Susan K. WOOD and Timothy J. WENGERT. A Shared Spiritual Journey: Lutherans and Catholics Traveling Toward Unity. New York: Paulist Press, 2016. pp. 254. $34.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8091-4979-7. Reviewed by Michael J. TKACIK, Saint Leo University, Saint Leo, Florida, 33574


            Just as the church perennially stands in need of reform so, too, does the Spirit perpetually offer the church hope. This work and the recent decades of ecumenical collaboration between Lutherans and Roman Catholics which it presents are such signs of hope afforded the church by the Spirit as the church makes its pilgrim journey toward restored unity and progresses towards greater understanding of the apostolic tradition and the plenitude of divine truth. One cannot but be edified by Wood’s and Wengert’s recounting of the progress toward reconciled unity that has been achieved between Lutherans and Catholics in recent decades and be inspired to continue to build upon the seminal advances toward said unity that the Second Vatican Council, the work of the Lutheran World Federation, and the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) make possible.

The opening part of the book proffers a synopsis of Luther’s theology and its evolution through various formulations culminating with the Book of Concord and serves as a backdrop against which to trace the ecumenical advances of the past century which, in turn, culminated in the 1999 JDDJ. With the mutual official ecclesial reception of the JDDJ and its declaration of non-applicability of doctrinal condemnation vis-à-vis the doctrine of justification, Lutheran-Catholic dialogue is able to advance in a manner whereby the parties are able to assess whether or not certain historical differences need to be thought of as church-dividing (pp. 34-35). After surveying and assessing the myriad of ecclesial initiatives and theological research which made the JDDJ possible, the authors turn attention to considering those areas which need no longer be church-dividing and those areas which remain points of difference. In some cases points of difference can be reconciled due to theological re-examination devoid of the polemics of the sixteenth century, recognition of various legitimate theological methodologies, and broader theological articulations of truth which lend to reconciling diversity and consensus building. Remaining differences which continue to be divisive are the foci of part two of the book and are afforded honest and candid recognition but contextualized vis-à-vis ongoing ecumenical advancements in the areas of scripture, tradition, sacramentology and ecclesiology.

The contributions of theologians and church historians of the early twentieth century ushered in a new era of Lutheran research and consideration of how advances in historical and literary critical methods of biblical interpretation serve to illuminate how the aforesaid have advanced ecumenical dialogue and ecclesial rapprochement. In light of the aforesaid scholarship, the authors outline a differentiated consensus which has been achieved between the two traditions in matters pertinent to scripture and tradition.

In terms of the church’s apostolicity, the work demonstrates (part two) how the two traditions have moved beyond the polemics of the Reformation and recognize apostolicity as an ecclesial charism which involves all members of the church, thereby offering a framework in which to examine the divisive issues which remain. While a broader understanding of the church’s apostolicity and Trinitarian origins has evolved, divisive issues pertaining to the church’s holiness, universality, teaching authority (the ministry of the Bishop of Rome and the magisterial teaching office), and nature as a sacrament remain. The greatest remaining differences are largely matters pertaining to ecclesiology: the episcopate, the universal-local church dialectic (global ecclesial unity and the local-diocesan church dynamic), ecclesial teaching authority (divinely instituted and charismatic ecclesial offices and the role of the common baptismal priesthood of the laity), and ministry (who can ordain, be ordained and the effects of ordination).

The concluding section of the book (part three) provides a summary of those areas in which such significant areas of agreement have been made that the two traditions have concluded that their different emphases do not warrant maintaining present divisions, while also recapping those areas where reconciled diversity continues to be elusive. Advances in understanding both the objective and subjective aspects of the sacraments, as well as Eucharistic real presence and its sacrificial nature are acknowledged even as the aforesaid differences remain.

The book concludes as it began…with a message of hope. Deeming the work of restored Christian unity to be a gift of the Spirit, Christians are called to continue to work together in a manner marked by humility, meekness, patience and love (p.183), respecting the uniqueness of the other, exchanging gifts with one another appreciative of diversity, so that the prayer and imperative of Jesus--that they be one–may, indeed, be experienced. The book is an excellent resource outlining Lutheran-Catholic theology and ecumenical dialogue and, coupled with the recent Declaration on the Way,gives testimony of the Spirit’s ongoing action within the life of the church.