Racial bigotry & injustice are not trifling secondary matters, but are objects of the wrath of God.— Russell Moore (@drmoore) October 31, 2019
The gospel is to crucify such satanism and bring about a people modeling love, justice, reconciliation (Eph 2-3).
This isn’t a “distraction,” but right at the core of mission.
Fewer Christians. Empty Churches. How should we respond to America’s rapid secularization? pic.twitter.com/11rCdrkyhT— Russell Moore (@drmoore) October 25, 2019
In my youth, I was a fedora tipping atheist.
I was raised in a vaguely Methodist household. In college, I became nihilistic as my residual Christian upbringing wore off. I read Nietzsche and enjoyed his books which resonated with me because I was already nihilistic and the “mainstream” struck me as insufferable. I read Sam Harris and Ayn Rand and took them seriously. I bought all of Richard Dawkins books.
I hated Christianity and the Religious Right which didn’t resonate with me at the time primarily because this is the sort of people who I associated the gospel with:
If I had continued to associate Christianity with these people, I would have never given it a second thought. As it is practiced today in the West, there isn’t much to recommend Christianity. I became a Christian in spite of these people through my interest in history.
I’ve always loved European history even when I was an atheist. As I studied Late Antiquity, the Middle Ages and especially the Early Modern Era, the whole stretch of our history from Constantine through the Enlightenment during which Europe came to be dominated by Christendom, I encountered a very different and unfamiliar version of Christianity which isn’t the one practiced in the United States. It began to dawn on me that Christianity has evolved across history. As we go further back into European history, we encounter fewer people like David French and Russell Moore and what is so peculiar about them comes into focus.
Martin Luther above all else stood out to me as a towering figure of this unfamiliar form of Christianity. He was the anti-David French and the anti-Russell Moore. I couldn’t help but notice that Luther was highly intelligent, quick witted and sharp tongued. He viciously attacked all of his enemies in the harshest language. He was a revolutionary. He didn’t have this aura of enfeebled, effeminate, decadent niceness about him. It was this which first piqued my curiosity because it seems like contemporary Christians have been drained of these confident, masculine qualities. In contrast, Luther struck me as a man of great integrity and thymos, a strong man who through sheer force of will and virility had overcome great odds to establish his church. I began to wonder what had happened since Luther’s time and why that had seemingly been lost.
As a form of escapism, I have always enjoyed leaving behind the miserable 21st century to spend time in other centuries. It helps me gain greater perspective on our own times. Many years ago, I spent a lot of time immersed in the Western Europe of the 16th century in the time of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. This was long before the earliest stirrings of liberalism in Europe when the European social order was still based on Christianity. I was struck by how much passion and confidence there was in Christianity as opposed to our own times. The Roman Catholic Church partitioned the world between Spain and Portugal. Think of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain or the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Racial theories were being developed in this era as Western Europeans spread out and began to conquer the world.
As a Nietzschean, I became fascinated with Luther in large part because of what Nietzsche had said about art and will power. Luther created a new theology. He translated the Bible into German and put it into the hands of the masses. He exploited the printing press which was a new technology to spread his message. The Reformation was spread through Flugschriften which were these short, cheap, punchy little pamphlets in German that contained religious text and woodcut images (bold graphics which were the Early Modern equivalent of memes) that were usually abusive depictions of Luther’s enemies. These little pamphlets went viral in Germany and his Catholic opponents were heavily outpublished in the equivalent of a social media war. Luther himself was intimately involved in crafting the optics of his works and brought new printers to Wittenberg to heighten and maximize their aesthetic appeal. He was the general of a propaganda war.
Martin Luther was also a talented musician. He wrote over 40 hymns which he considered “an essential conduit of God’s word.” These hymns appealed to the emotions and were of enormous importance in advancing the Reformation. Several scholars have argued “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” – his most famous hymn – is a martial song that Luther wrote to rouse Protestants to fight the Turks. Luther’s greater aesthetic appreciation of religious art and music later became one of the biggest divides between Lutheranism and Reformed Protestantism.
Luther’s flair for the dramatic – burning Pope Leo X’s papal bull as an act of defiance, writing incendiary books like On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, his coarse language and willingness to write in German, standing up to Emperor Charles V and refusing to recant at the Diet of Worms, translating the Bible into German, marrying a runaway nun – all of this captured the German imagination and struck a chord with a discontented public. Far from being anything like a modern liberal, he wrote harshly about all of his various enemies, especially the Jews and the Judaizers within Christianity. Luther’s doctrines had a transformative cultural impact on everything from work to education to family life to music to religion in the form of catechisms. Even if you hate him, you have to admit he largely created the Protestant way of life.
Martin Luther was a populist and a nationalist who appealed to the German princes, but not an anarchist. He was a social conservative which aroused his indignation about indulgences. He fought and won a culture war. Luther’s doctrine that we are justified by faith alone is worth meditating on. If that is true and no one can stand between the Christian and Christ, then it follows that the so-called “mainstream” cannot burden us with guilt over all these false, made up sins – the -isms and the -phobias – that are driving our whole civilization to suicide. Who cares if we are excommunicated from the “mainstream”? Who gave all these “journalists” and talking heads on television the moral authority to condemn us? Why should I care if a Jewish faggot who writes for Vox.com is condemning me on MSNBC? Why should anyone believe Andrew Marantz has moral authority for writing for The New Yorker?
Luther certainly did not think that Jews have any special moral authority and would have been bewildered by the notion that Christendom has prostrated itself at their feet since World War II. In his lifetime, the Jews were driven out of Saxony after his recommendation and he drew his last breath condemning them in a sermon in Eisleben where he died in 1546.
Luther had a magnetism that drew people to him in his time.
He was the relatable, highly intelligent and educated, earthy famous guy you could have a beer with in the Early Modern Era, talk about Jews, talk about women and faith and culture and every aspect of life. These sayings at his dinner table became the basis of his Table Talk:
Covetousness is a Sign of Death; we must not rely on Money and Wealth.
“Whoso hath money, said Luther, and depends thereon, as is usual, it neither proceeds nor prospers well with that person. The richest monarchs have had bad fortune, and lamentably have been destroyed and slain in the wars; on the contrary, poor and unable people, that have had but small store of money, have overcome and had great fortune and victory. As Emperor Maximilian overcame the Venetians, and continued wars ten years with them, who were exceedingly rich and powerful. Therefore we ought not to trust in money and wealth, nor to depend thereon. I hear, said Luther, that the Prince Elector, George, begins to be covetous, which is a sign of his death very shortly. When I saw Dr. Goad begin to count his puddings hanging in the chimney, I told him he would not live long, which fell out accordingly; and when I begin to trouble myself about brewing, malting, and cooking, etc., then shall not I drive it long, but soon die.”