Martin Luther is really to blame for my theological trajectory. I knew of him in Bible College, and studied his works incidentally, but in Seminary I spent a lot of time with him; indeed, I was mentored in his theology (along with Calvin and some Puritans). It is his ‘spirit’ that I think and work from as a ‘budding’ theologian myself; I think this is important to understand insofar that you care to understand it. Luther is a radically shaped theologian of the Word, and this sits well with my soul. My whole orientation as a Christian is shaped by crisis and the reality of Holy Scripture speaking into that crucible. This, I take it, is the core of Luther’s own theological shape and formation. He was a man riddled with uncertainty about his standing before God, and someone who lived in fear of an imminent death outwith right standing with God. This palpable fear of Luther’s can be largely attributed to his training under Nominalist thought and its powers of God theology therein (i.e. potentia absoluta/potential ordinata). In this frame of reference a person could never ultimately be certain about “which God” they were dealing with since God in the heavens could be totally different than the God revealed in the ordained realities of salvation history. Luther understood this, he internalized it, and it was thus the source of great angst as he attempted to walk in a world under the guise of a God who potentially could turn out to be a monster rather than a marriage partner.
It is within this context that Luther had his seminal ‘rebirth.’ As an Augustinian monk he was in the monastery under the watchful eye of Johann von Staupitz. Staupitz led Luther away from both the scholastic and nominalist understandings of God—both heavily imbued with metaphysical baggage, from one direction or another—and pushed him into the New Testament text itself where Luther was introduced, finally!, to a view of God in Christ that brought rest to his famished soul. In the biblical text Luther for the first time came to realize that God is a God of love, and this meant that He was a God who didn’t stand aloof in the heavenlies, but instead was a God who came down and took on the flesh and blood of the every-man. Michael Allen Gillespie in his book The Theological Origins of Modernity offers this good word on Luther’s reformational transformation:
In Luther’s view God accomplishes this work in us by grace, by infusing himself in us, and possessing us. He comes to dwell in us as through the word. His love that binds him to us is the source of our salvation. The word in this way, according to Luther, comes to dwell in our heart. This gracious infusion of the word has a startling effect, creating a new self and a new kind of being. As Luther describes his own experience: “Here I felt I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”
This great insight is a rejection of both the via antique and via moderna, of both scholasticism and nominalism. Both, in Luther’s view, derived their doctrines from a reading of Aristotle and other philosophers and not from the word of God. In this respect, neither lives up to the direct evidence principle laid down by Trutfetter and Arnoldi as the core of nominalism. Luther turns one of the fundamental principles of nominalism against its own theology. He admits as much already in 1520, claiming that it is not a question of the authorities but of arguments and firms assertions. “That is why I contradict even my own school of Occamists who follow the modern way, which I have absorbed completely.” Nominalism held that God was supremely free and could consequently be merciless in his wrath and that human beings had only enough free will to welcome God into their lives. Luther’s recognition that God’s righteousness was not an external judgment, but the righteousness or justification that he gave to human beings, reconfigured the supreme force in the universe into a benign being. Luther does not deny divine omnipotence—indeed he magnifies it—but suggests that the awesome power of his God (and the terror it generates) is a blessing because it acts in and through human beings and is the basis of their salvation.
Maybe, if you care, this helps you understand better what serves as the basis for my own theological impulses. And maybe if you can appreciate this you will also be able to appreciate why I often seem so off-put by what is currently underway in the environs of theological retrieval in the evangelical and Reformed world. It is hard for me to grasp how people who claim the ‘Reformed pedigree’ can so quickly gloss over Luther’s real reason for the Protestant Reformation; and the impulses that drove him. He, by and large, rejected the God of scholasticism, indeed the God of nominalism as well, because he was driven by greater, even existential concerns. Luther could see that the metaphysical God he was given in his context was not able to actually ‘touch’ people; and Luther more than anyone else internalized this ‘hands-off’ God.
When touched with infirmity and the felt brokenness of our sinful lives the God of scholasticism and nominalism remains only a ‘school-God,’ and as such fits better in the ivory towers of the academic speculators, untouched by the filth and shit of this grimy world where the majority of humanity lives. The world needs a God like the God revealed in Christ, and Luther personally understood this from the inside. This is the God I realize I need, and as such Luther and those after Luther are the theologians who I resonate with most. This is why Karl Barth (and TF Torrance) is so important to me. Barth quotes Luther more than any other theologian in his Church Dogmatics. This is indicative of the sort of emphasis that Barth shared with Luther, insofar as they both sought to err on the side of emphasizing Jesus Christ, the Word of God, to the breaking point of theological endeavor. Luther, as did Barth following, understood that the God revealed in Christ and attested to in Holy Scripture was a God different than the school-God; insofar that the revealed God made Himself vulnerable to human touch and sense. Luther, with Barth following, understood that as Christ was known by faith, that this God-revealed remained the God who wanted to be known by touch and sense rather than through abstract speculation. This is why I am a ‘budding’ theologian who operates in the ‘spirit’ of Luther, just as Barth is an after Luther theologian, so I seek to be an after Barth theologian; and only because they both, in their respective emphases, attempted to think God as God freely chose to be thought from the bread crumbs and spilled grape juice of eucharistic and eschatological reality.
I could just as easily be known as The Evangelical Lutherian as ‘The Evangelical Calvinist,’ indeed the former is probably more appropriate in important ways. I am concerned about many of my evangelical and Reformed brethren. They have seemingly been directed in the wrong direction, and have failed to really appreciate the radical nature of what Luther et al. undertook. I mean, their misstep is understandable, this turn-back-to-scholastic theology (pace Muller) began to happen almost immediately post-Luther. The happenings and developments of Post Reformation Reformed orthodox theology signaled a sort of death-knell to what Luther was attempting to do in his reformatory work; and yet for some reason I can note this, and people simply gloss right past it. I am not the sort who is going to gloss past Luther’s mode and intent. That said, I am less concerned with the various ‘schools’ that have developed, and more concerned with the actual theological content that has been produced; a content that either is driven more by Luther’s and Barth’s emphasis upon the concrete and tangible God in Christ, versus a content driven by speculation and the theological school-masters. For my money, the genuinely Protestant way is much more radical, and thus ‘modern’ in the sense that it constantly turns people back to the concrete-God rather than the antique-God supposedly underwriting the Great catholic Tradition of the Church.
Anyway, another autobiographical post that I hope helps give you further insight into my own impulses. Maybe they well resonate with you as well.
 Michael Allen Gillespie, The Theological Origins of Modernity (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2008), 107-08.
 Please excuse this scatological reference, but more and more this word captures the warp and woof of this waning world for me; and as such I refer to it within its contextual form as that finds referent in the underbelly of a fallen and uncleansed world.