The Martin Luther Seminar in Review

The Martin Luther Seminar in Review November 3, 2014


Last week, guests and Patheos Evangelical bloggers from across the channel joined together to discuss, appreciate, recount, and even criticize the life, work, thought, and legacy of Martin Luther, one of the brightest leading lights of the Protestant Reformation. We hope that you’ve profited from this enriching engagement with a theological giant. Here are all the posts in one place if you want to review for yourself.

Our resident church historian, Gerald McDermott, gave a wonderful introductory overview, setting the tone for the entire series:

Protestantism was born.  And out of this seminal insight—not radically new but now renewed—evangelicalism came to birth three hundred years later.

We had several contributors reveal how Luther helped them personally and devotionally in their spiritual lives. Dave Ketter praised Luther for highlighting the joy of repentance:

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

Our newest blogger, Rebecca Florence Miller, remembers how Brother Martin’s life story helped her on her journey toward God:

I have been freed from legalism, and I am never going back. This life of faith does not depend on me, but on the One who died for me and rose again. Through it all, the freedom of the Gospel that connected with me in that 500-year old story of a tortured soul who found grace and rest has continued to sustain me.

Rebecca also thought Luther has much to tell us during the contemporary Ebola scare:

If Halloween celebrates the many things we fear (sometimes innocently and sometimes less so), the Reformation tells us that fear doesn’t have the last word. Jesus does.

Contributors also saw Lutheran political theology–known as “Two Kingdoms theology”–to be badly needed in today’s context. Jacob Prahlow summarized:

The Church does not constitute the basis of temporal authority, nor does the temporal ruler provide a foundation for spiritual authority. Instead, both temporal authorities and the spiritual authority of the Church derive from God, and thus purposefully exist to fulfill their respective offices.

Rebecca F. Miller extolled the virtues of the Two Kingdoms approach, warning:

There is perhaps no misunderstanding of theology that has more greatly damaged Christian witness in the United States than the conflation of Christ and nation.

Brandan Robertson casts Luther into his preferred progressive shell, asserting that the call of “Reformed and Always Reforming” has radical implications for today’s American churches:

The Church in America is being torn asunder by infighting and bickering, abuse and scandal in our leadership, our valuing of privilege, power, and politics over the people we are called to shepherd.

Frank Viola also thinks Luther didn’t go far enough in his reforms, bewailing:

Tragically, Luther and the other Reformers violently denounced the Anabaptists for practicing every-member functioning in the church.

Adrian Warnock, however, thinks Luther was just the right man for the job. So right, in fact, that Adrian thinks the theologian’s appearance was prophesied at the time of John Huss. The results are a better deal than the Middle Ages church:

Far better for us to be arguing about what the Bible means, but be submitted to its sole authority, than to submit ourselves to the authority of a man, believed to be Christ’s representative on earth.

However, Concordia seminarian and Lutheran Daniel Broaddus emphasized the moderation and conservative nature of the first Protestant reforms:

Luther had no intention of totally abolishing the mass, as was the case with later reformers, but rather he wanted to restore it to its original purpose of receiving God’s gifts.

Lutheran extraordinaire Gene Veith defends Luther from all sides–Radical, Catholic, Anabaptist, and dissenting Protestant alike-proclaiming:

Luther was, in many ways, a man of both the Middle Ages and a man of the new modern era. He can bring the Medieval insights into our own day, and he can correct the Medieval blind spots with a larger perspective informed by the Word of God.

In the end, historian Carl Trueman believed that Luther’s catechisms, perhaps the crowning achievement of his labors, have what it takes to sustain Christians in the evil day:

Luther’s Small Catechism points us to another vital element of church life: the simple preservation of the profound faith.  I would suggest that, if it is in the Catechism, it is important; if it is not there, then it is not so vital.  Sadly, I suspect that a glance at today’s evangelical conference circuit will reveal that the simple elements of catechetical Christian teaching are not enough to attract customers.  We want something unusual or interesting: how Christianity connects to art or movies  or (that most overworked term) culture.  How often do we see yet another book, video or sermon series on sex because ‘the church doesn’t talk about it enough?’  I wonder how many consumers of such products could actually recite the Apostles’ Creed or the Ten Commandments, let alone articulate a basically orthodox Christology. The lesson of books like Luther’s Small Catechism is that, while sex might sell, simple truth nurtures, fortifies, and serves us well in life’s deepest and darkest moments.

Thanks for joining us. Stop in again to witness more symposia on people and topics vital to the evangelical tradition!


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