RSS

Monthly Archives: October 2016

Semper Vendenda!?: Was the Reformation about Creative Marketing with Disruptive Technology?

“Many things conspired to ensure Luther’s unlikely survival through the first years of the Reformation, but one of them was undoubtedly print.” – Andrew Pettegree

“Many things conspired to ensure Luther’s unlikely survival through the first years of the Reformation, but one of them was undoubtedly print.” – Andrew Pettegree

 

+++

Short answer: “Yes”, but it was also much, much more.

Before 1517, this man was largely unpublished and unnoticed. What happened!?

Before 1517, this man was largely unpublished and unnoticed. What happened!?

Not too long from now, Reformation Day (All Saint’s Day) will be upon us once again. And next year, of course, will mark the 500th anniversary of Luther nailing the 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, and subsequently setting the world on fire – either a good thing (the Holy Spirit!) or a bad thing (Heretic!) depending on your churchly perspective.

A relatively new book brings to mind a very modern question though: to what extent was the Reformation a marketing coup? How in the world did a backwater town become the the printing center and hub of big and important ideas in the 16th century Western world?

Martin Luther famously said that God caused the Reformation of the church. Luther “did nothing”, but while he slept and drank Wittenberg beer with friends, “the Word did it all” in his battle vs. the Roman Catholic papacy.

George, the Catholic Duke of Albertine Saxony, “That a single monk, out of such a hole, could undertake a Reformation, is not to be tolerated.”

George, the Catholic Duke of Albertine Saxony, “That a single monk, out of such a hole, could undertake a Reformation, is not to be tolerated.”

God’s providence may have guided the Reformation, but Brand Luther, by historian and media scholar Andrew Pettegree, argues Martin Luther created a new style – a unique brand that changed history, including ways many have yet to more fully explore.

I heard about the book when the author was interviewed on Albert Mohler’s fine program “Thinking in Public”. Mohler said that he initially had feared that the book, with its title, would be a “reductionistic understanding of Luther,” but that he was pleasantly surprised. “[T]his is the single most interesting book on Luther I believe I have ever read,” he told the author. I’m not done with it yet, but have read enough to know that it would be a good buy.

All in all, Pettegree shows us that there was, “at such a time as [that]”, a “perfect storm” for a reformation. With 20-20 hindsight that is scholarly attuned, he helps us to see that all of the following elements played a part in making the Reformation a reality:

But intended by Satan? Or of Providence, through and through?

But intended by Satan? Or of Providence, through and through?

Luther’s fearsome theological conviction

A “good Catholic,” when he nailed (or glued, as Pettegree believes!) his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg, Germany, church in 1517, it was “for the purpose of eliciting truth”. In short, from thesis 11 we can see that all saints are saved by grace, through faith, revealed by God’s Word in Christ, even without letters of pardon” (i.e. “indulgences”)!

The protection of his Prince, Elector Frederick

Frederick was a deeply pious Catholic man who collected the same kinds of relics that Luther attacked. Did he protect Luther, the defamed heretic, in the interest of his own rising political power? After Luther’s life ended, the window of opportunity closed, as “Wittenberg… was reabsorbed back into the Holy Roman Empire.”

Unpopularity of the Roman Church

There was already in Luther’s day a lot of criticism towards the Roman Catholic church, theologically and morally. The great humanist scholar Erasmus had already had a field day attacking Rome. Luther stirred this pot.

Gutenberg, the inventor of movable type (and Time-Life’s and A&E Bio’s “Person of the Millennium”), went bankrupt for a lack of market.

Gutenberg, the inventor of movable type (and Time-Life’s and A&E Bio’s “Person of the Millennium”), went bankrupt for a lack of market.

Channeling disruptive technology

The inventor of the printing press, Johannes Gutenberg, had gone bankrupt. Reading the “market” for his “product” and mastering the technology of his day, Luther is the first one who helped make a distribution infrastructure possible. In short, he singlehandedly made printing books a viable activity for printers everywhere.

Brief, popular writing (not in Latin!)

Luther’s writings in the common tongue, “lucid, accessible, and above all, short”, were all that sold consistently, offering immediate financial returns for the printers. With numerous new readers, he outpublished all other authors 10 to 1 and the most successful of his theological opponents 30 to 1.

High standards of professionalism

As one Amazon reviewer of the book put it, “[Luther’s] eye for good printing, artistic wood cuts, and different font types show a creative Luther who tenderly cared for his movement every step of the way.” Pettegree: “how the text would appear would have something to do with how credible it was understood to be”.

Martin Luther came from a mining household and his parents instilled in him a sense of shrewdness in financial and business matters: “a practical man, well-grounded in the harsh economics of profit and loss…” (Pettegree)

Martin Luther came from a mining household and his parents instilled in him a sense of shrewdness in financial and business matters: “a practical man, well-grounded in the harsh economics of profit and loss…” (Pettegree)

Product differentiation

Lucas Cranach, a court painter in Wittenberg “… clothed Luther’s works in a new and distinctive livery, immediately recognizable on a crowded bookstall. The result was the development of a form of book that was itself a powerful representative of the movement – bold, clear, and recogniseably distinct from what has gone before.”

