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Lutheran Theology (Doing Theology) [Kindle Edition]

Steven D. Paulson

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'Unwillingto neutralize the core Lutheran teaching that God is in the business of killingoff sinners just so that new beings might rise in faith, Paulson holds thewider Lutheran tradition accountable to Luther's own unique distinction of thelaw as accusation and the gospel as promise. Here we learn much of theLutheran tradition Paulson himself writes in the grand style of theologicalloci, approaching doctrine as outlined from Paul's argument in Romans. Paulson's approach to faith has an inerasable ---

... a magisterial analysis of Luther s thought and his debt to Paul... This encounter with Luther, especially when he is allowed to speak in his own words, is... immensely stimulating. It continually calls the Anglican reader back from ecclesiastical and liturgical preoccupations to the heart of the gospel... --Church Times

About the Author

The Revd. Dr Steven Paulson is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN, USA.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2308 KB
  • Print Length: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury T&T Clark (14 April 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0051GCO7A
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #753,943 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is a gift to the church! 24 Jun. 2011
By David F. Sczepanski - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A brief review for now (just to get a 5-star rating next to the book!). I recently began a weekly class in our (non-Lutheran) church to study this book. It's not only about Lutheran Theology, but is a loose commentary on Romans from the Pauline/Luther understanding of the law-gospel distinction. Paulson's book is a big help, and we want the content of this added to our corporate conversation. I appreciate how Dr. Paulson has continued to build on the work of Gerhard Forde.

As I mentioned above we are working (emphasis on 'working') through this book a chapter a week, now at Romans 8. We have been deeply challenged and enriched in our 'mutual conversation'. You have no idea how rooted you are in the legal scheme until your thinking is examined in light of a right and thorough dividing of law and gospel. (Dr. Paulson mentions at the beginning that this book, among other things, is a history of the repeated return of Lutherans to the legal scheme. In that sense, it is about all of us.) This book is a gift to the church!

Here are a few quotes from Dr. Paulson's book that have recently made their way into my sermons --

Lutheran theology begins perversely by advocating the destruction of all that is good, right, and beautiful in human life. It attacks the lowest and the highest goals of life, especially morality, no matter how sincere are its practitioners. Luther said the "sum and substance," of Paul's letter to the Romans "is to pull down, to pluck up, and to destroy all wisdom and righteousness of the flesh." (1)

This is no ordinary philosophy about life, nor is it ordinary Christian religion. For thousands of years Christians routinely described life using an allegory of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt. They said life in general, and Christians in particular, were on an exodus out of vice into virtue. They were on a journey away from badness toward goodness. But Luther bluntly said faith is not a transition from vice to virtue, it is "the way from virtue to the grace of Christ." (2)

`I forgive you'...Luther taught and demonstrated that these simple words give absolute, indubitable certainty, and no one is more dangerous than a person who is certain. The certainty was not based on human self-certainty; it was the opposite of that. It was the certainty of forgiveness because of what the Son of God did by taking the sins of the world upon himself and defeating them at the cross. The decisive cosmic battle of God against sin, death, and devil was already waged and won when Christ was raised from the dead to make a new kingdom of people who live with no law, nowhere to go, and nothing to accomplish. They were simply--free. (7)

God is always and ever God whether someone believes in him or not... God who is above time and space now enters the world with a steely determination...the sinner's that the stories of God's arrival to sinners make the great tales of Scripture (Abraham, David, Mary) and our own lives like Augustine's Confessions. (55)

...the heart is not made for itself; it is made to go outside of itself and cling to that which speaks to the heart. Humans are therefore "hearing" creatures whose heart is always clinging to some word or other. (56

For Luther, fear...must be taught only so that it can be extinguished so that one will flee from this God [of wrath], not to him. We are to fear God who has no words (unpreached), and run from him to the place where he has given himself in words [of promise] -- that is to the preacher. Only there do fear and wrath end in Christ incarnate as he gives himself to sinners... What is life like before a preacher arrives? Life is filled with voices that are "passing judgment" (Rom 2:1) that life comes under constant judgment. The judge could be outside one's self like a father telling you to live up to your potential, or a written law that says, "Thou shalt not steal." The judge can also be inside, called a conscience, holding itself to a standard of judgment. Life without a preacher is life with a knotted collection of voices that either accuse or excuse, but in either case end up used in the service of self-justification. Because judgment stands ever at becomes a search for an escape. (69)

Each time sins are forgiven it is experienced as a breakthrough, a miracle, a new and unheard of redemption that sets a person free -- body and spirit -- from an oppressive force. (89)

The crux of the issue in forgiveness is what happens to a sin which was real, actual, and loaded with consequences in many peoples' lives... (90)

