Scholarship: Wittenberg Theology

“The Wittenberg reformers presupposed that the almighty Creator had fashioned his human creatures in his image. As creatures they depend on their Creator, and when they rebel against him they are unable to restore themselves to the fulfillment of their humanity. The Creator must re-create them. These axioms formed the framework of the Wittenberg theology, centered as it was on the person of God and the fundamental questions regarding what it means to be God’s human creature…

“[The Wittenberg theologians (including Philipp Melanchthon, Johannes Bugenhagen, Justus Jonas, and a half-dozen others)] was a group with a common commitment to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and to do so according to a model they adopted and adapted from their mentor [Luther]. Together they were involved in experimenting with appropriate articulation of the biblical message. They influenced Luther while he lived, and he continued to shape their thought after he had died. But, as is always the case, hearers pass the message on in their own way…

“Because they had no epistemological theory articulating how presuppositions shaped assertions in their own thought, individuals within the Wittenberg circle too often did not recognize that they shared concerns with their opponents but expressed them in a different manner or with a different topic or doctrine. Thus, the debates among Luther’s and Melanchthon’s followers serve as laboratories for observing how these students had learned to make their theology work. These controversies show the coincidence of the content of the Wittenberg message with its method…

“Wittenberg theology attempted to hold in tension the total responsibility for all things that belongs by definition to the Creator with the limited but complete responsibility he has assigned to his human creatures within their own spheres of activity…

“The struggles within the Wittenberg circle to express the biblical message regarding the Creator and the human creature illustrate how theologians experiment with expressions for their ideas, employing different terms and doctrinal synonyms in the search for the best way of proclaiming the Christian message, and how they attempt to solve the dilemmas of doing so effectively in different topical locations, sometimes on God’s side, sometimes on the human side” (Kolb, Bound Choice, pgs 2, 4, 5, 6, & 10).

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