At night, to calm my mind, I've been reading through some of Luther's works (I know, a Lutheran pastor reading Luther, stop the presses. But hey, there's a reason why I'm in the job I am. Or at least why God put me here)
The other night I was flipping through Bondage of the Will (which HEAVILY influenced yesterday's sermon) and was struck by a few things:
1.Luther is a SARCASTIC jerk. I think he's being that way on purpose. He's feeling attacked and is striking back the best way he knows how – by calling people names and writing in vigorous defense of his understanding of the bible.
2.Luther is no systematic thinker. Not by a long shot. He doesn't even try to be. He rambles. At times he's incoherent. He contradicts himself. So, I guess I'm in good company.
3.Luther doesn't seem to care about laying down an air-tight argument. He seems more interested in talking about what God is doing, has done, and will do.
4.Luther was responding to a pastoral crisis in the Church - free will vs human bondage to sin – and made me wonder how much we see as “core doctrine” really grew out of a specific set of historical circumstances, circumstances we don't really acknowledge (probably ALL of it).
5.Bondage of the Will is freakishly relevant for today. Instead of responding to Erasmus, he could be writing to Rick Warren or Joel Osteen, whose consumer Christianity is based on “freedom of choice,” especially the freedom to “choose” salvation. Where Luther (and Paul or Jesus, for that matter) insists that salvation is not something that human beings can “choose.” God “chooses” us.
Consumer Christianity puts US in the driver's seat of our's and the world's salvation rather than placing God at the wheel. So, salvation then becomes some WE do rather than something GOD does.
I once heard a bonehead preacher say that the “Greatest gift that God gave man [sic] was the gift of free will.”
No mention of Jesus. Nothing said about the gift of life and creation. But God has given us free will as the climax of God's love.
I remember sitting there thinking, “Look how we use our so-called 'free will.' We hurt each in other to puff ourselves up. We murder each other. We go to war. We ignore poverty. We destroy the planet because we don't want to give up our creature comforts. If that's what free will means, then maybe it's not such a gift after all.
And what about those people I met downtown, who've been beaten up by life so badly that “choosing God” is way out of the realm of reality. What about those who intellectually CAN'T make choices for themselves?”
If God and salvation is something we can choose, then God becomes another stop on the way to Wal-Mart. And church exists to meet “my needs” rather than being a gathering of God's people.
For me, I'm GLAD that God is the primary actor in my salvation. If it were left up to me I would have walked away years ago, because I don't have the strength to carry that load for myself. I'm glad that Jesus carries it for me.
And because he has, I love and serve him. With God's help.
Updated and Related: R.C Sproul on the Pelagian Captivity of the Church (can you believe I'm quoting RC Sproul?) for all you theology nerds like me (and who ISN'T a theology nerd?).