Great Course: Luther: Gospel, Law, And Reformation: Part 2, by Professor Phillip Cary
As someone who has taken a fair amount of Great Courses  before, and who will likely take a great many more in the future given how many subjects I enjoy learning about and how easy and productive it is to listen to such courses via audiobook, I am always intrigued by how the professors approach their subject matter. This professor shows both a great deal of respect and appreciation for Luther, which I can understand, as well as a certain deal of criticism, which I understand but have mixed feelings for. Luther obviously had some blameworthy qualities when it came to his frequent conflicts with others and his tendency to dismiss the legitimacy of others by labeling them as being influenced by Satan, an obvious conversation stopper. That said, I can recognize myself as a pretty fierce controversialist as well and definitely that is an area I am cautious about for myself. The professor of this course shows himself as an ecumenical person and his statements about the desirability of the unity of the Hellenistic Christian denominations is something I view with a great deal of concern.
This particular course contains the second half of the professor’s lectures on Luther and his connection with the Gospel, law, and the reformation. The lectures begin on Luther’s writing against the spirit of rebellion of oppressed German peasants, as well as controversies over the Lord’s Supper with Swiss Reformed believers and over infant baptism with Anabaptists. The author then looks at the question of grace and justification, a matter of deep importance for Luther and for Protestants in general, in which the professor shows that Luther operated in a medial position between Catholics and other Protestants. The rest of the lectures are taken up by the professor talking about Luther’s relationship with the Bible, Erasmus, Predestination, Protestantism, Politics, his enemies, the Jews, and Modernity. These lectures do a good job at placing Luther in a context that demonstrates his importance as a connection between the world of Augustine and the Middle Ages and our own contemporary modernism and even post-modernism. The professor’s explorations and his honesty about his own perspectives allows the listener to come to their own conclusions and address their own ambivalence and their own struggle with the quest for both truth and certainty, which involve us in many of our own contemporary struggles that show us to be people much like Luther was, for all of the differences between his time and our own.
Overall, this course proves its worth to a wide audience in this particular part. The professor not only does a good job at discussing Luther’s own ferocious behavior towards those he considered enemies of the faith but also shows how Luther is deeply relevant to concerns of our own time as diverse as the ecumenical movement, anti-Semitism, and the relationship between modernity and post-modernism. The author’s thoughtful discussion of Luther’s partial responsibility for the incubus of brutal anti-Jewish sentiment that flowered fully in Hitler’s Nazi Germany is worth the listen of the entire course on its own, aside from the many other worthy aspects of the professor’s discussion. Likewise, whether or not someone has an interest in Luther personally or in Protestant religion, the author’s discussion of Luther’s own search for certainty and the self-critical roots of different threads of post-modernism is also worthwhile. Although I have long been critical of the anti-truth aspects of post-modernism, I strongly identify with the professor’s approach as a right-wing postmodernist with a belief in the importance of investigating truth while also recognizing the traditions I hold to and being somewhat self-critical about them. It is a fitting end to a thoughtful examination of Luther’s influence on our culture and on the divisions within Christendom.
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