More discoveries of Bo Giertz

Justin Taylor, editor at Crossway Books, has a great post–entitled “The Best Christian Novel You Have Never Heard Of”– on the Swedish Lutheran novelist Bo Giertz.  He quotes Leland Ryken, a Wheaton professor I have known for a long time who is one of the top evangelical literary critics:

Bo Giertz’s fictional work The Hammer of God is one of the best literary “finds” I have ever made.

I discovered this novel-length series of three novellas while co-authoring a soon-to-be-released, co-authored (with Philip Ryken and Todd Wilson) book entitled Pastors in the Classics: Timeless Lessons on Life and Ministry from World Literature. Initially Giertz’s book came onto my radar screen as a candidate for the handbook section of our book on the portrayal of pastors in the literary classics, but once I started to read the book I could hardly put it down. My son quickly agreed that The Hammer of God merited a full-scale chapter and not just an entry in our handbook section.

The story of the author is nearly as interesting as the masterpiece of clerical fiction that he composed in a span of six weeks while serving as a rural pastor in Sweden. At the age of only 43, Giertz became a bishop in the Swedish Lutheran church. The best-known biography of Giertz calls him “an atheist who became a bishop.” The publication of The Hammer of God in 1941 brought Giertz immediate fame.

The design of this trilogy of novellas is ingenious.

Each of the three stories follows a young Lutheran pastor over approximately a two-year span at the beginning of his ministerial career, all in the  same rural parish. The overall time span for the work as a whole is 130 years.

Each of the three pastors arrives fresh from theological training and decidedly immature (and perhaps a nominal rather than true believer).

Each of the three attains true Christian faith through encounters with (1) parishioners, (2) fellow pastors, and (3) assorted religious movements that were in fact prominent in Sweden during the historical eras covered.

There are thus two plot lines in the book: one recounts the “coming of age” spiritual pilgrimages of the three young ministers, and the other is an episodic fictional story of a rural Swedish parish.

No other work covered in Pastors in the Classics covers more issues in ministry than this one, and it has the added advantage of being packaged in three manageable units.

via The Best Christian Novel You’ve Never Heard Of – Justin Taylor.

Read Justin’s whole post.  He also quotes ME, drawing on an article I wrote  on Giertz’s literary qualities as compared to what we see in conventional Christian novels.

(That article was based on a presentation I made at a conference on Giertz at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne.  It was published, along with the other presentations–including one by this blog’s commenter Bror Erickson–in one of the few books on Giertz in English, one that all Giertz fans will want to have: A Hammer for God: Bo Giertz.)

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    You good Lutherans ought go over there (to Justin Taylor’s site) and make some comments now and then.

    And see if they don’t go over like a lead balloon.

    Reading Giertz is a good start for them, though.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    You good Lutherans ought go over there (to Justin Taylor’s site) and make some comments now and then.

    And see if they don’t go over like a lead balloon.

    Reading Giertz is a good start for them, though.

  • ELB

    Lutheran Visuals has a film adaptation of the book. It’s in Swedish with English subtitles. I use it in my adult Bible class series on the proper distinction of law and gospel.

  • ELB

    Lutheran Visuals has a film adaptation of the book. It’s in Swedish with English subtitles. I use it in my adult Bible class series on the proper distinction of law and gospel.

  • Joe

    I finally read The Hammer of God last year and it was fantastic. I look forward to reading more Giertz I am going to start with Bror’s translation of:

    http://www.amazon.com/Knights-Rhodes-Bo-Giertz/dp/1608993337/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1319634268&sr=1-1

    Also, a friend of mine pointed out to me that CPH has a Giertz devotional. I have not used it but it comes highly recommended:

    http://www.cph.org/p-499-to-live-with-christ.aspx?SearchTerm=giertz

  • Joe

    I finally read The Hammer of God last year and it was fantastic. I look forward to reading more Giertz I am going to start with Bror’s translation of:

    http://www.amazon.com/Knights-Rhodes-Bo-Giertz/dp/1608993337/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1319634268&sr=1-1

    Also, a friend of mine pointed out to me that CPH has a Giertz devotional. I have not used it but it comes highly recommended:

    http://www.cph.org/p-499-to-live-with-christ.aspx?SearchTerm=giertz

  • http://quiacreeds.blogspot.com/ David Oberdieck

    The heart of the books is grace. The Pastors in each story are learning in parish life what they should have already known before graduating seminary.

    This time they learn not through a dogmatics text, but in ministry to sinners/saints and in coming to grips with their own frailties.

    There are some awesome scenes in each novella. It is worth the read!

  • http://quiacreeds.blogspot.com/ David Oberdieck

    The heart of the books is grace. The Pastors in each story are learning in parish life what they should have already known before graduating seminary.

