The “Heidelberg Theses” Of 1518: A Milestone In Luther’s Theological Maturation -- By: Robert Kolb

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 21:4 (Winter 2017)
Article: The “Heidelberg Theses” Of 1518: A Milestone In Luther’s Theological Maturation
Author: Robert Kolb


The “Heidelberg Theses” Of 1518: A Milestone In Luther’s Theological Maturation

Robert Kolb

Robert Kolb is Professor of Systematic Theology emeritus at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. Among his many published works are the translation of The Book of Concord (co-edited with Timothy J. Wengert), and The Oxford Handbook to Martin Luther’s Theology (co-edited with Irene Dingel and L’ubomir Batka, Oxford University Press, 2014). Dr. Kolb has also written Martin Luther and the Enduring Word of God: The Wittenberg School and its Scripture-Centered Proclamation (Baker Academic, 2016,) Luther and the Stories of God: Biblical Narratives as a Foundation for Christian Living (Baker Academic, 2012), and Martin Luther: Confessor of the Faith (Oxford University Press, 2009).

Luther’s Path To Reform

Martin Luther’s perception of what it means to be Christian and how the discipline of theology should be practiced underwent an “evangelical” maturation process that had begun already as he received his doctorate “in Biblia” in 1512 and began his lectures on the Psalms in 1513. The beginnings of this process may be dated from as early as 1509. Because at that point he was a young theologian near the beginning of his study of theology, this means that his mature theology does not constitute a break with his own considered views but rather is the culmination of the learning process that all theologians experience from the time at which they begin to digest, amalgamate, and formulate their teachers’ insights into their own system of thinking. Luther’s process of theological maturation was, as Alister McGrath has pointed out, “a

continuous process, rather than a series of isolated and fragmented episodes.” McGrath further notes “that one aspect of this development—namely, his discovery of the ‘righteousness of God’—is of fundamental importance within this overall process.”1

The process came to completion a decade later, in the years between 1519 and 1522.2 His presentation of his theological orientation and method to his Augustinian brothers at their provincial meeting in Heidelberg in April 1518 marked an important milestone in the journey from the worldview of his childhood and youth, as it had been developed and deepened in different ways by his university education in the scholastic way of thinking and by his formation in the monastic-mystical piety that included the meditative devotional piety of Johann Tauler and his followers, for example, the anonymous of the Deutsche Theologie, ...

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