Misunderstanding the cultural influence of the Reformation


The cultural influence of the Reformation is getting lots of attention on this 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 Theses.  But the topic is often treated with a theological ignorance that is surprising to find in works of scholarship.

The Nation has a long article on the subject, quoted and linked after the jump, which is essentially a review essay of several new books on Luther and Protestantism.   As the article observes, the Reformation is often credited or blamed for opposite influences:  for a new personal piety and for the rise of secularism; for recovering the Bible and for launching modernity; for the rise of individualism and for the rise of the nation state; for inventing freedom and for capitalist oppression, etc., etc.

The article by Elizabeth Bruenig, drawing on the books she is reviewing, says that what Luther did was to make religion a private, inward matter.  Whereas the external world–including the state, the society, the economic order–was irrelevant spiritually.  Therefore, it was allowed to run along on its own without a religious context (as in Catholicism).  Thus the rise of secularism, modernity, science, and a world that does not need to consider God.

Meanwhile, the inner spiritual life that Luther encouraged had the additional effect of questioning all external authority, making a space for freedom and undermining institutions, which also had a secularizing and eventually revolutionary effect.

But this analysis, while citing Luther’s doctrine of the Two Kingdoms,  completely misunderstands what it means–to the point of interpreting it to mean its opposite.  And it utterly ignores one of Luther’s greatest and most culturally influential theological contributions, the place where he directly addressed the value of the “secular” realm and to the role it plays in the Christian’s faith; namely, his doctrine of vocation.

What other examples of theological illiteracy do you see in this article?  (Hint:  Did Luther really teach a theology based on inwardness, with individuals going inside themselves for a purely interior relationship with God?)

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Christ the King

Crucifixion_Grunewald_optHispanic martyrs put before the firing squads by socialist dictators would call out as their last words “Viva el Cristo rey!” Long live Christ the King! Or, Christ the King lives!  That’s a good phrase to keep in mind.

Yesterday was the last Sunday of the Church Year, also known, among other names, as Christ the King Sunday.  As a conclusion to our recent series of posts on Two Kingdom theology, we need to remember who is the King of both Kingdoms.

After the jump, a bulletin note on Christ’s kingship from Pilgrim Lutheran Church here in Australia. [Read more…]

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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