The articles in this six-part series are from an oral address presented by Dr. Rob Plummer at the Southeast Regional Evangelical Theological Society meeting, March 2005, and are posted here with his permission. Quotations of Luther's preface are from the following English translation: “Preface to the Wittenberg Edition of Luther's German Writings,” in Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings, edited by Timothy F. Lull (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 63-68. An online version of Luther's preface is located at http://www.rockvalleybiblechurch.org/ResourceLibrary/LutherPreface.htm .
In this short paper, I have offered my introduction to and reflections upon Luther's instructions for studying theology, as recorded in the preface to the Wittenberg edition of his German writings. While not wanting to neglect the valuable secondary studies available to us, the Biblical text itself demands our own prayers, meditations, and trying experiences. The strength of Luther's proposal, I believe, is its rooting in the hermeneutical method advocated in Biblical revelation itself, that is, in Psalm 119.
Luther's own words provide us with a fitting conclusion:
There now, with that you have David's rules. If you study hard in accord with his example, then you will also sing and boast with him in the Psalm, “The law of thy mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” [Ps. 119:72]. Also, “Thy commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep thy precepts,” etc. [Ps. 119:98-100]. And it will be your experience that the books of the fathers will taste stale and putrid to you in comparison. You will not only despise the books written by adversaries, but the longer you write and teach the less you will be pleased with yourself. When you have reached this point, then do not be afraid to hope that you have begun to become a real theologian . . . (p. 67)
May God grant that we be such persons in our day.
Dr. Rob Plummer serves as Assistant Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is author of Paul's Understanding of the Church's Mission: Did the Apostle Paul Expect the Early Christian Communities to Evangelize? (Paternoster Press, 2006).