Luther the detective: Vocation

There is a TV show on BBC called Luther about a British police investigator, a black man played by Idris Elba.  According to Jordan Ballor, Luther is also Lutheran, a dramatic exploration of vocation and what it means to be a little Christ to your neighbor.

I haven’t seen the show, but I’ve got to now.  Ballor’s essay is worth two blog posts.  First, I appreciate his explanation of vocation, along with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s application.  I’ll post that today.  Tomorrow I’ll post some of what he says about the TV show.

The reformer Martin Luther is justly famous for his doctrine of vocation, or calling, and its implications for the Christian life. Luther understood vocation as a Christian’s place of responsibility before God and for others in the world. One of the critical aspects of Luther’s view of vocation was that we represent God to others in our service to them. He said that Christians act as masks or “coverings” of God (larvae Dei), the visual and physical representations of God’s action on earth. In some real and deep sense, the hands of Christians serving others are the hands of God. Even non-Christians, in their roles in the social order, can be said to represent God’s preserving action in the world.

Luther also understood the ambiguity inherent in any action undertaken in a fallen world. His doctrine of justification made it clear that on no account might humans presume to stand before God with a presumption of innocence or merit based on their own works. No matter how faithfully a Christian might work, or what good things a Christian might seek to do, none of this can justify us before God’s righteous judgment. Our justification in this sense depends solely on the righteousness imputed to us on the basis of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. . . .

The Lutheran theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer takes this Lutheran understanding of vocation and radicalizes it in his doctrine of “vicarious representative action” (Stellvertretung). In Bonoheffer’s view, we act as representatives of God to one another precisely in our ability to take on, in a limited and provisional way, the guilt of others. For Bonhoeffer this action means that we live “for others,” just as Christ lived, died, and was raised “for us.” As Robin Lovin puts it, “Responsible action is a true imitation of Christ, a willingness to be despised and abused for the sake of those who have themselves been despised.” This idea of vicarious representative action, of living for others in a deeply sacrificial way, is what animates the life and work of DCI John Luther.

via Get Your Hands Dirty: The Vocational Theology of Luther | Comment Magazine | Cardus.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://theoldadam.com/ Steve Martin

    It sounds very interesting.

    Thanks for the heads-up.

  • http://theoldadam.com/ Steve Martin

    It sounds very interesting.

    Thanks for the heads-up.

  • kerner

    I have seen the first 2 seasons of “Luther” (apparently, in the UK a “season” can be 4-6 episodes), but I think this comparison is a bit of a stretch…unless you think that utterly ignoring the letter of the law in favor of a code you work out for yourself is Lutheran…hmmm, maybe not so much of a stretch as I was intending to argue after all…

  • kerner

    I have seen the first 2 seasons of “Luther” (apparently, in the UK a “season” can be 4-6 episodes), but I think this comparison is a bit of a stretch…unless you think that utterly ignoring the letter of the law in favor of a code you work out for yourself is Lutheran…hmmm, maybe not so much of a stretch as I was intending to argue after all…

  • jim_claybourn

    according to the BBC America site, it is part of a rotating Wednesday night time slot called “Dramaville”.

  • jim_claybourn

    according to the BBC America site, it is part of a rotating Wednesday night time slot called “Dramaville”.

  • Ken H

    You can watch both Luther series (“seasons” to us Yanks) on Netflix. Luther is worth watching, although it’s definitely “gritty” and not for those who are sensitive to those sorts of things

  • Ken H

    You can watch both Luther series (“seasons” to us Yanks) on Netflix. Luther is worth watching, although it’s definitely “gritty” and not for those who are sensitive to those sorts of things


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