For most Lutheran pastors, Matthias Loy is just a name in a hymnal.  A few can identify him as a 19th-century proponent of confessional Lutheranism and leader of the Ohio Synod.  In The Americanization Process in the Second Generation, C. George Fry and Joel Kurz give us a scholarly, thoughtful biography of this little known man.

The Ohio Synod began as a frontier district of the Pennsylvania Ministerium.  It became independent in 1818, but theologically it followed the Pennsylvania Ministerium, pursuing unionistic services with Reformed churches and permitting lodge membership.  The 1820s saw a confessional movement emerge within the Ohio Synod, and by the late 1850s the movement had reshaped the Ohio Synod as a confessional body.  The synod remained bilingual throughout the 19th century, although four successive English Districts seceded from the body in 40 years.

Loy became a key figure in the confessional movement in the 1850s.  As a child, he had  imbibed the Lutheranism of the Pennsylvania Ministerium.  He was sent from home at 14 to become a printer, but pastors shepherded him toward seminary, where he came into contact with the Ohio Synod’s confessional movement.  When he received his first call in 1849, he was already a strong polemicist, and by his own account he soon upset older pastors (166-67).

Through his writing and his work in founding Capital University, Loy quickly gained stature in the synod.  As Fry and Kurz write, “In the times of crisis, Matthias Loy steadily emerged as an administrator and theological leader” (163).  In 1865 he was called to teach full time at Capital; he presided over the institution from 1880-1890.  He served as president of the Ohio Synod from 1860-1877 and 1880-1894.  During his first presidency the General Council was formed, but Loy was deeply disappointed when that body failed to adopt his “four points” (209).  The Ohio Synod then joined the Synodical Conference, but the relationship was rocky.  It disintegrated over the predestination controversy during Loy’s second presidency.  (Expect a less than rosy picture of the Missouri Synod in this connection).  During all these years, Loy lived in the tension between the adaptation of the first generation of American Lutherans, such as Schmucker and Muhlenberg, and the repristinizing tendencies of the “Old Lutherans” who came to the U.S. in the 1830s and 40s.

Unfortunately, a few minor problems mar the book.  It contains numerous typos, and a few are confusing (“now” instead of “not,” p. 138, line 10).  It occasionally lapses into distracting repetition.  Finally, it offers no definitions of ‘adaptation’ and ‘repristinization’.  They boil down to ‘accommodation to Protestantism’ and ‘fighting over details’, respectively; Loy is portrayed as finding a middle way between ‘accommodation’ and ‘nit-picking’.

The weaknesses should not deter anyone from reading the book.  The narrative moves along smoothly.  It conveys how much theological and ecclesiastical leadership Loy provided American Lutheranism and offers a picture of the crises that shook American Lutheranism in the 19th century.  Readers will find the book readable and informative.

David Loy
Bolivar, Missouri





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