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Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte
Hinlicky, Paul R.
Luther and the Beloved Community. A Path for Christian Theology after Christendom. Foreword by M. L. Mattox.
Grand Rapids-Cambridge: Eerdmans 2010. XXV, 405 S. gr.8°. Kart. US$ 45,00. ISBN 978-0-8028-6492-5.
Else Marie Wiberg Pedersen
Paul Hinlicky is a prolific Lutheran scholar. This book on Luther and the Beloved Community follows The Substance of Faith: Luther’s Doctrinal Theology for Today (2008), which he coedited with Mickey Mattox and Dennis Bielefeldt, and his monograph Paths Not Taken: Fates of theology from Luther through Leibniz (2009).
However, this book is not so much about Luther’s theology as it is about H.’s rendition of Luther in the way he would like Lutheran theology to be perceived and received in the 21st century. In H.’s own words the book is about »›my‹ Luther, Luther as I appropriate him« (xviii). H. has set himself the task of probing Christian belief today and in that endeavor to engage Luther’s theology in a contemporary »critical dogmatics«, which is actually an appropriation of Luther to a contemporary ecumenical doctrine (xvi-xvii). At once wanting to clarify Lutheran doctrine by, on the one hand, avoiding the pitfalls of heroizing Luther as has been done in the anti-ecumenical confessionalism and parts of the Luther renaissance as well as of demonizing opponents like Luther did; and, on the other hand, emphasizing Luther as a »catholic« theologian, far from the heresiarch Luther of 1519. Therefore, in contradistinction to Oswald Bayer, H. will not embark on »a presentation of Luther’s theology on its own terms from the sixteenth century as a contemporary possibility« (5). Rather, he desires to establish a creedal theology where Luther presents the »broader stream of theological tradition« and not some Sonderweg.
Whereas there is little doubt that H. knows his Luther and that his reading of Luther is original, it is difficult to determine in what respect this book is original. Apart from drawing on much of his own former work, H. draws heavily on Luther interpretations by a selection of scholars from his immediate family, such as his daughter Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, and circle of friendships, ranging from Christine Helmer to Mickey Mattox. Yet, H. produces his own cocktail of critical dogmatics, the measure of its ingredients being a term taken from Harvard philosopher Josiah Royce (1855–1916): »the Beloved Community«. It is through this communitarian term that he tests »the church’s practice of faith« in relation to the canonical narrative of the Bible, the Trinity, the doctrine of the two natures in Christ, and the doctrine of grace (xvi-xvii). H. perceives of these themes as the difficult points in Luther’s theology to which he now wants to come to grips, appropriating them to »the beloved community«, an a-historical, interpretative community, the ecumenical church’s regula fidei, which in some fashion or another functions as his hermeneutical key. The aim is that of appropriating Luther to »the new Rome« that we, according to H., need, and which would make even Ratzinger approve of »Luther as a would-be teacher of the catholic church« (299).
Though it is both honest and heroic that H. openly reveals his idiosyncratic reading, when dealing with what he deems difficult points in Luther’s theology, as it would be for any scholar, it leaves the reader with hermeneutical and methodological problems. Thus, it is problematic when, despite not wanting to present Luther’s theology, H. nonetheless presents his interpretation of »his« difficult points as if it were Luther’s, as indicated already in the title of the book. This becomes even more problematic when he, with a few exceptions, features his constructive commentary to Luther more by way of selective 20th century interpretations of Luther than by way of Luther’s texts. This is particularly evident in H.’s interpretation of Luther’s Christology. While opting for a Chris-tology von oben as »the lodestar of Luther’s teaching of justification«, H. critizises Gerhard Forde and Gerhard Ebeling for having appealed to Luther’s own counsel to do theology von unten, connecting the humanity of Christ with our humanity. H. continues: »It is true that Luther so counsels, but these interpreters are guilty here of a category mistake. The human Christ to whom Luther so appeals (and the Christ this human being is known to be by Luther as he makes this appeal) is none other than God’s Incarnate Son, really present also here and now in his ubiquitious humanity …, the same one as He once was.« (36) Which is Luther, which is not, and what is the category mistake here, H. never really shows.
When H. so frankly presents his Luther, he of course also points to the fact that no theologian or any other researcher works objectively per se, and that all Luther researchers have their Luther in some way. Still, the question must be posed whether it is a liable and viable way to go. Is it tenable if we as researchers confine ourselves to nothing but to adduce our own multiple images of Luther, or any other subject, and create our own preferable Luther by way of a »hermeneutical violence« (384), which does not seem to even recognize the many different contexts and concomitant genres in which Luther wrote? I shall be the first to admit that Luther should sometimes be saved from himself, as H. so nicely does pertaining to Luther’s harsher rhetoric. Nonetheless, in the list of preferred Luthers, Luther research hopefully will prefer the reading that conscientiously reflects a close reading of Luther’s own texts.
In conclusion, H. not only constructs Luther’s theology as a theology von oben. He also presents it as being univocally apocalyptic, though a »Christologically modified apocalyptic«, which in H.’s perception is »what is valuable in Luther« (385). However, H. does not stop at »what is valuable«, he appropriates Luther’s theology to make him »his« better Luther by for example »abandoning that remnant of unmodified apocalyptic« that makes Luther »despair of the world« and sin »against peasant, pope, and Jew« (idem). H. has a point here. There is a clear need of reading Luther’s theology in a sober way that does not apotheosize all his writings to exorbitant heights. In the same vein, H. delivers a refreshing reading of Luther’s De servo arbitrio, offering a theological understanding in contrast to the often reductionist anthropological interpretations of this rich and difficult text. On the other hand, H.’s apocalyptic reading also tends to become Procrustean for Luther’s theology at large, and whether one will find one’s own Luther, a teacher of the Church catholic, in this book, no doubt will depend on one’s theological sympathies.