What Does the Reformation Mean for Us?
A Roundtable Discussion
Freedom Under the Cross
David King   |   all discussants

If I were to ask you when the Chapel of the Resurrection was dedicated, what would your answer be? The typical, and correct, answer would be 1959. However, near the doors to the entrance of the chapel, another date is listed: “the four hundred and forty second Reformation year.” That inscription speaks to the grand legacy of the Reformation at Valpo in a way that is fascinating but also somewhat problematic. The Reformation is at the very heart of what Valpo should be, yet it can remain hidden.

The most articulate argument I have heard for Valpo’s relationship with the Reformation can be found in O. P. Kretzmann’s inaugural address from 1940, entitled, “The Destiny of a Christian University in the Modern World.” I encountered Kretzmann’s address during my last semester here at Valpo thanks to history professor Heath Carter. As I read through it, I was struck by Kretzmann’s crystal clear declaration of universal Truth and the role of the Christian university regarding the Truth. In the middle of a tumultuous time, Kretzmann stated, “We can build here a school whose greatness is the greatness of freedom under God, the greatness of the free preservation and transmission of Truth, the greatness of an intelligent and dynamic application of a militant faith.” Freedom was at the heart of the Reformation, and for Kretzmann, freedom was at the center of this institution. The kind of freedom that Kretzmann spoke of is the freedom to pursue any knowledge because the ultimate Truth was, and is, already known. That Truth is that salvation rests in Jesus Christ—with that at the foundation of the university in Kretzmann’s eyes. The question is, how does a twenty-first century Valpo reflect the Reformation tradition that is at the heart of Kretzmann’s vision in a very different looking world?

It is important to define what freedom is, both in terms of the Reformation and Valpo. The kind of freedom that Luther found was deeply relational. That relationship came through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to cover our wholly sinful selves. This emerges from Luther’s Theology of the Cross. Luther argued that the Cross is where God can be found, and the place where the imputation of Christ’s righteousness occurs. This university has referred to itself as a University under the Cross. While that can seem like a fancy phrase that should be designated for an admissions pamphlet that parents of prospective students will read, I would encourage each of us to think deeply over what that means for us and future generations.

I believe that a twenty-first century university under the Cross is a university that unapologetically clings to the Truth while welcoming all. When Kretzmann spoke of “the transmission of the Truth,” I believe he meant telling the story of Jesus Christ and the salvation that was won on the cross. This means a campus atmosphere with Christ at the very center, always. The mission of the University is to be aligned with the chapel inscription I mentioned at the beginning—that Christ himself is the cornerstone of the Chapel and of the University. With this unapologetic transmission of Truth in all that the University does, all who attend this institution will benefit. The bold proclamation of Truth should be the firm foundation of all that goes on here.

With that foundation, any debate can be entered, whether it is between different Christian traditions or between non-Christians and Christians. One of the lasting legacies of the Reformation, especially on the campus of a Christian university, is debate. The Truth that must be at the foundation allows institutions like Valpo the freedom to engage in real debate. As the nexus of Athens and Jerusalem, Valpo must be a place where tough conversations happen. Valpo must develop future leaders who are comfortable engaging in difficult conversations with those with whom they have real differences. I believe that Valpo has at times shied away from uncomfortable conversations that are possible because of the Truth, and by doing so, has fallen away from its foundation. This place should be at the forefront of uncomfortable conversations around religious freedom, denominational disagreements, and social justice issues that are the focus of our national conscience.

We have a unique blend of groups here, at a Lutheran institution with more Catholic students than Lutheran ones, and with a growing number of non-Christians. For many students, this place is where they first interact with others who have vastly different views than their own. My charge to Valpo moving forward is to facilitate the kind of difficult conversations that it is uniquely positioned to do while guaranteeing that the Truth holds the highest importance. This cannot be done in an arrogant manner, but with the utter joy that comes from knowing what Jesus Christ has done. That joy creates an atmosphere of welcome that sparks a healthy campus life. That healthy campus life, when based on the foundation of the Truth, promotes the freedom to dialogue across difference. It is critical that Valpo embraces its Reformation heritage not just as an institution of higher learning, but as a Lutheran university born in the tradition of difficult discussion, rooted in the ultimate Truth that Luther communicated 500 years ago.

David King
graduated in 2017 with degrees in history and humanities and as a Christ College Scholar. He is currently living in the Denver area and applying to graduate school while working at a law firm.


Read more from other Roundtable participants:

Brian T. Johnson: Setting the Stage
Ronald K. Rittgers: Loving the Unlovely
Alissa Kretzmann: An Encounter with Grace
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 


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