Lutheran World Federation

The following comments were posted on a bulletin board at the LWF's website in response to an invitation for commentary about the contemporary relevance of Lutheran theology.

Luther's theology as an antidote to American moralism and its influence on liberation theology

The light of Luther's proclamation of the gospel has long been under a bushel in America. Numerous factors such as Lutheran ethnicity and the residual American introspective piety oriented to the future have contributed to this forgetfulness of Luther. Nevertheless, Luther's light has not gone unnoticed. The Evangelical historian, Mark Noll, has vociferously called for a Lutheran corrective to American Christendom: "American Evangelicals need the Lutherans, and we need them now" ("An Evangelical Protestant Perspective," Word & World XI/3, 1991). Noll perceives Luther's theology of justification as an antidote to the perennial American moralism and piety of achievement.

Carter Lindberg (USA), Luther and America, lwi 3/96.

There is a remote influence of Luther's theology in Latin American theology.

First of all, let us remind ourselves that the Vatican II which influenced the renovation of Latin American Catholicism and theology, welcomed concepts which can clearly be traced back, in part, to Luther: the definition of the Church as the people of God, liturgical renovation with new emphasis on preaching and the adoption of the vernacular, the description of the Scriptures as the word of God and normative. Also, frequent references and discussions of typical Lutheran concepts such as sola Scriptura", "simul iustus et peccator" and "universal priesthood" can be encountered in Latin American liberation theology.

Then we must register several evident analogies. All of the ecclesiastical analyses of liberation theology emphasize the Christian base communities, just as the Reformation had as one of its main pillars the constitution of congregations. Furthermore, just as in the Reformation of Luther, we find an impressive reencounter with the Scriptures. The common people's (re)reading of the bible has become a broadly based movement within the Latin American Christian base communities and it has the strong support of Bible scholars and pastoral agents.

After having registered the evident analogies, we must pay attention to some remarkable similarities, although the possible influences are less clear. For example, it is well known that Luther, in the large Catechism in his explanation of the first commandment counterposed "God" and "idols". This is also precisely the fundamental antagonism adopted by liberation theologians when they speak about God within their own reality and denounce neoliberal economic policies. And one cannot fail to mention the impressive parallel that Luther, too, identified precisely Mammon as "the most common idol on earth".

Another similarity is discovered when we consider that Luther's theology is a theology of the cross. In Latin American liberation theology this theology of the cross can be found in the area of spirituality when the people perceive in their precarious living conditions the solidarity and salvific presence of Christ. But the cross will also be seen as the comforting source of the perseverance of faith in face of difficulties and troubles in the process of liberation.

Walter Altmann (Brazil), Luther's influence on liberation theology, lwi 3/96.