Saturday, 24 October 2009
'Luther and the Scriptures', a classic work by Dr J.M Reu, is now freely available in PDF format. Just click the post title to access (this is a large file - 200 pages of text).
Continuing with the Reformation Day theme, 'Luther and the Scriptures' is an old (i.e. 1940s) book by Dr J. M. Reu, pictured (1869-1943), a German born scholar who was the principal theologian of the Iowa Synod, a body founded by Wilhelm Loehe's followers after their break with Walther's Missouri Synod. The Iowa Synod later (1930) helped form the American Lutheran Church (ALC). Reu was a bit of a theological polymath, authoring authoritative texts on practical subjects such as homiletics and catechetics, and producing a Sunday School curriculum for his synod, while also being recognised internationally as an authority on Luther and the Lutheran Confessions. In fact, Concordia recently re-published Reu's classic book on the sources of the Augsburg Confession some seventy years after it was first published, such is its value. Very few theological scholars these days would have such proficiency across several disciplines, and while that says a lot about how complex modern theology has become (for better or worse?), it also says a lot about how gifted Reu was. Reu was also a mentor to Hermann Sasse, and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia, one of the constituting bodies of the LCA, to which I belong, used his textbooks in its seminary up until the late 1950s (indeed, a retired UELCA pastor passed his collection of Reu's works on to me when I was heading to seminary in 1997, including this monograph). Forty years after Reu's death, the ALC became one of the three founding bodies of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which had a very weak confessional foundation - which goes to show how quickly a church body can move from orthodoxy to heterodoxy, but one or two generations in the tumultuous times of the 20th century.
Of course, right (in the sense of right and wholesome!) attitudes to scripture are seminal to the health or otherwise of a church body, which is why this book is still of interest and value. Apparently, while Reu was certainly no liberal, he did set out to to show that Luther did not hold to an 'untra-orthodox' position on the inspiration and innerrancy of scripture, and that this came later with Lutheran orthodoxy. This work was to be a bit of a refutation of the Missouri Synod's position on scripture, as the ALC and LC-MS had 'history', we might say, and were involved in debates and dialogues at the time, and would eventually end up in fellowship several decades later (a fellowship terminated in the 1980s).
As Reu's research progressed, however, he realised that his thesis was untenable in light of the mass of evidence in Luther's writings that Luther did indeed hold a conservative, orthodox position on these matters. Thus, like any reasonable person who is confronted with evidence that disproves even a dearly held theory, Reu changed his mind and wrote this book instead instead of the proposed missive. Reu still maintains that Luther held to a 'dynamic' theory of inspiration, and not a 'dictation' theory, but since few Lutheran scholars of either 17th century orthodoxy or the 20th century LC-MS held a strict dictation theory, this is a bit of a straw man that Reu takes on, and most conservative Lutherans today would be happy with what Reu writes here anyway.
Reu's work has never been refuted, only ignored by those in his own church body and others who didn't like his conclusions. It is still referred to by conservative scholars today, even those from non-Lutheran backgrounds, who are examining Luther and the scriptures and seeking to defend him against his liberal re-interpreters.
Take up and read! Or should that be, Download and read!?
May your confidence in God's Word be strengthened by it.
Thanks to Joseph Schmidt of Mantorville, Minnesota, USA, who I believe did the scanning and web publishing [http://cumsanctospiritu.blogspot.com] and to Pr .Peter Kriewaldt for alerting me to this via a chat group. Joseph is also scanning Gerhard's Confessio Catholica here: http://confessiocatholica.blogspot.com/