Magazine article The Christian Century

Times of Trial. (M.E.M.O.)

Magazine article The Christian Century

Times of Trial. (M.E.M.O.)

Article excerpt

VIKING PENGUIN LIVES, a series of biographies, lists Martin Marty on Martin Luther among its forthcoming titles (2003). Writing this book will keep me busy during 2002; doing the reading for it has delighted me through much of 2001. Reading Luther while writing and speaking about the devastations to buildings, bodies, souls and spirits that have overtaken us this autumn has been one way of getting "back to basics" for me.

Most treatments of Luther during the past century, if they resisted the temptation of making a modern out of him, dealt with this question: How can we get "inside" someone who lived with the insecurities of the late-medieval environment? Johan Huizinga wrote about "the violent tenor of life" in those times.

Now all of a sudden we, too, find ourselves living in a world of violence, terror and insecurity, a world that brings us closer to "Luther's problem" (How can I find a gracious God?) even if we don't all accept his solution.

H. G. Haile's Luther: An Experiment in Biography (Princeton University Press, 1980) focuses on some passages from Luther's writings that speak to many of us. "I did not come to my theology of a sudden, but had to brood ever more deeply. My trials brought me to it, for we do not learn anything except by experience," Luther writes. Two days with New York area Lutheran clergy and time with Christians of all stripes elsewhere convinces me that they, too, are undergoing such trials and learning from them.

"When his old friend Justus Jonas held Paul up as a paragon of faith ..., Luther interrupted him," Halle writes. "`I don't think he believed as firmly as he talks. I cannot believe as firmly either, as I can talk and write about it.'" Does that mean that Christian witness is self-delusion? I think not.

The preachers, counselors and good neighbors who "talk and write" about faith in spite of the traumas of the time will tell you that doing so strengthens their own faith. …

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