Theology as Freedom: On Martin Luther’s »De servo arbitrio«

Veröffentlicht auf Englisch. Andrea Vestrucci präsentiert eine Analyse von Martin Luthers »De servo arbitrio«, einem der anspruchsvollsten Werke christlicher Theologie. Von Gottes Verborgenheit zur Vorherbestimmung, von der Rechtfertigung zur Ontologie, von der Logik zur Ästhetik erforscht Vestrucci Perspektiven der theologischen Sprache, die einen Paradigmenwechsel auslösen.

Visitors to this link will be able to download a PDF of the front matter and table of Contents.  Please do so before proceeding as that will serve as our point of departure for the present review.

The purpose of the present volume is to prove one simple point:  theology is freedom.  To prove that point, Vestrucci does a thorough deconstruction of Luther’s important work on Free Will.  Or perhaps dissection.  Or perhaps dismemberment.  All of those metaphors point in the direction of what is here accomplished.

Beginning, then, with a description of the conceptual framework that will serve as the skeleton of the argument, V. turns to a consideration of Erasmus’s work and ideas.  Paradox is next on the menu and then philosophical notions which are at play in Luther’s rejoinder to Erasmus.  We are then led down the path of the reception of Luther’s notion of freedom as it is understood by Barth, Ebeling, and others.

The book then turns a corner and moves away from the notions of the major players to a discussion and exposition of the main ideas: the possibility of freedom, forgiveness, justification, nature, grace, and virtually every other branch of theological enquiry.

A chapter devoted to Kant’s relationship to Luther concludes the second major division and frankly seems out of place.  To be sure, Kant and his notion of freedom is philosophically important, bust as one of the sections in the chapter recognizes, Kant was no theologian.  He, it seems to me at least, does not belong here.

The third division (and again, see the linked pdf above for the TOC) is the highlight of the book and everything leads to this fantastic crescendo (except for the sour note of Kant).  Here readers are exposed to the meat of the issue: Election, Salvation, Predestination, and Grace.  Here Vestrucci does the best work.  Here the issues are explained in clear, precise, intelligible, forceful, and helpful language.

The conclusion is the end of the matter and summarizes the aims and achievements of the volume in concise language.  It is a brief 4 pages and it should be read first and last.  A decent bibliography along with indices of the usual sort round out the volume.

Vestrucci is to be thanked for this good work.  My one criticism is of the inclusion of Kant.  The chapter interrupts the flow of the volume and annoys more than it enlightens.  Aside from that, this tome is a joyful experience.  Joyful and informative.