Political, business, and media savviness

Luther understood his personal shortcomings, astutely read the political scene, and “saw the value of friendships where both parties could benefit” (Amazon rewiew). Media? Impeccable timing for publications, and he thought that “[t]he oxygen of publicity was, quite literally, a matter of life and death.” (p. 89)

A Cast of supporting characters

Politicians, artists (Cranach, Dürer), printers (Rhau-Grunenberg), church leaders and other figures throughout Europe joined the movement at no small risk to themselves.

Though Luther never received remuneration for his work, he enriched the printers, as his books sold 30 times more than long, Latin works like this one from opponent Johann Eck.

Though Luther never received remuneration for his work, he enriched the printers, as his books sold 30 times more than long, Latin works like this one from opponent Johann Eck.

Even though he was also a charismatic personality (“he had a sort of personal magnetism which somehow carried people over their natural borders and boundaries,” Pettegree says), he often talked very convincingly and practically about the importance of being simple and humble in his writings. None of this however precluded having a deep understanding of his times and environment, nor the need to be quite strategic as well: Luther was politically savvy, a master of media manipulation, a creative marketer.

So, going along with that line of thinking, I think the core question for all people in general and Christians in particular is this: was Luther offering a new “product” – or were his efforts in line with that of the catholic church throughout all time, offering a course correction for a train that had gone off the rails? Roland Bainton, in his classic book on Luther, Here I Stand, opted for the latter:

“The center about which all the petals clustered was the affirmation of the forgiveness of sins through the utterly unmerited grace of God made possible by the cross of Christ, which reconciled wrath and mercy, routed the hosts of hell, triumphed over sin and death, and by the resurrection manifested that power which enables man to die to sin and rise to newness of life. This was of course the theology of Paul, heightened, intensified, and clarified. Beyond these cardinal tenets Luther was never to go.” (italics mine)

Semper reformanda!

FIN

P.S. Please consider also looking at the Reformation Day post from the past I am most proud of: The Coming Vindication of Martin Luther.

 

Select images: Portrait of George, Duke of Saxony (1471-1539),by Lucas Cranach the Elder, from Wikipedia ; Portraits of Hans and Margarethe Luther, Martin’s parents, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1527,, from http://www.uncommon-travel-germany.com/martin-luther-biography.html ; Johannes Gutenberg from Wikipedia ;

 

 

Advertisements
 
1 Comment

Posted by on October 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

“Maybe That’s What Christianity is All About?” A Few Critical Questions for “Relevant” Churches

A big crowd, but what really makes a church relevant?

A big crowd, but what really makes a church relevant?

Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. (Col. 4:5)

+++

Google tells me that “relevant” means “closely connected or appropriate to the matter at hand.” For churches then, nothing could be more relevant than the proclamation of the word of God.

What kind of impression is your “relevant” church giving? I have a story that I hope might be of some real interest to you.

Every year about three or four times a year, I get to teach an introductory course on the Christian faith where I work at Concordia University – Saint Paul (in Minnesota). The course is a part of our curriculum for all online students getting their bachelor’s degree (these are typically persons already in a career and looking to get more education).

One of the assignments in the class is for them to attend a worship service of their choice (I encourage them to attend an LC-MS church), and to report on the experience, following a rubric which asks them to reflect on what occurred in the service. Some of the most important questions asked in the rubric are the following:

Who is Jesus Christ understood to be, and what is His role in this community, according to this worship service and community behaviors?  Simply put, is Jesus primarily a friend, a good role model, or the Savior who suffered and dies to redeem people from eternal separation from God?  Further, what is the foundation for this church’s interpretation of Biblical Christianity (how Biblical and how Christian is it?).

Paul is focused: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified…”, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins...”

Paul on relevance: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified…”, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins…”

Many students choose to attend larger congregations, typically called “megachurches” — these are churches usually rooted in American Evangelicalism which feature auditoriums, a variety of programs for target groups, contemporary worship, etc. Some students are quite critical of these churches, but sometimes those attending – often their first time attending a church like this — have an emotional experience and are impressed (typical for those who attend these services, with their stadium-like atmosphere). What this means is that many who experience these churches, especially in the initial stages, think of these churches as being relevant.

There is a megachurch in the Twin Cities here that is quite popular. When it comes to the questions above, I have been under the impression that the preaching there – by megachurch standards at least – is better than most. Therefore, I was a bit taken aback by the impressions that one of my students recently received when attending it.

Before I share what she said, I want to note that this student is Hmong in ethnicity, and her family practices the animist religion the Hmong are known for. Nevertheless, she was one of my better students in the class – her work was top notch and she was constantly sharing excellent insights from her readings of the biblical texts.

