Robert Kolb to Speak at Concordia Seminary on “Luther’s Fiercest Foes”

“Martin Luther, inwendig voller Figur” Michael Mathias Prechtl

In celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis will host the final lecture in the REFORMATION500 Speaker Series at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 18, in Werner Auditorium. The lecture, “Luther’s Fiercest Foes: Satan, Sin, the Wrath of God,” will be presented by Dr. Robert Kolb, professor emeritus of international research at Concordia Seminary.

Kolb is one of the most respected Reformation scholars of our time. Through his many books, essays and articles, he has offered invaluable insight into Martin Luther’s thought and the network of colleagues and students who helped bring about one of the most important moments in history.

“For Luther, the Christian life continued to be a battlefield in which Christ contends with Satan and His attempts to claim believers as His,” Kolb said. “As the Wittenberg professor preached and taught, he presented the Gospel as the mighty fortress and shield against the assaults of the devil, the temptations of the flesh and even the just wrath of God Himself.”

In this lecture, Kolb will consider Luther within the context of his personal struggles — the perception of his own sinfulness, temptations and assaults from the devil, and his overwhelming fear of God’s justified anger with him as a sinner. From within this amalgamation of fear and despair, Luther forges a new path for the Christian life, a life of faith centered on the Word of God and prayer.

Kolb is the author of more than 170 essays published in academic journals and volumes on Reformation history and evangelism, as well as numerous books, including Martin Luther and the Enduring Word of God (2016); The Oxford Handbook to Martin Luther’s Theology (2014); Luther and the Stories of God (2012); Martin Luther, Confessor of the Faith (2009); The Genius of Luther’s Theology (with Dr. Charles Arand, 2008); Bound Choice, Election, and Wittenberg Theological Method From Martin Luther to the Formula of Concord (2005); The Book of Concord (co-editor with Timothy Wengert, 2000); and Speaking the Gospel Today: A Theology for Evangelism (1995).

The Seminary’s Center for Reformation Research  began commemorations for the Reformation quincentenary by sponsoring an annual speaker series to offer varying perspectives on the significance of the Reformation. Oswald Bayer began the series in 2012 with “A Public Mystery.” Subsequent years included perspectives from Fr. Jared Wicks, S.J., historian Steven OzmentTullian Tchividjian and Miroslav Volf.

This lecture is free and open to the public. It will be available for live stream at For more information, please contact Continuing Education at 314-505-7286 or email


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Miroslav Volf to Speak at Concordia Seminary

The fifth Reformation500 annual speaker series at Concordia Seminary will feature well-known author and theologian, Miroslav Volf, the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. The event will be held in Werner Auditorium on Monday evening, April 11, 2016 at 7:00 pm.

Volf is the founding director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. He has authored numerous books, including A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (2011); Captive to the Word of God: Engaging the Scriptures for Contemporary Theological Reflection(2010); Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (2006), which was the Archbishop of Canterbury Lenten book for 2006; Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (1996), a winner of the 2002 Grawemeyer Award; and After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity(1998), winner of the Christianity Today book award.

Volf also has received many prestigious lectureships including the Dudleian Lecture at Harvard; the Chavasse Lectures, Oxford; the Waldenstroem Lectures, Stockholm; the Gray Lectures, Duke University; and the Stob Lectures, Calvin College. He has been featured on National Public Radio’s Speaking of Faith and Public Television’s Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly.

The spirit of the Reformation’s teaching on faith is rich theme throughout Volf’s writings:

“Faith is an expression of the fact that we exist so that the infinite God can dwell in us and work through us for the well-being of the whole creation. If faith denies anything, it denies that we are tiny, self-obsessed specks of matter who are reaching for the stars but remain hopelessly nailed to the earth stuck in our own self-absorption. Faith is the first part of the bridge from self-centeredness to generosity.” — Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (2006)

The Center for Reformation Research and Concordia Seminary began commemorations for the Reformation Quincentenary by sponsoring an annual speaker series aimed at thereformation500-vertical organge St. Louis community to offer varying perspectives on the significance of the Reformation. Oswald Bayer began the series in 2012 with “A Public Mystery.”  Subsequent years included perspectives from Fr. Jared Wicks, S.J., historian Steven Ozment and Tullian Tchividjian

This lecture is free of charge and open to the public. For more information, please contact continuing education at 314-505-7486 or email

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Luther’s Truths, Then and Now

Robert Kolb

Editor’s note: Robert Kolb delivered the following address at the International Conference on Confessional Leadership in the 21st Century, held in Wittenberg, Germany, May 3-8, 2015. Eventually, all of the addresses from the conference will be published together in book form. Due to numerous requests, we provide his prepared remarks here.

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It is quite amazing – it is the rarest of occasions in human history – that people around the world are spending so much time, energy, and money to commemorate a simple, ordinary academic exercise. No one five hundred years from now will celebrate or rail against a faculty forum held at Concordia Seminary in 2015. In 1517 Desiderius Erasmus was much more influential than the young Wittenberg professor, who simply wanted to explore a question of pastoral care in the normal way academicians explored new ideas in their disciplines by posing theses for debate. Erasmus’ contemporary Johann Eck, trying to make a career for himself at another new, small university, in Ingolstadt, may have been more intelligent than his Wittenberg colleague in terms of his command of scholastic theology although Martin Luther was no amateur at the scholastic arts.

But with around ninety-five – depending on how the printers divided them – theses on the practice of indulgences Martin Luther began a church-changing, world-altering series of events that shaped the world far beyond the little frontier town of Wittenberg. What Thomas Kuhn labeled in 1962 “a paradigm shift” in his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions produced what some call the Copernican revolution in theology, Luther’s new characterization of being Christian.[1]  When printers pirated Luther’s proposals for debate on the issue of indulgences in 1517, they created the first modern media event, a public relations happening like none previously experienced in European civilization.[2]   This media event initiated a series of events that captured minds and hearts as it produced a fresh redefinition of what it means to be Christian. This new definition transformed the way Christians understand who their God is and who they are. The ripple effect of this redefinition continues to make an impact – often in ways unintended by Luther and contradictory to his intentions – today.

Recent Luther scholarship has emphasized the continuities of the Wittenberg reformer’s thought with elements of medieval teaching and practice. It certainly is important to recognize these continuities and the roots of much of Luther’s thinking in medieval antecedents, both in the scholastic tradition and in the monastic tradition of teaching and practicing the faith. Indeed, it is only when we recognize how Luther took what was familiar to his contemporaries and reworked the way key medieval terms were defined and key concepts recast that we can appreciate how radically the core of his understanding of being Christian critiqued medieval constructions of the faith and how fundamentally he set the church on new paths.[3] It should not surprise us that an individual never loses completely all the old forms of thinking into which his mind has been pressed by his instructors. New ideas that catch hold in society always take form within an older way of thinking, so that those who receive these new ways also retain some footing in the old way of thinking. Medieval Christianity was Christian. But Luther recast the framework for reading Scripture and proclaiming its message as he worked within the old system of thinking to come to significantly new foundations for thinking and living in Biblical fashion.

A framework used in the discipline of comparative religions or the history of religions may help make clear what Luther accomplished with his new definition of being Christian. Religions have six common elements, according to this theory: doctrine (the fundamental principles governing the perception of reality in the specific religious system of thinking); narratives that are the source and the expression of the doctrine; ritual (including both formal liturgical exercises and the routine pious practices woven into daily life as means of relating to the Ultimate and Absolute); ethics (the ways in which human beings properly relate to other human beings and other creatures); community( how adherents live together and how their polity provides governance for their religious institutions, usually through some kind of sacred hierarchy); and finally the element of personal commitment that binds the first five together (faith for Christians, submission for Muslims, the longing for nirvana for Buddhists).[4]

Medieval, western European Christianity had been shaped by its missionaries, to be sure, but in much of the Mediterranean world and quite generally north of the Alps too few Christians were available at the time of conversion to teach and instill the Biblical framework of thinking in the people. The masses took some concepts from Scripture and placed them within the structures of traditional Germanic, Celtic, and Slavic religions. Those religions did not have elaborate doctrinal systems but instead had understood the relationship between the gods, their concept of the Ultimate and Absolute, and themselves largely in terms of ritual. The relationship was initiated by and flowed out of human performance of that which pleased the gods, and what pleased the gods was chiefly the execution of sacred religious activities. Proper implementation of ritual depended on priests; the people of Europe had no problem accepting the religious authority of a hierarchy endowed with powers beyond that of ordinary human beings when Christian priests were introduced into the village.. Thus, in 1500 Christianity for most Europeans consisted of proper performance of ritual in the domain of a hierarchy that they experienced in the person of their local priest and that they knew culminated in the supreme pontiff, Christ’s vicar in Rome.[5]

Through a combination of factors the young Wittenberg monk and professor came to a different conclusion. His personality dare not be discounted in assessing how he came to his formulation of the Biblical message. Could Luther’s thinking, with their clear display of the stringency of God’s wrath and the sweetness of his love in Jesus Christ, have come from the pen of a person who had not experienced the intense emotional highs and lows that Luther himself experienced? Not only his personality, but also his scholastivc education molded his theology in profound ways. The presuppositions he learned from instructors schooled in the tradition of William of Ockham, mediated through the teaching of Gabriel Biel, Luther’s intellectual grandfather, professor at Tübingen, shaped his thinking. Well-known is his rejection of Biel’s understanding that God gives his grace only to those who do their best (facere quod in se est), so that they can perform works meritorious of salvation.[6] Less widely recognized is the fact that other elements of Ockham’s and Biel’s system of thought set in place fundamental insights for the young monk. Ockham’s principle that God’s almighty power (potentia absoluta) had permitted him to create the world in any way he wished and established him as the Creator who creates and re-creates without condition, Luther decided, even without human beings doing their best. Ockham’s understanding of the limits of the human creature’s ability to grasp God in categories of human reasoning and his perceptions of how human language functions remained with Luther throughout his life.[7]

But it was finally his study of Scripture that led him to his fundamental new insights into who God is and what it means to be human – that led him to his redefinition of what it means to be Christian. He had learned bits and pieces of the Bible from childhood on, perhaps initially not being able to distinguish its stories from the stories of the saints in the Legenda aurea, the collection of tales of miraculous deeds performed by historical or mythical figures who substituted in the popular imagination for the gods and goddesses who had been banned temporarily from the conception of the world that the missionaries brought with them. In school Luther had memorized Psalms in Latin to be sung by the choir in the church. In the university dormitory he had heard Bible readings at mealtime, a custom taken over from the monastery. Once in the monastery this lectio continua continued, as well as the singing of the psalmody in the seven hours of prayer each day.

