The Tenth Anniversary of “Studying Luther in Wittenberg”

In November 2018, the Strasbourg Institute’s Prof. Theodor Dieter (Germany) and Visiting Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson (Japan/USA) taught their tenth consecutive seminar on Studying Luther in Wittenberg.


The seminars Studying Luther in Wittenberg were developed as part of the work of the LWF Center Wittenberg in recognition of the need to deepen the meaning of the word “Lutheran” in the self-description of the churches and their organizations. The idea was to bring Lutheran pastors from all over the world together in order to offer them the opportunity of studying carefully Luther’s key writings, getting acquainted with the context of Luther’s theological thinking by staying in Luther’s own city and visiting the sites of Lutheran history, relating Luther’s insights to the many different contexts from which the participants come, and of building friendships and increased awareness of the global Lutheran communion.

Uncertain at first of the reception of the project, the professors have over the past decade been no less than astounded at the enthusiasm the participants have shown toward the seminar. With now over 200 graduates of the program—many of whom have gone on to become bishops and LWF council members—they can say with confidence that Luther is not an irrelevant figure from the dustbin of history, but a potent, prophetic voice still speaking to our personal, ecclesial, and social situations even half a millennium later. Deep knowledge of Luther’s profound theological vision is essential for pastors today and instrumental in building up the Lutheran communion across the globe.

This year’s special topic was Luther’s spirituality. As usual, the first week laid a foundation with an overview of the Middle Ages and the sixteenth century, Luther’s biography, and the key theological topics of justification by faith and the distinction between law and gospel. The professors have found that it cannot be taken for granted that either of these “key” topics will in fact have been effectively communicated to participants, but they are foundational to any further reading of Luther. The second week then turned to Luther’s writings on prayer, reading the Bible, pastoral care, and the sacraments, and finally his hymns, illustrating the “mighty, active” nature of faith that strives to live soberly in the flesh, justly with the neighbor, and devoutly before God.

Participants came from all over the world: Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, India, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Myanmar, Namibia, Nicaragua, Swaziland, and the United States. They visited the Luther and Melanchthon houses, met the mayor of Wittenberg, traveled to Erfurt and the Wartburg, and joined the local English conversation evening. New and lasting friendships were made, and daily prayers framed this intensive immersion in the gospel of Christ. Ten years of Studying Luther in Wittenberg were celebrated with a nice reception in the Colleg Wittenberg with many stories commemorating a decade of Luther seminars.

Theodor Dieter und Sarah Hinlicky Wilsonare especially grateful that they had the opportunity to work together with Rev. Hans Kasch for more than nine years. Hans served as director of the LWF Center in Wittenberg until his retirement in 2018. Their cooperation with Hans was always trustful and appreciative, with a clear division of labor and responsibilities, it was really a pleasure. Many thanks to Hans, and best wishes for his retirement! The professors have beenglad to begin a new partnership with Inken Woehlbrandthis year, the new director of the LWF Center in Wittenberg. They look forward to many more years of Studying Luther in Wittenberg in the LWF Center under Inken’s leadership.

To apply for the seminars in 2019, please visit the website of the LWF Center: http://lwb-zentrum-wittenberg.de/seminar-for-pastors-lwf.html

Photos: Glaubig, Woodward