By Jeni Miller
A new collection of essays, The Necessary Distinction: A Continuing Conversation on Law & Gospel, is being released by Concordia Publishing House this fall after a successful collaboration between The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).
“In our day, when many Lutherans seem to have lost their way biblically, this book is much needed,” said the Rev. Dr. David M. Wendel, the NALC’s assistant to the bishop for ministry and ecumenism. “It is for those who preach the Word and those who hear the Word, for pastors and laity, for the theologically trained and those who aren’t. It is a gift to our churches and to all who are committed to the ‘necessary distinction.’ ”
The book, which features 13 essays on the relationship of the Law/Gospel distinction to preaching, pastoral care, missions, ethics and the Christian life, was edited by:
- the Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III, director of LCMS Church Relations and assistant to the president;
- the Rev. John T. Pless, assistant professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind. (CTSFW); and
- the NALC’s Rev. Dr. James Arne Nestingen, professor emeritus of Church History at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.
All three of the editors authored essays (Pless wrote two).
Other essayists from the LCMS are:
- the Rev. Mark Seifrid, professor of Exegetical Theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (CSL);
- the Rev. William Cwirla, senior pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Hacienda Heights, Calif.;
- the Rev. Peter Brock, pastor of St. John Lutheran Church, Decatur, Ind.
- the Rev. Larry Vogel, associate executive director of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations;
- the Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki, associate professor of Systematic Theology and director of the Master of Sacred Theology program at CTSFW; and
- the Rev. Dr. Roland F. Ziegler, associate professor of Systematic Theology and Confessional Lutheran Studies at CTSFW.
Although the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) was not involved in the collaboration to produce the book, essays were contributed by three ELCA theologians:
- Dr. Mark C. Mattes, associate professor of Religion and Philosophy at Grand View College in Des Moines, Iowa;
- the Rev. Dr. Stephen Hultgren, lecturer in New Testament and head of the Biblical Department at Australian Lutheran College in North Adelaide, South Australia; and
- the Rev. Dr. Steven Paulson, professor of Systematic Theology at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.
“In our discussions with representatives of the NALC, we discovered that we shared much commonality with them on the importance of rightly distinguishing the Law from the Gospel to avoid both legalism and moral relativism,” Pless explained. “In addition to writers from the LCMS and NALC, we selected three experienced theologians who are still in the ELCA to contribute chapters that we thought would be helpful to pastors and laity in the NALC, Lutheran Church—Canada and LCMS in thinking through the significance of Law/Gospel theology in our setting. I might add that each of the three ELCA writers [has] been critical of theological developments in that church body.
“As stated in the introduction, none of the writers are speaking for their own church bodies. Instead, we recruited competent theologians who had demonstrated that they had some insights that would benefit Lutheran and ecumenical readers. I couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome.”
Pless said the collection of essays brings together “a variety of confessional Lutheran scholars from North America and Australia to provide our churches with vigorous and fresh discussion of a theme at the heart of Lutheran theology.”
That “theme at the heart of Lutheran theology” is increasingly important now, according to Pless, as “our age is tempted by both ‘lawfulness’ and ‘lawlessness,’ ” he said.
“There is the temptation to think that we can declare ourselves ‘righteous’ before God on the basis of our obedience. That would be ‘lawfulness,’ ” Pless explained.
“On the other hand, there is the thought that we are autonomous, with no accountability to God or the neighbor — ‘lawlessness,’ ” he said. “Our age can be extremely ‘anti-law’ and at the same time highly legalistic. This makes the proper distinction of the Law from the Gospel all the more challenging.”
With this in mind, the book’s editors hope the essays will help shape conversations in circuit gatherings and other pastoral conferences to “challenge and better equip pastors to engage the fine art of distinguishing Law and Gospel in all that they do,” said Pless.
At the same time, he also emphasized the relevance of the book for laypeople: “The chapter by Rev. Larry Vogel speaks to the place of God’s Law in the daily Christian life, and Rev. William Cwirla brilliantly shows how both Law and Gospel are functioning in the liturgy.”
Order book on cph.org
For more information or to order, visit cph.org/necessarydistinction.
Deaconess Jeni Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer and member of Lutheran Church of the Ascension in Atlanta.
Posted August 22, 2017 / Updated August 23, 2017 / Updated August 24, 2017