American Jesus. Book Review

Elesha Coffman comments on Stephen Prothero’s book and describes her experiences with theology students.

Religion in American History.


One Word of God. Gerhard

At times God [reveals His Word] by an internal breathing-on or inspiring that includes immediate illumination. At times God does this through external speech, and this is published mediately or immediately by angels and humans as His heralds and ministers, or it is put into writing, and this we call the written Word or Holy Scripture. These distinctions, however, do not create any essential difference within the Word of God. . . . After all, it is one and the same Word and counsel of God regarding our salvation.

Gerhard, Theological Commonplaces Exegesis 1, p. 24

Since the Word is one, we participate in disseminating that one Word when we proclaim or write about the Lord. We join ranks with all the prophets and saints of all times who proclaimed the one Word. We have a connection with all hearers of all time who have heard and read the one Word. We are even connected with all created order, which God called forth in the beginning by the one Word. He upholds all things by the Word of His power (Heb 1:3).


The End of Theology. Gerhard

The ultimate end of theology is not bare knowledge, but action.

Gerhard, Theological Commonplaces, Ex 1, p. 21.

When Gerhard writes about the “end” of theology, he means its goal, what it’s driving toward. We are poor theologians until we act upon what we have learned of God. Our acts should express themselves toward God our Maker, from who we learned theology, and toward those around us, whom God loves.

Toward God, our action is prayer and praise. Toward mankind, it is likewise praise of our (and their) Maker that manifests itself in mercy. (Sometimes mercy manifests itself in rendering judgment upon those who do evil, so that others might be delivered from evil: e.g., military and police work.) In acting on our knowledge of God, we join ourselves to God’s end: to save and treasure His creation through His beloved Son.


Theology in Johann Gerhard

The simple words of which ‘theology’ is composed appear in Scripture, namely, logos theou (Rom. 3:2; 1 Pet. 4:11; Heb. 5:12).

Gerhard’s Theological Commonplaces, Exegesis I, p. 17 (CPH, 2009).

When one writes for God, one writes theology. This points out the seriousness and depth of the task. Yet note how Gerhard draws his thoughts from common passages of Scripture that one might read and re-read. One cannot let the seriousness and depth of the topic prevent writing simply, clearly, and commonly about God.



Joseph Campbell. Masks of God. Theology and Modern Psychology

Joseph Campbell’s popular book, Masks of God: Primitive Mythology proposes to explain from purely natural human development why people are religious. Campbell argues that all the essential ideas for the existence of God and His activity as Creator emerge during the psychological development of small children. Since children are able to come up with these ideas on their own, Campbell thinks they should be regarded as common results of imagination. Such “myths,” as he calls them, are rooted in human psychology, not reality.

Campbell develops his argument from dialogues with children, where children offer their explanations about where things come from. He presents numerous anecdotes of children telling stories or explaining things in ways very similar to those found in religion.

This methodology is flawed because the children interviewed were likely raised in religious households. They are growing up amid these ideas already. Also, stories read or told to children also propose many of the ideas that Campbell presents as products of the children’s minds. In other words, his sample is badly biased. To get a pure sample, one would have to isolate children from parents and culture and let them grow up wild. Even then, an interview process could taint the sample by leading questions (presuming wild children could understand your language). Most of the examples provided by Campbell actually come from an earlier psychologist, Piaget, who conducted his studies c. 100 years ago. Campbell’s argument, which seems reasonable at first, proves to be very bad “science” and logic.

People are naturally religious, as illustrated in earlier posts, because of the way God made people and not because an accident of human psychology.

Acts 17:22–31; Romans 1:18–23


No Atheism. Martin Luther. Reformation Theology

In Martin Luther’s Large Catechism appears an argument demonstrating that everyone is religious whether they intend to be or not. Luther writes:

“What does it mean to have a god? Or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in al distress. So, to have a God is nothing other than trusting and believing Him with the heart. I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust is right, then your god is also true. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God [Hebrews 11:6]. Now, I say that whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.” (Large Catechism I 1—3)

So where ever we place our highest trust, that becomes the object of our religion, our faith. If an Indian in the Amazon forest trusts his totem animal for help and security, then that is the basis of his religion. If a radical environmentalist places his trust in nature, then nature is his god, the object of his devotion. If an ingenious philosopher denies that there is a god but places his trust in the state (as happened under communism), then the state has become his god.

You have a god. Everyone does. So the question becomes: Is your god the true God?

Ren Ref