Sunday, October 30, 2011

Remembering the Reformation rightly

Thesentür, Wittenburg
On this Reformation Day, four brief notes connected by a common theme: the need of the Protestant communions on this day to eschew ecclesiastical triumphalism and false stereotypes of Catholic doctrine and practice by remembering the Reformation rightly—in light of fresh historiographical readings of the reformers in their sixteenth-century context, and in light of more recent convergences between the divisions of the church in this West that the reformers might well have welcomed as the sort of soteriological clarifications they sought in the teaching of the Church.

This essay on “The Catholic Luther” by Lutheran theologian David Yeago of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina explains clearly the more nuanced picture of Martin Luther’s vision for the reform of the church that emerges when one reads Luther not through the lenses of a reductionistic Protestant dogmatism but rather on his own merits vis-à-vis his context. (I’m looking forward to visiting with Dr. Yeago when I teach a course in Ecumenical Theology as an adjunct professor at LTSS in the coming spring semester.)

The article "What Luther Got Wrong" (originally published in the Christian Century) by David Steinmetz, retired professor of church history at Duke University Divinity School, helps make sense of Luther’s own theological intentions in relationship to various sixteenth-century schools of thought regarding the theological appropriation of Aristotelian philosophy (a major locus of Luther’s objections to developments in late medieval Scholastic theology).

Just ahead of this Reformation Day and yesterday’s Reformation Sunday observances, Baptist World Alliance General Secretary Neville Callam issued this column urging Baptists to shun false stereotypes of Catholic teaching in their commemorations of the Reformation, especially in light of the progress represented by the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed by the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church in 1999 and joined by the World Methodist Council in 2006.

Finally, I’m making this blog post from Heraklion on the Greek island of Crete, where I’m participating in “pre-conversations” between representatives of the Baptist World Alliance and the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate that are exploring the feasibility of a future formal ecumenical dialogue between the two communions. This setting reminds me that while the sixteenth-century Reformation was a division of the Western church, there is another major Christian communion that was not defined by the Protestant Reformation or Catholic Counter-Reformation, one with which some of the reformers initiated correspondence. Veli-Matti Karkkainen's book One with God: Salvation as Justification and Deification explores the fascinating connections between Luther’s understanding of justification and the Orthodox understanding of salvation as theōsis (“divinization” or “deification”).

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