The Popularity of Steven Paulson’s Adaptation of Luther’s Theology. Part 1

17 Apr

Shows just how radical and mind-blowing Lutheranism really is? Or no?



To begin, a word to those who don’t share my goals, much less my recent approach:

Yes, despite this blogs new banner (temporary!), I talk about lots of other stuff besides Steve Paulson.

There are about 750 posts on this blog from over 10 years!

So, in any case, yes, I agree — I wish I wasn’t doing this…

If you want to know what I really delight in focusing on and talking about, all you need to do is watch these videos (or do a search for “sermon text”)

That said, I really do think that someone doing this is extremely important, so…

I firmly reject as extremely wrong and unhelpful the notion that any severe criticism of Steven Paulson is alarmist and divisive.


Quickly quoting now from some excerpts from some of the Amazon reviews of Steve Paulson’s popular 2011 book titled Lutheran Theology, where he made the claim that Christ committed sin.

I have put what I consider the most important information in bold:

“Dude” is in the minority among reviewers:

Some good thoughts, but overall this is a confusing book that does not accurately reflect the historical Lutheranism that is found in the Lutheran confessions. At times Dr Paulson even embraces heterodox positions outside the bounds of historical Christianity. I was excited to read this book. Unfortunately I was very disappointed.

And Paul, sadly, gives us hope:

Very good book touching on almost every aspect of Lutheran theology. Thanks to this work I understood Lutheranism and hence rejected it completely, as a theology with which I would never agree.

Then there is Matt though, who embodies the tone for most of the other reviews:

This book is a journey more than a seminar. It accomplishes what any theology calling itself Lutheran should do – bring clarity, freedom, and faith. It should be read and re-read.

Stephan says:

“This is hard reading for a layman, but worth it. Raised Lutheran but having left the church while in college, I had in-depth understanding of neither modern Lutheran theology nor Luther’s original scriptural teachings, so this book was a real eye-opener. The text is organized around Paul’s letter to the Romans in the New Testament, while shedding considerable light upon when/where/how those who came after Luther deviated almost immediately from the simplicity and power of Luther’s interpretation.”

Peter Nordquist raves:

It’s been said the Bible is the most widely published book since the invention of the printing press, precisely because it changes the lives of its readers. Still, much of the Bible is hard to understand with all its metaphorical imagery and historical context. Having read Paulson’s “Lutheran Theology” I now understand more of the Bible than at any point in my 50 years of Biblical reading. My only objection is the books title… it really should be something like “The Uniqueness of Christian Theology”, or “The Words of God Come Alive”! If you want your faith to make a difference in your everyday life, do yourself a huge favor and read this book. Of the 300 some books in my personal library… I consider this the second most important one, right behind the Bible.

Scz writes about the main theme, the big “aha!,” of the book:

You have no idea how rooted you are in the legal scheme until your thinking is examined in light of a right and thorough dividing of law and gospel. (Dr. Paulson mentions at the beginning that this book, among other things, is a history of the repeated return of Lutherans to the legal scheme. In that sense, it is about all of us.) This book is a gift to the church!…

Larry helps unpack that key theme, “the legal scheme”:

This is one of those top two or three books that should be read more than once to grasp. Not due to a difficult or overly high style of writing, quite the contrary it is very well written and graspable. Rather due to our natural proclivity to the “legal scheme” it takes to some slow digesting. It’s like trying to explain to a fish who experientially knows nothing else with a Word that “he’s all wet” and “salvation is this other thing he knows absolutely nothing about but he is to trust the word on this”. The fish, much like us in our natural legal scheme proclivity wishes to discuss everything in terms of the wet world he only knows but does not know its “wet”, he just understands this atmosphere he’s in. That’s how the bondage of the will is, dead and utterly blind and needing an external Word to speak to it.

Frank is overcome:

I have never read a better exposition of Lutheranism by a modern theologian. It is not polemic. It does not define Lutheranism by attacking other christian sects. Yet, at the same time, it takes no prisoners. Awesome.

Judith has new questions:

If this book doesn’t knock your socks off, you aren’t paying attention. It is electrifying, exciting — am I talking about a theology book? Yes. The sad thing is that it makes me wonder if there are any real Lutherans out there.

Kenneth, knows not what he says:

This book does not delay in making its point. From the first sentence, Dr. Paulson makes sure the reader “gets” what Lutheranism is. I wish all systematics texts were this lucid and this faithful to the Lutheran Confessions.

Finally, another reviewer, from 2017, makes this surprising claim:

I’ve read this book about five or six times already. Dr. Paulson does an incredible job at articulating the gospel preached by Luther, and the church as a whole. Interested in Lutheran Theology? I highly recommend this book. It also comes highly recommended by many highly respected Confessional Lutheran theologians as well, and was posted as a great introductory boom to Lutheran theology on the LCMS web site.

Can confirm.



Posted by on April 17, 2020 in Uncategorized


4 responses to “The Popularity of Steven Paulson’s Adaptation of Luther’s Theology. Part 1

  1. Matt Cochran

    April 17, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    Interesting nugget here: “how those who came after Luther deviated almost immediately from the simplicity and power of Luther’s interpretation.” So Lutherans immediately deviated from Luther, and presumably Christians must have deviated almost immediately from Christ and from Paul as well until Luther. Amazing how many cults depend on the idea that a clear and simple message was immediately misunderstood by its teachers’ closest followers and forgotten for hundreds and hundreds of years until a radical new visionary shows up to “restore” it.

    Satan must have a pretty short playbook.

  2. Delwyn X Campbell

    April 17, 2020 at 9:35 pm

    I have not read the book, but I trust Vicar Nathan Rinne’s assessment of Dr. Paulson. Even I everything else was “spot on,” the claim that Jesus sinned sinks this ark. Hopefully, Dr. Paulson, with over three years to reflect, will make a correction that brings this book in line with the Confessions. BTW, “Lutheranism” is something of a misnomer, since we follow the SCriptures, and we express how we follow them in the Confessions. Luther did not create our theology, nor do we follow “Luther.” We follow the historic Confessions of the Christian Church.

  3. Matt.5-15

    April 18, 2020 at 9:21 pm

    Why do you open your critique (Part 1) of Paulson with quotes from Amazon “reviewers”? Is Amazon popularity a valid standard?
    “I firmly reject as extremely wrong and unhelpful the notion that any severe criticism of Steven Paulson is alarmist and divisive.” Please advance your severe criticisms, as directly as possible.

    • Nathan A. Rinne

      April 19, 2020 at 5:54 pm


      Thanks for your reply — I appreciate your taking the time to write.

      There is a reason I led with this post, which will be the first of at least 4. If you feel like you can’t wait for the future severe criticisms, you can look at what I’ve already said on Twitter the past two weeks.

      And “yes,” I, along with several other people, do think that the reviews on Amazon can give a very good idea of an author’s popularity.

      And not only this but all of the bits of the reviews I posted above are indeed helpful in giving persons a sense of what the book contains and why it is popular. Why Paulson is popular, and should be taken seriously but all.

      The key pt. though is the last one. Paulson is popular enough in the LC-MS to have his work promoted on the LC-MS website.



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