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How should we know? Constructing an Epistemology for an Age of Biological Intervention

 
 

[1] The title of this fourth plenary session is quite a mouthful.[1]

[2] It often happens that after many days and hours of hard work on a project, I realize I am just beginning to figure out what I need to figure out. The puzzle pieces that I place on the table in what follows belong to this puzzle; they are important, and they may even be central to it. After a long night of rearranging them, it's clear I have not yet figured out where they all belong in the larger picture. Perhaps you can use some of these pieces in the parts you're working on; perhaps you can hand them on to others you know who are working on it, too. You may also have pieces that I need to connect several of mine, or to hold them in place as the larger puzzle takes shape. I hope so.

 "Preliminary Findings"
[3] In any case, the following sentences articulate some of the things I think I came to realize during the process of composing the paper I will presently share with you. I place them first-and if there is time, will repeat them at the end-so that you may "hear" them as we follow the breadcrumb trail of my stories, fragments, and puzzle pieces. As bookends, they will help make sense of the body of my presentation-as I hope the body will point to these thoughts.

 [4] What I have learned so far are some of the following things:

·   

I think we need as Lutherans to be much, much clearer than we are about what does guide our knowing and our thinking¼and what should guide our knowing and our thinking. Here we have a particular responsibility to call things what they actually are.[2]

 

·  

I do not think one has to be a Lutheran or even a Christian to come to know much that we as Lutheran Christians would consider fundamental to our way of knowing; but I do think that we as Lutheran Christians must explain to the world in terms that make sense to the world how it is that we know things the way we do. It is no longer enough-if it ever was-for us to argue, or agree, only with other Lutherans.

 

·  

I think we Lutherans may have something distinctive to bring to the conversation, something that definitely has more to do with how we think about these things than with what we think about them. We can and should care about how we think about them because how we think about them will determine to a large degree what-and whom-we think about.

 

·   

Nothing stands in the way of our making, as Lutheran Christians, substantive and constructive contributions to the science and/or technology needed to meet the many challenges the creation and we creatures face. But-counter-culturally, and perhaps counter-intuitively-we are accountable first to keep faith with our neighbor, the one who has been beaten and left in the ditch.[3]

 

·   

I think we come to know both what we ought to know and how we ought to think about these things by "living unreservedly" (Bonhoeffer's words) in those places and communities in which "knowledge of death and resurrection" (Bonhoeffer again) is constant.[4]

 

·  

I think we do have some choice about where and how we live, and about what we come to know as we live in those places. As long as we think our job as Lutheran Christians is principally "to get things right" (theologically or otherwise), we will not be able to do our real job (see above), which is to stand with the neighbor.

 

 The Complications of "Knowing"
[5] My reluctance to hold forth on what we as a Church should be thinking about as we reflect together about questions of bioethics stems in part from my lack of expertise in the field. I am not an authority on the subject of this year's convocation. I do teach ethics and medicine to undergraduates. I did serve for almost five years as Project Editor for the second edition of the five-volume Encyclopedia of Bioethics (1995), published by Macmillan. I am a Center Associate at the Minnesota Center for Health Care Ethics in Minneapolis, and co-edited two of their award-winning books.[5] But honesty, rather than modesty, compels me to acknowledge what I do not know.

[6] Somewhat reluctantly, I am beginning to accept the realization that the older I get, the less I seem to know-and not just about bioethics. It's not just that I am forgetting data I once had at the fingertips of my mind, as it were. And it's not just that there is so much more information than there used to be. Adding insult to injury, we now have a staggering capacity to save information. Techno-memories facilitate the accumulation and dissemination of more information than any human person could possibly put to use under any circumstances.

 [7] Despite these "advances," however-and one must surely use that word advisedly now-the most fundamental, and some would say the most important, human knowing must be acquired anew-taught, nurtured, practiced anew-by each successive generation, each person. Who has not had to learn how to love, or even just live with, another person? What parent has not had to learn, step by step, how to raise a child? Who knows ahead of time how to "make" peace-with another person, tribe, or nation? Who knows how to die-or to accompany a loved one toward death?[6] 

[8] Knowing, then, surely refers to much more than salting away information for possible future reference and use.[7] From lived experience we come to know much that matters more and stays with us longer than data. People know each other. Children know their parents' love-or its absence. Mothers know the sound of distress in their children's voices. Good cooks know what to add to draw out the special flavor of a dish. What we ourselves know of these things, we know because we have been there: we have been friends; or children; or parents; or cooks.

