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Gerhard Olaf Forde was born in Pope County, Minnesota and raised near Starbuck. He was the son of Gerhard Olavus Forde (1884-1964) and Hannah (Halvorson) Forde (1888-1928). He received the B.A. degree from Luther College in 1950, attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison for one year, and then earned the Bachelor of Theology degree from Luther Seminary in 1955. He earned the Th.D. degree from Harvard Divinity School in 1967. Forde also studied at University of Tübingen and was the Lutheran tutor at Mansfield College, Oxford University, 1968-70. He also spent sabbatical years at Harvard (1972–73), Strasbourg (1979–80), and St. John's University Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, Collegeville, Minnesota (1988).
Forde was a pastor in the American Lutheran Church and was a rostered pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America after its founding. Forde's teaching career began at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn., where he was instructor in religion in 1955-56. Gerhard Forde joined the Luther Seminary faculty as lecturer in church history in 1959-61. After moving to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa as assistant professor of religion in 1961-63, he returned to the seminary as instructor in 1964 and was promoted to professor ten years later. Even after Dr. Forde's retirement in 1998 he remained active as a teacher and lecturer for several years.
A member of the American Academy of Religion, Forde had also been active as a member of the board of dialog, A Journal of Theology; the Lutheran–Roman Catholic dialogue; the commission for the new Lutheran Church; and the editorial board of The Lutheran Quarterly.
In 1987, the journal Lutheran Quarterly was relaunched in the midst of the negotiations that lead to the formation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In the lead issue of the "new series" of Lutheran Quarterly Forde provided a future view for American Lutheranism titled Radical Lutheranism.  In the article, Forde addressed the future of Lutheran identity that he viewed as being bound largely to ethnic and cultural backgrounds, not the theological identity forwarded by Forde that he stated as being a dedication to the "radical" gospel of Jesus Christ and the concept of justification by faith.
We should realize ﬁrst of all that what is at stake on the current scene is certainly not Lutheranism as such. Lutheranism has no particular claim or right to existence. Rather, what is at stake is the radical gospel, radical grace, the eschatological nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ cruciﬁed and risen as put in its most uncompromising and unconditional form by St. Paul. What is at stake is a mode of doing theology and a practice in church and society derived from that radical statement of the gospel.
... I do want to pursue the proposition that Lutheranism especially in America might ﬁnd its identity not by compromising with American religion but by becoming more radical about the gospel it has received. That is to say, Lutherans should become radicals, preachers of a gospel so radical that it puts the old to death and calls forth the new, and practitioners of the life that entails "for the time being." :5–6
Forde would continue to expound on the concept of Radical Lutheranism, most pointedly in his later book On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther's Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 and essays published in A More Radical Gospel.
- The Preached God: Proclamation in Word and Sacrament (2007) Lutheran Quarterly Books
- The Captivation of the Will: Luther vs. Erasmus on Freedom and Bondage (2004) Lutheran Quarterly Books
- A More Radical Gospel : Essays on Eschatology, Authority, Atonement, and Ecumenism (2004)Eerdmans; edited by Mark C. Mattes, and Steven D. Paulson.
- On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther's Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 (1997)
- Theology Is for Proclamation (1990)
- Forensic Justification and Law in Lutheran Theology, Justification by Faith, Lutherans and Catholics in dialogue VI (1985)
- When the Old Gods Fail, Piety, Politics and Ethics, Reformation Studies in Honor of George Wolfgang Forell (1984)
- The Work of Christ and "Christian Life," Christian Dogmatics (1984)
- Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life (1982)
- Where God Meets Man (1972)
- The Law Gospel Debate (1969)
- "Remembering Gerhard Forde". Luther Seminary. 2005. Retrieved March 25, 2016.
- Minnesota Birth Certificate Records (Minnesota Health Services)
- Gerhard O. Forde, Lutheran theologian at Luther Seminary (The Christian Century. September 20, 2005)
- Lutheran Theologian, Teacher, Author, Gerhard O. Forde (ELCA News Service)
- "Radical Lutheranism" (PDF). Lutheran Quarterly.
- Clint Schnekloth (April 19, 2012). "How to preach after Gerhard Forde". Lutheran Confessions. Retrieved March 25, 2016.
- Forde, Marianna (2014) Gerhard O. Forde: A Life (Lutheran University Press) ISBN 978-1-932688-96-2
- Burgess, Joseph A. ed; Marc Kolden, ed (2004) By Faith Alone: Essays on Justification in Honor of Gerhard O. Forde ( Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company) ISBN 978-0802841360