But Luther truly learned Scripture as he began to teach it in 1513. He began with the Psalms, naturally, not simply because he had learned to love the deep-seated expression of human feelings that arose out of his own inner depths, which the psalmists had captured in graceful poetic fashion, but also because instruction in the Psalms had long since become a standard core of the theological curriculum.   He went on to Romans, then Galatians and Hebrews, and returned to the Psalms before political events and social turmoil interrupted his lecturing for half a decade from 1521 to 1526. Somewhere in the seven or eight years following his inaugural lectures in 1513 he experienced what has been labeled his “Tower experience” or his “evangelical breakthrough,” terms scholars are now giving up on, because it becomes ever clearer that like most human beings, Luther’s ideas changed slowly, raggedly, without a direct line of progress. Rather than a “breakthrough” or a magical, single “experience,” Luther experienced an “evangelical maturation.”

Key to that maturation was his new understanding of what Scripture says about the person of God and the persons created as human in his image. Luther learned from personal experience what it meant to try to deal with the God created by the mix of Scripture and Aristotelian concepts of an Unmoved Mover. He had received his theological instruction in a world where order depended on human conformity to an eternal law, which served as the only guarantee of the security of the world and the individual in the absence of the Creator. His Ockhamist instruction cultivated in him, however, a suspicion of the Aristotelian definition of the human being as animal rationalis. Being a living human being involved more than just reason (although Aristotle himself had made clear that the will and emotions with reason constituted being human). The God whom Moses and the prophets introduced to him was not Unmoved but on the move, moving through the passage of time which he had created, always moving as the utterly faithful Creator and conversation partner, in relationship with the human creatures fashioned in his image, with reason, will, and emotions.[8] Luther had no doctrine of God apart from God in relationship with his human creatures, the Deus revelatus. No doctrine of the Deus absconditus was possible since there was no reliable basis for wrapping the human mind around God without his own revelation.[9]

God revealed himself by addressing humankind throughout human history. God made the first evangelism call, asking, “Adam, where are you?” God stormed and cajoled, condemned and consoled, warned and wooed through Israel’s entire history and sent his disciples into the world to do the same. God just keeps talking throughout Scripture and throughout the church’s history. He has been present and continues to be present, exercising his power through his use of human language. Luther loved words, and he loved God’s Word. The God whom Luther encountered in Scripture showed a full range of emotions, from raging wrath in his disgust over children who would not listen to him, to tender, gentle, loving, kind comfort and caressing to those whom he lifted to cuddle on his lap. The Swedish scholar of German language and literature Birgit Stolt points out that Luther’s use of the Biblical picture of God as Father and his human creatures as his children intensified, both in the frequency of usage and in the drama of the imagery, once his own children came into his life.[10]

In an age in which social systems cultivate individual independence and thus foster a loss of community, a deficit of contact and communication, the call to return to the family of origin, gathered around a loving Father, who is longing to talk with his children, and coming together to connect with those whom he has made to be sisters and brothers, can be a powerful way of presenting our God. What Luther saw then in the pages of Scripture speaks volumes now.

For several reasons, defining being human in terms of being God’s child fits Luther’s understanding of what God did when he took dust from the earth and breathed into it the breath of life. Luther’s foundational definition of what it means to be God’s human child is that we have been created to fear, love, and trust in God above all else. The twentieth-century dogmatician and psychologist Erik Erikson did a better job of capturing a pair of Luther’s insights in his psychological theories than he did in sketching the reformer’s biography in his Young Man Luther. That volume is a less than successful attempt to apply Freudian theory to a person from another culture and another time.[11] Erikson came closer, however, to Luther as he taught that trust learned from contact with particularly one’s mother determines human personality. Our definitions of our own personhood spring from the trust or mistrust engendered in us in the first two years of life, according to Erikson.[12] Luther did a Biblical instead of an experimental analysis of humanity and quickly determined that the faithful God created his people to be faithful, to live by faith, to trust him in order to find the Shalom necessary for life to function well in relationship to him and to all other creatures. Luther recognized that trust in God, not performance of good works, is the foundation and framework of our humanity.

Erikson is famous also for his concept of identity as the key to how human beings deal with themselves and the reality around them. What he means by identity is not the same as, but closely akin to, Luther’s concept of human righteousness, being what God made us to be. Righteousness is an important topic throughout Scripture; Luther’s understanding of God’s righteousness shifted from depicting him as the evaluator with the scale in which things were measured according to the standard of his law to being presented as the person who comes to die and rise for those whom he loves.

Luther also departed radically from medieval perceptions of human righteousness, single-faceted as they were. Righteousness meant for the spectrum of theological voices from Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas to Ockham and Biel that human beings in some way met the demands for perfect performance of God’s law in one way or another. That might be possible, as Augustine taught, only through the aid of God’s grace and with his gracious forgiveness. Aquinas, too, taught the prevenient grace had to come before good works but that good works constituted that which makes God take pleasure in his human creatures.

Despite the admission that God’s grace is necessary for becoming righteous, this one-dimensional understanding of human identity or righteousness placed Luther continuously under God’s judgment until he discovered that human righteousness in God’s sight comes alone from God and that there are two facets to human identity. The first aspect or facet of human righteousness is passive, the core identity, the real DNA, which is totally a gift of God, just as the physical DNA that constitutes our person is a gift from our parents, unrequested, unearned, undeserved. The second facet is active, human actions executing human responsibilities, which God our Creator built into our nature. Luther labeled his distinction of these two facets of our identity, or two kinds of human righteousness, “our theology” in his Galatians commentary,[13] and Philip Melanchthon made it the anthropological basis of his presentation of the justification of the sinner by grace through faith in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession.[14] Luther initially distinguished iustitia aliena – righteousness from outside ourselves – from iustitia propria – righteousness that we perform ourselves – but later turned to the terminology of passive and active righteousness.[15] Chemnitz wrote in article III of the Formula of Concord, “in this life believers who have become righteous through faith in Christ have first of all the righteousness of faith that is reckoned to them and then thereafter the righteousness of new obedience or good works that is begun in them. But these two kinds of righteousness dare not be mixed with each other or simultaneously introduced into the article on justification by faith before God.”[16]

Luther’s concept of two kinds of righteousness simply builds upon the image of parent and child. Parents give their children their basic identity, described in modern terms with concepts like DNA and genetic make-up. Parents expect their children to perform in the manner the family deems appropriate behavior. You cannot really have one side of the equation – over the long haul – without the other although the disruption of sin does alter the nature of these two facets or aspects of our humanity. Parents do not ask their children some nine months before birth if the child will be ready to help with household chores and support the parents in their old age as a condition of birth. They give life through conception and birth free of obligation. But the expectations of performance do follow the free gift of life. No parent hopes that the newborn child will never change. All parents expect that their children will be from Lake Wobegon, performing at least a little bit “above average.” Likewise, Adam and Eve did not have a probation period after being formed from the dust of the earth and taken from the other’s rib respectively. God did not wait some time to see whether these living beings met his expectations for being human by behaving properly. He gave the gift of being human without condition.

