Kolb, Robert & Charles P. Arand. The Genius of Luther’s Theology: A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.
Chapter 3 “The Shape of Human Performance” pp. 53-76.
Human performance and righteousness is a challenge to Christians. Kolb and Arand recall that Luther was clear. “Our daily activities, religious or nonreligious, do nothing to establish, reestablish, promote, preserve, or perfect our relationship with God (Kolb & Arand 2008, 53). Our hope is in Christ’s righteousness, which we receive. Yet, at the same time, it is necessary to engage in righteousness in this world (Kolb & Arand 2008, 54). In a sense, the way we interact with others creates a sort of worldly justification. Kolb and Arand view this as a sign that Luther had a very rich view of the created order. In the world sovereignly cared for by God we are at the same time recipients of God’s care and people with privileges and responsibilities to do his work in our world (Kolb & Arand 2008, 55). There will always be needs in the world. “Christians know that their struggle on behalf of justice and the welfare of all human beings and all of creation will never end, for sin and evil continue to intrude in the midst of their best efforts” (Kolb & Arand 2008, 57). These efforts are carried out in the context of our various walks of life.
Medieval society identified three basic walks of life, or “estates.” There were princes or dukes, monks or priests, and peasants or artisans (Kolb & Arand 2008, 58). Luther reclassified the estates in terms of the family, classifying parents in the household, parents as employers, parents as rulers, and a fourth, spiritual parents (Kolb & Arand 2008, 58-59). He promoted family life as a good and natural foundation of society (Kolb & Arand 2008, 59). As a result, the family is primary in his worldview, with civic economy, government, and church all contributing to care for the central need of families to live as Christians (Kolb & Arand 2008, 60). The various states of life are all valuable. While social mobility may be limited, everyone can find a place in God’s calling at different stages of life (Kolb & Arand 2008, 64).
We perceive these callings through our reason as we see God’s natural law governing our world. Luther saw this natural law and reason as the way we find common ground with non-Christians (Kolb & Arand 2008, 65). The Ten Commandments, though they do not directly apply to Christians, do serve to show how the world works and lives out its faith (Kolb & Arand 2008, 67). Kolb and Arand observe that various occupations and fields of study are also helpful to understanding our world (Kolb & Arand 2008, 70. The problem in all of this relates to the immense complexity of the world and our human nature. Our course of action is often ambiguous (Kolb & Arand 2008, 71). Seeking wisdom in natural law is important, though difficult and time consuming. This development of wisdom can nurture virtue, which is implemented differently in different contexts, depending on the need of our neighbors (Kolb & Arand 2008, 75).