“Justification and Freedom” – Summary of contents – 4

on July 31st, 2014 by admin | No Comments »

The heart of the document is Chapter 2, Central Themes of Reformation Theology [Kernpunkte reformatorischer Theologie]. An opening section summarizes the thesis: “The Reformation doctrine of justification breaks through the logic that to be justified one must be in the right.” Rather, “God wishes to have fellowship with each person, regardless of how each has behaved with G, with other persons, or with themselves” (p. 45). This thesis is then elaborated by means of five “alones”: Christ alone, grace alone, Word alone, Scripture alone, faith alone. Each section follows a similar pattern. First, the “basic theological idea” [theologischer Grundgedanke] is expounded. Then, “present challenges” to the basic idea are noted. In each case, both “challenges within the church” and “social challenges” are discussed.

Four comments on this chapter:
– The emphasis falls on justification as God’s nearness [Nähe], despite our unworthiness of such nearness (p. 49). Jesus makes that nearness concrete and in his cross and resurrection, shows that God is near even sin and death and takes away that which in sin and death would separate us from God (p. 50).
– The emphasis is on justification. While it is said that justification is not just one theme among many, but “the basis for a consoled, healed, borne life” (p. 46) not much is said about that life, beyond the statement that good work will follow “quasi automatically” (p. 89).
– In light of the title of the total text, not much is really said here about freedom.
– As the text notes, to say “alone” is to exclude. To say “this alone” is to say “not that” (p. 47). In the discussion of most of the “alones,” the contrast with what is excluded is explicitly drawn.

Chapter 3, “How can [the Reformation] be celebrated [gefeiert]?” focuses on the relation between a strictly ecclesial celebration and one oriented to the concerns of the wider culture. The hope expressed is for a celebration that would make the connection between the Reformation and “present experiences and expectations” visible. (p. 97).  Anniversary celebrations of this sort offer “concentrated narratives” that help to shape cultural understanding (p. 99). The connection between the Reformation and “modern history of freedom” is offered as an example of this relation (pp. 98-104), with a focus on the cultural impact of Luther’s appeal to conscience before the Reichstag in Worms (the “here I stand” speech).

A brief conclusion, Chapter 4, expresses the desire for the widest possible ecumenical and social celebration of the Reformation.

An ecumenical analysis of the text will come tomorrow.

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