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Luther in Contemporary Culture
by Envoy Steve Bussey


The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree - The Fruit of Luther in Contemporary Culture



“First I shake the whole Apple tree, that the ripest might fall. Then I climb the tree and shake each limb, and then each branch and then each twig, and then I look under each leaf” - Martin Luther


When Martin Luther first applied his apple analogy, he was referring to how he studied the Bible. If one were to study contemporary culture, one could find an orchard of ripe ideas and practices which can be traced back to the seeds planted by this Reformer. Dubbed, “the last medieval man and the first modern one,” it is hard find a corner of society not impacted by the epochal shift being commemorated by the Reformation 500 celebrations.


Luther was a historical switchman - an individual whose actions changed the direction of society, moving all people towards a new destiny. Historian and media ecologist Elizabeth Eisenstein identified Luther’s ideas, mediated by Gutenberg’s printing press, as revolutionary. These set in motion a belief that every person should have access to the Bible in their own language in order to personally know the beauty and freedom of grace straight from the source. Driven by a need to reform the abuses of a Church which had drifted from its founding vision, access to Scripture in the vernacular of the masses would give birth to Bible and missionary societies determined to reform society by translating Scripture into every language for people of every tribe and nation.


Access to Scripture meant that there was a need for individuals to learn how to read. The need for literacy ignited a revolution in education which would challenge the justice of many societal norms - including notions of laity, class, ethnicity, gender and age. Who should have access to Scripture? Where can people meet and who can share from Scripture? Who are we as individuals and groups in light of these actions? As time pressed on, the legacy of Luther’s influence wove through most of the defining moments of history of western culture and more recently, global culture.


The study of Scripture, modelled by Luther fueled new forms of philosophical inquiry - centering the individual as one who could question, form opinions, debate and even protest. One wouldn’t simply believe an idea because it was stated by a person of authority, this was to be evaluated in light of ‘God’s Word’ as the Bereans did in Acts 17. For good or bad, this seed of self-identity would bear the fruit of Descartes’ modern ratiocentic philosophy, captured in the phrase “I think therefore I am.” which ushered in the age of “enlightenment.” This spirit of inquiry and expression would fuel creativity and curiosity giving rise to a culture of experimentation in art, technology politics, business, education and culture.


Five hundred years later, we live in a similar era of dramatic epochal shifts. Rather than posting our protests on the Wittenberg Door, many ‘post’ their concerns on social media. While the methodology which Luther employed might remain the same, the most critical question is whether the source which fuels us is a fervent commitment to Scripture as our only authority (sola scriptura) or our own personal opinion (ex mea sententia). Ultimately, the success of Luther’s reformation and its’ continued impact on society was not the technological innovation of the printing press nor the audacity of his challenge, but rather this was found in the character of the content of the message posted.


The ground is fertile once again for a new reformation, but the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22) will only blossom and ripen if our faith remains rooted in Christ and His grace alone (Col. 2:7). Soli Deo Gloria.












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