Confession and Mission, Word and Sacrament: The Ecclesial Theology of Wilhelm Loehe.
In the mid-nineteenth century Pastor Wilhelm Loehe labored in the obscure parish of Neuendettelsau, Germany. Still today the influence of Loehe persists, especially in the areas of liturgical theology, diaconal ministry, and missionary service. Through his support of missionary activity among the German immigrants in North America, Loehe exerted major influence upon the origins of the Ohio Synod, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and the Iowa Synod. Loehe's theology was strongly centered on the Lutheran Confessions, innovative in reclaiming the liturgical traditions of the catholic tradition, responsive to the misery of suffering people through the formation of deaconess orders, and dynamically directed toward mission.
David Ratke, who teaches theology at Lenoir-Rhyne College, has thoroughly and creatively crafted a book that introduces and elaborates the key themes of Loehe's life and theology. Apart from an occasional journal article and a few doctoral dissertations, this is the first major publication on Loehe in the English language since James Schaaf's introduction to and translation of Loehe's own Three Books about the Church in 1969. While a number of recent publications have examined aspects of Loehe's thought in Germany, Ratke does a tremendous service in bringing this research to English-speaking readers. The heritage of Loehe is a treasure known by too few in the United States.
Following an opening chapter devoted to a discussion of Loehe's biography and historical background, Ratke organizes the heritage and written legacy of Loehe into five chapters on, respectively, ecclesiology, the ministries of the church, liturgy and worship, mission and proclamation, and inner mission. Ratke makes ample use of Loehe's own writings within his historical context to argue that these are the major themes of his work. Thereby is demonstrated the integrity of Loehe's theological concern, that the church gathered around Word and Sacrament in its liturgical life is sent into the world for diaconal ministry among the least and missionary service to the ends of the earth. While Ratke is most appreciative of Loehe's contribution, he also offers some appropriate criticism, for example, concerning Loehe's conviction that the preferred language for Lutheran congregations in America was German.
One of Ratke's most provocative claims is his identification of Loehe as a precursor of the evangelical catholic movement within Lutheranism today in the book's closing chapter. Clearly some striking similarities do exist between Loehe's central liturgical and catholic commitments and the evangelical catholic interpretation of Lutheranism as a gospel-centered reform movement within the one catholic church. Yet the appeal to Loehe's ecumenical concern seems overextended in this comparison, while Loehe's avid missionary interest tends to become overshadowed.
This book is to be highly recommended, not just as a historical study but as paradigmatic for the kind of liturgical, diaconal, and missionary theology needed in the church today. The book contains rich commentary, also in its footnotes. The extensive bibliography provides a valuable research tool.
Craig L. Nessan
Wartburg Theological Seminary
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|Title Annotation:||Book Reviews|
|Author:||Nessan, Craig L.|
|Publication:||Currents in Theology and Mission|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2004|
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