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Thursday, June 4, 2015

New book on Luther—"the great Reformer"! J. Reston, Jr.

James Reston, Jr.
Luther's Fortress
by James Reston, Jr.
      A surprise came to me as I saw a book at a Barnes and Noble store that I had not seen before: Luther's Fortress: Martin Luther and His Reformation Under Siege by James Reston, Jr..  And Amazon confirmed that it is currently the "#1 New Release in Lutheran Christianity".  But what amazed me as I read the first sentence was this phrase:
“...the great Reformer Martin Luther.
In today's world, that is quite a bold phrase to use, given the unpopularity of its subject.  And a quick perusal confirmed that this author was not as judgmental of Luther as most of today's theologians.  I will not offer an in-depth review here.  But I would like to examine a few particulars.  

     Why did Reston write this book?  Was it because of the upcoming 500th Anniversary (in 2017) of Luther’s 95 Theses and the beginning of the Reformation?  Reston states under his “Author’s Note”  on page 235:
“The inspiration for Luther’s Fortress lies in my 2008 book, Defenders of the Faith, which covers … from 1520 to 1536.  In that age… Luther’s impact in history surpasses them all. … utterly captivated by the great Reformer: his personality, his courage, his rebellion, the drama of his life, his passion and his honesty, his grace and his coarseness, his wit and humor, and his flaws.”
Hmmm... that is quite a lot of praise... mixed in with the usual caveats.  Praise indeed! It seems James Reston, Jr.  did NOT write this book so much for the Anniversary, but because he was “captivated by the great Reformer”.  Never mind Reston's epilogue (Author's Note) talk of the “dark side” or “flaws” of Luther  – something no well known author of today could omit, something practically all “Lutheran” theologians harp at.  Reston calls Martin Luther “the great Reformer” no less than 5 times in this book.  He uses the phrase “the Reformer” no less than 45 times  – could it be that he means this in an exclusive sense?... after all he said “Luther’s impact … surpasses them all”.  If only today’s Concordia Publishing House editors could speak of Luther this way!  If only the LC-MS would inform its members of what Reston reveals on page 241 to the world:
  1. “the Roman Catholic ban on Luther ‘and all his followers’ is still in effect”
  2. The Catholic provost’s (at Worms, Germany) answer to Reston’s inquiry (plea?) that “Wasn’t it time, in the interest of ecumenicalism, after five hundred years, that the excommunication of Luther and the ban on Lutheranism be lifted?” – Answer:
The time to lift the ban has not yet come. 
Does everyone in the LC-MS know that they remain officially under the same ban as Martin Luther?... No?  Why not?  Is there not anything said by the editor of Concordia Publishing's book The Lutheran Difference?... in their Reformation Anniversary Edition?   Nothing?
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      ⇒ To James Reston, Jr.:  If you are a Christian who is “captivated” by Luther, you will find many of my blog posts to be of interest to you.  You certainly know a lot of facts about Luther, but to really know Luther, one must be a Christian first.  Then one can rightly judge the anti-Christian Roman Catholic Inquisition which spilled the blood of so many Lutheran martyrs who were their most hated and feared opponents.  It is for the sake of the true Gospel that Lutherans take the name of Luther, even if he himself protested against this in his earlier days (ref. your book, pages 135-136).
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      One of the delightful details Reston reveals regards Argula von Stauff, a dear woman who gloried in the message that Luther exposed, in the Gospel… a woman of the Reformation.
      So I can recommend Mr. Reston’s book to almost all who would desire to have a true introduction to Luther  – even with its bow to modern theology’s distaste for Luther.   But in the end, the better account of Luther comes from those who not only died because of him (i.e. the Martyrs), but those who would follow him, in spirit, in the Confessions of the Lutheran Church, the Book of Concord.
      As an incentive to read this book, I quote C.F.W. Walther’s comment on Luther’s polemical writings:
“It’s all entertaining.”
Indeed, "that's entertainment"!... or as Reston says "the drama of his life".


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Pieper– praised by Walther, divides Law and Gospel (anniversary of Pieper's passing)

— June 3, 1931 — 
the passing of Prof. Franz Pieper from this earthly life

Perhaps many other things were noted for this date in world history.  But in Church History, it marks a silencing of the pen and voice of the greatest Christian theologian of the Twentieth Century.

How may I honor Pieper on this day?  With 2 examples.  There was a major Pastoral Conference in 1880 in the old (German) Missouri Synod, and all pastors were urgently requested to attend this conference to be held in Chicago.  Proceedings were published by Concordia here.  This was the major gathering to attempt to settle within the Missouri Synod the Great Election Controversy.  In the middle of the great debate, the opponents were using every means they could to attempt to prove that a Christian's election (or predestination) was caused "in view of their faith", or in Latin intuitu fidei.  I will cover other aspects of it soon, but I want to extract 2 things that occurred there to honor this great teacher of the Lutheran Church:

1) The "admirable" young professor, at age 28

As the writings of Martin Chemnitz were drawn into the debate, Prof. Franz Pieper properly clarified Chemnitz' position on this doctrine. (see especially page 78).  And on page 81, Walther compliments the young Prof. Franz Pieper against the opponents:
Prof. Pieper has already admirably proved that you [opponents] also cannot begin with anything at all for your cause...
Walther, although a gracious theologian, was in a heated battle and had little time for niceties.  But this compliment from Walther was the sign that the old theologian could see that this young man was no ordinary theologian, for he could properly understand the great Martin Chemnitz, chief author of the Formula of Concord.

2) the Distinction of Law and Gospel — by Walther's successor

A little later in the debate (pages 87-88), Prof. Pieper addresses the confusion of the opponents by saying:
The doctrine of election is a very delicate thing. There one cannot get by with mere dogmatic formulas. ... And I mean, here is proposed through observing a distinction, namely the distinction between Law and Gospel.  Whoever does not distinguish Law and Gospel here in this case [Election], will spoil all possible Scriptural passages, those of certainty, as well as those reminders dealing with the struggles. Whoever does not distinguish here between Law and Gospel, stirs a general mash together from the admonitions to certainty and to fear; there is half fear, half certainty, i.e. just no certainty.
Here sat the young professor, before the great Walther (who had already given his earlier lectures on Law and Gospel in 1878), before hundreds of Missouri Synod pastors, before many other Synodical Conference members, and proposed to use Walther's own specialty of properly distinguishing Law and Gospel to answer the mysteries of the Doctrine of Election!  I can just see the dear Walther's eyes almost come to tears as he saw his Theses come to life!  Walther would later go on in 1884-85 to deliver a more complete series of "Luther Hours" lectures on The Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel, the lectures being the basis of Concordia's later publishing of the same name.  —

— Could it be that Franz Pieper was partially the cause for Walther to produce his most well known lectures?
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Pieper's time would come as the great Walther passed into his eternal rest in 1887.  And he would carry that torch just as well as his teacher, until the day he died on

June 3, 1931

84 years ago today.