Happy Easter & LRC news

Written by Sarah Wilson on 4/7/15, 6:09 PM.

Welcome to all our new members!
The LRC has been growing by leaps and bounds in the first weeks of its life, and we've just passed the 800 mark. Please continue to share it with your friends, colleagues, and acquaintances!
So far we've had three texts up for discussion: The 95 Theses, the Sermon on Indulgence and Grace, and the 1518 Theses on the Remission of Sins. Coming up next Monday is the Sermon on Two Kinds of Righteousness. We're starting off slowly with one new text every two weeks, in order to give time for people to find us and join in. But soon we'll be shifting to weekly texts. You'll be notified every time a new text is posted.
If you'd like to learn a bit more about where the inspiration for the LRC came from, take a look at this short article.
One more item: not many of you have filled in your profile information yet. Please take just a couple of moments to add an image (use a church, a flower, a statue or something else if you'd rather not show your own face) and a few words about yourself. It's a great way to get a sense of all the different readers of Luther who are "gathered" here at the LRC community.
Christ is risen!

1100 participants and still growing!

Written by Sarah Wilson on 4/16/15, 12:56 PM.

We had hoped, of course, that the LRC would be a huge hit. But never in our wildest dreams did we expect to surpass 1000 participants in the first month alone! Thanks to everyone for joining in and for offering your thoughts on the readings.
A good way to keep making the LRC better known is to join the Facebook page so your friends can learn about it. There's also a brand-new Facebook page for the Institute, which is sponsoring the LRC.
Some quick tips about using the site:
1. Go to the "Read" page to see past and future readings
2. Go to the "Discuss" page to see the current reading
3. If you want to cite a specific paragraph in the reading, put the number of it inside curly brackets { }
This week's reading is Luther's wonderful early sermon on "Two Kinds of Righteousness." It's amazing how much wisdom he can pack into such a short space!

How soon till 1500?

Written by Sarah Wilson on 4/21/15, 12:31 PM.

Greetings to all! Our community continues to grow like crazy, surpassing 1250 participants already. Let's aim for 1500 by next week! Keep spreading the word and help us get there.

Another way you can help is to fill out your profile information. Add a photo (of an animal or landscape if you don't want to show your face!), your country, and one sentence about why you like to read Luther. We are a virtual community but we are still real people in real bodies living in real places! It's good to "see" each other this way even if we can't hear each other's voices or shake hands.

Our text for this week is a short one, and even predates the 95 Theses---it's a letter to a fellow Augustinian friar. But you can already see the distinctive Luther in it.

A Month of Freedom—and a Request for Volunteers

Written by Sarah Wilson on 5/13/15, 7:37 PM.

For the next four weeks we're taking our time with Luther's "Freedom of a Christian," strolling in a leisurely fashion through this rich and nuanced text. Besides teasing out of the implications of being lord over all and being servant under all, Luther drops in all kinds of great asides and little observations that make this treatise so rewarding.

In other news: those of you who would like to exercise your servanthood in Christian freedom, we are looking for a volunteer to run a Twitter feed for the Challenge. If you're interested, drop a line to lutherreadingchallenge AT gmail dot com.

And—we'd also like to interview some of our participants! There's an astonishing 1500 of you and we're curious to learn the many and various reasons that lead busy people to take time out every week to read a little Luther. Same address as above, let us know if you'd answer a few questions to share with other participants.

Happy Pentecost!

Written by Sarah Wilson on 5/23/15, 8:44 AM.

Warm wishes for a joyful Pentecost holiday and the blessings of the Holy Spirit!

It seems fitting to add a word from Luther about this festival, from his 1523 church postil:

"It is not enough simply that Christ be preached; the Word must be believed. Therefore, God sends the Holy Spirit to impress the preaching upon the heart—to make it inhere and live therein. Unquestionably, Christ accomplished all—took away our sins and overcame every obstacle, enabling us to become, through him, lord over all things. But the treasure lies in a heap; it is not everywhere distributed and applied. Before we can enjoy it, the Holy Spirit comes and communicates it to the heart, enabling us to believe and say, 'I too, am one who shall have the blessing.'"

At Pentecost we remember the reversal of the curse of Babel and the blessing of the gospel in many languages. We are hoping, therefore, to add Luther's writings in other languages besides English to the site very soon. If you'd like to see your language here and would be willing to volunteer as a "champion" for it, please drop us a line at lutherreadingchallenge at gmail dot com!

And finally, if you've registered but haven't had the time or energy to check out the readings, fear not! You don't have to read every single one to keep up with the Challenge. They appear in more or less chronological order, but they're not cumulative. You can jump in and out as time allows.

Take the Survey!