A simple theological parable may clarify the distinction. Although by the definition of his own theology Thomas Aquinas had sufficient merit to proceed directly to heaven, without having to work off temporal punishment in purgatory, the Dominican saint dallied along the way, visiting old friends and doing research among those who still had purgatorial satisfactions to discharge there. He arrived at Saint Peter’s gate some 272 years after his death, on February 18, 1546. After ascertaining his name, Saint Peter asked Thomas, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” “Because of the grace of God,” Thomas answered, ready to explain the concept of prevenient grace should it be necessary. Peter asked instead, “How do I know you have God’s grace?” Thomas, who had brought a sack of his good deeds with him, was ready with the proof. “Here are the good works of a lifetime,” he explained. “I could have done none of them without God’s grace, but in my worship and observation of monastic rules, in my obedience to parents, governors, and superiors, in my concern for the physical well-being and property of others, in my chastity and continence, you can see my righteousness – grace-assisted as it may be.” Since a line was forming behind Thomas, Peter waved him in, certain that Thomas would soon receive a clearer understanding of his own righteousness. The next person in line stepped up. “Name?” “Martin Luther.” “Why should I let you into my heaven?” “Because of the grace of God.” Peter was in a playful mood, so he went on, “How do I know you have God’s grace? Thomas had his works to prove his righteousness, but I don’t see that you have brought any proof along that you are righteous.” “Works?” Luther exclaimed. “Works? I didn’t know I was supposed to bring my works with me! I thought they belonged on earth, with my neighbors. I left them down there.” “Well,” said Gatekeeper Peter, “how then am I supposed to know that you really have God’s grace?” Luther pulled a little, well-worn, oft-read scrap of paper out of his pocket and showed it to Peter. On it were the words, “Martin Luther, baptized, November 11, in the year of our Lord 1483.” “You check with Jesus,” Luther said. “He will tell you that I have been born again as a member of the family. He will tell you that he has given me the gift of righteousness through his own blood and his own resurrection.”[17]

In this age the search for identity proceeds largely on the basis of “how I perform,” on my job, with raising my kids, in my relationship with my spouse, in my sports club, and on the ball field. At such a time as ours the assertion that our core identity, the one that will last because it lies in God’s regard for us through Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection for us, can give people a whole new vision of life from which to build hope again. In an age in which many mean it when they say, “I wish I were dead,” we are able to say, “I have just the thing for you,” and fit them with the death of the old identity and the garment of resurrection in Christ. This can foster a sense of peace and joy that people have never been able to dream of before. What Luther saw then in the pages of Scripture speaks volumes now.

The Enlightenment tried to return to something of an Aristotelian vision of the human being as a living being who can manage life successfully through reason. But the Enlightenment is coming crashing down and crushing down all around us. Central and northern Europeans seem to be the only people who are not noticing. It is interesting that the Enlightenment is hanging on longest where Lutheran theology failed to hold onto the popular imagination. In fact, for all the national worries, U. S. Americans still begin by singing, “I did it my way,” thinking that they have established themselves on sure footing with their own decisions, but they go on to sing that they get no satisfaction and end up concluding that freedom is just another name for nothing left to lose. In such a world the mastery of reason seems diminished. Rationality also falls increasingly into conflict with the desire to feel good. But feeling good proves also to be elusive. Around the world optimism is dimming about human capabilities to preserve order and peace, harmony and prosperity, “shalom” in Hebrew terms, the likes of Eden. It is interesting that what the Germans describe with “Zufriedenheit” – being at peace – English-speakers describe as satisfaction – making enough for ourselves – or fulfillment – getting full of what we want. And that is still the goal of all those who live the lifestyle of democratic capitalism, whatever continent they may claim.

Nonetheless, more and more people speak of their vulnerability and the frailty and futility of life. Some turn to fatalistic explanations. Others blame someone or some other group. Of the making of scapegoats, there is no end. But casting blame solves nothing. Finally we must conclude, “we have met the enemy, and he is us,” as Pogo, a cartoon figure of my youth, opined. Luther knew that. And Luther knew that evil has deeper roots and sin more profound implications than any casual brush with bad luck or unfortunate accident can drive home for people. Luther experienced that the good that he wanted to do did not get done because without trust in the God who provides a haven in every need and truly supplies all good he was inevitably turned in upon himself, relying on creatures rather than Creator to secure his identity, the reality around him, and his life.[18]

Desperation creeps into the consciousness of those whose perception of their own identity finally end up wanting more security than can be offered by their own performance of what they think is right for them, Other creature or creatures that they marshal as their supporting force and foundation fail as well. For such people, Luther’s understanding that the basic problem of life is our failure to fear, love, and trust in God above all things opens the way to settling anxieties and bringing peace. For it teaches that our core identity – in Luther’s language our passive righteousness – is given free of charge and free of condition to the God who speaks to us in Jesus Christ. What Luther saw then in the pages of Scripture speaks volumes now.

The bestowal of passive righteousness takes place, in Luther’s view, when God goes about doing what God does, creating, or in this case re-creating, and accomplishing his new creation through his Word, just as in the beginning, he spoke, and reality came into existence. Martin Franzmann caught Luther’s sense with poetic precision: God’s strong Word had cleft the darkness, when it was done at his speaking; and so also does his strong Word bespeak us righteous, birthed with his own holiness as a result of the light of his salvation breaking upon those who dwelt in darkness and the depths of death.[19] Re-creation takes place when his word of forgiveness, life, and salvation buries sinful identities and raises up new creatures in Christ. Luther called that the restoration of righteousness “justification”.

The suggestion that “justification” is a term that has lost its significance for twenty-first century North Americans and Western Europeans – and may never have had much significance for people outside Western cultures – has been repudiated by Oswald Bayer. He argues that most Western Europeans and North Americans spend much of their lives justifying themselves to spouses, parents, children, neighbors, employers, fellow employees, referees on the sports field, traffic police who stop us – we are continually justifying our actions if not our very existence, also to ourselves.[20] This need to establish one’s own integrity is not reserved for Europeans and North Americans. Most people feel compelled to present and defend our own merit and value, our own rights to be the person we want to be and the person we are. Usually, what we have accomplished and achieved is the underpinning and substance of our argument. No sixteenth-century Christian was any more insistent on a Pelagian view of human merit than the typical Western European or North American of today. Many of them are just as beset by self-doubt, self-accusation, self-denial, or despair as were the super-conscientious monks of whom Luther was one.

God is still calling out to precisely this kind of person, to those who fear that they have not performed to standard, or have not forged the right connections to further their children or snag a promotion. God’s Word still projects itself to light up the darkness of those who turn in upon themselves because they can trust no outward source of support anymore.

Luther’s grasp of God’s reality addresses those who feel themselves in free fall, with nothing to grab onto for support and safety. God creates a new reality for them by filling the hole at the center of their lives, where fear, love, and trust in him had been replaced by fear, love, and trust of some unworthy, unworkable substitute for the Creator. God comes to say that he no longer views them with the distaste and disgust that paralleled their own distaste and disgust for their former way of life. God comes to bury their sinful identities in Christ’s tomb and raise them up to be justified, righteousness-restored members of his family, so that they can enjoy God’s love and live recklessly in risking all for the neighbor and live with abandon, so that Christ’s love can be broadcast into the world around them. In this, Luther is echoing Paul’s language regarding baptism in Romans 6 and Colossians 2. In fact, Jonathan Trigg suggests that Luther did not derive his understanding of baptism as the death and burial of the sinner and the resurrection of the new creature through Christ’s death and resurrection, as described in Romans 6:3-11 and Colossians 2:11-15 from his doctrine of justification, but that Luther’s understanding of baptism shaped his teaching on justification.[21] His concept of justification does seem rooted in Romans 6 and Romans 4:25, where Paul asserts that Christ was handed over into death for our sin and was raised to restore our righteousness, to justify sinners.[22]

In Luther’s German “to justify” referred not only to the judge’s verdict of innocence. “Rechtfertigen” could also mean “to do justice to” a person. Luther’s understanding of the justification of sinners in baptism used this definition.[23] Sinners receive their just deserts in God’s justification. They are buried as sinners so that they may be re-created through the resurrection. The forensic judgment of God kills before it makes alive.

Luther’s forensic understanding of justification has received much criticism in the last quarter century, in part from heirs of the classical Liberal critique of Albrecht Ritschl and Adolf von Harnack, who wanted human righteousness to be understood as upper bourgeois good behavior that could construct the kingdom of God on earth. Therefore, they argued that Luther defined justification in terms of its “effectiveness” in producing people who produce good works.[24] Recently, the argument that Luther’s understanding of salvation resembles the Eastern Orthodox understanding of justification as divinization or theosis – advanced by the so-called “Finnish” or “Mannermaa” school – has won credence in some circles as it sought on a radically different metaphysical foundation to emphasize what justification produces in terms of Christian living. The founder of this school, Tuomo Mannermaa, and many of his followers, sincerely wanted to cultivate devout Christian living, but they misinterpret Luther both historically and theologically when they ignore what “forensic” justification means within the context of Luther’s thought.[25] Gerhard Forde conveyed the true nature of Luther’s understanding of God’s speaking us righteous when he asserted, “The absolutely forensic character of justification renders it effective – justification actually kills and makes alive. It is, to be sure, ‘not only’ forensic but that is the case only because the more forensic it is, the more effective it is!”[26] God’s forensic judgment – when he imputes sinners righteous, when he regards them as righteous, when he pronounces his verdict of innocent upon them – that Word of the Lord, like his Word in Genesis 1, determines reality, effectively![27]

What Forde meant with his axiomatic quip is that trust in God’s saying that we are righteous moves us to recognize that we are – passively! – righteous in his sight. In faith we cannot do anything else but live out that passive righteousness actively, in the active righteousness of love and service to the rest of God’s creatures. God’s Word makes us alive, not to sin the more that grace may abound (Rom. 6:1), but to demonstrate to the world that our identity bestowed by God’s grace apart from any merit or worthiness of our won, is real. That Word of forgiveness restructures our entire way of thinking and therefore of acting. The new creature it has called into existence produces the fruits of faith, the fruit of the Holy Spirit. If one finds that not to be the case, it is time to hear again the law that calls to repentance. Luther understood that justification meant that the justified sinner acts like a child of God and combats temptations, killing desires to act against God’s will, in daily repentance.

Some accuse Luther of being fixated on the concept of justification to the exclusion of other Biblical descriptions of salvation. Those who say that have not read his catechisms. There and throughout his writings he marshals the richness of Biblical descriptors of God’s saving action in Christ.[28] The word “justification” does not occur in the Small Catechism, his primer and confession of faith for German children. What Christ accomplished for us is instead defined as “redemption” – Erlösung – the loosing of the bonds which hold us captive, liberation. In fact, his primary treatise on his teaching on justification bears the title On Christian Freedom (1520).[29]

In his explanation of the second article of the Creed in the Small Catechism Luther described the effect of Christ’s death for sinners with the German “erworben.” The usual English translation, to “purchase,” certainly is not incorrect, but “to acquire possession of” would be clearer and more precise. For it is not a monetary purchase – Luther quotes Peter that it is not a gold and silver kind of acquisition – but one with blood, not a price for buying something but rather the visitation of what God’s law demands.[30] The lamb did not give as many drops of blood as Israel required that year to compensate for its sins and then return to frolic in the field. The lamb died on the altar of justification. This “purchasing” with Christ’s sacrificial death has the result, Luther relates a few words later, of our becoming his own, belonging to him, being brought into his realm to live with him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

That is what redemption means also in the Large Catechism, where Christ tears hell apart and drives Satan out of the lives of those whom he had imprisoned. There can be no doubt that Luther taught that Christ’s death is vicarious, as he took our place before the law and satisfied its demand for death (Rom. 6:21a). It is also clear that he emphasized justification through Christ’s victorious resurrection; the gospel is “the telling of a true David who tussled with sin, death, and the devil, and overcame them, thereby rescuing all those who were captive in sin, afflicted with death, and overpowered by the devil. Without any merit of their own, he made them righteous, gave them life, and saved them, so that they were given peace and brought back to God.”[31]

Luther and his students did not hesitate to address guilt as they proclaimed God’s law, but they more often talked about the anxiety and terror aroused by God’s wrath over human guilt rather than about the feelings of guilt itself. And they also proclaimed his liberation from fears that had nothing to do with their own responsibility for perpetrating evil but rather for the threat from the world and Satan in all its many forms. The preaching of the Wittenberg instructors and their students aimed at bringing Christ into their consciousness to liberate them from feelings of estrangement, alienation, and abandonment and of their terrors in the face of death. The mention of “justification” in Luther’s preaching abolished perverted perceptions of the hearers’ own identities that cast them back upon themselves or other idols they had fashioned as replacements for their Creator. Justification was for Luther the restoration of true identity as God’s children, righteousness before God, and the trust that recognizes that identity in that aspect of who we are drives us to act out the secondary identities God has given us as those created to praise him and to serve and love his other creatures.

In a world chasing after false identities and seeking rest and protection in false havens and in false standards for evaluating life, Luther’s insight – that we can never find sufficient justification for our existence in our own performance or in any created substituted for God as he has revealed himself in Jesus of Nazareth – restores stability, order, and peace to troubled consciences. Everything falls into its proper place when Christ comes to the center of life and our trust in him embraces all we think and do, the Wittenberg reformer insisted. According to Luther, Christ’s justification of sinners restores our righteousness, our Shalom, the fullness of our humanity. What Luther saw then in the pages of Scripture speaks volumes now.

All reality flows from the creative, sustaining, re-creative Word of the Lord, according to Wittenberg theology. Luther’s unique understanding of God’s Word and how it functions set it apart from the “superstitious” use of words in medieval theology – as the Wittenberg theologians defined it – and the symbolic use of words that arose out of platonic presuppositions among other reform-minded critics of that medieval view. Luther’s perception that God actually acts in this world through oral, written, and sacramental forms of his Word has caused some difficulties for Lutherans in conversations with other Christians over the past centuries. There is less reason for this issue to continue to be a stumbling block because of the recent discussion among linguists of what is called “performative speech.” [32] Luther’s view goes beyond what linguists have seen as the impact of words governed in large part by social constructions and conventions. Luther asserted that when God speaks, new realities come into being and that all reality has its origin in God speaking. That means that nothing can be more real than the person whose righteousness has been restored to the Edenic identity enjoyed before the Fall by Adam and Eve.

In a world in which we experience that words can hurt us even more than sticks and stones, to know that the Word of the Lord performs what it promises, delivers what it declaims, gives more solid assurance of what is real than an umpire’s decisive call, than a judge’s determination of innocence. God’s re-creative Word gives twenty-first century hearers the solid foundation of the promise ringing out from Calvary and the property of Joseph of Arimathea. What Luther saw then in the pages of Scripture speaks volumes now.

There are any number of elements in Luther’s teaching and the teaching of his colleague Philip Melanchthon and their students, especially Martin Chemnitz, David Chytraeus, and Jakob Andreae, whose confessional works we accept as our confession, that can speak to our cultures around the world if properly translated. Among the topics that could be treated are the reformer’s theology of the cross, the Lord’s Supper, and Luther’s concept of vocation. But we should also look at the modus operandi of the Wittenberg theologians, which can provide vital models for us as we give witness to the Biblical message in their train in the twenty-first century.

Luther was a translator. He not only rendered the Bible into the sterling German that helped shape how Germans talk and write to this day. He translated the message of the Bible into the culture of German-speaking people. James Nestingen has pointed out how Yale Divinity School missiologist Lamin Sanneh’s recognition of Christianity as a way of life inextricably involved in translation helps elucidate what Luther was doing as he translated Mediterranean expressions of the faith into words and concepts that German-speaking children could grasp.[33] Born a Muslim in the Gambia, Sanneh perceived the contrast between Islam, in which Arabic is the language which all Muslims should learn to read the Koran and to pray properly, and the Christian faith. In Christianity God has translated himself into human flesh; the gospels translate almost all that Jesus said into Greek from his native tongue; and missionaries immediately set to translating Scripture and other books into native languages when they begin a new mission. Luther recognized that the never-changing, always-moving Creator depicted in the Old Testament is deeply involved in the flow of human history and that on Pentecost he addresses a host of tribes and nations in their own tongues.

Luther thoroughly appreciated this aspect of God’s person, who falls into conversation with his human creatures within every cultural context that springs from his creative hand, taking seriously the grand variety of human cultures that reflect not only Babel’s fall but also his own ultimate complexity. Therefore, while he stood fast on the doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Christ alone, he was able to express it in a host of ways, applying and formulating the gospel for specific situations as he encountered them. He was open to a variety of forms of polity for the church, and he did not try to impose uniformity in ritual as Rome did, with more ease than ever, through the agency of the printing press.

In an age in which, within one society, cultures differing in language, customs, worldviews, and other factors exist alongside each other, Luther-like trust in the Holy Spirit’s governance of the church demands experimentation within the community to find the proper ways of expressing the gospel and explaining the law for the people to whom God sends us, enjoying fellowship with those who express a common confession in a variety of translations.

Lutherans have proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ into at least four different cultural situations. In the sixteenth century the Lutheran church became establishment in large parts of central and northern Europe. But also in the sixteenth century Lutherans lived in churches under persecution, particularly in Eastern Europe. Before the end of the sixteenth century Lutherans had also begun mission churches in northern stretches of Sweden, and soon thereafter brought the gospel to the Delaware, and in the course of the seventeenth century tried to establish mission churches in western Africa and the Caribbean. By 1706 mission efforts began to establish enduring Lutheran churches in Asia as well. Also in the seventeenth century immigrants from Europe began establishing immigrant churches, first in the Americas, then in South Africa and Australia. In each of these forms of church Luther’s message spoke to the culture around it.

Luther formulated a way of being Christ’s people in whatever society and culture God has placed his chosen. H. Richard Niebuhr dubbed Luther’s approach to the church’s place in human cultures “Christ and culture in paradox,” It is more aptly described as “Christ’s people and culture in two dimensions,” two realms. In what seems to be becoming a more hostile world, Luther’s twenty-first century followers must resist the temptation to drift into what Niebuhr labeled a “Christ of culture” model or into a “Christ against culture” pattern. The household of faith needs Lutheran witness to Luther’s manner of practicing sharp critique of society’s sins while affirming God’s extravagant gift of the blessings of one’s own culture.[34] That means that in the immediate future establishment and immigrant Lutheran churches have more to learn from those in the lands of persecution and mission than to teach our sisters and brothers there. That means that such conversations are necessary to insure proper translation of Luther’s insights

Humanly speaking, Luther’s message spread not only because it addressed human perception of needs but also because, more or less by accident, Luther discovered how to use the most effective technology at hand. He did not see the potential of movable type for serving the reform of the church, but printers saw the potential for the marketing of his thoughts on indulgences and then quickly on a host of other subjects. Luther himself did not drag his feet but quickly became a master at combining his words with Lukas Cranach’s images, in order to spread the message of Scripture to a wide readership. The cultural appreciation that came naturally to Luther also led to his recognizing the value of other disciplines for aiding theology, including the study of literature and history, and above all of the arts of communication, rhetoric and dialectic. His friend Philip Melanchthon drew upon the developing so-called humanistic program to lead a return to ancient sources and to emphasize the necessity of using the skills God implants for the service of proclaiming salvation in Christ.

Luther recognized both the promise and the ambiguity of new technology and new modes of communication. In a world in which God’s material blessings flow richly with gifts that can aid our thinking and our communicating, new modes of communicating can also be hijacked by Satan. Further complicating matters, disciplines always carry ideological baggage and need Christ critique. In such a world, Luther’s ability to marshal technology as well as an array of colleagues and their teaching across the spectrum of the curriculum of the time should serve as a model for us. Luther’s emphasis on literacy endowed us sociologically with a kind of upward social mobility. As our people assume more and more responsibility in a range of disciplines and societal positions, this emphasis can serve us well as we use these gifts to exercise the responsibilities of leadership and learning which God gives us in church and society. What Luther saw then in the pages of Scripture speaks volumes now.

Finally, the modus operandi of the Wittenberg theologians rested on the fundamental distinction necessary for the proper functioning of God’s conversations with his human creatures, the distinction between God’s plan for human living and God’s re-creative saving activity in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Luther’s way of thinking emerged in the poles between God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures, the source of truth, and the need to apply that Word in effective pastoral care, which called sinners to repentance and forgave, comforted, and empowered the repentant. In 1532 Luther called this distinction “the noblest skill in the Christian church,” for both law and gospel are God’s Word but both can be lost if they are jumbled together and not correctly distinguished from each other.[35] “Whoever knows well how to distinguish the gospel from the law should give thanks to God and know that he is a real theologian,” he commented in 1532.[36] Luther’s concept of law defined it broadly as the whole counsel of God’s design for human life but also quite focused on the first commandment as his catechisms in 1529[37] and his preface to the prophets of 1532 amply demonstrate.[38] What caused people to hurt and harm neighbors and to fail to help and befriend them in every bodily need was their failure to fear and love – and trust – in God, above all that he had made. That means that the crushing force of the law that produces true repentance, as Luther depicted it with the image of rock and hammer in the Smalcald Articles (Jer. 23:29)[39] attacks the hole that lack of true faith makes at the heart of our lives whether that hole becomes obvious when we are perpetrating sin or suffering it. Our second and primary use of the law points people to their sin above all against the first commandment – that is, to their failure to fear, love and trust in their Creator and Redeemer over everything else in life – that the gospel may draw them to Christ. It does that by accusing, to be sure, but it begins the process often by crushing and cracking the false gods in other ways as well.

God’s plan for human life continues to crush the pretensions of all the false gods we fashion while it remains God’s good design for our lives. We can deal neither with the crushing force of its accusations or with the great potential for its help in charting lives of peace and joy without the Holy Spirit’s application of the re-creating power of the gospel of Christ in our lives. The bestowal of a new identity through Christ’s death and resurrection transform the reality of our lives through the gospel’s forgiving, life-restoring, consoling, empowering action in the Word in oral, written, and sacramental forms. What Luther saw then in the pages of Scripture speaks volumes now.

Amnesia is a terrible thing, yet far worse are counterfeit memories, changed to fit our predilections, altered to teach history what we wish it could teach us. A living and lively historical memory is a great blessing, particularly when it is directed toward God’s work of blessing his church with the gospel. That is certainly the case when we reflect on the career and message of Martin Luther. Furthermore, there is no reason to remember if not to get insights for translation into our own culture and to invite Luther’s critique of what we are doing. Above all, we need to heed his call to repent as part of our lives as Christians. Neither forgetting nor condemning, neither idolizing nor merely praising, but engaging Luther in earnest dialogue – this should be the goal of our reflection on our own tradition. If he cannot critique what we are doing and offer suggestions for what we might do in the future, our gaze back five hundred years will be no more than entertainment, and little more than basking in our own image. The form of his address was molded within his own culture and experience and bound by sixteenth-century forms. His insights into the Word of the Lord, however, can be translated, as he translated Scripture and the tradition of the church, into our times and our places, as different as they are in our several corners of God’s world. What Luther saw then in the pages of Scripture speaks volumes now.


[1] (2. ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970).

[2] “How Luther Went Viral,” The Economist, 17December 2011, 93-95. Luther did recognize the potential of the printing press quickly and imaginatively employed its possibilities for spreading his message.

[3] Volker Leppin, “Luther’s Transformation of Medieval Thought, Continuity and Discontinuity,” in The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology, ed, Robert Kolb,Irene Dingel, and Lubomir Batka (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 115-124.

[4] Ninian Smart, Worldviews. Cross Cultural Explorations of Human Beliefs (New York: Scribner’s, 1983).

[5] Scott Hendrix, Recultivating the Vineyard (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2004), 1-35.

[6] Heiko A. Oberman, The Harvest of Medieval Theology (Durham: Labyrinth, 1983), 47-50, 146-184.

[7] Ibid., 30-38.

[8] Notger Slenczka, “Luther’s Anthropology,” in Oxford Handbook, 212-232.

[9] Gerhard O. Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross. Reflectionson Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 69-81.

[10] “Martin Luther on God as Father,” Lutheran Quarterly 8 (1994), 385-95.

[11] Young Man Luther, a Study in Psychoanalysis and History (New York: Norton, 1958).

[12] See, e.g., Erikson’s Insight and Responsibility (New York: Norton, 1964), esp. 81-107, Identity, Youth and Crisis (New York: Norton, 1968), esp. 91-141, Life History and the Historical Moment (New York: Norton, 1975).

[13] Dr. Martin Luthers Werke (Weimar: Böhlau, 1883- ) [henceforth WA] 40,I:45,24-27; Luther’s Works (Saint Louis and Philadelphia: Concordia and Fortress, 1958-1986) [henceforth LW]), 26:7.

[14] Die Bekenntnisschriften der Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche, ed. Irene Dingel (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014 [henceforth BSELK]), 272/273-278/279, 286/287-288-289, 552-553 The Book of Concord, ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), 122-125, 128, 234-235.

[15] WA 2:145,7-10; LW 31:297.

[16] FC, SD III:32, BSELK, 1400/1401, BC, 567-568.

[17] Taken from Robert Kolb, “Luther on the Two Kinds of Righteousness. Reflections on His Two-Dimensional Definition of Humanity at the Heart of His Theology,“ Lutheran Quarterly 13 (1999): 449-466, here 454-455.

[18] L’ubomír Batka, “Luther’s Teaching on Sin and Evil,” in Oxford Handbook, 233-253.

[19] Lutheran Service Book (Saint Louis: Concordia, 2006), 578.

[20] “Justification as the Basis and Boundary of Theology,” Lutheran Quarterly 15 (2001): 273-292.

[21] Jonathan D. Trigg, Baptism in the Theology of Martin Luther (Leiden: Brill, 1994), 1-2.

[22] Robert Kolb, “Resurrection and Justification. Luther’s Use of Romans 4,25,” Lutherjahrbuch 78 (2011), 39-60.

[23] Werner Elert, “Deutschrechtliche Züge in Luthers Rechtfertigungslehre,” in Ein Lehrer der Kirche, Kirchlich-theologische Aufsätze und Vorträge von Werner Elert, ed. Max Keller-Hüschemenger (Berlin, Lutherisches Verlagshaus, 1967), 23-31; Trigg, Baptism, 1-2.

[24] James M. Stayer, Martin Luther, German Saviour. German Evangelical Theological Factions and theInterpretation of Luther (Montreal: MicGill/Queen’s University Press, 2000).

[25] Risto Saarinen, “Justification by Faith. The View of the Mannermaa School,” in Oxford Handbook, 254-263. Cf. the critique of Klaus Schwarzwäller, “Verantwortung des Glaubens. Freiheit und Liebe nach der Dekalogauslegung Martin Luthers,’ in Dennis Bielfeldt and Klaus Schwarzwäller, eds., Freiheit als Liebe bei Martin Luther/Freedom as Love in Martin Luther (Frankfurt/M: Lang, 1995), 146-148.

[26] Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life (1982; Ramsey, NJ: Sigler, 1991), 36.

[27] Mark Mattes, “Luther on Justification as Forensic and Effective,” in Oxford Handbook, 264-273.

[28] Ian D. Kingston Siggins, Martin Luther’s Doctrine of Christ (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970); cf. Mathieu Arnold, “Luther on Christ’s Person and Work,” Oxford Handbook, 276-293.

[29] WA8:573-669; LW44:251-400.

[30] BSELK , BC .

[31] WABD6:4,3-11, LW35:358.

[32] Oswald Bayer, Theology the Lutheran Way, trans. Jeffrey G. Silcock and Mark C. Mattes (Grand Rapids: Eerdrmans, 2007), 125-138.

[33] “Luther’s Cultural Translation of the Catechism,” Lutheran Quarterly 15 (2001), 440-452. Cf. Lamin Sanneh, Translating the Message, The Missionary Impact on Culture (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1989).

[34] Robert Kolb, “Niebuhr’s ‘Christ and Culture in Paradox’ Revisited,” Lutheran Quarterly 10 (1996): 259-279.

[35] WA 36:8,14-10,18, 25,1-34. Cf. 36:28,12-16, 33-38. Cf. Robert Kolb, “’The Noblest Skill in the Christian Church’: Luther’s Sermons on the Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 71 (2007): 301-318.

[36] WA 40, 1: 207,3-4; LW 26:115.

[37] BSELK 862/863, 930/931, BC 351, 386-392.

[38] WADB11,1:2,1-15,29, LW35:265-273, cf. Maurice E. Schild, Abendländische Bibelvorreden bis zur Lutherbibel (Gütersloh: Mohn, 1970), 213-233.

[39] BSELK 750/751-752/753, BC 312-313.

