Luther’s Spirituality

Marc Brown:

Features of Luther's Spirituality

Theologian Robert Webber describes a dinner party where the subject of spirituality was introduced. Once broached, the topic generated a number of culturally acceptable responses reminiscent of an article that once described “Spirituality in America” as “what we believe, how we pray, where we find God.”[1]  The article, from Newsweek magazine, defined spirituality as the “passion for an immediate, transcendent experience of God.”[2]  The search for spiritual passion in modern Western culture takes many forms. Webber’s dinner guests identified with many of the forms of spirituality mentioned in the Newsweek article, culminating in the host being asked his belief. When Webber surprised everyone by answering he was a committed Christian, “who believes Jesus to be ‘the way, the truth, and the life,’”[3] the guests responded in startled silence. When Webber asked the guests what they would now ‘do with him,’ one guest responded, “Explain yourself. I’m willing to hear you out.”[4] Webber made clear to his guests that in order to explain himself he would have to tell a story. He quickly added, “All spiritualities are based on a story. You have to know the story of a particular religion to understand its spirituality.”[5] Webber was by no means the first to define his spirituality through the story of the gospel as recounted in Scripture. Martin Luther also defined his spirituality in this way. For Luther, sola scriptura would be no empty battle cry. As Luther grew to understand how the gospel story was at the root of his own spirituality, what changed was more than the opinions of a handful of dinner guests.

[1]J. Adler, “Spirituality in America,” Newsweek, September 5, 2005, 9.

[2]Robert E. Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006), 14.

[3]Webber, The Divine Embrace, 14.

[4]Webber, The Divine Embrace, 14.

[5]Webber, The Divine Embrace, 14.

Image above: "Luther's 95 Theses." Ferdinand Pauwels.

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