Michael P. DeJonge
Contemporary political theology often defines itself against Lutheran social ethics, which is portrayed as politically disengaged and overly deferential to state power. At the same time, contemporary political theology often embraces the Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer as an exemplary political theologian. This incongruity is generally resolved by distancing Bonhoeffer from his tradition, at least on matters of political theology. But Bonhoeffer’s political theology was thoroughly Lutheran. Throughout the years of his political-theological engagement, from the Nazi rise to power in 1932–1933 to the drafting of Ethics and related writing in 1940–1943, he participated in ongoing conversations within Lutheran social ethics on the issues of, among others, the two kingdoms and the orders. In the process, he critically appropriated these elements of Lutheran thinking into an especially dynamic and christocentric framework that in turn informed his positions on various issues such as the church’s proclamation against the Nazi state and the ecumenical church’s witness for peace. Bonhoeffer is an example of Lutheran political theology, one that suggests the need to revise at least the more sweeping judgments about Lutheran theology as inherently incompatible with political engagement.
Paul R. Hinlicky
A meta-argument is needed today to go forward in theology with Luther. For speaking of God, even in sophisticated ways, is a dangerous business that can lead astray. Theology is not in the Reformer’s mind an unambiguous good. But neither is silence an option, if God has spoken. If God has spoken, one is summoned, indeed, empowered to speak in response. In some distinction from the dialectical theology of the 20th century, which oscillates between the Word of God and the word of man, Luther employed a dialectic of the Word and the Spirit to organize theology. And if in the power of the Spirit one speaks in response to God’s Word about God, one must also speak with others about speech about God that accords with God’s speech. This discourse straddles the community of faith and the academy. Thus three orders of theological discourse—speech in God’s name, the church’s confession, and academic theology—can be sorted in order to facilitate Luther’s challenge to theology as a dangerous business fraught with peril. It must do so in a way that both retrieves his insight into the dialectic of Word and Spirit and also guards against Luther’s own failures, especially in academic theology, when invective supplanted dialogue.
Within the Trinitarian sequence of Word and Spirit, the performance of God’s gospel word, so that it is experienced by the alienated sinner as the event of God surpassing the wrath of His love to establish the mercy of His love, constitutes the primary theology for Luther. This is discovered in the biblical matrix of Christian faith where the Spirit births every believer. Thus the primary theology of the Bible, taken as gospel speech in God’s name, gives “true” knowledge of God “in Christ crucified”; this is known and acknowledged in secondary theological speech, including Luther’s own doctrinal production. But the articulate recognition of these two orders is the critical work of an academic theologian.
Luther is in principle critically dogmatic, and where he falls short of this standard, he can and may be corrected by his own academic standards. The case depends on (1) the Trinitarian interpretation of the dialectic of Word and Spirit as primary and secondary orders of theological knowledge, respectively, that are conscience-binding, church-uniting and context-independent, and (2) the differentiation of the former from the academic task in hermeneutics and critical thinking that is context-dependent and subject to nothing other than reason and persuasion.
Across the theology of the 19th century, Martin Luther came to represent not only the Reformation but also what it meant to be Protestant—and, more than occasionally, what it meant to be modern, German, and Lutheran, in particular. Much of the modern theological interaction with and “return” to Luther occurred in the context of the various Luther or Lutheran Reformation jubilees; these religious, commemorative occasions were themselves more often than not heavily politicized affairs: for instance, 1817, 1830, 1867, and 1883. In addition, neo-confessional movements and attempts at both retrieving and “repristinating” the theology of the Reformation confessions and the highly developed systems of Protestant orthodoxy, as well as debates over what constituted the key “principle of Protestantism,” had a significant impact in the reception and formation of Luther’s image (Lutherbild) in theology across the modern era. Certain aspects of Luther’s theology, such as his doctrine of the hiddenness of God (Deus absconditus) from his landmark treatise De servo arbitrio (The Bondage of the Will, 1525), played particularly important roles. A few basic approaches to Luther emerged in the second half of the 19th century, spearheaded by such figures as Albrecht Ritschl, Theodosius Harnack, C. F. W. Walther, and Charles Porterfield Krauth. Some, like Ludwig Feuerbach or Søren Kierkegaard, constructed idiosyncratic images of the reformer. Many of the interpretations arose from polemical concerns, whether political, ecclesiastical, or theological. Conflicts over the proper appropriation of Luther’s thought increasingly resembled the battles between Protestants and Catholics in the late Reformation over who could claim the authority of the church fathers and other patristic voices. In many respects, the story of Luther’s theological reception is also a struggle for authority.
