I had been living in Italy for two years building up Aviano Airbase in support of various operations in the former Yugoslavia when I met up with my parents in Rome. My dad knew that I was contemplating the Holy Ministry and so he gave me a copy of The Hammer of God by Bo Giertz (1905-1998). I read it that night. I couldn’t put it down. By the time Pastor Fridfelt asked his old rector “can anything be better than to be a pastor in God’s church?” my fate had been sealed and I knew I’d be heading for seminary when my enlistment was done. It was only later that I learned it was while in Rome on an archeological dig that Bo Giertz attained an audience with his queen and promised her that he would only ever be a regular pastor. Some might debate whether he kept that promise. He did also become a world-famous author, a leader of confessional resistance in the church of Sweden, and the bishop of Gothenburg. Yet it was his ever-present pastoral concern for people that made him what he became and has given me such a love for his work.
I remember being dismayed shortly after finishing The Hammer of God. The internet was in its infancy, and try as I might, I could find precious little else by Bo Giertz, and most of what was available was out of print. It seemed odd to me that someone who could write such a great book would have just quit writing. Thankfully, that was not the case, which I discovered after learning Swedish during seminary. Giertz was actually quite a prolific author of novels, devotional, and apologetical works, as well as numerous journal articles and a commentary series covering the entire New Testament. So, I set about my life’s work: translating Bo Giertz’ library from Swedish to English.
Giertz’ more literary works include, Faith Alone, With My Own Eyes, and The Knights of Rhodes. However, his devotional, To Live with Christ, is also available in English and highly treasured by readers. There are three posthumously published sermon collections, A Year of Grace, Volume One and Volume Two, as well as Then Fell the Lord’s Fire which contain his ordination sermons.
Next month, 1517 is debuting the first volume of his New Testament Devotional Commentaries covering all three of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. His commentary on Romans continues to be popular. There is also the more dogmatic work Christ’s Church translated by my friend, Hans Andrae. Its sequel, Church Piety, still remains untranslated. However, Magnus Persson draws inspiration from both of these books for Reclaiming the Reformation, which will also be published by 1517 later this month.
To state the obvious, I love translating Bo Giertz and I believe you will enjoy reading him. He is a much-needed voice for the church. Bo Giertz was thoroughly a Reformational pastor in that justification by grace through faith in Christ’s death and resurrection is the heart of everything he wrote, Scripture alone remained his sole authority, and a contagious love for God’s children permeates the ink spilled from his pen. Where other bishops of the twentieth century gained notoriety for self-aggrandizing, unorthodox positions concerning the Christian faith, Bo Giertz attained infamy in Sweden for a humble adherence to unpopular, orthodox practice and doctrine. His catechetical works were censured by government authorities because what he taught concerning the sinful nature of man was at odds with what psychologists wanted to believe about man. And when he opposed the introduction of women’s ordination to the church of Sweden, he was given the epithet “women priest opponent” in all the papers. He hated that moniker. He felt it detracted from his goal to present the gospel to others, yet he remained firm to his convictions and refused to engage in name calling, instead endeavoring to show love in return for any shade he received in the media. Perhaps it was this infamy in Sweden that kept him from gaining notoriety for anything but The Hammer of God in English-speaking Lutheran Churches. Yet his endurance to such opposition is where his patient and pastoral demeanor shines. In this way, he is an example for Christians today faced with ever-growing criticism from all aspects of culture.
Bo Giertz understood that if you were going to speak to the culture, you had to learn the language of the culture. This meant producing the kind of works that used to be addressed in the cultural section of the Sunday morning LA Times I would read as a kid before going to church. This meant writing novels that even people outside the church might like to read and while still managing to present the Christian faith in a compelling way. He also understood that, though polemics had their place, they should avoid the common ad hominem pitfalls that surround most Twitter dialogues and Facebook flame wars today. He also loved the lay people of the church and wanted to provide them with resources they needed to grow in the faith while facing the temptations accompanying a secularizing culture. He only ever wanted to be a regular pastor, and that meant delivering the goods to those who needed them most. It meant feeding Christ’s sheep with the forgiveness of sins and contending for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.