The Forgotten Luther II (Fortress Press, 2019) is no ivory tower compendium of sordid quotes and cherry-picked works but a helpful distillation, a corrective for those who feel that our Reformation forebears are mute today. It takes various writings of Martin Luther—arguably the most prolific author of the modern era—and puts them into digestible, ponderable, actionable pieces for congregations.

The anthology, edited by Ryan P. Cumming, begins with an analysis of how contemporary Christianity has confused the idea of private and public ministries. Luther’s concern for the poor, the uneducated and the underclass, and his conviction that public servants are to be accountable, remain a prescient clarion call for the church today. Contributors Carter Lindberg and Kirsi I. Stjerna nimbly weave through Luther’s writings, proclaiming that his call for advocacy, rebellion and educational equality tells the world that God does care, and that we are to take the risk to proclaim it.

Mary Jane Haemig and Wanda Deifelt then offer readers a tour through how Luther’s communal ethic empowers laity to do God’s work in the world and how Luther’s concern for the neighbor operates in the public arena. The church that heeds these chapters will find itself forced to wrestle current catechetical instruction practices within the congregation. A renewed view of bodies and sexual ethics and a focus on the common good are all embedded within the heritage. We are not in the soul-saving business, the authors note, as that is God’s realm alone. But we are to save, and that primarily is exemplified in the care of the body, individual and communal.

Luther is not infallible, but neither is he made mute by his failings.

In his chapter, Anthony Bateza compels readers to examine the issue of race within our Lutheran history. He is quick to note that Christians, and perhaps Lutherans in particular, are eager to denounce racism while not truly defining what it is. Bateza makes the case that Luther’s theological descendants have much to learn but also much to stand upon when tackling the topic of race today.

None of Forgotten Luther II’s contributors suggests that Luther and his heritage have operated without fault or sin on the world stage. They make a point not only to name the failings of Luther and the historic church but also to call for repentance, growth and unflinching acceptance of these failures. Luther is not infallible, but neither is he made mute by his failings.

Amy Reumann’s chapter on practical application explores the ELCA’s social statements and various advocacy offices. Its discussion questions will no doubt lead congregations to further thought and action.

The volume begs the question: Have we forgotten this aspect of Luther’s heritage or just ignored it? We have within these pages both a mirror and a road map designed to expose ways we have fallen short, and to explore ways we can yet speak into these partisan times a word of justice and peace, with Luther’s wisdom as our guide.

Tim Brown
Tim Brown is a pastor, writer, and ELCA director for congregational stewardship.

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