Sin is deep in the flesh; it is material, and it does not go away by wishing it so. It is not an idea that can be thought away, it is not a feeling that can be gotten over through great effort, it is a thing that corrodes life's goods like debt; sin infects healthy life like a virus and it must be disposed of. (90)

Forgiveness first negates -- by violently removing trust put in the wrong place. Then it puts faith in the proper place, which creates something new out of nothing... (90)
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow! 18 Oct. 2011
By Judith Guttman - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If this book doesn't knock your socks off, you aren't paying attention. It is electrifying, exciting -- am I talking about a theology book? Yes. The sad thing is that it makes me wonder if there are any real Lutherans out there.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Martin Luther's theology discerns between law and gospel 10 Feb. 2012
By Michael Dalton - Published on
The emphasis on our standing before God makes Lutheran Theology by Steven D. Paulson a significant book. "Luther said the 'sum and substance,' of Paul's letter to the Romans 'is to pull down, to pluck up, and to destroy all wisdom and righteousness of the flesh'" (1). Paulson goes on to state: "The second task of all theology is to make way for a completely foreign, new righteousness that has no law in it at all -- 'we must be taught a righteousness that comes completely from the outside and is foreign. And therefore our own righteousness that is born in us must first be plucked up'" (2). The goal or meaning of life becomes a person, Christ (3). It goes beyond just imitating Christ. "It is a new life outside the legal scheme without law at all. It means to have a new life outside one's self who is dead according to the law, and in Christ exclusively" (3).

Paulson goes on to make a valuable point: "The key to any theology, especially done the Lutheran way, is to ask what role the law plays in its system" (4). Distinguishing between law and gospel is a major theme in this book, which is organized as a commentary on the book of Romans. The focus is on key verses and ideas rather than a verse-by-verse explanation, which Paulson elucidates from a Lutheran perspective. Even so, Paulson's outstanding scholarship makes this a unique and valuable commentary. His breadth of knowledge is evident in frequent references to historical events, the writing of others, and his understanding of Scripture.

In relation to the latter, he is not afraid of controversy. Chapter 1 starts with the appropriate subtitle, "The Bombshell." Predestination is central to Lutheran theology. "There is no free will, no choice, no decision, no acknowledgement, acceptance or any other verb you could try to give the human in relation to the Creator" (20). Presumably, this thought is drawn in part from Luther's famous book on the subject, The Bondage of the Will.

Along with this idea, when the author repeatedly states that "everything happens by divine necessity," (19) he not only puts a potential stumbling block before readers, he leaves me wondering how that relates to tragic events that occur. Does this mean that God was behind the terrible events of 9/11? As learned as Paulson may be and as skillful as he is with the Scriptures, I cannot help wondering about a doctrine that seems to imply that God causes horrific events. As controversial as this may be, it is educational to see Paulson's defense of this teaching and to consider what is true. If you can get past this, there is much to appreciate in Paulson's thought, but this doctrine is foundational to what he teaches in the rest of the book.

Though Paulson might in some ways be wrong on the issue, I appreciate how often his insights go deeper than what you typically find in churches, Bible studies and popular Christian books. Consider his thoughts about what Luther learned about faith: "Luther had discovered what made humans human -- it was not thought, or will, or even love; it was faith alone. He learned that the heart is not made for itself; it is made to go outside itself and cling to that which speaks to the heart. Humans are therefore `hearing' creatures whose heart is always clinging to some word or other. Unfortunately, words from the preacher are easily drowned out by other voices, and especially imaginary voices of what one sees or feels internally. Faith alone is what justifies us, but faith is never a virtue or attitude of a person, or some instrument or power which the person possesses. Faith goes outside itself, since faith requires something to believe in, and that something is God's word as a promise¯or else what faith grasps ends up being an accusing law" (57).

Typically, Luther is associated with thoughts like these and in particular the idea of being made right with God through faith. Reading this book helped me to realize how much more there is to Luther. His depth of insight is evident as Paulson walks us through Luther's thought in relation to the entire book of Romans.

Paulson points out that Luther recognized that God's faithfulness is central to Romans. "For Luther the key teaching in Paul's letter to the Romans is the certainty of faith. Faith is certain precisely because it is not a power of humans, but depends upon God's faithfulness to the promise -- precisely while the recipients are unfaithful. Hope does not yet see its glory, but faith already has Christ so salvation is secured in re -- in fact" (220).

