Carl Trueman at SBTS (4) Panel discussion (from the Luther lectures)


Southern Seminary SBTS Panel with Carl Trueman, Dan Dumas, and Michael Haykin. Unlike the three lectures which were all on the subject of Luther, this discussion turns to seminaries and their role in the spiritual formation of the students.

A few of the points discussed:

  • What about Spiritual formation as something within the curriculum (that pervades the curriculum) instead of as a separate discipline in the seminaries?

Michael Haykin: Biblical spirituality is the teaching and the communication of biblical truth about the way in which we draw near to God, then He is drawn near to us. It is therefore rooted deeply in the cross and the meritorious work and life of Jesus Christ and is conveyed to us by the Holy Spirit. And so, it’s reflecting about theology, which has to be there as a foundation, that is why the recent interest in spirituality in evangelical circles ( a la Dallas Willard and Richard Foster) which doesn’t lay religious doctrinal foundations is problematic. So it’s definitely got biblical foundations, building on that, showing and teaching how we appropriate the riches that are in Christ via prayer, bible meditation,  and the other things we describe as spiritual disciplines that are a means of grace.

(16 min) There has been a significant collapse of patterns of piety established at the reformation, honed through the puritan period, still in place there, among evangelicals in the 18th and early 19th century, but then have collapsed completely in the 20th century.

Carl Trueman: The sheer size of seminaries today imposes limitations on how we can form individual students as christians. And that’s where I can see again, the church coming into play. Certainly, when I stand up in front of the class I can model a certain kind of christianity to my students. But, I think the primary place where spirituality is formed has to be the church. It also goes back yo my fear that the parachurch (seminaries included) supplants the church

  • Concerns about the overall trends in the evangelical circles, primarily about what the church should be doing being passed down to parachurch ministries (such as seminaries).
  • Sometimes spiritual formation gets very narrowly defined by seminaries in a way that can be somewhat self serving. We should not make the attendance of chapel compulsory. We have a different profile of student than we had even, say 30 years ago. Lots of our students are working their way through seminary and I’m not sure the person who had to go to chapel at 10:30 in the morning is doing something more meritorious and forming than coming off night shift, straight to my 8:30 class, then going home to see his wife.

Panel Discussion from Southern Seminary on Vimeo.

Carl Trueman Lecture at SBTS (3) Martin Luther – The Tools of the Trade


Dr. Carl Trueman: In the first lecture I wanted to make the argument that theology and the practice of ministry are intimately connected. Luther is a great example of this. You see that Luther’s theology really drives his understanding of the shape of pastoral ministry. And I wanted to challenge you to move beyond the merely historical point I’m making there, to reflect longer on how you perceive ministry and how your perception actually reflects something about your theological convictions and to urge you to allow your theological convictions to drive how you think about ministry.

The second lecture I talked about Luther’s understanding of the word of God, how God is fundamentally to us, a God who speaks. And God’s speech essential constitutes reality. And I applied that to the nature of preaching. I think one of Luther’s great insights is the connection he makes between the speech of God and the speech of the preacher. And I hope that those of you who are preachers, or are going to be preachers will be excited by that idea that when the preacher speaks God’s word is powerful.

The final lecture- The Tools of the Trade- I wanna make the point that ordinary people mattered to the shape of Luther’s reformation. These are the people that are not typically featured in the textbooks other than as statistics, because, by and large they were too busy working to put bread on the table than to write books about how they’re feeling. But, yet, Luther’s connection with these people profoundly shaped how he executed his task as pastor.

So, in the third lecture I want to examine the practicality of Luther’s own pastoral ministry. As with all pastors, Luther is of course a flawed human being. And the details of his actual practice do not entirely square with his theology. One obvious example would be his increasingly bitter preoccupation with the Jews, which one finds from the 1530’s onwards. Frustrated by their failure to convert to Christianity, Luther adopted, and, indeed sharpened many of the standard –- of the anti Jewish polemic, which was so common in late medieval Europe. Indeed, his very last sermon, preached in 1546 ended with a bitter harangue against the jews. Thus, I accept at the outset that if you dig deep into Luther’s life, you will find inconsistencies and hypocrisies, here and there. My point here is not to argue for the total consistency of Luther, but rather a general conformity of his practice to his theological commitments.

The reform of worship

The first point to make as we now approach Luther’s pastoral practice, is that the way in which he reformed worship was intimately connected to his care and concern for ordinary people. Many of us are familiar with his treatise on prayer, which was originally a letter to his hairdresser Peter, who had told him while cutting his hair that he struggled with his prayer life. Reflect on that for awhile. Luther had time to write a handbook on prayer for the man who cut his hair.

Martin Luther, author of the text of Christ la...

Martin Luther, author of the text of Christ lag in Todes Banden, and who, with Johann Walter, also wrote the melody (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even the briefest glance at Luther’s volume of letters reveal a man who was equally comfortable writing to powerful princes and to much lesser individuals with words of encouragement, counsel and occasional letters of rebuke. Yet, Luther’s care for people has significance, not simply for his personal relations, but also for the pace and shape of the Lutheran reformation. Basic to the reformation was the education of the people in the patterns of thought and behavior reformers required by their new theology. This issue raised all manner of pedagogical questions, which in turn raised questions about what we might call now broadly – aesthetics. What was church meant to look like? What was church meant to sound like? What was family piety and individual devotions meant to look like and sound like?

In the early years of the reformation, leadership at Wittenberg was shared by Martin Luther and his academic colleague, one time friend and later nemesis, a man called Andreas Bodenstein, (named Karlstadt after his birthplace). In the years after 1517, these 2 men came to represent 2 different visions of reform and Wittenberg would ultimately prove that it was only big enough to allow only one man to succeed.

Things came to a head in 1522. After the Diet of Worms, Luther was kidnapped by his prince, Frederick the Wise’s men and kept for his own safety in the Wartburg castle, high on the hills of Eisenach where he began his work of producing a German reformation Bible, by translating the New Testament.

As Luther is in the Wartburg castle, the leadership passes to Karlstadt. Luther’s young assistant Philip Melanchthon and  his colleague Conrad Zwilling pushed very hard for radical reformation, which has all of the hallmarks of social revolution. Iconoclasm, violent rhetoric at rapid pace. Luther, later in 1521 travels to Wittenberg incognito to see the chaos first hand. And then in 1522 he’s brought back by Frederick the Wise because the riots are getting out of hand and if the reformation descends into total chaos, Frederick will have to act to crush it because the emperor Charles V will move against Saxony. Luther comes back and I think this is the point in his career where he is actually in most danger because if he can’t quell the riots in Wittenberg, and all he can use to do that is his own force of personality, he will be replaced by Frederick the Wise.

Luther comes back, quells the social revolution in Wittenberg and introduces  a much more conservative vision of reformation. There will be no iconoclasm. If you go to a Lutheran church today, you will find crucifixes. The conservative however of Luther’s intervention in 1522 was not simply a piece of political pragmatism. I think it was also connected to his pastoral sensitivity. Luther knew that lasting change could only be brought about by gentle persuasion. Most people then, as ever since did not like change. And so, Luther demonstrated in 1522 and throughout his subsequent career an aesthetic conservatism, which was designed as much to prevent the disturbance of tender consciences as it was to appease the desire of his political masters.

We tend to romanticize the reformation and we think that everybody is desperate for the reformation to come to town. We see evidence of this in Luther’s liturgical innovations. From as early as 1520, it is clear that Lutheran theology demands vernacular liturgy. How could the mass, for example, be any use if the words of promise are not clearly articulated in a language which the people could understand? Yet, for a man who stands out in history as a volcanic revolutionary, Luther’s move towards liturgical reform are gradual and hesitant. This is how he describes his approach in a pamphlet in 1523(6 yrs. after the crisis of 1517): Until now, I have only used books and sermons to wean the charts of the people from their Godless regard for the ceremonial. For I believed it would be a christian and helpful thing, if I could prompt a peaceful removal of the abomination that Satan sets up in the holy place, through the man of sin. Therefore I’ve used neither authority or pressure, nor did I make any innovations for I have been hesitant and fearful, partly because of the weak in faith who cannot suddenly exchange an accustomed order of worship for a new and unusual one and also because of the fickle  and fastidious spirits who rush in like unclean swine without faith or reason and who delight only in novelty and tires of it as quickly when it is worn off. Such people are a nuisance, even in other affairs. But, in spiritual matters they are absolutely unbearable. Nonetheless, at the risk of bursting with anger, I must bear with them, unless I want to let the Gospel itself be denied to the people.

Here, Luther made it clear that he was concerned to handle the delicate consciences with care and also to give no ground to those who seek novelty or innovation for its own sake. The liturgy he then described in 1523 was itself very conservative. Essentially, a cleaned up version of the traditional mass. Still in Latin, except for the sermon and a few hymns. And later, Luther can hardly be described as being in the vanguard of the application of his own theological principles to liturgical reform.

Indeed, even in 1524, as he wrote against the radicals, Luther rejoiced that the mass was now said in German, but also argued that such a practice should not be made compulsory lest it become a new legalism. And also because he was not yet satisfied that the German liturgy captured the full beauty of what was going on. It was not until October 1525 that a full German mass was celebrated in Wittenberg.  That’s as early as Luther feels able to push forward with the full application of theology that he’s fully articulating in 1517-1518. It’s remarkable sensitivity. (17 min mark)

The Tools of the Trade from Southern Seminary on Vimeo.

Carl Trueman at SBTS (2) The Word in Action – Luther’s theology of the preached word


Dr. Carl Trueman:

In lecture 2 I want to talk about the power in the Word. In the first lecture (click on link above for first lecture)  I sketched out the basics of Luther’s theology, with particular reference to his understanding of God’s revelation of Himself in the incarnate and crucified flesh of Jesus Christ. There, and only there did Luther believe one can find God revealed as being gracious towards sinners. To approach God in any way, outside the flesh of Christ was to approach the God of righteous judgment. A consuming fire, the terrifying God who rides on the wing of  a storm and who is accountable to no one. And before whom no sinful creature can stand and expect to live.

In the second lecture I want to move from the theological foundations we’ve established to Luther’s theology of the preached word. And by the third lecture we’ll finally get to Luther’s practice of pastoral ministry. But, it’s in the preached word that the church encounters the crucified Christ and thus the preached word which must be central to the church’s life and actions. In addition, we must also remember the basic arguments of these lectures as a whole, that Luther’s theology is determinative of his understanding of the nature and the toils of the pastoral ministry.

That he would have found modern evangelical claims to ‘agree on the Gospel’, but, ‘to allow freedom in method and practice’ to be strange. Not that the Lutheran reformation looked exactly the same, everywhere in Germany. Liturgy varied in detail between places, but the basic shape of pastoral ministry and of church life enjoyed a high degree of consensus. As is the historian’s way, however, I cannot begin the story of Luther’s understanding of the word of god with Luther himself.

The late medieval background

Martin Luther, author of the text of Christ la...

…..  In many ways Luther remained a man of medieval ages. His politically conservative futurism and his acute sense of the physical presence of the devil, and also of demons and imps are just two examples of what separates him from the other reformers. who were trained as renaissance humanists and were men of the modern age. On the theological front, it was the late medieval critical philosophy of the language, connected to the radical application of what was called the dialectic of God’s two powers which gripped Luther’s theological imagination and remained with him from the monastic cloister to the day of his death.

…..Competency in human reason had been declining from the 12th century onwards in Europe. And this dialectic between the 2 powers of God was used in a dialectic and critical way to articulate the increasing epistemological modesty that people had with regard to God. Human reason came to be regarded less and less competent to predict what God would be like. And first, theologians focused increasingly on revelation as the source of the knowledge of God. We shouldn’t get too excited, as that revelation was not identified with Scripture, by these late medieval theologians so much as the teaching of the church’s magisterium. The distinction also fed and strengthened a perennial linguistic debate about the nature and function of words. And this will become significant for Luther’s understanding of preaching. Taken to its extreme this became an anti-essentialist view of being which effectively made words themselves the determiners of reality. This is what is known as late medieval nominalism and it was the linguistic school in which Luther was trained and whose basic assumptions remained with him throughout his entire career, to the day of his death.

Those critics of post modernism, such as Terry Eagleton have pointed out there are pointed similarities between medieval nominalism and certain schools of post modern linguistic theory. We might summarize these similarities by saying that both envisage the world as a linguistic construct. Words, not essences become determinative and constitutive of reality. I suspect that Luther would have little time for the excesses of postmodern anti-essentialism with the kind of kaleidoscopic anarchy it has created with the regard to gender, sexuality and even the notion of human nature. Nevertheless, we should note that Luther would not object to postmodernism by reasserting a kind of essentialism. Rather, I suspect, Luther’s rejection of postmodern anarchy would be based on his belief that God is the supreme reality, that He is ultimately the one who speaks, and whose speech is therefore the ground of existence and of difference. Reality is not determined by the linguistic proclivities of any human individual, or any human community, but by the word of God.

The theological implications of this should become obvious. For example, to refer back to the theology of the cross- the empiricist, the essentialist looks at the cross and sees weakness, agony, suffering and defeat, and no more. That is the outward aesthetics of the cross would seem to indicate. And it is what the social and philosophical conventions of Jews and Greeks of 1st Corinthians would also lead them to believe. But, neither the empirical aesthetics, nor their interpretation through the grid of their constructed social conventions are actually any guide to the reality  of what is taking place. God has extrinsically declared the cross to be powerful, a victory, a moment of triumph. And God’s word trumps everything in determining the reality that is there. Thus, only those christians who reject the evidence of their senses, and reject the established logic and expectations of their culture and trust instead in their counter intuitive truth of God’s words can truly understand the reality.

The same, of course applies to justification. Older medieval approaches to justification required the individual actually to be somewhat righteous before God could declare the person to be justified. Late medieval theologian Gabriel Biel had broken with this tradition, arguing instead that God could set His own criteria for the declaration of justification. For Biel, God had entered into a pact with human beings and had agreed that according to His ordained power He was going to accept an individual’s best efforts as righteousness, as meeting the condition for God to declare that person to be in a state of grace. Once in such a state of grace, the individual could then benefit form sacramental grace  and do works of real righteousness and intrinsic merit.

Luther came to reject the theology of Biel as a form of semi pelagianism. The very idea that one could do one’s best and meet any condition became anathema to him. If human beings are morally dead, then the only things they can do is acknowledge that in all humility despair in themselves and look to God for unmerited mercy. Yet in breaking with Biel, Luther remained indebted to one of Biel’s most important conceptual moves. For Biel, as later for Luther, the justified person was not necessarily, actually, intrinsically righteous. They were simply declared extrinsically to be righteous by God.

By making entry into a state of grace, something that was not based on intrinsic merit, but rather on merit determined on extrinsic pactum. Biel first shattered the link between essential reality and divinely determined reality. For those of you interested in the history of the ‘History of Dogma’ will know that this is something for which conservative catholic historians of dogma have never forgiven him and which indeed shapes how our contemporary historians like Brad S. Gregory of Notre Dame views the reformation. The reformation is seen as the ultimate evil fruit of late medieval anti-essentialism.

The practical significance of this linguistic philosophy for Luther as pastor is that words become absolutely foundational to everything the pastor does. If words determine reality, then of all things the pastor does, the words he speaks are the most important: Reading the bible in public, preaching the word form the pulpit, applying the word individually in the confessional. Each of these things determine the reality of the church. This linguistic emphasis also helps explain to those of us with less sacramental proclivities than Luther why he holds such high views of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. That on the latter point at least, he’s willing to divide protestantism over the issue.  Incidentally, Luther’s objection to transubstantiation is not in 1520 that the body and blood of Christ are there, it’s that the bread and the wine have disappeared.

It would be remiss of me simply to reduce Luther’s reformation theology to a particularly radical application of late medieval linguistic theory as a means of solving his own personal issues

The Word in Action from Southern Seminary on Vimeo.

Carl Trueman at SBTS (1) Theological and Biographical Foundations – Reflections upon Luther

Dr. Carl Trueman is Professor of Historical Theology and Church History and Paul Woolley Chair of Church History and he blogs regularly at Reformation21.

See his full bio here

Dr. Trueman’s teaching history:

  • Tutorial Assistant in Church History, University of Aberdeen, 1991–1993
  • Lecturer in Theology, University of Nottingham, 1993–1998
  • Senior Lecturer in Church History, University of Aberdeen, 1998–2001
  • Westminster Theological Seminary, 2001– Currently serving

If you have never read or heard Dr. Trueman, here are some notes from the beginning of this lecture (from the first 18 minutes). Dr. Carl Trueman:

Reflections upon Luther’s life & practice of the Christian ministry

Martin Luther, author of the text of Christ la...

–In the years since the reformation, especially in the last 100 years of scholarship, the categories used to understand him (Luther) have become more variegated and subtle. Amongst many other approaches, he has been studied as the man who brought to a church shattering conclusion, the critical theology of the late medieval nominalists. He’s been the freudian man. (this will be discussed at length in part 2- to be posted tomorrow) projecting unto God his disrupted relationship with his own father.  He’s been the heir of late medieval eschatological expectation. He’s been the quintessential humorist of theological polemics. And, in a darker vein he has been seen as the fountainhead of German anti-semitism.

One area of comparative neglect, however in Luther’s studies is that of Luther’s pastor, and that’s surprising. Prior to the Reformation Luther was not only a monk, he was also a priest. He was ordained in 1507 and that meant that his professional religious life would never simply have been that of a university professor, or the monastic cloister. He was also  involved, on a day to day basis, with the lives of the people in his church. And indeed, it was this pastoral life, this pastoral concern which provided the trigger for the Reformation protest. when he came to see the sale of indulgences as impacting the lives of ordinary men and women of Wittenberg who were wasting their material goods on such counterfeit grace. (8 min mark)

In this 1st video Dr. Trueman lays out the basic theological elements of Luther’s thoughts, which then impacted his pastoral practice, and how Luther regarded the identity of God relative to fallen humanity, and central to this is the crucified flesh of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • The topic of Luther as pastor is not simply  one of interest to historians, it also makes it significant to those pursuing pastoral ministry today. In the current conservative evangelical climate, much is made often of agreements on necessary theological doctrines in the context of the freedom to disagree over issues of pastoral and ecclesiastical practice. By way of contrast, the life and theology of Luther shows how theology and practice are actually more closely connected  than we might perhaps wish to imagine. Thus, in these lectures I am not primarily advocating Luther as a pastoral paradigm to be followed, although one could surely choose worst examples, but, rather as a test case for showing how theology and practice have certain necessary connections. A point which I believe is absent from major currents of American evangelical life, where a routine separation of theology and method, or perhaps theology and practical ecclesiology is often standard.

1. Theology of the cross

It is an oft repeated cliche that Luther was not a systematic theologian. Luther is in fact a remarkably consistent theologian. His treatise on The Bondage of the Will (1525) is a remarkably consistent exploration of  the theological foundations of justification by grace through faith, both as it relates to the issue of human choice and as it related to the question of Scriptural perspicuity. Similarly, the development of his Christology in relation to the Lord’s Supper between 1520 and 1529 is again a story of the consistent application and outworking of fundamental concern and insight  which are right there at the start of his reformation protest.

One of the foundational insights which emerges in Luther’s early thinking, early in his reformation career and receives dramatic exposure at the Heidelberg disputation in 1518 is the so called Theology of the Cross. When Luther places his 95 Theses on the castle door, in October 1517. In actuality, if you read The 95 Theses, it’s a petty boring document. You need to know quite a bit about medieval theology  even to understand what he’s getting at.

A much more appropriate start for the Reformation is April 1518, when Luther, as a member of the Augustinian order is attending a standard meeting of the order, in Heidelberg and has one of his friends present a series of theses for debate, that he himself had written. These are called the Heidelberg Disputation. It is often said here that he articulates the theology of the cross. In the theses of the disputation Luther himself does not refer to it as the theology of the cross, he refers to a theologian of the cross. And the text has frequently been mistranslated on this point and does not help to convey the richness of what Luther is trying to communicate.

The difference is important. Luther is not thinking of theology in some abstract way, as a technique or a set of rules, or procedures to follow which often lead one to correct theological formulations. He’s rather thinking in holistic terms. A theology as an action, performed by an individual which is intimately related to the nature and status of the person performing the action. Here are the key thesis in laying out the theology of the cross idea in full:

–„That person does not deserve to be called a theologian, who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and the manifest things of God, seen through suffering on the cross. A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is. That wisdom which sees the invisible things of God in works, as perceived by man is completely puffed up, blinded and hardened”.

In short, one might summarize Luther’s basic epistemological points here by saying that theologians of glory  assume that God is much like themselves.  and therefore must conform to their conventions. The theologians of the cross, however, know that God is who He is and to know Him one must look to His revelation of Himself and that, primarily, on the cross. In placing the cross at the center of his theological program, Luther stands in continuity with his preoccupation of certain influential strands of late medieval theology. (16 min mark)


For Luther, the cross becomes the criterion of theology and thus the means for understanding the whole of spiritual reality. This has numerous implications. For example, it points clearly to Luther’s later abolition of the line between sacred and secular callings. What makes the theologian of the cross a true theologian? It’s not that he does theology, that he thinks and talks about God. That is the task he shares with theologians of glory…. Luther is actually making the point that everyone is a theologian. Either of glory or of the cross. What makes the difference is the mode in which the person does theology… The theologian of the cross does theology by faith in God’s revelation alone and based upon God’s revelation alone. (18 min mark)

Theological and Biographical Foundations from Southern Seminary on Vimeo.

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