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Reformation

This tag is associated with 13 posts

Book Review: “Reformation Commentary on Scripture: New Testament XIII- Hebrews, James” edited by Ronald K. Rittgers

The Reformation Commentary on Scripture series focuses on sharing insights from Reformation theologians on the Bible. Here, we’ll take a look at the Hebrews, James volume of this extensive series.

I was particularly excited to read and review this volume of the series, because Hebrews and James were especially controversial in the Reformation period. The editor of this volume, Ronald K. Rittgers, does an excellent job of both showing that controversy over these books while also bringing forward some unified themes of the Reformers in regards to them. As a Lutheran, I found the various quotes and notes from Luther and other early Lutherans (particularly Veit Dietrich) to be of great interest. Luther infamously called James an epistle of straw, and here we have his quote in its context. It seems clear that the notions of inerrancy of modern evangelicalism cannot easily be read back onto many of these Reformers. When you have one explicitly stating that James is “worthy of censure in some places” (Veit Dietrich), it is hard to say that the Reformers unanimously would have affirmed modern notions of biblical inerrancy. Reading what these reformers actually said about specific Christian doctrines may serve as a corrective to some clearly false statements.

Of course, reading these Reformers also means we get insight into the controversies of their time, and we see, for example, John Calvin hitting back at those “who do not think [James is] entitled to authority” because he sees “no just cause for rejecting it” (quoted p. 202). Other major controversies dealt with Christology, human and divine responsibility for evil, and works righteousness. These issues are presented with multiple Reformation perspectives given, making the volume an essential resource for those wishing to look more deeply into some major modern controversies as well. Other areas are less controversial, such as the teaching of the eternally begotten Son–an orthodox position unfortunately rejected by some today.

Both the general introduction and the Editor’s introduction to this volume were informative and well worth reading on their own. They each provided much-needed background for understanding some of the controversies, as well as the names, involved in the text.

Volume XIII of the New Testament series of Reformation Commentary on Scripture is a simply excellent resources for those interested in reading and understanding Scripture. Reformation thinkers share much wisdom and insight. The conflicts that happened then, in some ways, still impact us today. By reading these voices from the past we can begin to understand our present more fully. I highly recommend this volume.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Indulgences are Worse than Useless: Reformation 500

Martin Luther2017 marks the 500th anniversary of what is hailed by many as the start of the Reformation: Luther’s sharing his 95 Theses. I’ve decided to celebrate my Lutheran Protestant Tradition by highlighting some of the major issues that Luther and the Lutherans raised through the Reformation period. I hope you will join me as we remember the great theological (re)discoveries that were made during this period.

Indulgences are Worse than Useless

Luther’s critique of indulgences was a typical (for him) combination of insight and invective. He sought to clearly condemn not just the sale of but also the use of indulgences, which means parts of his critique remain quite relevant today. Here we will draw primarily from Luther’s explanations of his 95 theses.

Luther argued that the pope actually has no power over purgatory and, moreover, that if the pope did have this power, he ought to exercise it:

If the pope does have the power to release anyone from purgatory, why in the name of love does he not abolish purgatory by letting everyone out? (81-82, cited below)

The question cuts straight to he heart of the system in which the pope is exalted as having power over souls in purgatory. It is clear that Luther did not at this point denounce the doctrine of purgatory. What his point is directed at instead, is the claim that the pope does have such power. After all, if the pope does have such power, then why would he not simply release all the souls from purgatory immediately, thus granting a most generous and wonderful reprieve? The fact that the pope of Luther’s time did not do so and was in fact selling indulgences for coin spoke volumes about the doctrine itself and the need for reformation.

But the point still has relevance today, as one might ask the question: if the pope today currently has the power over purgatory, why does he not simply release all those who are suffering there? One possible answer might be because it is just that people undergo such suffering or bettering of themselves in purgatory that they might truly be, er, reformed. But then the question of the two kingdoms comes to mind. After all, such a response effectively strips the pope of the power that has allegedly been granted him, for if the spiritual benefits of purgatory are so great, why does he ever exercise the power he is said to hold? The argument can proceed indefinitely in a circle, which seems to show that the initial point is valid.