    This time they learn not through a dogmatics text, but in ministry to sinners/saints and in coming to grips with their own frailties.

    There are some awesome scenes in each novella. It is worth the read!

  • L. H. Kevil

    Two comments about this wonderful book:

    Giertz consistently introduces scene changes by reference to the weather conditions and other external phenomena, such as what the maid is occupied with. This technique very skillfully and rather mysteriously links us to the internal world that is the real subject. I love the scene in which the young pastor learns about saving and living faith by listening to an old peasant woman revive the faith of a dying man. As the pastor listens to her, so we like him are skewered by the sword of the spirit. It was as if the old woman spoke the Word of God, not the pastor. But he learned his lesson very well and his influence was strongly felt in the provinces he served well over a hundred years later. God’s grace is omnipresent and timeless, just like the weather.

    Get the revised edition of 2005, which includes the final section missing in the earlier translation. It takes during the Soviet invasion of Finland 1939-1940, portraying the power of grace in a very different, contemporary setting.

  • L. H. Kevil

    Two comments about this wonderful book:

    Giertz consistently introduces scene changes by reference to the weather conditions and other external phenomena, such as what the maid is occupied with. This technique very skillfully and rather mysteriously links us to the internal world that is the real subject. I love the scene in which the young pastor learns about saving and living faith by listening to an old peasant woman revive the faith of a dying man. As the pastor listens to her, so we like him are skewered by the sword of the spirit. It was as if the old woman spoke the Word of God, not the pastor. But he learned his lesson very well and his influence was strongly felt in the provinces he served well over a hundred years later. God’s grace is omnipresent and timeless, just like the weather.

    Get the revised edition of 2005, which includes the final section missing in the earlier translation. It takes during the Soviet invasion of Finland 1939-1940, portraying the power of grace in a very different, contemporary setting.

  • Jerry

    Thanks for posting this, A Hammer For God just went on my Christmas list–BTW we named our Pembroke corgi Britta, after the supportive wife in the third story from The Hammer of God

  • Jerry

    Thanks for posting this, A Hammer For God just went on my Christmas list–BTW we named our Pembroke corgi Britta, after the supportive wife in the third story from The Hammer of God

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Joe,
    That devotional is quite frankly the best one ever, if I do say so myself. “The Knights of Rhodes” is now out on kindle too. You might alert your Hospitaller coworker to that.
    I am hoping to have “Then Fell the Lord’s Fire” (A compilation of ordination Sermons and Pastoral Essays) by Bo Giertz out sometime this next year, as soon as I have a friend or two edit it for me. I think Friday I’m just going to stay at home and make the final push on the editing that I can do for it. It will be a great devotional for Pastors.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Joe,
    That devotional is quite frankly the best one ever, if I do say so myself. “The Knights of Rhodes” is now out on kindle too. You might alert your Hospitaller coworker to that.
    I am hoping to have “Then Fell the Lord’s Fire” (A compilation of ordination Sermons and Pastoral Essays) by Bo Giertz out sometime this next year, as soon as I have a friend or two edit it for me. I think Friday I’m just going to stay at home and make the final push on the editing that I can do for it. It will be a great devotional for Pastors.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    This is slightly off topic, but it is Bo Giertz related.

    Bror, maybe you could explain this phrase from To Live with Christ.
    What does Giertz mean when he says “grasp the possibility of forgiveness” in Tuesday after Seventeenth Sunday After Trinity (pg 625)? One of my parishners was asking me and I am unsure of where he is going.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    This is slightly off topic, but it is Bo Giertz related.

    Bror, maybe you could explain this phrase from To Live with Christ.
    What does Giertz mean when he says “grasp the possibility of forgiveness” in Tuesday after Seventeenth Sunday After Trinity (pg 625)? One of my parishners was asking me and I am unsure of where he is going.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    DL21
    I I have left my copies at home, and when I find them I’ll get back to you. Part of the problem is that CPH decided to have Rick Woods Translate that section (without my knowledge). He also edited my work, and not just for punctuation. After reading his work I seriously question whether he went to Sunday School. That is to say he butchered a lot. Fortunately the material was still good enough that the book is still great. I do think it could have been better.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    DL21
    I I have left my copies at home, and when I find them I’ll get back to you. Part of the problem is that CPH decided to have Rick Woods Translate that section (without my knowledge). He also edited my work, and not just for punctuation. After reading his work I seriously question whether he went to Sunday School. That is to say he butchered a lot. Fortunately the material was still good enough that the book is still great. I do think it could have been better.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    http://www.amazon.com/lm/R23TV29EAYNXLY/ref=cm_lm_pthnk_view?ie=UTF8&lm_bb=

