What Does the Reformation Mean for Us?
A Roundtable Discussion
Setting the Stage
Brian T. Johnson    |   all discussants

On the evening of October 31, 2017—exactly 500 years after Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg—eight panelists at Valparaiso University engaged in a public ritual in which they remembered identity and shared personal narratives. They answered the question, “What does the Reformation mean for us?” Patterned after Martin Luther’s Tischreden (Table Talks), the campus community first gathered for a festive German feast in honor of the Reformation. Then, first year students assembled to listen to a panel of two faculty members, five recent alumni, and a current student. These panelists came from a variety of faith backgrounds, including Lutheran (Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), Catholic, and United Methodist. Professor Ronald K. Rittgers, the Erich Markel Chair in German Reformation Studies, began the panel, while Professor Thomas Albert Howard, the Phyllis and Richard Duesenberg Chair in Ethics, concluded it. In between, the six panelists offered brief comments. They represent a glimpse into how the identity of Valparaiso University has shaped the narratives of eight public, faithful intellectuals, while engaging in a pattern of conversation and reflection on ideas that matter.

Many Lutheran and Catholic (especially Jesuit) institutions host community events where they can remain rooted in their church-related identity while reaching out to engage differing religious, non-religious, and philosophical perspectives. This rooted and reaching perspective resides in the middle of a continuum between (on one side) church-related institutions that claim a more orthodox or sectarian perspective, and (on the other side) institutions with pluralist points of view (Johnson). All three perspectives make credible theological claims and develop events and practices that contribute to an education connected to those ideas. A rooted and reaching paradigm grows out of particular enlightenment thinking, deep commitments of influential theologians (like Luther and Ignatius of Loyola), and cultural and historic influences that cultivated refined world-views. This paradigm is paradoxical, dynamic, and marked by tensions, as institutions of this ilk navigate sometimes competing and controversial differences. At their best, rooted and reaching institutions are a kind of laboratory for how people who hold differing points of view can engage across difference to deepen and broaden shared visions and common work on behalf of church and society. In the process of such events, the academic ritual practice of discussing controversial ideas helps through shared experience to create narratives that form identity.

Brian T. Johnson is assistant vice president for mission and ministry at Valparaiso University.

Works Cited

Johnson, Brian. “Sustaining the Theological Exploration of Vocation.” Presentation, Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education Conference, St. Louis, MO, March 27, 2015.


Read more from other Roundtable participants:

Ronald K. Rittgers: Loving the Unlovely
Alissa Kretzmann: An Encounter with Grace
David King: Freedom Under the Cross
Nura Esther Zaki: Honoring Our Heritage
David Rojas Martínez: The Chapel of the Resurrection as a Pilgrimage Site
Katie Benjamin: Screwups and Saints
Amelia Schroeder: Moving Beyond Disagreements
Thomas Albert Howard: Remembering the Reformation and the Problem of Christian Disunity 



Copyright © 2016 | Valparaiso University | Privacy Policy