by Kurt Marquart
Review by Jonathan Rupprecht
Christian News is reprinting this almost 50-year-old classic that has been lost to memory by many and is probably unknown to many others. It very much deserves to be welcomed by all with open hearts and eager minds!
“Anatomy of an Explosion” was originally published in 1977 by Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne and written by Kurt Marquart, at that time a professor there. The “explosion” that he anatomizes was epitomized with the February 1974 Seminex walkout at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, but Marquart takes us back to the fuel for this explosion in a thorough, well-informed and sound, theologically astute look at its antecedents.
So this is just another book on church history, right? Wrong. Certainly it is church history, but it’s not “just” church history. It is a most interesting and instructive book on critical lessons of church history that we dare never lose sight of.
The Historical-Critical Method
One of the main factors under analysis is the historical-critical method of Bible interpretation. That term was ubiquitous in Marquart’s day, championed by liberals in the church but roundly and rightly condemned by conservatives. It was the poison toxifying the Christian faith and witness throughout Christendom, including the Missouri Synod, notably at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.
But it seems as though the historical-critical method is no longer the hot topic it used to be. The term and the approach is still out there, but the conflict about it seems to have diminished considerably, quite possibly because by now it has been either largely accepted or rejected as suchin the church at large.
Does that mean that this book is in fact “just another book on church history” anyway? No way! Satan has been assiduously attacking God’s Word since Genesis 3:1, “Did God really say?”. His success with that opening salvo was so spectacular right off the bat that he realized, “This is my big weapon!” The historical-critical method of approaching Holy Scripture was only a recent battle in his war against us. And while we can learn a lot from this study of that battle, we can also learn a lot here about how to “contend for the faith” in whatever new battles that Satan may stir up in his war against God’s Word and thus God’s people.
So for example: today we’ve been hearing that illiterate and irritating term “woke” being thrown around. And we have read on the pages of Christian News how “woke-ness” has been infiltrating LCMS schools, notably Concordia University Wisconsin as shown in the Dr. Gregory Schultz case. And there are reports of this gross secular distortion – and sometimes idiocy – appearing to be making subtle and even not-so-subtle inroads in other conservative Lutheran circles. But what does this have to do with the historical-critical method or with the anatomy of an explosion?
Both “woke-ness” and the H-C method secularize the Christian faith. The H-C method treated the Bible like a mere human book, needing human historical and linguistic analysis to supposedly clarify its real message – though this clarification was always subject to further, ongoing clarification. Similarly, the “woke” approach to life and life’s issues uses subjective, trendy, “relevant” politically correct human values to direct thoughts, approaches, procedures, even “truths”. Some of it can at times present a superficial similarity to Christian, Scriptural values, but just as with the H-C method, instead of “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening”, it’s “Lord, tell you what, I’ll try to get back to you, but first I’ve got to see if what You say relates satisfactorily to issues in the world around me today, things to which I am ‘woke’.”
The battle may be outwardly different, but the threat is essentially the same. And of course this should not surprise us, since the enemy is the same: Satan himself. And that is the lesson we can learn so well from Marquart’s excellent exposition. Both the H-C method and “woke-ness” are from the world. Yes, we can use worldly wisdom for our good, and often need to. But to “put the best construction on everything” is never an excuse to be spiritually naïve!
We can never forget that the world itself is hardly our friend, but is one of our three most deadly, vicious, basic enemies! Those who advocated the H-C method apparently lost sight of this key fact when subjecting the revealed message of God in His Word to a prioritized worldly, human analysis. Those in the church who lean in a “woke” direction seem to be making that same mistake.
Consider the source; and consider the outcome! The H-C method has ultimately led to brazen, bold, blasphemous unbelief. Marquart shows how it denied the divinity of Christ, His work of redemption, His resurrection from the dead and ours; it essentially regarded the revealed Word of God as largely irrelevant and the Christian faith as a mere uncertain option. And some of this showed up even in the Missouri Synod! The sources of today’s “woke” philosophy are, if anything, “children of this world” to an even greater extent; why on earth would a serious Christian make even a seeming alignment with this approach to life?
Besides a thorough expose of the H-C method and its roots in rationalism, Marquart deals with the inspiration and inerrancy issue. He acknowledges that a certain amount of “theological stagnation” and “impossible rigidities” – so-called “dead orthodoxy” – were a factor in the mid-twentieth century LCMS that led to a desire for a more “alive” approach. But this then morphed into live unorthodoxy, unfortunately and somewhat predictably. He deals extensively with the marks of the church and with unionism and fellowship matters, including controversies about prayer fellowship. At one point he gives a very helpful explanation of the proper role of apologetics in the church. He even deals briefly but succinctly with worship style, comparing liturgical worship with emotion-driven worship. He refers frequently to German theologians William Oesch and Herman Sasse and their roles in this larger battle, and rightly credits the other Herman: Kurt Marquart’s lifelong faithful friend Herman Otten, for his key, soldierly role here in Christian News.
This powerful book is not light reading, but its “heaviness” is well worth its weight! Re-reading it after these many years led me to this reaction, and I am thankful for this “re-awakening”, as it were. The names, dates and places may not always be familiar, but the lessons are vital. “Anatomy of an Explosion” is not just church history; it is a life lesson for the Christian church, certainly for confessional Lutheranism. And not just for seminary students, pastors and teachers, professors, administrators, but for any and all Christians who take seriously Jesus’ all-important injunction to “beware of false prophets” with their “sheep’s clothing”. Read this book to hold more strongly to The Book; read it for true spiritual inspiration, invigoration, and fortification.