Braaten on “The Search for the Real Jesus.”

March 22, 2011 by

I will be posting here and on our Facebook page updates on the speakers at the Pro Ecclesia conference, Who Do You Say That I Am? Proclaiming and Following Jesus Today.”
The opening presentation at the conference will be by Carl Braaten, on “The Search for the Real Jesus.” He will look comprehensively at the discussions of Jesus in recent theology and New Testaments studies and draw what we can guess will be his usual sharp conclusions. It should be a good opening to the conference.
Braaten needs little introduction to those who find their way to this page. He is one of the best known Lutheran theologians of recent years, with a long list of publications. For many years he taught at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. This presentation will give a taste of his forthcoming book “Who is Jesus?”. Braaten was one of the founders of the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology and we are proud to have him lead off the conference.


Pro Ecclesia Conference: Who Do You Say That I Am?

February 17, 2011 by

The annual Pro Ecclesia conference of the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology will be on the theme: “Who Do You Say That I Am? Following and Proclaiming Jesus Today.” Among the speakers are Carl Braaten, Joseph Bottum, and Fleming Rutledge. The conference runs from June 14 to June 16 and will be on the campus of Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore. You can find more information at and online registration at


March 6, 2010 by

I will be teaching outside the country during April and May and much of March will be taken up in preparation. Thus, the blog will shut down for a while. No new posts will be put up and the comments will be turned off. Whether the blog becomes active again in June is an open question. I have my own discernment to do about the future. Thanks to all who read and commented. I hope some of you will attend the conference this summer on “The Morally Divided Body,” sponsored by the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology. Please keep me in your prayers.
Michael Root

Luther’s Pedagogical Use of the Law

March 1, 2010 by

I continue to remain simply baffled by persons who can read Luther on the 10 Commandments in the Catechisms and not see that, regardless of what he may say elsewhere, he here uses the law pedagogically, i.e., to indicate the kinds of actions that we should and should not do. His critique of monasticism and such activities as pilgrimages turns on his insistence that God has told us what actions are pleasing to him. Take this passage from the Large Catechism on the 4th Commandment (honor your father and mother; 10 Commandments, paras. 116-120; Kolb/Wengert, pp. 402-3):

If God’s Word and will are placed first and are observed, nothing ought to be considered more important than the will and word of our parents, provided that these, too, are subordinated to God and are not set in opposition to the preceding commandments.

For this reason you should rejoice from the bottom of your heart and give thanks to God that he has chosen and made you worthy to perform works so precious and pleasing to him. You should regard it as great and precious – even though it may be looked at as the most trivial and contemptible thing – not because of our worthiness but because it has its place and setting within that jewel and holy shrine, the Word and commandment of God. Oh, what a price would all the Carthusians, both monks and nuns, pay if in all their spiritual exercises they could present to God a single work done in accordance with his commandment and could say with a joyful heart in his presence: Now I know that this work is well-pleasing to you.? What will become of these poor wretched people when, standing in the presence of God and the whole world, they will blush with shame before a little child who has lived according to this commandment and will confess that with their entire lives they are not worthy to offer that child a drink of water? That they must torture themselves in vain with their self-devised works serves them right for their devilish perversity in trampling God?s commandment under foot – for this they have only scorn and trouble for their reward.

Should not the heart leap and overflow with joy when it can go to work and do what is commanded of it, saying, “See, this is better than the holiness of all the Carthusians, even if they fast to death and never stop praying on their knees?” For here you have a sure text and a divine testimony that God has enjoined this but has not commanded a single word concerning those other works.

Luther’s interpretation of the commandment may or may not be correct, but he clearly thinks that it tells us the kind of actions we should do.

