Luther’s Two Kingdoms: Critique

This post is part of our ongoing series on Luther’s Two Kingdoms.
Martin Luther

Martin Luther

The common critique that Luther separates the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of the world in such a manner that does not allow for meaningful Christian interaction within the world often stems from an understanding of Luther’s two kingdoms doctrine as highly dichotomous and Augustinian. Concerning this connection, while Luther’s original concept was based upon Augustine’s dualistic notion of the division of world between God and Satan,[69] he moved beyond his muse, as “he found the idea of the sovereignty of God in secular law as well as in the affairs of state, he was able to show the Christians how he could assume a meaningful responsibility in the human community without contradicting the categorical commands of Jesus.”[70] Althaus argues that the distinction between Luther’s terms of ‘government’ and ‘kingdom’ lessened as dualism decreased and he wanted to say that marriage and property had positive paradisiacal benefits within the secular kingdom.[71] Continue reading

Luther’s Two Kingdoms: Christian Passivity?

This post is part of our ongoing series on Luther’s Two Kingdoms.

Just WarTo this point it seems that using Bornkamm’s understanding of Luther’s doctrine would allow for little passivity from the Christian when their neighbor was confronted with evil. On the breadth of secular authority, Luther’s concern was that temporal authority must not endeavor to control the prescription of laws for the soul, for to do so would encroach upon Christ’s government, which would mislead and destroy souls.[56] Luther speaks against both those leaders of God’s kingdom who have sought to control temporal matters such as land and animals, as well as those rulers of the temporal kingdom who have abandoned their just duties concerning land and property and have rushed into the insanity of attempting to exercise spiritual control over souls.[57] Luther, citing St. Paul, St. Peter, King David, and Christ,[58] argues that temporal authorities only have control over the physical body and outward actions,[59] whereas bishops and leaders of the kingdom of God must live in a manner consistent with Christ’s standards of justice and use their office to serve their fellow Christians.[60] Thus, in the understanding of how far temporal authority may reach, Luther both limits the use of temporal force in the kingdom of Christ, and proceeds to argue for greater temporal power in matters not directly under the control of the kingdom of the world. Continue reading

Luther’s Two Kingdoms: Context

This post is part of our ongoing series on Luther’s Two Kingdoms

Sola ScripturaLooking at the broader context of Luther’s theology, we should note several tenets of his theological program that are vital to understanding his church-state construction. As outlined in Freedom of the Christian, perhaps foremost in Luther’s reformation theology was the importance of sola scriptura, that “true Christianity can be restored only if the authority of the word of God as found in Scripture alone replaces that claimed by ecclesiastical institutions, canon law, and medieval theology.”[8] Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith had implications for his political doctrine as well, as external works were viewed as the fruit of grace, and thus took on a character of service rather than necessity for salvation. The priesthood of all believers allowed Christians a personal and direct relationship with God. For Luther, any institution or doctrine that undermined these facets of man’s relationship to God must be destroyed. Understanding these doctrines as fundamental for Luther’s theology as a whole, J.M. Porter concludes concerning political ramifications that, “The three great Reformation doctrines serve as a prism through which Luther examines all dimensions of human existence, including the political.”[9] Continue reading

Life at the Bottom

Life at the BottomVery often (especially among us academic types) we tend to read a snippet of news here, a blog post there, and maybe have a conversation with a friend about a topic and, suddenly, our minds are made up about that topic. There’s nothing more to learn, to additional evidence to consider. This is especially true when it comes to important issues like religion or politics: we want stability, so we grasp whatever affirms our worldview as quickly as possible. Sometimes, however, its good to undergo a bit of “paradigm realignment.” That is, it’s good to engage sources that stretch (or even break) the limits of your worldview by forcing you to consider evidence outside the realm of what you normally think about. And for well-off Americans, one such topic is poverty. Continue reading

Medieval Misconceptions

One of the problems of living in an age saturated with knowledge (or at least the claims to knowledge that circulate the portions of the internet that I seem to inhabit) is constantly running into misconceptions about the history of Christianity, especially about the Medieval Age. As we all probably know from personal experience, it’s hard to have a meaningful conversation with someone who doesn’t speak the same language as you. Similarly, it’s difficult to have an intelligent conversation with someone who begins their thinking with a different set of historical assumptions than yourself. So today I’ve outlined ten of the most pervasive misconceptions about Church History as a means of helping adjust the historical basis from which have conversations about faith. These are misconceptions from every era of Church History, but you’ll note that misconceptions about the medieval period are especially prevalent.

Luther Poting 95 Theses1. Church history began with Martin Luther. Or at least, nothing good happened between the death of the Apostle John and Luther’s nailing the Ninety-Five Theses to the Wittenburg church door. The biggest misconception about Church History is that there isn’t Church History, that there haven’t been Christians throughout the world for thousands of years or that there was no “true Christianity” between the Apostles and the beginning of our preferred denomination or church. Continue reading

Immediate Reaction: SCOTUS and Hobby Lobby

hobby_lobbyBy now you’ve likely heard: the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby’s (and other companies) contention that it should not be forced to provide certain types of contraception for its employees due to the religious beliefs concerning abortion (click here for the full text of the ruling). Below are some immediate thoughts on this ruling:

First, this is a victory for those in favor of religious freedom. While certain media organizations and the Oval Office have tried to frame this discussion in terms of ‘healthcare’ or ‘basic contraceptive care,’ that’s not what this case is really about. The health insurance which Hobby Lobby already provides its employees actually includes most of the ‘contraceptive’ and birth control options required under the Affordable Care Act. Yes, you read that right: Hobby Lobby already provides its employees with ‘birth control.’ This case was therefore about whether or not the United States government can force companies to provide medical care which may lead to the death of a human being, an important, long-standing issue for people of many religious persuasions across our country.

Second, there will be much said in the next few days (weeks, months, years) similar to this piece by Richard Cizik in the Huffington Post. Pro-life and pro-freedom advocates must take these concerns seriously and respond appropriately. There has already been enough rhetoric surrounding this case; it’s time for sustained clear thinking about how we may continue to defend human life and freedom.

Third, this case is yet another in a long-stream of SCOTUS cases in which the Obama Administration has been on the losing side. There have been exceptions, of course (namely the ruling on the Constitutionality of the ACA itself). But the White House has not had a ton of good news lately, and it will be interesting to see how our President and his supporters respond to this setback.