Issue: January/February 2019: In Memory of Vítor Westhelle

Volume 19 Number 1

Editor’s Introduction: Ode to a Theologian of the Cross

This issue of JLE is dedicated to Brazilian Lutheran theologian Vítor Westhelle who passed away on May of this year. Westhelle was a global theologian, although he probably would have preferred to say that he was a planetary theologian. Students came from all over the world to study with him and he went around the world to teach and study the Lutheran theology that he loved so much. His contribution to Lutheran ethics was indirect but important. Perhaps one of his most impactful contributions to Lutheran theology and ethics is what could be call the turn to space and place in eschatology. He viewed with suspicion the excessive emphasis that western theology places on time and lineal history vis-à-vis space rather than cyclical views of time more prevalent in the wisdom traditions of many indigenous and nonwestern peoples. Using space and place as interpretive keys he reexamined biblical symbols, theological doctrines, and Luther’s writings and was able to mine rich new meanings and applications for them.

God and Justice: The Word and the Mask

“The so-called ‘Two Kingdoms Doctrine’ is the label under which a particular framing of the relationship between God’s grace and everyday life in the midst of its institutional realities has been presented in 20th century Lutheranism. For over half a century it has been the way Lutherans framed the relationship between justification and justice. How did this “doctrine” come to be regarded as a central piece in Lutheran theology when it has such a remarkably short history as a doctrine and has for the last decades even faded into oblivion? The reasons for this phenomenon are closely connected to a particular modern (Western) agenda fraught with the crisis of legitimacy of modern institutions.”

Justification and Justice: Luther on the Love of the Enemy as Criterion of Justice

“The relationship between justification and justice in Luther´s theology pertains to his distinction of régimes, the so-called “two kingdoms doctrine.” The amount of literature on this “doctrine” produced between the 1930s and the 1970s is immense.[1] However, at the theological core of this distinction lies Luther´s reading of the scriptures’ framing of the peculiarities of two central notions, faith and love. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) exemplifies the crux of this distinction offering two sets of injunctions, which we find throughout the bible, but in the Sermon are presented in a succinct form parallel to each other…”

Review: The Dark Interval: Letters on Loss, Grief, and Transformation by Rainer Maria Rilke

Holiday seasons are among the most difficult for those in mourning. Well-meaning platitudes fall short, leaving friends at a loss for words, not knowing how to accompany loved ones engulfed in sorrow or facing death.

Letters written by Rainer Maria Rilke from 1907 to 1925 offer an intimate glimpse into the great poet’s understanding of death and the process of mourning. His letters to bereaved friends address the particularity of individual loss and the great themes of transformation in death and life. This small collection of letters is edited and translated by Ulrich Baer whose own difficult journey through his father’s death was transformed by Rilke’s words.

Review: Transfiguring Luther: The Planetary Promise of Luther’s Theology

In Transfiguring Luther: The Planetary Promise of Luther’s Theology, the Lutheran theologian Vítor Westhelle invites us to engage with Martin Luther’s theology in a new way. For those who are not familiar with Westhelle’s work, Transfiguring Luther is an introduction into Westhelle’s innovative and challenging reading of Martin Luther’s theology. For those who are familiar with Westhelle’s work, Transfiguring Luther is a collection of twenty-three of Westhelle’s arguments about and journeys into Martin Luther’s theology and the significance of Lutheran identity in a globalized, post-colonial world. In this review, I will introduce the concept of ‘the figura,’ which Westhelle uses as a conceit in his “transfiguring” of Luther. Then, I will proceed to outline a number of key themes that are present throughout the work. And then, finally, given Dr. Westhelle’s death this spring, I will offer some comments on what he meant to me personally and on the challenge that he left for us to continue.