Martin Luther

The Reformation Polka

lukas-cranach-martin-lutherI’ve posted before about the sense of ‘play’ that characterised the various reformations of the sixteenth century. I have been reminded of this twice recently; first, while preparing lectures on various kirk session books from Scotland during the 1570s onwards (it really is much more fun than it sounds!), and then again when I came across Robert Gebel’s song  ‘The Reformation Polka’ (sung to the tune of ‘Supercalifragilistic-expialidocious’) while clearing out my desk in anticipation of my move to Australia next month. I thought the latter worth sharing here:

When I was just ein junger Mann I studied canon law;
While Erfurt was a challenge, it was just to please my Pa.
Then came the storm, the lightning struck, I called upon Saint Anne,
I shaved my head, I took my vows, an Augustinian! Oh …

Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

When Tetzel came near Wittenberg, St. Peter’s profits soared,
I wrote a little notice for the All Saints’ Bull’tin board:
‘You cannot purchase merits, for we’re justified by grace!
Here’s 95 more reasons, Brother Tetzel, in your face!’ Oh …

Papal bulls, indulgences …

They loved my tracts, adored my wit, all were exempleror;
The Pope, however, hauled me up before the Emperor.
‘Are these your books? Do you recant?’ King Charles did demand,
‘I will not change my Diet, Sir, God help me here I stand!’ Oh …

Papal bulls, indulgences …

Duke Frederick took the Wise approach, responding to my words,
By knighting ‘George’ as hostage in the Kingdom of the Birds.
Use Brother Martin’s model if the languages you seek,
Stay locked inside a castle with your Hebrew and your Greek! Oh …

Papal bulls, indulgences …

Let’s raise our steins and Concord Books while gathered in this place,
And spread the word that ‘catholic’ is spelled with lower case;
The Word remains unfettered when the Spirit gets his chance,
So come on, Katy, drop your lute, and join us in our dance! Oh …

Papal bulls, indulgences …


Around the boab trees

There’s some good reading around at the moment. Here’s a few pieces I’ve enjoyed:

Church Unity as a Living Concord

One of the books that I currently have on the go is Reinhard Hütter’s Bound to Be Free: Evangelical Catholic Engagements in Ecclesiology, Ethics, and Ecumenism. So far, there’s much to commend it. But rather than write a review, time permits me only to share some challenging words from the book that I’ve been reflecting on, and which recall some Hunsingeresque themes:

‘Would the Roman Catholic communion be prepared, in the framework of a Vatican III, to nuance or delimit its insistence upon the jurisdictional and doctrinal primacy of the bishop of Rome as a condition for mutual recognition and communion in faith and confession? And on the other hand, would the churches of the Reformation be prepared to recognize an ecumenical primacy of the bishop of Rome that stood under the authority of the Scriptures, was post-confessional, and operated iure humano in service to the visible unity of all Christians? We would do well to remember Melanchthon, who in his postscript to the Smalcald Articles of 1537 sent a signal that is decidedly both evangelical and ecumenical: “However, concerning the pope I maintain that if he would allow the gospel, we, too, may (for the sake of peace and general unity among those Christians who are now under him and might be in the future) grant to him his superiority over the bishops which he has ‘by human right.”‘ Melanchthon’s postscript must be understood as an entirely proper use of Reformation ecclesiology. Precisely because the church stands or falls on the truth of the justification of sinners, she is free to recognize historically evolved structures and traditions and to affirm them as gift of the Holy Spirit to the church. This recognition and affirmation is valid as long as these structures and traditions serve the proclamation of the gospel. Thus the church is free also to recognize and affirm an office of ministry understood as constituted by human right that both presides over and is in collegiality with the bishops and that serves the unity of the whole church. Were the churches to pass this test case, it would leave open the possibility for a communio-ecclesiology perspective in which unity did not necessarily flow out of an abstract reunification of the churches under the umbrella of a Tridentine-Vatican-ordered primacy. On the contrary, it would then be possible for Christian unity to be understood as a concord of faith and confession in the Holy Spirit that would reconcile the multiplicity of churches and whose visible manifestation would be the common celebration of the Lord’s Supper, at which the bishop of Rome could preside as sign of unity. However, the head and center of this unity of concord would remain Christ alone, who is present in the word of promise and forgiveness and in the elements of the Supper. For only on the basis of this Center can the nature of the ordained office of word and sacrament manifest itself as an office of ministry to the proclamation of the gospel and, further, to the living concord of Christians in the local parish, as well as on the regional and indeed the universal level of the church. According to Luther’s ecclesiology, the test case of the papal office can hinge solely on whether the ordained ministry to the gospel also includes – and indeed, where possible, requires – a ministry of unity to all of Christendom. If the papal office permitted itself to be understood as a ministry under the gospel, serving as a transforming – even re-forming – catalyst for the unity of the church, it would open the door to an ecumenically promising and, from the perspective of the Lutheran Reformation, permissible approach to the thorniest of all ecumenical dilemmas. After all, Luther himself asserted in 1531 that he “could kiss the pope’s feet if he would permit the gospel”’.

