Thursday, October 21, 2010

Paul Hinlicky's Luther Book: A First Impression.

I just got Paul Hinlicky's book on Luther. As some of you know, I had a somewhat harsh debate with Paul two summers ago based on a critique of his view of the relationship of Scripture and tradition that wrote up and was posted on the LOGIA website. I don't really think that there's any bitter feelings about it on my part. I personally don't know what he thinks, and I'm not willing to speculate-8th commandment and all that.

One of the things taht Hinlicky does in his writings is make all sorts of what I consider to be unusual judgments about historical theology. This is one of the things I critiqued about his essay on Scripture and tradition. I'm thinking that the Luther book isn't going to be very different.

I haven't read it yet, but I've thumbed through it. A couple of things to note:

First, there some interesting statements about the book on the cover. One is by Michael Root, who as we know recently decided to stop trying to pretend Luther was a Thomist and simply come out the closet as a Thomist himself (in his statement about his conversion, he finally admitted that Luther wasn't a Thomist- so good for him!). It more or less says that Hinlicky makes a couple of interesting arguments and that its an intellectually challenging book. Second remark comes from Robert Kolb (great scholar BTW!), who says that its good that Hinlicky says in typical postmodern fashion he has given us "his Luther" and that he certainly fulfills his goal of creating a critical dogmatics on the basis of "his Luther." This doesn't strike me as a ringing endorsement, but perhaps I needed to read the whole review.

A few other brief observations. First, the blurb on the cover states that Hinlicky doesn't think that Luther's theology can be accepted by us today, but it can point us in the right direction of doing theology in "post-Christendom." Being someone who would accept Luther's theology in the present (perhaps not the stuff about witchcraft, and calculating the end of the world, but that's less theology and more primitive science), I find this remark a little bit odd. Though again, I am after all a "Fundamentalist" as he was fond of pointing out and am therefore hopeless stuck in my delusions about the Enlightenment not really having a knock-out argument against classical theism and supernaturalism. Alas.

But what about "post-Christendom?" I guess my attitude towards "post-Christendom" is "who cares?" I think that if I grew up in the midwest in the 50s and 60s and saw the cultural influence of Christianity decline before my eyes, it might be more of a going concern for me. But as someone who not only grew up on the west coast, but as the son of a WELS pastor, being in the catacombs seems normal to me. Hinlicky though, is obsessed with the idea that Christian truth claims need to be plausible to people in "postmodernity" and "post-Christendom." Of course as Gerhard Forde would note, this all assume freedom and not bondage. People don't believe in Jesus because he convinces them with a good argument, but because the Holy Spirit convicts them through the proclamation of the Word. This means that theology in "post-Christendom" should presumably be no different than in Christendom. Of course this is part of what our debate over at LOGIA was about. In any case, Hinlicky's approach has been the approach of Liberalism since Schleiermacher wrote his boring book to Christianity's "cultured despisers." And well, that really turned things around, right?

A couple of observations about stuff in the book itself. He seems to spend a lot of time attacking Burnell Eckhardt's book about Luther and Anslem (which I enjoyed and is very good BTW). I assume he thinks that substitutionary atonement isn't in Luther or something. This is fairly typical. Somehow even more conservative theologians in the ELCA just seem to think that everyone will call them troglodytes if they just accept the fairly simple fact that both Luther and the NT clearly teach substitution. End of story. I also find it a bit odd that he cites his daughter's seminary papers as a source for Luther's atonement theology, but then leaves out a whole lot of other standard sources on the subject that I used in my dissertation. Also, I noticed he's going to try to argue that Barth's reversal of law-gospel, to gospel first, then law is authentically Lutheran. I will be interested to see how that goes for him. He clearly stated in the last book that he detests Melanchthon's ordo salutis of law first, then gospel (how an alternative would work, he was unclear- i.e., why would you believe in forgiveness if you weren't guilty of anything!).

As I get through the book, I'll give you updates.


  1. So Good Doctor
    Would you say that any LCMS pastor who happens to study this book should be warned about its challenges that it may not have the best of good solid theology behind its writing?

    Pr. Sterle

  2. Yes- that's possible. I'll have read it first! But that doesn't mean that its all bad. Hinlicky occasionally says something interesting historically or theologically. Overall, I find his program problematic though.

    Nevertheless, let me read the thing first. Then I'll tell you what I think. I would like my preliminary thinking about to be challenged by the actual reading. Pre-judgment is of course hard to avoid.

  3. Thank you! Finally somebody else admits that Schleiermacher's Address was boring!!