A Jagged Contention: Gerhard Forde

“To be a Christian is to live under the sign of him who ‘came from heaven down to earth,’ to live under the sign of his cross and resurrection, and thus to wait hopefully, patiently, on this earth by making it a better place and to challenge the world, through one’s vocation and the church to do the same.”

– Gerhard Forde, Where God Meets Man, pg. 128


Gerhard Forde is the focus of a great deal of internet Lutheran controversy. If I am reading this text correctly, it clearly dispels many of the accusations thrown at Forde (he’s antinomian, anti-sanctification, almost gnostic). So, my question this week is: Can we engage theologians who speak in ways we aren’t comfortable with in a charitable and honest fashion? When is it time to play the “heretic” card? Should we consider all theologians outside of our tradition anathema? Even if we disagree with some of his methodology and/or conclusions, what sorts of things can we learn from a guy like Forde?


4 thoughts on “A Jagged Contention: Gerhard Forde

  1. It seems to me that what he says is good. I don’t know about the accusations. It is a little hard to imagine someone talking about God and not being off some about something. Whether the label of heresy is useful or not is a matter of debate in any particular situation, although that can be much more obvious in some of those.

    In any case, the only instructions I see in Scripture for such things are the ones in Galatians 1 for treatment of a different Gospel. Or the excommunication of a sinner who is unresponsive to Scripture in Matthew 18. Can anyone make those cases for Forde? If so, the answer is clear enough. If not, the thing to do is have a conversation to see what is true from Scripture. That way we all benefit. Whether the case can be made or not, we are even supposed to treat tax collectors (I’m pretty sure the IRS can even be included in this) and pagans with a dose of evangelism – or so Jesus did.


  2. I have greatly benefited from Forde’s writings. He not only is a lay person’s theologian, but his is a preacher’s theologian. He writes not merely to convey information, but most of his writing comes across as a sermon preached to the reader.

    I perceive his influence in the sermons and other writings of my favorite preachers and writers.

    IMO, the label “heresy” is way over the top.


  3. “in the end, if human beings see themselves as makers and doers, they will find themselves having to carry the entire world on their shoulders like the mythical Atlas holding the world on his back” – Forde

    Given the quote above, it seems like he is OK with us seeing ourselves as makes and doers in some sense after all. That’s a good thing. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard any persons I know critical of Forde deny that he didn’t have some very wise things to say. All that said, when you have persons contending about whether or not he denied the atonement for example – when some clearly contend that he did (and it certainly sounds like he did) – you have to wonder about how much unnecessary trouble and dissension that lack of clarity causes.



  4. Forde gets a bad rap. The angles did not give the shepherds the good news by first preaching the law. Much of Forde’s reputation comes from leading with and leaning heavily on Gospel. Either the news of salvation causes one feeling the weight of law to repent or causes the one not feeling to wonder from what he has been saved.

    Other issues, I think, pertain to his loyalty to the vast majority of Lutherans in the formation of the ELCA more than his theology. It’s as if his theology must be heretically tainted because he could accept compromise. He could accept that a dialog must be continued, if there is ever hope bringing people back to the Confessions.

    No theologian has it all. If a theologian fully comprehends God, it isn’t God that he really comprehends. The Confessions, the Church, the revelation of Scripture, leave us with a dialog on many points, not everything can be clear to us. The fullest explication of scripture leaves many mysteries. Differences serve to deepen our understanding, confirm our beliefs. Theological differences are used by God for our improvement.

    Anathema is a harsh notion. It has always been the case in the Western Church that this was beyond excommunication and meant out of the Church, entirely. Most of the heterodox are still in the Church and I believe that, when we all meet in everlasting life, we’ll all know how foolish we were. Even the weakest and most tenuous faith receives full salvation. If we know that the person we are speaking with is saved every bit as much as we are, how can we not accept our differences, lovingly?


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