    The books of Bo Giertz, available in English through Amazon.com

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    http://www.amazon.com/lm/R23TV29EAYNXLY/ref=cm_lm_pthnk_view?ie=UTF8&lm_bb=

    The books of Bo Giertz, available in English through Amazon.com

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Hi, can I be unpopular for a moment? I’ve noticed Lutherans tend to lionize the great Lutheran artists (like Bach, Cranach, … did I already say Bach?) because, well, I guess it means something. “See, Bach was Lutheran! So … you know.” It wouldn’t do, apparently, to have a faith that wasn’t capable of impacting the world in a famous way. So we hold these people up — maybe a bit too much. Surely you’ve come across the list of “Lutheran celebrities” (the vast majority of whom are far more obviously celebrities than Lutheran).

    Point being, I’m over halfway through Hammer of God right now and, while I am enjoying it … it’s not really great literature. Can I say that? As a Lutheran?

    What I mean is, it’s an excellent example of Lutheran theology. The insights of the book are sharp — all the more so, I’d imagine, for a pastor, though they certainly apply very well to the laity. That’s actually one of the themes of the book, as I read it, that pastors are going through the same things as their parishioners.

    But it’s fairly thin literature. As I’ve been reading through the book, I find myself thinking, “Ah, I see the (theological) point he’s making here,” over and over. Don’t get me wrong — it’s still compelling reading. But it’s compelling theology reading, not so much compelling literature.

    L.H. notes (@5) Giertz’s references to the weather. Indeed, it’s some of the only scene-setting Geirtz really does. As such, it calls attention to itself as a metaphor for what he’ll be introducing. I dunno, I guess I found it a bit ham-fisted.

    I still think it’s an excellent book, and I’m enjoying reading it. It almost certainly beats any fiction (or likely any non-fiction) you’d find in a “Christian bookstore” these days. But that’s because the theology is right, focusing on Christ.

    But I worry that, since it’s the most prominent example of Lutheran fiction that I can think of (am I missing something?), Lutherans are inclined to think a little too highly of Giertz’s work, in comparison to the whole world of literature.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Hi, can I be unpopular for a moment? I’ve noticed Lutherans tend to lionize the great Lutheran artists (like Bach, Cranach, … did I already say Bach?) because, well, I guess it means something. “See, Bach was Lutheran! So … you know.” It wouldn’t do, apparently, to have a faith that wasn’t capable of impacting the world in a famous way. So we hold these people up — maybe a bit too much. Surely you’ve come across the list of “Lutheran celebrities” (the vast majority of whom are far more obviously celebrities than Lutheran).

    Point being, I’m over halfway through Hammer of God right now and, while I am enjoying it … it’s not really great literature. Can I say that? As a Lutheran?

    What I mean is, it’s an excellent example of Lutheran theology. The insights of the book are sharp — all the more so, I’d imagine, for a pastor, though they certainly apply very well to the laity. That’s actually one of the themes of the book, as I read it, that pastors are going through the same things as their parishioners.

    But it’s fairly thin literature. As I’ve been reading through the book, I find myself thinking, “Ah, I see the (theological) point he’s making here,” over and over. Don’t get me wrong — it’s still compelling reading. But it’s compelling theology reading, not so much compelling literature.

    L.H. notes (@5) Giertz’s references to the weather. Indeed, it’s some of the only scene-setting Geirtz really does. As such, it calls attention to itself as a metaphor for what he’ll be introducing. I dunno, I guess I found it a bit ham-fisted.

    I still think it’s an excellent book, and I’m enjoying reading it. It almost certainly beats any fiction (or likely any non-fiction) you’d find in a “Christian bookstore” these days. But that’s because the theology is right, focusing on Christ.

    But I worry that, since it’s the most prominent example of Lutheran fiction that I can think of (am I missing something?), Lutherans are inclined to think a little too highly of Giertz’s work, in comparison to the whole world of literature.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Another thing I found mildly tricky about Hammer of God, as an American, was my ignorance of not only all the place names that are scattered throughout the book — am I supposed to know where these places are, relative to each other, like a Swede might, or are they just names? — but also the Swedish church’s structure.

    I mean, maybe it’s just my ignorance is showing, but it took me a while to work out which of the characters were deans, rectors, curates, and so on, and what these titles implied about their relationships.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Another thing I found mildly tricky about Hammer of God, as an American, was my ignorance of not only all the place names that are scattered throughout the book — am I supposed to know where these places are, relative to each other, like a Swede might, or are they just names? — but also the Swedish church’s structure.

