The Self-Donation of God: Gerhard Forde and the Question of Atonement in the Lutheran Tradition
Date of Award
Dissertation - Restricted
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Gerhard O. Forde (1927-2005) throughout his life exerted a strong influence within traditionalist North American Lutheran circles. Despite his acceptance of much of the framework of contemporary traditionalist Lutheran theology, he deviated from Luther, the Lutheran Confessions and Lutheran orthodoxy on the question of atonement. Whereas traditional Lutheran dogmatics accepted the doctrine of penal substitution as the necessary corollary of justification by faith, Forde insisted on taking a different theological path. In taking this stance, Forde claimed to stand in continuity with Luther's theology of the cross and with the original apostolic kerygma. Nevertheless, contrary to Forde's claims, this dissertation argues that his view of atonement fails to meet his own theological criteria of the proclamation of law and gospel.
The dissertation begins by establishing our methodology in chapter one. We adopt an understanding of doctrine borrowed from the scientific model of Thomas Kuhn. Kuhn spoke of "paradigms" as communally held models for viewing reality. In analogy with this model, Christian communities engage various sources of revelation and create frameworks within which doctrine is to be dealt with. Doctrine can then be criticized on the basis of revelation that do not conform to the paradigm and therefore appear to be anomalies. On the other hand, various doctrinal proposals can be judged on the basis of whether or not they conform to the structure of the paradigm. We settle on the latter method as a basis for discussing Forde's theology. The last part of the chapter then describes the basic structure of the Lutheran paradigm as understood by Forde. Chapter two explores Luther's own doctrine of atonement and concludes that Luther taught the doctrine of penal substitution. Chapter three deals with the history of the Lutheran doctrine of atonement. Chapter four deals with Forde's own doctrine of atonement and the manner in which it undermines the proclamation of law and gospel. Chapter five demonstrates how the deviations from the classical Lutheran doctrine of atonement arose in Forde due to his because he borrowed from the theologies of the Johannes von Hofmann and Karl Barth. Chapter six explores Biblical themes of atonement and develops a new elucidation of the Lutheran doctrine of atonement.