Happy Augsburg Confession Day!

On this day 482 years ago–June 25, 1530–the Reformation princes and free cities confessed their faith before Emperor Charles V at the Diet (the governing assembly of the Imperial states) held in Augsburg, Germany.  The 28 articles drawn up by Philipp Melanchthon (not Luther!) became known as the Augsburg Confession.  It was the first confession of faith of the Reformation and, to this day, it is perhaps the most succinct and definitive summaries of Lutheran theology.

Part of its genius is that it spells out what did NOT change in the Reformation churches–the continuity with historical Christianity that later protestants would throw out–as well as precisely what elements in the medieval church did need to be reformed.  The Augsburg Confession is still startlingly relevant to today’s controversies of theology and practice.

Honor the day by reading it:  Augsburg Confession – Book of Concord.

Lutheran Anglicans

I met an Anglican priest the other day who, it turns out, was a big fan of Spirituality of the Cross and my other “Lutheran” books.  As I talked with him, I was astonished at how much he was into Lutheranism.  He explained that there is currently a strain in Anglicanism that is seeking to recover its Lutheran roots.

He said Anglicanism generally has had four theological strains:  (1) The mainline Protestantism of the Episcopal Church in America; (2) Anglo-Catholicism; (3) low church evangelicalism, which is often distinctly Reformed; (4) the charismatic movement.

But now, he says, a number of  Anglicans, especially young theologians, are rediscovering Luther, who was a major influence on the founders of Anglicanism, especially Thomas Cranmer.   They are finding that it is possible to be both sacramental and evangelical, liturgical and Biblical.  Above all, they are discovering that the Gospel as Luther understood it–radical, liberating–speaks powerfully to our own times and to the specific struggles of both Christians and non-Christians today.

The main force in this movement of Lutheran Anglicans or Anglican Lutherans is the Mockingbird Ministry, run by David Zahl and friends, whose main presence is the blog known as Mockingbird.  (Read the FAQ for why it’s called that.)  I have been reading and linking to it without realizing its role in a movement.  It’s a brilliant website, in both design and content.  Much of it is taken up with commentary on music, film, literature, and the culture as a whole.  But it’s also full of discussions of the distinction between Law & Gospel and the Theology of the Cross vs. the Theology of Glory.

It draws on ELCA theologians who are still Lutheran, such as Stephen Paulson and Gerhard Forde (who inspires a regular feature called “Forde Friday”), but also Missouri Synod stalwarts such as C. F. W. Walther and Rod Rosenbladt (who is called “our hero” and a formative influence).

And the design and tone are very cool and cutting-edged, not stodgy but young, sophisticated, even avant garde.

I’m not saying it’s all completely on target or could in every instance pass Missouri Synod doctrinal review–a recent post quotes Rudolph Bultmann, though one in which the liberal theologian sounds Lutheran–but it’s a good site to visit.

And it’s a challenge to us Lutheran Lutherans to remind us that, even as some of our own churches play it down, outsiders are finding our theology compelling.

 

“God hidden in the death of Christ”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (who has announced that he is stepping down) has some perceptive comments about Luther, the Reformation, and the Theology of the Cross:

“The Reformation put a question of the utmost gravity to all Christians, a question about the continuity and dependability of human response to God. It affirmed that the Church was capable of error; that no amount of scholastic tidiness could guarantee fidelity to God; that there was in the Church no secure locus of unquestionable authority. It pointed eloquently to human brokenness, the failure of reason and order. But it did so only to claim triumphantly that the Church’s security lay in this very failure, in the insecurity and un-rootedness which drove it always back to its spring in the Word made broken flesh. Against the self-sufficiency of Christendom is set – rightly and decisively – the cross. To Christians looking for a sign, an assurance, it offered only the ‘sign of the Son of Man’, God hidden in the death of Christ… Luther is a reminder to Catholic and Protestant alike that the strength of Christianity is its refusal to turn away from the central and unpalatable facts of human self-destructiveness; that it is there, in the bitterest places of alienation, that the depth and scope of Christ’s victory can be tasted, and the secret joy which transforms all experience from within can come to birth, the hidden but all-pervading liberation.” (p. 160-61)

via Rowan Williams on Martin Luther and the Cross-Shattered Church | Mockingbird.

The quotation is from his book Wound of Knowledge: Christian Spirituality from the New Testament to St. John of the Cross.

Luther and the Euro crisis

From Lutheranism to its depths to Lutheranism in its shallows. . .