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The “Three Kingdoms” of Simon Musaeus: An essay from the Festschrift for James M. Estes

Simon_MuslikJames M. Estes has been a leading North American Reformation scholar for more than half a century.  A student of Harold Grimm at Ohio State University, he became the leading interpreter of the thought and significance of the Swabian reformer and support of Luther, Johann Brenz.  During his long career at the University of Toronto he also has taken part in—and continues to contribute to—the edition of the works of Erasmus in English translation.  In celebration of his eightieth birthday, friends prepared a Festschrift in his honor.  Among the some twenty authors in the volume, Robert Kolb shared a study of the thought of one of Luther’s students, Simon Musaeus.  Musaeus imaginatively adapted  his mentor’s framework of the two realms as a hermeneutical structure for interpreting God’s creation of and saving intervention in human history. We provide Professor Kolb’s essay here for your reading pleasure:kolb-robert-photo

Robert Kolb on Simon Musaeus

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Tuomo Mannermaa Dies

TMTuomo Mannermaa (September 29,1937-January 19, 2015), professor emeritus of ecumenical Theology at the University of Helsinki and internationally recognized Luther scholar, died this past week at age 77. Born in Oulu, Finland, he studied at the University of Helsinki and held professorships in social ethics (1972-1976) and systematic theology (1974-1980), before assuming the chair of ecumenical theology in 1980. His participation in ecumenical dialogues, particularly with Eastern Orthodox theologians, led to his accentuation of elements in Luther’s writings that he found akin to the Orthodox doctrine of salvation through theosis (divinization). His most prominent North American student, Kirsi Stjerna, professor of church history at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, summed up his position in her tribute to her mentor at his death: “Known as the father of the “Finnish Interpretation of Luther”, Professor Mannermaa in the 1980s introduced a hermeneutical paradigm shift in the reading of Luther’s doctrine of justification by unfolding the centrality of the effective righteousness in Luther’s theology of salvation. Based on his close examination of Luther’s interpretation of St. Paul’s letters, he discovered the under-appreciated dimension of Luther’s central theology: the ‘real-ontic’ indwelling of Christ in faith, and the essential connection between love and faith. The ecumenical promise of the connections made between Luther’s ideas of ‘Christ present in faith’ and the patristic notion of ‘divinization’ continues to generate new studies with different methodologies and premises.” Mannermaa also authored popular devotional books in Finnish. His seminar created a school of scholars who have contributed a wide range of studies of various aspects of Luther’s thought. His ideas have influenced students of the Reformation around the world and continue to arouse debate. His impact on Luther research will remain a focus of discussion for the years to come.

In Memoriam.  By Robert Kolb

It was a friend from Hannover, a Landeskirche pastor named Ulrich Asendorf, whom I had met at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, where he sometimes served as guest professor, that I first heard the name “Tuomo Mannermaa.” As we drove together across the north German plain in 1987, Asendorf asked me if I did not think that the authors of the Formula of Concord had treated Andreas Osiander unfairly in condemning his definition of justification of faith. Osiander had taught that the righteousness that avails before God is the indwelling divine nature of Christ, who comes into the believer through faith. Asendorf explained that he and Mannermaa had become friends through their common opposition to the Leuenberg Concord of 1973, the consensus document with which Lutherans and Reformed in Germany addressed the doctrine of the true presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.

Professor Mannermaa in fact was not advancing Osiander’s ideas. But his interpretation of Luther’s understanding of justification by faith came, in my opinion, perilously close by positing that the righteousness of the believer is a “real-ontic” righteousness infused by theosis, the “divinization” of the believer by the Holy Spirit through trust in Christ. Mannermaa had come to his conclusion on the basis of what I regarded as too few Luther texts as he was dialoguing with theologians of the Russian Orthodox church. In the 1980s Lutheran theologians from Finland, during the Cold War a “neutral” country and next door to its former imperial master, Russia, had easier access to such conversations than did most Lutherans. Mannermaa strove to reach across confessional lines to bring Luther’s text and his message to those behind the Iron Curtain.

Mannermaa and I met a few years later at a conference in Eisenach, under the shadow of the Wartburg. The theologian with whom I disagreed became Tuomo, a brother who shared my passion for digging into Luther’s thought and my conviction that Luther’s voice deserves to be heard across confessional boundaries since the Wittenberg professor conceived of his message as a word for the whole church. We disagreed, but we recognized the common commitments and concerns that framed our differing readings of Luther. When his colleague Simo Heininen at the University of Helsinki invited me to lecture there, Tuomo and I had further opportunity to trade ideas. Our differences did not diminish, but my respect for his quiet faith in Christ and his burning concern for the unity of his church and for the cultivation of a strong faith and life of new obedience in Christ’s footsteps deepened at that time and in later encounters. It was clear that the love of the Lord Jesus had shaped this gracious, kindly, pious man.

At a time when Luther studies had drifted into doldrums of a sort, Mannermaa’s arguing that the heart of the Wittenberg theology lay in Luther’s adherence to theosis as an explanation of how God bestows righteousness upon sinners aroused discussion and returned researchers to the central question of the Reformation. The discussion around his ideas has moved beyond his initial ideas, but the stimulus he has given has served the church and scholarship in special ways. We thank the Lord for this friend.

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Tullian Tchividjian to speak at Concordia Seminary

YTpWfjhrThe fourth Reformation500 annual speaker series at Concordia Seminary will feature well-known author, Tullian Tchividjian, senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The event will be held in Werner Auditorium on Thursday evening, March 19, 2015 at 7:00 pm.

A Lecturer of Pastoral Theology at Knox Theological Seminary, William Graham Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) is also a contributing editor to Leadership Journal, and the grandson of Evangelist Billy Graham. Tullian is a best-selling author, having written six books including Jesus + Nothing = Everything which won Christianity Today’s book of the year in 2011. Both Jesus + Nothing = Everything and his most recent book Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free were an ECPA finalist for Book of the Year. Tullian is also the founder of LIBERATE—a resource ministry that seeks to “connect God’s inexhaustible grace to an exhausted world” through an annual conference, a website, and a wide range of other media outlets including a daily radio program on Moody Radio called LIBERATE.

As an important voice within American evangelicalism, we look forward to hearing his perspective on the challenges and opportunities that the theology of the Reformation brings to the contemporary American religious landscape.

verticalreformation500The Center for Reformation Research and Concordia Seminary began commemorations for the Reformation Quincentenary by sponsoring an annual speaker series aimed at the St. Louis community to offer varying perspectives on the significance of the Reformation.  Oswald Bayer began the series in 2012 with “A Public Mystery.”  In 2013, the Office of Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs of the Archdiocese of St. Louis co-sponsored the event, featuring Fr. Jared Wicks, S.J. and his engaging lecture, “A Catholic Appreciation of Martin Luther for Theology and Life.” In addition, Fr. Wicks contributed to the Concordia Journal with some new research on Vatican II and its implications for Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue (“Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue: On Foundations Laid in 1962-1964” CJ 39 (Fall 2013), 296-309.) Last year, renowned Reformation historian Steven Ozment gave a lecture on the contribution of the artist Lucas Cranach to Luther and the Reformation.

This lecture is free of charge and open to the public. For more information, please contact continuing education at 314-505-7486 or email

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Philipp I, Landgrave of Hesse

Philipp.von.HessenIf religious and political concerns were often inseparable during the Protestant Reformation, then they were borderline indistinct in the life and career of Philipp of Hesse. Known most prominently as the Landgrave of Hesse, or as Philipp the Magnanimous, he was a leading political advocate for the right of Lutheran princes to reform their churches against the objections of Rome or the Holy Roman Empire. Though his religious motivations are beyond question, he approached Protestant theology from the perspective of a diplomat seeking mediating positions in disagreements between the reformers, and it was the combination of his moderate religion and combative statesmanship that led him to form the defensive Protestant alliance of the Schmalkaldic League. Moreover, his own personal moral and diplomatic failings would result in increased intolerance from the empire, the defeat of the Protestant league, and his own imprisonment.

Philipp’s early years were marked by considerable unrest. His father, Wilhelm II, died as a result of syphilis when his eldest son was only four. This plunged Hesse into political controversy over its regency, with nobles taking the temporary reigns and ultimately separating Philipp from his mother, Anna of Mecklenburg. The two were reunited in 1514, and Philipp officially became Landgrave in 1518. Though his mother left Hesse again in 1519 for a second marriage, it was only at her death on March 12, 1525, that the young prince finally had enough autonomy to bring about the full reform of his territory.

There were two complementary sides to Philipp’s embrace of the Reformation: one political, the other religious. Politically speaking, Philipp and his family were at odds with Charles V and his Habsburg family. Seeing the Reformation as an opportunity for increasing territorial independence from the emperor, he urged a Protestant alliance from an early date. In 1524, he forged the Torgau League between Frederick the Wise’s electoral Saxony and Hesse, and he would continue to oppose Charles until his fateful defeat at the emperor’s hands in 1547. Alongside this political dimension, however, was his newfound religious conviction. By 1524, Philipp had met and begun corresponding with the Wittenberg theologian Philipp Melanchthon, and it was Melanchthon who led the Landgrave to accept evangelical reform. He would likewise follow the course of Melanchthon, not that of a Luther or a Zwingli, in seeking compromise among reformers and a mediating position on disputed questions of theology.

Philipp’s practical reforms likewise took place on two levels. The first related to ecclesiastical reforms in his own territory. In October 1526, Hesse officially accepted the Reformation at the Synod of Homberg. Philipp attempted to enforce a church order that would have included a synodal structure of church governance, as well as provisions for smaller, more independent gatherings of believers within that synod. He corresponded with Luther about the proposed order, but the Wittenberg theologian had reservations over the massive structural changes and the aggressive legislation of reform. He likewise criticized Philipp for proposing a general visitation of the churches to initiate reform because he opposed an imposition of reform through governmental means. Nonetheless, Philipp was able to reform his lands and put the proceeds from those measures to good use. In 1527, he divided the profit from seized monasteries, applying 41% to the support of his crown, but 59% to ecclesiastical and educational endeavors. In this, he anticipated what electoral Saxony and other Lutheran territories would be forced to do in succeeding years as they came to the realization that so much of their ecclesiastical and educational infrastructure had depended upon medieval Catholic institutions, such as clerical benefices and Latin schools run by monastic houses.

