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The Luther Letter
A Commentary on Martin Luther, the Reformation
and the Modern World

Edited by William R. Russell, Ph.D.

No. 3, March 2003

Editor's note:
This month's Letter has a "Luther on…" theme. Read on, you'll see what I mean…

Quotable Quote (Luther on forgiveness and sin):

Luther wrote this in 1521: "Everything is forgiven through grace, but as yet not everything is healed through the gift. The gift has been infused, the leaven has been added to the mixture. It works so as to purge way the sin for which a person has already been forgiven, and to drive out the evil guest for whose expulsion permission has been given. In the meantime, while this is happening, it is called sin, and is truly such in its nature; but now it is sin without wrath, without the law, dead sin, harmless sin, as long as one perseveres in grace and his gift." Hmmm…

Luther on Vocation:

Marquette University's Kenneth Hagen has recently published "A Critique of Wingren on Luther on Vocation." Hagen contends that Gustav Wingren "presents a one-sided, and thus misleading, reading of Luther on the key topic of our calling before God and for the neighbor." Specifically, Hagen is convinced that Wingren's interpretation of the sources is overly influenced by the historical and philosophical presuppositions of the Danish Philosopher Knut Logstrup (who, says Hagen, "argued that the 'universal element' is creation"). It has taken almost 60 years, for this kind of critique of Wingren to appear. Better late than never…

Last month, I quoted Yale's Miroslav Volf's negative appraisal of Luther's doctrine of work. My doctoral advisor, George Forell, in contradistinction to Volf however, emphasizes the ongoing relevance of "the Lutheran insistence of salvation in vocatione [in vocation], rather than per vocationem [through vocation]." According to Forell, Luther's theology of Christian vocation is a key aspect of Luther's continuing significance for the contemporary scene.

Luther on Ecumenism:

The late, great Danish Luther Scholar, Leif Grane had a rich and important career-so great that it continues after his death. His Reformationsstudien was reviewed by the Finnish scholar, Simo Peura, in The Sixteenth Century Journal. Peura notes "Leif Grane does not interpret Luther in order to reach ecumenical goals. For him Luther's reformation as it was carried out in Denmark is perhaps the best functional form of church life, even if others, including many of his Nordic colleagues, have evident difficulties with this unique state church congregationalism. [Grane] would also do his utmost to convince the bishops and other church leaders that doctrinal differences must not be settled in an easy way-if indeed they are to be resolved at all. He is not in favor of a huge research topic such as 'Luther and Thomas' which was inspired by modern Lutheran-Catholic ecumenical discussion in the 1960s. Grane sees in these enthusiastic ecumenical approaches the danger that the Gospel and Luther's cause might eventually be sold short."

Luther on Augustine:

England's Alistair McGrath writes about points of convergence and departure between Luther and Augustine: "Luther's theology of justification appears to consist of a substructure of a more or less authentically Augustinian theology of grace, on which Luther erected a specific understanding of justification that departs significantly from Augustine at two points of major importance-the notion of justifying righteousness as alien (rather than inherent) to the believer, and a tendency to treat justification as involving two notionally distinct elements. This late trend eventually led to the development of forensic notions of justification in the writing of Melanchthon and others."

Luther on Reforming Theological Education:

A full page color ad for the Saint Paul School of Theology appeared on the back cover of The Christian Century. With a steeple in the foreground and a city skyline in back, the copy reads, "Saint Paul was never designed to be like any other school of theology. We think John Wesley would understand. So would Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day-and other reforming leaders of the church…" Methodists, of course, has a special place for Luther-Wesley's "heart was strangely warmed" while he listened to the reading of Luther's lectures on Romans at an Aldersgate prayer meeting/Bible Study.

Luther on Prayer:

In analyzing Luther's "A Practical Way to Pray," of 1535, Kurt Dietrich Schmidt notes that Luther does two things to help him pray, even when his is distracted and tempted to neglect his prayers. First, the Reformer "holds himself to what for him is a known and trusted religious possession," which he would take into his room and recite to himself "…the Psalms, some sayings of Christ, Paul..." Second, Luther would begin and end each day with prayer.

Luther on Dreams:

Reviewer David Whitford quotes Peter Matheson's The Imaginative World of the Reformation: "…With dreams, however, come nightmares. This is especially true of utopian dreams. Whether it was Luther's vision of a re-Christianized church or Muentzer's of a New Jerusalem, the early Reformation's dreams collapsed into the nightmare of confessional warfare, division, and slaughter." Dream on.

Luther on Meditation:

German Martin Nicol's book, Meditation bei Luther, has much to commend it. One chief insight is simple, even though we don't always see it in modern schools of theology: For Luther, "doctrine and devotion complement each other in a way that is obvious." This connection begs the question: "If such a connection is indeed so obvious to Luther, then how does one explain the way that theological education has been pursued at so many theological seminaries of the church?

Luther on Being Lutheran:

Arthur Carl Piepkorn wrote many worthwhile things. His Profiles in Belief is one of them: "The churches which designate themselves as Lutheran are more correctly called churches of the Augsburg Confession. For to be Lutheran does not mean to accept as authoritative or binding the teachings-much less the casual and informal utterances -of Martin Luther. It means, rather, to accept as binding and authoritative what Luther himself acknowledged, namely, the Word of God…"

Sources: Lutheran Quarterly, NS, #3, Autumn, 2002, 249-273; "Against Latomus, LW 31:229; Martin Luther: Theologian of the Church (Word and World: St. Paul, 1994), 194; The Sixteenth Century Journal, XXXII/4 (2001); The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation; The Christian Century, March 22, 2003; "Luther Lehrt Beten," Luther: Mitteilungen der Luthergesellschaft, 34, 1963; The Sixteenth Century Journal, XXXII/4 (2001); Profiles in Belief, vol. II.



Wm Russell
The Reverend William R. Russell, Ph.D.

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Document revised, 2003: Mar. 20,  ICLnetProject Wittenberg is coordinated by,  Reverend Robert E. Smith