– Reinhard Hütter, Bound to Be Free: Evangelical Catholic Engagements in Ecclesiology, Ethics, and Ecumenism (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004), 192–3.

Aquinas, Luther and Calvin on the role of the priest in the eucharist

While in the current of writing a lecture on the Eucharist, I have been enjoying intincting – and, in some cases, re-intincting – into some great books: William T. Cavanaugh’s Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ, Angel F. Mendez Montoya’s The Theology of Food: Eating and the Eucharist, Stephen Sykes’ Power and Christian Theology, among them. William Stringfellow’s essay ‘Liturgy as Political Event’ is also wonderful. I’m also enjoying George Hunsinger’s The Eucharist and Ecumenism: Let Us Keep the Feast, a book that deserves a very close read and is certainly among the boldest and most important studies available on the subject.

Hunsinger notes that Thomas Aquinas, who was among the most impressive of the pre-Reformation theologians, understood the role of the priest in the eucharist as in some sense mediating between Christ and the faithful. In other words, for Thomas, the priest was the central figure in the eucharistic sacrifice. So Hunsinger writes: ‘‘He [i.e., the priest] acted both “in the person of Christ” (in persona Christi) as well as “in the person of the church” (in persona ecclesiae) (ST 3.82.8). In the person of Christ, he consecrated the sacrament. In the person of the church, he offered Christ in prayer to God (ST 3.82.8). Whatever the priest did when acting in the person of Christ was taken up in turn by the people (ST 3.83.4). The priest’s union with Christ, however, was different than it was for the laity. “Devout layfolk are one with Christ by spiritual union through faith and charity,” explained Aquinas, but the priest was one with Christ “by sacramental power” (ST, 3.82.1). At his ordination the priest had received a special status, “the power of offering sacrifice in the church for the living and the dead” (ST 3.82.1). The priest was set apart from the people, and above them, by virtue of this sacramental power’ (pp. 114–5).

Luther, of course, would radically qualify – or extend – this notion in his argument that the priest symbolised the priesthood of all believers, while possessing no special powers of consecration and sacrifice in and of himself. Luther stated:

‘Thus it becomes clear that it is not the priest alone who offers the sacrifice of the mass; it is the faith which each one has for himself. This is the true priestly office, through which Christ is offered as a sacrifice to God, an office which the priest, with the outward ceremonies of the mass, simply represents. Each and all are, therefore, equally priests before God . . . For faith must do everything. Faith alone is the true priestly office. It permits no one to take its place. Therefore all Christian men are priests, all women are priestesses, be they young or old, master or servant, mistress or maid, learned or unlearned. Here there is no difference unless faith be unequal’. Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 35: Word and Sacrament 1 (ed. J.J. Pelikan, et al.; vol. 35; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 100–1.

Hunsinger, in Eucharist and Ecumenism, properly notes that Luther upheld the idea of grace alone by combining christological mediation with communal participation:

‘The believer and the community can be said to offer Christ by participating in Christ’s own self-offering, which in turn mediates them into eternal life with God. Inclusion in Christ’s priestly self-offering is at once the promise and the consequence of grace. At the same time, the place of the priest in the mass has been radically redefined. Christ the eternal priest does not operate in and through the visible priest, nor does the priest offer Christ as the invisible victim through the bread and the cup. The bread and the cup, for Luther, are the sacramental but not the sacrificial body and blood of Christ. That is, they are not the means of reciprocal self-offering to God by Christ, priest, and people. They are not the eucharistic means by which Christ is offered up. The bread and cup are simply a pledge of Christ’s faithfulness to his promises. It is not the priest but the faith of each believer that offers Christ to God. The role of the priest is simply to symbolize by outward ceremonies the one true priestly office, which is faith’. (p. 135)

