The new Martin Luther movie

downloadMartin Luther:  The Idea That Changed the World is a film funded by Thrivent to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  First Lutheran Church in Ponca City secured a local movie theater and opened it up for free to anyone who wanted to see the movie.  (Go here to learn how to host a screening and for further information.  It will reportedly be shown on PBS.  I suspect its longer life will be on DVD eventually.)  So we attended the screening.

The movie is not a drama about the life of Luther, as earlier Luther movies have been.  This is a documentary with dramatic re-enactments.  There is a narrator throughout (Downton Abbey‘s Hugh Bonneville), with experts discussing the different facets of Luther’s life and career.  Meanwhile, we see these episodes acted out, with the requisite settings and effects.  I’m not a huge fan of this hybrid of documentary and drama, but this one works as well as I’ve seen.  Luther’s life is so interesting and so inherently dramatic that the narrative is gripping and entertaining, even though it is continually interrupted by the scholars.  (Review continued, plus trailer, after the jump) [Read more…]

Martin Luther as inventor of freedom

1024px-Лютер_в_ВормсеLutherans aren’t the only ones celebrating the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 theses.  Nor are Protestants or other Christians.  Luther had a monumental impact on Western Civilization, so even the secularists are taking the opportunity to study Luther’s cultural contributions, from his impact on universal education to his pioneering use of information technology (the printing press).

Time Magazine has published an article reprinted from History Today by scholar Frank Furedi entitled How Martin Luther Helped Invent Individual Freedom.

Furedi argues that when Luther stood up against Pope and Emperor at the Diet of Wurms, making his stand on his individual conscience, he, in effect, invented personal freedom.  His rejection of temporal and ecclesiastical authority would lead, Furedi says, to the undermining of all authority.  Including, eventually, to the authority of God.

Read Furedi’s argument, quoted and linked after the jump.  After which, I will explain what is wrong with what he says, while acknowledging that Luther did play an important role in the rise of freedom.

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What Germany is doing for Luther’s 500th Anniversary

Stadtkirche_Wittenberg_Marktplatz_mit_Rathaus_11_CGermany has lots going on for the 500th Anniversary year of Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses.  The country has spiffed itself up (though Germany is always pretty spiffy), is sponsoring lots of Luther exhibits, and has launched special non-Luther things to see and do.

Travel writer Rick Steves tells “What’s new in Germany” after the jump.  This includes an exhibit on Luther’s life and times in Wittenberg, an exhibit on Luther’s influence on Germany in Wartburg, and an exhibit on Luther’s global influence in Berlin.

Steves goes on to tell about other good reasons to visit Germany and Eastern Europe in 2017.

At one point, we were discussing sponsoring a Cranach tour this year in conjunction with Lori Lewis and the fans of her Katie Luther opera.  But that possibility has fallen through.  But if you want to be in Wittenberg for the anniversary year, go here. [Read more…]

Luther as populist and freedom fighter

Luther_(Wislicenus)Much of Europe, including Catholics, will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting the 95 theses.  But Great Britain, not so much.

The founder of the Church of England, King Henry VIII, hated Luther (who opposed his multiple marriages) and martyred his followers.  Later, when Anglicans became distinctly Protestant, they threw in with John Calvin and the Reformed tradition.

Even though the church followed Luther in adopting the Liturgy and emphasizing the Sacraments–thanks to Wittenberg student Thomas Cranmer–the Anglicans don’t do much with Luther.  So they are mostly skipping the October 31 celebration.

British journalist Peter Stanford, writing in the left-of-center Guardian, thinks that’s a shame.  He says Luther deserves to be celebrated as a populist, a champion of the poor, and the seminal defender of the freedom of speech and the freedom of conscience.  He also says Luther is a key founder of the modern era.  He was also unimaginably brave.

Now I’m not sure Mr. Stanford fully understands the religious significance of Luther, particularly, his recovery of the Gospel, and there are other things he gets wrong.  But you should read his article for an interesting secular perspective on Luther’s cultural influence. [Read more…]

Luther’s cross-cultural appeal

Portrait_of_Martin_Luther_as_an_Augustinian_MonkSarah Hinlicky Wilson, the editor of Lutheran Forum, has been co-teaching a seminar in Wittenberg on Luther to students from all over the world.  She writes in Christian Century about the continuing impact of Luther 500 years after the beginning of the Reformation.

She gives an ELCA perspective, full of ecumenical yearnings for union with Rome, and there will be other points that Missouri Synod Lutherans will disagree with.  Though they find it  worth reading.  For example, notice how she deals with Luther’s anti-Judaism.  I was interested in how she demonstrates that the message of “inclusion”–which is very big in theologically liberal circles–has anti-Judaism problems of its own.

What most struck me was what she had to say about Luther’s cross-cultural appeal, how his theology is being seized upon by Africans, Indonesians, Brazilians, and other people of non-European cultures, who are finding his teachings helpful in dealing with the problems in their churches and societies.  I quote this section after the jump. [Read more…]

We Lutherans as others see us

480px-Lutherrose.svgI stumbled upon a tab at the Patheos site that is called “Religion Library.”  It includes information about a host of religions and Christian denominations and traditions.  So I checked out the information for “Lutheran.”  For each church category, you can click on topics such as “Sacred Narratives,” “Sacred Time,” “Sacred Space,” “Rites and Ceremonies.”  Reading them feels like being the object of an anthropological study.

The author, Ted Vial, is a professor at Illiff School of Theology, a Methodist seminary, that also serves other mainline Protestant churches.  He is a true scholar and he gets much of Lutheranism right, considering that he is writing about the whole gamut of this tradition.  He does distinguish between the confessionalism of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod from the more liberal branches.  But I didn’t notice mention of the other conservative branches, such as the Wisconsin synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the Free Lutherans, etc.

Prof. Vial is good on vocation, Luther’s neighbor-centered ethic, the Two Kingdoms, and justification.  He mentions the distinction between the Theology of the Cross and the Theology of Glory but doesn’t do too much with it, and readers don’t get a sense of the distinctly Lutheran Christology that allows our confessions to talk about “God suffering” and “God dying,” which, in turn would give him more to say about the Lutheran take on “Suffering and the Problem of Evil.”

Also, you can see the lens through which Prof. Vial is seeing.  He uses the Reformed numbering in the uses of the Law–he calls the use that convicts us of sin the “First Use,” whereas that is the “Second Use” for Lutherans, the first being the use that constrains outward behavior.  And he is clearly Methodist in saying that Lutherans “don’t expect to be sanctified.”  We do, only not in the Methodist sense of achieving moral perfection.

Part of Lutheranism he “gets” very well, other parts he misses, but in other places he is just “off” a little, as is probably always going to be the case when someone tries to understand religious beliefs from the outside, rather than as someone who believes them.

Check out what he says about Lutheranism from the live links given after the jump.  Those of you who aren’t Lutheran, go to the Religion Library and read about your church and how it measures up to those anthropological categories of “sacred time,” “sacred space,” etc.

Did you learn anything about your church that you didn’t realize before?  What is the author missing about your theology and your religious identity?

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