Martin Luther - Lesson 2

About Reading Luther

Luther expressed his views in a way that was shaped by his theology and the culture.

Gordon Isaac
Martin Luther
Lesson 2
Watching Now
About Reading Luther

I. The Joy and Promise of Reading Luther

A. The Colorful Sayings of Luther

B. Luther as a "Word-event"

C. Luther as a Prodigious Theologian

II. Obstacles to Reading Luther

A. Polemical Language

B. Luther's Statements Against the Jews

C. Medieval Nature of His Writing

III. Luther Can Be Read in a Number of Different Contexts

A. Confessional

B. Ecumenical

IV. Reading Luther in an Evangelical Context

A. McGrath's Vision of Evangelicalism

B. Evangelical Appropriation of Luther

C. Mark Noll's Suggestion

  • Dr. Isaacs summarizes the course objectives and lists the recommended textbooks.
  • Luther expressed his views in a way that was shaped by his theology and the culture.

  • Martin Luther was born in Germany in the late 15th century, just after Guttenberg developed his printing press.

  • When Martin Luther posted the 95 theses, his intention was to discuss and debate the misuse of indulgences, but it was interpreted by the church heirarchy as an attack on the power of the papacy.

  • Luther's writings demonstrate his ability to understand and articulate issues that are at the core of the nature of God and man. His theology is distinct from philosophy and consists of many comments on passages in Psalms and Romans.

  • Faith alone justifies. By faith the Christian is made to love God, therefore a person does good works because they cannot remain idle.

  • The work of Christ when he allowed himself to be crucified on the cross, teaches us about God's nature, our nature and our relationship to God.

  • Luther's fourfold sense of scripture focused on historical (literal), allegorical (figurative), tropological (moral), and anagogic (future).

  • Luther's view of the atonement differs from classical views taught during his time and view held by the scholastic tradition.

  • Luther's teaching on justification by faith is central to his theology.

  • Theology of the cross assumes bondage and moves to freedom.

  • Four positions on predestination include the Calvinist, neo-Protestant, intuitu fidei, and Gnesio-Lutherans.

  • Luther's commentary on Galatians is an attempt to set "Law" in its proper setting.

  • The sacraments are an external expression of an internal reality.

  • Luther's teachings on the importance of baptism and arguments for infant baptism.

  • Luther's view of the theological and personal significance of the Lord's Supper.

  • The kingdom of God and secular government have areas of unity and areas of differences.

  • Luther gives a definition of the church and describes characteristics of the church.

  • Luther developed a catechism to help people focus on the foundational beliefs of the Christian faith.

  • Martin Luther's writings can encourage people to pursue their relationship with God on a deeper level.

This course is an introduction to the life and writings of the great German reformer, Martin Luther. There are 20 lectures totaling approximately 18 hours. These lectures were given at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

Dr. Gordon Isaac
Martin Luther 
About Reading Luther
Lesson Transcript

[00:00:03] What I'd like to do today is I'd like to talk with you a little bit about reading Luther. You know, reading Luther is not like reading a modern novel. Reading Luther has some ins and outs to it. And I wanted to give you some exposure to some of the issues that you'll be dealing with over the course of this semester as you read Luther. Luther is really a marvelous find. It was for me when I attended seminary on the West Coast. I was exposed to a certain set of doctrinal issues that I was really wrestling with. And as a matter of fact, I find I found myself in a bit of opposition to them. I wasn't sure. Why don't I agree with this stuff? What is what is it about this particular orientation of the Christian life that that I don't agree with? And I asked myself this question and I stumbled on to Luther and I began to read Luther and he became a partner in dialog for me. Well, I have to tell you that Luther changed my life. He did. He changed the way that I understood the nature of the gospel. But it wasn't easy reading. It was a bit tough. And so what I want to do is just spend a few moments talking about the joy and promise of reading Luther, the obstacles to reading Luther, the way that one can read Luther in a number of different contexts, and finally reading Luther in an evangelical context. This is where I'm going with our lecture. I just have these four points The Joy and Promise of reading Luther.

[00:02:01] Obstacles to reading Luther. Luther. Reading in different contexts. And finally reading Luther in an evangelical context. Let's just take these these things one at a time. One of the things you could say about Luther is he's a colorful character. He has a way of compressing language, of drawing language out, of talking about issues and presenting them in simple and profound fashion as though it were a jewel and a very carefully crafted setting. Lots of colorful sayings. For example, Luther on the Bible, the Bible is alive. It speaks to me. It has feet. It runs after me. It has hands. It lays hold of me again. I'd like all my books to be destroyed so that only the sacred writings in the Bible would be diligently read. Lutheran Preaching. When I preach, I regard neither doctors nor magistrates, of whom I have about 40 in my congregation. I have all my eyes on the servant maids and on the children. And if the learned men are not well pleased with what they hear, well, the doors open on music. The devil should not be allowed to keep all the best tunes for himself. Once again, on music, I have no use for cranks who despise music because it is a gift of God. Next, after theology, I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor on prayer. Luther says this I have often learned more in one prayer than I've been able to glean from much reading and reflection. Again, Luther says this Our Lord God must be a pious man to be able to love rascals. I can't do it. And yet I'm a rascal myself. Others try to make me a fixed star, but I am an irregular planet. On humility, God creates out of nothing.

