Is it really "the Lutheran Ethic"?

Rule number one of evaluating Lutheran scholars talking about Luther and the confessions: if they don't cite either of them directly by specific writings, chances are they have problems in their grasp of Lutheranism.  The Book of Concord is a collection, and no sensible confessional scholar will tell you "The Book of Concord says [x]."  (Any more than a serious exegete will tell you "The Bible says [x]," and mean that the thoroughgoing witness of the whole is [x].)  Perhaps the Formula says [x], or one of the writings in the BoC says it, but you must be specific!  And of specific attention in terms of "what Luther said," watch for people whose major Luther citation method is secondary: Weber, Troeltsch, Fromm ... and one citation from Dillenberger's collection of snippets.  I'm sorry, where's the references to Luther's Works?

Kersten's The Lutheran Ethic (1970) isn't serious scholarship by this judgment.  And it bugs me!  Perhaps it is serious sociology for its time.  It looks reasonable by that standard.  But it is not reasonable in its grasp of the thing it attempts to measure.  The titular "Lutheran ethic" -- more properly "ethos" -- is characterized from the introduction on in terms of 17th-century gnesio-orthodoxy.  It holds up Flacius -- or at least his grasp of the utter depravity of man and the destruction of the image of God -- while slamming Calvin.  (And not realizing how inconsistent that is!)  And then it slams the LCA and ALC as falling into liberal Protestantism because they don't hold to this view of Luther, while pointing up the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods as the conservators of this Lutheran ethic.  Pardon me, that means they're heretics, conserving something the Formula steers clear of.

Why am I reading it?  Well, for a paper, as with so many books.  I read through Wuthnow on the restructuring of American religion, and a recent collection on Lutheranism pointed me to Kersten as a direct approach to sociology of Lutheranism in the US context.  Somehow, I have to either get past the fact that Kersten is measuring a highly biased target, or use that to frame how I read him and filter his results for it.

Suffice it to say I don't recommend this book.


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