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Religion Library: Lutheran

Sacred Narratives

Written by: Ted Vial

In a sense, from a human perspective, God chooses the least sensible means of salvation, precisely to drive home the point that we cannot control it, it is not our work but God's.Luther called this his "theology of the cross," in contrast to the "theology of glory."You would expect the savior to appear as a powerful king, not a poor baby.You would expect him to vanquish his enemies, not be killed by them as a criminal.You would expect good works to be rewarded and the just to prosper.You would expect the head of the church to live as a king, not as a poor itinerant.These expectations for Luther were temptations to trust human understanding and human capabilities.The first move toward salvation, according to Luther, is for God to break down these expectations (he calls them "law") so that we trust God, not ourselves.This is the promise of the gospel (literally, "good news").

According to Luther, Christians cannot expect to be righteous or sanctified.They remain, like everyone else, sinners.A popular bumper sticker sums up this aspect of Luther's theology perfectly: "Christians: not perfect, just forgiven."Luther's technical phrase is "simultaneously a sinner and justified."This is in sharp contrast, for example, to Catholic teaching, and the teaching of John Wesley.One consequence of Luther's emphasis on God's complete power and humans' lack of power is that it drove him to the doctrine of predestination: if your salvation is not in your hands but God's, and God is the unchanging creator of all, then your fate was decided by God at creation.This doctrine will be worked out more fully by John Calvin, the great second-generation Protestant theologian.


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