Book Review: The Lutheran Confesssions: History and Theology of the Book of Concord

51PEf+0U9UL._SL1350_I’m always surprised at the accidental propagation of the Gospel among people who are hostile, at least, towards it. The Christian gospel spread as the Reformed faith broke from the Roman model and went its own way mainly in the midst of persicution. On one side stood Martin Luther and his right hand man, Philip Melancthon, and the other side was manned by Ulrich Zwingli and his protégé, Martin Bucer. These four men would stand over against Rome but in far different ways which would have echoes down through the halls of history until present day. These four men agreed on 14 ½ points out of 15 points of doctrine at the Marburg Colloquy. They could not agree on the place of Christ in the Sacraments and thus two streams of Protestant faith separated and formed their own rivers as they flowed toward the ocean that is the Glory of God in the face of Christ.

October 31, 1517 marks the day which Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door at Wittenberg causing Rome to come against the Lutherans in a war-like fashion. Martin Luther did not want to break from the Catholic Church in such a sharp fashion but instead called for a reformation within the Church itself. This caused Luther and his confessional partners to be ousted from the Church. I have heard an illustration used which illustrates the point as such; Imagine there is a junk drawer in your house filled with the Church of Rome. The Lutherans wanted to dump it out on the floor and put back the things which accorded with Scripture and the Reformed dumped out the drawer and set its contents on fire. The point is that Martin Luther did not intend to create a new church but had some Scriptural issues with some doctrine and practices which the Church at Rome had insisted upon. The Reformed faith, however, saw the Church at Rome as something all-together inconsistent with Biblical revelation.

The Lutheran Confessions: History and Theology of The Book of Concord traces the development of Martin Luther and Philip Melancthon, along with other prominent Lutherans, as they struggle to become a reformed church and as they face cruel and harsh hostility from Rome. This is a book about a confessional people seeking God and seeking his Word as the world comes against them in order to prevent the spread of their “Gospel” to the common people who had no biblical witness to identify with. While largely a text dealing with the historical context of the confessions which flowed from these Lutherans, it is also mildly analytical in its explanation of these confessions and the men who penned them.

The authors have put together this volume as a way to, “provide students of the Lutheran confessional writings throughout the world with historical orientation for their own task of confessing Jesus Christ in the twenty-first century.” They have done much more than they have set out to do. As a historical volume this book has invaluable resources for students of reformation-era history and students of religion alike. In it they provide the events which led up to the Formulation of Concord which serves as the main corpus for confessional Lutherans today. As a person who relies on the confessions of the Reformed faith I can identify with this book as the authors share the struggles which come along with putting a confession together and the hardship of defending that confession in the midst of misunderstanding and fear.

This volume takes the readers through the main confessions penned by Luther and Melancthon. While Luther was not as systematically gifted as Melancthon he does provide the main portion of theology which serves as the foundation for the confessions. Melancthon, a genius in his own right, served largely as the penman of these confessions. As it is with any reformed movement, the two parties did not always agree on issues which presented themselves in the confessions and fractures began to creep into the Lutheran camp. While Luther held fast to the Five Solas of the reformation, Melancthon began to stray from them and grounded his theology in the doctrine of Justification. Though Luther also held to the doctrine of Justification one word would separate the men on a number of issues, and the word was; alone.

While Luther and Melancthon held largely to the five solas of the reformation, some issues began to divide them causing two groups to form in the wake of these fractures. The two parties which formed were the Philippists and their counterparts, the Gnesio-Lutherans. The former took the side of Melancthon who took on some forms of Rome in matters of free will and the value of good works when it comes to ones salvation. The latter took the side of Luther who claimed the doctrine of justification by faith alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone. This point is written out in the Apology of Augsburg. Article IV:  Of Justification;

For the Law requires of us our works and our perfection. But the Gospel freely offers, for Christ’s sake, to us, who have been vanquished by sin and death, reconciliation, which is received, not by works, but by faith alone. This faith brings to God not confidence in one’s own merits, but only confidence in the promise, or the mercy promised in Christ. This special faith, therefore, by which an individual believes that for Christ’s sake his sins are remitted him, and that for Christ’s sake God is reconciled and propitious, obtains remission of sins and justifies us.

And further down in that same section;

But that faith which justifies is not merely a knowledge of history, [not merely this, that I know the stories of Christ’s birth, suffering, etc. (that even the devils know,)] but it is to assent to the promise of God, in which for Christ’s sake, the remission of sins and justification are freely offered. [It is the certainty or the certain trust in the heart, when, with my whole heart, I regard the promises of God as certain and true, through which there are offered me, without my merit, the forgiveness of sins, grace, and all salvation, through Christ the Mediator.] And that no one may suppose that it is mere knowledge we will add further: it is to wish and to receive the offered promise of the remission of sins and of justification. [Faith is that my whole heart takes to itself this treasure. It is not my doing, not my presenting or giving, not my work or preparation, but that a heart comforts itself, and is perfectly confident with respect to this, namely, that God makes a present and gift to us, and not we to Him, that He sheds upon us every treasure of grace in Christ.]

In these sections and others like them in the Augsburg Confession the sentiment seems to point to an upholding of the Five Solas. The volume before us does a good job of presenting the the Wittenberg Confessors in a fair and accurate light. They do not pretend to make the men who compiled these confessions, heroes in any way. They let them shine in their own regards and where they don’t shine the authors don’t shy away from bringing that to light. I was suprisingly uplifted by this volume and though I did not agree with some of the theology, I agree with the confessional aspect of Lutheranism. I believe it is important to study the Church confessions and seek to apply them to our lives. As Protestant myself, I hope I can say with my Lutheran brothers that salvation belongs to the Lord and comes to us in the Word alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, to the glory of God alone.

To any students of history, especially those who are in the church, I would encourage you to pick up this volume and read with earnest. It is a wonderful volume filled with a passion for Christ and his people. It’s careful analysis of historical data and their careful inspection of the Lutheran confessions is immensely helpful. While this volume only reveals the work and theology of one side of the reformation it is important for an overall view of the theology which flows from the reformation and it’s leaders. I am thankful that books like this are written but fear that the Lutheran label on the front of this book will scare many away who aren’t Lutheran. This book needs to be read by Protestants everywhere who are interested in a view of the reformation which they may not be used to.

The Lutheran Confessions: History and Theology of The Book of Concord
Charles Arand, Robert Kolb, James Nestingen / Fortress Press, 2012
Review Copy Courtesy of Fortress Press
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