Scholarship: The Hidden God

“Luther took the hidden God seriously for a number of reasons. Without the admission that there is more to God than meets either eye or ear, God could be tamed, measured, managed within the realm of the human ability and possibility to judge. From the human perspective God remains God because human creatures are creatures as well as sinners, and it is not possible for the product of God’s creative words to master knowledge of the Creator.

“…In the Heidelberg Disputation Luther had focused first on the blank wall created by the impossibility of the human creature’s, to say nothing of sinner’s, conceptualizing of God, just to prove that with fallen eyes no one can see God. With fallen human ears no one can return to the Edenic hearing of his Word. Then Luther focused very sharply on God in his revelation of himself (John 1:18): no one has seen God, but Jesus of Nazareth, God in the flesh, has made him known: a God with holes in his hands, feet, and side; the God who has come near to humankind, into the midst of its twisted and ruined existence” (Kolb, Bound Choice, pg 36).


Scholarship: Luther’s Experience & Exegesis

“…under the discipline of his own academic training [Luther] placed Scripture in the context of what his own experience had shown him regarding these definitive questions of life. Experience and exegesis together led him to formulate this paradoxical placing of total divine responsibility and total human responsibility alongside each other. Both God’s Word and his own spiritual struggles provided him with an understanding of humanity that met the biblical parameters for defining God’s relationship to sinners and to believers. Not a synthesis or harmonization of divine and human activity, this paradox did not assign grace and works respective parts within a process of salvation. It instead held in perpetual tension what the biblical writers said about God and what they said about human creatures” (Kolb, Bound Choice, pg 30).

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).

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).