It was on the political and diplomatic level, however, that Philipp made his greatest mark on the Reformation. He emerged as an early opponent of Charles V’s Edict of Worms, defending the right of electoral territories to support Luther’s ideas and institute reform. He joined with Elector John of Wittenberg to advocate for Lutheran reforms at the 1526 Diet of Speyer, which placed the Edict of Worms in recess and allowed the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire freedom to reform their lands. Philipp even notoriously ate ox on a Friday (in opposition to the longstanding Catholic practice of not eating meat on the day of the week when Christ was crucified) during the 1526 diet to celebrate his newfound evangelical freedom. Such antagonistic effrontery, however, would cause problems for his reform party. In 1528, Philipp became embroiled in the so-called “Pack Affair.” A series of forged letters by Otto von Pack were circulated that told of an imminent threat of imperial attack against Protestants in defiance of the 1526 interim. Philipp—whether he believed the letters to be authentic, or simply used them as pretense for military organization—began to arrange a preemptive strike. This provoked an immediate reaction from Charles V, who at the 1529 Diet of Speyer rejected the 1526 concessions and proceeded to demand a resolution to the Protestant question. Philipp represented the Protestants and opposed Charles at the 1530 Diet of Augsburg, where the emperor rejected the northern German Augsburg Confession.

The fallout from Augsburg would lead to Philipp’s crowning achievement: the creation of the Schmalkaldic League in 1531. The Hessian prince had spent much time prior to Augsburg attempting to form a broader Protestant alliance that would present a unified front against his Habsburg foe, but theological disagreement derailed those efforts. He helped organize the Marburg Colloquy in 1529, only to see the ongoing tensions between Luther and Zwingli result in the abandonment of a single Protestant confession at the Diet of Augsburg—the southern Germans presented their Tetrapolitana, while Zwingli declared his own confession, Fidei ratio. Once Charles rejected the Protestant confessions, however, the path was paved for a Protestant defensive alliance to protect themselves militarily against imperial action. Not only did the Schmalkaldic League prove defensive, but it also allowed them to campaign for reform. The league’s military effort at Württemberg in 1534 helped restore Duke Ulrich of Württemberg to his post and resulted in the duchy’s move to embrace Protestantism.

The Schmalkaldic League furthermore proved to be a forum for theological dialogue, both within Protestantism and across the table with Catholics. Philipp had forged a partnership with Strasbourg theologian Martin Bucer at Marburg in 1529, and their shared strategy of mediation helped bring about theological agreements among Protestants at Württemberg (1534), Kassel (1534), and Wittenberg (1536), the last most famously setting aside disagreements on the Eucharist. The Schmalkalden Assembly of 1537 accepted Melanchthon’s Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope as a response to the Catholic convocation of a council. Philipp in fact followed both Bucer and Melanchthon in seeing the diversity of theological opinion in the church fathers as a possible means to peaceful religious reconciliation, again both among Protestants and with Catholics. He even came to support the religious colloquies of 1539–41 sponsored by Charles at Hagenau, Worms, and Regensburg.

ChristenSachsenHessenPhilipp’s reasons for supporting the imperial-sponsored colloquies, not to mention the reason for the Schmalkaldic League’s ultimate demise, can be traced back to his fateful decision to enter into bigamy, which was strictly prohibited by imperial law. At the age of 19, Philipp had married Christine of Saxony, the daughter of Duke George of Ernestine Saxony. Though the union produced nine children, the Landgrave expressed his unhappiness in the marriage. In the succeeding years, he would appeal to theological advisors—most notably Luther and Melanchthon—for permission to marry another on the grounds that his sexual appetite was not being fulfilled by his present wife. In 1539, presumably under the seal of the confessional, both Luther and Melanchthon capitulated to his requests, and a year later Philipp married 17-year old Margaret von der Saale.

The failure of the religious colloquies and the tenuous legal position Philipp had placed himself in through the bigamous marriage convinced Charles that unity in the empire would be best attained through force. With the backing of France and Rome, not to mention the convocation of the Council of Trent in 1545 without Protestant participation, Charles clashed with Protestants in the Schmalkaldic War of 1547. Catholic forces prevailed, and Charles imprisoned Philipp until the Truce of Passau in 1552. A chastened Philipp emerged who would help broker the 1555 Peace of Augsburg, thereby establishing the right of the ruler to choose either Catholicism or Protestantism. Though he did later come to the aid of oppressed Huguenot Protestants in France, the once antagonistic and contentious Landgrave gradually faded from the public eye until his death in 1567, after which his Hessian territories were dived between four of his children from his first marriage to Christine of Saxony.

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Pro Re Theologica et Salute Fratrum: Luther as Reformer of Pastoral Care

ForgivenessAnother Reformation Day has come and gone. Each year the day gives us occasion to reflect on the significance of the upheavals of the Sixteenth Century—upheavals that changed the religious, social, and cultural landscape of the West, especially the western church. What was at stake? What was it all about? Was it worth it? As we close in on the 500th Reformation Day such questions will even begin to interest those who have no religious commitment to what took place then.

Of course the Reformation is too complex a time and movement to be only about one thing. Its causes and effects touch on a wide range of social and political factors, theological ideas, unique personalities, and churchly pressures. Some would even argue that it is better to speak of Reformations rather than a single, unified movement.

Yet in spite of the complexity of the Reformation, October 31—Reformation Day—marks a very specific event with a relatively narrow scope: Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses Against Indulgences. Admittedly, it is a match that sets off a firestorm, but the nature of this event is often obscured by the tumult that follows rather than its original intent. In short, Luther’s 95 Theses were written as a protest against bad pastoral care, and it is from this perspective that one should try to understand what Luther was up to in those early years of the Reformation. As Jane Strohl put so wonderfully, “One could describe Luther’s career as the mounting of a life-long pastoral malpractice suit against the church’s authority at every level of the hierarchy.”

Pro re theologica et salute fratrum”— “For theology and the salvation of the brethren.” Luther wrote these words in a letter to his friend Georg Spalatin on October 19, 1516, almost a year before the posting of the 95 Theses. The letter was a critical assessment of Erasmus’ recently published Novum Instrumentum—the Greek New Testament with textual annotations. While Luther greatly appreciated Erasmus’ scholarly work—(Luther had just finished his lectures on Romans was about to begin a new series of lectures on Galatians), he was not too impressed with Erasmus’ understanding and interpretation of Paul. Luther wanted Spalatin to convey his concerns to Erasmus even though he knew that his criticisms might fall on deaf ears. After all, he was a “nobody” and Erasmus was “that most erudite man.” Still, Luther said that he felt compelled to say something since this was not merely an academic difference of opinion—an exegetical point that could be debated in the ivory tower of the university. No, Luther was only interested in matters that touched on the heart of everything—the whole of theology and the salvation of all was at stake. When Luther began to change things in the university curriculum at Wittenberg, he did so because of how it would effect the weekly preaching, teaching, and pastoral care on the parish level. That was the goal of reformation for Luther.

But what was pastoral care on the eve of the Reformation? Of what did it consist? The formal, ecclesiastical, that is, priestly aspects of pastoral care could be largely subsumed under the following: 1. the sacrament of penance, 2. the selling/buying of indulgences, and 3. private mass. On the other hand, there were many less formal practices aimed at the care and comfort of souls: Exemplae of virtues and vices; devotional literature such as the Fourteen Consolations, Art of Dying (ars moriendi), and Lives of the Saints; and a variety of other spiritual practices such as relics, pilgrimages, and prayers patterned after the monastic life. These “Geistlichkeiten,” as Luther called them, became the focus of much of Luther’s reform efforts.

It is more customary to think of Luther as a reformer of doctrine (perhaps a specific doctrine like justification or the Lord’s Supper) and as an ardent opponent of papal authority. But questions of doctrine and theological authority arose for Luther as means to a greater end: the pastoral care that nurtures a genuine Christian life. Beginning with his own personal search for consolation and hope, Luther urged practices that would saturate one’s life with the word of Christ. Only in this deep connection to Christ did Luther find freedom and strength to live in a world shaped by the contradiction of God’s providence and the continual presence of sin and suffering.

And so we see Luther repeatedly and programmatically attack false “Geistlichkeiten”—spiritual practices that tried in various ways to overcome the contradiction of Christian existence by pushing God into the shadows of transcendence and mitigate the unpleasant realities of life with the lesser “deities” of saints and other spiritual securities. The intermediary position of the saints had the double benefit of preserving God from blame and sin and people from suffering.   That Luther posted the 95 Theses on the eve of All Saints’ Day was perhaps a coincidence, but there is a certain seemliness in the proximity of his attack on the popular panacea of a saintly treasury of merits and a feast celebrating that pantheon of holy intercessors. For Luther such efforts at keeping God and affliction at bay was wishful thinking and fostered a way of living that made faith in a good God and faithful Father inconspicuous, appearing quite different from the life that Christ himself lived and taught. Because Luther found in Christ a God who entered into the breech between goodness and sin, suffering and salvation, he was also able to bring the saints back down into the secular. For Luther, the saints were now those who found hope in life’s contradiction by holding fast to the promises of a God who deigned to suffer for and with man. And in that hope the saints found courage to live life in God’s creation—to marvel in it, to find beauty in it, to plant, to harvest, to marry, to raise children—though plagues and peasant wars raged.


