I met the late Swedish Bishop Bo Giertz only once, when he spoke to the Lutheran clergy of the metropolitan New York area fifty years ago. The clarity, cogency, and content of his lectures was impressive then. His writings have served to keep alive the strong impression he made in person.
The Christian Gospel is, by its very nature as news, a story, a narrative of events about Jesus the Messiah. It can also be the subject of a literary narrative. Bo Giertz tells the story of the Gospel in this engrossing novel, The Hammer of God, really three shorter novels, about three Church of Sweden pastors, set in the same Swedish location, at three different periods in the 19th and early 20th centuries. But Giertz does more. Like his countryman, Olov Hartman, Giertz uses the novel to teach about pastoral ministry. He addresses both the strengths and weaknesses of the Scandinavian pietist renewal in the 19th century. Names like Henrik Schartau and Carl Olof Rosenius and their books, to which the novel often refers, will be somewhat unfamiliar to those who do not know Swedish church history. But this is no obstacle to enjoying the read.
Giertz's themes are unabashedly Lutheran. God shapes us hammer-like on the anvil of experience. But God's Law is an alien Word. Authentic faith and discipleship are evoked only by the Gospel, God's proper Word. Experienced pastors teach novice curates and younger colleagues to discover true pastoral ministry and the cure of souls. In the death of the crucified Jesus God embraces and overcomes human suffering, sin, and the powers of death at work in our lives. God claims us in Baptism, and there plunges us (pun intended) into the life-long struggle between the sinner and the saint in each of us.
Giertz is masterful in evoking place and time, the rigors and beauties of rural Sweden during all seasons of the year. He invites us into the piety and church life of Sweden early and later in the 19th century, and the challenges facing Swedish Christians at the outbreak of the Second World War. By example and narrative he advocates a high view of the church, its worship and liturgy, its sacraments and preaching, its prayer life and catechesis. His characters engage each other in real arguments about what constitutes authentic Christian theology, worship, and discipleship. The arguments do not strike the reader as weighted in favor of Giertz's own views, although the outcomes clearly reflect them.
In its earlier editions, the third of the stories within the novel seemed incomplete. That has been remedied by the addition of a new final chapter, so that each of the three stories now consists of three chapters. This new chapter brings satisfying closure to the final story. Giertz makes his stories both interesting and edifying, equally instructive for clergy and laity, a fine confessional resource for parish discussion groups."
— Walter R. Bouman, Edward C. Fendt Emeritus Professor of Systematic Theology Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio