Book Review: The Way of Salvation in the Lutheran Church by G.H. Gerberding
I am no Lutheran. Yet, as with almost every other tradition of the church I am an at distance admire. After have drunk deeply from Martin Luther himself, I have finally returned to dip my toes deeper into the pool of Lutheran truth and the Scriptural depth available. The Way of Salvation in the Lutheran Church (henceforth, Way of Salvation) provides an outstanding introduction to Lutheran thought for the average laymen reader and it was specifically for this audience that it was written.
Written by G.H. Gerberding, this edition of Way of Salvation is edited with modernized language and sentence syntax by Jordan Cooper of JustAndSinner. This ensures that the language is accessible to modern readers but the book is not without historical context. Gerberding lived and pastored during the time of sweeping revivalism. Way of Salvation can be described synoptically as presenting the orthodox Lutheran faith over against the raging revivalism, existentialism, rationalism, liberalism, etc. of its day. There is a complete, though moderately argued, presentation of the Lutheran faith. In terms of application, Pastor Cooper is correct to say that Way of Salvation "would come across as a contemporary book" with only a few minor name changes. In fact, I would say that Michael Horton's Ordinary does in fact presents a Presbyterian version of Gerberding's very concerns. Both books to deserve to be read immediately by individuals in both traditions.
As a Presbyterian, there was much I could fawn over with respect to infant baptism and covenant nurture (chapters 5-9). Only a pastor can say "it is the duty and blessed privilege of the parents to keep their little ones in that covenant of Grace" (36). It is perhaps here that I aligned most with Gerberding. Despite some disagreement over baptismal regeneration, I greatly appreciate the stress that is placed on raising children and the possibility of them not breaking their baptismal covenant. There are few in the Church who has expressed so strong an assurance in God's promise for salvation with which I could link arms.
I am inspired by the depth of repentance and absolution which is willing to state "to all who do truly repent and believe...and are sincerely determined to amend their ways and lead a godly and pious life, the entire forgiveness of all your sins" (103). I even find some of my fears about neglecting the Holy Spirit calmed by Gerberding's dealing in "The Word as a Means of Grace" (chapter 17). Though I am not entirely on board with the "conversion" in baptism described in Way of Salvation, I find myself drawn to how adamantly the Lutheran church can teach about baptismal faithfulness (120-121). I remain struck by how Arminian Gerberding sounds when dealing with conversion (134-137) and I looked forward to studying more about Pastor Cooper and C.F.W. Walther's differing view on the subject of human will.
The concluding chapters of Way of Salvation are the death keel for revivalism (chapters 24-27). Much like Horton's Ordinary it has become clear the America church suffered greatly in the great revivals that swept through the country. It suffers to this day. Gerberding presents multiple quotations from Lutherans and Presbyterians demonstrating the theological and ecclesiastical terrors that descended upon the church in the aftermath of the "great awakenings." It is here in particular that Geberding's emphasis parallels Horton's. Revivalism exalts emotion and experience while diminishing the means of grace, respect for pastors, and the average church experience. This borderline satanic aspect of revivalism has plagued the church and faithful pastors for far too long.
In conclusion, I can't help but recommend The Way of Salvation in the Lutheran Church to everyone seeking genuine revival in the American church. Though an old and faithful book, it stands as a reminder of genuine Christian living. Presbyterians will find points of departure with respect to baptism but the remainder is both encouraging and exciting. Evangelicals seeking "revival" will feel disappointed with how ordinary the answers are from historical, traditional, and proven Christianity. I love it and I love this book.