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The Luther Letter

Edited by William R. Russell, Ph.D.

No. 1, January 2003


Thanks to Rev. Smith for the opportunity for me to share with this list a bit of what is hot on my scholarly griddle. I plan to post an offering each month on or about the 15th-as long as such postings are helpful and/or interesting to readers. If I wonder off into boring and/or irrelevant places-and if The Luther Letter does not "work," please let me know.

Your fellow inquirer,



Quotable Quote

This tidbit, from Luther's "Treatise on Good Works," was found on the front page of the Metro Lutheran, "An Independent Voice of all Lutherans in 20 Counties of East-central Minnesota and West-central Wisconsin": "Prayer is a special exercise of faith, and faith makes the prayer so acceptable that either it will surely be granted, or something better than we ask will be given in its stead."

Luther and September 11, 2001

Martin Marty, retired scholar from the University of Chicago Divinity School, finds strength and insight in Luther: "…I have found that it is the agonized people nearest Ground Zero-the pastors, chaplains, lay counselors, mourners and good Christian neighbors who were closest to suffering-who are the most ready to be stripped of illusion, easy answers and self-help positive thinking. They are the ones most ready to…embody what all of us are learning these days: [and here comes a quote from Luther--ed.] "If one has never suffered, one cannot understand what hope is." And to experience the God who, as Isaiah records, creates light and peace-the gracious God whom Luther sought and found."

Temptation and Prayer

Luther used the German word "Anfechtungen" to describe the attacks, temptations, and assaults of the devil. David Scaer sees an intimate connection between Satan's work and Christian prayer: "…Anfechtungen and prayer are necessary for the Christian, not in the sense that Anfechtungen and prayer are good works that justify the Christian before God or even in the sense that the Anfechtungen and prayer constitute faith…. Prayer becomes the signal that faith will no longer retreat in the face of Satan. Prayer is the cry of a faith that realizes its own personal helplessness in confronting the Anfechtungen and throws itself upon God alone for aid. The Anfechtungen describe faith in conflict. Prayer describes faith approaching God for aid in the conflict. Therefore faith, Anfechtungen, and prayer exist side by side in the Christian."

Luther and Art

Robin Jensen, Associate Professor at Andover Newton Theological School, compares Luther and Reformers Ulrich Zwingli and Andreas von Karlstadt: "Luther and his successors were more open to the arts than Zwingli, arguing that the arts could be a means of glorifying God and thus could be given a place in the church space and included in the liturgy. Luther condemned Andreas von Karlstadt's destruction of art and, in his treatise against this particular opponent, essentially argued that visual images might be a means to grace, akin to the preached word…."

Luther and the Lutheran Doctrinal Heritage

Former Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, colleague Bradley Hanson describes what he calls the "Special Gifts of Lutheran Spirituality." Among them he lists, "One Lutheran chrism is its strong doctrinal heritage, especially the Lutheran confessions and other writings of Martin Luther. Luther is one of the very greatest of Christian theologians, ranking with Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin. Naturally Luther does not belong only to Lutherans, no more than Aquinas belongs only to Roman Catholics or to Aquinas' own religious order of Dominicans. Nevertheless, just as Dominicans take it as their special responsibility to study Thomas Aquinas, so on behalf of the whole church Lutherans should return repeatedly to Luther's theology for fresh insight. Similarly, the Augsburg Confession was clearly intended as a statement of faith offered to the whole church and not as a merely partisan declaration, so Lutheran attention to this confession can be fruitful for the entire church."

Sources: The Confessions of St. Augustine;   Metro Lutheran, vol. 16, no. 12;  The Christian Century, Nov. 14, 2001;  Concordia Theological Quarterly vol. 47, #4;  Theology Today, Vol. 58, no. 3;  A Graceful Life: Lutheran Spirituality of Today (Augsburg-Fortress)

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Document revised, 2003: Jan. 20,  ICLnetProject Wittenberg is coordinated by,  Reverend Robert E. Smith