On October 27, 28, and 29, Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson of the Institute presented the annual Reformation Heritage Lectures at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. Founded only twenty-five years ago and guided during all this time by the ecumenical vision of Dean Timothy George, a Baptist minister and theologian, Beeson seeks to ground its students, who come primarily from Evangelical Protestant churches, in the “Great Tradition” of Christianity. The annual Reformation Heritage Lectures are an expression of that commitment.
Prof. Wilson’s series was entitled “Soundings in Lutheran Spirituality: Songs, Sinners, and Saints.” The first lecture was actually a sermon during the weekly chapel service. She presented four sixteenth-century Lutheran hymns—by Nikolaus Herman, Elisabeth Cruciger, Paul Speratus, and Martin Luther—and their distinctive way of setting both doctrine and comfort to music, allowing the entire congregation to engage in a form of preaching. The Beeson congregation and a small choir participated in singing the hymns, which were interwoven with the sermon.
The second lecture dealt primarily with baptism—“spirituality for sinners.” After discussing how, for Luther, baptism is primarily a gift of God to human beings, rather than a command of God to be obeyed by humans, Prof. Wilson offered an account of the rationale for infant baptism from a Lutheran perspective, while offering critiques when infant baptism is misused. Since Beeson students come from both infant-baptism and believer’s-baptism traditions, this inspired a lively conversation.
The final lecture concerned saints, a topic that the Institute dealt with at some length during the 2013 Summer Seminar. Here Prof. Wilson made a case for taking a fresh look at what the veneration of saints could mean from an Lutheran perspective, based on Luther’s first hymn about the Antwerp martyrs and Melanchthon’s program for evangelical hagiography in the Apology to the Augsburg Confession.
In addition to the lectures, Prof. Wilson recorded a podcast with Dean George and met with the Women Students’ Fellowship. Altogether it was a very positive visit, and the Beeson community proved itself to be warm, welcoming, and eager for intellectual engagement. The time together exemplified the ideals of ecumenism, growing together through mutual encounter.