Lutheran Pietism vs Lutheran Orthodoxy

This is a repost from January, 2008.

A LCMS pastor and dear friend of mine recently gave me Bo Giertz’s Hammer of God to read as a sort of “fun” read.  It was not only fun, it was outstanding.  This book is fiction but it is based on historical and theological happenings in 19th century Sweden.  This book could be Walther’s lectures on the Law and Gospel set in narrative/story form.  Here’s a blurb from a dialogue between an old codgy Lutheran orthodox pastor and a young warm Lutheran pietist minister named Fridfeldt.

“So you are a believer, I’m glad to hear that.  What do you believe in?”  Fridfeldt stared dumbfounded at his superior.  Was he jesting with him?  “But sir, I am simply saying that I am a believer.”

“Yes, I hear that my boy, but what is it that you believe in?”  Fridfeldt was almost speechless.  “But don’t you know, sir, what it means to believe?”

“That is a word which can stand for things that differ greatly, my boy.  I ask only what it is that you believe in.”

“In Jesus, of course,” answered Fridfeldt, raising his voice. “I mean–I mean that I have given Him my heart.”  The older man’s voice became suddenly as solemn as the grave.  “Do you consider that something to give him?”  By this time, Fridfeldt was almost in tears.  “But sir, if you do not give your heart to Jesus, you cannot be saved.”

“You are right, my boy.  And it is just as true that, if you think you are saved because you give Jesus your heart, you will not be saved.  You see, my boy…it is one thing to choose Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior, to give Him one’s heart and commit oneself to Him, and that He now accepts one into His little flock; it is a very different thing to believe on Him as a Redeemer of sinners, of whom one is the chief.  One does not choose a Redeemer for oneself, you understand, nor give one’s heart to Him.  The heart is a rusty old can on a junk heap.  A fine birthday gift, indeed!  But a wonderful Lord passes by, and has mercy on the wretched tin can, sticks His walking cane through it and rescues it from the junk pile and takes it home with Him.  That is how it is….  And now you must understand that these two ways of believing are like two different religions, they have nothing whatever to do with each other.”

Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God trans. Clifford Ansgar Nelson (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1960), 147-8.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

5 thoughts on “Lutheran Pietism vs Lutheran Orthodoxy”

  1. Excellent! It sounds like many conversations that I am sure are going on today, when so many consider it some favor to God to give them their heart.


  2. Years ago we had a book discussion group here in our area (SE Idaho). Most of us were pastors; when the Lutheran pastor’s turn came, he chose this book; it is pretty good. The European Pietists (and 20th Century Fundamentalists) are sort of like Walmart–the faults are pretty obvious, and nobody admits to shopping there, but that is where we get most of the basics. How many evangelical Presbyterian and Reformed (and Lutheran? I don’t know) congregations have members who have fled generic Evangelicalism or Fundamentalism; these are often among the most zealous members; the Fundamentalists caught ’em, so the orthodox could nurture them, I guess.


  3. Thanks for sharing. That was one of my favorite quotes from the book. I’ve read the first 2 parts of this book and it is most excellent for distinguishing law and gospel.


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