2018 Berkley Center Lecture Looks to Reformation for the Future

March 23, 2018

William Schweiker, Edward L. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor of Theology at the University of Chicago, delivered the 2018 Berkley Center Lecture, offering reflections on “The Future of Reformations Past.”

Schweiker discussed the potential for a more viable and expansive religious future by exploring how the resources of the Protestant Reformation might continue to contribute to global flourishing. 

“Christian faith...is an affirmation of our humanity,” Schweiker added. “The synthesis of humanism and theocentrism has been found at various points in Christian history, but it is now under attack. And it is, I believe, what we can and must seek to reclaim in order to fashion a viable human future.”

Through the recovery of this understanding of Protestantism, he suggested that a more inclusive and just world may be formed.

“A future that can sustain human rights, freedom of religion, and democratic policy might be forged by drawing on the resources of the magisterial reformation,” he said. 

Transforming the Protestant Spirit

Schweiker suggested one way to reach this future was through a “Protestant spirit.” However, since Protestantism is solely identified with Christianity, he encouraged other religious traditions to embrace a Protestant-like attitude of reform and adaptability to the present age.

He clarified that “this does not mean that all people must somehow become Protestant Christians. What it does mean is that something analogous to the Protestant spirit must be found in the world’s religions and set to work.”

He framed the Protestant spirit as a key factor for a more sustainable future, one that will allow humanity to more effectively wrestle with global challenges that have spiritual roots. 

Challenges of Looking to the Reformation

Schweiker’s lecture ultimately suggested that the Reformation is still present in our world, though many disbelieve its presence.

“Much current scholarship is sharply critical of the reformers and also insists the Reformation is a thing past, somehow dead, within the Global North, even if it flourishes in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.”

In order to combat this notion, Schweiker argued that a commitment to freedom is the ultimate ongoing legacy of the Protestant Reformation.

“The Protestant spirit is at work in the living protest against anything that demeans or destroys the freedom and dignity of the embodied human existence on earth and the freedom of God to be God among us.”

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