“Theology is about God’s mastery of us, that our minds and our words are shaped by the Word of God,” said the Rev. Dr. Alister McGrath, professor of Theology, Ministry and Education at King’s College, London. “We bring our conscience captive to that transformative Word of God.”

Speaking to a room of more than 120 confessional Lutheran leaders from around the globe on Reformation Day, McGrath spoke on the topic of “Luther’s Witness and Its Continuing Value in the Global Church: A View from Outside Lutheranism.”

The Rev. Dr. Douglas Rutt of Lutheran Hour Ministries and the Rev. Hector Hoppe of Concordia Publishing House translated the lecture for the conference’s Spanish-speaking guests.

Conference attendees listen to a translated version of the presentation.

Previously an atheist, McGrath became interested in Christianity in part due to his reading and study of Luther. From the Reformer, he learned that, “It’s very easy for us to define God in terms that define us, but in the end, God is uncontrollable, and our theological systems are inadequate to contain Him.”

McGrath was the keynote speaker at the LCMS-sponsored International Conference on Confessional Lutheranism in Peachtree City, Ga.  A leading critic of the New Atheism and an advocate of the importance of theology in apologetics, mission, evangelism, spirituality and social engagement, McGrath wrote his first book on the topic of Luther’s theology of the cross, specifically the doctrine of justification.

“It’s not enough to reiterate how excellent Luther is,” said McGrath. “You can use Luther’s words, but you may need to unpack, to interpret, to translate them.”

Participants listen to Dr. Alister McGrath speak on Luther’s relevance in the contemporary culture.

“The danger,” he noted, “is that that treasure chest [of Luther] remains unopened because the language isn’t understood.”

“The Church must, in its life and witness, embody, enact and articulate these life-giving characteristics [of justification by grace],” urged McGrath. “It’s much easier to withdraw and not engage with anyone else, but Luther is a witness to the more uncomfortable truth that we need to be there at the intersection of Christ and culture, bearing witness to the Gospel.”

Dr. Alister McGrath, keynote speaker

“I commend you as Lutherans to going back to this resource to enrich this present-day mission,” he said in conclusion. “You are saying, ‘Let us look to our family history and bring out the treasures and put them to good use.’ There’s an awful lot you can do with Luther, and I want to encourage you to dust off the books [and] translate them into the cultural vernacular.”

The conference is taking place due to the generosity of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.