Written by Sarah Wilson on 6/11/15, 8:26 AM.

The Luther Reading Challenge has been active for a few months and seen amazing growth—we have well over 1600 participants! Now we're looking for ways to develop and expand the Challenge further.

Please take a moment to visit our survey and let us know what you think about how we're doing so far and ways we can improve!

In the meanwhile, through the month of June we'll be working our way through portions of Luther's first major treatise on the sacraments, "The Babylonian Captivity of the Church." Happy reading!

What's New at the LRC

Written by Sarah Wilson on 7/8/15, 4:54 PM.

The truth is, the content editor and the web developers here at the Luther Reading Challenge would like nothing better than to devote our every waking hour to the cause. (Well, maybe not every hour, but a lot of them.) In reality, however, we all have day jobs and the past month has been especially busy, as probably the case especially for teachers and students out there wrapping up another school year, or maybe getting through the mid-year blues if you live in the southern hemisphere.

However! We hope to have more stuff for you soon. We're in conversation with donors who believe in our project and we've brainstormed a lot of great upgrades for the site. Hopefully we'll be rolling out those for you in the next couple of months. If you'd like to share your thoughts on what you'd most like to see here, please click over to our survey and register your votes!

Meanwhile, of course, there's lot of great Luther ahead. After learning how to "sin boldly" this week, next week we're heading in Luther's commentary on The Magnificat. Remember, the readings are chronological but not cumulative. If you haven't been able to keep up, no worries! Start now. You won't have any trouble following the readings.

Luther continues, we take a short break

Written by Sarah Wilson on 8/12/15, 6:38 PM.

A heads up to all our faithful readers: Luther will keep on having his say week after week. The rest of us are going on vacation for the rest of the month. As a result, there will be a bit of delay in getting back to you if you send a request or concern to us by email. Never fear, we will read everything when we're back at the beginning of September and solve all your problems. Till then, happy reading!

Luther in Company

Written by Sarah Wilson on 9/23/15, 10:05 AM.

All of us here at the LRC are back from vacation now, in the thick of ordinary life, and you probably are too! Thanks to all our participants for faithfully sticking with Luther week in and week out. We're especially glad to see the increase of new commenters on the site. I think the LRC deserves a prize for having the most civil, affirming, and patient theological discussion on the entire web! So don't be shy---if you haven't shared comments yet, go ahead and give it a try. You will be amazed at what a great community we have here.

Speaking of which, I write this from Emden, a city in northern Germany on the border with the Netherlands that, some centuries ago, was home to many Reformed Protestant refugees fleeing persecution. Here at the Johannes a Lasco Library there's a conference taking place sponsored by, among others, Refo500, on the reception of Luther in Calvinism. Much as we love Luther and his theology, we know that he was not the best at handling disagreement, and the rift between the Lutherans and Reformed is famous and longstanding. Yet this conference is showing all the ways Luther's legacy was taken up and appropriated by Calvinist and other Reformed thinkers, and even vice versa, especially where devotional material is concerned.

If there's anything I've learned from seven years in ecumenism, it's that our walls are not nearly as impermeable as we think. For good or for ill, we are always interacting with each other and gaging our own beliefs and statements against those of other Christians. Disagreements can be healthy and lead to better understanding, but they can also turn toxic. Luther was certainly guilt of that toxicity far too many times. It makes me all the prouder that this community reading his works has been able to do better. Keep up the great work!

—Sarah

Pointers for Reading Luther

Written by Sarah Wilson on 11/5/15, 6:39 AM.

It’s been about six months now since the LRC started, we’ve got well over two thousand participants, and we’re enjoying a steady flow of comments and discussion. Great stuff! Especially since we’re dealing with someone who lived and wrote nearly five hundred years ago. Though Luther feels contemporary in so many ways, he can also surprise us with the distance in time and culture between him and us.

So, here are some tips for getting the most out of your Luther reading.

  1. He’s just figuring this out as he goes along. By the time of the writings we’re dealing with here, Luther has been a student of Scripture and theology for a long time. But there was no schedule or map telling him how to go about reforming the church. Things happened—and he responded. Sometimes he has one problem on his mind, and in solving it doesn’t realize how his solution might end up creating another problem, or feeding the fires of another enemy. If something strikes you as odd, inconsistent, or incomplete, you could well be right. And Luther might have something to say else about—just later on. All the more reason to stick with the LRC!