[9] All human beings practice and rely on these kinds of knowing as well as others. We must resist resolutely the impulse, widely exploited in this fiber-optic age, to confuse information with what we (or others, formally less well-educated, for example) know.

[10] Knowing, and the frameworks we construct to describe how we come to know, what knowing is for, who can know, how to recognize truthful and deceitful knowing, are part of our daily living. There is much more reciprocity, and overlap, in the practices of knowing and the practices of everyday living, than we are usually aware of. Just as well; such awareness would be burdensome. At the same time, we would do well to recognize from time to time the impossibility of clean and clear distinctions between the living out of what we know and the knowing out of which we live. I would observe, moreover, that kinds of knowing that we sharply differentiate-scientific and philosophical, for example-are in our everyday reasoning consistently and seamlessly woven together.[8] I am not sure a "two-kingdoms epistemology" would make much sense.

 

Teaching Knowing
[11] To a significant degree, the greater value and urgency I assign to the question, "How should we be thinking?" emerges from a dozen years of teaching undergraduates. Those of you who, like me, spend a lot of time teaching introductory religion courses at one of our ELCA colleges, may sympathize with the dismay I experience about how very, very little most of our students know about Christianity. I hope the seminary professors among us have had a different experience!

[12] What is it that our students know-and do not know-about the faith tradition most of them (not all, but most!) identify themselves with? In the first instance, I am construing Christianity, and what people know or do not know of it and about it, in terms of what we would probably call "interpreted information": doctrine, sacred texts, liturgies, institutional history, influence on the world-for better and for worse, relations with other religious traditions, historical and present place in the political and economic life of our nation. If I told them that, even on this level of knowing, it makes more sense to speak of "Christianities" than of "Christianity" in the singular, they would be mystified. Of all of this, sad to say, my students know little.

[13] More poignantly, they seem to know very little about what Christian practice-would "lifestyle" be a more apt term?-might look like. How would Christians live (or know, to strike our theme) that would distinguish them from others? What my students do know or-to use the word they use-"feel" about living as Christians here and now, settles easily into a nest fashioned from twigs, threads, and bits of paper gathered from a mostly white, mostly middle-strata, mostly health-insured, mostly heterosexual, mostly United-States-of-American landscape. And why shouldn't this be the Christian "lifestyle" they know and know about? "Practicing" Christianity has not required most of us to stretch beyond the familiar for a long time. Those of us who "practice" theological vocations have generally ignored or avoided challenges arising from venues beyond the familiar, staunchly Euro-American ones.[9]

[14] Gustavus Adolphus College offers about a half-dozen introductory-level courses from which students may choose to satisfy their one-religion-course graduation requirement. The guiding descriptor for designing each of these courses is that it be "substantially in the Christian tradition." During the dozen years I have been teaching my version of this course, only a handful of students have expressed any anticipatory anxiousness about taking it. One of them was Farah, a young Somali, whom I advised at this summer's early registration for incoming first-year students. As we put together her first-semester program, I suggested that my intro course might be an interesting component. "I would like to learn more about Christianity," she said softly. "I know a lot about Islam, but next to nothing about Christianity. I hope I won't feel too uncomfortable."

[15] What might this dark brown Muslim in her hajib know about Christianity, or about Christians, that makes her wonder whether she will feel uncomfortable in my classroom? Is it mainly that she does not know information that she assumes others will know, making her feel ignorant? Or does what she knows about her own faith tradition, Islam, suggest to her what she does not know about Christianity?

[16] Once in a great while someone decidedly less visibly different than Farah has expressed concern about their lack of knowledge of the Bible, or of any religious tradition. I assure them that they should be fine if they work hard and ask questions. I wonder whether they know what they do not know about Christianity, and what sort of knowing-informational and other-they will come away with.

[17] On the first day of class, I ask my students to fill out a 3 x 5 index card with some very basic information that will help me distribute them into small groups. One of the questions I ask is, "In a few words, how would you describe your experience of religion so far?" Based on their responses over the years, I have generally found that what those raised "with religion" know, they have learned from parents, pastors, or parochial school teachers, or all three, and-understandably-they expect their learning to continue as some form of indoctrination. Even taking into account their age-appropriate level of cognitive and moral development, what they know about "their" Christianity is generally unproblematic, unambiguous, and unexamined.

