How does Faith Alone compare with Bo Giertz’s other novels?
Faith Alone, The Heart of Everything, is the second of three novels that Bo Giertz wrote and the prequel to his first and most well-known novel, The Hammer of God. His third novel is The Knights of Rhodes, which Giertz wrote in retirement. What they all have in common is that they are historical fiction. Faith Alone and The Knights of Rhodes also have the Reformation era in common. In contrast, The Hammer of God takes on theological developments from the late eighteenth century through the twentieth century. A person may consider Giertz’ With My Own Eyes to be a novel also. In this book, Giertz recreates the gospel narrative from a historical third-person perspective.
I love the fictional writing of Bo Giertz and his great ability to show the impact of theology on a person’s life and their decisions. However, Faith Alone is my favorite, and I think it is his best novel. Giertz retells the story of the sixteenth century Dacke Rebellion in a manner that reminds me of the current historical fiction guru, Bernard Cornwell. The story is full of action, and you can smell the sauerkraut and beer spewing from the cursing mouths of soldiers amid battle.
Giertz lets his characters be sinners, and their humanity plays itself out in complex relationships. As adept at communicating theological concepts in fiction as G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, he also knows how to probe the psychology of the soul in a manner reminiscent of Kafka. All of his novels have an emphasis on Lutheran distinctives such as justification by grace through faith, the sacraments, and the value of liturgical worship. He uses these as theological themes within each novel, including law and gospel in The Hammer of God and the theology of the cross for The Knights of Rhodes. In Faith Alone, Giertz puts themes from his favorite Luther work, The Freedom of a Christian, into narrative form.
The story is full of action, and you can smell the sauerkraut and beer spewing from the cursing mouths of soldiers amid battle.
Did anything surprise you about the novel as you translated it? Or, in other words, did you understand the book differently as you completed this project?
It took me a while to get around to translating Faith Alone. I read it in Swedish about two years before I picked up translating, so I wasn’t surprised by much. However, translating makes you delve deeper into details that you can skim over when just reading. Giertz knew the vocabulary of the sixteenth century intimately and would often use archaic terms. My friend Dr. Daniel Johansson of the Free Seminary in Gothenburg told me I would end up doing the research required for a Ph. D. in medieval warfare by the time I finished translating the book. I do not think he exaggerated much.
What does this story from sixteenth-century Sweden have to say to twenty-first-century Christians?
Faith Alone really wrestles with themes that Christians of all ages have to wrestle with. These include the balance between honoring secular authority while still fighting against tyranny and abuse of power, which can be seen as reconciling the fifth commandment, “thou shalt not murder” with the vocation of a soldier. Another theme includes balancing the exercise of Christian freedom with love for one’s neighbor. I think these are all questions and issues that face Christians in every generation, but perhaps today, more so than recent decades.
For readers interested in learning more about the Reformation’s course in Sweden, do you have any suggested books?
Finding books dealing with Scandinavian history in English can be time-consuming and perhaps depressing. There is not much out there, especially when it comes to accounts written at a popular level. The Reformation in Sweden coincided with a renaissance of Swedish nationalism and a war for independence from “The Kalmar Union,” which tried to unify the three nations of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark under the Danish Crown. Any history dealing with the Reformation in Sweden will naturally deal with these other issues and nations. The best book I have found in English dealing with all of this is, Reforming the North, The Kingdoms and Churches of Scandinavia by James L. Larson.
What can readers look forward to seeing next from you?
I have a lot of irons in the fire right now. Currently, I am looking forward to the release of a translation project I did with Timo Laato called Hermeneutics in Romans. I have translated many essays and lectures for Timo, who speaks and teaches all over the world. This book is quite fantastic. It investigates the hermeneutical principles that Paul used in interpreting the Old Testament in Romans and suggests those be the guiding principles for the church and scholars today.
I am also finishing up the edits on Bo Giertz’s devotional commentaries for Matthew through Luke. This will be volume one of three covering the entire New Testament. A couple of years ago, 1517 published his devotional commentary on Romans. The rest of the commentaries are of the same quality and helpfulness, so I am excited to finish translating them. I have finished my rough draft of volume two and am halfway through the third.
Magnus Persson and I have been reworking his book, Christ’s Church (Kristi Kyrka), for an American audience. This book looks at Luther’s marks of the church in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. It seeks to revive a focus on the gospel and the sacraments in the church by showing how these “marks” or characteristics of the church are still important today.
As part of a lecture series I hope to begin soon, I have also started to outline a biography of Bo Giertz. I think that is it, for now.