Luther, however, did not stop there. Rather than questioning the power of the pope to grant indulgences, he also noted the great spiritual harm such indulgences do:

Indulgences are positively harmful to the recipient because they impede salvation by diverting charity and inducing a false sense of security… Indulgences are most pernicious because they induce complacency and thereby imperil salvation. Those persons are damned who think that letters of indulgence make them certain of salvation. (82)

Indulgences, by granting pardon from sin or the consequences thereof, produce a false sense of security of salvation that may lead rather to damnation. For once one believes that because someone else has told them future or past sins are paid for by some collection of merit of others, they may believe that they are forgiven, when they have not confessed and repented of that sin to God. Thus, a false sense of security is gained, but in reality the person may be condemned, not having received full and free forgiveness of their sins.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Please check out my other posts on the Reformation:

I discuss the origins of the European Reformations and how many of its debates carry on into our own day.

The notion of “sola scriptura” is of central importance to understanding the Reformation, but it is also hotly debated to day and can be traced to many theological controversies of our time. Who interprets Scripture? 

The Church Universal: Reformation Review–  What makes a church part of the Church Universal? What makes a church part of the true church? I write on these topics (and more!) and their origins in the Reformation.

The Continuing Influence of the Reformation: Our lives, our thoughts, our theology– I note the influence that the Reformation period continues to have on many aspects of our lives.

Source

Quotes from Luther are from Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Abingdon, 1950). It appears as though Bainton was either translating directly from a German edition or paraphrasing Luther.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Justification” by N.T. Wright

justification-wrightN.T. Wright’s views about the doctrine of justification have continued to be quite controversial, and his book Justification is a brief summary of his entire project. Essentially, Wright is attempting to go back to the Pauline corpus to see exactly what Paul means by the doctrine of justification. Part of this project, for Wright, is to become aware of the idea that we may be asking the texts the wrong questions from the get-go. We need to understand the context to which Paul was writing before we can even properly formulate questions.

Wright begins with a number of preliminary comments. He first outlines the difficulties faced by biblical interpreters when they do start with the wrong questions. He argues that a number of our interpretations are based less on the text than an interpretation of the text itself. He argues that the Reformation tradition ought to continue to lead us to question even Reformation conclusions about texts like Galatians–and Luther’s “mistaken” reading (according to Wright) thereof. In other words, we need to acknowledge that we could be deeply mistaken, and have been deeply mistaken, about the meaning of these texts for hundreds of years. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but one that ought to be taken seriously. Acknowledging the possibility that an interpretation is based less on the text than on tradition or modern assumptions is one of the first steps to understanding the text.

Then, Wright proceeds to show the context to which Paul was writing. Specifically, much of the context he was writing to makes certain parts of the text make a lot more sense than they may otherwise. When you realize what was happening in the early church it becomes easier to understand some of the basic questions Paul was asking and answering. Next, Wright outlines his view of justification, which is admittedly never distilled (so far as I can tell) down to a single sentence. It is thus difficult to say exactly what his view is without an extended excursus longer than a book review, but the bare-bones basics, at risk of being overly simplistic, is that justification is God’s work through Israel of bringing the whole world to himself, declaring it righteous not through imputed righteousness, but through a law court declaration of righteousness. Yes, before those who understand Wright’s position better than I do, this is very simplistic and misses some key points of his doctrine. Yet, I have to make the attempt to summarize as best I can what he was arguing.

Finally, Wright concludes with lengthy exegesis of a number of Pauline passages. Though he himself says these are but the first steps along the lines of understanding Paul, it ought to be noted that it is in this section of the book that Wright engages most thoroughly with critics of his position as well as providing a positive statement of his view. This new edition that I’m reviewing adds an additional introduction from Wright, which outlines the continuing debates over Pauline theology.

