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Martin Luther's 'Sin Boldly' revisited: A fresh look at a controversial concept in the light of modern pastoral psychology

Jensen, A.S. (2002) Martin Luther's 'Sin Boldly' revisited: A fresh look at a controversial concept in the light of modern pastoral psychology. Contact: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Pastoral Studies (137). pp. 2-13.

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Luther's famous statement pecca fortiter sed fortius fide (sin boldly but believe even bolder) has caused much embarrassment for Lutheran Christianity. Its critics have often perceived it as undermining morality and thus used it to attack Lutheranism. And Lutheran apologists have either tried to avoid it by explaining it as a casual remark or questioning its authenticity . However, if the sentence is read within its own context and that of Luther's theology, it leads to the very heart of Lutheran theology and pastoral care.

In this study, I am going to approach the centre of Lutheran theology and pastoral care through an analysis of this pointed statement and to investigate how it can be understood within the framework of modern pastoral counselling and what it may contribute to our understanding of the latter. As it will emerge in the course of the investigation, Lutheran theology and pastoral care is centred on reconciliation, namely the justification of the sinner by grace through faith. Counselling, on the other hand, is aimed at helping the client to mental health, which is the sense of personal responsibility and hence one's freedom, transforming the destructive conflicts of a personality into constructive ones . Thus, it is directed towards a form of reconciliation as well. In the course of the argument, I will attempt to set Luther's pastoral theology, pastoral counselling and the ministry of reconciliation into a relationship through which all three aspects will appear in a new light and, hopefully, a better understanding of humanity in its relation to God will emerge.

As basis for the discussion of Luther's pastoral theology I am taking his letter to Philipp Melanchthon from the Wartburg dated August 1, 1521, which contains the sentence pecca fortiter sed fortius fide, and the letter to Hieronymus Weller from Coburg, written probably in the end of July 1530, also referring to a previous letter to the same recipient . The letters to Hieronymus Weller are an important illustration of the application of Luther's pastoral theology and stress his intuitive use of psychological concepts. Using these letters as a staring point, I will highlight some aspects of Luther's doctrine of justification of the sinner by grace through faith and its implications for pastoral care. In a second step, Luther's pastoral theology will be discussed in the light of modern psychology. The third section will bring Luther's approach in dialogue with pastoral counselling, and, finally, I will conclude by considering the implications for the ministry of reconciliation

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Publisher: Scottish Pastoral Association
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