The Reformed, following Calvin and the best of those who spoke in his wake, sought to witness to how the cross and the eucharist are held in a unity that does not violate but reinforces their distinction via two forms: The constitutive form is the cross while the mediating form is the eucharist. ‘The cross is always central, constitutive, and definitive, while the eucharist is always secondary, relative, and derivative. The eucharistic form of the one sacrifice does not repeat the unrepeatable, but it does attest what it mediates and mediate what it attests. What it mediates and attests is the one whole Jesus Christ, who in his body and blood is both the sacrifice and the sacrament in one. As the sacrifice, he is the Offerer and the Offering. As the sacrament, he is the Giver and the Gift. The Son’s sacrificial offering of himself to the Father for us on the cross is the ground of the Father’s sacramental gift of his Son to the faithful in the eucharist’ (Ibid. 151). As TF Torrance has shown in Theology in Reconciliation, the cross is the ‘dimension of depth’ in the eucharist. The eucharist has no significance in and of itself. Its significance is both derived and grounded in the cross. The cross alone is, as TF Torrance notes, the saving ‘content, reality and power’ of the eucharist. It is to this that the Reformed minister and church directs our gaze.

It was precisely such a position which led PT Forsyth, the theologian of the cross, in his lectures on The Church and the Sacraments, to offer the following statement:

The Lord’s Supper is the most complete and plenary of all the cultic ways of confessing the work of reconciliation, where the sin of humanity is conquered by the grace of God in a holy Kingdom. It is therefore the real centre of the Church’s common and social life. This should not be sought in social reunions, or ecclesiastical monarchy, or philanthropic cohesion, but in the spiritual region, in the worship, and the theology moulding it. For here we are summoned to what is our vital centre deep within all the individual wills that wish to unite, to what is the centre of the faith that makes the new Humanity, and to the goal which rounds all’. (p. 260)



Stretching the Zonules: 100 years ago today, and more recent exploits

‘The question of providing religious services for summer holiday-makers in the country was before the Dunedin Presbytery at its meeting yesterday in relation, particularly, to the growing popularity of Warrington and contiguous seaside resorts.

A report submitted recommended that a tent be procured at Warrington, but this proposal did not seem to find general favour although the point has not been settled, the matter having been referred to a small committee.

The Rev. J. Chisholm said it seemed to him that more attention should be given to these seaside resorts in the future.

The churches were almost empty for a few weeks in the year, and unless more attention were paid to the young people they would form habits which would doubtless be confirmed, and that would be to the injury of their church.

The Rev. R. Fairmaid brought the matter nearer home than the northern coast by referring to Broad Bay and the Peninsula.

A young man had told him that a kind of pagan life was lived thereby the young people who gathered for week ends.

This was a deplorable condition from the moral point of view, and, so far as he understood, there was no service provided by their people in these quarters.

The committee appointed could perhaps attend to this matter, too.

It was pointed out by the Rev. W. Scorgie, in concluding the discussion, that there was a Methodist Church at Broad Bay and a Presbyterian Church at Portobello’.

[First published in the Otago Daily Times on 7 September 1910. Reprinted in today’s ODT]

Also, there’s some good reading around the traps at the moment:

  • William Cavanaugh on Christopher Hitchens and the myth of religious violence.
  • Matthew Bruce reviews Matthias Gockel’s Barth and Schleiermacher on the Doctrine of Election. [BTW: my own review of this book is available here].
  • Richard L. Floyd shares an appreciation of Donald Bloesch.
  • Kim Fabricius shares a wonderful Call to Worship.
  • Steve Biddulph on fatherhood.
  • Robert Fisk on ‘honour’ killings and on the pain of satisfying family ‘honour’.
  • Ben Myers shares a note on misreading.
  • Robin Parry (shamelessly) plugs a forthcoming book on universalism: “All Shall Be Well”: Explorations in Universalism and Christian Theology, from Origen to Moltmann.
  • Luther is still bugging the locals.
  • Simon Holt shares a nice prayer from Ken Thompson about pigeon holes, compartments, and other places.
  • And Ken MacLeod offers a brilliant solution for distracted writers: ‘One of the major problems for writers is that the machine we use to write is connected to the biggest engine of distraction ever invented. One can always disconnect, of course – there’s even software that locks out the internet and email for selected periods – or use a separate, isolated computer, but I think something more elegant as well as radical is needed. What I’m thinking of is some purely mechanical device, that took the basic QWERTY keyboard with Shift and Return keys and so on, but with each key attached to an arrangement of levers connected to a physical representation of the given letter or punctuation mark. These in turn would strike through some ink-delivery system – perhaps, though I’m reaching a bit here, a sort of tape of cloth mounted on reels – onto separate sheets of paper, fed through some kind of rubber roller (similar to that on a printer) one by one. The Return key would have to be replaced by a manual device, to literally ‘return’ the roller at the end of each line. Tedious, but most writers could do with more exercise anyway. Corrections and changes would be awkward, it’s true, but a glance at any word processor programme gives the answer: the completed sheets could be, physically, cut and pasted’.

