By Lisa McIntosh

German professor Dr Oswald Bayer, an authority on Martin Luther, will present a public lecture at an international theological conference in Melbourne this year to mark the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.

Three years in the planning, the Luther@500 conference will be hosted by the Australian Lutheran Institute for Theology and Ethics (ALITE), under the umbrella of Australian Lutheran College (ALC). Putting the spotlight on Luther’s theology, it will be held from 28 June to 3 July, at the Catholic Leadership Centre in East Melbourne.

The conference will explore the way the reformer’s theology is received today and its significance for Christianity in the future. This exploration will be three-dimensional: ecumenical, global and future-focused.

Five international scholars will join Luther scholars from Australia and New Zealand to present papers. Setting the conference apart from many other academic conferences is that each keynote presentation will be followed by small-group discussions or Tischreden (‘table talk’), so-named in honour of Luther’s own practice.

ALITE Director Rev Dr Stephen Hultgren says that Luther@500 will be the main theological conference of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. It is targeted at Luther scholars, theologians, clergy, students and laypeople of all denominations. A number of overseas participants are expected, including a good number from Asia and the Pacific.

In addition, Dr Bayer, professor emeritus of the University of Tübingen and one of the most important Luther scholars of the past 50 years, will speak on the significance of Luther today and for the future, under the title: Luther Ahead: From Promise to Fulfilment.

ALC lecturer and planning committee member Rev Dr Stephen Pietsch says while looking at the history of Luther is not the main purpose of Luther@500, it is intertwined with understanding the impact of his theology for the current age and beyond. ‘You can’t study Luther without studying history and when you study history it catapults you into the future’, he says.

Another presenter, German-American scholar Dr Franz Posset, brings expertise particularly in the area of Luther’s life and theology from a Catholic perspective. An award-winning researcher, Dr Posset will speak on the theme OUR Martin: Catholic sympathisers yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Dr Hultgren says the strong ecumenical theme to the conference is crucial and that presenter Professor Theodor Dieter’s paper on Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses will further that. A pastor with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Württemberg and research professor at the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, Professor Dieter played a leading role on the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, adopted by the Roman Catholic Church and Lutheran churches from around the world in 1999. He also contributed to the Lutheran-Roman Catholic document From Conflict to Communion, a resource for the ecumenical commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

The remaining keynote presenters are Finnish-American theologian Kirsi Stjerna, co-chair of the Martin Luther and Global Lutheran Traditions of the American Academy of Religion; American professor emeritus James Nestingen, a distinguished international teacher of Luther and Reformation studies, who in 2006 was a visiting scholar and lecturer in Australia; and Finnish theologian Risto Saarinen, professor of Ecumenics at the University
of Helsinki.

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