Note added: March 2: An excellent discussion of the issues involved here can be found in Martin Chemnitz’s Loci Theologici, Locus 14, Good Works, pp. 603-608 in Preus’ translation. where he asks: “Must the Law be presented to the regenerate in such a way that it is the norm and rule for the good works in which God wills that we carry out our obedience to Him?” Chemnitz answers: “The Law must be set before the regenerate in order that it may teach certain works in which God wills that we carry out obedience to him. . . . For what is simpler, what is plainer, what is more useful than this doctrine that the Law or the teaching of the Decalog must be set forth in the church of the regenerate, in order that there may be a definite norm to show what the works are in which God wills that the regenerate demonstrate their obedience.” (p. 603)

More on Conference on “The Morally Divided Body: Ethical Disagreement and the Disunity of the Church”

February 14, 2010 by

The titles for the presentations at this summer’s conference on “The Morally Divided Body: Ethical Disagreement and the Disunity of the Church” are now set. They are (in order of presentation):

Robert Jenson, Can Ethical Disagreement Break Church Fellowship?
Beth Barton Schweiger, Race, Slavery, and Shattered Churches in Early America
Frederick Bauerschmidt,“Doctrine: Knowing and Doing.
Joseph Small, Internal Injuries: Moral Division Within the Churches
Susan Wood, Unity in the Sacraments and Unity in Life
David Yeago, The Gospel and the Good Life: Why the Gracious God Cares About the Way We Live
James J. Buckley, Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Christian Doctrine, Ethics, or Politics?

The conference is sponsored by the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology and will be at Loyola University, Baltimore, MD, June 14-16, 2010. More information is at the Center’s website and online registration is here.

I think this will be an interesting and highly relevant conference.

Bp. James Crumley on Our Situation

February 14, 2010 by

Many will have already read them, but here is a link to the recent comments by former LCA presiding bishop James Crumley. Bp. Crumley is the paradigm of what used to be called a ‘churchman.’ His reflections are worth pondering.

D. Yeago on “Facing Reality in the ELCA”

February 10, 2010 by

A new page on the right (click here) contains a presentation by David Yeago on “Facing Reality in the ELCA,” given on February 6, 2010, at a “Day of Holy Conversation” in the South Carolina Synod. The presentation by Prof. Susan McArver is on the South Carolina Synod website (here).

Lutheran Options

February 7, 2010 by

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.

A Few Criteria for Assessing Lutheran Discussions of Law

February 5, 2010 by

Some criteria for assessing Lutheran discussions of law:

1. Can a particular understanding of law make sense of Luther’s criticism of such things as pilgrimages? Luther argued that such actions are not commanded by God and thus we cannot know that they are God-pleasing. Such actions as honoring our parents, however, are commanded by God and so we know we are doing what God wishes when we honor our parents. It seems to me that some recent Lutheran presentations on law cannot make sense of this argument by Luther.

2. Can a particular understanding of law make sense of the sections on the Ten Commandments in Luther’s Large and Small Catechisms? Luther here clearly presents the law as instruction on what persons (Christians included) ought to do. There may be some understandings of a ‘third use of the law’ that are objectionable (e.g., directly deriving legal or political structures from Old Testament models), but that there is a kind of third use, a pedagogical use, in the Catechisms’ discussion of the Commandments seems obvious.

3. Can a particular understanding of law make sense of Ps. 119? We may want to make distinctions between what ‘law’ means in this psalm and what it means when law is contrasted with gospel, but the two uses overlap significantly. In both cases, they involve moral instruction. And the psalmist gives thanks for the law as a blessing: “Oh, how I love thy law! It is my meditation all the day” (v. 97). This psalm is not an obscure passage to be passed over; it has been an important part of Christian prayer

The law always accuses, but it does not only accuse, nor does it only accuse and restrain. It instructs. If that is not Lutheran, then Lutheranism is not biblical.

Conference on “The Morally Divided Body”

February 3, 2010 by

This year’s conference of the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology will be on the theme: “The Morally Divided Body: Ethical Disagreement and the Disunity of the Church.” It will be held June 14-16 at Loyola University, Baltimore, Maryland. The keynote address will be by Robert Jenson. David Yeago will also be among the presenters. A full list of presenters and other information is on the Center’s website. Online registration (also for housing) is here.
The conference has a strong group of speakers and is certainly relevant to the issues of the day. There is an early-bird registration fee until March 30 and a very, very low student registration rate. I hope some of you can attend.