[00:04:16] Therefore, until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him. If you perhaps look for praise and would sulk or quit what you are doing. If you did not get it, if you are of that stripe, dear friend, then take yourself by the ears. And if you do this in the right way, you will find a beautiful pair of big, long, shaggy donkey years. Luther, in a pithy moment, says, This affliction is the best book in my library. So there's a wonderful joy and promise in reading of Luther because of the colorful sayings that you'll find embedded in his works in various places. And I would recommend that you keep your eyes open and perhaps you might even want to keep a little notebook on hand so that you can call upon those kinds of phrases and use them for sermon illustrations or embed them in your own preaching and teaching. One of the other things that we need to say about Luther, in addition to his colorful sayings, we need to see also that Luther is himself a word event. Now, that's a strange way of putting things, but Luther is himself a word event. Gerhard enabling a renowned Luther interpreter in his day, referred again and again to Luther's linguistic innovation. This little phrase that is as it is crafted in German more literally means Luther as word event. Luther, as far as Agnes, as a sibling likes to point out, it is Luther's central motivating concern to give proper utterance to the word. And it is this singular and all consuming concern which marks out his work in the Reformation. I like the way Ablin puts it. He says a major linguistic innovation is obviously more than a dogmatic construction, whereas someone else's dogmatic construction offers, at best, a dwelling place in which one can find shelter as a guest and a stranger.

[00:06:25] A linguistic innovation provides a place to live and to make one's own home. So enabling is underlining the fact that Luther's work as a theologian really does center around this linguistic innovation. And we'll see this more and more as the semester goes on. One of the things that we need to point out is that Luther is credited. He is credited as helping to shape the modern German language as it is presently spoken. In 1522, the September Bible was published over a rather short period just prior to its being published. Luther was sequestered in the Burg castle. You'll read about it in over a month, and he spent his time there translating the New Testament in short order. He had it out in German language. Well, this publication became very important for the Reformation and the events which took place during that critical those critical decades that helped change the shape of the religious landscape in Germany in 1534. The entire. Our Bible was published and Luther had his hand all during his life as an interpreter and as a translator. So when Ebeling talks about Luther as a word event, he really quite literally means that in the 19th century there's an important German theologian by the name of Herder, and he says this referring to Luther. It is he who awoke and set free the sleeping giant of the German language. It is he who cast out the trade in mere words of scholasticism like the table of the Moneychangers. Through his reformation, he made a whole nation able to think and to feel. It is of no account that Erasmus, perhaps the most precise scholar the world has ever known, accused him of having brought Latin literature to an end. This reproach is no disgrace to him, and it should not be denied in the face of all the historical facts.

[00:08:41] For Latin religion, scholastic learning and the Roman language were far too closely bound together. So Luther, his innovation as a theologian in large measure, centers around this word event and his concern to properly state the word of God in human language. I suppose there's much that one could say about this, this move on the part of Luther. I think just a kind of an aside. It has a lot to say about his understanding of the word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. God did not disdain the womb of the Virgin, so the tedium sings about the incarnation. And for Luther, this really is a reality. So much so that you see for Luther, the problem isn't that we can't talk about God and we can't put it in language as it is for some theologians. For Luther, the problem is putting the word in the proper language so that it strikes our air in such a fashion that it takes up residence in our hearts and produces faith. And this is the issue that Luther is wrestling with. Now, let's just think about this practically. It seems to me that it is precisely here that Luther is really a great deal of help to us as we go out to serve in the church. Our task as leaders in the church and many of us will probably have a ministry of preaching is to put the word of God into human language and somehow convey the reality of God in that moment. It's not simply talking about God, but it is rather the preaching task is for Luther to bring the individual here closer to Christ or to state in another way to bring Christ close to the hearer. A very different notion than simply giving more information about a topic.

[00:10:50] And for Luther, there is a theory of language, if you will, that's at play here that's dynamic, and that I think our own day and age needs to come to grips with once again for a case could be made. And it has been made by some that our own understanding of language that we naturally inherit just by the kind of exchanges we have around us is more related to the medieval understanding of language and its use of reference points to abstract concepts than it is to this understanding of language as the living word itself. So, Luther as a word event. Further, Luther is a prodigious theologian. One of the things that you recognize when you stand in front of the American edition of Luther's works, there are 55 volumes, and it's a fair piece of reading to to cover all that stuff. And that's only a selected amount of what he wrote. If you stand in front of the Weimar, our Scala, which is the critical edition of Luther's works, it's just nothing short of overwhelming if you compare his literary output to that of other early church fathers, he far and away surpasses them. So there's just a tremendous amount of work that he produced. And this is before the era of laptops and, you know, word processors. So he really is an amazing and prodigious theologian. Now, while it's true that Luther's innovation as a theologian is a linguistic one, it's equally true that it is simultaneously a theological one. As this course proceeds and you have the chance to read such writings as on Christian. Freedom. The two kinds of righteousness. A meditation on Christ's passion. The bondage of the will. You'll come to appreciate the profound wrestling that this Augustinian friar gives to the Scriptures.