    I mean, maybe it’s just my ignorance is showing, but it took me a while to work out which of the characters were deans, rectors, curates, and so on, and what these titles implied about their relationships.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Another complaint/question — I’ll aim this one at Bror. Was the intended audience of Hammer supposed to recognize the names of all the theologians Giertz mentions, as well as have a basic familiarity with their theology? Because Giertz name-drops lots of authors and books, none of which I’d ever heard. Heck, I had to look up what a “postil” was.

    I’m just wondering if Giertz’s references were supposed to be familiar to a Swede in the 1960s, or if they were more something that a character from 19th-century Sweden would be familiar with.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Another complaint/question — I’ll aim this one at Bror. Was the intended audience of Hammer supposed to recognize the names of all the theologians Giertz mentions, as well as have a basic familiarity with their theology? Because Giertz name-drops lots of authors and books, none of which I’d ever heard. Heck, I had to look up what a “postil” was.

    I’m just wondering if Giertz’s references were supposed to be familiar to a Swede in the 1960s, or if they were more something that a character from 19th-century Sweden would be familiar with.

  • Joe

    tODD – that is an interesting take. I will confess I had not looked to Giertz for his literary skill but because I was told he was able to convey theology in a fictional setting that was not sappy or silly in the way that most contemporary Christian lit is.

    That said, I think your comparison to Bach and Cranach is a bit off. We Lutherans claim Bach and Cranach because they are simply fantastic and famous at their craft. We say to the world, “oh you like Bach. Did you know he is Lutheran.” It makes us feel cool and prideful and perhaps we can justify it as a way to begin a discussion of Lutheran theology. My rambling point here is that – Bach would still be famous and fantastic even if he were non-Lutheran.

    With Giertz, I see something different – we Lutherans are actively trying to make him famous because we want the world to have christian fiction that is not all sappy and silly and infused with false doctrine. We are selling Giertz not riding Giertz’s coattails.

    I feel like I rambling – is this making sense to anyone else?

  • Joe

    tODD – that is an interesting take. I will confess I had not looked to Giertz for his literary skill but because I was told he was able to convey theology in a fictional setting that was not sappy or silly in the way that most contemporary Christian lit is.

    That said, I think your comparison to Bach and Cranach is a bit off. We Lutherans claim Bach and Cranach because they are simply fantastic and famous at their craft. We say to the world, “oh you like Bach. Did you know he is Lutheran.” It makes us feel cool and prideful and perhaps we can justify it as a way to begin a discussion of Lutheran theology. My rambling point here is that – Bach would still be famous and fantastic even if he were non-Lutheran.

    With Giertz, I see something different – we Lutherans are actively trying to make him famous because we want the world to have christian fiction that is not all sappy and silly and infused with false doctrine. We are selling Giertz not riding Giertz’s coattails.

    I feel like I rambling – is this making sense to anyone else?

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    tODD,
    Odeso is a fictional town. So aside from some of the more famous places mentioned, I wouldn’t get to caught up in geography. As for the names that Bo Giertz drops, yes they were known, especially to his audience.
    See Sweden is a small country, not so much in land mass but population. Most of the names he drops were famous revivalists and pietists. And Pietists were in the main the audience Bo Giertz was writing to. What he is doing with this book, is bringing pietists around to a more orthodox understanding of the faith. And it works in English too. But the names would have been familiar to almost every swede, somewhat the same way “Jonathan Edwards” or “Finny” or Billy Graham are familiar to Americans. Though I’m not sure that is as true today as it was in the 60s, on either side of the pond.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    tODD,
    Odeso is a fictional town. So aside from some of the more famous places mentioned, I wouldn’t get to caught up in geography. As for the names that Bo Giertz drops, yes they were known, especially to his audience.
    See Sweden is a small country, not so much in land mass but population. Most of the names he drops were famous revivalists and pietists. And Pietists were in the main the audience Bo Giertz was writing to. What he is doing with this book, is bringing pietists around to a more orthodox understanding of the faith. And it works in English too. But the names would have been familiar to almost every swede, somewhat the same way “Jonathan Edwards” or “Finny” or Billy Graham are familiar to Americans. Though I’m not sure that is as true today as it was in the 60s, on either side of the pond.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Joe,
    I think were selling Giertz simply because he was a brilliant theologian who has something to say to our setting, maybe because it is so similar to the setting in which he lived and wrote.
    Most in Bo Giertz day, had no opportunity for an orthodox Lutheran experience. You had your choice, Liberal theology willing to be tossed about with every political wind, or Pietism, which has a habit of burning a person out, and making him worse off then when he started. Bo Giertz found Lutheran orthodoxy, and published it. He used it to sooth the consciences of the faithful, many of whom only knew pietism, and to combat the trends of liberalism.
    I think that is largely the experience of most Americans. The prostestants get caught up in a ping pong game between Calvin and Arminius, and they are the ball, finally one strikes it off the table and the end up in Rome, or Eastern orthodoxy, but then everyonce in a while the ball bounces into that one liter beer mug in the corner keifed from OctoberFest ten years ago, and they discover Lutheranism. We sell Bo Giertz so more balls fall into those beer mugs.
    But the rest of your analogy is true. Though I do like tODDs dig at the horrible celebrity list. I mean do we really have to advertize David Hasselhof as a Lutheran. I sometimes wonder if he would identify as one himself, or if the composers of that song just threw him in because he was born in Germany, which is the other error of Lutherans today.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Joe,
    I think were selling Giertz simply because he was a brilliant theologian who has something to say to our setting, maybe because it is so similar to the setting in which he lived and wrote.
    Most in Bo Giertz day, had no opportunity for an orthodox Lutheran experience. You had your choice, Liberal theology willing to be tossed about with every political wind, or Pietism, which has a habit of burning a person out, and making him worse off then when he started. Bo Giertz found Lutheran orthodoxy, and published it. He used it to sooth the consciences of the faithful, many of whom only knew pietism, and to combat the trends of liberalism.
    I think that is largely the experience of most Americans. The prostestants get caught up in a ping pong game between Calvin and Arminius, and they are the ball, finally one strikes it off the table and the end up in Rome, or Eastern orthodoxy, but then everyonce in a while the ball bounces into that one liter beer mug in the corner keifed from OctoberFest ten years ago, and they discover Lutheranism. We sell Bo Giertz so more balls fall into those beer mugs.
    But the rest of your analogy is true. Though I do like tODDs dig at the horrible celebrity list. I mean do we really have to advertize David Hasselhof as a Lutheran. I sometimes wonder if he would identify as one himself, or if the composers of that song just threw him in because he was born in Germany, which is the other error of Lutherans today.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @#9

