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A (Lutheran) Case for Character

Submitted by on May 20, 2014 – 9:55 am5 Comments

A Case for CharacterEditor’s note: Concordia Seminary Professor Joel Biermann’s new book A Case for Character is just released this month. In it, Biermann makes the “case” for a genuinely Lutheran contribution to what has been called “virtue ethics.” Below are his thoughts for what inspired him to write the book.

For good reason, Lutheranism has gained a reputation for robust and faithful doctrinal reflection and application. It would surprise few to find solid doctrine and Lutheran together in a single sentence. But it would provoke not only surprise, but also outright suspicion if one were similarly to juxtapose Lutheran and solid character formation and training in virtue. Perpetuating the typical, but dangerously wrongheaded, divide between doctrine and ethics, it is common for people to assume that good Lutherans know a good deal about Christian doctrine, but, shall we say, are somewhat less advanced when it comes to the business of Christian living. Widespread as this idea has become, and true as it may be of some more recent iterations of Lutheran life and thought, it cannot be said of the first Lutherans—and that’s one of the points I try to make in my book, A Case for Character.

It was my personal “discovery” of the world known as virtue ethics and the potential I saw there for meaningful application within Christian homes and parishes that initially drove my work on the book. But, one of the ancillary components of the argument I make in A Case for Character is perhaps one of the more significant contributions—others, at least, have suggested as much. This is the fact that Luther, Melanchthon and the Confessions not only allow but actually encourage the work of character formation and training in virtue—and in quite traditional, that is Aristotelian, ways. While this may strike some as hopelessly self-evident, in a climate of antinomianism and law/gospel reductionism, it is, it seems, a point that needs to be made. Recognizing the extent to which the first reformers readily operated within the world of habituation and formation for the cultivation of character could serve as justification or even catalyst for a renewed interest in such work among Luther’s 21st century heirs. And, from my perspective, that would be an outcome to be celebrated, as it would have direct and tangible benefits for congregations, schools, homes and lives.

5 Comments »

  • Ben says:

    I applaud your contribution to the church with this book. I suspect this is a re-working of your PhD dissertation work from 2002. Wonderful! I wish all of our seminary professors would publish their dissertations in a less “academic” form. I look forward to purchasing and reading your work.

  • Martin R. Noland says:

    Dear Dr. Biermann,

    Congratulations on your latest publication! There has been a dearth of good writing from Lutherans on this subject in book form. Dr. Harold Senbeil’s “Sanctification” is the only one I have felt confident recommending in the past. I look forward to reading yours and doing the same for it.

    I always wondered why the successors of Melanchthon and Chemnitz did not include their sections on, e.g., the Decalog, Redress, Poverty, Chastity, the Cross, Mortifications of the Flesh, Offense, and Christian Liberty (this from Melanchthon’s LOCI 1543).

    The best answer to the Evangelicals (and Methodist) emphasis on ethics and sanctification is good Lutheran teaching on the subject. I am sure yours will supply that need.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  • Lowell Goecker says:

    Sounds like a very important topic for all Christians to grow in. Thank you for your effective way of communicating important and complex issues in practical and meaningful language. I look forward to how God will use your work to grow my faith and my works because, FAITHWORKS!

  • Very excited to see work being done in this area. It’s so evident in Scripture, yet it seems the fear of legalism has obliterated it from our teaching and preaching. Yet this is one of the greatest problems our churches face. Backed up by the work of Kinnaman & others, we’ve lost 2 generations due to our unwillingness to address this topic. They left because we weren’t making disciples, only converts, and it’s hard to blame them.

    I look forward to reading your work.

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