[18] As I introduce my students to the shape of the course, I observe that we will be taking an approach quite different from what most are used to. We will begin by reading about and "hefting" what I consider indispensable tools, especially in searching out and articulating one's own beliefs and values, including religious ones. Among the tools: "critical thinking"; "ethical intelligence"; and the "hermeneutical circle." The essays we read suggest that applying these tools will very likely cause discomfort-because they disturb familiar ways of thinking, and equip us to challenge stereotypes, and ask lots of questions that have better and worse, rather than right and wrong, answers.[10]

[19] "Using these tools is something you will have to choose to do," I tell my students. "On the whole, it's easier not to. Consider this course a safe place to try them out. If we upset some applecarts, we can help each other pick up the apples." With conviction born of experience, I tell them that these tools will be more useful for longer than they can imagine. My dearest desire is that my students will make that choice, take that risk. If they do, they will encounter another kind of knowing: partial, situated, filled with ambiguities, sometimes paradoxical. They may even glimpse irresistible, translucent mystery. Whether they are Lutheran Christians, or Christians at all; whether they "belong" to another faith tradition, or consider themselves un-religious or irreligious: these tools and exercises will help prepare them to know more of what matters as their lives unfold, and to know it somehow better.

 

What Luther (and I) Came to Know
[20] My passion for critical inquiry is as catholic as it can be, and as Lutheran. My father, Richard W. Solberg, egged me on from a very early age, chiefly by paying attention to my questions and responding to them with the seriousness they, and I, deserved. Then, when I was finally old enough to realize that not everyone in the world was Lutheran, Dad taught me just how profoundly Lutheran that passion for critical inquiry is-and why.[11]

[21] Of course it took me many years to discover for myself that obstreperous Augustinian academic, brilliant and driven, whose breath-taking theological nerve and originality, and prodigious capacity for work, must have depended in part on his genetic inheritance. We Lutherans make much of his struggle to find a righteous God who would also be merciful to Martin Luther, the terrified, self-accusing sinner. His proposal of "justification by faith" has become the heart of our theological project, pumping nutrients into everything else we think about theologically. We have paid much less attention to what it might mean that this liberating formulation is deeply rooted in Luther's life-experience as a theologian of the cross.[12]

[22] While both nature and nurture[13] may have contributed to young Luther's belief that he neither deserved nor could earn God's mercy, no matter what he did, the Church within which he sought monkish refuge probably played a larger role. Whatever its theologians taught and wrote about justification-and they did-the medieval Church communicated clearly to princes and serfs alike that God's mercy and forgiveness could be negotiated for, and the Church was the only agent licensed to negotiate. Contrite sinners could appropriate God's grace-but only through the Church.

[23] The Church's "technology" of grace churned out a multitude of "products," whose purchase or practice could demonstrate believers' contrition and, the Church assured the faithful, improve God's disposition toward them. For conscience-stricken sinners like Luther, who always seemed to fall short, the restless failure to gain assurance of God's grace only reinforced the power of the church's theological framework and practices, and deepened believers' fears.[14]

 [24] William Hordern describes Luther's frustration: "[E]ven when he had done the most rigorous of good works, he despaired¼. He was not acting because he loved God with all of his heart and mind and strength, he was acting because he wanted to save Martin Luther's eternal soul. He was serving God because it was good for himself...."[15]

 [25] Is there anything here that a 21st century person, even a Lutheran person, could identify with? I know people, among them some Lutherans, who are Christians to save their "eternal souls." And others who, whatever their concern about eternity, display a robust self-interest in their service to the church¼

 [26] Are 21st century Lutherans still worried about finding a merciful God? One would think that, with all we know now that we did not know 500 years ago-including Luther's insights about justification-we would have gotten beyond that. But I suspect that whatever it was that drove 16th century believers like Luther to existential distraction still haunts us. And insofar as that "something" drives our lives, directly or indirectly (as we anticipate it or defend ourselves against it), we remain pre-occupied with (turned in on) ourselves. Real-life neighbor-love-which according to Luther's insight is what God's liberating work frees us for-is surely a good idea, but nothing a normal person would want to throw their life away on.