One difficulty with Wright’s approach that many may object to is the notion that it undermines the perspicuity of Scripture. Now, I’m one who hates throwing that term around, because perspicuity is used as a kind of battering ram doctrine to try to silence critics on all sorts of topics. However, the real doctrine of perspicuity of Scripture, yes, inherited from the Reformation, is that the Bible is clear in that which is necessary to understand for salvation. If, however, Wright is correct in saying that must understand a great deal of historical context before we can even get to the right questions for the doctrine of justification, this seems to make it quite complex indeed to get to the knowledge that people need for salvation. Of course, Wright would–and did–argue that this is already starting off on the wrong track, because Paul was not so much interested in individual salvation as he was interested in the plan of Salvation through Israel of the whole world. And that is a fair answer, though it does seem to–in some sense–undermine the clarity of Scripture as has been taught. Once again, Wright would probably accept this and argue that that idea is itself an inherited tradition that the Reformers themselves would call us to examine and test by Scripture.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of the book to me was the continued targeting of Luther and Lutheran theology by Wright. I know of some Lutheran pastors who have argued Wright’s position is not far at all from the Lutheran one, and others who believe he is as far from Lutheranism on justification as possible. Though this may simply show confusion within Lutheran theology, it may also show–and I think does–that Wright’s position (and probably Luther’s) is not so clearly stated as he thinks. Moreover, I am curious about the continued calling out of Lutherans (and, yes, Reformed thinkers) by Wright, considering that his position seems, on the face of it, so utterly close to what Lutherans do believe about justification, and much farther from some other denominational perspectives.

Justification is required reading for those interested in Pauline theology, whether one agrees with Wright or not. That said, it is unfortunate that a decent amount of the work seems to be polemical against perceived enemies rather than embracing potential allies.

The Good

+Leads readers to a deeper look at biblical texts
+Provides solid background to understanding Pauline corpus
+Outlines Wright’s ways in a concise fashion

The Bad

-Strangely focused on the Lutheran position
-Not always very clear

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

N.T. Wright, Justification (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2016).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- Setting aside Luther?

rrp-allen-linebaughEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Setting aside Luther?

During October each year, I read some books about the Reformation to inform myself about that vastly important time in church history. October 31st is Reformation Day, of course, and so I thought I’d share a quote this Reformation Sunday from one of the books I’ve been reading. This year, Reformation Readings of Paul was high on my list, and I received a review copy from InterVarsity Press to devour.

There is a danger in the Protestant Church to enshrine the interpretations and methods of the Reformers such that the way they read the Bible becomes a new authority or at least lens through which Scripture must be read in order to be rightly understood. There is a fine line between referencing, respecting, and gleaning insight those who have come before as opposed to mechanically sticking to them. David C. Fink points out that even Reformers like Luther would have advised against this:

Luther showed no hesitation in setting aside the views of Jerome, Erasmus, or even Augustine. If we take him at his word, there is no reason to think he would not expect the same handling from modern exegetes today. (33-34, cited below)

Luther referenced these church fathers but did not see them as the authority on exegesis or interpretation of the biblical text. Similarly, Fink notes, we should not be afraid to set aside Luther if we should find that his interpretation of a passage is mistaken.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Reformation Theology- Check out my other posts on the Reformation and its theology (scroll down for more)

Source

David C. Fink “Martin Luther’s Reading of Galatians” in Reformation Readings of Paul eds. Michael Allen and Jonathan A. Linebaugh (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

SDG.

Really Recommended Posts 4/24/15- abortion and evangelicals, apologetics, and more!

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneWinter is back, apparently, here in Minnesota. It’s COLD! And it snowed on Monday and Tuesday. Anyway, here we have some reading to keep you entertained on chilly nights. The topics are abortion and evangelicals, raising kids, apologetic methods, science fiction, and a debate over the Reformation.

