Melanchthon was pretty cool.

Just got done writing a 20 page paper on the theology of Philipp Melanchthon. I love this guy. He complemented Luther in every way. Luther was loud and obnoxious, Melanchthon was gentle and irenic. Luther was anti-philosophy (consubstantiation eh?), Melanchthon brought the philosophy of Aristotle under the Lordship of Christ. At any rate, what struck me most about Melanchthon was that he didn’t set out to be a theologian. He wanted to reform the educational system, not the Catholic Church. Perhaps, though, it was this spirit of reform which caught Luther’s attention. Once Melanchthon sat under the theological training of Luther, the man who Melanchthon claims “taught him the gospel,” he began to show signs of being quite the capable theologian. But what stokes me out the most about Melanchthon was his pristine eloquence and love of the Scriptures- something that his Humanist education had instilled in him. Melanchthon’s rhetorical eloquence was unmatched in Reformation Europe, and it allowed him to successfully defend several doctrines that are vital to evangelical theology.

Melanchthon’s greatest contribution by far to the Reformation was the idea of forensic justification. In the thought of Melanchthon, justification was not an internal change, as the Augustianian view upholds, but rather external. For him, righteousness in imputed, not imparted. The Augustinian view necessitates an ontological change in the sinner- the sinner must be made righteous, lest God be a liar in calling just that which is unjust. In this view, merit is an inescapable consequent, and thus takes away from the glory of Christ displayed on the cross. In Melanchthon’s view, the paradigm of justification takes place in the heavenly court, righteousness being imputed not on the basis of the sinner’s merit but the merit of Christ, and this to those who would merely trust in the promises of God. Thus, the change in the believer’s right standing before God is not based upon an ontological shift- we are still just as sinful as we were before, albeit with the new man co-existing with the “brother ass”- but rather a shift in their reality. Before faith the sinner’s reality is guilt and judgment, after faith the believer’s reality is grace and peace. In this view of justification, all glory goes to Christ.

Melanchthon’s Humanism, with its focus on the original sources (ad fontes)  and eloquence of argumentation, allowed him to defend this view of justification. It is because of his efforts that forensic justification are impacting evangelical theology even today (Counted Righteous in Christ by Piper). As aspiring theologians, we can learn a few things from this cat. He was gentle, peaceful, eloquent, and friggin’ smart. More than this, though, his love for Christ was the driving force behind every word he wrote. It was the heart behind the eloquence and the passion behind the rhetoric.


11 responses to “Melanchthon was pretty cool.

  1. Justin Richter


    That was an awesome post. I need to read up on this guy a more. I also like his name. It sounds like a theological transformer.

    One thing. Do you know what sources were quoted about Augustine’s view on Justification. I never knew there was a difference between Luther and him in this area. Let me know if you can find out where Augustine talks about this because I am interested in reading about his view more. Thanks Nate.

  2. wow…nice post nate. great stuff…thanks for learning me a little german-theo-goodness. I like all sorts of shnitzle, but that was superb.

    praying for you man, and also stoked to hear your thoughts for Ricther…we can all be edified by this.

  3. I recommend Reformation Thought by Alister McGrath. It is a great survey of the theological, political, and social ramifications of the Reformation.

  4. Justin Richter


    I just picked up Augustine’s book on Faith and Works from my library. Im loving the read. Its really down to earth (and a short read) and I think I am going to post on it later. I haven’t gotten to the part on the relationship between faith and works yet but I am looking forward to it. Thanks again for your post and need to read some melacanthon after this.

  5. In the Middle Ages, they viewed grace as a “supernatural substance” that a person is infused with when they take the sacraments and live in obedience to God and Church. Most likely a perversion of Augustinian thought, but I’m pretty sure that’s where it came from. Still love the guy, think he was one of Christianity’s greatest thinkers. And his love for God and His glory is so very evident. That makes him ok in my book.

  6. Justin Richter

    Yeah, I am about half way done with the book and so far I agree with you. I think Mel was arguing against a perversion of Augustine’s thought. Augustine is dealing with different categories of thought and his idea of faith a works is formed out of a polemic with antinomians. His opponents had the thought the church should preach about who Jesus was first, then baptize people, and then teach them morals. The problem is with this order people didn’t need to stop commiting adultery before being admitted to the Church. Augustine states we teach faith in Christ and a repentance from sins before we allow people to become part of the Church. For the sake of purity that is. Here is a good quote that sums up what I have read so far.

    ” This is to preach Christ: to not only say what one must believe about Christ but also how one must live who wishes to be joined to the body of Christ.”

    Or otherwise stated, we can’t preach Christ the head, with out preaching Christ the body.

    I will probably post more thoughts on this later.

    P.S. I think Augustine is down with the New Pauline Perspective.

  7. I’ve been reading a bit on Augustine’s view, and it was in reaction to rampant licentiousness based upon a perversion of justification. However, I think he went to far in his approach, melding justification and sanctification into one process. I think this is what Melanchthon and Luther were getting at. Faith alone justifies, but that sanctification is a natural consequent of justification. I guess you could say both happen simultaneously, the first complete by God’s declaration, the second by the process of renewal at the hands of the Holy Spirit. I think what PM and ML were getting at is that to lean to heavily on the Augustinian view is to trust in the merits of one’s works, by which no man will stand justified before God.

  8. Nate’s grammar= good. change a couple of those to’s to too’s.

  9. p.s. jealous of the mustache Richter. Jealous indeed.

  10. nate-dawggy…FYI, you can edit your comments if you make a boo boo, its saved my rump a few times…Richter, however, can never edit his stache, Ron Burgundy and Salvador Dali (his genetic parents) would have none of it.

  11. Pingback: Augustine on Faith and Works « The Way into the Far Country

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