, the official LCMS position on the topic could include a revised title closer to the original German: Church & Office.

CPH, thanks for the discounted price for orders of five or more!

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.