Evangelicals Opposed Abortion Much Earlier than You Think– It has been said that evangelicalism wasn’t originally pro-life or oriented against abortion. Is that true? Moreover, does it even matter? Here’s an article examining the historical claim. My own thoughts are that it doesn’t matter when evangelicals began working against abortion. The question is whether abortion is morally permissible (or not). Whether a group historically opposed it or not doesn’t do much to the current debate other than provide a rhetorical flair. This post takes away some of that rhetorical flair.

4 Reasons the Internet May Influence Your Kids’ Faith More Than You– What influence does the internet have on kids exploring questions about the faith? How might awareness of this influence help us to confront worldview issues?

Comparing Apologetics Systems: Methodology and Practice– How should we do apologetics? Here is a post outlining some different approaches to apologetics and how they might be applied.

Spec[ulative]-Fic[tion] Subgenres: Superheroes & Fairy Tales– Christian publisher (of science fiction and fantasy) Enclave has an interesting post comparing the genres of superhero writing to fairy tales. They’re the same publisher who is re-releasing Kathy Tyers’ works. I had an interview with this awesome sci-fi author regarding worldview questions and science fiction here.

Revelation TV Debate: Church would have been better off without the Reformation?– Here’s an interesting debate about whether the Reformation was a good development in church history. The debaters are James White and Rev. Dr. Thomas Norris.

Book Review: “Luther on the Christian Life” by Carl Trueman

locl-truemanCarl Trueman’s Luther on the Christian Life is a very entertaining work highlighting Luther’s view of how we should live as sinner/saints.

Understanding Luther, argues Trueman, means at least in part to understand his own life and the pressures that exerted on his thought. Thus, in the first chapter (and throughout), readers get a picture of what Luther’s own Christian life was like and how that impacted his thought. Then, Trueman traces Luther’s theology of Christian life through various themes including theology of the Word, Sacraments, righteousness, government, family, and more.

The insights into Luther’s life and theology abound throughout the book, and the way that Trueman skillfully weave the two together is impressive. This is a highly readable and, yes, entertaining book. There is much to learn, but it is a joy to read. Luther’s doctrine of the Christian life is intertwined not only with his own life, but also with his sacramental theology. Trueman draws this out in extended fashion, showing how these ideas are related to readers who may not be familiar with such a way of thinking about the world.

Trueman puts forward a tremendous effort to be sympathetic in his reading of Luther. The sacramental theology of Luther is put forward as part of his understanding of the Christian life without any efforts to undermine or thwart the power of that same message. Trueman is Presbyterian (or so I gather from his Introduction), and admits to serious disagreements with Luther on sacraments and other areas. But he presents in this book Luther’s view, not his own critique, and he does so generously with a spirit of trying to understand and convey Luther’s meaning. This is exactly the kind of Christ-like attitude towards those with whom we disagree that we should all have as Christians, and as a Lutheran I was taken aback by how well Trueman accomplished it.

Luther on the Christian Life presents readers with exactly what they should expect: an exposition of Luther’s thought (and life) on how we should live as sinners and saints. But he goes beyond the merely expected to make this an incredibly readable, insightful, and entertaining work as well.

The Good

+Surprisingly sympathetic reading of Luther from a non-Lutheran
+Many insights into Luther’s broader patterns of thought
+Focus on Christian life in Luther’s work is highly interesting
+Constantly brings up strong insights

The Bad

-Not really anything to put in this category

Conclusion

Luther on the Christian Life is an extremely readable and insightful work that is well-worth the time put into reading, marking, and inwardly digesting it. Luther’s prowess as a theologian concerned with the lives of Christians–not just their beliefs–comes to the forefront. It is a phenomenal work.