    Thank you, I’ll check back later.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @#9

    Thank you, I’ll check back later.

  • Jerry

    The Hammer of God is also refreshing for those who know only German Lutherans

  • Jerry

    The Hammer of God is also refreshing for those who know only German Lutherans

  • SKPeterson

    Mendelsohn was Lutheran, too!

    We can also add all the famous Swedes and count them as Lutherans:

    Ann-Margret, Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo and that girl with the dragon tattoo. Interestingly, this site lists Jean-Paul Sartre as a Lutheran: http://www.adherents.com/largecom/fam_lutheran.html.

    And don’t forget one of our greatest accomplishments – Karl Marx. Really. It has to be true – it’s on the internet.

  • SKPeterson

    Mendelsohn was Lutheran, too!

    We can also add all the famous Swedes and count them as Lutherans:

    Ann-Margret, Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo and that girl with the dragon tattoo. Interestingly, this site lists Jean-Paul Sartre as a Lutheran: http://www.adherents.com/largecom/fam_lutheran.html.

    And don’t forget one of our greatest accomplishments – Karl Marx. Really. It has to be true – it’s on the internet.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror0122@hotmail.com

    DL21,
    Tracked it all down. In the Swedish, and fitting with the theme of the devotion, it reads more like “Grabbing the one chance of forgiveness there is.” He isn’t trying to undermine the gospel but saying there is only this one possibility, if that aint it we’re screwed. Just as the dishonest steward grabbed at the only chance he had-decisively. We are to grab at this, decisively.
    Hope that helps

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror0122@hotmail.com

    DL21,
    Tracked it all down. In the Swedish, and fitting with the theme of the devotion, it reads more like “Grabbing the one chance of forgiveness there is.” He isn’t trying to undermine the gospel but saying there is only this one possibility, if that aint it we’re screwed. Just as the dishonest steward grabbed at the only chance he had-decisively. We are to grab at this, decisively.
    Hope that helps

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    tODD, your literary judgments are about as good as my scientific judgments! My article, quoted in small part by Justin Taylor at the link, goes into detail on the literary dimensions of the novel, which are considerable.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    tODD, your literary judgments are about as good as my scientific judgments! My article, quoted in small part by Justin Taylor at the link, goes into detail on the literary dimensions of the novel, which are considerable.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    Awesome thanks, Bror!

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    Awesome thanks, Bror!

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dr. Veith (@21), you’re almost certainly more knowledgeable about literature than I, given your profession. Though I find it odd that you would appear to compare the objective realm of facts with the subjective realm of opinion.

    But maybe you aren’t. I can’t tell if you’re arguing that Giertz employs many literary devices (which I wouldn’t argue — he obviously does — and this is objectively true), or that he employs those devices skillfully. The latter, of course, is a fairly subjective claim.