BTW: I haven’t abandoned my series on the cost and grace of parish ministry. If all goes to plan, I’ll be back posting on it this week.

‘Who shall unseal the years, the years!’: Around the traps

95 Theses Rap

Yale is not only about Harold Attridge, Adela Yarbro Collins, Bruce Gordon, John Hare, Denys Turner, Miroslav Volf, and a host of other great scholars. It’s also home to Bulldog Productions, a student-run film company who are producing some really great stuff. Here a clever wee clip from 2007 on Luther’s 95 Theses:

If you havin’ Church problems then don’t blame God, son …
I got ninety-five theses but the Pope ain’t one.


Listen up, all my people, it’s a story for the telling
’bout the sin and injustice and corruption I been smelling:
I met that homie Tetzel, then I started rebelling
Once I seen the fat Indulgences that he been selling.
Now the Cath’lics of the world straight up disgracin’ me
Just because I waved my finger at the papacy.
My people got riled up over this Reformation …
That’s when Leo threatened me with Excommunication.
I warned y’all that Rome best agree to the terms.
If not, then you can eat my Diet of Worms!
You think you done something spectacular?
I wrote the Bible in the vernacular!
A heretic! [What?] Someone throw me a bone.
You forgot salvation comes through faith alone.
I’m on a mission from God. You think I do this for fun?
I got ninety-five theses but the Pope ain’t one.
Save me!


Ninety-five theses but the Pope ain’t one.
If you havin’ Church problems then don’t blame God, son …
I got ninety-five theses but the Pope ain’t one.


One Five One Seven… that’s when it first went down.
Then the real test was when it started spreading around.
Sixty days to recant what I said? Father, please!
You’ve had, what? Goin’ on fifteen centuries?
“Oh snap, he’s messin’ with the holy communion.”
But I ain’t never dissed your precious hypostatic union!
“One place at one time.” Well, thank you Zwingli.
Yeah, way to disregard that whole “I’m God” thingy!
Getting’ all up in my rosary … you little punk.
Your momma shoulda told you not to mess with no monk.
What you bumpin’ me for? Suddenly you sore.
Keep that up, you’ll have yourself another Peasant War.
You blame common folk for the smack they talkin’ …
You ain’t even taught them proper Christian doctrine.
With my hat, my Bible, and my sexy little nun,
I got ninety-five theses but the Pope ain’t one.
Save me!



When I wrote the ninety-five, haters straight up assailed ’em.
Now they only care whether or not I nailed ’em or mailed ’em.
They got psychoanalytic. Now everyone’s a critic,
And getting on my case just because I’m anti-Semitic.
I’ve come back from obscurity to teach y’all a lesson,
Cuz someone here still ain’t read their Augsburg Confession.
I said Catholicism brings a life of excess,
And we all remember what went down with Philip of Hesse!
But you forgot about me and my demonstration?
Like you can just create your own denomination?
“We don’t like this part, so we’ll just add a little twist.”
Now we Anglican, Amish, and even Calvinist.
I gave you the power, you gone and abused it.
I gave you God’s truth, you just confused it.
Don’t you never underestimate the s*** that I done …
I got 95 theses but the Pope ain’t one.
Save me!


Shout out to Johann Gutenberg … I see you baby.

Luther and Calvin on Slander (and Women)

Although I’m writing lectures on Calvin at the moment, brother Martin is rarely far away. So as a bit of fun [read ‘distraction’], I thought I’d check out some of their reflections on the same topic – namely, slander. Unlike Calvin who is typically careful, measured, sober, and rarely amusing, Luther – whether relatively dry or completely off his face – is a brilliant hoot, often careless, never politically correct and always calls a spade a shovel. Isn’t that precisely one of the reasons why we love him so much! Anyway, here he is in near-full swing:

‘It is especially among womenfolk that the shameful vice of slander is prevalent, so that great misfortune is often caused by an evil tongue. This is the work of those bitter and poisonous brides of the devil, who when they hear a word about another, viciously make it sharper, more pointed, and more bitter against the others, so that sometimes misery and murder are the result.

