Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Lutheran Mind

When I left Roman Catholicism, I was looking first of all for polemical tools that would describe the differences between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, but also for a church body where I could fellowship. I found both of these very readily in the Reformed world. For some reason, Lutheran materials seemed harder to find.

But Concordia Seminary in St. Louis has produced a large number of classes and lecture series through iTunes U. Here’s an introductory theology series called “The Lutheran Mind”, which I’m listening to right now.

This seems to me to be an appropriate way to introduce oneself to Lutheranism. Lutherans do seem to have a different “mind” from the Reformed. Over at Andrew Clover’s Lutheran and Reformed Discussion, I was very surprised to find some hostility to even some basic Reformed teachings, such as the Westminster Catechism Question 1: “Man's chief end is to glorify God, And to enjoy him forever.”

It seems as if Lutheran theology today relies very heavily on Luther’s “Theology of the Cross”, which really makes every person (believer or not) into either a “Theologian of the Cross” or a “Theologian of Glory”. At this point, I think some Lutherans might mistakenly tend to categorize the statement in WSC Question 1 as something that a “Theologian of Glory” might say.

At any rate, while Reformed theology is very well-ordered, “systematic”, perhaps even “scholastic”, Lutheran theology seems much more down-to-earth and practical. Luther’s Small Catechism is a series of instructions, for example, many of which begin with the phrase, “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household…”

Luther himself made this observation about his own writings:

by God’s grace a great many systematic books now exist, among which the Loci communes of Philip [Melanchthon] excel, with which a theologian and a bishop can be beautifully and abundantly prepared to be mighty in preaching the doctrine of piety, especially since the Holy Bible itself can now be had in nearly every language. But my books, as it happened, yes, as the lack of order in which the events transpired made it necessary, are accordingly crude and disordered chaos, which is now not easy to arrange even for me.

From John Dillenberger, “Martin Luther: Selections from his Writings”, New York, NY: Anchor Books, ©1962, “Preface to the Complete Edition of Luther’s Latin Writings, 1545”, pgs 3–4).

Still, several of Luther’s writings to this day are foundational, confessional documents for Lutherans, and they may be found in the Book of Concord.


  1. John,
    There's some unfortunate allergy that is encouraged within Lutheran thought to certain categories of frankly biblical language. "Election" comes to mind, as well as "glory."

    These are words to be acknowledged, but not discussed. They are hidden things of God.

    Of course, this strikes many of us as little more than squeamishness, an unfortunate reluctance to forthrightly handle these matters just as far, and no farther than the Bible itself presents them.

    What we often encounter, in response to this observation, is a knee-jerk denial of any such reluctance.

    And more: a degree of self-confident blather that simply asserts that since we aren't Lutheran, obviously we are obsessed with "self," and this talk of "glorifying" is a smokescreen for glorification, allegedly our primary concern.

    There is so much a priori projection by Lutherans upon those who should be their closest theological relatives, by default it frequently pushes them into open rapprochement with Rome. They erect an impassible barrier between them and us, and as a consequence find for themselves all kinds of affinities with Rome.

    It doesn't help that Lutherans choose not to distinguish between any of the denominations and sects to their left, but write them all off under one species of "fanatics" (and call them all "Reformed" out of spite). Added to which, they openly Confess against the error of the "sacramentarians" (the Zwinglian symbolists); but further against the Reformed add the epithet "sneaky."

    We should be quick to defend Lutherans as unmistakable Protestants. This is quite important, not least for which: we also find in Luther a hero of the Faith. We shouldn't adopt a bitterness equal to theirs in treating with them.

    However, in plain fact many Lutherans would rather see one of their own convert "rightward" to Rome than convert to Geneva. And more's the pity.

    1. Hi Bruce, thanks for your comment here. Yes, I've noticed that both election and glory are difficult word.

      You are right, we should be the closest I allies. Luther and Zwingli agreed on 14 of the 15 essentials discussed at Marburg. But I think that today's knowledge, spread wherever there is a web connection, can trump the prejudices of the past. Not saying it will be easy, but it's something I'm willing to try to work for.