 [27] Remarkably, perhaps, Luther's insights never translated for him into a safe theological berth, peace of mind, and a quiet, untroubled life. Even a short review of his biography makes that clear. [16] Whether we Lutherans have traversed any of the same ground Luther traversed, theologically or experientially, our knowing remains imperfect, "through a glass darkly." Whether we have learned in a hundred academic and mundane ways what "justification by faith" is, we never know it conclusively or completely. We never reach the point (nor did Luther) at which we are so sure of God's gracious love and mercy toward us, that we no longer need the gift of faith that alone permits us-to use Dietrich Bonhoeffer's words-"to throw ourselves completely into the arms of God."[17]

 

Knowing and "living unreservedly"
[28] As a matter of fact, Bonhoeffer-in the same July 21, 1944, letter from which this description of faith comes-tells his friend Eberhard Bethge that, during his 15 months in Tegel prison, he has "come to know and understand more and more" what he calls "the profound this-worldliness of Christianity." And he points to-of all people-Luther as someone who lived a "this-worldly life": not "the shallow and banal this-worldliness of the enlightened, the busy, the comfortable, or the lascivious, but the profound this-worldliness, characterized by discipline and the constant knowledge of death and resurrection.¼living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities."[18] 

 [29] Locked by the Nazis in his six-by-nine-foot cell, Bonhoeffer seems to have had no trouble at all, four centuries later, imagining Luther as an exemplar of "the profound this-worldliness of Christianity," which seems really to be a way of living that carries with it "the constant knowledge of death and resurrection." Surely Bonhoeffer's characterization references Jesus' life story, perhaps St. Paul's, too, and those of others Bonhoeffer knew or knew of, whose way of living constantly taught them about death and resurrection.

[30] How does one come to constant knowledge of death and resurrection? What sort of life leads one into that constant knowing? Or does that constant knowing lead one into a particular way of living-in Bonhoeffer's wonderful phrase, "living unreservedly"? Or do this kind of knowing and this kind of living imply and entail each other?

[31] Last evening we commemorated two Christians martyred during World War II. Our homilist[19] suggested that the lives and deaths of Polish priest Maximilian Kolbe and Danish pastor and playwright Kai Munk might act for us as mirrors that require us to ask ourselves hard questions, especially these: What matters most in our everyday lives? And, what limits have we set on our concern for our neighbor? I think our homilist was right in saying that we ought not to seek to imitate their martyrdom, and right again in pointing out how different these martyrs' circumstances were from those in which we find ourselves. But there is no question in my mind about the continuing and constant presence all around us, of death and resurrection. The examples from daily life suggested in the homily only scratch the surface. We must be willing-more willing than we are-to think and to come to know and live in this way. Given the way the world is, and that it is not likely to change this side of Jesus' coming again, opportunities abound for us to "be there" for and act in favor of the neighbor.

[32] I have only scratched the surface of all there is to learn from and about the life and work of both Martin Luther and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and I expect I will be drawn to and fascinated by them for the rest of my life. What I am beginning to see now, though-see and appreciate with all my heart-is the way of living into which their faith carried them, the way of living their faith required of them, the way of living for which their faith freed them. And this is surely what each wrestled with theologically, too. Who cares, after all, what kind of God one has if one never lives in the real world in such a way that one might actually have to risk throwing oneself "completely into the arms of God"?

 

The "constant knowledge of death and resurrection"
[33] During the last nine months I have thought a great deal about these things-though of course it has taken hours of agonizing over a hot computer keyboard to find the words to shape them into sentences. My father died last November-suddenly and unexpectedly, from a massive stroke. He had been the primary caregiver for my mother June, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease several years ago. My parents-a phenomenal team from the time they met at St. Olaf in 1937!-lived out the "profound this-worldliness" Bonhoeffer describes, "characterized by discipline and the constant knowledge of death and resurrection." A glimpse at even a few years of their life together reveals how well his description applies to them.

[34] Four years after the end of World War II, my father, who was teaching U.S. history at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD, and beginning a doctoral program at the University of Chicago-was asked by the U.S. State Department to inaugurate the position of Religious Affairs Advisor, newly established within the Allies' provisional military government in Berlin. After hours of conversation and prayer, Mom and Dad asked the College to grant them a leave of absence. Then they gathered up their three small children (I was a toddler), and traveled to Germany to serve the churches there as they struggled to find their footing among the ruins, physical and spiritual, and help their people face the future. My family spent a year in Germany, and then returned to Augustana in 1950.

