Reading Martin Luther’s The Bondage of the Will requires determination. I regret to say that I gave up after reading 60% of it. Yes, my degree in English Literature involved reading things from centuries past, so the book shouldn’t have been so daunting to me. I’ve gotten lazy in my 43 years since graduation.
That said, I did actually read over half of it, and learned a lot from his argument against the concept of free will. Luther wrote this treatise in response to On Free Will by Desiderius Erasmus, a Catholic humanist who was the first to translate the New Testament directly from the Greek. I appreciated Luther’s ability to reason from God’s Word consistently in making his case. I stopped reading partly because he successfully convinced me that Scripture supports his position.
So why am I writing about a book that I haven’t opened in four years and didn’t even finish at the time? Facebook.
Well that’s a 500-year gap that defies logic! What in the world does Facebook have to do with a dispute that took place between two guys in the 16th Century?
I thought about Luther and Erasmus this afternoon as I opened my WordPress editor. I’d only minutes earlier deposited a link in a Facebook discussion over the blog post I wrote yesterday. Frustrated that the other person showed no evidence of seeing how both of our positions fit together as a full orbed understanding of the matter at hand, I found myself wanting to write further on the topic.
Then I wondered if I wanted to write a second article simply to win a debate. And if I did, would that motive glorify God? Examining my motives definitely slowed me down. I remember how badly things went the last time I wrote a reactionary article before taking the time to reflect on how to present my perspective. The Bible, however, warns against hasty replies.
9 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. ~~James 1:19-20 (ESV)
I knew that today would be a really bad time to address the matter further. I needed to calm down and think through my position, studying Scripture a little more before presenting my case.
That pause in the discussion doesn’t mean, however, that I ought to avoid the conversation entirely. Blogging and Facebook are current forms of social media, but the invention of the printing press made social media possible in the first place. If you really think about it, Luther and Erasmus engaged in debate using the social media of their time.
The difference between the platform available in 1525 and the platforms we enjoy today is that electronic social media carries a demand for immediate responses. Luther did nothing wrong in refuting Erasmus. He merely had more time to study the points Erasmus made so that he could counter them well.
And in countering those points well, Martin Luther produced what was arguably his finest work.