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«Ordnung in Gemeinschaft»

A Critical Appraisal of the Erlangen Contribution to the Orders of Creation


Nathan Howard Yoder

The Lutheran doctrine of the orders of creation specifies fundamental forms of human community. Grounded in God’s structuring of the universe, these institutions acquire their expression in human history. Although they are fallen and distorted under sin, they remain God’s good creation. Illumined by the witness of Scripture, their ontology exists independently of ideological conceit.

The tradition is a specifically Lutheran consideration of natural law theory and plays an important role in two-kingdoms theology and the law/gospel dialectic. Historically, the doctrine has suffered significant abuse, specifically with the extra-scriptural elevation of Volk and race as inviolable institutions in support of Nazi ideology. Consequently, many have dismissed the doctrine as a static worldview that disallows critique of the status quo. In its orthodox biblical formulation, however, the doctrine remains a powerful safeguard against what Walter Künneth calls "the ideological alienation of the gospel" that invokes the name of Christ to justify sinful desire.

Nathan Howard Yoder evaluates the variant orders of creation models of the Erlangen theologians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Concentrating specifically on the work of Paul Althaus, Werner Elert, and Walter Künneth, he lifts up Künneth’s christological/trinitarian focus and appeal to sola scriptura as essential correctives to the tradition. He makes the case that the doctrine remains imperative to moral theology, specifically in the Church’s efforts against the rampant antinomianism of the postmodern era.

This book will serve well as a reference for graduate and post-graduate level courses in systematic theology, Christian ethics/moral theology, and the Lutheran Confessions.

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Chapter 2: The Orders of Creation as Articulated by Paul Althaus (1888–1966)


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Our life depends on the orders [of creation], external and internal, alone and together. They remain our destiny, even when we forsake them and fail to accomplish them. We will be punished through them. They exert vengeance, in that life, essentially composed within them, sickens and yields to corruption in them.1

2.1 Divided Reaction

2.1.1 Theological Giant

Few theologians have the polarized reputation Paul Althaus has garnered over the past seventy-five years. One view holds him in the highest esteem. Walther Sparn names Althaus one of the most important German Lutheran theologians of the twentieth century.2 In his autobiography, Planting Trees, Hans Schwarz calls Althaus “the grand-old theologian,”3 language evocative of a bygone era of scholarship. Karlman Beyschlag regards him as one of the best and brightest scholars ever to come out of the Lutheran movement. He recalls Althaus’s tenure at Erlangen as an erudite age, when Althaus and colleague Werner Elert (who together constituted the “second bloom” of Erlangen scholarship)4 conversed often and animatedly in long Sunday strolls under the campus trees after worship, the ← 55 | 56 → atmosphere an “unforgettable picture of scholarly communication and collegiality.”5 As a teaching theologian, Althaus would leave an indelible mark on at least two generations of Bavarian pastors.6 His quality as an educator of the church was “inestimable,” his character unimpeachable, the ranks of his students expansive and esteemed.7

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