[00:12:52] Further, it is hard not to be compelled by the Saxon Huss, one of the other names for Luther, whose prodigious mental powers surge and heave just under the surface, causing one to think that the volcano is ready to erupt. I like what Robert Jensen does. He makes the case that Luther's insight leads to a radical reversal of the Greek philosophers approach to ontology and epistemology. Jensen says this in their doctrine, the specific character of personal beings that has souls is that their being is determined by what they as perfect eyes see. Luther switched that for him. The specific character of personal being is that we are what as perfect ears we hear. Moreover, if for the Greeks to be generally is to produire or to hang on to one's self, for Luther to be is to share oneself by speaking. Thus for Christ to be is to share Himself in His word. So the content of Luther's theological contribution thus comes precisely in in a specific kind of speaking, that we as the gathered church participate in. Perhaps you can think of it this way Luther is attempting, by his articulation of the Word of God, to prepare a generation of gospel speakers, as it were. Look, the Christian church is gathered together not because we have a particular particular ethnic background or because we share a particular set of or because we're a part of the same language group. We all speak English, we all speak Chinese, so we all speak Tamil or some other language, but rather we're gathered around the person and work of Christ who is communicated to us through word and sacrament. So Luther's work as a theologian is really to set forward a particular way of gospel speaking. Now, if I were to ask you, what is Luther's greatest contribution, if you were going to some of his theology, how would you do it? If someone were to ask me, you might expect well, Professor, you might say, well, Luther's major contribution, of course, everybody knows that it's justification by faith.

[00:15:21] It's a doctrine. Justification. My faith. He rediscovered the gospel in the 16th century. Well, there's some degree of truth in that. However, it's fascinating to note that when you begin to read Luther, what does he say? He says a true theologian is a person who knows the distinction. A true theologian is one who knows the distinction between law and gospel. Now, for Luther, the speaking or the distinction of law in gospel really is a matter of two ways of speaking. Luther will say that there are two doctrines to be found in Scripture. One is law. Law is a teaching which tells you what you ought to do. You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself. There are the Ten Commandments. There are any number of things you must do. That is law. It tells you what you ought to do in order to be righteous. The problem with law, however, is that law does not give you the power to fulfill those commandments or those requirements. It is rather the gospel, which in Luther's understanding is that second doctrine, which is contained in Scripture that gives us our first possibility, our first opportunity to live in true freedom. For the Gospel comes and tells us what God has done for us in the person and work of Christ so that we might indeed be righteous and out of that declared righteousness, then live a life of righteousness. So for Luther, his theological contribution is prodigious and profound. But once again, I would maintain that it's intrinsically tied with this notion of language. So there is a language thing that's going on in Luther, even in terms of his most profound contribution. Now, as the semester goes on, will have a chance to talk about justification, law and gospel and some of these things in more detail.

[00:17:36] But just to give you a foretaste of some of these things, Luther then, is a prodigious theologian. So then we have to join the promise of reading Luther his colorful sayings. Luther is a word event. Luther is a prodigious theologian. But now there are also some obstacles to reading Luther. There are some obstacles to reading Luther. And, you know, we may as well come to grips with these obstacles just right up front. I've had the chance to teach this course a few times. And one of the things that that surprised me, actually, is that some of my students have raised their hands and ask questions with furrowed brow. What? Isn't Luther a little bit rough? Isn't his language just a little bit? Well, you know, over the top. What about Luther? He's pretty mean even to the people that are also supposed to be Christians. What's the deal? And it's been really fascinating to listen to students and their concern about this. And it's true. One of the obstacles to reading Luther is his polemical language. Now, there are any number of instances that we could pull out from Luther to illustrate his polemic language. There are some more humorous instances and there are some more serious instances. I think I've kind of stuck to the latter as opposed to the former. There are plenty of places where he talks about shaggy ears, you know, donkey ears. He calls one of his opponents. He calls him a goat. Those kinds of rather simple bits of polemic language. Early on in his career and his Romans commentary. He comes up against the scholastic theologians as his enemies. The scholastic theologians were concerned to incorporate certain philosophical categories Aristotelian categories of thinking with theology. So Thomas Aquinas was brilliant at doing this.

