Wednesday, August 10, 2005

R.I.P. Gerhard Forde

The Lutheran Church has lost a most important theologian and churchman. Gerhard Forde, long-time professor systematic theology at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, died yesterday, 9 August. I will not attempt any sort of obituary, but I reproduce this obit from the Sem:

Gerhard O. Forde (1927-2005)

Luther Seminary gives thanks for the witness and wisdom of Professor Emeritus Gerhard O. Forde, who died Aug. 9, 2005. For almost 40 years he shared his passion for the Reformation with generations of pastors and lay leaders. "I have tried through the years to present the integrity and truth of the tradition, especially as found in Martin Luther, in a way that is interesting, compelling and exciting," he said at his retirement in 1998.

Gerhard Forde joined the Luther Seminary faculty as lecturer in church history in 1959-61. After moving to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, as assistant professor of religion in 1961-63, he returned to the seminary as instructor in 1964 and was promoted to professor ten years later.

His teaching career began at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn., where he was instructor in religion in 1955-56.

He received the B.A. degree from Luther College in 1950, attended the University of Wisconsin for one year, and then earned the B.Th degree from Luther Seminary in 1955. He earned the Th.D. degree from Harvard Divinity School in 1967. Forde also studied at Tubingen University and was the Lutheran tutor at Mansfield College, Oxford University, 1968-70. He also spent sabbatical years at Harvard (1972-73), Strasbourg (1979-80), and the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, St. John's University, Collegeville, Minn. (1988).

A member of the American Academy of Religion, Forde had also been active as a member of the board of dialog, A Journal of Theology; the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue; the commission for the new Lutheran Church; and the editorial board of The Lutheran Quarterly, new series.

His publications include:

  • The Captivation of the Will: Luther vs. Erasmus on Freedom and Bondage (Lutheran Quarterly Books, 2004)
  • A more radical Gospel : essays on eschatology, authority, atonement, and ecumenism (Eerdmans, 2004); edited by Mark C. Mattes, and Steven D. Paulson.
  • On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 (1997)
  • Theology Is for Proclamation (1990)
  • "Forensic Justification and Law in Lutheran Theology," Justification by Faith, Lutherans and Catholics in dialogue VI (1985)
  • "When the Old Gods Fail," Piety, Politics and Ethics, Reformation Studies in Honor of George Wolfgang Forell (1984)
  • "The Work of Christ" and "Christian Life," Christian Dogmatics (1984)
  • Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life (1982)
  • Where God Meets Man (1972)
  • The Law Gospel Debate (1969)

    A festschrift, By Faith Alone: Essays on Justification in Honor of Gerhard O. Forde, (Eerdmans, 2004) has also been published.
I've read a lot of Forde, and not all of it made me comfortable. But all of it made me think and admire his skills as a scholar and writer. I did not agree with some of his most significant theses: I thought he provided no room for sanctification in his picture of justification by grace, and I deeply regret his involvement in the WordAlone movement. And he was frequently at loggerheads with the most important theologians in my life -- including Jenson and Braaten -- so I was not inclined to be kind. But even I cannot and couldnot deny the almost magisterial importance of his work and witness. (I even cited him frequently in the classes I led.)

Gerhard Forde was of that generation of post-World War II students who went off to graduate school and returned to remake the face of American Lutheranism. When that story is told, Forde will figure prominently in it.

He was a faithful servant of God and of His Church, and his death is -- as is death itself -- lamentable.

Eternal rest, grant him O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon him. Amen.


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