Review of Matt Harrison’s Book “At Home in My Father’s House”

Professor John Pless from the Fort Wayne Seminary runs a page on Facebook dedicated to Matt Harrison’s new book which is to be published this fall. Albert Collver has published a review of the book there which we have reproduced below. Click here for BJS’s introduction to this book.

At Home in the House of My Fathers: Presidential Sermons, Essays, Letters, and Addresses from the Missouri Synod’s Great Era of Unity and Growth. Compiled, translated, and annotated by Matthew C. Harrison. Fort Wayne, Indiana: Lutheran Legacy Press, 2009. $19.95.

Among the clamor of the emergent church movement with its make over of Christianity and the boastful proclamation of pastors and church officials alike that “it’s not your grandfather’s church,” a quiet movement has spread through the church. In the early years of the twenty-first century “the most vibrant and serious field of Christian study” is that of the church fathers. (First Things November 2006, 15) Anecdotal evidence suggests that this revival is happening along generational lines with the younger generations rediscovering their heritage as the Boomer generation in particular seeks something new. This church father study revival is not limited to those fathers of the first five centuries but has extended to cover the fathers of various confessional movements including Lutherans. The most recent book in the Lutheran tradition from this rediscovery of the church father movement is Matthew C. Harrison’s At Home in the House of My Fathers.

Harrison’s At Home in the House of My Fathers is a massive tome of more than 800 pages, containing nearly 100 essays, addresses or sermons. In many cases for the first time, translations of works primarily by the first five presidents of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod are made available to English speakers. The book also compiles many works from various sources that are difficult to obtain or are hidden away in the vaults of Concordia Historical Institute in St. Louis, MO. These works by C.F.W. Walther, Friedrich Wyneken, Heinrich Schwan, Francis Pieper, and Friedrich Pfotenhauer span 91 years of the Missouri Synod’s history. If this book were produced for a jubilee celebration of the Synod, a subtitle of the book might have read, “One hundred essays for Missouri’s first hundred years.” The sheer weight of the book, both literally and figuratively, is impressive. It is also surprising that a Synodical publishing house, seminary, or any other official entity did not produce this book. Rather the book is primarily the work of one individual and an independent press.

An 800 page book can be intimidating to any reader be it the scholar, interested churchgoer, or the busy pastor. The physical layout of the book is very reader friendly. Despite its size, the volume is not cumbersome to hold. The type is clear and of sufficient size to not require a magnifying glass to read. The layout and design is crisp without distracting the reader. There is timeline at the front of the book showing when each author held office as Synodical president. Photographs of each president mark the beginning of each section. The 90 or so page trip report of Walther and Wyneken trip to Germany is broken up with several period pictures and photographs to help illustrate pertinent items mentioned in the text. The book also contains helpful footnotes and annotations explaining or clarifying various items in the text. These refinements greatly increase the accessibility of this book to both the causal reader and the scholar alike. With nearly 100 pieces by several different authors covering almost a century, something of interest can be found for all. Many of the pieces feel as if they could have been written yesterday. Topics include all the issues that have afflicted the Lord’s church since St. Paul worked with the congregation in Corinth, ranging from ecumenical concerns, lay preaching, clergy depression, divisions, confessional allegiance, worship and song, stewardship, and more.

What is most helpful is not the discovery that the church in the past suffered from many of the same afflictions that she does today, but rather, the Scriptural, Confessional, theological, and pastoral way in which men approached the problems. We would do well to follow in their approach. Essays by C.F.W. Walther include, “On Luther and Lay Preachers”, “Counsel to Remain in a Corrupt Church: Make Them Throw You Out!”, “Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Synod”, “Methodist Hymns in a Lutheran Sunday School”, and “The Fruitful Reading of the Writings of Luther.” In an essay titles, “On the Spiritual Priesthood and the Office of the Ministry,” Friedrich Wyneken writes, “We will not tolerate it that the souls freed and purchased by the blood of Christ be brought again under the yoke of any little Lutheran pope.” Heinrich C. Schwan asks, “Are the best years of the Synod behind us?” Francis Pieper writes on “The Offense of Divisions in the Church.” Friedrich Pfotenhauer bids “Encouragement for Lonely Preachers and Teachers.” In our age of church growth Pfotenhauer addresses “How Did We Grow?” He also warns “God’s Co-Workers Do Not Lust for Power.” With a Synodical convention approaching for the Missouri Synod in 2010, one cannot get more prescient than Pfotenhauer’s Synodical Address from 1923 on “Avoiding Political Factions in the Church.”

All of these church fathers realized the peril and threats that the gospel faced in their day and addressed these concerns both faithfully and pastorally. They were deeply aware that historically a church body was rarely blessed to retain the pure doctrine of the Gospel for more than a generation or two. They sought to remain faithful individually and as a church body by repenting and believing the faith handed down to them by their fathers. When expounding 1 Thessalonians 5:20, “Do not despise prophecy,” C.F.W. Walther said, “Do not despise the writings of the old faithful church fathers… Otherwise you disobey the Holy Spirit.” May we too be at home in the house of our fathers who handed us the faith.

Albert B. Collver, III
Saint Louis, MO

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