[00:19:33] And as one Catholic theologian has said, that in this medieval period, what the theologians did is they constructed cathedrals of the mind with perfect symmetry and tremendous beauty. This same Catholic author laments the fact that it's the Reformation. It's that terrible, you know, abuse. It's that revolution that took place that unfortunately destroyed those cathedrals of the mind. But Luther and coming up against the scholastic theologians and setting out his own position over and against theirs, he was convinced that these scholastic theologians had it wrong. He was convinced that with Aristotle, the scholastic theologians believe that we become righteous by performing righteous actions. In other words, if you do enough righteous things, if you exercise virtue in your life, if you do that day after day, you will build up a habit of doing the good. If you do the good long enough, then you will become a good person. Now, in opposition to this, Luther advanced the thesis that we are not made righteous by doing righteous deeds, but that insofar as we are righteous, we perform righteous acts. In other words, Luther is saying by God's Word, coming to our lives by Christ, taking residence within our being. We are made righteous and out of that righteous standing with God. Then we begin to do righteous deeds. It's here. Luther is really quite, quite taken with that image that Jesus uses of the tree. You can tell a tree by his fruit. A bad tree will produce bad fruit. But if you've got a good a good tree, then you'll get good fruit. It's not the other way around. In essence, what Luther is saying, these scholastic theologians are saying, look, if you just work hard enough in producing fruit and if you get good fruit, that'll make the tree good.

[00:21:50] Though there's just no that's backward. The tree has to be good to produce fruit. That's the image that Luther is working with here. Now, in that context, then in his Romans commentary, he characterizes the scholastic theologians in a not so flattering way. In Latin, it reads this way. Oh, subtlety. Oh, so theologian, which being translated reads this way. Oh, you fools, you pig theologians. So you see, Luther was indeed he would engage in this polemical kind of language, and he was quite good at it, perhaps even better than most of his contemporaries. Now, one thing we have to recognize and know is that in the 16th century, they called this kind of language grow beyond isthmus. And actually there's a whole set of language that's even worse than this. This is just good polemic language, but there's more scatological language. And you read about that. An older man that really they called it Groby in isthmus in the 16th century. We're talking about an age which was not particularly well. It was a rough age. I have to remember the Black Plague in the 13th century wiped out a good percentage of the population. They lived rather closely with death. They didn't have a lot of modern conveniences. Life was hard, life was rough, and the language that they engaged in polemics was also rife with that kind of a dark understanding of life. Luther engaged in that kind of language as well. C Luther was certain with respect to these scholastic theologians that these teachers were making a mess of interpreting the Christian gospel. From his point of view, they were nothing but moralists and merit mongers because they handle morality or righteousness as lawyers, doers, philosophers, not as true theologians. So he was happy to call these fellows sort of dog and or pig theologians, and he went after them in that way.

[00:23:51] Again, if we take a look at a treatise that came on later on in Luther's life under the title against the Roman papacy, an institution of the devil, just that just tells you something of the age right there, doesn't it? This is a rough and tumble age. And he was Luther. C Luther is kind of an in-your-face theologian, you know, and he's just going to give it to you straight. This is the way it is. And when he uses his polemical language, sometimes it is just hilarious. Other times it's just shocking and and rude. But this is a part of the 16th century that we have to read in historical context. Okay. He's listing a bunch of abuses that are attributed to the pope. And Luther refers to the Holy Father, the pope, as simply the hellish father. So pretty nasty stuff in Luther's works. Volume 41, He says this The Lord gives the whole of his sacrament to his Christians. No, says the fart, asks Pope. One element is enough for the layman. The whole belongs to the priests. So you see, Luther is really straight up on this kind of thing. Polemic language all over the place in order to make his point. It is shocking, isn't it, to our own sensibilities. And certainly, if we if you come out of a poor artistic background, you know, this is nothing short of shocking. And you know what? In the Lutheran tradition itself, in the high artistic wing of the Lutheran Church, they always tried to separate themselves from this image of Luther, this this Luther who was willing to to call the pope these kinds of Luther, who at times talked about drinking beer and doing these other kinds of things that pieties, of course, have off their list.

[00:25:50] So you see, Luther in some ways is shocking. And his polemical language is one way in which that's true. Let me just recommend to you that you recognize that the 16th century was. All of this kind of stuff. This is not Luther alone. Many of the treatises that were written against Luther were just as vitriolic and as full of this kind of rough language as Luther. Luther's response to those treatises were. Okay, So one thing you need to recognize, this is just part of the 16th century. And, you know, we don't have to talk the same way as Luther does, although from time to time it might be a little fun. And, you know, just recognize that this is part of Luther's context. Okay, enough on the polemical statements. One other thing that becomes an obstacle to reading Luther is Luther's statements against the Jews. Just last night, before I went home to be with my wife and two kids, a student stopped me in the library and we got to talking. And he said, Well, what about Luther? Wasn't he an anti-Semite? And so we had an interesting little chat right there in the library. It made me late for going home. Anyway, this is an interesting kind of question, and we need to recognize a few things about Luther on this point. Let me just read for you one small quotation, which will give you some indication of why this might be an issue. Luther says in a treatise written in 1543 entitled On the Jews and Their Lies. I wish and I ask that our rulers who have Jewish subjects exercise a sharp mercy toward these wretched people, as suggested above, To see whether this might not help, though it is doubtful.

