Luther and Liberation: A Latin American Perspective. – book reviews
Two of the great theological streams of this century have been the ecumenical Luther renaissance and the variety of liberation theologies, including those in Latin America. This volume represents a felicitous confluence of these streams. Walter Altmann’s interpretive analysis and construction is rooted in a critical hermeneutics of retrieval. He draws on the liberation elements of Luther’s work without anachronism or naivete. His volume emanates from the church’s struggles in Brazil and a passionate attraction to Luther and Luther’s prophetic thought.
The book’s themes include Luther’s role in his time and culture, the theology of the cross and its relationship to Christology, justification and conversion in the context of liberation, the interpretation and contextualization of scripture, the church in Luther’s works and in Latin America, church-state questions raised in the “two kingdoms” discussions, the church’s political calling, war, education, the economy and an overview of Luther’s legacy.
For Altmann “liberation” provides the same key to understanding Luther’s doctrine of grace as has “acceptance” for so many North Atlantic Christians under the influence of Paul Tillich. He lays out the various approaches to Luther in modern scholarship and critically focuses on their usefulness and limitations. While Luther’s approach to society is not without its difficulties and ambiguities, it also challenges the passivity of Latin American Lutherans and the narrowness of all churches.
Each chapter is organized around Latin American issues, selections from Luther’s works, and analyses, reflections and questions. This method, a hallmark of Latin American theologizing, places text, the context and reader into conversation. The approach is dynamic and not reductive or polemical. Altmann’s critique of Luther’s position on the economy, for example, is much less positive than that of Marx. His treatment of Luther’s developing thought on war, rebellion and the role of government is particularly revealing of a methodology that takes historical debates seriously but opens up new ways of dealing with present realities and contradictions.
As the classical polemics of the Reformation move toward resolution and the unity that gave way in Luther’s day shows signs of re-emerging, new perspectives on the core insights of the evangelical impulse remain resources for the renewal of all churches. Indeed, Altmann’s own analysis of the developments of both Protestantism and Catholicism in Latin America is not only critical, but could provide resources for those churches’ renewal. The passion of the Reformation is hardly spent if it continues to energize the ecumenical liberation struggle through research like this.
COPYRIGHT 1993 The Christian Century Foundation
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group