Luther on the Power of Questions

In my church history class last week, we discussed Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. Toward the end, I was struck once again by the powerful way that he used questions to drive home a point. Like any good communicator, he knew how to use questions as an effective rhetorical tool.

As, for example, Luther was not just asking questions when he put forth the following:

Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are there, if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial.

Or, my personal favorite:

Why does not the pope, whose wealth is to-day greater than the riches of the richest, build just this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?

And, just for the fun of it, here are a couple more.

What does the pope remit or dispense to people who, by their perfect repentance, have a right to plenary remission or dispensation?

What the pope seeks by indulgences is not money, but rather the salvation of souls; why then does he suspend the letters and indulgences formerly conceded, and still as efficacious as ever?

I’m relatively certain that Luther knew he was not just asking questions. And, I bet the pope got the hint as well.

At the same time, I’m reminded of a more recent debate. One of the more commonly offered comments in response to the promo video for Rob Bell‘s forthcoming book is that “He was only asking questions.” No, in a context like that, you are never just asking questions.

Now, as with many rhetorical devices, it’s often an interesting task to try and discern exactly what someone is doing with questions. But, let’s all agree that sometimes a question is not just a question.


About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on March 7, 2011, in Historical Theology, Misc. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Yeah most of us have not touched the hem of Luther’s theological garment! 🙂

  2. “But, let’s all agree that sometimes a question is not just a question. ”

    Amen, and amen.

  1. Pingback: What makes a question dangerous? | Everyday Theology

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