[00:27:47] So this just gives you a little hint and a clue of what Luther says more plainly elsewhere. He goes on to suggest to the rulers that they burned down their synagogues, forced them to work and deal harshly with them, that their prayer books might be seized and other things, very harsh kinds of things. This is all in the context you see. Luther in this treatise is setting forward how he understands the Jews to blaspheme the Gospel of Christ and toward the end of his life. Unfortunately, Luther gave in to some stereotypical images of the Jews and said some horrific things. Well, we don't have to follow Luther in his comments on these matters. But one thing that we do need to recognize is that there is once again an historical context that one needs to reckon with. If one is to read Luther and read Luther appropriately. First of all, other people, if you were to check other theologians during the same time period, you would also find in the statements of those other theologians very harsh things regarding the Jews just across the board. I mean, if you if you take a look at any number of renowned theologians during the 16th century, you would find some very, very harsh comments. Even the enlightened Erasmus, who is supposed to be a fellow of well, he was a man of tremendous erudition and was considered to be the preeminent humanist of his day, made the comment that France was the best country in Europe because it had the fewest Jews. Well, I point this out not to say that Luther's comments on the Jews are acceptable or appropriate, but simply to say that this was the mind set. It's rather like going back to to the south here in the United States.

[00:29:51] If you were to check the attitudes of whites versus blacks in the Old South, you would find some incredible ingrained stereotypes regarding the blacks. And if you were to point that out to those who had grown up in that sort of structure, they would be looking at you with incredulity because they had grown up in an altogether different world. So it's an ingrained sort of mindset and one which I think I think that's a fairly good kind of analogy. Luther's historical context is one in which the Jews were misunderstood and were a persecuted minority. And Luther is a part of that historical context and and does not show himself to separate himself from that historical context. So it's unfortunate, but that is the historical context. Secondly, is Luther an anti-Semite? Very quickly, without going into a lot of detail here. The argument has been made by Heiko Oberman in his in his work on. The roots of antisemitism that in Luther we need to recognize there is no racial theory. Luther does not say harsh things about the Jews because they are an inferior race. Luther says harsh things about the Jews, about the Pope, about the Turks, about a lot of folks. And many of his con comments against these different groups are precisely because he sees them as being in opposition to the gospel. Quite often you in your in readings on Luther, you'll find him bringing together Turks, Jews, the Papists. And he says, you know, he just uses them actually kind of as a as a counterpoint to what it is he's trying to say in a positive way. This is the negative way of doing things. This is the positive way. In some instances, in some ways, we can simply say that when Luther lumps together the Turks, the Jews and the papacy, they become an exact reverse barometer to what one should do if one holds the gospel dear.

[00:32:11] In Luther, there is no racial theory. Thirdly, we wouldn't even be having this discussion about is Luther an anti-Semite had it not been for the infamous Third Reich? Hitler and his propaganda machine run by Goebbels and others used some of Luther's harsh, anti-Jewish comments in order to fuel his propaganda machine during the Second World War and the the rule of Hitler when a tremendous number of Jews were exterminated. So there are some obstacles to reading Luther. Luther makes some very harsh statement against statements against the Jews. It should also be mentioned, however, that in early in Luther's career, Luther said quite a number of positive things about the Jews. He wrote a little treatise entitled that Jesus was a Jew. For Luther, it was incredibly important to remember that Jesus was not a Gentile, was not a German, was not an Italian, but he was a Jew. And that is part and parcel of the incarnation of God in this world. So he wrote that treatise, and that treatise had I went through several printings and was quite popular early on. That was written in 1523. Later on in his career. Well, and his positive feelings towards the Jews in part had to do with the fact that Luther believed that because the Gospel had been rediscovered in his own age, his own day, that the Jews would come to saving knowledge and that they would come to fellowship with the Christian church. There were some Jews who did come to faith in Jesus Christ, but more did not. And as time went on, Luther then became disgruntled and disillusioned and then turned to some of his harsh sayings. So one of the obstacles to reading Luther are his statements against the Jews, and that simply is a fact.

[00:34:18] There are a number of places where we don't have to follow Luther in his final assessments. Another obstacle to reading Luther is the medieval nature of his writing. There are a number of places where you'll be reading along in Luther and he'll start talking about something that is foreign to your ears. And it may well be foreign because it happens to be a controversy or a topic that they argued in the medieval context. For example, in Luther's commentary on the Romans or the Book of Romans, he is dealing with these scholastic theologians and hammering on them, and he's talking about whether one knows whether or not one really loves God. Kind of an internal it gets a little bit complicated here. You may say you love God. Well, how do you know you love God? And he is continuing on his argumentation. No one knows whether he loves God with a pure heart unless he experiences in himself that should God wanted. So he does not wish to be saved or refused to be damned. In other words, if you really love God, then you should be willing that God should damn you. If God's will and desire is to damn you that if you really love God, then you'll still love him, even though God would do that to you. Very interesting kind of discussion. We don't talk that way around our our dinner table very often, and maybe it's just as well. However, it's interesting to to understand Luther one has to recognize some of these kinds of medieval questions are. At hand. He talks in this in this regard as those who really love God will resign themselves to this will of God. And he says, without the grace of God, they cannot do so.