    And while I don’t know what you consume as to science literature, I have been known to read works of fiction from time to time, and I feel my ability to assess literary qualities is not completely unexercised. Just as some examples of authors I’ve read that I did enjoy, there’s Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) and Kazuo Ishiguro (Never Let Me Go). At the very least, the prominent prize committees seem to agree with me on those guys.

    As to books I’ve read recently that I didn’t like, I thought Brave New World should’ve been no longer than a pamphlet, being vastly more ham-fisted than anything I could accuse Hammer of God of. But I think that Giertz and Huxley perhaps are similar in that people seem to evaluate their books for the ideas in them, and not as much how those ideas are expressed. And, for what it’s worth, I couldn’t even finish The Once and Future King. Ugh.

    I offer these up only as a measuring rod. If you liked Brave New World and The Once and Future King, then I suspect we merely have rather different tastes, and should leave it at that.

    Still, when I first read the quotes of yours over on the Gospel Coalition article, I thought you were describing The Hammer of God, rather than bad Christian fiction in general — and to some degree, it fit.

    Did you not think that Savonius’ conversion (as it were) was a bit pat, a bit sudden? And while the main protagonist (the young pastor) in each story seems fairly well fleshed out, it seems like there’s not a shortage of “good guys” and “bad guys” waiting in the curtains — the wise old pastor on one hand, and the bad rich people (or church higher-ups) on the other.

    Or maybe I just think Giertz uses way too much narration, telling us what’s going on in someone’s head directly, rather than doing this through words and actions.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dr. Veith (@21), you’re almost certainly more knowledgeable about literature than I, given your profession. Though I find it odd that you would appear to compare the objective realm of facts with the subjective realm of opinion.

    But maybe you aren’t. I can’t tell if you’re arguing that Giertz employs many literary devices (which I wouldn’t argue — he obviously does — and this is objectively true), or that he employs those devices skillfully. The latter, of course, is a fairly subjective claim.

    And while I don’t know what you consume as to science literature, I have been known to read works of fiction from time to time, and I feel my ability to assess literary qualities is not completely unexercised. Just as some examples of authors I’ve read that I did enjoy, there’s Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) and Kazuo Ishiguro (Never Let Me Go). At the very least, the prominent prize committees seem to agree with me on those guys.

    As to books I’ve read recently that I didn’t like, I thought Brave New World should’ve been no longer than a pamphlet, being vastly more ham-fisted than anything I could accuse Hammer of God of. But I think that Giertz and Huxley perhaps are similar in that people seem to evaluate their books for the ideas in them, and not as much how those ideas are expressed. And, for what it’s worth, I couldn’t even finish The Once and Future King. Ugh.

    I offer these up only as a measuring rod. If you liked Brave New World and The Once and Future King, then I suspect we merely have rather different tastes, and should leave it at that.

    Still, when I first read the quotes of yours over on the Gospel Coalition article, I thought you were describing The Hammer of God, rather than bad Christian fiction in general — and to some degree, it fit.

    Did you not think that Savonius’ conversion (as it were) was a bit pat, a bit sudden? And while the main protagonist (the young pastor) in each story seems fairly well fleshed out, it seems like there’s not a shortage of “good guys” and “bad guys” waiting in the curtains — the wise old pastor on one hand, and the bad rich people (or church higher-ups) on the other.

    Or maybe I just think Giertz uses way too much narration, telling us what’s going on in someone’s head directly, rather than doing this through words and actions.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com bror erickson

    tODD, if you are enjoying the book, then read the whole thing. Each novella is a bit different. It was his first novel, it was also a bestseller in sweden. Much of it is autobigraphical concerning his own theological oddessy. When you know some of his own life story you see him showing up in different characters at different times.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com bror erickson

    tODD, if you are enjoying the book, then read the whole thing. Each novella is a bit different. It was his first novel, it was also a bestseller in sweden. Much of it is autobigraphical concerning his own theological oddessy. When you know some of his own life story you see him showing up in different characters at different times.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    That’s better, tODD. There can be different tastes and different criteria of judgment. (Let me set aside your wall of separation between “the objective realm of facts” and “the subjective realm of opinion,” a concept that has been much critiqued over the last few decades.) But here is what I heard you saying about Bo Giertz’s novel: You take a Swedish novel by a Swedish author, published in Sweden for Swedish readers and translated from the Swedish language and your literary critique is that it refers to all of these places that are in Sweden! And it keeps referring to writers and historical figures that you’ve never heard of because they are Swedish! And the author also keeps making all of these Swedish cultural references! Why doesn’t he write about America and write in American?

