The Theology of Martin Luther
A Critical Assessment
Publication Year: 2012
Does Martin Luther have anything to say to us today? Nearly five hundred years after the beginning of the Reformation, Hans-Martin Barth explores that question in this comprehensive and critical evaluation of Luther’s theology. Rich in its extent and in its many facets, Barth’s didactically well-planned work begins with clarifications about obsolete and outdated images of Luther that could obstruct access to the Reformer.
The second part covers the whole of Martin Luther's theology. Having divided Luther's theology into twelve subsections, Barth ends each one of these with an honest and frank assessment of what today can be salvaged and what's got to go. In the final section he gives his summation: an honestly critical appropriation of Luther’s theology can still be existentially inspiring and globally relevant for the twenty-first century.
Published by: Augsburg Fortress Publishers
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Title Page, Copyright Page
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According to Luther, theology should be about “the kernel of the nut, the interior of the wheat, the marrow in the bones.” He wanted to find out what matters in life and death and to distinguish the essential from what is inessential or even hurtful. As regards his own time, he may well have been largely successful. ...
Part I. Approach: Points of Entry and Difficulties of Access
1. Luther: Objectively and/or Subjectively
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In our part of the world Martin Luther is one of those historical entities everyone has heard about, but only a few people can say anything more precisely. That is certainly true for the bulk of our society; probably it is equally true of the situation within the churches themselves, at least the Lutheran church. ...
2. Methodological Problems
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How should we present Luther’s theology? There are essentially two possible approaches: historical-genetic or systematic-theological. But we need to clarify the guiding perspective we are following and at what point its flagrant theological falsities should be treated. ...
3. Entry Points
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We can imagine the widest variety of points of entry into Luther’s theology: by way of biography, the history of influence, the various interpretations of Luther, the attempt to locate Luther within the history of theology, and finally even by way of a reflection on Luther’s philosophical abilities. ...
4. Difficulties in Approaching Luther
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Today, especially as a Protestant Christian and theologian in Germany, one cannot reflect on Luther’s attitude toward Judaism in his time without thinking of Auschwitz. The Nazis and the so-called “German Christians” appealed explicitly to Luther for their attitude toward Jews. ...
Part II. Perceptions: Luther's Theology as Provocation
5. Alternatives: Between Cross and Self-Determination
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“Theology of the cross” has become a kind of brand name for Luther’s theology. “Cross alone” constitutes his theology.1 It finds in the cross its criterion and its confirmation.2 At the same time, this may be one reason why Luther’s theology is not very well liked and seems not to have much about it that is attractive. ...
6. Breakthrough: From the Hidden to the Revealed God
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Luther, like most of his contemporaries, assumed as given something that is not a given any longer: that God exists. Under that assumption one could discuss where God was revealed or to what extent God remains hidden. At present many people are not curious about God at all, whether hidden or revealed. ...
7. Tension: Between Law and Gospel
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For Luther this pairing “contains a summary of all Christian doctrine.”1 He “reflected deeply on the distinction and relationship between Law and Gospel with the most attentive precision and an almost cruel stringency,”2 according to Albrecht Peters. Today there are serious difficulties in approaching this topic. ...
8. Identity: ''Both Sinner and Justified''
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The doctrine of justification is regarded as the article by which the church stands or falls—articulus stantis aut cadentis ecclesiae.1 In the Orthodox churches this place seems to belong to the Eucharist.2 Roman Catholic theology would point to the centrality of orders for ensuring that the church stands and does not fall. ...
9. Dialectics: Freedom and Limitation
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Luther’s remarks on freedom are concentrated in two of his writings that seem to contradict one another: The Freedom of a Christian (1520),1 and The Bondage of the Will (1525).2 But what is said in these two writings is not only compatible; although they have fundamentally different occasions and addressees, ...
10. Complementarity: Word and Sacrament
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How does anyone come to believe? From a purely empirical standpoint we might point today to three factors: socialization by parents, religious instruction or belonging to a particular group, and one’s own psychosomatic constitution, as described by Fritz Riemann in terms of basic forms of anxiety,1 which brings particular needs to light; ...
11. Struggle: Between the ''True'' and the ''False'' Church
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What we find today in the form of established churches, free churches, or denominations is far removed from what Luther could or wanted to imagine as a reformed and renewed church. Even the Roman Catholic Church of today no longer corresponds to the church against which Luther raised his protest in the sixteenth century. ...
12. Division of Labor: God's Left and Right Hands
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The so-called two-kingdom or two-government doctrine is among Luther’s most controversial ideas. Especially in the twentieth century it led to some sharp clashes. In part it was theologically falsified and politically misused. It evoked a flood of secondary literature1 and quite a few misunderstandings. ...
13. Christian Existence: Secular and Spiritual
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If we consider all its different aspects Luther’s theology appears not to be simple; rather, it is intellectually demanding. How can it be translated into Christian everyday life? According to the Reformer’s conviction what is important is “in the first place, that doctrine be completely correct and perfect, ...
14. Intercalation: Time and Eternal Life
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There are few themes in Luther’s theology in which the foreignness of his thought to today’s current ideas seems clearer than in the case of eschatology. Here the crucial question is whether his message can have any future at all outside its eschatological frame. ...
15. Conflict: Between Theology and Philosophy
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No one knows how Luther might have begun a summary presentation of his theology. The dogmatics of Lutheran orthodoxy begin with an exposition on theology in general, its object and its principle, on Sacred Scripture, and on the significance of the Creeds.1 ...
16. Rivalry: Between Sacred Scripture and Human Tradition
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One of the key phrases of the Reformation was Sola Scriptura: “Sacred Scripture alone!” “Let the Word stand,” and let none of one’s own thoughts be added to it! This principle was to be respected in the interpretation of Sacred Scripture, and also as regards the relevance of Sacred Scripture, ...
Part III. Consequences: With Luther beyond Luther
17. What Endures
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If we ask about what remains, we must be clear about one thing first of all: for whom should we demonstrate that it is enduring, and for whom must it be secured? Germanists and students of culture may regard Luther’s translation of the Bible as something “enduring”; students of the history of religion might ask whether the Reformation, ...
18. What We Should Let Go
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There is probably no Lutheran theologian today who would say that there is absolutely nothing in Luther’s theology we need to let go of. On the contrary, it is within Protestantism itself that voices have repeatedly been raised to criticize, for example, the elements of “medieval origin” in his theology; ...
19. What Needs to Be Developed
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The epoch of orthodoxy following Luther devoted itself not to development but to securing and defending the theological achievements of the Reformation. In the process many features of the Reformer’s theology faded into the background, a development clearly visible in the fact that, for example, ...
20. Martin Luther's Theology: Existentially Inspiring and Open for Global Integration
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After this preliminary overview of Luther’s theology, I want to ask myself how my engagement with it has done me good, where I found it inspiring, what points have left me dissatisfied, and where it presses beyond its historical form. Must one be socialized as a Lutheran, or at least as “evangelical” in a general sense, to understand Luther at all, let alone love him? ...
Appendix: Technical Notes
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Page Count: 600
Publication Year: 2012