All this comes from the shameful, demonic filth which naturally clings to us, that everyone enjoys hearing and telling the worst about his neighbor and it tickles him to see a fault in someone else. If a woman were as beautiful as the sun but had one little spot or blemish on her body, you would be expected to forget everything else and to look only for that spot and to talk about it. If a lady were famous for her honor and virtue, still some poisonous tongue would come along and say that she had once been seen laughing with some man and defame her in such a way as to eclipse all her praise and honor. These are really poisonous spiders that can suck out nothing but poison from a beautiful, lovely rose, ruining both the flower and the nectar, while a little bee sucks out nothing but honey, leaving the roses unharmed. That is the way some people act. All they can notice about other people are the faults or impurities which they can denounce, but what is good about them they do not see. People have many virtues which the devil cannot destroy, yet he hides or disfigures them to make them invisible. For example, even though a woman may be full of faults and have no other virtue, she is still a creature of God. At least she can carry water and wash clothes’. – Luther’s Works, Vol. 21: The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat, 41.

Calvin makes what I think is the same basic point, but O how different in tone. Here he is on the ninth commandment (‘You shall not be a false witness against your neighbour’, Exod 20:16):

‘The purpose of this commandment is: since God (who is truth) abhors a lie, we must practice truth without deceit toward one another. To sum up, then: let us not malign anyone with slanders or false charges, nor harm his substance by falsehood, in short, injure him by unbridled evil speaking and impudence. To this prohibition the command is linked that we should faithfully help everyone as much as we can in affirming the truth, in order to protect the integrity of his name and possessions’. – Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.viii.47.

Forsyth on Luther’s merit

luther-1‘Luther’s merit was not the heroism of his conscience, but the rediscovery of a new conscience beyond the natural, and beyond the institutional – whether canonical in the Church, or civil in the State. He found a conscience higher and deeper than the natural, the ecclesiastical, or the Political – the individual, the canonical, or the civil; more royal than culture, clergy, or crown. He found a conscience within the conscience. He found anew the evangelical conscience, whose ideal is not heroism at all, but the humility and obedience of the conscience itself, its lostness and its nothingness except as rescued and set on its feet by Christ, in whom no man is a hero, but every man a beggar for his life’. – Peter T. Forsyth, Rome, Reform and Reaction: Four Lectures on the Religious Situation (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1899), 121. 

Forsyth is aware that Christianity’s concern is not with the self-assertion or self-glorification of human nature, but with the redemption and reconstituting of wills. The conquered conscience recognises this ‘Another, greater and better … Who comes to us, gives Himself to us’ in such a way that we are enabled, in faith, to give ourselves to, and find ourselves in, him. There is, Forsyth avers, no higher relation possible to human persons. However, although faith consoles the conscience, it does not necessarily follow that the testimony of the gospel and the feeling of the conscience enter into some sort of harmony in faith. In fact, as Zachman notes in his brilliant study (The Assurance Of Faith: Conscience In The Theology Of Martin Luther And John Calvin), ‘in the experience of tribulation (Anfechtung), the opposition between the Word of God and the feeling of the conscience is intensified’ (p. 63; see also pp. 63-8, 80-7, 151, 182, 192, 198-203, 210-23, 226, 246). This is because, as Forsyth notes, the unconquerable relationship between conscience and Conscience entails the acquisition of a new and final authority:

The prime question of religion is not, “How do I stand to the spiritual universe?” but “How shall I stand before my Judge?” The last authority must be the authority owned by the conscience, and required by the sinful, guilty conscience of a race. It is the authority of a Saviour … One whose absolute property we are … It is the authority of the moral absolute, of the holy, which stands over us and changes us from self-satisfaction to self-scrutiny, self-knowledge, and self-humiliation in the presence of the righteousness loving and eternal. (Peter T. Forsyth, The Principle of Authority in Relation to Certainty, Sanctity and Society: An Essay in the Philosophy of Experimental Religion (London: Independent Press, 1952) 303-4; cf. pp. 400; Peter T. Forsyth, The Preaching of Jesus and the Gospel of Christ (Blackwood: New Creation Publications, 1987) 55-6.)

Luther on taking refuge in grace alone

‘Before the judgment seat of the world I am content to be dealt with according to the law; there I will answer and do what I ought. But before thee I would appeal to no law, but rather flee to the Cross and plead for grace and accept it as I am able. For the Scriptures teach me that God established two seats for men, a judgment seat for those who are still secure and proud and will neither acknowledge nor confess their sin, and a mercy seat for those whose conscience is poor and needy, who feel and confess their sin, dread his judgment, and yearn for his grace. And this mercy seat is Christ himself, as St. Paul says in Rom. 3 [:25], whom God has established for us, that we might have refuge there, since by ourselves we cannot stand before God. There shall I take my refuge when I have done or still do less than is meet and done much more of sin according to the law, both before and after my sanctification and justification. There my heart and conscience, regardless of how pure and good they are or can be in the sight of men, shall be as nothing, and they shall be covered over as it were with a vault, yea, with a fair heaven, which will mightily protect and defend them, the name of which is grace and the forgiveness of sins. Thereunder shall my heart and conscience creep and be safe’. – Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 51: Sermons I (Edited by H.C. Oswald, J.J. Pelikan, H.T. Lehmann; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 277.

