Monday, 4 March 2013

Why the Lutheran Reformation is Not Over (Although Some Think it Is)

"the Renaissance...must be understood as the great secular countermovement against the attempt of the Middle Ages to build a Christian world. This attempt, like all similar ones in later times, ended not in the Christianization of the world but in the secularization of the Church. The world did not become Church; rather, the Church became world. The Reformation was in its deepest nature an attempt to save the Church from that destiny."

Hermann Sasse, in Sin and Forgiveness in the Modern World: Reflections on the approaching the 450th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Christianity Today, 11, March 3, 1967, p5.
Anyone who has read John Carroll's very interesting book The Wreck of Western Culture: Humanism Revisited will recognise that his view of the Reformation, set in a broad brush survey of the decline of western Christendom, exactly matches Sasse's contention that the Reformation was in its deepest nature an attempt to save the church from being secularised. I would contend that the Roman church is a sort of fatal compromise in this endeavour - Sasse's "Church become world". The crux of the differences between the distinctly Roman version of Christianity (which officially begins with Trent) and the Lutheran (and I suggest they are finally irreconcilable and competing versions) can be found in theological anthropology - how man is estimated.
Of course, Roman Catholics, even theologically educated and aware Catholics, seldom understand the differences here; we must increasingly ask whether Lutherans do either. It is revealing, for example, that an attempt was made to reach agreement on the doctrine of justification without first agreeing on theological anthropology. That, subsequently, a number of Lutheran pastors/theologians converted to Rome citing JDDJ as resolving the central issue of the Reformation confirms my suspicions that contemporary Lutherans are in danger of a kind of doctrinal reductionism, forgetting or not being aware that the doctrine of justification is like a brilliant jewel set within a cluster of jewels that serve to support and highlight it. Remove it from that cluster and its brilliance is diminished. Luther's saying that the church stands or falls according to the doctrine of justification is true, but the Lutheran doctrine of justifiction itself stands on its explication of the scriptural doctrine of man. It is not for nothing that Luther regarded The Bondage of the Will as his most important work.        


Dan Mueller said...

Hi Mark,

I'm a newbie to theology, and I don't understand your statement: "The crux of the differences between the distinctly Roman version of Christianity ... and the Lutheran ... can be found in theological anthropology - how man is estimated." I guess I'm one of those Lutherans to which you comment: "Of course, Roman Catholics ... seldom understand the differences here; we must increasingly ask whether Lutherans do either."

The document here seems to suggest a similar understanding between Catholics and Lutherans e.g. the image of God has been distorted, and the importance of Christology to inform anthropology.

Can you point me to more useful information regarding the differences between the RC and Lutheran perspectives on anthropology? Or elucidate the differences yourself?

Regards, Dan Mueller

Mark Henderson said...

Hi Dan,

Thanks for your questions - always good to knwo I'm provoking someone to think theologically.

I'm under some time constraints at present but I'm working on an extended reply to your questions.

In the meantime, can you tell me what theology you have read?

You can contact me via the combox or through, whichever you prefer.

Blessings on your studies!

Dan Mueller said...

Hi Mark,

Thank you for your reply. I understand if time constraints prevent an in-depth reply.

> In the meantime, can you tell me what theology you have read?
I have read some of the foundational Lutheran theology: Luther's Catechisms, some of Luther's works (including Bondage of the Will), various parts of the Book of Concord, etc. My bookshelf hosts some more systematic studies of Luther, including 'The Theology of Martin Luther' by Paul Althaus, and 'Martin Luther's Theology' by Oswald Bayer (though I have not read these from cover to cover, yet).

I think my deficiency is not so much on the Lutheran side, but rather my lack of understanding regarding the RC perspective, and where/how this differs from the Lutheran emphasis.

Anyway, thanks in advance if you can point me to a good resource to further my understanding.

Mark Henderson said...

Welcome to the wonderful world of theology!

You have some good stuff on your shelf - I do recommend Althaus and Bayer for many good insights into Luther, but don't neglect to read the man himself! Plus the Lutheran Confessions, of course. For classical Lutheran theology of the post-Reformation age I recommend Martin Chemnitz, especially in regard to Roman Catholicism his 'Examination of the Council of Trent', which is an exhaustive response to the official Roman response to the Reformation. In conjunction with this you should read the Decrees of the Council of Trent itself and a basic Roman theological text like Ludwig Ott's 'Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma'. I suggest you stay clear, for now, of contemporary Roman theologians as one needs a grasp of basic Roman theology and an understanding of Vatican II to properly evaluate them. In Lutheran dogmatics I would suggest Chemnitz's 'Loci' as it also includes Melanchthon's 'Loci', the first Lutheran dogmatics text, on which Chemnitz provides extended commentary. The Chemnitz volumes are available directly from Concordia Publishing House in the US but I suggest you check them out on the Lohe Memorial Library at Australian Lutheran College before deciding to purchase them. If they look like too much too soon, I can make other recommendations.

Dan, I thought I'd turn my reply to your questions into a blog post - look out for it on Monday/Tuesday, D.v. (Deo volente - God willing). In the meantime I'd dig into Althaus's chs 12-14 & Bayer ch 2 'The Sinning Human Being'. Blessings!

Anonymous said...

I found Daphne Hampson’s “Christian Contradictions: The Structures of Lutheran and Catholic Thought” to be insightful on the question re: theological anthropology you are discussing. Though Hampson is a post-Christian feminist theologian, I think she explains quite well the contrast that in Lutheran thought we are put in grace, while in Catholic thought grace is put in us.

Mark Henderson said...

Anon., I have known of Hampson's thesis since seminary days when I came across a review of it but I haven't read it. Must do so one of these days. I understand she argues elswhere that Christianity and Feminism are contradictory?

Dan Mueller said...

Hi Mark, thanks for the suggestions. AUD$23 for 'Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma' seems like a good investment.

Mark Henderson said...

Definitely. It's an encyclopedic work - more than you ever wanted to know about classical Roman Catholic theology! Unfortunately, there isn't a single theological volume by a contemporary Lutheran author that covers the same ground - one has to go into multi-volume sets. Chemnitz's works might be available on Logos; I don't use it so I'm not sure.