The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Interreligious dialogue

Would Martin Luther engage in such discussion today?

Martin Luther lived in an age of religious intolerance and was not fully aware of the extent of today's religious diversity. He is better known for his disputations than dialogues; confrontations than concord; polemics than politeness. One may wonder how Luther could be invoked as an advocate for interreligious dialogue.

Luther had met only a handful of Jews and had never met a Muslim. He knew about religions of antiquity, but he had no knowledge of the religions elsewhere in the world besides Judaism and Islam.

"Would Luther engage in interreligious dialogue if he were alive today?" is an important question that heirs of Luther are challenged to answer. Religions of the world surround us. Most free societies grant legitimacy and civic rights to them. Interacting with people of other faiths is an unavoidable reality in daily life. It is evident that religious diversity in our midst is here to stay, whether we like it or not, and cannot be wished away.

"What would Luther do" in our situation? The answer depends on how one reads his theology of religions. Luther may be more open to serious interreligious engagement today than his writings might otherwise suggest.

Luther's views on religions followed the historic claim that "outside the church" or "outside Christ" there is no salvation. The salvation of non-Christians didn't concern him. He focused on God's revelation in Jesus Christ, reading the Bible to conclude that all religions without Christ are false, at best expressions of "works-righteousness" and, at worst, instruments of Satan. He saw other religions through the same lenses as he saw his Roman Catholic opponents — as religions of law and works-righteousness.

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February issue


Embracing diversity