The Theology of the Cross in Historical Perspective: A Review

Anna Madsen, The Theology of the Cross in Historical Perspective (Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2007. ix + 269 pages. ISBN: 978-1-59752-835-1. Review copy courtesy of Wipf and Stock.

It is encouraging to see a growing stream of books dedicated to engaging with the work of Jürgen Moltmann. I have just finished reading Anna Madsen’s ambitious study The Theology of the Cross in Historical Perspective (Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2007), part of the young ‘Distinguished Dissertations in Christian Theology’ series that Wipf and Stock are co-sponsoring with the journal Word and World: Theology for Christian Ministry and with the Christian Theological Research Fellowship (CTRF). In this book, this Assistant Professor of Religion at Augustana College in South Dakota (USA) traces the currents of a theology of the cross in St Paul, Luther, von Loewenich, Kitamori and Moltmann, before turning our gaze towards Feminist and Liberationist evaluations and applications of a theologia crucis.

On Luther, the author reminds us that we miss the whole catalyst for the German monks’ revolutionary theological advance when we divorce his theologia crucis from the context of the Church’s appeal for alms in the form of indulgences. The issue, she claims, is that God can not be ‘bought off’.

She explores the twentieth century’s witnessing of a variety of theologies of the cross, some of which, ironically, actually call for the cross itself to be discarded on the grounds that it symbolises (and glorifies) not hope but only violence. The tired divine child-abuse paradigms are briefly discussed. Conversely, Madsen observes that there remain those who insist that in the face of unparalleled and devastating poverty, destruction, abuse, exploitation and suffering, the cross provides the only interpretive tool which theology can offer. Specifically, the cross becomes the symbol to announce God’s full identification with the sufferers and God’s condemnation of the privileged. An adequate critique of this liberationist reading is not forthcoming in this volume.

The section on Moltmann (pp. 181-207) serves as a particularly helpful introduction to Moltmann’s theology as a whole, especially for those unfamiliar with the work of this creative and Reformed theologian. That it is explored in the context of a theological tradition from Paul through Luther et al makes it all the more helpful, for, as Madsen notes, no matter how much Moltmann’s theology of the cross consciously attends to life post-Auschwitz and more consciously extends justification as that which leads to justice-seeking, it remains fundamentally dependent upon Luther’s.

Madsen’s study argues that while there is no uniform theology of the cross, ‘Paul’s approach provides the soundest and most comprehensive’ vista, not least because his is a theology most elucidated not in isolation from but rather vis-à-vis the resurrection. Paul’s theology of the cross is, therefore, (while its various tones and emphases were always determined by its context) that which always concerns the removal of boundaries – both horizontal and vertical. Still, Madsen concludes, the theology of the cross remains that which announces that ‘God is found in death … in the death of sin, of suffering, of uncertainty’, and is marked by service, and is that which assures the people of God that God is present. It is therefore a theology of grace, of freedom and trust. Moreover, without a theology of the cross, she insists, it is unclear what the Church is called to be and to preach.

I warmly commend Madsen’s study as an accessible contribution to a topic at the heart of Christian good news, and as a valuable introduction to work by von Loewenich and Forde (On Being a Theologian of the Cross remains, to my mind, one of the best introductions to Luther’s theology available, alongside Randall Zachman’s The Assurance of Faith, with which, oddly, Madsen fails to engage), Moltmann and Sölle, Sobrino and Gutierrez. It is a clearly-written and pastorally-aware study … and it’s got a beautiful cover!

Back to Moltmann studies: Alongside Madsen’s study, I also have on my desk another book that engages with Moltmann’s thought: Tim Chester’s, Mission and the Coming of God: Eschatology, the Trinity and Mission in the Theology of Jürgen Moltmann (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2006). I’m hoping to read and post a review of it sometime soon(ish). Also, Ashgate recently announced that 2009 will witness the arrival of Timothy Harvie’s book, Jürgen Moltmann’s Ethics of Hope: Eschatological Possibilities for Moral Action (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009). Paternoster too are planning to publish Nik Ansell’s insightful study, The Annihilation of Hell: Universal Salvation and the Redemption of Time in the Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann.