Lutheran theology is a theology of the Word. "The preached Word makes the church, which word is solely authorized by the law and promises of Scripture. Justification and church depend utterly on God's faithfulness to that Word: 'That thou mayest be justified in Thy words (deum justificare)'" (238). This is why Lutherans view the office of preacher as the highest in the church.
It is also why preaching is foremost in the signs of a true church: "Signs of (a) true church are therefore all acts of preaching: sermons that distinguish between law and gospel, baptism, Lord's Supper, Absolution, the calling of a public minister from among the Royal priesthood, and suffering for the gospel¯the exact opposite of any sign of glory or power in the world" (239). I appreciate the thought that suffering is the norm for this life (exaltation comes in the next), which challenges believers to cling to the promises despite seeing evidence that would seem contrary to them.

Lutheran Theology is but one in a series of books. The other titles and authors in the series are as follows:

Catholic Theology - Matthew Levering
Anglican Theology - Mark Chapman
Reformed Theology - Michael Allen
Methodist Theology - Kenneth Wilson
Baptist Theology - Stephen Holmes

If this book is indicative of the scholarship in the series, any of these volumes would be worth reading.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Preachable Moment 2 May 2012
By Matt Metevelis - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Steve Paulson's latest book mirrors his subject matter. "Lutheran Theology" is a stunning work of theological investigation which runs at light speed while inviting the reader along for the ride. His writing grabs you and refuses to let go as he introduces you to the power of the gospel through the preached word. The book itself is a sermon which points to the crucified Christ who so often gets lost among the weeds of theological speculation and introspection. Besides the elegantly blunt and straightforward prose the author is gifted with, the author employs an ingenious method. Instead of offering a dry flaccid chronicle of the "history of Lutheran thought" Paulson approaches Lutheran teaching like Luther did - by reading Romans. Paulson tells the story of Lutheran theology by holding it accountable to Paul's description of the gospel which is "righteousness apart from the law" (or "the legal scheme" as the author calls it). Paulson restates brilliantly in modern terms how God works salvation in sinners through the sacraments and the preached word by "putting them to death" and creating them anew through faith. In order to do this Paulson also, like Luther, serves as a brilliant iconoclast criticizing subsequent Lutheran theology including Melancthon, the orthodox Lutheran theologians of the seventeenth century, the pietist "tropologists", and the neo-orthodox and not so orthodox which would merge the gospel and the law together, or at least leave a place for the legal scheme. Paulson finds striking flaws in entire systems of theology in a single sentence. Highlights on this journey include Paulson's ruminations on neglected topics like God's wrath (which Paulson demonstrates is not connected to the law), the proper understanding of the relationship between the church and society (Temporal Authority and Its Limits), and the Hegelian misreading of Paul under the "Heilgeischicte" movement.

This book is a journey more than a seminar. It accomplishes what any theology calling itself Lutheran should do - bring clarity, freedom, and faith. It should be read and re-read.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Paul Is Really Saying In Romans - What Luther Saw 29 Nov. 2011
By Larry D. Hughes - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is dynamite. If you ever really wanted to:

1. Understand Paul's argument in Romans what Luther saw and;
2. "Rediscovered" after ages of legal scheme cover-up on the Scriptures before Luther;
3. Why Luther the Luther at Wittenberg was the same Luther at Marburg;
4. Why one senses no relief Gospel in other protestant denominations from Arminian to Calvinistic;
5. Why these are really rehashings of the old RC scholastics and mystics who basically "baptized Aristotle's and Plato's" teachings (i.e. Rome as much as Calvin as much as Arminius, et. ali.);
6. If you really want to see just how radical Paul's letter in Roman's really is sans the centuries of "legal scheme" glosses before and after Luther;
7. If you want to have or have strengthened the "hope that you have";

This and so much more is found in this book. The Lutheran confessions, i.e. the Book of Concord, contains all this too. The difference is the style of discussion.

In Luther's opening preface to his commentary on Romans he makes the point that if one does not have the base definition of things correct like faith, grace, wrath, etc...then one necessarily will not understand Paul in Romans. It will be read through the lens of a "legal scheme" missing Paul's radical point. The law is done away with in Christ alone (literally). The Gospel is not some island in time between two eternal poles of "law" (e.g. Calvin and others). Rather, it is the radical new creation as the old is destroyed.

This is one of those top two or three books that should be read more than once to grasp. Not due to a difficult or overly high style of writing, quite the contrary it is very well written and graspable. Rather due to our natural proclivity to the "legal scheme" it takes to some slow digesting. It's like trying to explain to a fish who experientially knows nothing else with a Word that "he's all wet" and "salvation is this other thing he knows absolutely nothing about but he is to trust the word on this". The fish, much like us in our natural legal scheme proclivity wishes to discuss everything in terms of the wet world he only knows but does not know its "wet", he just understands this atmosphere he's in. That's how the bondage of the will is, dead and utterly blind and needing an external Word to speak to it.
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