I received a review copy of the book from Crossway. I was not required to give any kind of review whatsoever. My thanks to the publisher for the book.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Source

Carl Trueman, Luther on the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- Sola Scriptura and Reading the Bible

ioer-mcgrathEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Sola Scriptura and Reading the Bible

Alister McGrath has done much work in the area of Reformation theology. Here, he has some extremely important words about how sola scriptura does not, in and of itself, yield a way to read Scripture:

The Reformation principle of sola scriptura is rendered either meaningless or unusable without a reliable hermeneutical program… The hermeneutical presuppositions of theologians inevitably exercise considerable influence over their theological conclusions. (148, cited below)

Too often, people assume that if we just look at the text, we’ll know what it says. If we just read the words, that’s the meaning. But everyone presupposes a hermeneutical system, and the danger is that if we are not aware of this, we may be using an unreliable one, and our presuppositions will influence us to read the text as meaning something it does not, in fact mean. McGrath shares this and many other insights in this important work.

What do you think of this? How important is it to be aware of the way we’re reading the Bible?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Microview: “Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation” by Alister McGrath- I reviewed this highly interesting book by Alister McGrath. Be sure to read this as well!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Alister E. McGrath, The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2003).

SDG.

Reformation Recommended Posts 10/31/14- Reformation Day Reading

449px-NürnbergReformationsGedKircheHappy Reformation Day! I have a special edition of posts put together to discuss the Reformation.

Forming and Reforming– Timothy Siburg reflects on how we might see the Reformation working into today in the church. How might we apply the notion of “reform” to formative thought and practice?

The Coming Vindication of Martin Luther– Martin Luther has been both vilified and praised. Will his thought have a vindication, despite the splitting of the church? Check out this post which summarizes a number of points related to Luther’s thought along with many other links to explore.

Debate: Is the Roman Catholic Priesthood Biblical & Ancient? James White vs. Mitchell Pacwa– One of the issues that divides the church is the notion of the priesthood and that office. I found this debate interesting to listen to, and I found that there were some points raised by either side. Is it possible to debate these issues with respect and care? Should we debate these issues? What do you think?

My Writings on the Reformation

I discuss the origins of the European Reformations and how many of its debates carry on into our own day. The debates that took place during the Reformation continue on into today’s theological discussions.

The Church Universal: Reformation Review–  What makes a church part of the Church Universal? What makes a church part of the true church? I write on these topics (and more!) and their origins in the Reformation.

Who Interprets Scripture? Sola Scriptura, the Reformation, and the modern era: Reformation Review– I investigate the notion of “sola scriptura” and its different applications in interpreting Scripture. I particularly emphasize the problem of doctrinal unity and the various ways church bodies have dealt with these difficulties from the Reformation into today.

The Continuing Influence of the Reformation: Our lives, our thoughts, our theology- Reformation review– I examine how the issues which came up during the Reformation continue to influence almost every aspect of our lives today. Theology matters.

Women in the Reformation: Hope, Silence, and Circumstance– I explore the role of women throughout the Reformation period from different angles.

Microview: “The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation” by Alister McGrath

ioer-mcgrathIt’s Reformation Month and I unfortunately haven’t been able to write as much as I’ve been able to in the past years on the Reformation, but I’d like to focus here on one of the several books on the topic I read this month. Check out the links for more of my writing on the Reformation.

Alister McGrath’s The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation is a brief introduction to various strands of thought which led to the Reformation. Although brief (the main text is less than 200 pages), it is utterly filled with insights and information for those interested in the period. McGrath skillfully demonstrates that the Reformation was not an all-at-once, sui generis event. Instead, there were a number of developments throughout the Medieval period that led to the success and generation of the Reformation.

Among the insights provided by McGrath, his analysis of humanism and its relationship with Reformation thought was particularly helpful. He showed that the Reformation did not rely as much upon humanism as is often alleged, while also describing the various ways in which humanist and Reformation thought interacted.