Again, it’s encouraging to see these studies appearing. Moltmann’s work deserves the attention, and critical evaluation.

What Christ gives

There’s few things quite like a good dose of Luther to help one hear afresh that word which kills in order to make alive. Here’s two passages that I’ve been reflecting on today:

‘Christ gives grace and peace, not as the apostles did, by preaching the Gospel, but as its Author and Creator. The Father creates and gives life, grace, peace, etc.; the Son creates and gives the very same things. To give grace, peace, eternal life, the forgiveness of sins, justification, life, and deliverance from death and the devil—these are the works, not of any creature but only of the Divine Majesty. The angels can neither create these things nor grant them. Therefore these works belong only to the glory of the sovereign Majesty, the Maker of all things’. – Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4 (Edited by Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann; Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 31.

‘Christ, however, declares here: “Let it be your one concern to come to Me and to have the grace to hold, to believe, and to be sure in your heart that I was sent into the world for your sake, that I carried out the will of My Father and was sacrificed for your atonement, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, and bore all punishment for you. If you believe this, do not fear. I do not want to be your judge, executioner, or jailer, but your Savior and Mediator, yes, your kind, loving Brother and good Friend. But you must abandon your work-righteousness and remain with Me in firm faith.” – Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 23: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8 (Edited by Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann; Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 58.

Ah! Good news!

Luther on our highest comfort

‘This is our highest comfort, to clothe and wrap Christ this way in my sins, your sins, and the sins of the entire world, and in this way to behold Him bearing all our sins’. Luther attacked those ‘papists’ who seek justification and the removal of sins through acts of love: ‘This is clearly to unwrap Christ and to unclothe Him from our sins, to make Him innocent, to burden and overwhelm ourselves with our own sins, and to behold them, not in Christ but in ourselves. This is to abolish Christ and make Him useless. For if it is true that we abolish sins by the works of the Law and by love, then Christ does not take them away, but we do. But if He is truly the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who became a curse for us, and who was wrapped in our sins, it necessarily follows that we cannot be justified and take away sins through love. For God has laid our sins, not upon us but upon Christ, His Son. If they are taken away by Him, then they cannot be taken away by us’. Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4 (ed. J. J. Pelikan, et al.; trans. J. J. Pelikan; vol. 26; Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 278.

Forthcoming book from Brill

February 2008 will see the arrival of Justification and Participation in Christ: The Development of the Lutheran Doctrine of Justification from Luther to the Formula of Concord (1580), by Olli-Pekka Vainio. Dr. Vainio is Researcher in the Department of Systematic Theology at University of Helsinki.

This book is #130 of the ‘Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions, and is listed at € 99.00.

The table of contents is:

1. Introduction
2. The Beginning of the Lutheran Reformation: Justification as Participation in Christ
3. Philip Melanchthon: Justification as the Renewal of the Intellect and the Will
4. Andreas Osiander and Matthias Flacius Illyricus: The Controversy over the Genuine Interpretation of Luther
5. Joachim Mörlin and Martin Chemnitz: Towards the Synthesis of the Extremes
6. Unio cum Christo in the Theologies of the Other Contributors to FC
7. The Doctrine of Justification in the Formula of Concord
8. Concluding remarks: What is the Lutheran Doctrine of Justification?

Here’s the blurb: The unity of the early Lutheran reformation, even in the central themes such as justification, is still an open question. This study examines the development of the doctrine of justification in the works of the prominent first and second generation Lutheran reformers from the viewpoints of divine participation and effectivity of justification. Generally, Luther’s idea of Christ’s real presence in the believer as the central part of justification is maintained and taught by all Reformers while they simultaneously develop various theological frameworks to depict the nature of participation. However, in some cases these developed models are contradictory, which causes tension between theologians resulting in the invention of new doctrinal formulations.

As a ‘closet Lutheran’, this is very exciting. It’s almost a Big-Kev moment.

Luther on being a sinner

‘If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner’. – Letter From Luther to Melanchthon. Letter no. 99, 1 August 1521, From the Wartburg (Segment). Translated by Erika Bullmann Flores from: Dr. Martin Luther’s Saemmtliche Schriften Dr, Johannes Georg Walch, Ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.), Vol. 15,cols. 2585-2590.