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    That’s better, tODD. There can be different tastes and different criteria of judgment. (Let me set aside your wall of separation between “the objective realm of facts” and “the subjective realm of opinion,” a concept that has been much critiqued over the last few decades.) But here is what I heard you saying about Bo Giertz’s novel: You take a Swedish novel by a Swedish author, published in Sweden for Swedish readers and translated from the Swedish language and your literary critique is that it refers to all of these places that are in Sweden! And it keeps referring to writers and historical figures that you’ve never heard of because they are Swedish! And the author also keeps making all of these Swedish cultural references! Why doesn’t he write about America and write in American?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Veith (@25), if that’s what you heard as my “literary critique” of Giertz’s novel, then I must not have said it very well.

    I wasn’t complaining about the Swedish place names from a literary standpoint — I simply found keeping track of them confusing, as an American. Completely my fault, of course, but not unusual in my experience, when reading a translated work.

    As to the referenced Swedish theologians, again, not a complaint about literary merit — merely pointing out what other potential readers might also find confusing. Giertz appears to drop these names in as shorthand for a person’s theology, assuming that the reader will be familiar with them. When a character says, “I’ve been reading ____”, the reader is expected to know, it would seem, if that theologian’s work leans towards pietism, or academic liberalism, or confessional Lutheranism. But they’re mostly Swedish writers that, I posit, the average person hasn’t heard of, so you’ll have to do some research to figure out what the reference means, or you can just skip it and hope to work it out from context. This is likely not the same experience that the original Swedish readers had. Perhaps the translation could have subtlely addressed this difference in cultural knowledge, but it did not.

    I guess that’s a different topic entirely, but an interesting one: to what degree should a translation attempt to make up for different cultural understandings, for varying sets of what is considered common knowledge? I suspect from past discussions on Bible translations that you favor a minimalist translation that requires extra work on the part of the person reading the translation. Maybe I’m just an arrogant, lazy American, but I don’t mind if a translation helps me better understand what the original readers would have understood. Or at least throws in some footnotes for me. Many of the referents are obscure enough that a Google search isn’t terribly revealing. Should I purchase a history of Swedish Lutheranism just so I can fully understand Giertz?

    Again, we’re ostensibly addressing this as a work of fiction. If it were a theological work, I would fully expect it to name-drop obscure theologians from any old time and expect me to look them up.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Veith (@25), if that’s what you heard as my “literary critique” of Giertz’s novel, then I must not have said it very well.

    I wasn’t complaining about the Swedish place names from a literary standpoint — I simply found keeping track of them confusing, as an American. Completely my fault, of course, but not unusual in my experience, when reading a translated work.

    As to the referenced Swedish theologians, again, not a complaint about literary merit — merely pointing out what other potential readers might also find confusing. Giertz appears to drop these names in as shorthand for a person’s theology, assuming that the reader will be familiar with them. When a character says, “I’ve been reading ____”, the reader is expected to know, it would seem, if that theologian’s work leans towards pietism, or academic liberalism, or confessional Lutheranism. But they’re mostly Swedish writers that, I posit, the average person hasn’t heard of, so you’ll have to do some research to figure out what the reference means, or you can just skip it and hope to work it out from context. This is likely not the same experience that the original Swedish readers had. Perhaps the translation could have subtlely addressed this difference in cultural knowledge, but it did not.

    I guess that’s a different topic entirely, but an interesting one: to what degree should a translation attempt to make up for different cultural understandings, for varying sets of what is considered common knowledge? I suspect from past discussions on Bible translations that you favor a minimalist translation that requires extra work on the part of the person reading the translation. Maybe I’m just an arrogant, lazy American, but I don’t mind if a translation helps me better understand what the original readers would have understood. Or at least throws in some footnotes for me. Many of the referents are obscure enough that a Google search isn’t terribly revealing. Should I purchase a history of Swedish Lutheranism just so I can fully understand Giertz?

    Again, we’re ostensibly addressing this as a work of fiction. If it were a theological work, I would fully expect it to name-drop obscure theologians from any old time and expect me to look them up.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I feel like I need to stress that I am enjoying Hammer of God. I will read it all, Bror (@24). But, again, I’m enjoying it because it’s an easy-reading theological work. The characters have just enough depth to make it seem (at times, at least) like you’re reading a story.

    And yes, I could easily see that there are many autobiographical moments in the book. I’d have to imagine that, ultimately, Giertz became the various wise old rectors/deans (same thing?) in the stories. But I’d be willing to bet there’s a lot of his younger self in the Savonius of the first chapter. Which was very funny-sad. A clear indictment of liberal, academic theology.

