Gerhard O. Forde (1927-2005)
pastor, scholar, teacher, writer
Luther Theological Seminary, St. Paul, MN
Lecturer in Church History, 1959-61
Instructor of Systematic Theology, 1964-74
Professor of Systematic Theology, 1974-98
While an ELCA theologian may seem an unlikely source of inspiration for an old WELS-bred conservative like myself, I have found Gerhard Forde to be a breath of fresh air - daring to preach and teach the more radical Gospel I have come to believe. It is a Gospel I believe Luther preached, and which Luther believed Paul preached. The writings of Gerhard Forde, more than any other source, helped me to interpret Luther’s theology in a way that I could understand. And it was remarkably consistent with what I had already come to believe through a hodgepodge of other means.
I first met Gerhard Forde in the book Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification (1988).
The book dealt with the question of the Christian life, addressing the following kinds of questions:
- How do we grow closer to God?
- Is there a secret to the spiritual life?
- Do we need a second blessing?
- Is sanctification God’s work or ours?
- Is it instantaneous or is it a process?
Five scholars from different traditions (Lutheran, Reformed, Wesleyan, Pentecostal and Contemplative) were brought together to write and respond to one another’s views. Forde was asked to present the Lutheran view.
As I read Forde’s description of sanctification, I was struck by just how clearly and calmly he said some very radical things. It was the clearest description of the unconditional Gospel I had seen in print since first reading Jeff Harkin’s Grace Plush Nothing. Forde seemed to dodge the issue of sanctification as he preached the unconditional Gospel, and this seemed to baffle the other four writers who had to respond to his views. But he was not dodging. He was merely allowing the cross to inform his view of sanctification. He was doing the theology of the cross in plain sight, and his critics didn’t quite know what to make of it.
After that brief introduction to Forde, I bought and read five of his books. I am now in the process of re-reading each one of them. I have decided that, for a book to be truly worth recommending, I personally should have been driven to read it twice or more. These five books, in my view, are worth reading at least twice:
- The Captivation of the Will: Luther vs. Erasmus on Freedom and Bondage (Lutheran Quarterly Books, 2004)
- Theology Is for Proclamation (1990)
- Where God Meets Man (1972)