Overall, the book is a much-needed work on the background to the Reformation. Anyone who is interested in studying the development of thought in this period or in Reformation theology should read this excellent book.

Links

I discuss the origins of the European Reformations and how many of its debates carry on into our own day. The debates that took place during the Reformation continue on into today’s theological discussions.

The Church Universal: Reformation Review–  What makes a church part of the Church Universal? What makes a church part of the true church? I write on these topics (and more!) and their origins in the Reformation.

Who Interprets Scripture? Sola Scriptura, the Reformation, and the modern era: Reformation Review– I investigate the notion of “sola scriptura” and its different applications in interpreting Scripture. I particularly emphasize the problem of doctrinal unity and the various ways church bodies have dealt with these difficulties from the Reformation into today.

The Continuing Influence of the Reformation: Our lives, our thoughts, our theology- Reformation review– I examine how the issues which came up during the Reformation continue to influence almost every aspect of our lives today. Theology matters.

Women in the Reformation: Hope, Silence, and Circumstance– I explore the role of women throughout the Reformation period from different angles.

Source

Alister E. McGrath b, The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2003).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Women and the Reformation: Hope, Silence, and Circumstance

Marguerite_d'Angoulême_by_Jean_ClouetIt is Reformation Day and this year we are going to reflect upon a topic that is all-too-often overlooked: women in the Reformation. We shall consider the impact of women on the Reformation and the impact of the Reformation upon women from a theological perspective. I admit that covering such a broad topic within a blog post means I am very short on detail. I encourage readers to check out the sources at the end of this post in order to explore further avenues.

The Impact of the Reformation Upon Women

The Reformation brought about some changes for women both theologically and socially. Theologically, the issue of inequality  between men and women socially and spiritually was more widely discussed. Although the concept had existed before, the Reformers largely held to the notion that men and women were spiritually equal. Spiritual equality led some to wonder whether women could perhaps be social equals, or–if that was to far afield–perhaps they could at least be less inequal (Spierling, 181-183, cited below). Seeds for social and spiritual change were sown during this period, but it must be admitted that there was not as much development as some may allege.

For example, Martin Luther’s notion of the “priesthood of all believers” is sometimes taken to mean that women and men could stand alongside each other as spiritual equals in teaching, preaching, etc. However, when Luther himself was challenged on this issue by the Roman Catholics, he answered by making it very explicit that although women could teach in extraordinary circumstances, he believed the Bible mandated that men were in charge in both church and home (Spierling, 186; see Luther’s Works 36: 151-152). Spiritual equality was seen as equality in the eyes of God, not in the roles that men and women actually took on earth. However, Luther also fought against some of the double standards regarding men and women and was outspoken against brothels and other abuses of women (Lindberg, 360-361, cited below).

The Reformers remained influenced by early Christian views of men and women, which were, in turn, influenced by earlier non-Christian scholars whose pre-scientific views of biology and psychology were adopted. Diarmaid MacCulloch traced the impact of Aristotle and the ancient medical expert Galen upon figures like Augustine and Clement. He described the Reformers’ view of manhood and womanhood as viewed through this lens thus:

What Christian theologians asserted about men, women, and sexuality was nonsense, but it was ancient nonsense, and humanity has always been inclined to respect the assertion of ancient wisdom. The… package of ideas also had a lunatic coherence: it seemed to make sense, explained a baffling aspect of human experience, and contained a good deal of room for flexibility of interpretation. No doubt our own medical theories will seem equally lunatic to generations to come. (MacCulloch,611, cited below)

Carter Lindberg’s own discussion of the impact of the Reformation upon women is bracketed by the question: “Was the Reformation a help or a hindrance to women?” He answers, a bit tongue-in-cheek, “It depends.” The Reformers denied that marriage was a sacrament, which allowed, later, for the dissolution of abusive or even loveless marriage. Women also began to become more actively involved in theology, though their voices were often silenced or ignored. The encouragement to leave convents may have reduced the possibilities for single women to have careers in the church or any sort of involvement  (Lindberg, 358-361).

