Reviewing Forde – Notes on various writings of Forde

Editor’s Note: The following comes from Pastor Joseph Abrahamson of the ELS.  He is the well-known author our Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies series.  He has been assigned a paper that will require him to research Gerhard Forde’s works.  He is providing these as his notes from which he will assemble his final paper.  These are a work in progress.

Notes on the Writings of Gerhard Forde

The Writings of Gerhard Olaf Forde
(September 10, 1927 – August 9, 2005)A Chronological List,  Annotated and Evaluated.


The late Gerhard Forde has gained a significant influence upon Confessional Lutherans, primarily through two of his writings. The first is his 1987 article “Radical Lutheranism: Lutheran Identity in America,” (Lutheran Quarterly 1:5-18). The second is his 1997 monograph titled On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518  (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan).

These two works did not come out of a vacuum. Forde was a prolific writer, pastor, professor. Forde documented his own understanding of theological concepts and his use of theological terms. His body of writing shows a very consistent and somewhat self-reflective employment of theological concepts and terminology. Forde used historical Lutheran terminology, but he used this terminology with meanings already re-framed in writings from the Neo-Orthodoxy of Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr as well as the Lundensian theology of Anders Nygren, Gustaf Aulén and Ragnar Bring.

The theological terms which Forde used in those two works (Law, Gospel, Cross, Faith, Christ, Atonement, Justification, Theology of the Cross, Theology of Glory, etc.) have historical meanings in Confessional Lutheranism. Forde’s use of these terms is based in a very different framework of theology. Confessional Lutherans who do not know this other framework have read Lutheranism into Forde’s writings. Those who have, perhaps, naively adopted Forde’s words may also be ignorant of what he meant by other terms (Actual Story of Jesus, Objective, and Subjective Theories of Atonement).  In particular cases these later claims may be either the embarrassments of ignorance or they may reflect deeply held differences from Confessional Lutheran doctrine.

It should be emphasized that Forde uses theological terms which may not be readily apparent as theological terms to those unfamiliar with Neo-Orthodoxy and other Modernist and Postmodern theological writing. An example of such a term is the use of the term actual with reference to Christ or the story of Jesus. This term is used with reference to claims in historical-critical scholarship to have separated the actual words and works of Jesus from the various traditions of interpretations these scholarship claims were placed on Christ within the New Testament writings as we have them today. (an example of which is found in Forde’s 1984 “The Shape of the Tradition,” 12-19)

Some advocates for Forde will state that a few of Forde’s writings are good, after all, does not the Lutheran Church continue to use the Augsburg Confession and the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. Both of them were written by Philip Melanchthon, who later caved in to pressure changing his theology during the Leipzig Interim (1548).

But the situation is not the same. Melanchthon’s change of theology was public, specific, and documented both in his own writings and in contemporary writings. Melanchthon held a Biblical orthodox Lutheran position. He distanced himself from that position after Luther’s death leading up to and during the Leipzig Interim.

Forde’s writings 1969 through his death show increasing sophistication in expression and in popular appeal, but they do not show a public change in substance or framework. His writings prior to 1987 and after 1997 as well as during the years between show fairly consistent and non-Confessional Lutheran views of Scripture, Christ, the Atonement, of Law and Gospel, and of Justification.

One may also point out that Forde was capable of describing Luther’s view or Confessional Lutheran views on certain issues in clear and accurate historical terms. In those cases it is equally important to note that when Forde did this he was in many cases distancing himself from Luther and Confessional Lutheranism on these very issues.

One should assume that Forde intended to be consistent in his worldview and theology. From this one should assume consistency of theme, meaning, and intent through his writings.

Here is a list of theological positions and the documents in which they can be read.


Clear rejection of the Preaching of Law for Repentance:


Clear rejection of the Substitutionary Atonement:


Clear rejection of Scripture:


Re-defining the Nature of God


Re-defining the Nature of Sin

Bondage of the Will


Works By Forde

1969 The Law Gospel Debate

1970 “Lex Semper Accusat?” Published in dialog 9/4 (Autumn 1970):265-274. Republished in 2004 A More Radical Gospel. (33-49,)

1972 Where God Meets Man


1975 “Loser Takes All: The Victory of Christ” Published in Lutheran Standard September 2, 1975: 3-5. Reprinted in 2004 A More Radical Gospel. (98-101)

1982 Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life Published by Fortress Press, Philadelphia

1984 “Caught in the Act: Reflections on the Work of Christ” Published in Word and World 3:22-31. Reprinted in 2004 A More Radical Gospel. (85-97)

1984 Seventh Locus “The Work of Christ” Published in Christian Dogmatics vol 2. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson Editors, Fortress Press, Philadelphia (1-99).

