"Harvesting Martin Luther's Reflections on Theology, Ethics, and the Church" edited by Timothy J. Wengert

Sean Michael Lucas
Thursday, May 3rd 2007
Nov/Dec 2004

A collection of thirteen essays first published in Lutheran Quarterly, this little book quite literally harvests Martin Luther's reflections on a variety of topics-Luther on greed and poverty, on spirituality and worship, on baptism and righteousness. The result is an often enlightening collection of essays that would serve as a useful introduction to Luther's thought from angles not often considered.

One such angle that is particularly compelling and is addressed in several essays is Luther's reaction to changing economic and social relations in early modern Europe. Carter Lindberg's essay explores Luther's early and frequent criticisms of capitalism, pointing out that his criticisms were directly tied to the way nascent capitalists neglected the poor. Luther argued that this contradicted Christian teaching on love for one's neighbor and on the interconnectedness of society. Similarly, Ricardo Willy Reith observes that, for Luther, greed spawned by early modern capitalism was a spiritual problem, an issue of idolatry and unbelief. Greed moved the heart from clinging to God alone to finding security in property and wealth. Scott Hendrix looks at the primary social relation of marriage. He discovered that although Luther held that marriage belonged to the realm of creation, not redemption, he still desired marriages to express Christian love and duty. He also gave a great deal of thought toward preserving marriages from the onslaught of divorce and abandonment.

Essays relating to the church's worship are also useful. Mark D. Tranvik exposits Luther's understanding of baptism and how it jibed with his insistence upon justification by faith alone. Luther saw the Word of promise proclaimed at Baptism awakening and nourishing "child-faith" in the infant to be baptized. The child was thus justified at baptism by faith created by the Word and signed and sealed by Baptism. This understanding caused Luther to proclaim that "baptism is a full and complete justification" (28). In his essay, Helmar Junghans argues that Luther's approach to the reform of worship was gradual, seeking to be responsive both to the demands of Scripture and the needs of the people. And Carl Axel Aurelius demonstrates that Luther's faith was rooted in a Christian and prayerful use of the Psalter.

There are also essays that appeared to be off the beaten path and yet still are insightful and thought provoking. Dietrich Korsch's treatment of Luther's seal as a means for understanding his theology is a compelling way of getting at his thought. Commenting on the seal's red heart overlaid by a black cross, Korsch observes that "the uniformity of Christ and the human in faith, which expresses itself in the original duality in the center of Luther's seal, leaves theology as an alternative to the opposition between a salvation history of objectivism and a believing subjectivism" (67). Also, Gregory J. Miller usefully sets Luther's perspective on Islam in the larger political context of early modern Europe and of Luther's eschatological understanding. For Luther, as for some contemporary evangelicals, the advance of Islam in the Western world represented yet another sign pointing to the end of the age.

I find this book to be consistently excellent throughout, which is unusual for a collection such as this. Not only do the essays point to directions not often considered by those who read Luther, but they cause me to turn time and again to the major Lutheran confessional documents and to Luther himself. As a result, this book might also serve as an avenue for increased mutual understanding by Reformed and Lutheran evangelicals. Such can only result in a greater appreciation for each other's traditions and hopefully will advance further reformation in the church.

Thursday, May 3rd 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
Magazine Covers; Embodiment & Technology