The BBC, of all media, has a feature on the influence of Luther and Lutheranism on Germany’s reactions to the current economic crisis in Europe.  This is at best a cultural influence, to be sure, not a theological one, but it’s worth noting, especially for a nation whose word for “job” is “calling” (Beruf), a legacy of the doctrine of vocation:

Exactly 500 years ago, one of Europe’s greatest thinkers was getting increasingly worried that good German money was being wasted.

Cash was heading to the Mediterranean, subsidising a bunch of badly behaved foreigners.

The 16th Century German thinker was Martin Luther and he was desperate to stay part of that great European project known as the Roman Catholic Church, but equally desperate not to support those who were ripping off German believers to pay to build St Peter’s in Rome.

The unfairness of the abuses fed popular resentment until German patience finally snapped. Luther broke away from his beloved Catholic Church, “protesting” in that great rebellion we know as the creation of Protestant-ism, the Reformation.

Nowadays, Germans – even those who are Catholic or non-Christian – cannot escape the Lutheran past.

It’s also the Lutheran present. The most powerful woman in the world, Angela Merkel, is a Lutheran believer, the daughter of a pastor. The new German president, Joachim Gauck, is a former Lutheran pastor.

And that cliche of “the Protestant work ethic” – hardworking German taxpayers, even if they are not actually Protestant, continue to bail out the euro while being caught in a squeeze as acute as Luther in the 16th Century.

In their hearts, from Merkel to the car worker on the Volkswagen assembly line, the German people are desperate to be good Europeans, just as Luther was desperate to be a good Catholic.

But in their heads, most Germans suspect there may be something wrong – something morally wrong as well as economically dangerous – about giving money to those who, in the German view, have been at best reckless and at worst dishonest. . . .

[After describing an interview with Chancellor Merkel.]  I was struck by Mrs Merkel’s political genius – quiet, cautious, the Hausfrau of her nation, so unlike the noisier, catastrophic male German leaders of the first half of the 20th Century.

The puzzle now is when her political decision to be a good European collides with her Lutheran conscience not to reward bad behaviour or be reckless with money.

I wondered whether for Frau Merkel, like Martin Luther, another reformation in Europe might be on the cards – not tomorrow, perhaps, but one day.

HT:  ABC3Miscellany

And yet, the reason Luther started the Reformation was NOT economic, though arguably the economic issues made people more receptive to the Reformation.   And wouldn’t Germans be tight with their money even if they aren’t Lutheran?  Don’t Catholic Germans feel the same way?  Or Reformed or “Evangelical and Reformed” members of the state church?  And does ANY European country really want to bail out the irresponsible Greeks?

Lutheranism–and the Gospel–in depth

On the surface, Lutherans often seem placid and easy-going, solid folks who don’t make much of a stir.  And yet their theology consists of stormy clashes between Law and Gospel, glory vs. the Cross, the dark struggles of anfechtungen, the ecstasy of grace.   Lutheran spirituality centers on things as ordinary as going to church, going to work, and spending time with one’s family.  And yet, there is an unfathomable depth to what Lutherans see in the Cross, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Two Natures of Christ, and the Word of God.  Underlying the conservatism are teachings that are deeply radical.

Larry, frequent commenter on this blog, alerted me to this book by Steven D. Paulson entitled simply  Lutheran Theology.  It’s part of a series demonstrating the ways different traditions “do” theology.  But this is far from a dry textbook.  As Amazon reviewer Judith Guttman says, “If this book doesn’t knock your socks off, you aren’t paying attention. It is electrifying, exciting — am I talking about a theology book? Yes.”

Paulson says that we usually think of religion in terms of a “legal scheme,” a set of moral assumptions involving award and punishment with everybody getting what they deserve.  The Gospel just sets all of that aside.  So does God’s wrath, actually, which condemns completely and without proportion.  (He says that Luther as a monk goes far beyond the New Atheists in his resentment of a God whose wrath against sin seems so unfair.  The atheists react to God’s wrath by denying God’s existence, an act of wish-fulfillment Luther did not indulge in.)  But then God becomes flesh in Christ, who though innocent “becomes” sin and takes the wrath of God into Himself, giving us sinners the promise of salvation, which breaks into our lives through the voice of a preacher.  The “legal scheme” is completely set aside, though we–including many theologians in the history of Lutheranism–keep trying to re-introduce it, though since we cannot fulfill it of ourselves, we need constant recourse to Christ’s promises.  And  the consequent Christian life is also outside the “legal scheme,” having to do not so much with rules and score-keeping but with a free, spontaneous, and grace-filled love of neighbor.