[35] A few days ago, in a book in German about the rebuilding of the German churches after the war, I found that the author had quoted a letter my mother had written "home," to friends in the States. The letter, dated November 11, 1949, reads in part: "¼[A]fter the regular worship service we stayed on, in order to take part in Holy Communion. Nothing else I have ever experienced has made it so clear what it means to belong to the Communion of Saints, and what it means to share the Body and the Blood of Christ with those who, just a few years ago, were 'the enemy.'"[20]

[36] In 1953, the young Lutheran World Federation (founded in 1947) asked my father to serve as the first Senior Representative in West Germany of their newly established Department of World Service. After prayer and reflection, my parents requested another, somewhat longer leave of absence from the College. Four young children in tow, they packed their household belongings and traveled back to Germany, now divided-irrevocably, it seemed-into the Federal Republic of Germany (or West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (or East Germany). For three years, during which we moved twice, this remarkable husband-and-wife team established or deepened relationships of trust and support with countless ordinary and extraordinary Germans-pastors; social workers; artists; young people-many of them refugees fleeing from what we then called the "East Zone." The Cold War was particularly frigid during those years; but those who were able to travel, with difficulty, to our home in Berlin, for example, always found refuge and relief-shared music; delicious, hot food; interesting, engaged conversation about their concerns; prayers for all that was needed; and always, an invitation to return.

[37] In 1956 we returned once more to Augustana, where my father resumed his teaching responsibilities.[21] That was, however, by no means the end of my parents' "unreserved living." Their willingness to respond when they believed God was calling them to a new project or a new pathway of service lasted their whole lifetime together, nearly 70 years.[22] In the light of their lives and the understanding they articulated of what they were doing, I am beginning to connect the dots, beginning to "get it," beginning to understand Bonhoeffer's observations, in his July 21 letter, about Christianity, Luther, and faith. These are words, not about heroic figures, but about "ordinary" people who, Bonhoeffer contends, come to know what one needs to know to "become human and a Christian."

[38] I have modified a few lines from that same Bonhoeffer letter describe my parents' way of living: "[L]iving unreservedly¼[they threw themselves] completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not [their] own sufferings, but those of God in the world-watching with Christ in Gethsemane." Bonhoeffer continues, "That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes human and a Christian¼.How can success make us arrogant, or failure lead us astray, when we share in God's sufferings through a life of this kind?"[23]

[39] In the Hebrew Bible, when God calls someone, the one called responds by saying, "Hineni," or "Here I am." That was how my parents responded. Not without thought or care, not without concerns for other commitments they had made, but always willing to be led by the Spirit of the One they believed was calling them. And, it seems, more often than not, that Spirit led them into places characterized by "constant knowledge of death and resurrection."

 [40] These are the puzzle pieces I have turned over so far. I hope that we may continue to work on the puzzle together. As promised, I repeat below the list of things I have learned so far:

 

·  

I think we need as Lutherans to be much, much clearer than we are about what does guide our knowing and our thinking¼and what should guide our knowing and our thinking. Here we have a particular responsibility to call things what they actually are.[24]

 

·  

I do not think one has to be a Lutheran or even a Christian to come to know much that we as Lutheran Christians would consider fundamental to our way of knowing; but I do think that we as Lutheran Christians must explain to the world in terms that make sense to the world how it is that we know things the way we do. It is no longer enough-if it ever was-for us to argue, or agree, only with other Lutherans.

 

·  

I think we Lutherans may have something distinctive to bring to the conversation, something that definitely has more to do with how we think about these things than with what we think about them. We can and should care about how we think about them because how we think about them will determine to a large degree what-and whom-we think about.

 

·  

Nothing stands in the way of our making, as Lutheran Christians, substantive and constructive contributions to the science and/or technology needed to meet the many challenges the creation and we creatures face. But-counter-culturally, and perhaps counter-intuitively-we are accountable first to keep faith with our neighbor, the one who has been beaten and left in the ditch.[25]

 

·  

I think we come to know both what we ought to know and how we ought to think about these things by "living unreservedly" (Bonhoeffer's words) in those places and communities in which "knowledge of death and resurrection" (Bonhoeffer again) is constant.[26]

 

·  

I think we do have some choice about where and how we live, and about what we come to know as we live in those places. As long as we think our job as Lutheran Christians is principally "to get things right" (theologically or otherwise), we will not be able to do our real job (see above), which is to stand with the neighbor.



End Notes

[1]

"With What Should the ELCA Grapple in the Study Process That Forms Phase 1 of the Process Leading to a Social Statement?" taken from the photocopied schedule distributed for the 2007 Convocation of Teaching Theologians, "Probing Theological Foundations in an Age of Biological Intervention," held at Lenoir-Rhyne College, Hickory, NC, August 12-14, 2007.

