Thursday, February 28, 2008

16th century Protestantism still matters

Luther's reformation wasn't about freedom, let alone freedom to interpret the Bible, argues historian James Simpson (Burning to Read) at History News Network, and he chastises religious liberals for thinking otherwise:

we should abandon the following rock-hard persuasions of the liberal tradition: that Luther believed that readers should interpret the Bible freely, making up their own minds about the truth of Scripture; that Luther placed the liberating text of Scripture above the institution of the Church; and that Lutheran theology is more “democratic.”

Instead, we would be well advised to reread Luther and his vigorous English followers, especially William Tyndale (c. 1494-1536). There we discover that the Lutheran moment was the source of fundamentalism, and the source of different kinds of persecutory violence. ... Luther detested what he called “private interpretation.” He promoted, instead, a movement that repudiated interpretation itself. A recurrent theme in Lutheran theology is that Scripture interprets itself. Scripture is not, and cannot be subject to the messy negotiations of history in which all other texts are immersed. It does its own interpreting (i.e. Scripture interprets itself, but my interpretation is right).

The idea that anything interprets itself seems like a kind of intellectual cancer. I had no idea that its roots might be this deep or this reputable.


JB Powers said...

That is a very well written and interesting article. It certainly illuminates some of the early issues in Protestantism, and reflects on how it has shaped the last 500 years of Christianity.

If he would have just stopped before claiming that "Christian Right in the United States, with its individualist, social-Darwinist economics", he could avoided my assumption that Harvard Professors are generally wrong on any matter relating to Religion.

There is a huge, and very successful movement among the "Christian Right" to provide services and resources to the sick and poor. It is quantified pretty well in the book "Who Really Cares", and I have observed it first hand any number of times in an ecumenical group I am a member of.

Much better article if you cut off the last paragraph.


Harold said...

And an even more interesting article if he had weighed the energy and money going into that program against the energy and money going into right-wing political involvement.

JB Powers said...

Which program?

Harold said...

The "huge, and very successful movement" you mention.

JB Powers said...


That would be Christianity you are referring to Harold.

Believers in Christianity use teachings from the Bible, tradition, and the natural law (Darwinism, if you will)to assure the survival of the species via helping the poor and sick, educating children, feeding the hungry etc.

Christianity sometimes shines through the mind numbing politics of Religions.

p.s. I could have put it better as "within" the Christian Right, rather than "among".

Paul Botts said...

I've read "Who Really Cares" and even reviewed it online, and its success at "quantifying" facts is fairly limited.

That said, Powers' broader point is well taken. I'm neither Christian nor right-wing myself but it sure is time that us urban secularists quit enabling Ivy League professors to gratuitously smear that which they simply don't wish to exist.