Sunday, July 1, 2012

Luther’s Understanding of Imputatio

Luther’s Understanding of Imputatio in the Context of his Doctrine of Justification and Its Consequences for the Preaching of the Gospel. By Sibylle Rolf; Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Wissenschaftlich Theological Seminary. From International Journal of Systematic Theology Volume 12 Number 4 October 2010. Available at EBSCO Luther Rice Theological Seminary Library:

     Dr Rolf’s article focuses on the idea of imputation as written about and taught by Martin Luther. The article is summarized by viewing how the concept of imputation, in Luther’s teaching, affect the sermon delivery and reception in the hearts of the hearers. The vast majority (two-thirds) of the article focuses on the doctrine and theology that Luther espoused concerning the idea of imputation and justification, with the minority (last one-third) of the article considering the aspect of this theology on the preaching event.

     The article is very academic in its treatment of Luther’s theology, and considering that the take-away is that the article’s author does not share Luther’s reformed view of theology, she gives a fair and well written treatment of his concepts. The article was presented in the International Journal of Systematic Theology in 2010 and was gathered from the Luther Rice Theological Seminary’s EBSCO database.

     While the majority of the article was dedicated to the theology of Luther, the main purpose was the dissemination of that theological concept through the preaching event. If the teachings of the imputation are correct, as this student fully agrees, then how does that concept pass from God to the sinner? According to the author’s understanding of Luther; he would espouse that the hearer “is affected in her heart by listening, is imputed as righteous because whilst listening and being affected by the message, her affections are drawn to God.” (449) In other words, the listening of the Gospel, manifests that individuals desire, as an elect individual, to accept the message of that self same Gospel. The basis of Romans 10:14: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?”

     Nevertheless; how does this have an effect of transformation? The author writes that it was Luther’s belief in verbum effixac that holds the key. The effectiveness of the preaching lies in the fact that God the Holy Spirit literally presents Himself in the preaching event. When the Gospel preacher preaches the Gospel it becomes a transformative event. In other words, the preaching is not just biographical in nature, which would lead simply to a historical faith, a concept Luther vehemently rejected, by the way. We study biographies to show us that God can transform anyone, an Egyptian murderer, an adulterous king, and a radically zealous Pharisee, just as easily as he can transform us.   

     Luther believed that there were/are two necessities in the preaching event that opens up this transformative state. Number one, the Holy Spirit must open the “ears” of the hearer. The Spirit must ready the heart to hear and receive the Good News. Number two the hearer must receive the words spoken when the Holy Spirit has readied the heart. Thus a balance is struck between the Sovereignty of God’s electing purposes and the human responsibility so necessary in Luther’s soteriology.

     In this Luther understood the importance of preaching and not simply homilitizing a few points. His sermons were rich with detail and illustrations that attempted to connect with the hearer’s minds and hearts in a way to draw them into the message—and all of this because he understood the importance of the imputation in justification and sanctification.   

     The article itself was well written and thought provoking. I will admit that I was skeptical of its value for about the first half of the article. The writing style was very academic and the use of Latin and reference of the sinner in the female gender threw me. (That is not a complementarian complaint, just a note of writing and reading style and preferences.) In fact for the first two pages I thought Dr. Rolf was referring to God in the female gender. Nonetheless, the article ended on a high note and I learned much about Luther’s view of preaching.

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