As I read this book on my Kindle for Lent I found myself bookmarking virtually every page, so packed it was with illuminating insights.  Sample it yourself with the Amazon’s “Look inside” feature.  Another Amazon reviewer, David F. Sczepanski, was kind enough to type out some excerpts:

Lutheran theology begins perversely by advocating the destruction of all that is good, right, and beautiful in human life. It attacks the lowest and the highest goals of life, especially morality, no matter how sincere are its practitioners. Luther said the “sum and substance,” of Paul’s letter to the Romans “is to pull down, to pluck up, and to destroy all wisdom and righteousness of the flesh.” (1)

This is no ordinary philosophy about life, nor is it ordinary Christian religion. For thousands of years Christians routinely described life using an allegory of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt. They said life in general, and Christians in particular, were on an exodus out of vice into virtue. They were on a journey away from badness toward goodness. But Luther bluntly said faith is not a transition from vice to virtue, it is “the way from virtue to the grace of Christ.” (2)

`I forgive you’…Luther taught and demonstrated that these simple words give absolute, indubitable certainty, and no one is more dangerous than a person who is certain. The certainty was not based on human self-certainty; it was the opposite of that. It was the certainty of forgiveness because of what the Son of God did by taking the sins of the world upon himself and defeating them at the cross. The decisive cosmic battle of God against sin, death, and devil was already waged and won when Christ was raised from the dead to make a new kingdom of people who live with no law, nowhere to go, and nothing to accomplish. They were simply–free. (7)

God is always and ever God whether someone believes in him or not… God who is above time and space now enters the world with a steely determination…the sinner’s justification…so that the stories of God’s arrival to sinners make the great tales of Scripture (Abraham, David, Mary) and our own lives like Augustine’s Confessions. (55)

…the heart is not made for itself; it is made to go outside of itself and cling to that which speaks to the heart. Humans are therefore “hearing” creatures whose heart is always clinging to some word or other. (56

For Luther, fear…must be taught only so that it can be extinguished so that one will flee from this God [of wrath], not to him. We are to fear God who has no words (unpreached), and run from him to the place where he has given himself in words [of promise] — that is to the preacher. Only there do fear and wrath end in Christ incarnate as he gives himself to sinners… What is life like before a preacher arrives? Life is filled with voices that are “passing judgment” (Rom 2:1)…so that life comes under constant judgment. The judge could be outside one’s self like a father telling you to live up to your potential, or a written law that says, “Thou shalt not steal.” The judge can also be inside, called a conscience, holding itself to a standard of judgment. Life without a preacher is life with a knotted collection of voices that either accuse or excuse, but in either case end up used in the service of self-justification. Because judgment stands ever at hand…life becomes a search for an escape. (69)

Each time sins are forgiven it is experienced as a breakthrough, a miracle, a new and unheard of redemption that sets a person free — body and spirit — from an oppressive force. (89)

The crux of the issue in forgiveness is what happens to a sin which was real, actual, and loaded with consequences in many peoples’ lives… (90)

Sin is deep in the flesh; it is material, and it does not go away by wishing it so. It is not an idea that can be thought away, it is not a feeling that can be gotten over through great effort, it is a thing that corrodes life’s goods like debt; sin infects healthy life like a virus and it must be disposed of. (90)

Forgiveness first negates — by violently removing trust put in the wrong place. Then it puts faith in the proper place, which creates something new out of nothing… (90)

via Amazon.com: Lutheran Theology (Doing Theology )) (9780567550002): Steven D. Paulson: Books.

“How Luther went viral”

The Economist tells how Luther, in effect, used social media:

Although they were written in Latin, the “95 Theses” caused an immediate stir, first within academic circles in Wittenberg and then farther afield. In December 1517 printed editions of the theses, in the form of pamphlets and broadsheets, appeared simultaneously in Leipzig, Nuremberg and Basel, paid for by Luther’s friends to whom he had sent copies. German translations, which could be read by a wider public than Latin-speaking academics and clergy, soon followed and quickly spread throughout the German-speaking lands. Luther’s friend Friedrich Myconius later wrote that “hardly 14 days had passed when these propositions were known throughout Germany and within four weeks almost all of Christendom was familiar with them.”

The unintentional but rapid spread of the “95 Theses” alerted Luther to the way in which media passed from one person to another could quickly reach a wide audience. “They are printed and circulated far beyond my expectation,” he wrote in March 1518 to a publisher in Nuremberg who had published a German translation of the theses. But writing in scholarly Latin and then translating it into German was not the best way to address the wider public. Luther wrote that he “should have spoken far differently and more distinctly had I known what was going to happen.” For the publication later that month of his “Sermon on Indulgences and Grace”, he switched to German, avoiding regional vocabulary to ensure that his words were intelligible from the Rhineland to Saxony. The pamphlet, an instant hit, is regarded by many as the true starting point of the Reformation.

