Lessons From Luther for the Contemporary Church

Just finished reading an article by Carl Trueman (professor of Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary in Philly) on Martin Luther’s doctrine of Justification in the book Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges edited by Bruce L. McCormack. Very insightful article that surveys the development within Luther’s thought on the doctrine that became the centerpiece of his theology. The article also connects the doctrine to several other issues in Lutheran thought, especially Luther’s doctrine of the cross. Just briefly summarizing here: Luther’s theology is full of paradoxes (he loved using them!) which challenges us to recognize that Christian doctrine is decidedly not in line expectations.

Trueman closes out his discussion by addressing some ways in which Luther’s theology has been misused by the contemporary church. Top among these are an over-emphasis on personal conversion- Luther continued to hold a sacramental view of Baptism as the beginning of a believer’s inclusion in Christ- and significantly neglecting the weight of the cross in Luther’s theology and its practical significance for the Christian life- Luther strongly believed that the doctrine of the Cross implied that the Christian life would be full of suffering and be essentially counter-cultural. With this in mind, Trueman describes how Luther serves to critique the contemporary church in America:

In giving horizons of expectation that look to suffering and servitude as providing Christian authenticity, Luther’s theology also provides material for a deep critique of modern Western consumerism, where the very excess of goods and comfort generates boredom, acquisitiveness, an obsession with alleviating even the slightest discomfort, and a church that, at least in the materially more prosperous Christian suburbs of America, is often indistinguishable in attitude and posture from the wider culture to which it belongs- a cultural Protestantism of the kind that serves the purpose of baptizing the political and social aspirations of the West rather as the church of Luther’s day sanctioned its own institutional greed by turning grace itself into a commodity. By placing the cross back at the center of authentic Christianity, Luther points an accusing finger at those who make too easy a marriage between the empowering ambitions of the societies in which we live and the true empowerment of Christ.

Oh, by the way, notice that entire quote is only two sentences!

Quote From: Carl Trueman, “Simul peccator et justus: Martin Luther and Justification,” in Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges, Bruce L. McCormack, ed., (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006).

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