The public lecture
‘Luther’s work is full of promise … [providing] an orientation for us today. But the promise of his work has not yet reached its fulfilment. Either we have not realised it, or we have lost it and need to recover it. In this sense, Luther is still ahead’.
These are the words of respected German Lutheran theologian Oswald Bayer, who delivered the public lecture for the Martin Luther@500 conference, Luther ahead: from promise to fulfilment. Professor Bayer’s four decades of intensive study on the reformer and his theology offer fresh insights that introduce Luther in a new and vibrant way.
Professor Bayer presents a Luther who reveals a deep theology of word and promise that spans the ages, from the 16th century to our time. He invites us to share in the richness of Luther’s legacy and highlights the relevance of Luther’s writings to contemporary life.
Significantly, Luther is presented as a learner among learners: the pastor who is a fellow learner communicating and connecting with his Christian community. Luther is always ready to facilitate a conversation with us, meet us in today’s world, and help us tackle the challenges we face. Luther is ‘a strategist who takes the initiative, makes plans, lives a fully engaged life, and uses to advantage the opportunities that present themselves’.
Threaded throughout Professor Bayer’s paper is the centrality of the Holy Spirit’s work in us. He quotes Luther’s declaration of faith as ‘a lively, risk-taking confidence in God’s grace’, enabling a freedom that ‘establishes a new access to the world’.
In Bayer’s words, ‘Faith is the courage to expect the rescue of all things … [and] in the promise of this courage, the God who frees us reveals himself to us as the crucified and risen Lord, who lives and reigns forever’. This is God’s promise; and belief in this promise creates a new situation between God and the believer.
A number of Oswald Bayer’s books and articles have now been translated into English. For me – and others, no doubt – the Luther Ahead lecture was a memorable introduction to a remarkable scholar and inspirational theologian.
Dr Eleanor Long is a retired academic and CEO. She is a member of St Johns, Southgate (Melbourne).
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