The Freedom of a Christian

What’s the best book by Martin Luther to start with?  The answer is simple:   The Freedom of a Christian.  This is Luther at his very best, both in the brilliance of his writing and in his penetrating insight into the Word of God, the Gospel, and the Christian life.   “Freedom” lacks the harsh polemics that so often turns off modern readers, though all sides practiced it in the 16th century.  Like the best works of theology, it is stimulating both intellectually and spiritually and reading it is a profoundly devotional experience.  (Calvinists want you to start with the Bondage of the Will, which, they think, makes Luther sound like Calvin, though, as commentator Larry keeps pointing out,  really isn’t so.)

Most of all, “Freedom” gives us the most exhilarating applications of the Gospel, including Luther’s teachings on how Christians are simultaneously saints and sinners, that we are simultaneously free lords of all and servants of all, that the Christian life involves loving and serving our neighbors, that we are to be “little Christs” to each other, etc., etc.  (The book has recently been released in a new modern translation by Ed Engelbrecht from CPH:  Christian Freedom: Faith Working through Love.)  I bring this up because of a fascinating post from Mathew Block (head of communications at the Lutheran Church-Canada, which which the LCMS is in fellowship) at the First Things blog. [Read more...]

An opera about Katie Luther

Remember Lori Lewis, who used to be a frequent commenter on this blog?  She is a musician who used to be involved with the contemporary Christian music scene, discovered confessional Lutheranism, and became a critic of that genre.  Now she’s a professional opera singer (as well as the mind behind the online lifestyle and arts magazine Everyday Opera).  Her latest project:  an opera about Katharine von Bora, the fascinating wife of Martin Luther.

[Read more...]

Luther memes

I stumbled upon He Rice Tanned (read it fast), a collection of sometimes humorous Luther memes.  Samples after the jump.  (If you know of others, or other Christian-related, or other good ones of any kind, let us know in the comments.) [Read more...]

Luther on dogs

Last week we were on Spring Break, visiting our daughter, son-in-law, and three grand-daughters in Oklahoma.  Here we were privileged to witness one of their family milestones:  getting their first dog.  A bouncing, excited, affectionate Labrador retriever.

It made me recall that Luther was a dog-lover.  He had a dog named Tölpel (which was apparently a synonym for “Dummkopf”).  I love this quotation:

“The dog is the most faithful of animals and would be much esteemed were it not so common. Our Lord God has made His greatest gifts the commonest.”

Think about that!  God’s greatest gifts are the commonest.  But because they are so common, we take them for granted.  Yes, dogs.  But what else?  (Having children.  One’s spouse.  Food and drink.  Colors.  Reading.  Baptism.  The Lord’s Supper, and on and on and on.)

More quotes from Luther about dogs after the jump. [Read more...]

Reforming the Church

Today is Reformation Day, the 495th anniversary of Martin Luther posting the 95 Theses against the sale of indulgences.  Some people have been criticizing Lutherans and others who celebrate this day.  Why should we celebrate the shattering of the universal church?

First of all, the posting of the theses did not shatter the universal church.  Luther was reforming the church, and it needed reforming.  Financial corruption (the sale of church offices, the indulgence and relic trade, profiting from Christians terrified of purgatory), sexual immorality (popes with illegitimate children whom they named bishops, brothels for priests, the notion that fornication is better than marriage for clergy under vows of celibacy), and political power (popes with armies waging war against other countries, popes claiming temporal power over lawful earthly authorities).  Even worse, the gospel of Christ was obscured in favor of an elaborate system of salvation by works.  To be sure, the medieval church taught Christ’s atonement on the Cross for the forgiveness of our sins, but in practice that was relegated to baptism only.  After baptism, Christians had to atone for their own sins in a complex penitential system, requiring the confession of each sin, works of penance, and even after absolution the punishment of those sins after death in purgatory (unless an indulgence was purchased or rewarded).

That the church needed reforming because of these practices is proven in part by the Council of Trent, which addressed the most blatant financial and moral faults, while keeping the penitential system, though also encouraging personal piety (another fruit of the Reformation over against what had become a mechanistic approach to religion).

The splitting of Christianity came when the Roman church excommunicated Luther for his stance on indulgences, even though it would later grant most of his points.

Reforming the church, though, is something to celebrate and something to keep working on.  I would argue that the same issues that sparked the Reformation are still problems in today’s church, including protestant and Lutheran congregations:  financial corruption (the prosperity gospel, religious scams), sexual immorality (scandals among pastors and church leaders; the pornography plague), political power (the new social gospel of both the right and the left).  And now, as then, we see the Gospel consigned just to first becoming a Christian, so that many people think of Christ’s atonement as applying to conversion, but feeling themselves now as being under the Law.  They have lost the sense of God’s grace and forgiveness as a continuing reality, available through the Word and Sacraments as the constant life force for the Christian life.

So we still need Reformation Day and we still need the message of the Reformation.

An art critic discovers Luther

Daniel Siedell is a Christian art critic and curator, the author of God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art.  In a recent post on his Patheos blog Cultivare, he describes how frustrated he became with evangelical and Reformed scholarship on the arts, leading him to turn to Catholic and Orthodox theologians.  But then he discovered Luther and Lutheranism, who were not at all the way he had assumed:

 The outlier in my aesthetic evangelical resourcement was Luther, whom I had simply lumped into the Protestant tradition as a “pre-Calvinist” and a “post-Catholic,” shaped as I was by the biases of Catholic and Reformed interpreters, and art historians like Joseph Leo Koerner, who blamed the Reformer for a privatized, relativized, and disenchanted Protestant faith. But things changed when my family and I became members of a confessional Lutheran Church (LCMS), and I discovered through the weekly practice of the preached Word and Sacrament, that Philip Cary is right: Luther is not quite Protestant. And for the sake of enriching evangelical cultural thought, that is a very good thing, as even Reformed historian Mark Noll observed in his classic essay, “The Lutheran Difference,” published in 1992 in First Things. But, unfortunately, as Kevin DeYoung admitted last summer, Luther and the Lutheran tradition remain virtually unknown to conference-circuit evangelicalism.

Although I practiced the Christian faith in the Lutheran tradition for almost eight years, it was not until I encountered Luther, liberated from a confessional tradition that had domesticated it and non-Lutheran thinkers who had distorted it, and interpreted through sensitive readers like the Hamann scholar Oswald Bayer, Steve Paulson, Gerhard Ebeling, and Gerhard Forde, that he came alive for me, presenting to me a Luther I never knew. And a Luther evangelicalism desperately needs.

What I discovered is a Luther whose thought offers fertile ground for a desperately needed re-evaluation of evangelical approaches to art and culture, from his understanding of the distinctions between the letter and the spirit; law and gospel; theology of the cross and theology of glory; the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world; the human being as simultaneously sinner and saint; God hidden and revealed; and nature and grace. In addition, in his revolutionary understanding of vocation and through his emphasis on the sacramental nature of the preached Word, Luther opens up space to think freely and creatively about modern art, without expectations for what art should look like. For Luther, it is not what we see, but what we hear from paintings, when the bullets are flying, when push comes to shove, as we live and feel the pressure of life and the strained relationship between God and neighbor.

And so I find Luther a welcome and helpful companion when I go to art museums and art galleries, when I am confronted by work that looks different, that frustrates my expectations, and distracts me by its strangeness. Luther is teaching me to wait in faith, and listen, with love.

via Luther, Evangelicals, and Modern Art.


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