Reaching today’s idolaters of the self

How do you proclaim the forgiveness of sins to someone who doesn’t think he has done anything wrong?  How can you apply the Law to someone who feels no guilt and the Gospel to someone who feels no need for Christ?  Trying to evangelize today’s relativists seems like a futile project.  How can we get through to them?

The Australian pastor and theologian Michael Lockwood has just published a stimulating, paradigm-shifting book entitled The Unholy Trinity:  Martin Luther against the Idol of Me, Myself, and I.

On one level, it is a study of Luther’s view of idolatry.  For Luther, idolatry is not just worshipping graven images, as with Christians who think tangible objects used in worship, such as crucifixes, are idols.  Rather, idolatry is worshipping false gods created by the self.  In his explanation of the First Commandment in the the Large Catechism, Luther asks, “what is it to have a God?”  His answer:  What do you put put your faith in?  That’s your God.  Ultimately, idolatry is the opposite of saving faith in Christ.  It means putting your faith in yourself.

Dr. Lockwood then applies the insights from Luther to today’s spiritual landscape, from “Moralistic-therapeutic-Deism,” through the whole array of false spiritualities, to the pure secularism that sees no need for God at all.  All of these, at their root, are idolaters of the self.  But the self will let you down every time.

Drawing on his experience as a missionary, Dr. Lockwood says that non-believers first need to be “disenchanted” with their idols. He shows how the Law brings a message not only of guilt but of disenchantment.  In times of suffering, failure, and the prospect of death, even the idolaters of the self can find redemption in Christ.

This is a ground-breaking book that brings a distinctly Lutheran perspective on the task of apologetics, evangelism, and pastoral care.  But all Christians will benefit from its fresh approach to cultural criticism and from learning from Dr. Lockwood the art of “spiritual diagnosis.”

Read my review after the jump.  Then buy this book.

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“God punishes wicked subjects by wicked rulers”

Luther did not actually say the words attributed to him, that he would rather be ruled by a wise Turk than a foolish Christian (HT: Carl Vehse).  Though we might wish a wise Turk were running.  All we seem to be getting are foolish Turks.

But here is a political observation that Luther did say, from Treatise on the Ban (1520) paragraph 16:   “God punishes wicked subjects by wicked rulers.”

I quoted this in a previous post, but it’s worth thinking about and discussing for its own sake.  So, assuming that Luther is right and that both of the candidates have their own kind of “wickedness” (keeping in mind that maybe they don’t or will be changed), what did we do to deserve whichever candidate wins the presidency?

I’ll start with some reflections about how God punishes societies after the jump. [Read more…]

Luther and technology

David Gibson of Religious News Service tells about three major exhibitions opening this month on Luther’s Reformation:  at the Morgan Library in New York City; at the Minneapolis Art Institute; and at Emory University in Atlanta. These sound extremely interesting and worth going to.

I was struck by what the Morgan library curator says about Luther’s use of the new information technology of the time (with the assistance of artist and printer Lucas Cranach).  See what he says after the jump.  But read Gibson’s whole article, which includes the point about how Luther became the model for “speaking truth to power.”
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The “danger” in Luther’s doctrine of vocation?

A few months ago, Covenant Seminary Professor Dan Doriani wrote a post at Gospel Coalition entitled The Power—and Danger—in Luther’s Concept of Work.  It’s a good piece, and the author has a good understanding of the importance of Luther’s doctrine, including love and service to the neighbor.

But at the end, he moves to what he considers the “Danger” of Luther’s teaching.  Briefly, he says that Luther’s understanding of God’s calling sanctifies the status quo.  If you are in a lowly “dehumanizing” job, if you think of it as a calling from God, then you would never leave it.

It took Calvin, he says, to perfect Luther’s doctrine of vocation.

Read the entire post.  I quote part of it after the jump.  Then I try to answer the criticisms. [Read more…]

How Luther invented mass media

Media historian Andrew Pettegree has written a new book entitled Brand Luther:  How an Unheralded Monk Turned His Small Town into a Center of  Publishing, Made Himself the Most Famous Man in Europe—and Started the Protestant Reformation.

He tells about how Luther, along with his collaborator the artist and printer LUCAS CRANACH, used the printing press in such a way that the Reformation went viral.  He shows how the two used visual design to, in effect, “brand” the publications.  Luther became the most published author ever, though, in the words of reviewer Ronald K. Rittgers, “he never made a pfennig from his publications.”

Of Luther’s writing style, Rittgers writes, “Unlike the typical theology books of his day, Luther’s early works were clear, engaging, entertaining, and accessible (he frequently wrote in German). And above all, they were brief.”

This is a book I want to read.  The review is excerpted and linked to after the jump, and I have links to Amazon. [Read more…]

Problems praying? Pray the Psalms

Continuing our reflections on the Psalms, Pastor Peters at Pastoral Meanderings has a great post on praying the Psalms.  He shows the centrality of the Psalms for Luther and then makes a superb application:  “If you are having problems praying and know that you should be praying more, try the pattern of reading a Psalm each day, reflecting upon its words, and then praying that Psalm as your daily prayer.”   [Read more…]