The social expectations for men and women during the Reformation period were shaped by the cultural expectations of “gender” which were themselves handed down to today through the theological writings of the Reformers (Ibid, 360). The concept may be termed “patriarchy” and was theologically adapted to continue to make it appropriate for the culture through the 1800s and into today (MacCulloch, 611).

Women’s Impact on the Reformation 

Women had little voice within the Reformation, largely due to some of the issues mentioned above. However, that is not to say that women had no voice whatsoever within the theological developments of the Reformation. There were several women who wrote theological treatises alongside their male counterparts, though their efforts were often ignored (Spierling, 187, 180-181).

Among these was Marie Dentière, who defended her own authority to teach in Galatians 3:28. Dentière was a noblewoman who defended the Reformers through the use of the Bible and who vehemently encouraged women to leave the Catholic faith. She wrote to defend Calvin during his exile. Women were called to teach and take up their Bibles to defend the Christian faith. Dentière’s defense of women’s capacity to teach was grounded in the biblical examples of godly women, among them the first herald of Jesus’ Resurrection, Mary Magdalene (Lindberg, 360; see also McKinley, 155-159, cited below).

Interestingly, Dentière’s writings spurred other women, Catholics, to speak against her in defense of convents. Jeanne de Jussie was directly called upon by Dentière to close her convent, but responded with a theological defense of convents and an attack on Calvinism (Lindberg, 359).

Other women acknowledged the subordination of women in the church and home, but nevertheless argued that the situation of the Reformation had brought about exactly the types of emergency situations Luther had granted women may teach in. Argula von Grumbach wrote defending Arsacius Seehofer, who had been arrested and prosecuted for “holding Lutheran ideas.” She felt the need to defend Seehofer because no one else had done so. Thus, her authority was granted due to the priesthood of all believers.The emergency situation was brought about by Seehofer’s continued imprisonment and the fact that no men had stood up to defend him.

Thus, Reformation theology was seen as the grounds for some women to speak; even those who acknowledged the categories of subordination found within the theology of the Reformers. Others spoke up due to the wielding of Reformation theology against Roman Catholicism. Still others felt that sola scriptura had led them to discover real, biblical grounds for women to teach.

Conclusion

I’m a huge fan of Reformation theology, but it must be admitted that the Reformers’ views on women were essentially a product of their societal background. They embraced, rightfully, sola scriptura, but as I have noted elsewhere (Who Interprets Scripture?), this itself raised a number of issues regarding the interpretation and meaning of a text. Moreover, sola scriptura does not entail that one is able to interpret the Bible in a socio-cultural vaccuum. It seems to me the Reformers view of women as essentially child-bearers and home-makers was more a product of their cultural background than something the text of the Bible specifically taught. Of course, that is a debate for a different time.

To end on a positive note, it is worth noting that the Reformers’ teaching sowed the seeds for greater gender equality. The notion of the “priesthood of all believers” should not be abused in order to be taken as an endorsement of women teaching; but it nevertheless did have within it a concept of spiritual equality which provided a basis, however small, for believing that men and women could be spiritual and social equals. Moreover, women began to take up the torch and teach in “emergency” situations and thus provided a basis for others to do the same. Finally, still other women turned to the Bible itself as a justification for their voice alongside that of men. Their authority to teach was, they argued, itself biblical.

Let us continue that Reformation.

Sources

Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2010).

Diarmaid MacCulloch The Reformation (New York: Penguin, 2003).

Mary McKinley, “Dentiere, Marie” in Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters edited Marion Ann Taylor and Agnes Choi (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), 155-159

Karen Spierling, “Women, Marriage, and Family” in T&T Clark Companion to Reformation Theology edited David Whitford (New York: T&T Clark, 2012), 178-196.

The Image is of Marie Dentiere and is public domain.

SDG.

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