During the pandemic lockdown in our community I could think of nothing better to do than write a book. The book I have written is entitled: A HARVEST OF LUTHERAN DOGMATICS AND ETHICS: The Life and Work of Twelve Theologians (1960-2020). The twelve I chose to write about are: Robert W. Bertram, Edward H. Schroeder, Gerhard O. Forde, William H. Lazareth, Robert Benne, Paul R. Sponheim, Philip Hefner, Ted Peters, George A. Lindbeck, Robert W. Jenson, Paul R. Hinlicky, Carl E. Braaten.
All twelve off these theologians were seminary professors, mostly their entire teaching career. The chances are that the majority of Lutheran pastors preaching and teaching the Christian faith today were either their students or read some of their major works. They were all prolific authors, writing books, articles, reviews, and editorials. They represented a wide spectrum of Lutheran Synods and Churches in America, teaching at their respective seminaries. It was my privilege to get to know these theologians since they were frequent contributors to two theological journals of which I was the founding editor, beginning in 1960 with Dialog and then in 1991 with Pro Ecclesia.
The outpouring of Lutheran dogmatics and ethics in one generation presented in this book was an unprecedented and surprising development. Our teachers at the various Lutheran seminaries for the most part had not earned doctorates from the ranking divinity schools such as Harvard, Yale, Chicago, Union, or Princeton. Their course bibliographies included books written mostly by German or Swedish scholars, and a few by Danish, Finnish, or Norwegian, but none they had written. This is understandable because all Lutherans in America were of immigrant descent and only gradually emerged from their respective ethnic heritage after World War I. At that time the seminaries taught the kind theology they imported from the country from whence they came. That changed dramatically after World War II. The twelve authors featured in this book were the most prominent authors of dogmatics and ethics of that period of time.
The history of theology is like a bucket brigade; each generation passes on a bucket of theology received from the previous one, advancing, modifying, or even rejecting what they learned from their teachers. Lutheran theology in America has never been monolithic. The twelve I have written about represent a diversity of methods and interests, some even opposed to each other. The unavoidable question is: what is the current generation of Lutheran theologians doing to pass on what they have received? What will they find worth retaining and promoting? Or, will they start all over again, as it were from scratch, leaving the massive theological legacy of their predecessors to remain dormant or dead? What is the future of Lutheran theology in America?
Carl E. Braaten