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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

New Luther book: Indulgences, 95 Theses (MacKenzie's folly, Frederick's strength); Brand Luther

Brand Luther
by Andrew Pettegree
      Following a previously released new book on Luther, now comes another one, this time by a Scottish scholastic (St. Andrews University) with his report on a life of Luther, Brand Luther by Andrew Pettegree.   I approach these new books with apprehension assuming each will be another flawed attempt to present the Reformer to today's modern world.  Although I was somewhat pleasantly surprised with the last book, this one follows the mold set by the editors and most of the translators of the American Edition of Luther's Works, and virtually all other modern writers, "Lutheran" or otherwise.  (Pettegree appears not to be a Lutheran.)
      How does it disappoint?  First of all, the title itself makes one wonder that Pettegree should have serialized this book in the Wall Street Journal as it labels Luther's "success" more due to his business talent or luck than anything related to spiritual matters.
      And although Pettegree seemingly would find fault with Indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church, yet he exposes his blindness on page 57:
"… no doubt that whole process [of Indulgences] had … been monetized.  This was not all bad.  The proceeds from indulgences enabled many churches to embark on rebuilding programs that would otherwise have been beyond them.  The precious certificates brought comfort to many sincere Christians anxious for the fate of their own souls and those of their departed relatives. Among the greatest beneficiaries were those who supported this great industry ..."
I could hardly believe what I was reading, for Pettegree justifies the use of Indulgences!... as long as they "enable churches to embark on rebuilding programs and [bring] comfort to many sincere Christians anxious for the fate of their own souls".  The "willful heedlessness" of Luther hurt all those church rebuilding programs, hurt all those sincere Christians by exposing the lie behind these "precious certificates".  In any way that Pettegree attempts to present himself as any kind of "church historian" or an authority on the spiritual nature of the Reformation, this portion nullifies him... but maybe not in business matters.  Indeed, this book has some value in the history of the business of "printing", hence the title "Brand Luther".
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      But 2 items finally prompted me to publish a blog post on this book.  The first was Pettegree's revelation of a comment by Luther in his later life concerning his Ninety-Five Theses.  At least there is some value in a report of Luther's own comment about himself, even if it is revealed here by Pettegree.  My interest in the Ninety-Five Theses stems from a statement made by Prof. Cameron MacKenzie (CTS-FW) which judged both Walther and Luther in an essay "celebrating" Walther in 2011:
(page 268) Clearly, Walther understands "gospel" in the Ninety-five Theses as Luther and Lutherans later defined it; many of us today would be hesitant to understand the theses in a similar manner.  But Walther's "mistake" – if we can call it that [?] – arose out of a misunderstanding of Luther's biography.  For Walther, Luther had come to a correct understanding of justification by faith before the Indulgence Controversy.  Already at the time of his pil­grimage to Rome when he climbed to the top of Pilate's stairway, he heard a voice resounding in his head, "The just shall live by faith." That Luther came to his new understanding of the gospel at that time or shortly there­after was a commonplace in Luther biographies at the time...
Indeed, Prof. MacKenzie said a mouthful! He says: 
"many of us today would be hesitant to understand the theses in a similar manner."  
Could it be that MacKenzie's "many of us" do not understand what the "gospel" actually is?  And wouldn't that mean that MacKenzie does not understand the import of the Ninety-Five Theses?

Pettegree reports that Luther too, like Mackenzie, passed judgment on his own Ninety-Five Theses, on page 73:
Luther, looking back on these events, did not take any great pride in the ninety-five theses.  Had he had any sense of their likely impact, he told a later correspondent, he would have taken far more care with them.
Luther did not hold up his Ninety-Five Theses to be as good as his later (and purer) teaching, neither did he reject them as not having Gospel teaching, only that he would have refined them.  I wonder that Prof. Cameron MacKenzie's teaching "resonates" (or "engages"?) with that of Andrew Pettegree who calls the Indulgences "precious certificates"?  I shudder to think what MacKenzie's "gospel" is...
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      But here too Pettegree reports another aspect of the events surrounding the Ninety-Five Theses.  It relates to Elector Frederick's relationship to Luther during the events surrounding the Theses.  I have often wondered about Frederick's use of relics even after Luther's warnings against them.  How could he possibly continue with them after Luther's warning??  Even Wikipedia reports that "...he had little personal contact with Luther himself", and "He is considered to have remained a Roman Catholic all his life..."  Then it struck me as Pettegree reported the events in this manner (page 73):
"Although the ninety-five theses were squarely aimed at Tetzel and Albrecht, Frederick’s foe, if the elector had chosen to take offense, as well he might, Luther was finished." [emphasis added]
Pettegree does a marvelous job of stating what virtually all of today's "church historians" ignore.  He said that Elector Frederick's propensity to "finish" Luther was this:
"... as well he might,"
Pettegree had earlier pointed out how much Frederick had invested in his relics and gathered them at Wittenberg for his collection – according to Wikipedia an "inventory of 1518 listed 17,443 items". Even after Luther's warnings against putting any spiritual value in them as far as obtaining forgiveness of sins, Frederick did not immediately get rid of them.  Elector Frederick had always been a mystery to me.  These relics were his pride and joy!  Oh, but were they?  If they were so precious to him, then why did Elector Frederick not "finish" Luther?  He stood to lose a lot of money and prestige, not to mention putting himself in jeopardy with the Pope!  He could have easily squashed this new teaching! He could have taken great offense at Luther... "as well he might"!

But ask yourself: "Did Elector Frederick 'finish' Luther?"

All "church historians" report that he did not!  Could it be that the Gospel message of the Ninety-Five Theses was working in him?  Could it be that God worked a faith in Elector Frederick in the true Gospel, a Gospel that Prof. Cameron MacKenzie of Concordia Theological Seminary-Fort Wayne himself admits that he cannot see (just a "gospel")?  Could it be that if Cameron MacKenzie were in the place of Elector Frederick at that time, there would have been NO REFORMATION?... no restored Gospel?... no Church of the Reformation?... and Cameron MacKenzie would have "finished" Luther... as he does today?
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      I will continue to read Pettegree's book for background information on Luther's life, but not for any spiritual content.  At least Pettegree's faults (as a non-Lutheran) are a little easier to stomach than the outright poison of the LC-MS professor at CTS-FW, Cameron MacKenzie who doesn't seem to understand what the "gospel" is
2 Tim. 3:7 – Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

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