I Don’t Know if You Noticed All My Werner Elert Tweets….

13 May

A false structure: “[Law and Gospel] are against each other as life and death” (Werner Elert, quoted on page 316 of CPH’s 2017 “so-called 3rd use of the law” book, The Necessary Distinction).


Gerhard Forde a problem? Well, somebody needs to look at this Werner Elert guy more! This post exists just in case you missed all my recent tweets… : )

As I prepared for the recent talk that I gave at the 2019 Congress on the Lutheran Confessions in Bloomington MN (presented by the Association of Confessional Lutherans National Free Conference No. 30 and the Luther Academy Lecture Series No. 26), titled “The Third Use of the Law, ‘Seminex,’ and Today: Fatal Denial,” I learned a lot more about the massive influence that the 20th century theologian Werner Elert had on the self-proclaimed moderate LC-MS folks.

Elert was considered a conservative Lutheran theologian in his native Germany, but note some of these short clips I uncovered regarding his theology, perhaps after looking at a list that appeals to the American mainstream of Confessional Lutheranism today….

Wrong Werner. False structure. “Law denotes our entire reality as the realm ordered by God, but therefore also as a realm of coercion (CE, 81)” (quoted on 312, The Necessary Distinction).


This summer, I intend to discover more about how “faithful” men like these are/were in following Werner Elert, whom they claim as an influence:

I will leave you with this quotation, which you should read slowly, from Edward Schroeder, one of the “Seminex” professors, who studied under Werner Elert and vigorously pushed his [version of his?] theology until his dying day, just a few weeks ago. Already in 1972, Schroeder advocated for women’s ordination, and as early as 2001 was promoting the ordination of men and women in stable gay unions, or relationships….

“The greatest ‘danger’ to the Gospel is the Law.” – Edward Schroeder, summing up Werner Elert as he understood him.


In the early 1950s in the Luth. Church-Missouri Synod [LCMS] Jaroslav Pelikan, young professor at Concordia Seminary (St. Louis), was recommending to us students that if we wished to escape Missouri’s “hang-up” with Verbal Inspiration of the Scriptures, we should go to Erlangen and study under Elert. Elert’s 2 volume “Morphologie des Luthertums” [literally: The Morphology of Lutheranism], was “epoch-making”–he said–with its presentation of the “Evangelischer Ansatz” [“Gospel-grounding”] for Lutheran confessional theology.

So three of us students “went to Erlangen” for the academic year 1952-53. Bob Schultz, already graduated from Concordia, became Elert’s doctoral candidate. Baepler and I were only half-way through Concordia, but had finagled scholarships to go to Germany for the year. Elert died before Schultz finished his work. He attended Elert’s funeral. Elert’s colleague, Paul Althaus, took over as his “Doktorvater.” Bob’s dissertation (written in German, of course) was a flat-out Elertian theme: “Law and Gospel in Lutheran Theology in the 19th Century.” It was published by Luthersiches Verlagshaus.

Baepler and I were there only for the “Sommersemester” ’53. We all enrolled for Elert’s lectures and seminar. He even invited the three of us over for Kaffeeklatsch one Sunday afternoon, since he appreciated that the pioneer of the Missouri Synod, C.F.W. Walther, had been faithful to law/gospel Lutheranism and had even written a book by that title. At that Kaffeeklatsch Elert agreed to write an article for our Concordia Seminary student theological journal, “The Seminarian”–I can still hear him saying, “Das tue ich!”–which was then published when Dick and I returned to St. Louis. Its title: “Lutheranism and World History.” Most likely it is the one and only Elert article that first appeared in English–and probably never in German. He wrote it, of course, in German and we translated it. It was posted 6 years ago as Thursday Theology #29 in the first year of this enterprise. [If interested GO to the Crossings webpage ( and click on Thursday Theology, December 10, 1998.]

By 1957 all three of us were at Valparaiso University, and were teaching what we had learned, not only to V.U. students, but to the wider Missouri Synod. With Bob Bertram as dept. chair and Gottfried Krodel added to the staff later on, law/gospel Lutheranism became the trademark of “Valparaiso Theology.” So there were 5 of us in one place at one time. We encountered conflict within Missouri, of course, with our teaching and writing. Verbal inspiration and “Evangelischer Ansatz” were not compatible.

This Elertian sort of Confessional Lutheranism, though hardly ever acknowledged as such, was also near the center of the eventual explosion in Missouri in 1973-74 that took place at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and then created “Concordia Seminary in Exile, a.k.a. Seminex. That is, of course, one man’s opinion. Bertram and I were then on the faculty at Concordia–and “Elertian” confessional Lutheranism, already at home there (but hardly majority opinion), got additional support.

The fuse for the explosion was the LCMS national convention in 1973. By a 55% to 45% vote the convention declared the “faculty majority” [45 of the 50 professors at Concordia Seminary] to be “false teachers.” Three false teachings were specified. Two of the three were actually Elert’s own “heresies,” although he was never named. One heresy of the Concordia faculty was called “Gospel-reductionism.” In nickel words: grounding the Bible’s authority on the Gospel itself [ = Elert’s Evangelischer Ansatz] and not on verbal inspiration. The second heresy was on the so-called “third use of God’s law,” a constant hot potato among Lutherans ever since the 16th century. Our “false teaching” on the law’s “third use” was that we opted for Elert’s Gospel-grounded interpretation and not the one the LCMS had supposedly “always” taught.[i]

“Only an inebriated mole would claim that the Missouri Synod is not in theological ferment.” – John Warwick Montgomery, in 1966




[i] “Remembering Werner Elert-Fiftieth Anniversary of his Death,” Thursday Theology #336 (November 18, 2004): For a more detailed account of some of the things that happened with men like Robert Schultz, Bob Bertram, and Edward Schroeder, check out Schroeder’s own account, including a helpful chronology: “Schroeder, Ed: The Holy Spirit in Werner Elert’s Theology” (2016):

1 Comment

Posted by on May 13, 2019 in Uncategorized


One response to “I Don’t Know if You Noticed All My Werner Elert Tweets….

  1. Rex Rinne

    May 13, 2019 at 3:16 pm

    conclusive observations, son. peace always…

    On Mon, May 13, 2019 at 5:17 AM theology like a child wrote:

    > Nathan A. Rinne posted: “+++ Gerhard Forde a problem? Well… somebody > needs to look at this Werner Elert guy more…. This post exists just in > case you missed all my recent tweets… : ) As I prepared for the recent > talk that I gave at the 2019 Congress on the Lutheran Con” >


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