On the moral life of theologians – a reflection

Morality is supposed to go hand in hand with our ministry and Christian calling. Yet, this is not always the case. Some have very serious moral issues, while others may not. Nevertheless, all struggle, scholars, ministers, lay people, with sin. But how much do we accept that when we talk about christian leaders, and specifically of those we admire and cherish so much.

Roger Olsen has written a piece touching this issue. He does not only deal with the classics, such a Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and the like, but with some modern ones, whom he doesn’t name. Here it’s his take on the classics:

The sad fact is that many, many great heroes of Christian history and theology had sides to their personal lives that we cannot be proud of. To what extent should those affect how we regard their theological contributions and contributions to church reform and renewal? Luther, of course, drank a lot of beer and advised others to do so as well. (His letter to a young friend named Jerome includes advice to drink much beer when the devil tells him not to!) He advised the German nobles to slaughter the rebelling peasants without mercy. He condoned Philip of Hesse’s bigamy. Toward the end of his life he fell into anti-Semitism and wrote essays against the Jews that were resurrected and used by the Nazis. John Knox, the reformer of Scotland, married a teenage girl when he was fifty. Ulrich Zwingli condoned the torture and drowning of Anabaptists—some of them his own former students. John Calvin condoned the execution of Servetus and publicly took responsibility for it. John Wesley couldn’t live with his wife; their marriage was, by all accounts, deeply troubled. Kierkegaard was not only eccentric but went out of his way to offend people including cutting off relations with his close relatives (including his brother who tried to have a good relationship with him). And he broke his engagement to his fiancée without explanation—a terrible faux pas at that time. Jonathan Edwards owned slaves.

Go have a read of it. It shows, after all, that we are all human, and we are not perfect. May the Lord have mercy on us all.

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