Review of Luther’s Catechism Comes to America, by James S. Hamre

Hamre, J.S. (1984) ‘Luther’s Catechism Comes to America: Theological Effects on the Issues of the Small Catechism Prepared In or For America Prior to 1850. By Repp Arthur C., Metuchen Sr., New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1982. American Theological Library Association Monograph Series 18. xiv + 297 pp.’, Church History, 53(1), p. 144. doi: 10.2307/3166041.

Luther’s Catechism Comes to America: Theological Effects on the Issues of the Small Catechism Prepared In or For America Prior to 1850. By Arthur C. Repp, Sr. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1982. American Theological Library Association Monograph Series 18. Xiv + 297 pp. $22.50.

This book is significant primarily because of its focus: it directs attention to the “day-to-day working theology” in Lutheran congregations by discussing the issues of Luther’s Small Catechism used in America from the colonial period to 1850. It thus provides one mode for the study of what Martin Marty, the writer of the foreword, calls “the mentality of ordinary believers.” This type of monograph can add an important dimension to our understanding of religion in America.

Prior to 1850 Luther’s Small Catechism was prepared in or for America primarily in two languages: German and English. There was considerable variety in the publications. Repp discusses 29 German and 30 English catechisms that made their appearance in America. They can often be seen as giving expression to or reacting against such movements and practices as pietism, orthodoxy, rationalism, “American Lutheranism,” and New Measures revivalism. The arrangement of the contents of a catechism and the materials published with it frequently provide an indication of the theological perspective incorporated in it. Repp evaluates the various versions in terms of their faithfulness to Luther’s understanding, especially Luther’s views on the sacraments and his intention in publishing his Small Catechism.

James S. Hamre
Waldorf College
Forest City, Iowa

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