Friday, October 07, 2005

Luther on doing not just knowing

In his book on Reformation spirituality, Spirituality in an Age of Change (a good read), Alister McGrath records the following quote from Martin Luther:
Great scholars who read a lot, and own lots of books, are not the best Christians…. The best Christians are those who do from a free and willing heart what the scholars read about in books and teach others to do. We must therefore get worried when, in our own day and age, people become scholars through writing lots of books- but do not have the slightest idea what it means to be a Christian.
Luther clearly is no anti-intellectual, but neither does he have a place for glorying in our knowledge or for thinking that being able to define and explain Christian truth equates actually living out those truths. This is a good reminder for me- so perhaps it is for others as well. In an age when we for so long missed out on good, substantive theology, we now rejoice in truths we have learned. We take great delight in these truths; we enjoy talking them over, thinking them through and sharing them with others. And rightly so. However, let us be reminded that this is not enough. At the end of the day if these truths do not lead to concrete, every day practice they are nothing. If our knowledge does not lead to tangible practice we actually slander the truths themselves. Being a good Christian certainly entails knowing certain things but it also means doing something about it. It is little use to be able to give an informed exegesis of the Lord’s prayer if we are not faithful in prayer. It is dangerously easier to speak in a theologically informed, profound way about the necessity of holiness than it is to really fight against temptation. We must beware the temptation of resting in our reading without the doing.

The true theologian is one who has indeed thought and wrestled with scripture well but he is also one who has experienced in his life these truths. McGrath follows the Luther quote with these words:
Luther may not have foreseen the academic and scholarly explosion of the modern period; nevertheless, he predicted with grim accuracy the problem that has resulted. The word theologian has come to mean an academic professional, one whose credentials are established by his publication record. For Luther, that word was reserved for those who have experienced, and know they have experienced, the grace of the living God.
What a good word. I am tempted to desire more advancement as an academic professional than to desire advancement in actually living these truths out. In fact I can be tempted to wish I could withdraw from actually serving the Church so that I might better establish my credentials with a publishing record. God save me from such narcissistic, self-centered motives that I might truly be of use to the Master.

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