    Still, my reading this morning came across more of what I am mainly critiquing in the work. It’s the scene where Fridfeldt, lacking a prepared sermon, reads from a book of [some Swedish theologian I wasn't familiar with, and whose name I forget]‘s sermons. The section was dangerously close to reading a sermon summary or even just a devotional, punctuated only occasionally with enough narration to remind you it’s a story. Was the point of the sermon good? Of course. But it didn’t really strike me as, you know, literary.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I feel like I need to stress that I am enjoying Hammer of God. I will read it all, Bror (@24). But, again, I’m enjoying it because it’s an easy-reading theological work. The characters have just enough depth to make it seem (at times, at least) like you’re reading a story.

    And yes, I could easily see that there are many autobiographical moments in the book. I’d have to imagine that, ultimately, Giertz became the various wise old rectors/deans (same thing?) in the stories. But I’d be willing to bet there’s a lot of his younger self in the Savonius of the first chapter. Which was very funny-sad. A clear indictment of liberal, academic theology.

    Still, my reading this morning came across more of what I am mainly critiquing in the work. It’s the scene where Fridfeldt, lacking a prepared sermon, reads from a book of [some Swedish theologian I wasn't familiar with, and whose name I forget]‘s sermons. The section was dangerously close to reading a sermon summary or even just a devotional, punctuated only occasionally with enough narration to remind you it’s a story. Was the point of the sermon good? Of course. But it didn’t really strike me as, you know, literary.

  • http://www.lsfpgh.com/about-bo-giertz Eric R. Andræ

    The film is of the first novella only.

    Those training for the ministry in the Church of Sweden receive their theological education at the state universities (Uppsala, Lund), plus one semester (I think) at the church’s institute. There are no seminaries, as we think of them.

    Maybe we need to start a list of Lutheran writers of fiction: Wangerin, Updike, etc.

    For an excellent aid to getting to know the theologians mentioned in The Hammer of God, see Robert Kolb’s essay in A Hammer for God: Bo Giertz – http://lutheranlegacy.org/publications/hammer.aspx

    Re. p. 625 of To Live with Christ – “möjlighet” could also be translated as “opportunity.”

    The Hammer of God was #4 on the Swedish best-seller list for 1941.

  • http://www.lsfpgh.com/about-bo-giertz Eric R. Andræ

    The film is of the first novella only.

    Those training for the ministry in the Church of Sweden receive their theological education at the state universities (Uppsala, Lund), plus one semester (I think) at the church’s institute. There are no seminaries, as we think of them.

    Maybe we need to start a list of Lutheran writers of fiction: Wangerin, Updike, etc.

    For an excellent aid to getting to know the theologians mentioned in The Hammer of God, see Robert Kolb’s essay in A Hammer for God: Bo Giertz – http://lutheranlegacy.org/publications/hammer.aspx

    Re. p. 625 of To Live with Christ – “möjlighet” could also be translated as “opportunity.”

    The Hammer of God was #4 on the Swedish best-seller list for 1941.

  • jim_claybourn

    Bror (and any others),

    Is the “Hammer” available in Spanish? Strange question, maybe, but at lunch today I was reading and the Mexican restaurant manager asked me about the book. I was thinking of giving him a copy, but considering todd’s problems mentioned above, that the English translation might be really difficult for a Spanish speaker!

  • jim_claybourn

    Bror (and any others),

    Is the “Hammer” available in Spanish? Strange question, maybe, but at lunch today I was reading and the Mexican restaurant manager asked me about the book. I was thinking of giving him a copy, but considering todd’s problems mentioned above, that the English translation might be really difficult for a Spanish speaker!

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    jim,
    I do not know of its translation into spanish. I doubt it, though weirder things have happened. But even so when I looked up Amazon.com in Spain, only three english titles came up. none in Spanish.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    jim,
    I do not know of its translation into spanish. I doubt it, though weirder things have happened. But even so when I looked up Amazon.com in Spain, only three english titles came up. none in Spanish.

  • jim_claybourn

    Is there a workbook for “Hammer” to go along with the book or video?

  • jim_claybourn

    Is there a workbook for “Hammer” to go along with the book or video?

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com bror erickson

    Jim, professor Pless at Ctsfw has a study guide, I think Cts press publishes it, but email him.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com bror erickson

    Jim, professor Pless at Ctsfw has a study guide, I think Cts press publishes it, but email him.

  • jim_claybourn
  • jim_claybourn
  • http://www.lsfpgh.com/about-bo-giertz Eric R. Andræ

    Also, the film from Lutheran Visuals comes with a study/discussion guide.

  • http://www.lsfpgh.com/about-bo-giertz Eric R. Andræ

    Also, the film from Lutheran Visuals comes with a study/discussion guide.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Jim/Bror (@32, 33), that’s very helpful! Kind of what I was looking for, really. Thanks.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Jim/Bror (@32, 33), that’s very helpful! Kind of what I was looking for, really. Thanks.


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