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Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte


Gassmann, Günther


Historical Dictionary of Lutheranism. In cooperation with D. H. Larson and M. W. Oldenburg.


Lanham-London: The Scarecrow Press 2001. XXIII, 420 S. 8 = Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements, 35. Lw. US$ 65.00. ISBN 0-8108-3945-8.


R. A. Kelly and David Schnasa Jacobsen

Günther Gassmann, who served international Lutheranism and the ecumenical movement so well as Associate Director of Studies of the LWF and Director of the Commission on Faith and Order, has provided yet another incalculable service to theologians, historians, pastors, students, and anyone the least bit interested in the Lutheran churches of the world. The Historical Dictionary of Lutheranism, in which Gassmann was assisted by Duane Larson and Mark Oldenburg, is a comprehensive and balanced reference on most things Lutheran from the beginning of the movement up to the Joint Declaration on Justification, signed with the Roman Catholic Church in 1999. It is amazing how much the authorial team has packed into only 424 pages. Most anything you might want to look up has been covered. In addition to the articles-by necessity brief, but without seeming too short- there are current statistics and a massive bibliography.

The volume fills a definite hole in the availability of up-to-date reference works in English on Lutheran theology and history. The two reference works that are most used are now decades old and many of the interpretations given there have been long superseded by historians and theologians.

The dictionary takes a global view of Lutheranism, including articles on such contemporary Lutheran leaders from around the world such as Bp. Medardo Gomez of El Salvador and historical articles from all parts of the Lutheran world. In addition the perspective is most assuredly ecumenical. There is also a healthy emphasis on the interaction of theology with artistic, literary, and scientific interests which shows how Lutheranism has a unique approach to the connection of church and culture. These characteristics mean that the dictionary will be useful across a spectrum of readerships.

One can always object to certain aspects of a dictionary project, and this is also true of the Historical Dictionary of Lutheranism. For example, several articles use the phrase "justification through grace alone by faith alone." In Lutheran theology written in English one normally says "justification by grace through faith" so as to indicate that the ultimate cause of the sinner's justification is God's grace in Christ and that faith is the instrumental cause. This distinction is important in English in order to distinguish Lutheran theology from those American Evangelicals who place emphasis on conversion experiences and faith as a decision of the will. Is this merely an oversight on the part of the authors, or is a theological point being made? Perhaps related to this point is the tendency of the dictionary in articles on the sacraments to emphasize the "requirement for reception" side rather than the "gift of the Spirit's work" side in the question of the role of faith in the sacraments.

One could also cite several examples where the brevity of the dictionary format leads to controversial interpretations being stated as fact. For example, the article on Luther's theology attributes the third use of the Law to Luther without recognition that this interpretation is contested. Again, Luther's role in the Peasant War is spoken of so as to present his role much more favourably than many historians would accept.

Apart from issues such as these, the articles and the bibliography are generally free of bias, and usually introduce all points of view on controverted issues. Every English-speaking church library should purchase a copy of this book, even considering the high price. There is simply no other current source in English where this much information is packed into such a usable form.