By Scott Keith –
Thus, we are at the end of our brief investigation of Philip Melanchthon; his theology, teaching, writings (especially the Loci Communes), work as a theological ambassador, reformer, and good friend of Martin Luther. Too, this short series has attempted to show that many, if not all, of the attempts that have been made to reveal or identify tensions or error in Melanchthon’s theology, have arisen primarily from anachronistic presuppositions of inconsistencies with Luther, or problems that have their grounding in modern systematic and dogmatic relevancies.
Hopefully, this has been a search, which ends in the recovery of a Reformation figure who was dedicated to the Biblical doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, as brought to the sinner by the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ, and lived out in the lives of Christians everywhere.
Even so, an attempt has here been made to put forward a suitable frame of reference for accurately understanding Melanchthon’s systematic concerns regarding the nature of faith, grace, and the need for good works in the Christian life. These are expressed in many of his writings such as the Loci Communes (in various editions), The Augsburg Confession, and the Apology to the Augsburg Confession.
One of Melanchthon’s theological formulations is that he concluded good works are necessary––that they are made up of acts of love and the preaching of the Gospel to souls in need, and that they do not earn salvation, but rather, flow from it. His quest for definitional clarity was inseparably related to both his exegetical and theological tasks––tasks in which the establishment of logical order as gleaned inductively from the text itself would be revealed through the mechanism of the Loci––is as integral to the effort as is the explanation of the text itself. The result of which is that the definitional clarity of individual words in the book of Romans, by way of the loci method, was often as determinative for Melanchthon’s sense of order as was the whole of the content or overall organization of Romans itself.
We have seen the importance of classical studies and Biblical Humanism on Melanchthon’s thought, and the trouble that he stumbled into by his sometimes over-reliance on his Humanist learning. Together, Melanchthon’s Humanism and his knowledge of the Scriptures brought him to a new understanding of the justification, faith and the necessity of good works.
An Anniversary Celebration
As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, many modern theologians seem to desire a Reformation––or at least a Lutheranism––devoid of Melanchthon and his Humanism. Yet, the Lutheran Reformation did not happen that way. The church of today should learn from Melanchthon how to communicate with the world of its day, not shunning its culture (such as in the case of postmodernism), but rather mastering the ability to communicate to it.
An Unsteady Alliance
The alliance between Humanism and Christianity, which once proved so useful, ought to be renewed today. The postmodern man is just now beginning to feel the pain of hopelessness produced by its nihilistic ideations. The spiritual void, meaninglessness, and bankruptcy of this age are evident everywhere. Once again, the need for the message of righteousness on account of Christ alone needs to be shared; and it is the job, as Melanchthon correctly stated, of the Christian to do it. It is definitional to being a Christian.
Born in 1497, Melanchthon died April 19, 1560. Toward the end of his life, Melanchthon was so under attack and embroiled in controversy that he wished for death so that he could be reunited with his beloved wife who had died some years before. When he was dying, he turned to his son-in-law, a doctor, and prayed “Lord save me from the ravings of the theologians.”
In glory, those worries are now far behind Melanchthon. Praise be to God.
In retracing Melanchthon’s steps––humanist, philologist and theologian––we have perhaps revealed the path by which people of our time might find hope and meaning in the life to come, and this life as well.