[00:36:15] This is what he says. If this is the pain of purgatory, as it seems to me to be, that souls of an imperfect love recoil from the actuality of this resignation, until they take it upon themselves and consent to be anathema from God. We are miserable fools insofar as we defer the task we should eagerly pursue in this life, namely to love God perfectly and instead look forward to such a crude distress in the future. Yet no one can be purged unless he is resigned to hell. But the true Saints actually achieve this resignation because their hearts overflow with love and they do this without great distress, for they are so completely dedicated to God that nothing seems impossible for them to do, not even the suffering of the pains of hell. And because of this very readiness, they escape from such a punishment. Indeed, they do not need to fear that they will be damned because they submit gladly and willingly to damnation, for God's sake. But it is those who want to escape from damnation that will be damned. Very interesting passage. Now, if you read this, you know you have to say, Wow, what is he talking about? This really is medieval. What does this have to say to the 21st century? But this is one of the obstacles to reading Luther. Here he's talking about the not so ad inferno, being in love with God, loving God so much that you are willing to resign yourself to the, you know, the the the horrors of of hell, the in the inferno. And in so doing, you show your true devotion to God, and then you're released from the need or the necessity of falling into that. Well, you know, these are passages that you'll come across in Luther, and they may strike you as being very odd and strange.

[00:38:22] We could heap examples of this one upon another, but we need not do that. Luther talks about faith formed by love, and this is an argument that he's engaging with the scholastics on, and it's one that we'll have a chance to talk about a little bit later on in the semester. But there are a number of places where you'll find Luther engaging in medieval controversies. And so it's it's something that one needs to recognize as one goes about reading Luther. Okay. So these are three obstacles to reading Luther. It should also be noted that Luther can be read in a number of different contexts. Luther could be read in a confessional context. By confessional, I mean those individuals may set forward Luther's theology from the point of view of their own community of faith. For example, if you find well, if you take Paul Althouse, for example, he has the theology of Luther and then a companion volume entitled The Ethics of Luther, it's cited in your bibliography. Find some fine works there. And he is a Lutheran and he's very interested in Luther, only sets forward Luther and sets it forward for confessional purposes. It's important for Lutherans to know Luther. And he puts Luther in the best possible light. One can also pursue Luther from a confessional point of view. If you've got another ax to grind and that indeed, is what the history of Luther study shows, There was a fellow Johannes Coach Lewis who lived roughly during Luther's time, and he was really happy to pull out of Luther's writings, what he considered to be the terrible contradictions of Luther's thought. And so he would he he brought together a number of compendiums of statements of Luther's that just don't make sense.

[00:40:33] So from his rather Catholic confessional point of view, he wanted to discredit Luther's writings and his work. So this is another confessional point of view. There are a number of Catholics who have written in a derogatory way, critiquing Luther, pointing out his weaknesses and taking great delight in showing that he is perhaps not as great a person as. These Protestants say he is during the 16th century reformation time period. There were a number of anabaptists who really began with Luther. And when you read the lives of these anabaptists, many of many of their lives were very short. But some of these fellows began reading Luther and really came to an understanding of the gospel. Interesting to note that the Peasants Revolt, which took place in 1525, they submitted 12 articles to the magistrates. They wanted reforms in a number of different areas. They cite Luther in their request for reforms they had received from Luther, a new understanding of the Gospel and of the legitimate place of laypeople in working in the church, the priesthood of all believers. We are all priests. And so it's out of this self-understanding that many of the anabaptists got their start. However, as time went on, many of them said, Well, Luther didn't go far enough in his reformation. He has left undone many things which need to be addressed. So there were quite a number of critical comments made about Luther by the Anabaptist leaders. Menno Simons said some negative things about Luther after having learned a great deal from Luther. So there were, you know, there's another confessional point of view. There's one book that was put out in the 20th century from an Anabaptist point of view that entitled Not Lutheran, Not Catholic. And the thesis of the book is simply to say the Anabaptists went on to really fulfill the ultimate goal of the Reformation.

