Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Word of the Lord Grows

The Word of the Lord Grows
by Martin H. Franzmann
Recommended Ages: 13+

The "Seminex crisis," arising from a dispute in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod between proponents of biblical inerrancy and historical criticism of the text, looms in the biography of this book's author, as the Wiki page linked above bears witness. Whoever wrote that seems to have chosen a phrasing that suggests Franzmann was on the side of the bad guys; but the book reviewed here bears witness to a teacher who was faithful to the word of God. Franzmann was also a professor and department chair of exegetical theology at the LCMS' St. Louis seminary and later tutor at Westfield House in Cambridge, England; my vicarage bishop was his avowed disciple and told me a lot about him. He wrote a noted commentary on Paul's letter to the Romans and some excellent and powerful hymns, several of which have been in the last few LCMS hymnals and one of which will be in the upcoming second edition of Useful Hymnns.

So there's a lot to be said for Franzmann. But this 1961 book of introduction (isagogics) to the New Testament, written well before the Seminex walkout (1974), makes the case better than I can for his literary strength, his theological insight, and his pastoral heart for the practical concerns of applying Scripture to the study of Scripture. This book shows Franzmann to be a sound thinker, a graceful writer, and a robust student of the full counsel of God. His writing is breathtakingly economical, forceful, and direct. His analysis of the content and meaning of the 27 canonical books of the New Testament is saturated with on-point biblical references. And his response to destructive higher criticism's speculative fancies regarding the integrity, authorship, and origins of those books is cool, calm, and devastatingly simple.

Franzmann's response is that of a faithful interpreter who demands to see compelling reasons before setting aside Scripture's self-witness and the witness of early Christian tradition, and who carefully observes how that demand has not been met. Without footnotes, without lengthy excurses, without telling off (like rosary beads) the names and fiddly positions of the historical critics concerned, which can only be of historical interest, he answers them, and focuses on presenting a positive picture of where the books of the N.T. came from in the life of the first church. He introduces the books in a way that is of immediate practical value to their students as they begin to delve deeper into exegetical study, and to teachers and preachers as they begin to expound on them.

In spite of its advancing age, I think Franzmann's book is still young and still full of usefulness to the Lutheran church. I think it would make an excellent parting gift for a young Lutheran departing for college. I think it would make a fine subject for a study-group, either of laypeople or of a ministerium, including perhaps some ministers who are not of the same persuasion. It's that persuasive. But it also has a friendly, fatherly tone and a tendency to develop themes and arguments in a beautifully, intensely scriptural way that builds to a dramatic climax and leaves the reader gasping with amazement. If Franzmann communicated like this in the classroom, it is no wonder he left such a deep impression on the men who studied under him. But we need not take it on hearsay, since there is this book.

No comments: