Thursday, July 4, 2013

We Preach Christ: Martin Luther, the Apostle Paul, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ

It is a common critique of many to accuse the Reformers, most notably Martin Luther, of having a theology centered more on Paul than on Christ. Of course this accusation is based on the view that the two men held different views on doctrine. That notion is simply wrong to begin with.

A simple example of this can be found in Brian McLaren's book A New Kind of Christianity. There he argues that Protestants understand the gospel through Luther who got his gospel through Paul essentially ignores Jesus. He wrote:

Like a lot of Protestants, for many years I "knew" what the gospel was.  I "knew" that the gospel was the message of "justification by grace through faith," distorted or forgotten by those pesky Catholics, but rediscovered by our hero Martin Luther through a reading of our even greater hero Paul, especially his magnum opus, the Letter to the Romans.  If Catholics were called "Roman Catholics" because of their headquarters in Rome, we could have been called "Romans Protestants," because Paul's Roman letter served as our theological headquarters.  As its avid students, we "knew" without question what it was about.  To my embarrassment, though, about fifteen years ago I stopped knowing a lot of what I previously knew. (137)

But such a notion that the Protestant Reformers read Paul and not Jesus is simply false. The Reformers began with Jesus and always saw Jesus as the center of everything, especially their theology. Consider the following from Steve Lawson's book The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther

Because of this unwavering focus on Christ, many of Luther’s sermons came from the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Luther loved preaching from the Gospels because they most clearly reveal the Lord Jesus. Though he is most often associated with the book of Romans, especially in his conversion, there are only thirty recorded sermons by Luther on Romans. By contrast, there are more than one thousand recorded sermons on the Synoptic Gospels (Mat- thew, Mark, and Luke) by Luther, and there are hundreds more on the gospel of John. In fact, as Jaroslav Pelikan notes, “Although he is usually regarded as primarily an expositor of St. Paul’s epistles, Luther valued the Fourth Gospel most highly and devoted himself to the interpretation of it through- out his career.” In 1531–1532, he spent almost eighteen months preaching on John 6–8 alone. It appears that Luther preached more from the gospel of John in a single year than he did on Romans in his entire life.

This is most clearly seen in how Luther preached. Lawson goes on to write:

Luther was very clear that his chief object in preaching was the supreme person and saving work of Jesus Christ. He affirmed: “We preach always Him, the true God and man who died for our sins, and rose again for our justification. This may seem a limited and monotonous subject, likely to be soon exhausted, but we are never at the end of it.” In other words, Luther understood the fathomless depths of preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ. No matter how many years he preached, Luther knew he would never come to the end of Christ. (73)

The Reformers preached Christ pure and simple. This is why they loved Scripture including Paul. So please, let's dispense this wrong idea about Paul vs. Jesus.

but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness -The Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 1:23)


For more:
"The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther" by Steven Lawson: A Review
Luther on the Doctrine of Verbal Inspiration
Luther on the Doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy
The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 1
The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 2
The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 3
The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 4
The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 5
The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 6 
Martin Luther (1483-1546)
The 95 Theses, 490 Years Later
For Reformation Day:  An Insightful Documentary  
The Theology of the Reformers  
The Unquenchable Flame  
Christianity's Dangerous Idea 
"Five Leading Reformers" 
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