Perhaps one of the most beautiful pastoral reforms of “Geistlichkeiten” is Luther’s replacement of the “Lives of the Saints” literature with the vernacular Psalter—the holy words and prayers of the saints. Here in the psalms we are given guidance in the great contradictions of life. Luther called the psalter “a dark and holy labyrinth,” for as one walked its winding paths of sadness and joy, fear and faith, despair and hope, one also found the great mystery that at the center of this labyrinth was Christ himself—praying and groaning and singing for and with his people.

But let’s let Luther speak for himself. Notice how he wishes to replace one spiritual practice—one that has had ill effects vis-à-vis the Christian life—with a new one. And notice how this new one—the reading of the Psalter—prepares one to deal seriously and honestly with the reality of life, neither removing God or the saints from our presence but bringing them into an intimate sacred society with us. Thus his preface to the German Psalter in 1528:

“Over the years a great many legends of the saints, and passionals, books of examples, and histories have been circulated; indeed the world has been so filled with them that the Psalter has been neglected. … I hold, however, that no finer book of examples or of the legends of the saints has ever come, or can come, to earth than the Psalter. If one were to wish that from all the examples, legends, and histories, the best should be collected and brought together and put in the best form, the result would have to be the present Psalter. For here we find not only what one or two saints have done, but what he has done who is the very head of all the saints. We also find what all the saints still do, such as the attitude they take toward God, toward friends and enemies, and the way they conduct themselves amid all dangers and sufferings. …

The Psalter ought to be a precious and beloved book, if for no other reason than this: it promises Christ’s death and resurrection so clearly—and pictures his kingdom and the condition and nature of all Christendom—that it might well be called a little Bible. …

Beyond all that, the Psalter has this noble virtue and quality: other books make much ado about the works of the saints, but say very little about their words. The Psalter is a gem in this respect. It gives forth so sweet a fragrance when one reads it because it relates not only the works of the saints, but also their words, how they spoke with God and prayed, and still speak and pray. Compared to the Psalter, the other legends and examples present to us nothing but mere silent saints; the Psalter, however, pictures for us real, living, active saints. …

A human heart is like a ship on a wild sea, driven by the storm winds from the four corners of the world. Here it is stuck with fear and worry about impending disaster; there comes grief and sadness because of present evil. Here breathes a breeze of hope and anticipated happiness; there blows security and joy in present blessings…

What is the greatest thing in the Psalter but this earnest speaking amid these storm winds of every kind? Where does one find finer words of joy than in the psalms of praise and thanksgiving? There you look into the hearts of all the saints, as into fair and pleasant gardens; yes, as into heaven itself. Then you see what fine and pleasant flowers of the heart spring up from all sorts of fair and happy thoughts toward God, because of His blessings. On the other hand, where do you find deeper, more sorrowful, more pitiful words of sadness than in the psalms of lamentation? There you look into the hearts of all the saints as into death; yes, as into hell itself. How gloomy and dark it is there, with all kinds of troubled forebodings about the wrath of God. So, too, when they speak of fear and hope, they use such words that no painter could so depict for you fear or hope, and no Cicero or any other orator so portray them. …

Hence it is that the Psalter is the book of all saints; and everyone, in whatever situation he may be, finds in that situation psalms and words that fit his case, that suit him as if they were put there just for his sake.

This also serves well another purpose. When these words please a man and fit his case, he becomes sure that he is in the communion of the saints, and that it has gone with all the saints as it goes with him, since they all sing with him one little song. …

communion-of-saints-elise-ritterFinally there is in the Psalter security and a well-tried guide, so that in it one can follow all the saints without peril. The other examples and legends of the silent saints present works that one is unable to imitate; they present even more works which it is dangerous to imitate, works which usually start sects and divisions, and lead and tear men away from the communion of saints. But the Psalter holds you to the communion of saints and away from the sects. For it teaches you in joy, fear, hope, and sorrow to think and speak as all the saints have thought and spoken.

In a word, if you would see the holy Christian Church painted in living color and shape, comprehended in one little picture, take up the Psalter.  (LW 35, 253-57)

By Erik Herrmann


Most important for this post was the essay by Scott Hendrix, “Martin Luther’s Reformation of Spirituality,” pp. 240-260; and Carl Axel Aurelius, “Luther on the Psalter,” pp. 226-39, both in Harvesting Martin Luther’s Reflections on Theology, Ethics, and the Church, edited by Timothy Wengert. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans: 2004.

Other sources important for the study of Luther’s pastoral care:

Gerhard Ebeling, Luthers Seelsorge. Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck 1997.

Timothy Wengert, ed. The Pastoral Luther: Essays on Martin Luther’s Practical Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2009.

Philip Krey and Peter Krey, ed. and trans. Luther’s Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press, 2007.

John Pless, Martin Luther, Preacher of the Cross: A Study of Luther’s Pastoral Theology. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2013.


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Steven Ozment to Lecture on Luther and Cranach

Cranach copyThe third Reformation500 annual speaker series at Concordia Seminary will feature Steven Ozment, McLean Professor of Ancient and Modern History at Harvard University. This year the Reformation500 event will be held on Friday afternoon, April 25 at 4:00 pm in Werner Auditorium on the campus of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Professor Ozment is well known to early Modern and Reformation historians for his wide-ranging work in intellectual and social history. Some of his important contributions include The Reformation in the Cities: The Appeal of Protestantism to Sixteenth-Century Germany and Switzerland (Yale: 1975); The Age of Reform, 1250-1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe. (Yale: 1980); When Fathers Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe(Harvard: 1983); A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People (HarperCollins: 2004); The Serpent and the Lamb: Cranach, Luther, and the Making of the Reformation (Yale: 2013).  This is a fine opportunity for the St. Louis community to hear and dialogue with Professor Ozment on the ongoing significance of the tumultuous century that changed Christendom forever. His lecture is entitled: “How Cranach Saved Luther: Lucas Cranach as Factor in the Reformation.”

The Center for Reformation Research and Concordia Seminary began commemorations for the Reformation Quincentenary by sponsoring an annual speaker series aimed at the St. Louis academic community to offer varying perspectives on the significance of the Reformation.  Oswald Bayer began the series in 2012 with “A Public Mystery.”  In 2013, the Office of Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs of the Archdiocese of St. Louis co-sponsored the event, featuring Fr. Jared Wicks, S.J. and his engaging lecture, “A Catholic Appreciation of Martin Luther for Theology and Life.”  Free admission, open to the public. For more information contact the Seminary Continuing Education office:314.505.7286;

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Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology Appears

9780199604708Oxford University Press has published (April 2014) The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology, in its series of “Handbooks” to aid study of a wide variety of subjects.  Editors of this Handbook include Irene Dingel, co-director of the Leibniz-Institut für Europäische Geschichte (heading its Department of Western Church History) in Mainz, Germany, and professor of church history and history of dogma in the Evangelical Theological Faculty of the Johann Gutenberg University, Mainz; L’ubomír Batka, dean of the Lutheran theological faculty and docent of systematic theology at the Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia; and Robert Kolb, missions professor of systematic theology at Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis.

Forty-four authors from sixteen nations contributed forty-seven essays to the 662-page volume.  It contains a brief biographical introduction, followed by sections on “The Medieval Background and Origins of Luther’s Thought,” “The Hermeneutical Principles that Guided Luther’s Teaching and Preaching,” “Luther’s Treatment of the Traditional Topics of Western Christian Theology,” “Luther’s View of Sanctified Living,” “The Genre in which Luther Shaped his Theology,” and “The Impact and Reception of Luther’s Thought in History and in the Twenty-first Century.”  A map of Germany in Luther’s period and a glossary of terms important in the discussion of his thought aid readers.

The volume brings together three generations of scholars, those who look back on years of engagement with Reformation theology, those in mid-career whose research is poking into new corners of Luther’s massive corpus of writings, and those who are just beginning to publish results of their studies of the Wittenberg way of thinking.  This, along with the spread of geographical perspectives, is designed to give readers a sense of the many conversations going on among scholars regarding the development and application of Wittenberg theology and the many perspectives from which his writings are being approached and appropriated.

Kolb commented, “There are other somewhat similar ‘companions’ or ‘handbooks’ to guide new students of Luther’s thought into the writings of the Reformer himself as well as the massive scholarship on most aspects of his life and theology.  Oxford University Press determined that this volume would focus simply on his thinking and its impact.  Interest in late medieval and early modern European history in general is not as strong as it once was in other parts of the world, but interest in Luther’s way of thought is growing, especially in the expanding churches of the Majority World but also in the cultures surrounding them.  The editors hope that the essays in this volume will help those not so familiar with aspects of Luther’s way of viewing reality to enter into his writings and his thinking.”

Kolb added, “The authors of these essays are still in this generation overwhelmingly Western European and North American.  It is our hope that in the future a new group of Reformation scholars will arise out of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.  Fascination with Luther and whose application of his thought to their own situations is growing rapidly in the Majority World.  That will open up new vistas into how to convey his thinking into new cultural situations addressing new societal problems.”

Copies of this Handbook may be ordered at the Oxford University Press website,

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