Alister E. McGrath
Following the deep and unsettling questions raised about the legacy of German Protestant theology as a result of the Great War (1914‒1918), a new interest emerged in returning to the fons et origo of Protestant theology in the writings of Martin Luther and other reformers. This was given additional impetus through the work of Karl Holl, who is widely credited with shaping the “Luther Renaissance” of 1919‒1921. Dialectical theology was a movement focused on Karl Barth that arose within German-speaking Protestantism in the aftermath of the Great War. The reception of Luther within the dialectical theology movement is complex and not easily reduced to simple categorizations. The diverse theological and confessional commitments within the movement led to various readings of Luther, generally mediated through secondary sources or channels. The movement portrayed itself in terms of a theocentric new reformation, breaking free from the cultural compromises and entanglements of German liberal theology in the first two decades of the twentieth century, particularly in relation to anthropology, Christology, and the understanding of sin. The movement presented itself as both the heir and reinterpreter of the theological legacy of the Reformation, particularly the theology of Martin Luther, most notably its emphasis on divine revelation. Yet its leading representatives—Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Rudolf Bultmann, and Friedrich Gogarten—understood Luther in somewhat different manners. It is therefore important to consider the use made of Luther by each of these figures individually, rather than try to collapse them into a single generic approach which is held to be representative of dialectical theology. The high profile these four writers accorded to Luther unquestionably stimulated Luther studies in the postwar period and contributed significantly to the current appreciation of Luther in contemporary theological debate.
What does Martin Luther mean for Germany? Formulated in such a way, this is an impossible question, due in no small measure to the existence of many “Luthers” and many “Germanys.” But it also invites historical investigation. Luther has long held a privileged position in the writing of German history, stretching back to his own lifetime, even if the exact nature of that position has hardly remained static or uncontested. Luther’s position in the annals of German historiography testifies to the influence of social and political upheavals on the way in which historians understand the past—and vice versa. Each era’s critical events have encouraged certain aspects of Luther’s person and work to be remembered and others to be forgotten.
Like swapping between telephoto and wide-angle lenses, historical perspectives have moved between a narrow concentration on the German reformer’s biography and theology and a broader focus on the Protestant movement he launched in Germany. Historians have regularly enlisted Luther in an expansive, sweeping vision of the German Reformation and the emergence of the modern German nation-state with Otto von Bismarck. Indeed, contemporary ideas of nation and nationalism have had a determining influence on interpretations of Luther. This is true as much for German historians like Leopold von Ranke, writing toward the beginning of history’s professionalization as a full-fledged, independent academic discipline in the first half of the 19th century, as it is for those surveying Luther in the midst of the First World War, in the aftermath of Hitler and the Nazi era, in the postwar German Democratic Republic in the East and Federal Republic of Germany in the West, on the cusp Germany’s “turning point” (die Wende) of 1989–1990—and even for historians now situated in the 21st century.