Here is what she said about her experience (words used with permission):

Throughout the worship, God was referenced many times; however, the name of Jesus Christ wasn’t very much. Regardless of that, the service and the message were meaningful and full of faith and grace. As mentioned previously, though there wasn’t very much diversity in terms of different races and ethnicities, I felt very comfortable attending Eagle Brook. The volunteers and staff were nice and very friendly. My entire experience yield[ed] nothing put positive results. I don’t think I would ever convert religion or become a Christian; however, because I now have a greater knowledge of the faith, I would not mind attending worship service again at a later time. If God and the bible were taken out of the picture, it would have felt as though I was attending a life coaching event given by a great motivational speaker…..

At this point, I wrote the following comment in her paper: ‘in my mind – this is an extremely important and significant statement you make – read on”

….Then I got to thinking, maybe that’s what Christianity is all about.  Maybe the underlining message is about life events and having the right coaches in place to help guide through tough and difficult times. Some of those coaches could be God and Jesus Christ.

My comment: “Just another coach…maybe as good as the rest…”

Knowing that she would understand my concerns about Jesus being diminished in this way (based on things that would be communicated in the class lectures), Here is what I went on to say to her….

….megachurches like this make me uneasy.

I am glad that you had a positive experience at the service. That said, I am always a bit more critical of churches like this…. One thing about them for sure is that they are designed to give persons a pleasant experience. I don’t know who made this You Tube video, but it does have a ring of truth to it:

 

If the pure message of the Gospel (see I Cor. 15) is not really the focus, you might just have a bunch of people who get happy once a week and who realize that “biblical principles” might help make for a happy life…Maybe the church even has its own health club and other great perks…  Salvation from sin, death and the devil? Determined to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified? Hearing the word of God read and spoken with some fear and trembling? Not so much.

Please don’t get me wrong: I am happy when people do hear the truth of God’s word, and I am very conscious that I am being critical and might come off as overly so. But I think that the larger-than-life big-box churches tend to distract from its true meaning. I will admit that students like this are rare, but I enjoyed reading one student recently say this of his small, traditional, country church: “I personally find that this church allows someone to connect with God in a more personal way because there are no fancy lights, music, and projectors in the way of this connection.” Simplicity and humility. Imagine that….

A former student, who clearly knew her Bible forwards and backwards, had a bit more fiery appraisal of this particular church (again, used with permission):

Overall, I felt extremely comfortable in this church, and I’m fairly certain this is how they wanted me to feel. The casual dress, the coffee shop, and the ambience of the auditorium all contributed to this. The problem is, church isn’t meant to only make people feel comfortable. In fact, there are many times in church I’ve felt uncomfortable – reprimanded and admonished by God’s Word through the sermon. In contemplating who is Jesus Christ understood to be and what is His role in this community, I came to the following conclusion: Jesus is viewed at Eaglebrook as a good role model and someone through whom we can learn some valuable and applicable life lessons. Personally, I don’t believe this church has the Bible, God’s authoritative Word, as the foundation for their interpretation of Biblical Christianity. It seems they have taken what the world considers easy and comfortable and fun, and built their church around this. They are certainly attracting many souls, but are these souls then being taught about Jesus – the Savior who suffered and died to redeem people from eternal separation from God?  Sadly, I fear the answer is no.

If my recent animist student’s reaction is any indication, this analysis is dead right.

If you are a “relevant” church – “mega” or not – I beg you to take heed. Please think carefully about what you are doing. Given the atmosphere you are promoting, how quickly and effectively are you able to get to this?:

"Not surviving", you say?

Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel. (Eph. 6:19)

FIN

 

Image: An picture of the inside of the Main Auditorium at First Baptist Church Jacksonville, FL.jpg by Fbcjax, used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License,

 

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 7, 2016 in Uncategorized

 
 
Sense & Reference

libraries and philosophy

Reliable Source (This is a)

Overcoming "Fake News" and Beyond

The Jagged Word

"What the Hell is going on!"

ROUGH TYPE

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Meditationes Sacrae (et Profanae)

A blog concerning theology, faith, the humanities, and Interesting Things

Pyromaniacs

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Proslogion

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Blog – AlbertMohler.com

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Worldview Everlasting

Christian Television for an Age in Decay

De Profundis Clamavi ad Te, Domine

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Mercy Journeys with Pastor Harrison

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Abide in My Word

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Blogia

The Blog of LOGIA: A Journal of Lutheran Theology

Gottesdienst Online

Just another WordPress.com weblog

GetReligion

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Todd's Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

theologia crucis

Just another WordPress.com weblog

The Boar's Head Tavern

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Glory to God for All Things

Orthodox Christianity, Culture and Religion, Making the Journey of Faith

Eclectic Orthodoxy

"I'm a blogger, dammit, not a theologian!"

Jonathan Last Online

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Steadfast Lutherans

An international fraternity of confessional Lutheran laymen and pastors, supporting proclamation of Christian doctrine in the new media.

www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/

Just another WordPress.com site

Surburg's blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Beggars All: Reformation And Apologetics

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Weedon's Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

First Thoughts

A First Things Blog

Pastoral Meanderings

Just another WordPress.com weblog