I wanted to read this book from the first moment that I learned of its existence.* Lately I’ve been working on gaining a better understanding of Luther, for a variety of reasons, and his ethics has always looked like something of a mess to my Reformed sensibilities. But I had also encountered enough of it to know that some of the standard tropes against Luther on this point don’t seem to grow out of Luther’s texts. When I saw Sun-young Kim’s book, I hoped that I had found a volume that would package all this material up for me and provide clarity on the subject. In that hope I have not been disappointed.
I’ll be posting some interesting snippets from the book, as is my wont, but I want to provide a little context for the volume here. And I shall do so in three points.
- First, the true heart of the book on my reading is well-articulated in the following passage from somewhere in the middle:
Luther sought to replace the scholastic terminologies such as fides caritate formata, unformed faith, and the merits of congruity and condignity with biblical language and concepts. Luther does not abandon love itself in his theology, but the scholastic concept of love. (p. 159)The question for the heirs of Luther (i.e., all Protestants, one way or another) is whether he achieved sufficient success in this, or whether a return to some of the scholastic concepts and distinctions might not be in order. Kim does not address this more constructive issue, but she brings together much of the background analysis necessary to consider it fruitfully.
- Second, Kim keeps one eye on the Finnish school especially with reference to framing her argument in the introduction and conclusion. Here is what she has to say about Luther and theosis:
Although consenting to the Finns’ accentuation of Luther’s notion of Christ who is present in Christians through faith, I would suggest that the move from an appropriate appreciation of Luther’s notion of Christ who is present in faith to the contention that Luther’s doctrine of justification is identical to theosis is a conceptual-logical jump. I would underscore instead that, although he fervently insists on the real presence of Christ, Luther shies away from putting any specific label on the way Christ is present in a Christian through faith. In fact, . . . Luther himself acknowledges that he does not know how Christ is really present.” (p. 264)
- Third, and more briefly, Kim includes in her conclusion a discussion of Luther on the question of the Law’s 3rd use (tertius usus legis, for any theology nerds out there looking to learn a fancy piece of Latin). Here she argues, more or less, that Luther’s thought contains the substance of such a use even if he avoids that language.
In short, I really enjoyed and benefited from this book, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the various dimensions of the Christian life in Protestant theology. Stay tuned for more interesting snippets!
*Truth in advertising: Fortress press was kind enough to supply me with a review copy of this book. Coincidentally, it so happens that one of my own books is also in the Fortress Emerging Scholars series.