By Faith Alone: Essays on Justification in Honor of Gerhard O. Forde

By Joseph A. Burgess; Marc Kolden | Go to book overview

The Dark Room, the Labyrinth,
and the Mirror: On Interpreting
Luther’s Thought on Justification
and Justice

Vítor Westhelle


1. The Artifice of Doctrine

The understanding of doctrine, and therefore of a Protestant magisterium, in the Lutheran tradition has been cursed, in recent times, by David Friedrich Strauss’s dictum that “the true criticism of dogma is its history.”1 What Strauss failed to see, however, is that this criticism he was so eager to follow and document was not only a doctrinal indictment, but indeed a function of doctrinal creations. I am here concerned with the way in which the criticism of doctrine became a device by which doctrine was created, and how this feature is much more relevant for the history of doctrine itself than its presumed function of discerning and furthering a traditional theological locus. In other words, under the guise of furthering a positive tradition, doctrinal constructions often function as instruments for the creation of doctrine itself.

The way twentieth-century Lutheran theology argued about the relationship between justification and justice, faith and life, grace and law, more often has been a result of a modern European agenda or framework imposed upon Luther’s writings than it was the acclaimed hermeneutical attempt of capturing the unique intention of Luther’s social thought. Contextualizing the interpretation of Luther is in itself an important topic in Lutheran social thinking, not merely because of its obvious relativizing

1. David Friedrich Strauss, Die christliche Glaubenslehre in ihrer geschichtlichen Entwicklung und im Kampfe mit der modernen Wissenschaft dargestellt, 2 vols. (Tübingen: C. F. Osiander; Stuttgart: F. H. Koehler, 1840-41), 1:71.

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