Contemporary Lutheranism is impoverished by the narrowing in the last few decades of theological options. My own negative reading of Forde far predates my ecumenical work, but goes back to grad school in the mid-1970s and was a function of the kind of Lutheran theology that engaged me.
When I began graduate school I was bowled over by my first detailed encounter with Barth’s Church Dogmatics. Quickly, however, I came to have some of the standard Lutheran doubts about the systematic structure of Barth’s theology. The critique of Barth by Elert, focussing on the categories of law and gospel, seemed inadequate. I discovered Regin Prenter, the Danish theologian who had begun as a disciple of Barth, but broke with him in the 1940s. Prenter used the richer categories of creation and redemption to criticize Barth. When I learned to (very haltingly) read Danish, I discovered how deeply Prenter’s understanding of creation and its role in theology was indebted to Nicolai Grundtvig. (The English translations of Prenter eliminate most of the discussions of Grundtvig.) Grundtvig’s positive evaluation of creation and its important function in his outlook lays a groundwork for a more nuanced understanding of law. When I then read Forde’s The Law-Gospel Debate, my suspicion was aroused by the absence of any significant, positive function for the doctrine of creation.
Grundtvig’s writings are something of a mess and there are many versions of Grundtvigianism, but he represents an option within the Lutheran tradition quite different from what one finds in, say, Forde or Eberhard Jüngel.
Another lost strand is that of the Heidelberg school of the mid-twentieth century: Edmund Schlink, Peter Brunner, and, a bit later, Albrecht Peters. Their most important work was not translated into English. Here there is a confessionally serious, but more ecumenically open sort of Lutheranism, less shaped by existentialism or the urge to make Lutheranism distinctive. This school has little influence in Germany today (despite its extension in Wolfhart Pannenberg), but lives on to a degree in Robert Jenson, who did his doctoral work with Peter Brunner. A rediscovery, especially of Brunner, would do Lutheranism much good.