The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


The power of Lutheran words

Theology is where theory and practice meet

A fellow named Kurt Lewin once wrote: “There is nothing more practical than a good theory.”

Now Lewin wasn’t Lutheran. And the psychologist wasn’t thinking about Lutheran theology when he penned those apt words. But he could have been. Because the thing about theology — especially Lutheran theology — is that it’s where theory and practice meet.

Another way of saying this is that Lutheran theology is for daily life. Lutheran theology is not the province of pointy-headed geeks, thinking incomprehensible thoughts, in some dusty university office.

Lutheran theology, as Martin Luther himself once wrote, “calls a thing what it is.” And the words that Lutheran theology generates work like a good pair of shoes — they fit comfortably and wear well. Normal people can tie them on, walk around and pound the pavement of daily life in them.

There isn’t space here for a comprehensive dictionary of Lutheran words, so we’ll settle for some window shopping — a chance to try on a few to get a feel for them.


Justification, n. The keystone to the arch, the hub to the wheel, the north star by which all theological navigation steers—God’s action of establishing and maintaining a relationship with sinners.

This is the big one. Get this one right and everything else tends to fall into place. Get this one wrong and you’re pretty much trying to sail across desert sand in a rowboat. The concept of justification starts with the assumption that all of creation is estranged from God. That our relationship with our Creator has been disrupted by the condition called sin. We live in a good but broken creation. We are separated from God and from each other.

The question is: What can be done about this situation?

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Embracing diversity