Posted by: duncandrews | August 15, 2014

A Receptive Life: Luther, the gospel, and doin’ your best,_1528_(Veste_Coburg).jpgFor some time I’ve had a bit of a fascination with the great reformer, the guy who sparked a theological revolution that changed the world, the brother like no other, Martin Luther. I like the guy. Probably because he’s so different from me. His boldness and courage and intensity and intellectual consistency are pretty frightening, but I find them incredibly compelling.

Anyway, I’m in the middle of a series of three open lectures at the Bible College of South Australia, on Luther’s theological ethics – how his theological breakthrough transformed how he saw life, from its the big picture right down to the gravely bits.

Just keep doin’ your best…
As a teenager I loved Keith Green’s song, He’ll Take Care of the Rest. Keith, the Christian pop-rocker with a white-man’s-fro, was a bit of a hero for me. The chorus of the song repeated the refrain:

you just keep doin’ your best,
and pray that it’s blessed,
and Jesus takes care of the rest.

I suspect Keith would want to distance himself from this connection, but every time I hear that song now, I think of the theological movement that left Luther a broken, deeply anxious and afflicted man. The Medieval Scholastics held the via moderna, which taught that ‘God in his infinite mercy ascribes value to human worth, … [allowing] human beings ‘to do that which is in oneself’ (facare quod in se est)’ (MacCulloch, Reformation, 110‐11). God had made a pact with humanity, agreeing to justify anyone who ‘did what they could’. (BTW, Keith Green lovers, I know he didn’t mean it in this way!)

The great problem for Luther was that he could never be sure if he had done his best, done ‘what was in him’. He wrote, ‘though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. … Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience’ (LW 34:336-7).

Luther’s decisive breakthrough, however, came as he lectured through the Psalms and Romans. ‘The essential centre of Luther’s discovery consists in the recognition that in Christ, God’s son, true man and true God, God freely gives us his righteousness, wisdom and strength. This is the content of the gospel and this faith believes and therefore is justified.’ (Brecht, Martin Luther, 230)

This ‘discovery’, or perhaps more accurately ‘re-covery’, of the gospel was explosive for Luther. Over the next few posts, I’ll explore a couple of his early and seminal theological works, before examining the way his theology shaped his understanding of the practicalities of every day life. If there’s one thing I admire Luther for most, it’s having the courage and determination to let what he believed about God and the world and the gospel actually direct and shape his understanding and experience of life. I find it exciting and compelling – and hope you will too.

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