Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Luther and Hero worship

Hope that everyone had a good Halloween/Reformation Day. We had some great opportunities to connect with neighbors and find out exactly where those folks we see walking actually live. Everyone was outside so that mad it quite easy.

October 31st, as most folks know, is also the day that that much of the Protestant Reformation got kick-started (however there were pre-cursors to Luther like Jan Huss who actually paid the ultimate sacrifice) and so many rightfully celebrated and still celebrate that fact. We should celebrate that God used folks to "just say no" (not sure that they used that Nancy Reagan-esque slogan though) to Rome and its corruption, and the need to Reform the Church. 

And we should not stop celebrating the fact that God used feeble folks-and still does fortunately-to do just that. In turn, we should also not forget that such men were feeble and probably do not want us putting them up on a pedestal. 

One of my favorite Shakespeare quotes comes from Marc Antony's (the original, not the dude freshly divorced from J-Lo) soliloquy after some lads killed Julius Caesar: "the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones..." In other words, people forget the good stuff you do, and remember the bad. We've all experienced that.

The bible has in essence one hero: Jesus. The rest of the characters aren't heroes, and that's why their flaws are presented to us. We do tend to moralize them. We do that with current "celebrity pastors" and speakers. And Reformed folks tend to that with Puritans and Reformers. 

Let me speak regarding the latter.

Martin Luther had a boldness few of us have ever seen. He had a love of Jesus many of us don't regularly see. But he also, like the rest of us, had plenty of flaws. We do both Jesus and Luther a disservice-since he so well has pointed us to our need for Jesus lo these many years-when we ignore his flaws. 

Here are some things we can learn from the mistakes of Martin Luther from scholar Dr. Frank James,  formerly at R.T.S., but now with Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.

1.) Demonizing. Luther was confident in the gospel, but he may have placed confidence in other areas so much so, that he demonized his opponents who were ultimately in the same fight with only subtle nuances. In fact he writes positively about Ulrich Zwingli's death in battle, as though it were a just and good thing.

2.) Anti-Semitic. In Luther's On the Jews and Their Lies. We were read an excerpt in seminary. Pretty rough stuff. 

3) Unwillingness to recognize blind spots. There's a reason that Lutherans don't exactly hold to a Lutheran understanding of justification and pre-destination. Philip Melancthon was his golden boy, and didn't hold Luther's view on either. Unfortunately Luther failed to see it. As a result, at least in part,  Presbyterians, some Baptists, and several others take Luther's theology more seriously than Lutherans. Kind of ironic. 

In the end, Luther was and is a saint like you and I. His theology, his life can teach us a lot. And we should learn all we can from this lad. But his theology at times, incorrectly applied or not applied in certain areas, can also teach us we too can be quite inconsistent in applying theology to our lives. The hero of the story is not us, not them, it's Jesus. We can't forget that. I can't forget that, particularly with my pastoral idolatry. And Luther wouldn't want us to forget that, I'm sure. 

We learned very little about John Calvin's "dirt," much to my dismay. So I've got nothing on him. But both he and Luther are now, not just declared righteous, they actually are righteous. So that's why I think neither of them would be upset that I'm writing this. 

The good news is that God uses flawed people to build His Kingdom. So you're in good company when you enlist-or rather "get drafted."


Randy Greenwald said...

Some dirt on Calvin? Read Bruce Gordon's bio. You can begin here: http://somberanddull.com/2011/02/08/a-crooked-stick/

Thanks for the reminder. I long for untainted heroes. I guess we get none so we will look elsewhere. As well, not having spotless models makes me feel a teeny bit better about the possibility of God accomplishing something through a devil like me.

Geoffsnook said...


Thanks for the Calvin dirt. There are several biographies I'd like to get to once I finish "The Idiot."

I follow dirty people better than I do "clean" folks. Totally with you about the good of not having spotless models. I meant the post to encourage people that he can do some pretty cool stuff with some pretty messed up people. What good news!