One of the most repeated but ignored facts about our world is that we can't possibly have a good idea of where we are as a nation, a culture, a world if we don't understand where we came from.
So, for example, 21st Century America is absolutely unintelligible without knowing history. And not just the history of warfare, of exploration, of immigration, of slavery, of capitalism, of seeking religious liberty and on and on. No, America will remain a mystery unless and until we understand the theology that helped to shape it and the history of how religion has formed us.
A primary driver of that entrepreneurial theology is someone we're paying special attention to this year because 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther's prime role in kicking it off, even if he did so inadvertently.
So to get our bearings today we should know about Luther and his thinking and we should know the prime role that Protestantism played in the creation of the United States.
That's a primary point in this excellent read from The Nation, which reviews several important books about Luther.
The reviewer notes that a "paradox — that the Reformation could birth a peasant revolt while its instigator rallied behind the princes — is a picture of Protestantism’s confusing political legacy in miniature. Protestantism arguably brought about many of the preconditions for the Enlightenment and liberalism, and at the very least introduced Europe to a headier skepticism of authority than had prevailed before. (Indeed, [author Lyndal] Roper credits the Reformation with sparking the secularization of the West.) On the other hand, the release of significant portions of life — namely politics and economics — from the purview of religious authority may have expanded certain freedoms, but it didn’t result in a betterment of conditions for the most disadvantaged, even as it helped transform the Christian message into something far more internal and private than that of the earlier Church."
Today in America Protestantism is in decline. Although a huge majority of the population once identified as Protestant, today that has fallen to about 47 percent -- still a plurality but with nothing like the influence they once had. And yet the marks of Luther and Protestantism are all over our nation, and we will misunderstand who we are as a people if we don't grasp that.
The review of Luther-related books in The Nation is a good place to start. Then actually reading books about Luther and the spread of the Protestant Reformation would be a great second step.
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WHEN THE 'EVANGELICAL ESTABLISHMENT' ATTACKS
Over this past weekend, I wrote here about the Rev. Eugene Peterson first saying he'd officiate at a same-sex wedding and then retracting that in the face of terrific opposition from many who identify as evangelical Christians. David Gushee has experienced exactly that kind of vicious attack for the same reason and he writes persuasively about it here. I encourage you to give it a read.