Sunday, February 07, 2010

On Spinning Luther

I recall hearing John Gerstner explain that one of the best scholars on Jonathan Edwards wasn't even a Christian, or even a theist. I've always found that fascinating - a person would choose to be an expert on a historical personage in whom he personally disagreed with on a basic presuppositional level.

I'm not an expert on the life and work of Martin Luther by any means, though I do share something similar with this gentleman. I'm a non-Lutheran that has a keen interest in Martin Luther. That is, I've studied Luther from a non-Lutheran perspective.

I've explained this before, but yet, I'm still viewed with deep suspicions from Lutherans and probably even some of my Reformed brethren (when my back is turned). I'd probably have a lot more Lutheran support if I were Lutheran. I'd probably have a lot more Reformed support if I didn't spend the time on the subjects I do. But this blog is not about climbing to the top of the theological food chain. It's about providing a source for the truth about obscure quotes and facts that get thrown around the Internet as propaganda. Will a lot of people read it? No, probably not. But those people that read some sort of outrageous Luther quote, wonder about it, and take two seconds to do a little further digging, will be pleasantly surprised at what they find. Reformation History has never been a close friend of the current batch of pop-Roman Catholic apologists. They've written enough on Luther to keep me busy for years.

Typically Roman Catholics don't trust me, but for much different reasons. In dialog recently with a Roman Catholic, it was stated, "Please stop with the spin and give a straight answer." Some Roman Catholics think any defense or counter evidence on Luther's life is a deceptive ploy. They think I'm so dedicated to the original Protestant that every ounce of his being gets a free pass, and I'm the master spin doctor. Then there was this comment left recently on this blog:

I do recognize you normaly [sic] refuse to take a position on what a particluar [sic] quote DOES mean (to you), but prefer only to put yourself in a position to criticize what other people say about it. You depict yourself as being someone who knows A LOT about Luther, and no doubt you do, so why not take a stand in regards to what you actually believe about the man?

So, if I discuss the historical facts of Luther's life, I'm a spin doctor. If I simply post something Luther said out of interest, I'm not taking a stand as to what my opinion is of his words. With the former, my hero must be protected by all means possible. With the later, I'll do whatever it takes to avoid contradicting the depth of wisdom of my hero. I assume most people wouldn't arrive at these conclusions. Indeed, they are ravings without substance.

Roman Catholics try to deflect the guilt of their church’s abuses and doctrinal confusion that Luther rightly fought against. Instead of dealing with the blatant abuses, need for reform, and muddled theology inherent in the sixteenth century church, the tactic is to discredit Luther by any means possible. Simply because Luther was wrong on say, something like his attitude toward the Jews does not necessarily mean he was wrong on the need for church reform, the proclamation of the gospel of justification by faith alone, or sola scriptura. No serious or sane Protestant argues that Luther was an infallible interpreter, divine authority, or immaculately conceived. We realize Luther was a man of many faults. Yet when he proclaims the gospel, he is absolutely correct because the Bible clearly teaches it. When he speaks out against the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church he is right because history shows this was the case. When he makes terrible statements, he’s not right (or wrong) because he was somehow a Protestant pope or the originator of Protestantism, he’s wrong because a clear exposition of the Scriptures do not support such terrible statements.

There are plenty of theological areas I disagree with Luther on. Always keep in mind, I'm a Calvinist, really. There are also things Luther said or did that I think were sinful, but then again, this is the plight of all mankind. When I defend Luther's life, in some instances it's not to simply give him a free pass, it's to point out the argument being employed by a Roman Catholic (or whoever) is usually flawed, a double standard, or historically inaccurate.

14 comments:

Edward Reiss said...

James,

I would say that no one except RC apologists treat Luther like a sort of protestant pope. Even Lutherans say he was wrong on things.

As to why they continue to use these tactics, it is easier than actually getting to know something about his theology, or the history of th Reformation. It is also a venerable tradition to hurl calumnies against him. Who in his right mind would follow someone like Luther if he resembled the RC caricature of him?

James Swan said...

I've tried to cover other groups who use Luther as well, though by far, Roman Catholics are the most obsessed with him. It is simply amazing to me that one man could provoke so much from so many people.

Interestingly (well at least to me, and perhaps you), I plan on actually doing something I don't think I have done- I'm going to look at the way a Lutheran currently cited Luther. That is, I've found a Luther quote being used by a Lutheran in a polemical way, that I think is unjustified. I'm not sure when I'll get to it, perhaps today, perhaps a month from now.

Edward Reiss said...

James,

It would be interesting to me, even if I am the Lutheran. :-)

James Swan said...

Nope, you're not on the firing range today!

Brigitte said...

"Erst gackern, nicht legen" (first cluck and then don't lay the egg). (I can't think of the original English saying with the same idea.)

Now you have us hooked.

As a Lutheran I very much appreciate your work and don't view you with "suspicion" but rather with astonishment. It seems unfathomable how the Calvinist, especially yourself, and the Roman Catholic can't come around to his view, at least eventually.

It's the meeting ground. Let's consider it carefully.

James Swan said...

Hi Brigitte,

I had a link for you the other day, and now I can't actually remember what it was- perhaps it was something on Shirer.

I'm not sure when I'm going to get to my teaser. I'm a person with more ideas than time.

Thanks for stopping by!

L P said...

James,

You said...
I'd probably have a lot more Lutheran support if I were Lutheran

This is most certainly true.

Lutherans of course believe Luther was wrong in some places. In fact a Lutheran can disagree with him provided he does not disagree with later Lutheran fathers, like Walther or Pieper. That is a no no;-)


I am teasing (I am not LC-MS). ;-)

LPC

James Swan said...

I've never really read anything substantial by either Walther or Pieper, other than various tidbits.

Brigitte said...

L.P. don't joke about things like that! :)

L P said...

Brigitte,


I am glad you have a sense of humor.

LPC

Brigitte said...

James, you must read some Walther and Pieper. LP have you had a look at Matt Harrison's book "At Home in the House of my Fathers"?

L P said...

Brigitte,

No I have not read Pr. Harrison's book.
I will get around to it one day.

Just busy.


LPC

Brigitte said...

Re: Harrison's book. It's a humongous book. I think I should get a prize for reading right through it and having already finished it. I bet I'm first at the finish line. (I was trying to keep my mind busy during a miserable December, plus it is definitely not boring. Well, some stretches were a little tougher.)

Others, I'd suggest might see it as a reading for over a year, or so. One can just take little sections at a time. It is broken down into so many segments, one does not have to read continuously, at all.

So much for the advertising and the bragging.

"Papist" and "Calvinists" don't come off very well in the writings and speeches of that time, just for forewarning.

Nor, did, however, come "Lutherans" off very well in writings by Calvinist in other sources I looked at.

And as we see with James' work, Luther, the giant, is forever up for being on the butcher block and for getting "spun", as this post points out.

Augustinian Successor said...

No, none of you at Beggars All are Luther(an) experts. You may think you understand Luther but actually you don't. Still as non-Lutherans you defend Luther from papists. And that's all that matters, except when you don't get Luther. ;-)