  2. Words might not always mean what you think they mean. Words change and drift over time and depending on context. In translated writings like here, we have to use the best and closest word in English, but it might set off things in your mind that aren’t really there in the original. Or, Luther himself might use words with different emphases, depending on what he’s talking about. A great example of this is the word “law.” When Luther talks about the law as something that we use to justify ourselves before God, he’s extremely negative about it. The law must be defeated and eliminated from the Christian’s life completely. But if he’s talking about law as the shape of our life together as God wishes it to be, then he’s all smiles and delight. The antinomians (“anti-law-ians”) accepted his first way of using the word “law” but didn’t recognize his second way of using the word. But Luther in the end won’t make sense unless you see how he uses the word both ways. And that can apply in other cases, too. Try to pay attention to how a word is used so you can get a fuller sense of its meaning.

  3. A slogan is only that—a slogan. Movements and theologies need short phrases that capture their convictions and give people something easy to remember in times of need. But these slogans can end up being reductive or distorted. A great example of this is sola Scriptura or “Scripture alone.” It accurately represents Luther if it means something like “the church has permission to formulate as binding doctrine or practice only those things that are taught in the Scripture, always pointing to the salvation offered in Jesus Christ as the matter of central importance, but it can’t make up new teachings or traditions and impose them on believers as a matter affecting their salvation.” Whew! Not a very catchy slogan, that. But, if sola Scriptura means something like “unless it’s explicitly written and defined in Scripture a Christian must have absolutely nothing to do with it” or “nothing in the entire history and tradition of the church is of any value at all” or “anyone can read the Scripture without any education or training and come up with a perfectly valid interpretation that cannot be challenged because after all it’s from Scripture”—then no, those unwieldy versions of sola Scriptura do not accurately reflect Luther. All of us bring these kind of slogans or shorthand versions of belief with us when we read. That’s fine, but make sure that your reading of Luther informs and improves these slogans in your mind, instead of forcing Luther to fit inside an oversimplified slogan.

And once you’ve done that, join in the conversation! We’ve been having great, thoughtful, and respectful conversations. We’d love to hear from more of you!

Merry Christmas from the LRC Team!

Written by Sarah Wilson on 12/22/15, 5:47 AM.

And what better way to express our faith and hope for the year ahead than in the words of Luther himself? Here’s an excerpt from one of his Christmas sermons.

“‘But according to his mercy he saved us.’ Christ has saved us once for all, and in a twofold manner: First, he has done all that is necessary for our salvation—conquered and destroyed sin, death and hell, leaving no more there for anyone to do. Secondly, he has conveyed all these blessings unto us in baptism. He who confidently believes Christ has accomplished these things, immediately, in the twinkling of an eye, possesses salvation. All his sins and the reality of death and hell are removed. Nothing more than such faith is necessary to salvation.
“The truly godlike are they who receive from God all he offers through Christ, and in return accredit themselves by their beneficence, performing for others the part God performs for them. Sons of God are we, through the faith that constitutes us heirs of all divine blessings. But we are also ‘gods’ through the love that makes us beneficent toward our neighbor. The divine nature is simply pure beneficence, or as Paul here says, kindness and love, daily pouring out blessings in abundance upon all creatures; as we everywhere witness.
“Take heed, then, to embrace the message of these words presenting the love and kindness of God to all men. Daily exercise your faith therein, entertaining no doubt of God’s love and kindness toward you, and you shall realize his blessings. Then you may with perfect confidence ask what you will, what your heart desires, and whatever is necessary for the good of yourself and your fellow-men.
“If you possess faith, your heart cannot do otherwise than laugh for joy in God, and grow free, confident and courageous. For how can the heart remain sorrowful and dejected when it entertains no doubt of God’s kindness to it, and of his attitude as a good friend with whom it may unreservedly and freely enjoy all things? Such joy and pleasure must follow faith.”

We’ll be taking a week off at the end of the year and will resume with new readings on January 4. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to one and all!

Happy Epiphany...

Written by Sarah Wilson on 1/5/16, 7:17 PM.

...and happy new year as well to everybody at the LRC!

A few quick notes, especially for our newer participants:

---Most of the texts under the "Read" category are still available for you to peruse and comment upon. These are from older translations of Luther's writings into English that are in the public domain and we've updated (no more "thy" or "maketh" or stuff like that).
---A few of them are no longer available because they're under copyright. The very kind folks at Concordia Publishing House and Augsburg Fortress have let us use them free of charge for three months, but after that we have to close them. Sorry about that.
---"Discuss" features the writing of the week, but you can keep discussing the ones under "Read," too.
--If you want to comment on a specific paragraph in one of the readings, just put the number of that paragraph inside curly brackets, like this: {9} for paragraph 9. When you post your comment, a fat arrow will appear in front of the number that you can click on, and it will highlight the paragraph in question.

And finally, a word from our sponsor!

