Martin Luther's doctrine of the "two kingdoms" has influenced much of western political thought. One might even say that many of the political constructs in the West today are either directly descended from Luther, or at the very least, have received significant influence from Luther's ideas. But is it a merely political idea as so often construed? In Martin Luther's Understanding of God's Two Kingdoms William J. Wright argues that such only emphasizing Luther's thought as a political one has perverted it. To the contrary he argues, Luther's concept of the "two kingdoms" was the "basic fundamental premise" of all reality for great Reformer (1). It was based on Luther's humanist study of the Scriptures, and therefore is the guiding rubric for all of Luther's theology and teaching.The "two kingdoms' concept, according to Wright, shows up early in his work in both hs theological and biblical treatise, and is refined overtime but never loses its place as Luther's interpretation of reality, his worldview or Weltanschauung. Thus, Luther believed that the Christian interpretation of reality necessarily led to an acceptance of the "two-kingdom" view. Many scholars have noted such a rubric in Luther's theology before, but have only done so in regards to specific doctrines in Luther's thought such as, reason v. faith, flesh v. spirit, the sacraments, and the nature of communion. Yet, no has placed it in its historical context of late Medieval Renaissance humanism. Located in this context, Luther's development of the doctrine is determined to be a response to the skepticism that arose form the intellectual climate of the Renaissance. As such it addresses those needs and places Luther within his own historical milieu and thus allows his theology to breath more freely and unburdens it from modern preoccupations. What emerges is an over-arching "meta-narrative", or if you will, "meta-theological narrative" of the two-kingdoms, the governing rubric for all of Luther's theology. This book is sure to be a valuable resource for any course on Luther's life and thought. It is a necessary corrective to the eisegetical treatments of Luther that so often preoccupies discussion of Luther and the rabid demand to use him for modern ends. Highly recommended.
The concept of God's two kingdoms was foundational to Luther and subsequent Lutheran theology. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, that concept has been understood primarily as a political concept. But is a political reading of the two kingdoms a perversion of Luther's teaching?
Leading Reformation scholar William Wright contends that those who read Luther politically and see in Luther a compartmentalized approach to Christian life are misreading the Reformer. Wright reassesses the original breadth of Luther's theology of the two kingdoms and the cultural contexts from which it emerged. He argues that Luther's two-kingdom worldview was not a justification for living irresponsibly on planet earth.
William J. Wright (PhD, Ohio State University) is professor of history and head of the history department at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. In addition to his many scholarly articles and presentations, he is the author of Capitalism, the State, and the Lutheran Reformation.
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