Sarah Hinlicky Wilson
Global Pentecostalism encompasses three distinct waves or movements: the Classical Pentecostal denominations inspired by the Azusa Street revival in the early 20th century; the Charismatic renewal in historic mainline churches starting in the 1950s; and independent Neocharismatic congregations and networks that began to multiply dramatically starting in the 1980s. Early Classical Pentecostals tended to have a positive attitude toward Luther as the beginning of the “restoration” of the lost doctrine and practice of the apostolic church, but only Jonathan Paul and his Mühlheimer Verband in Germany engaged in any meaningful way with Lutheran theology. Faced with fierce opposition within their denominations, Lutheran Charismatics such as Theodore R. Jungkuntz saw a need to correlate their spiritual distinctives with the Lutheran Confessions, which reached its most detailed expression in Welcome, Holy Spirit, edited by Larry Christenson. The Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus in Ethiopia responded most positively to Charismatic renewal of all Lutheran churches in the world with its 1976 statement, “The Work of the Holy Spirit.” While contemporary Classical Pentecostal theologians have only begun to engage with Luther, notable examples include Frank D. Macchia, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, and David J. Courey, who deal primarily with the doctrine of justification and the theology of the cross. The encounter of Lutheran theology with Pentecostalism suggests that both sides need to develop more comprehensive accounts of Christian experience and its role in doctrine, piety, and church life.
The topic of Luther in Marxism is vast and too diffuse to be useful to define issues and orient future research. However, the more limited topic of Luther in Marx is definite, manageable, and useful. If the framing of the relation between Luther and Müntzer first created by Müntzer and then adopted and popularized by Engels can be bracketed, and if the comparison of Luther and Marx is carefully controlled by Marx’s encounter with Luther texts, the result is a tacit but surprising claim by Marx to have found in Luther a predecessor in the analysis of capitalism. This surprise, however, entitles Luther to be heard afresh in his own voice in making his theological-ethical critique of mercantilism and monopoly finance in the 16th century. This new listening to Luther yields a concurrence between Luther and Marx regarding Marx’s claim that, in distinction from historical Christianity, the Marxist revolution brings an earthly, not otherworldly salvation; Luther, however, states just this difference differently, in terms of the Augustinian ordo caritatis. The double love commandment drives his own analysis of the proper Christian use of temporal goods. Beyond the exposé by Luther’s Augustinian theology of the false loves moving the civitas terrena, however, we discover the descent of critical social thinking to both Luther and Marx from the apocalyptic tradition of Second Temple Judaism. Recognizing this family resemblance makes visible the messianic divergence between the two. With this divergence clarified, new questions for Luther research arise.
Mark A. Granquist
The United States as a country was religiously formed by Reformed Protestants, who were later joined by substantial numbers of immigrant Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Jews. The role of Martin Luther in this religiously varied and pluralistic society has often changed over time, and has depended greatly on the context of those who have written about him. In some periods of time, especially the 18th century, Luther was little noticed or commented about, generally a figure solely in the distant past. In the 19th century, many American writers and scholars took notice of Luther, but often as a past symbol of some reality the author wished to address. Thus, Luther was seen essentially as one of the first modern individuals in the West, standing for religious and personal liberty against the reactionary forces of church and state. Some Protestants noted him for his stance against the medieval Western church and the papacy, which mirrored their own anti–Roman Catholic positions; American Roman Catholics saw him as the cause of the splintering of the true church and the author of all that was religiously problematic. After the Civil War, scholars began to access modern German scholarship about Luther, and the Luther birth anniversary of 1883 was perhaps the high point of his reputation in America. In the 20th century, there were positive and negative developments. On the negative side, two world wars soured Americans on things German, and some saw Luther as contributing to the rise of the Nazis and of the Holocaust. On the positive side, many of Luther’s works were translated into English, and many new historical and theological studies of the reformer were produced in English, along with translations of European works. American Lutherans began to produce substantial contributions to Luther studies, and newer works, even among Roman Catholics, sought to put Luther into his historical and theological contexts.
Pietism, the major Protestant renewal movement in the 17th and 18th centuries, sought to bring the head into the heart, to recover an experiential-expressive faith, to continue Luther’s reform of doctrine with reform of Christian living, to complete justification by sanctification. Hence Pietism understood itself as “the Second Reformation,” as the “church always reforming.”
