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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Grappling with Bach’s theology

bach-787703_640Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker has written a fascinating piece on Bach’s theology.  He says that while much research of the past tried to look at Bach in purely secular terms, today’s scholarship is attempting to unpack the musical impact of his Lutheranism.

Ross reviews several recent books on the subject, including one that tries to read into Bach’s music elements of anti-semitism, as if that is what Lutheranism is all about.  (Despite Luther’s senile ravings at the end of his life, Lutheran theology at the very least removed the stigma that Jews are to be blamed as Christ-killers–what the book in question is looking for in Bach’s Passions–since Lutheran theology sees Christ’s death as the result of all human sin, making possible their redemption.)  In reading the review of the books, which touches on the struggles and spiritual dynamism reflected in Bach’s music, I was struck by how little outsiders know about the distinctive, unique  elements of Lutheran spirituality, such as the contrast between Cross and Glory, and the spiritual desolation known as Anfechtung.  These would be highly relevant to Bach’s music, accounting for some of what these scholars otherwise struggle to explain.

But I love Ross’s close readings of Bach’s music, particularly, St. John’s Passion, in which he shows the Biblical and theological meaning of the musical structures the composer employs.  I love this quotation of one the authors:  “Marissen identifies himself as an agnostic, but adds that in the vicinity of Bach’s music he will never be a “comfortable agnostic.”  I love that so much of this research draws on the copy of Bach’s annotated Bible held by Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, which Ross discusses.  And I love the overall question asked by this article and by the books themselves:  How is it that music based on such archaic theological ideas can connect so profoundly with people in our time?  (I would answer that Bach is evidence that Lutheranism itself, properly understood, can connect profoundly with people in our time.)

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The Two Cities vs. the Two Kingdoms

It’s common to associate Augustine’s Two Cities with Luther’s Two Kingdoms.  But they are really quite different.  In The City of God, Augustine defines the two in terms of two different loves:  The City of God has to do with the love of God; the City of Man has to do with love of self.

Thus the two cities are in opposition to each other.  This is a scheme for dualism, for ascetic rejection of the world, giving rise to monasticism.

Luther’s Two Kingdoms is a paradigm for embracing the world.  The Kingdom of the Left, for Luther, is about neither love of God nor love of self, but love of neighbor.

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A Lutheran critique of Escondido theology

Westminster Seminary in Escondido, California, has some impressive theologians–Michael Horton, David Van Drunen, and other Calvinists of the sort who appear on White Horse Inn.  I know some of these guys, think highly of them, and appreciate how some of them are being influenced by Luther and Lutheran theology.  But though they speak of the distinction between Law and Gospel, have a stronger influence on the Sacraments, and teach about vocation, they are still Calvinists and their use of Luther is still within a Calvinist context.

A controversy has broken out in Reformed circles about the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, as formulated by these Escondido theologians, particularly David Van Drunen in his book Living in Two Kingdoms:  A Biblical Vision of Christ and Culture.  He is developing an alternative to the “one kingdom” model of the Dominionists and to the Abraham Kuyper’s “neocalvinism” with its notion of “sphere sovereignty” over every dimension of life.

This is a worthy project, but Van Drunen’s version of the Two Kingdoms is NOT the same as the Lutheran view.  Yet the two are being confused.  As other Reformed theologians push back against this so-called “Escondido theology,” they are saying that Van Drunen’s view is the official position of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  I’ve heard that Dr. Van Drunen’s book is being taught in courses on Lutheran theology.  And, to top it off, I’m told that I am even mentioned in at least one book on the subject as advocating this Escondido theology!

At that Two Kingdoms conference I participated in, Jordan Cooper gave an important presentation entitled “Escondido Theology: An Evaluation and Critique.”

After the jump, I’ll sum up some of the differences and post the video of Jordan’s presentation. [Read more…]

India, Africa, Indonesia, and other Lutheran enclaves

Most people associate Lutheranism with Germany, Scandinavia, and the United States.  Germany indeed is number one (11,787,811), but number two is Ethiopia (7,886,595) and number three is Tanzania (6,531,336).  Indonesia is fifth (6,046,321) and India is seven (4,042,543).

There are nine countries with more Lutherans than the United States (3,765,362).  Followed by more African countries and Papua New Guinea.

See the list after the jump.  The link discusses other significant Lutheran populations in other parts of the world, such as Australia and Brazil. [Read more…]

Why the Pope likes Luther

At the joint Catholic/Lutheran service in Sweden, commemorating Reformation Day, Pope Francis was said to have “issued some of the most positive language ever used by a pope to describe Martin Luther and his beliefs.”

The Pope said that the doctrine of justification “expresses the essence of human existence before God.”  The Reformation “helped give greater centrality to sacred scripture in the Church’s life.”  And in his teaching that salvation is “by grace alone, ” Luther “reminds us that God always takes the initiative, prior to any human response, even as he seeks to awaken that response.”

The Pope also signed a commitment with the head of the Lutheran World Federation to work towards full intercommunion between the two theological traditions.

After the jump, a news story about the developments from a Catholic publication.  For the full text of the Pope’s remarks, go here.  For the Communion agreement, go here.  See also my thoughts on the matter.

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