 

[2]

The twenty-first thesis Martin Luther wrote for the Heidelberg Disputation (1518) declares, "A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is." Luther's Works, ed. by Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann (Concordia and Fortress, 1955-), Vol. 31, p. 41.

 

[3]

This accountability entails more than "helping out," once the damage is done; it most especially involves taking into account the needs of the neighbor in the discussion and planning of what will be done. See Gustavo Gutierrez on "conversion to the neighbor" in A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation, trans. and ed. by Sister Caridad Inda and John Eagleson (Orbis, 1988, c1973), pp. 194ff.

 

[4]

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. by Eberhard Bethge (Macmillan, 1972), p. 369.

 

[5]

Karen G. Gervais et al, Ethical Challenges in Managed Care: A Casebook (Georgetown U. Press, 1999), and Kathie Culhane-Pera et al, Healing by Heart: Case Stories About Hmong Families and Western Providers (Vanderbilt U. Press, 2003). The Center's URL is www.stolaf.edu/mnethx. Its offices are in Minneapolis.

 

[6]

I find it interesting how many books-usually shelved in the "self-help" section-are published each year whose authors claim to give us the guidance we need to gain this knowing. I also find it ironic that persons who are paid to do the kind of work that both requires and deepens such knowing are among the least well paid in our economy. Think, for example, of nannies, nurse assistants, LPNs, "attendants" of all kinds.

 

[7]

See Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary Edition, trans. by Myra Bergman Ramos (Continuum, 2003), for a description of what Freire calls the "banking method" in teaching and learning, which relies mainly on "depositing" information for later "withdrawal."

 

[8]

Coming to know, and attempting to describe what one knows, entail (and may be enabled by) an implicit conviction that somehow "it all" fits together, makes sense, and that we can know at least some of it reliably. Humans share this conviction, something like a common "faith." Our complaints that this or that phenomenon "doesn't make sense" express our underlying conviction that, on the whole, things do make sense. People with serious mental illnesses suffer from them as intensely as they do at least in part because of their utter inability to grasp the sense things make; in turn, those who try to treat or alleviate these illnesses are often frustrated by their perplexing sense-less-ness. Alfred North Whitehead's observation resonates with me: "Faith in reason is the trust that the ultimate natures of things lie together in a harmony which excludes mere arbitrariness. It is the faith that at the base of things we shall not find mere arbitrary mystery." Science in the Modern World (Macmillan, 1925, 1967), p. 27.

                       
[9]

I recall vividly the words of James H. Cone, one of my favorite and most challenging teachers at Union Theological Seminary in New York: "How is it that otherwise intelligent and thoughtful men and women can ignore 80 percent of the world's population and still claim to be doing 'Christian theology'?"

 

[10]

Richard A. Lynch, "Rethinking Critical Thinking: Values and Attitudes;" and Michael Marissen, "Faculty View: Is religious faith incompatible with academic life?" Swarthmore College Bulletin (December 1998), and accessible online at http://www.swarthmore.edu/bulletin/archive/98/dec98/ collection The hermeneutical circle, associated for decades chiefly with Latin American liberation theology, has proved remarkably helpful to my students. I have created a much simplified, even "stripped-down" version, comprising four "R's"-real-life situation, reaction, reflection, and return, and include both a spiral graphic and a narrative version of it in my coursepack.

 

[11]

See Richard W. Solberg, Lutheran Higher Education in North America (Augsburg, 1985), especially, but not only, the first chapter, "Reformation Roots."

 

[12]

Here, see my Compelling Knowledge: A Proposal for A Feminist Epistemology of the Cross (SUNY Press, 1997), especially Chapter 2, "Luther's Theology of the Cross."

 

[13]

See, for example, Erik H. Erikson's Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History (W. W. Norton, 1958), a theologically and spiritually fascinating psychoanalytic study of Luther's development as a man and as a theologian. Erikson by no means reduces Luther's theological insights to resolutions of his internal childhood conflicts about and with his father, as some Luther hagiographers claim.

 

[14]

In the explanations to the theses of the Heidelberg Disputation (1518), Luther laid out the dilemma: "Man either knows whether he does what is in him, or he does not know it. If he knows it, then he knows that he has grace, since they say that grace is certainly given to him who does what is in him. If he does not know it, this doctrine is erroneous and his consolation ceases. For whatever work he has done, he does not know whether he has done what is in him. Consequently he always remains in doubt." Luther's Works, Vol. 31, p. 67.