Biography in Brief – Luther

There have been no shortage of biographies written on Luther. Nor should there be. Like his Master, the Augustinian’s life and gospel could never be contained in a book. Furthermore, while there is no biography available in ink to match the fire of Luther’s own words, the Lord has given us some great books to help ignite the flame. While my two favourites on Luther remain Gerhard O. Forde’s On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 and Alister McGrath’s Luther’s Theology of the Cross, probably the most accessible (and cheapest) biography remains Roland H. Bainton’s Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1950). I love this quote:

Katie soon had more than Luther to think about. On October 21, 1525, Luther confided to a friend, “My Katherine is fulfilling Genesis 1:28.” On May 26, 1526, he wrote to another, “There is about to be born a child of a monk and a nun. Such a child must have a great Lord for a godfather. Therefore I am inviting you. I cannot be precise as to the time.” On the eighth of June went out the news, “My dear Katie brought into the world yesterday by God’s grace at two o’clock a little son, Hans Luther. I must stop. Sick Katie calls me.” When the baby was bound in swaddling clothes, Luther said, “Kick, little fellow. That is what the pope did to me, but I got loose.” The next entry in Han’s curriculum vitae was this: “Hans is cutting his teeth and beginning to make a joyous nuisance of himself. These are the joys of marriage of which the pope is not worthy.” On the arrival of a daughter Luther wrote to a perspective godmother, “Dear lady, God has produced from me and my wife a little heathen. We hope you will be willing to become her spiritual mother and help make her a Christian.”


The latest issue of Dialog: A Journal of Theology is now out and includes some interesting papers. The theme is Luther. Some highlights for me include:

Did Paul Get Luther Right?
David A. Brondos

Abstract: Did Paul and Luther proclaim the same gospel? Although Luther’s understanding of the work of Christ and his idea of the “joyous exchange” between Christ and believers reflect many ideas that are foreign to Paul’s thought, both agree on the heart of the gospel, namely, that justification is by faith alone, since “faith alone fulfills the law.” In Christ God graciously accepts sinners just as they are, so that as they live out of faith, trusting solely in God for forgiveness and new life, they may become the righteous people God desires that they be, not for God’s sake, but for the sake of human beings themselves.

Paul and the Revisionists: Did Luther Really Get it All Wrong?
Karl P. Donfried

Abstract: After the advent of the “new perspective” on Paul as explicated in E. P. Sanders, Krister Stendahl, and N.T. Wright, we need to ask: did Luther get Paul right? In this essay, Donfried analyzes N.T. Wright along with David Brondos on whether Paul—and Luther—properly interpreted concepts such as “law” or “justification” in light of ancient Judaism(s). In contrast to the “new perspective,” Donfried argues that Paul got the Judaisms of his own era right and Luther got Paul right: we are justified or rightwised before God because of the presence of Jesus Christ in the faith of the one who believes.

A Theological Autobiography, to Date
Robert W. Jenson

Jenson’s final word: ‘to be authentic, theology must be written for the undivided church that the Spirit will surely someday grant. I intend to keep trying.’

Luther on the conscience

I spent some time over the weekend re-reading one of my all-time favourite books: The Assurance of Faith: Conscience in the Theology of Martin Luther and John Calvin by Randall Zachman (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993). In the section on Luther (97 pages), he outlines that for Luther, a bad conscience is that which lacks faith and peace because it fails to hear and receive God’s word of grace, and to go on believing that Word while experiencing and seeing the opposite. God’s blessing remains hidden under a curse. At the heart of what Luther is concerned with here is the fundamental distinction between the only two available theological alternatives: (i) a theologia gloriae, a religion of the conscience, and so of the flesh which calls evil good, judges according to what it feels, is ever motivated by self-invented good works in an effort to be at peace with God, and thus never attains confidence in God’s mercy, but rather is driven to indifference, presumption and despair, and (ii) a theologia crucis, a religion of revelation, which says and believes what a thing is in contradiction to feelings and appearances, which never trusts the conscience but rather submits its accusations and acquittals to the truth of the gospel (through which is the proper interpretation of the Law) as attested to in the Scriptures and comes under the form of the cross. In other words, in the context of theologia crucis, we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, even though all we see is a shamed and abandoned man hanging on a cross. And even though the believers’ conscience may testify to the contrary, we must believe that that word concerning our forgiveness and sanctification is true and resist every lie associated with a theologia gloriae. Just as ‘nature wants to feel and be certain before she believes, grace believes before she perceives’. I’m now looking forward to seeing how Forsyth draws on Luther (as well as Kant and Maurice) in how he understands the role of the human conscience.


For other excellent discussions on Luther see Gerhard O. Forde, On Being A Theologian of the Cross: Reflections of Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997). A must read! and Alister E. McGrath, Luther’s Theology of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990).