The Marburg Colloquy online

Noack_1869_MR-ReligionsgesprächDid you know that a transcript survives of the Marburg Colloquy (1529), in which Luther and Zwingli debated the presence of Christ in the elements of Holy Communion?  Did you know that it is posted online?

This meeting, attended by virtually all of the major figures of the early Reformation, was an attempt to settle the Reformation’s sacramental teachings once and for all.  Phillip of Hesse organized the event in an attempt to unify the Reformation side in the face of imminent military threat from the Holy Roman Emperor.  But Luther would not water down his teaching for pragmatic reasons. With the Marburg Colloquy, the Lutherans and the Reformed went their separate ways, with most subsequent Protestants following, in effect, a non-sacramental approach to Christianity.

The transcript reads like a play, or a screenplay.  (Suggestion:  Somebody perform this!)  For all of its theological give and take, it has quite a few dramatic moments:  Luther writing “This is my body” in chalk on the table beneath a tablecloth, continually referring to it in the course of Zwingli’s rationalistic arguments.  Luther at more than one point saying, “I’m tired–Phillip [Melanchthon], you take over,” only to erupt at the next thing Zwingli says without letting Phillip get a word in edgewise.  The emotional moments on both sides.  The ending with its pleas for reconciliation and Luther’s devastating “we are not of the same spirit.”

Read the beginning after the jump and go to the link to read it all.  Notice the different approaches not just to the Sacrament but to the Bible and, above all, to Christology. [Read more…]

Luther’s influence on German culture

Luther-Catechism-1560-LeipzigThe Economist has a fascinating article on “How Martin Luther has shaped Germany for half a millennium.”

I’m not sure how accurate it is.  (Luther’s moralism?  For the person who insisted that salvation is by grace through faith, rather than good works?  Well, maybe so.  Maybe this is evidence that an emphasis on faith really does bear fruit in good works.  But “dour,” for the most uproarious of theologians?  “Lutheran socialism,” finding the origin of the northern European welfare state in Luther’s neighbor-centered view of vocation?)

But that Luther influenced Germany’s love of music, emphasis on education, love of books, work ethic, etc., rings true.

UPDATE:  Note the critique of this article by German journalist and confessional Lutheran Uwe Siemon-Netto in a recorded interview on Issues, Etc. (HT:  Jeremiah Oehlerlich & Carl Vehse)

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Justification and contemporary culture

15692653361_7e7cf1101b_zLuther-influenced Anglican David Zahl has a brilliant article in the latest Christianity Today about Luther’s distinction between Law and Gospel and his understanding of justification by faith.  These teachings, Zahl shows, go to the very heart of what people are most struggling with today in contemporary culture:  perfectionism, the need for approval, and the futility of self-justification.

These are all symptoms of living under the law–if not God’s law, the other laws that we try to replace it with–and the new high-tech information environment only makes the symptoms worse.  (Zahl quotes a friend saying, “The internet is like the real world, only with all the forgiveness vacuumed out.”)

Luther’s breakthrough, that we do not have to justify ourselves–that is, attain perfection, or try to convince ourselves and other people that we are right and good–but that Christ justifies us, is as liberating today as it was 500 years ago.

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Anniversaries in 2017

Luther95thesesThe new year will mark some important anniversaries.  The biggest will be the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 theses and thus the beginning of the Reformation.  The significance of that event–not just for theology but for culture, education, socio-economic change, and the overall history of Western civilization–will be intensely debated, especially as October 31 approaches.

Was the Reformation a good thing or a bad thing?  A high point of Christianity or the beginning of its decline?  A recovery of ancient Biblical truth or the beginning of the modern era?  We Lutherans have a special stake in all of this, of course, and we should use this attention as an opportunity to make our message–namely, the Gospel–clear.

After the jump, consider some other important anniversaries in 2017.   [Read more…]

Marshall McLuhan, conservative Catholic

5571845609_c077117223_oMarshall McLuhan, who basically invented the study of media, became an icon of the 1960’s with his praise of the new information technology and his predictions of the new tribalism that it would make possible.  McLuhan arguably predicted the effects of the internet before the internet was invented.

And yet, as Jefferson Pooley reminds us, McLuhan got his start as a conservative cultural critic who, influenced by G. K. Chesterton, became a traditionalist Catholic who opposed the reforms of Vatican II.

I would argue that his criticism of the printing press and the thought-forms it made possible is connected to his opposition to the Reformation, which he called “the greatest cultural disaster in the history of civilization.”  And that his “global village” that he thought the new electronic media would usher in represents his yearning for Medieval Catholicism, with its visual images and its corporate unity.

Read Pooley’s piece on McLuhan, started after the jump. [Read more…]

Gift idea:  Christianity Today’s 2017 book awards

Christianity Today has announced its 2017 book awards.  The list of winners in all of the different categories might give you some good ideas for Christmas presents.

I like book editor Matt Reynolds’ introduction to the list.   He surveys how, thanks to the new printing press, Luther’s Reformation in 1517 was tied to the reading of books.  Reading popularized the Reformation, and the Reformation popularized reading.
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