 

[15]

William Hordern, Experience and Faith: The Significance of Luther for Understanding Today's Experiential Religion (Augsburg, 1983), p. 52.

 

[16]

Much has been written about Luther and his Anfechtungen; less, about what we might call his social activism. By the standards of his own time or ours, Martin Luther was an activist. His capacity and (apparently) his appetite for work were prodigious. He published volumes of biblical commentaries, lectures, and sermons. He also published tracts and treatises on education (public support for education of boys and girls), economics (charging interest), government (how princes should govern), welfare (how communities should provide for the poor), and a host of other subjects and personages. Luther said something about practically every social, political, economic, military, and ecclesiastical controversy of his time. Many of them he started himself. Walter Altmann's Luther and Liberation: A Latin American Perspective, trans. by Mary M. Solberg (Augsburg, 1992; Wipf & Stock, 2001), opens a fascinating window-from the perspective of a Brazilian Lutheran teaching theologian and churchman-on what Luther did both inside and outside the academy and the pulpit, and on its significance.

 

[17]

This phrase is found in a letter Bonhoeffer wrote to his friend Eberhard Bethge from Tegel Prison on July 21, 1944-the day after the long-planned plot to kill Hitler had failed. See Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. by Eberhard Bethge (Macmillan, 1967), p. 370.

 

[18]

Bonhoeffer, p. 369.

 

[19]

Prof. Darrell Jodock of Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN.

 

[20]

Kurt Anschütz, Befreiung, Besetzung, Versöhnung: Die Arbeit ausländischer Christinnen und Christen nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg in Berlin (WDL-Verlag Berlin, 2001), p. 130. In English, the title would be Liberation, Occupation, Reconciliation: The Work of Christian Women and Men from Abroad in Berlin After the Second World War.

 

[21]

Immediately upon his return to the States, the Lutheran World Federation asked my father to write an account of the massive post-war relief and church reconstruction programs carried out by Lutheran World Service, published under the title As Between Brothers: The Story of Lutheran Response to World Need (Augsburg, 1957). Four years later, and after extensive additional research, much of it in the form of personal interviews with East German church colleagues in situations of great personal danger because of their faith and the work it compelled them to do, he published God and Caesar in East Germany: The Conflicts of Church and State in East Germany Since 1945 (Macmillan, 1961).

 

[22]

Three books my father wrote after he retired in 1982 indicate just a few of the concerns and travels that occupied him and my mother, always an essential collaborator, if not listed co-author, in the research for and writing of these books: Lutheran Higher Education in North America (Augsburg, 1985); Miracle in Ethiopia: A Partnership Response to Famine (Friendship Press, 1991); and Open Doors: The Story of Lutherans Resettling Refugees (Concordia, 1992). He and my mother represented the American Lutheran Church in the 1963 civil rights march on Washington, DC, at which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. At the invitation of the Organization of American States, Dad taught a course in U.S. diplomatic history at El Colegio de Mexico, a graduate school for Mexicans destined for their country's foreign service; he and my mother decided the whole family would take advantage of this opportunity to come to know another part of the world, where the power of the wealthy few is set sharply against the grinding misery of the many. Many years later, my parents came, as part of an educational seminar, to visit me in war-torn El Salvador, where I was representing the Lutheran World Federation's Department of World Service-doing very much what my father had been doing in West Germany in the 1950s. After his retirement, too, my father (who was also an ordained minister), served three churches in southern California as an interim pastor, helping members of each congregation repair and nurture relationships sundered by a range of personal and theological problems.

 

[23]

Bonhoeffer, 370.

 

[24]

The twenty-first thesis Martin Luther wrote for the Heidelberg Disputation (1518) declares, "A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is." Luther's Works, ed. by Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann (Concordia and Fortress, 1955-), Vol. 31, p. 41.

 

[25]

This accountability entails more than "helping out," once the damage is done; it most especially involves taking into account the needs of the neighbor in the discussion and planning of what will be done. See Gustavo Gutierrez on "conversion to the neighbor" in A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation, trans. and ed. by Sister Caridad Inda and John Eagleson (Orbis, 1988, c1973), pp. 194ff.

 

[26]

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. by Eberhard Bethge (Macmillan, 1972), p. 369.

 

 

© January 2008
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 8, Issue 1