The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther

By Donald K. McKim | Go to book overview

17
Luther's contemporary theological significance
ROBERT W. JENSON

This chapter cannot be written from a strictly analytical or historical point of view. An earlier theologian's contemporary theological importance can only be assessed from within the church's present theological enterprise, that is, from within her continuing reflection on her mission. Since the church's mission is to make and be faithful to the claim that the God of Israel has raised his servant Jesus from the dead, we may also think of theology as the intellectual labor internal to speaking this“gospel” intelligibly in the always new times and places which the mission reaches. Theology is thus a temporally extended debate—sometimes a calm discussion, sometimes a shouting match—about Christ and the church, which has now continued for nearly two millennia. As such a protracted conversation goes on, participants drop out, leavingtheir influence and writings behind them, and new ones enter, from new historical contexts.

Such considerations must give this chapter its method. Active participants in the continuing theological argument are inevitably and properly cannibals of their predecessors. They dismember predecessors' systems or structures of intuition, and use bits and pieces for their own purposes. To ask about Luther's contemporary theological significance is, therefore, to ask for suggestions that such and such aspects or parts of Luther's theology are likely to further the present enterprise.

Any such list is individual; others might cut along different lines. But the choices need not be arbitrary or idiosyncratic if the nominatingtheologian is both faithful to the church's tradition of teaching and taken up by the questions now being posed. Proof that these conditions are fulfilled must be, of course, circular: only the usefulness of the suggestions made can show that they were the right ones. In the view of the present writer, two mandates determine what we should now take from Luther.

First is the ecumenical imperative. Luther was indeed one of“the Reformers, ” whose proposals triggered lasting schism in the Western church. Whether he would have pressed his convictions in quite the same way had he been able to look farther into the future, we cannot know. In

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The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents ix
  • Notes on Contributors xi
  • Preface xv
  • Chronology of Martin Luther xvii
  • Abbreviations xviii
  • Part I - Luther's Life and Context 1
  • 1 - Luther's Life 3
  • 2 - Luther's Wittenberg 20
  • Part II - Luther's Work 37
  • 3 - Luther's Writings 39
  • Notes 59
  • 4 - Luther as Bible Translator 62
  • 5 - Luther as an Interpreter of Holy Scripture 73
  • Notes 82
  • 6 - Luther's Theology 86
  • Notes 114
  • 7 - Luther's Moral Theology 120
  • 8 - Luther as Preacher of the Word of God 136
  • 9 - Luther's Spiritual Journey 149
  • 10 - Luther's Struggle with Social-Ethical Issues 165
  • Notes 175
  • 11 - Luther's Political Encounters 179
  • Notes 190
  • 12 - Luther's Polemical Controversies 192
  • Part III - After Luther 208
  • 13 - Luther's Function in an Age of Confessionalization 209
  • 14 - The Legacy of Martin Luther 227
  • Notes 238
  • 15 - Approaching Luther 240
  • Notes 252
  • Part IV - Luther Today 257
  • 16 - Luther and Modern Church History 259
  • 17 - Luther's Contemporary Theological Significance 272
  • Notes 286
  • 18 - Luther in the Worldwide Church Today 289
  • Select Bibliography 304
  • Index 313
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