[00:42:43] So they completed what Luther left undone. So that's another take on Luther. And there are lots and lots of different takes on Luther. Certainly. Jack Meriting, a philosopher and Catholic scholar in the 20th century, wrote a book on the reformers, and in a section on Luther, he entitled it The Advent of Self. His take on Luther was Luther came up with a doctrine of justification by faith because he was unable to live a righteous life as a monk. And so his understanding of Luther takes on a confessional point of view. And his purpose was to refute Luther. And what took place during the Reformation. There's also an ecumenical way of reading Luther. It should be noted that the Lutherans and the Catholics have engaged in dialogs over the course of the last couple of decades. They've sat together around the table. They've discussed different issues that unite and separate them. And so reading Luther has been done in that kind of context in order to raise up possible ways for mutual reproach, small between different theological camps. Cited in your bibliography is a very interesting little book about the Finnish interpretation on Luther. There's a whole group of Finnish theologians who are reading Luther in a particular light, and they claim that Luther is really rather close to certain kinds of themes that one finds in orthodox theology. So they claim that the concept of Christ's indwelling the Believer, becomes rather closely identified with the closeness of the Orthodox Church. So there is an ecumenical way of reading Luther and its various possibilities. Now then let's turn finally here to talking just a little bit about reading Luther in an evangelical context and what that might possibly mean. And I'm hoping that over the course of the semester, we can explore that as you come up with questions.

[00:45:09] How do I apply Luther in my own context? What what does he have to tell us? What can evangelicals learn about Luther? Alister McGrath wrote an interesting little book entitled Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity. Now, in Alistair's Alister McGrath's understanding of evangelicalism, or perhaps we should say his vision of evangelicalism, not only as it appears currently, but also as he hopes it might be in the future. He identifies three streams of thought that help to shape evangelicalism. These three streams of thought are reformation, thought. And of course, we can characterize reformation thought roughly by citing the reformers Luther, Calvin Zwingli, those continental reformers. And certainly there are a whole group of English reformers as well, Cranmer and others who play an important role in reformation thought. There's also pie, autism, pie. Autism emphasizes that warm heart experience. Certainly John Wesley in some ways is rather close. Closely associated with this, with this movement. Count Zens and Dorf before him in the Moravian certainly. But pie autism is actually a reaction against dry orthodoxy. You might have all the doctrines, right? But if there's no life in your expression of Christianity, if there is no spark of compassion in your heart, if there's no desire for real and spontaneous prayer, then something's wrong. And so these pieties in reaction against dry orthodoxy emphasize that conversion experience and the new life. And that is the second stream that goes into this evangelicalism that we're part of now. And the third movement is Puritanism. Puritanism coming out of that English of a peculiar English reformation and subsequent actions that took place there on the island kingdom. And these three streams of thought, reformation, thought, pieties, I mean, Puritanism go into making up evangelicalism. Now, McGrath says, you know, right now evangelicalism is placed in a particularly important position.

[00:47:50] He sees evangelical identity characterized by an uncompromising commitment to the historic orthodox faith, a zeal for evangelism and articulation of the faith which appeals to the mind as well as to the heart, in short, to the inherent attraction of the gospel. So McGrath has this vision of evangelicalism, the three streams of thought that move into it. He sees that evangelicalism maintains that evangelicalism is poised in an advantageous position with respect to the rest of culture. He claims that evangelicalism has a vital and continuing role to play in the century ahead. He says, I've become increasingly convinced that evangelicalism holds the key to the future of Western Christianity. These are some rather bold statements by anyone's assessment. But one of the things that he wants to say is that evangelicalism has a very important role to play. Mainline denominations are losing membership. People are voting with their feet by walking away from liberalism towards orthodox Christianity. We could pull out a number of statistics, let one statistics suffice. The Presbyterian Church of America was formed in 1973 with 40,000 members. It now stands at 217,000 and growing. There are a number of ways in which mainline denominations are losing. Evangelical churches continue to grow. Evangelical credibility is gaining the caricature of liberalism after the Scopes trial was simply that no thinking man or woman can take evangelicalism seriously. Now, there are many evangelical writers who have given a renewed intellectual confidence to the movement. Faith and rationality have joined forces in the likes of Cornelius Plantinga. Nicholas Wolterstorff Je Packer, our own David Wells and others. So McGrath is saying, look, evangelicalism, you know, in the past is perhaps not shown as well as it needs to in terms of that intellectual side of its life.

[00:50:10] But there are very encouraging signs. Mark Noel is another evangelical who is gaining in appreciation just simply across the board because of the kind of work that he does. Now then, what McGrath is trying to say here is a general atmosphere, a vision of evangelicalism. It's rightly poised. It's very important. It has a very important role to play in the future of Western Christianity. And then he moves on. He says this The Reformation remains a focus and defining point of reference for evangelicalism today as it seeks to ensure that the central themes of the Reformation, such as the doctrine of justification by faith alone and the Scripture principle, remain deeply embedded in the evangelical consciousness. So McGrath is saying that stream of thought which comes and proceeds from the Reformation is critically important. I would agree with him in that the question that I would ask is simply how much and how well do we listen to reformation sources, How much and how well do we listen to reformation sources? I would maintain that our listening to Reformation sources is really rather truncated. It's short. Our attention span is not very long. Our willingness to wade through some of the medieval questions and some of the obstacles to reading some of this classical literature. You know, we just don't have the attention span necessary to do that. We've not taken the time to do it in our desire to see people come to faith and to have a heart experience. We have not necessarily given the same weight to attaching people to the tradition of the church. As a matter of fact, one would have to maintain that within evangelicalism, much of the impulse that has moved us toward evangelism, winning people to the Lord has simultaneously contained a view of the church, namely, that we are skipping over the tradition that comes down to us, and we're getting back to the primitive church and the movement that I grew up in.

