Scholarship: Creator and creatures

“From one angle or another, however, Luther returned again and again to the question of the meaning of being human. Alongside his confidence of God as the almighty and sovereign Creator stands his determination to confess what it means that the human being is a creature, the creation of a Creator, a Creator who makes things by saying “Let there be” (Gen. 1:3-26). His search for the proper description of humanity cannot be seperated from his focus on God – on the nature and disposition of the Creator, upon whom by definition the human creature, as the object and handiwork of the Creator’s creativity, is dependent. But he was striving to tell his readers what their own capabilities were as creature, both in relationship to God and in relationship to his creation. Indeed, the advent of sin has complicated the task of contemplating the mystery of humanity immensely. Thus, in De servo arbitrio Luther’s description of humanity treats both the limitations and the potential God placed in his design for being human and the corruption and potential of humanity bound and captivated by unbelief and the other sins that flow from it (Kolb, Bound Choice, pgs 20-21).

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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).

Erasmus: Grace and Free Will

In his discourse entitled The Free Will, Erasmus states, “In my opinion the free will could have been so defined as to avoid overconfidence in our merits and the other disadvantages which Luther shuns, as well as to avoid such as we recited above, and still not lose the advantages which Luther admires. This, it seems to me, is accomplished by those who attribute everything to the pulling by grace which is the first to excite our spirit, and attribute only something to human will in its effort to continue and not withdraw from divine grace. But since all things have three parts, a beginning, a continuation and an end, grace is attributed to the two extremities, and only in continuation does the free will effect something” (Discourse on Free Will, pg 73).

Luther: The Clarity of Scriptures

In The Bondage of the Will, Luther writes, “I admit that many passages in Scriptures are obscure and abstruse. But that is due to our ignorance of certain terms and grammatical particulars, and not to the majesty of the subject. This ignorance does not in any way prevent our knowing all the contents of Scriptures. What things can Scriptures still be concealing, now that the seals are broken, the stone rolled from the door of the sepulchre, and that greatest of all mysteries brought to light: Christ became man; God is Trinity and Unity; Christ suffered for us and will reign forever? Are not these things known and proclaimed even in our streets? Take Christ out of Scriptures and what will you find remaining in them? All things contained in the Scriptures, therefore, are made manifest (even though some passages containing unknown words are yet obscure). But it is absurd and impious to say that things are obscure, because of a few words, when you know the contents of Scriptures being set in the clearest light. And if the words are obscure in one place, yet they are clear in another… (Discourse on Free Will, pgs 90-91).