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MARTIN LUTHER'S THEOLOGY: ITS HISTORICAL AND SYSTEMATIC DEVELOPMENT. By Bernhard Lohse. Translated from the German and edited by Roy A. Harrisville. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999. Pp. xiv + 393. $43

This splendid volume is the product of years of study of Luther's writings, of thoughtful engagement with the field of Luther studies, and of the historian's careful contextualization of theological ideas. Without overturning the traditional view of the reformer's theology Lohse offers insights and evaluations that draw the reader into fresh critical engagement with Luther's thought.

Rather than opting for either an historical-genetic or systematic analysis of Luther's theology, L. offers both and demonstrates forcefully how indispensable they are to each other. So, for example, attempts to differentiate sharply between the "young" and the "old" Luther founder on the "considerable consistency and continuity" (8) of thought revealed by his theology as a whole. At the same time one encounters considerable development precipitated by the various conflicts of Luther's career. L. views Luther through a dual lens: as the polemical pastor immersed in the daily battle of opinions and as a critical theologian whose public engagements emerged from convictions carefully and systematically formulated. On numerous occasions L. reminds the reader to consider the polemical exigencies of the moment in weighing Luther's (over)statements. Simultaneously, L. insists that, although Luther published no dogmatics like those of Melanchthon or Calvin, he did produce in his various writings a dogmatics in outline. This L. then analyzes and develops in Part 3.

In Part 1, L. presents his methodological reflections and briefly describes the historical developments of import for Luther's formation as a theologian. These reflections serve as introduction to Part 2 on the historical development of Luther's thought and are in themselves an invaluable contribution to Luther studies. Beginning with the earliest writings (the Marginal Notes on Augustine and Peter Lombard, the First Psalms Lecture, the Lectures on Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews) L. astutely identifies the distinctive shifts Luther was already making within the theology he inherited. L. then moves through Luther's career, from the public outbreak of the indulgences controversy and the Peasants' War to the disputes with Erasmus, Zwingli, the radical reformers, and the antinomians, analyzing the import of each for Luther's theological development. He notes the sharp articulation in the heat of conflict of themes already present in writings. For example, with regard to Luther's reaction to the Wittenberg radicals, L. cites passages from 1521 to show that "Luther's view of the authorities was thus not merely a reaction to developments at Wittenberg, but conversely, his attitude toward the Wittenberg reformers not least resulted from a view of the authorities that had already been fixed in its features" (149). At the same time, L. lifts up the crucial changes Luther made in reaction to his experiences. For example, again in reference to developments in Wittenberg, L. writes: In Luther's "1521 exposition of the Magnificat he could say: `No one can correctly understand God or His Word unless he has received such understanding immediately from the Holy Spirit. But no one can receive it from the Holy Spirit without experiencing, proving, and feeling it....' After his experiences with the Wittenberg reformers Luther was more cautious on the subject. Now he accented the necessity of the external Word, as found in Scripture, and which must be preached ever anew" (148). In both his historical and systematic analyses L. is sensitive to the big picture as well as to nuances and occasional motifs. He allows the reader to trace when the concept of law and gospel became dominant for Luther, to appreciate the shift in emphasis from the universal priesthood to the office of ministry, and to interpret these and other doctrines within the indispensable framework of Luther's eschatology and view of God.

L. forthrightly addresses the most disturbing, indeed notorious, episodes of Luther's career and their historical legacy. On the charged issues of the Jews and the two-kingdoms doctrine, he emphasizes the particular historical contexts in which Luther acted and wrote. He is scrupulous in judging Luther as a man of his time, recognizing the faults and shortcomings for which he can be held accountable while rejecting ahistorical criticism that disregards the underlying assumptions and limitations of Reformation societies.

This book is an outstanding demonstration of the historical theologian's craft. It will be of value to a wide audience. Those conversant with Luther studies will be interested to read L.'s evaluation of various interpretive proposals in the field as well as his own judgments on debated questions. Teachers of Reformation history and theology can draw upon its material to suit courses from introductory to advanced levels.

JANE E. STROHL Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2000

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