The leading figures of Lutheran Pietism understood themselves as true followers of Luther. Johann Arndt’s True Christianity (1605–1610), one of the most influential writings of early modern Protestantism, appealed to the young Luther’s esteem for late medieval mysticism, and emphasized Christian religious experience. Philipp Jakob Spener, “the Father of Pietism,” wrote the programmatic tract for Lutheran Pietism, Pious Desires (1675), as a “foreword” to a collection of Arndt’s sermons. Spener, who had extensive knowledge of Luther’s writings, called for improved pastoral formation and increased lay participation in the church (priesthood of all believers) through gatherings for prayer and Bible study (collegia pietatis). He supported his program by appeal to Luther’s emphasis upon living, active faith in Luther’s “Preface to Romans” and “Preface to the German Mass.” Unlike “radical Pietists,” who despairing of renewal separated from the established church, Spener was convinced that God would provide “better times” for the church as it was renewed from within (the ecclesiola in ecclesia).
Spener’s call for spiritual and ethical renewal, praxis pietatis, was sharpened by his follower, August Hermann Francke. Francke’s struggles with doubts of God led to his conversion experience in 1687, his so-called Busskampf, experienced as a rebirth. From this Francke introduced into Pietism the concern for a once-for-all datable conversion or rebirth that would initiate a life of progressive sanctification. Francke’s new emphasis upon progressive sanctification toward perfection departed significantly from Luther’s dialectical theology, which understood the Christian as sinner and righteous as the same time (simul iustus et peccator). On the other hand, Francke continued Luther’s emphasis upon the Bible and strove to make the Bible as accessible as possible to the laity. A professor of biblical languages at the new University of Halle, Francke corrected the Luther translation through his own highly skilled historical-philological exegesis and in the process influenced succeeding generations of biblical scholars.
A third-generation Pietist leader, Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, one of Francke’s students at the University of Halle, created a vibrant Pietist community on his estate when he welcomed Protestant refugees from Moravia in 1722. Although not a trained theologian like his predecessors Spener and Francke, Zinzendorf followed the Lutheran emphasis upon atonement as the basis for justification before God. He supplemented Luther’s theology of the cross with his experiential “heart-religion” (Herzensreligion); Christians must have Christ in their hearts, not just their heads.
Lutheran Pietists used Luther selectively to advance their understanding of the practice of piety.
Sarah Hinlicky Wilson
It is by now a well-established fact that Martin Luther never intended to start a new church. He grounded his reforming and theological claims in the universally acknowledged canon of Scripture and decisions of the Early Church. Despite the fundamentally ecumenical intention of the Augsburg Confession and many overtures toward reconciliation, Luther and his colleagues were unable to reverse the divisive impact of their reforms. In the 20th century, however, the twin processes of establishing a worldwide Lutheran fellowship and participating in the nascent ecumenical movement after 1910 prompted Lutherans toward a fresh appreciation of Augsburg Confession, Article 7 and the universal quality of Luther’s theology. This can be seen already in the constituting assembly of the Lutheran World Convention in 1923, where Bishop Ludwig Ihmels made a case for Lutheran ecumenism on the grounds of Lutheranism’s cultural adaptability, commitment to the dogmas of the Ancient Church, and Christocentric focus. Lutherans were accordingly significant figures in the multilateral process during the first half of the 20th century, with Swedish archbishop Nathan Söderblom serving as head of Life and Work, and American Lutherans pushing for confessional rather than national membership in the World Council of Churches. The newly constituted Lutheran World Federation undertook its first theological study in the 1950s on the topic of “The Unity of the Church,” continuing to affirm a double commitment to Lutheran confessional identity and ecumenical reconciliation. Ecumenism underwent a dramatic change as a result of the new involvement of the Catholic Church following Vatican II, a change that suited Lutherans well. The new focus was on bilateral dialogue, resolving the specific difficulties between two churches. While ecumenical efforts have mostly been directed toward outlining areas of doctrinal consensus and removing obstacles to visible and structural unity, in certain dialogues the person and work of Luther himself has been at the center of the conversation. This can be seen most clearly in the dialogue with Catholics on the Reformation legacy, with the Eastern Orthodox prompting a reassessment of Luther’s teaching on union with Christ, and with Mennonites in narrating the painful history of Lutheran persecution of Anabaptists.