[00:52:37] Many of our leaders said, I have no creed but the Bible biblical terms for biblical concepts. There really is a sense that you see in the United States, we would have to say this Our experience as a young nation was we can reinvent ourselves. We are doing something new here. We have just fought a war with European powers and we have won. And we can shape a new kind of government never tried before. And in those early decades, the euphoria of this tremendous change, it was believed that what was traditional was bad, and therefore we must get rid of it. And so there's this tremendous impulse within the American optimism that says what is new is good, what is old is bad. We've got to skip over tradition to get back to the primitive church that was the movement of the early evangelicals. Where does that leave the Reformation? Well, I would maintain that if you check many of the systematic theologies that are written by current evangelicals, you'll find that their references to Luther and even Calvin are rather slim. So I think McGrath has got a point. There may well indeed be three streams of thought, reformation thought to some in Puritanism, but we have taken much more from scientism and Puritanism than we have from reformation, all sources. And so it may well be that a renewed study of Luther is important for us. Now, the evangelical appropriation of Luther has been incredibly selective. If someone does know something about Luther, it's usually centers around spiritual heroism. They may know the story of Luther's opposition to Rome and his breaking with Rome, but they may not know much of anything else about his theology. They may not know the real shape of Luther's theology.

[00:54:39] And it may well be that this is due to the fact that they they think that while Luther did break with Rome, he didn't go far enough and he's still just a little bit too Catholic. And so many evangelicals may be suspicious of Luther at that point. If we. Luther and were really gripped by his theology. Would it mean we'd have to change? That, I suppose is a scary thought. And for many evangelicals, that's enough to leave off a reading of Luther. But it is important to see that our evangelical appropriation of Luther has been slim at best. And so to gain an understanding of Luther to reappropriate the reformation line of thinking into evangelicalism is important. And I would maintain that there are enough places where Luther is different from Calvin and the Puritan tradition, which is where we primarily get our impulses that Luther could really be refreshing for us, and a very interesting kind of read. So one last word as we finish up our last session here about reading Luther. Mark NULL in an interesting article entitled The Lutheran Difference charts out four areas where a distinctively Lutheran voice could well make a positive contribution to the American church scene. You see. One has to do with the concept of the church, as mentioned in America. The revolutionary heritage has proclaimed that the past is pollution. Beneficial as the sentiment may be for affairs of government. It has been a poison to the church. It may well be that this anti historical point of view is one reason that evangelicalism seems susceptible to pessimism about what could be learned from the past. The present evangelical church, it seems Russia's pell mell into every new fad and church work that comes around.

[00:56:43] It may well be that if we could listen to the voice of Luther and his understanding of the nature of the church, if we were to study what Luther has to say about the marks of the church, what constitutes the church? We could. Help to articulate an ecclesiology for evangelicalism that would be able to stand the test of time and would not be subject to the winds of fad ism. Another area in which Mark Noel indicates Luther may help us is in our understanding of the nature of sin. During the American Revolution, Thomas Paine said, We have it in our power to begin the world over again. The tremendous optimism of those early decades in the life of the American Revolution pointed to the great possibilities that we as human beings have to create new things. But it was not very strong in terms of an Augustinian understanding of the pervasive character of sin. And Luther here may well be able to teach us something again that we could draw strength from and benefit from. Those two areas, I think are two areas which are particularly important where Luther can make a positive contribution to the American church scene. And as we read Luther in our evangelical context. I want to just put in your mind that as you do your reading, think about evangelicalism as you understand it, and ask yourself the question, what does Luther have to teach us? Because I think that it's precisely as we begin to apply Luther to our own scene, that he'll become important for us. A study of Luther as an historical character is is good all well and good and important in of its of itself. But Luther really becomes important for us as we find ways to make contact with the kinds of ministries that we'll find ourselves in and engagement in who we are as evangelicals is part and parcel of that.

[00:59:04] So just to sum up about reading, Luther, there is great joy and promise in reading Luther. And I trust that you'll find over the course of the semester a times of refreshment and absolute joy. There is there's a marvelous passage in his Galatians commentary. Unfortunately, we don't have time in a short semester that we have to read his Galatians commentary. It's fairly massive, but there's just a wonderful lyrical passage there in the second chapter that will just send you into great delight. And I trust that there will be other places where you'll be making marks in the margins as you read Luther. It will be great, great fun. There are also obstacles to reading Luther, and as you recognize, some of those things, raise questions and ask, What's going on here? What's the medieval context? What's his point of reference? And we'll try to point those things out as well as we go along. And further, Let's continue to read Luther in an evangelical context so that he might make some contributions to us.