The media environment that Luther had shown himself so adept at managing had much in common with today’s online ecosystem of blogs, social networks and discussion threads. It was a decentralised system whose participants took care of distribution, deciding collectively which messages to amplify through sharing and recommendation. Modern media theorists refer to participants in such systems as a “networked public”, rather than an “audience”, since they do more than just consume information. Luther would pass the text of a new pamphlet to a friendly printer (no money changed hands) and then wait for it to ripple through the network of printing centres across Germany.

Unlike larger books, which took weeks or months to produce, a pamphlet could be printed in a day or two. Copies of the initial edition, which cost about the same as a chicken, would first spread throughout the town where it was printed. Luther’s sympathisers recommended it to their friends. Booksellers promoted it and itinerant colporteurs hawked it. Travelling merchants, traders and preachers would then carry copies to other towns, and if they sparked sufficient interest, local printers would quickly produce their own editions, in batches of 1,000 or so, in the hope of cashing in on the buzz. A popular pamphlet would thus spread quickly without its author’s involvement.

As with “Likes” and retweets today, the number of reprints serves as an indicator of a given item’s popularity. Luther’s pamphlets were the most sought after; a contemporary remarked that they “were not so much sold as seized”. His first pamphlet written in German, the “Sermon on Indulgences and Grace”, was reprinted 14 times in 1518 alone, in print runs of at least 1,000 copies each time. Of the 6,000 different pamphlets that were published in German-speaking lands between 1520 and 1526, some 1,700 were editions of a few dozen works by Luther. In all, some 6m-7m pamphlets were printed in the first decade of the Reformation, more than a quarter of them Luther’s.

Although Luther was the most prolific and popular author, there were many others on both sides of the debate. Tetzel, the indulgence-seller, was one of the first to respond to him in print, firing back with his own collection of theses. Others embraced the new pamphlet format to weigh in on the merits of Luther’s arguments, both for and against, like argumentative bloggers. . . .

Being able to follow and discuss such back-and-forth exchanges of views, in which each author quoted his opponent’s words in order to dispute them, gave people a thrilling and unprecedented sense of participation in a vast, distributed debate. Arguments in their own social circles about the merits of Luther’s views could be seen as part of a far wider discourse, both spoken and printed. Many pamphlets called upon the reader to discuss their contents with others and read them aloud to the illiterate. People read and discussed pamphlets at home with their families, in groups with their friends, and in inns and taverns. Luther’s pamphlets were read out at spinning bees in Saxony and in bakeries in Tyrol. In some cases entire guilds of weavers or leather-workers in particular towns declared themselves supporters of the Reformation, indicating that Luther’s ideas were being propagated in the workplace. One observer remarked in 1523 that better sermons could be heard in the inns of Ulm than in its churches, and in Basel in 1524 there were complaints about people preaching from books and pamphlets in the town’s taverns. . . .

Amid the barrage of pamphlets, ballads and woodcuts, public opinion was clearly moving in Luther’s favour. “Idle chatter and inappropriate books” were corrupting the people, fretted one bishop. “Daily there is a veritable downpour of Lutheran tracts in German and Latin…nothing is sold here except the tracts of Luther,” lamented Aleander, Leo X’s envoy to Germany, in 1521. Most of the 60 or so clerics who rallied to the pope’s defence did so in academic and impenetrable Latin, the traditional language of theology, rather than in German. Where Luther’s works spread like wildfire, their pamphlets fizzled. Attempts at censorship failed, too. Printers in Leipzig were banned from publishing or selling anything by Luther or his allies, but material printed elsewhere still flowed into the city. The city council complained to the Duke of Saxony that printers faced losing “house, home, and all their livelihood” because “that which one would gladly sell, and for which there is demand, they are not allowed to have or sell.” What they had was lots of Catholic pamphlets, “but what they have in over-abundance is desired by no one and cannot even be given away.”

via Social media in the 16th Century: How Luther went viral | The Economist.

The article also tells about the role music and visual images (with a shout out to Lucas Cranach), both of which also went viral, in the spread of the Reformation.

Can you envision a time and a cultural context in which this sort of thing–the spread of the gospel–could happen again, now that we really have the technology for it?

HT:  Joe Carter