Remembering the Reformation: Martin Luther’s Anxious Heart

I was given the honour of speaking at our 2017 Reformation Day chapel at Ambrose University. Here’s the text of my reflection. You can view the video here (my talk begins around the 22:00 mark).

My wife Colleen has been urging me to dress up like Martin Luther today for Halloween, so I finally agreed. I decided to dress like a middle-aged professor. Here it is!

Long before there was Halloween, of course, there was Hallowed Even, or holy evening, the day before All Saints Day—the day Christian churches in so many traditions remember those who have gone before in the faith—what Hebrews 12 would call that great cloud of witnesses.

Martin Luther as an Augustinian Friar, workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

But today, October 31, is special because it is the day which by common consent has come to represent the beginning of the Protestant Reformation—that revolution within Christianity sparked by Martin Luther, the German priest, an Augustinian friar, who you saw walking rather stiffly across the Playmobil video, and we’ve learned a little bit how he struggled against the sale of indulgences, which diminished the role of repentance among Christians, and how this eventually led to his excommunication and his outlawing, and how that eventually split Western Christendom into a whole variety of confessional and denominational expressions. And so most of us here today worship in churches that flow from Luther’s Reformation, and even if you worship in a Catholic church, your church too has been fundamentally shaped by Martin Luther and his work. Continue reading


The Historical Context and Nature of Luther’s Protest

Martin Luther statue, Berlin. Source: author’s personal collection.

In the spring of 2017,  I was invited to give a lecture about the historical context and nature of Luther’s protest. The video of my  “Taste of Reformation” lecture from April 3, 2017, can be seen here. This printed version includes the images adds a little more detail on the Cranach painting “The Vineyard of the Lord.”

A Taste of Reformation: The Historical Context and Nature of Luther’s Protest

By Kyle Jantzen, Ambrose University

As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, it is fitting that we look back on the event—both to understand something of what happened back in 1517, and to reflect on what it might mean for Christians and churches today. That is the purpose of tonight’s lecture and discussion. In that spirit, I’d like to start things off with a few thoughts about the historical context in which the Reformation took place. After that, I’ll describe the process by which various late medieval grievances expressed by Luther and many others evolved into a fundamental ecclesiastical break between Luther and his followers and the Church of Rome. Finally, I’d like to identify some of the key themes in the early phase of the Reformation. Continue reading

After the Trumpocalypse: What Happened?

Donald J. Trump’s victory in the 2016 US election shocked both that country and the rest of the world. It will no doubt become an I-remember-when moment in history not unlike the Kennedy assassination, the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the 9/11 terrorist attack.

What happened?

In the 24 hours after Trump’s victory, politicians, pundits, scholars, talk-show hosts, and ordinary people struggled to understand his unlikely victory. A stunned Stephen Colbert decided we had overdosed on politics. The New York Times pointed to Trump’s appeal to poorly educated white voters, but also wondered about the influence of Russian officials. Neil J. Young and others noted that exit polls showed that 81 percent of white evangelicals had voted for Trump. In the New Statesman, Maya Goodfellow denounced the Trump victory as a racist “whitelash”, while in The Guardian, various commentators pointed to misogyny as a force in the election. And Charles Camosy of Fordham University, writing in The Washington Post, declared that the Trump win demonstrated that college-educated Americans are out of touch with average voters.

While most of us were shocked by Donald Trump’s election to the American presidency, there were warnings throughout 2016. Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times confessed liberal intolerance in the university world. Mark Danner pondered the magic of Trump in The New York Review of Books. Chris Hedges predicted the revenge of the lower classes for truthdig. And Emmett Rensin exegeted the smugness of American liberalism online at Vox Media. No doubt there were many others of equal perspicacity.

The Richard Rorty Explanation

I want to suggest that the Trump victory is the result of a two-part revolt, clairvoyently outlined eighteen years ago by philosopher Richard Rorty Continue reading

Loving Our (Refugee) Neighbours

Refugees from Syria and other parts of the Middle East are no longer front page news. After a month or more of non-stop reporting, most of our media organizations have moved on to other stories, no doubt sensing a measure of compassion fatigue across the Western world.

Not that there aren’t plenty of tragic refugee stories out there. Brandon Stanton–he of the famous Humans of New York blog–recently travelled to Europe and the Middle East to capture the testimonies of those fleeing terror and violence in the region. Recently, he added some accounts from Iraqis fleeing their own version of chaos and calamity, like the family who received death threat text messages everyday, then woke up to find their house on fire or the government clerk who fled in the night, when he learned the militia was going to kill him. But Stanton has not only chronicled these stories of suffering. He has also given us stories of hope, of kindness, and of love expressed by Europeans who see the refugees as fellow humans in need.

And there are great initiatives out there. One of the newest is a Kickstarter campaign to donate about $1.225 million to enable the UN Refugee Agency to provide sleeping bags, food and fresh water, clothing, and education for 5,000 Syrian refugees. Around 18,000 people have contributed and the project is almost fully funded (as of October 7, 2015).

A few weeks ago, it was my turn to share a devotional at our church board meeting. I had been reading and thinking a lot about the refugee crisis, and was wanting to understand the problem not only politically but also theologically. In preparation for the devotional, then, I began to think about where Scripture might speak to this issue. Continue reading

Imagine You’re a Refugee

Imagine you’re a refugee. What might that look like?

For starters, imagine your hometown–the place your family has lived for generations–has been destroyed. Imagine your government–when faced with opposition demands–has deployed your national military against your fellow citizens, shooting those it saw as a threat to its hold on power. Imagine that opposition groups took to arms too, and that a violent civil war erupted. Imagine that after four years of fighting, over 250,000 of your fellow citizens have died in the conflict–most of them ordinary people–and that over four million people have fled your small country. Imagine that you’re trapped in this civil war that involves well over thirty different organizations fighting in seven main belligerent groups. Imagine these belligerents have been using artillery, poison gas, torture, and murder against one another. Then, imagine an invasion by a new belligerent–a barbaric fundamentalist movement which employs murder, rape, and pillage indiscriminately, including the beheading of innocent captives.

Imagine your neighbourhood looks like this: Continue reading

Responding to the Refugee Crisis

Recently a friend and former student asked me what I thought about the backlash to the refugee crisis. Throughout the summer, we have seen heart-wrenching stories and moving images of desperate refugees from bombed out Syria. But in the wake of the outpouring of sympathy for Syrian refugees in the late summer of 2015, other voices have argued against taking refugees into European and other Western countries, because of the danger that ISIS might be sending Islamic warriors into Europe among the refugees. And when the refugees refuse to register in countries like Hungary, this seems to confirm the view that they are dangerous.

The truth is that I’m not sure I have a satisfying answer to this question. Truthfully, there are several interrelated issues that complicate this crisis: Continue reading

Anti-Judaism vs Antisemitism: Which is the Right Term?

One of the challenges in teaching about the history of antisemitism and the Holocaust, as I am right now in my HI 368 course of the same name, is how to describe ancient, early Christian, medieval, and Reformation-era forms of hostility towards Jews. Much of this hostility (and its associated violence) issued out of the Christian Church. For that reason, it has often been called “anti-Judaism.” But anti-Judaism has generally meant religiously based hostility or hatred, and these conflicts were seldom only religious in nature. For that reason, many scholars simply use “antisemitism” (a modern concept) to cover all forms of Jew-hatred: religious, social, cultural, economic, national, and racial (yes, there are that many forms of this plague!). Recently, I wrote a short note about a debate concerning these terms, Continue reading