“The wise men here teach us the true faith. After they heard the sermon and the word of the prophet they were not slow to believe, in spite of obstacles and difficulties… So it is always with the Christian, after affliction has been endured God becomes more dear to him and is so near and so distinctly seen that man not only forgets anxiety and affliction, but has a desire for greater affliction. He gradually becomes so strong that he does not take offense at the insignificant, unattractive life of Christ. For now he experiences and realizes that to find Christ it must appear as though he found nothing but disgrace.”
---Luther's Church Postil for Epiphany

Luther's Top Five—So Far

Written by Sarah Wilson on 2/10/16, 4:41 PM.

A warm Ash Wednesday greeting to all LRC participants, from those who have been with us from the beginning of our almost-year-long existence to the most recent arrivals. We’re especially excited to have members of the Global Young Reformers Network in our midst!

If you’re new to the Luther Reading Challenge and overwhelmed at the list under the Read button, or even if you’ve been with us awhile but have fallen behind, don’t despair! Much as we love Luther, the truth is, you really don’t have to read everything. To get you started or re-started, wherever you happen to be, here’s a list of our favorites from Luther so far. If you haven’t signed up yet, you’ll need to do so to access the readings, but never fear, everything is free!

  1. The 1518 Theses on the Remission of Sins: luckily, this does not mean that there are one thousand five hundred and eighteen theses! In fact, there aren’t even ninety-five in this set from the year 1518, but a mere fifty. Although the 95 Theses are a lot more famous, this set is much more representative of the real turn in Luther’s theology: from an emphasis on personal contrition or priestly power to the ability of the Word of God to give what it promises.

  2. Letter to George Spenlein: George Spenlein was an Augustinian friar like Luther, and that’s pretty much all we know of him. But this lucky fellow was the recipient of a beautiful reflection on life in Christ and the struggle against sin—and it even pre-dates the outbreak of the Reformation controversy.

  3. The Freedom of a Christian: Long enough that we’ve split it up into four parts, but well worth the read. This can be take as the positive programmatic vision Luther has for the Christian life, almost (though not quite) polemic-free! You’ll never think the same way about faith again.

  4. Preface to the New Testament: It’s pretty common to bandy about the distinction between “law and gospel,” but what did it really mean? Old Testament vs. New Testament? Jews vs. Christians? Bad vs. Good? Unconverted life vs. Christian life? Not God vs. God? Read this and you’ll know that Luther meant none of these things—and had a much better explanation to put in their place.

  5. On Temporal Authority: The foundations of our modern political systems, especially the distinction between church and state, have their origin right here. Luther does defend the right of public officials to use violence when necessary to restrain further violence—but he is also vehement in his condemnation of excessive uses of political violence, and argues that as private persons Christians are called to abject pacificism. Sound confusing? All the more reason to work your way through all four sections of this treatise! Luther never fails to surprise.

Have questions? Shoot us a line at lutherreadingchallenge AT gmail DOT com.

Massive Open Online Course on Luther

Written by Sarah Wilson on 9/29/16, 2:09 PM.

Prof. Christine Helmer, an eminent Luther scholar at Northwestern University, is offering a MOOC entitled "Luther and the West." It's a free online course open to anyone who has an internet connection! There are 36 lectures in total discussing the history of ideas of Luther's that have been hugely influential in the modern West and taken to the rest of the world. Luther is recognized today as the originator of many of the most significant ideas that continue to affect and shape who we as modern people are and how we see the world and ourselves, for better and for worse. In the first section, we will explore why Luther thought the Bible was the most important volume for everyone to have and read. Included here will be a careful consideration of Luther's anti-Judaism, which contributed to Western antisemitism and some of the greatest horrors of the twentieth century. In the second section, we will talk about the idea of freedom and how Luther's understanding of freedom in Christ affected the way modern thinkers understood what it means to be human in community. Important in this section is the consequential contradiction between freedom and slavery in Western thought and their co-existence in Western societies. The third section will be all about the many complicated relations between religion and politics.

Join the course by visiting: https://www.coursera.org/learn/luther-and-the-west

Ecumenical Reformation Celebration in Lund on October 31

Written by Sarah Wilson on 10/25/16, 6:36 PM.

On October 31—Reformation Day—a major ecumenical event will take place at the cathedral in Lund, Sweden. It’s a liturgy based on the important 2013 statement of the Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue, From Conflict to Communion, which opens the jubilee year of the Reformation. The liturgy itself, called Common Prayer, was designed to reflect the insights of From Conflict to Communion: expressing the gospel-affirming ways that both Lutherans and Catholics can remember the Reformation. That means lamenting what went wrong and was unworthy of the Christian faith, and rejoicing in what went right and gave glory to God. Pope Francis himself will participate!

To learn more and watch the livestream of the liturgy, head to the Lutheran World Federation site.