Monday, 10 August 2009

The Grammar of the Gospel Part 3

This is the third and final post in this series on the grammar of the Gospel, prompted by Oswald Bayer's exposition of the cruciality of this topic in Luther's theology (Bayer, Martin Luther's Theology, A Contemporary Interpretation, Eerdmans, 2008).

The quote from this work in bold type below brings us finally to the relevance of grammar and language studies for all, and not just for those who deal with the Word professionally, so to speak.

Though one must concede the necessity of distinguishing the Word and Book of eternal life from the books that are useful for temporal life, this means that the existence of every human being is constituted in a setting where one hears and reads: each person is addressed and receives communication in wirtten form, so that each one can answer - in response to reading and hearing - but also because each one must answer for oneself.

Luther's passionate appeal, particularly in the address to the German nobility that has been mentioned, that care be taken to teach language and speaking, has fundamental anthropological and ethical import; in that sense Luther was one with the humanists. Learning languages has fundamental, elementary meaning not only for spiritual matters, but also for temporal and worldly existence; languages are not only necessary "in order to understand Holy Scripture", but also "in order to exercise dominion within the world".

There is no place for the "coal miner's faith" in the Evangelical church (a Roman Catholic coal miner was once asked, "What do you believe?" "I believe what the church believes" was his answer. "And what does the church believe?", his interlocutor responded. "The church believes what I believe"!). Luther saw universal education as needful not only so that people might understand the scriptures and hence the Gospel, but also that they might fulfill their original calling to subdue the world. I hasten to add that in a fallen world the execution of that mandate is always going to be marred by sin, but that fact does not cancel out the mandate itself.
There seems to have been more reflection on these matters, which we might call First Article matters, in European Lutheranism than in New World Lutheranism, which is surprising because Lutherans in the New World were very much about the act of subduing creation, bringing order to wilderness, and shaping and working the earth that it might support human life. Perhaps, amid the hardships of such a life, clinging to the Second Article for dear life left little precious time for such reflection?

As the Western world, both old and new, moves increasingly into a visual age, what are the implications for the Word? Is the new "poor man's Bible" already with us in digital form? Can the Lutheran education systems resist this movement and insist on the importance of grammar, rhetoric and logic, even at the most basic of levels? The imperative to do so is there at the heart of our history and our theology, and not only for the sake of the church, but also for the sake of the world.

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