1984 Eleventh Locus “Christian Life,”  in Christian Dogmatics vol 2. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson Editors, Fortress Press, Philadelphia (391-469)

1984 “When the old gods fail : Martin Luther’s critique of mysticism” in When the Old Gods Fail, Piety, Politics and Ethics, Reformation Studies in Honor of George Wolfgang Forell 

1985 Forensic Justification and Law in Lutheran Theology, Justification by Faith, Lutherans and Catholics in dialogue VII

1987 “Radical Lutheranism: Lutheran Identity in America,” Lutheran Quarterly 1:5-18
Reprinted in 2004 A More Radical Gospel. (3-16)

1988 Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification, Reformed, Lutheran, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, Contemplative, Edited by Donald L. Alexander, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois

  • “The Lutheran View” by Gerhard O. Forde (13-32)
  • “The Reformed View a Lutheran Response” (77-82)
  • “The Wesleyan View a Lutheran Response’ (119-122)
  • “The Pentecostal View a Lutheran Response” (155-157)
  • “The Contemplative View a Lutheran Response” (190-192)

1989 “The Catholic Impasse: Reflections on Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue Today,” in Promoting Unity: Themes in Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue Today 67-77. Reprinted in 2004 A More Radical Gospel. (189-199)

1990 Theology Is for Proclamation

1992 “The Meaning of Satis Est” in Lutheran Forum 26:14-18 Reprinted in 2004 A More Radical Gospel. (159-170)

1994 “The Normative Character of Scripture for Matters of Faith and Life: Human Sexuality in Light of Romans 1:16-32*” Word & World, Volume XIV, Number 3, Summer 1994, pp. 305-314
[ ]

1995 “Law and Sexual Behavior” Lutheran Quarterly, Volume IX, Number 1, Spring 1995, pp. 3-22
[ ]
[ ]

1997 On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.


1997 “What Finally to Do about the (Counter-) Reformation Condemnations.” Lutheran Quarterly 11.1: 3-16.

1997 “The Lord’s Supper as the Testament of Jesus.” Word & World 17.1: 5-9.

2003 “Lutheran Ecumenism: With Whom and How Much?” Lutheran Quarterly 17.4: 436-455.
(same title as chapter in 2004 A More Radical Gospel)

2004 A More Radical Gospel: Essays on Eschatology, Authority, Atonement, and Ecumenism, Eerdmans; edited by Mark C. Mattes, and Steven D. Paulson.

  • Introduction by Mark C. Mattes and Steven D. Paulson
  • Eschatology: The Last Word First (Section One)
  1. Radical Lutheranism  (originally published 1987 “Radical Lutheranism: Lutheran Identity in America,” Lutheran Quarterly 1:5-18)
  2. The Apocalyptic No and the Eschatological Yes: Reflections, Suspicions, Fears, and Hopes
  3. Lex semper accusat? Nineteenth-Century Roots of Our Current Dilemma (originally published 1970 “Lex Semper Accusat,” dialog 9/4 (Autumn 1970):265-274. Notes
  • Legal and Evangelical Authority (Section Two)
  1. Authority in the Church: The Lutheran Reformation
  2. Scriptura sacra sui ipsius interpres: Reflections on the Question of Scripture and Tradition
  3. The Irrelevance of the Modern World for Luther
  • Atonement and Justification: Christ Unbound (Section Three)
  1. Caught in the Act: Reflections on the Work of Christ (originally published 1984  in Word and World 3:22-31) Note 1 Note 2 Note 3
  2. Loser Takes All: The Victory of Christ (originally published 1975 in Lutheran Standard September 2, 1975: 3-5)  Notes
  3. In Our Place
  4. Forensic Justification and the Christian Life: Triumph or Tragedy?
  5. Luther’s “Ethics”
  6. Unecclesiological Ecumenism (Section Four)
  7. The Meaning of Satis Est (originally published 1992   in Lutheran Forum 26:14-18)
  8. Lutheran Ecumenism: With Whom and How Much? (same title as a 2003 article  in Lutheran Quarterly 17.4: 436-455)
  9. The Catholic Impasse: Reflections on Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue Today (originally published 1989 in Promoting Unity: Themes in Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue Today 67-77.
  • Sermons (Section Five)
  1. God’s Rights: Matthew 20:1-16
  2. Exsurge Domine!: Psalm 74:22-23
  3. Hidden Treasure: Matthew 13:44
  4. You Have Died: Colossians 2:20-3:4
  5. The Day of the Lord: 2 Peter 3:8-14
  6. Jesus Died for You
  7. Not the Well, but the Sick: Matthew 9:10-13

2004 The Captivation of the Will: Luther vs. Erasmus on Freedom and Bondage Lutheran Quarterly Books Edited by Steven Paulson  with an introduction by James A. Nestingen. Contains four essays, a postscript, and ten sermons.

2007 The Preached God: Proclamation in Word and Sacrament Lutheran Quarterly Books

2012 “Satis est?: What Do We Mean When Other Churches Don’t Agree?” Lutheran Quarterly 26.3: 322-324.

2011 “The Freedom to Reform.” Lutheran Quarterly 25.2: 167-175.

2013 “Luther and the Jews.” Lutheran Quarterly 27.2: 125-142.

2013  “Chapter 3. The One Acted Upon” in Moritz, J. M. & Nelson, D. R.(2013). Theologians in Their Own Words. Augsburg Fortress Publishers, pp. 41-52 Forde autobiography.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.