Monday, January 31, 2011

The Heidelberg Disputation and the End of Illusions.

I tried to teach the Heidelberg Disputation again today in my Luther class.  I might have mentioned to some of you that tried to do this back in my continuing adult ed. class back in the fall and it didn't work.  I think I made it a little too abstract for them, but this time I worked to make it very concrete this time.  I think I did a good job, but I didn't get a very positive response.  My one Catholic student who tends to be very lively kind of shut down in the middle of the discussion about what Luther's problem is with performative righteousness.  I think I lost him.  It might just be the subject material that creates this bad reaction.  I think I'm presenting it well, but it just seems to leave a bad taste in people's mouths.   

I think at the end of the day, the problem people have with the disputation is that it presents theology in the most stark terms possible.  It makes clear that righteousness as proper performance (whether or not we say said performance is augmented by divine assistance) is an illusion.  If our actions created us as righteous, then we would ourselves been divine and self-creating.  God would be the passive receiver of the good and we would be the omnipotent givers of it.  Ultimately, when we look to the cross and see human nature in ruins and God dead, then performative righteousness is out the window.  Free will and merit are out the window.  Negotiating between the potentialities of grace and nature is an utter bust.


  1. Dr. Kilcrease - You managed to hit the proverbial nail on the head with your presentation of the Theology of the Cross. The "bad taste" lingering in our mouths comes from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. While our hearts yearn to be God, the taste in our mouths reminds us we are all sinners sorely lacking in deeds of righteousness. Luther did not allow any wiggle room in the Heidelberg Disputation and our only response can be Wir Sind Alle Bettler - Hoc Est Verum.

  2. Among your students do you find the antipathy toward the Heidelberg Disputation limmited to those who reject Justification by faith alone?

  3. Not per se- though in part. Certainly I think that's true of the one student. Nevertheless, I think that since Evangelicalism has bought into the entire idea of performative righteousness and made faith into a work (which they are all influenced by), they just don't expect all the implications theologically of the fact of justification by faith. Especially the harsh stuff Luther says about original sin.

  4. We just don't like accepting that we are creatures.

  5. Coming from outside a Lutheran background I didn't really understand 'On being a theologian of the cross' the first time I read it, and it didn't really strike me until I after I had read "Hammer of God".

    In fact, I've found this a lot when reading Lutheran work. I read the Augsburg Confession and the Small Catechism without seeing any of the very insightful phrases I later was pointed to by various blogs and articles I read.