Reading Luther

Reading Luther

. . . living, or rather dying and being damned make a theologian, not understanding, reading or speculating . . .

– Martin Luther

When I was in college, I struggled with my faith.  I had been raised in the church, was a pastor’s kid and I knew I was loved.  Deep down, I wanted to believe in God, but somehow I found my intellect getting in the way.  As a science student at U.C. San Diego (in biochemistry), I was beginning to think like a scientist, and most scientists, I discovered, did not believe in God.  That, in addition to something of an identity crisis I had, caused many things to be very unclear for me.  I began to read the works of Søren Kierkegaard.  The titles of his books alone spoke to me directly: The Concept of Dread, The Sickness unto Death, Fear and Trembling, Philosophical Fragments.  I had found a kindred spirit.  In spite of my doubt, I was captivated enough by what I read to go to seminary and study theology, to see where the Spirit might be leading me.

At seminary I discovered another figure that intrigued me: Martin Luther.  If Kierkegaard got me to go to seminary, Luther got me to stay there.  At the time I was still very much seeking answers to life’s great questions, and trying to figure out my role in their solutions.  It wasn’t until I read Luther for myself that I began to make sense out of the faith tradition in which I was raised, and that I have come to know and love as my own.  There was much about Luther’s life and thought that I found topamax migraine incredibly fascinating.  But it was in his struggle with Anfechtungen – times of trial or doubt – that I once more saw myself.

Theologian David Tracy encourages us to read classics – those texts that are “timelessly timely”, as opposed to “period pieces”, which speak only of the hopes, desires and values of a certain era.  For me, Luther’s works were classics: they spoke of universal truths, yet out of a very specific, personal experience, one with which I could relate directly.  That is the reason we return to these texts again and again.  Luther was far from perfect (as he himself acknowledged), yet the adventure of theology is an ongoing dialogue with kindred spirits from the great “cloud of witnesses” who have gone before, who speak out of their particularity into ours.

Luther first nailed the 95 Theses on Indulgences to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg in 1517, and so next year (2017) we will observe 500 years of Reformation.  Our synod is undertaking an effort to move us ad fontes – to the sources!  The goal of this effort is to read Luther.  There will be a reading group that begins September 21 at PLTS, led by renowned Luther scholar Kirsi Stjerna.  In case you cannot be there, you will have the opportunity to engage with the group online, or to follow a syllabus for a class at your church.  Either way, we encourage you to read Luther for yourself, and to re-discover a classic figure who is both very flawed and very interesting.  Blessings to you in this effort!

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Dan Smith
Lutheran Church of the Incarnation
Davis, CA


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