Some Lutheran Reflections


The last two weeks I’ve work I’ve listened to Philip Cary’s (a student of Lindbeck) excellent courses on History of Christian Theology, Luther: Gospel, Law, and Reformation, and Augustine: Philosopher and Saint through The Teaching Company. The course on the History of Christian Theology was helpful for me as he traced the theological development of the different Protestant denominations. I highly recommend that course, and I must praise his ability to summarize Barth’s doctrine of election clearly in less than ten minutes. Also he explains quite lucidly the differences between Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic theologies. The shorter course on Augustine was a nice biographical introduction with a specific focus on his Confessions. After listening to that course I really want to delve into Augustine’s On The Trinity. However, the course on Luther was by far the best. He does a great job of capturing Luther’s theological genius while also emphasizing his many failures theologically and ethically. Never having read much Luther it was a great guide to his key concepts such as Law/Gospel, Two Kingdoms, and his understanding of justification. One thing that resonated with me (and this also came to mind since tonight I just finished Bonhoeffer’s Act and Being which is very Lutheran in character) was Luther’s insistence on turning away from oneself towards the cross to hold onto faith. Growing up in an evangelical/quasi-Reformed church I was constantly encouraged to turn inwards since Christ lived in my heart. Of course, inevitably, this only generated anxiety since when I didn’t find Christ inside I immediately began to doubt my faith.

Bonhoeffer says this quite well, “[h]ence Luther’s countless admonitions not to look on one’s own remorse, own faith, but to look on the Lord Christ Himself. While I am still reflecting on myself in order to find Christ, Christ is not there. If he is really there, I see only him. Conscience may be termed the voice of God only inasmuch as conscience is where, in the real temptation, Christ kills man – in order to give or not give him life” (Act and Being, 161).

Later on Bonhoeffer writes, “God can allow man to die “of” the knowledge of his sin, and can lead him through this death into the communion of Christ. In this case he turns man’s eyes away from man’s self and gives him his direction (the pure intentionality of the actus directus) to Christ the Crucified and Risen, who is the defeat of temptation to death” (Act and Being, 169).

Hopefully I’ll post some longer reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Act and Being this week.

Also, after getting a better background in the history of the development of the doctrine of predestination from Augustine to Luther to Calvin, I remain astonished at Barth’s brilliance in his re-interpretation of the doctrine of election. Say what you will about Barth, but it’s just incredible to me that he took a doctrine that the greatest theologians could only look on at in horror and transform it into truly good news that Barth defined as the sum of the gospel.

Finally, what is Luther’s obsession with shit? I know from reading Derrida’s text on animals that Lacan distinguished animals from man by saying animals are unable to pretend to pretend. Elsewhere though Zizek claims in On Belief (I can’t find the Lacanian reference) that Lacan said that a difference between man and animals is man has a problem with disposing of his shit. Not simply because of the smell, but because according to Lacan man feels shame because he believes he has exposed his innermost intimacy into this concert, vulgar object. Of course animals have no such problem since they have no idea of this split between interior/exterior. There’s not really a connection there but listening to Luther got me thinking about scat. Also if anyone can direct me towards the Lacanian reference it’d be much appreciated.

One more thing, has anyone read Bloch’s work Thomas Munzer als Theologe der Revolution? It appears that it has yet to be translated into English. I know recently Bloch’s work Atheism in Christianity was republished after it had been out of print for years so maybe this work will eventually get translated. Perhaps not.

Update: I should also mention while looking for theological audio resources I stumbled upon Morse’s seminar at Union on Calvin’s Institutes. I haven’t listened to it yet but it’s over 18 hours long and free on ITunes U. I’m sure it’ll be good as it’s always nice to see Calvin in the hands of non-evangelicals.


2 Responses to “Some Lutheran Reflections”

  1. A.J. Smith Says:

    Didn’t Luther have bowel problems and severe flatulation or something like that? Maybe there’s a connection?

    Have you ever seen the somewhat-lame-but-still-entertaining movies on Luther’s life, such as the latest:

  2. 10 Theses on Martin Luther and Lutheranism « Cathedral Bells Says:

    […] Though, as my blogging compatriot Jeremy Ridenour recently asked, what is with Luther’s obsession with shit? Case in point: Martin Luther’s anthropological […]

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