Juhani Holma: "The Gospel is timeless"

The Finnish theologian about the Gospel as medicine and the common wavelength of Christian churches

Juhani Holma from Finland, with his familyPhoto: privateThe first participant of the program "International Wittenberg Resident", Juhani Holma from Finland, with his family. Tornio, a city in the north of Finland with 22,000 inhabitants, is the home of Junani Holma, doctor of theology, church musician, and first participant of the program "International Wittenberg Resident", who will come in August 2009 to live in the Luther City of Wittenberg for thirteen months, following the invitation of the Evangelical Church in Germany.

Holma is 51 years old and married to Riitta; they have four children. The family lives directly at the market square, overlooking the towers of the City Church, where Martin Luther preached. The Finn looks forward to his task: Together with the office of the Evangelical Church in Germany, he will create an international network for the Reformation anniversary in 2017. For the first time, confirmation candidates from Finland will be guests in the Luther City during Reformation Day 2009. Apart from the international co-operation, which also includes the participation of Holma's Finnish home church in the preparations for the anniversary, the resident will do research on a Reformation theology topic.

luther2017: Mr. Holma, you arrived in Wittenberg with you family in summer 2009. How do you like it?

Juhani Holma: Thank you; we feel happy here. Although it is always a great challenge for a family to move to a new country, we have found good friends and nice leisure activities in Wittenberg. The children were well accepted in their new schools.
Our family outings to other parts of Germany have been very interesting and enlightening. In Wittenberg, we were always welcomed with friendliness, and this helped us to feel happy here. This year in Germany belongs to the most wonderful times of our life.

What were your first thoughts when you learned that you were going to live in Wittenberg for a year?

Holma: I was very glad when I heard that the Evangelical Church in Germany was going to invite me to Wittenberg as the first international resident. Having studied on a bursary in Erlangen, I already knew Germany to a certain extent. I also did research for my thesis in German libraries. My curiosity had been stimulated: I wanted to know more about church life in Germany. The opportunity to work in the service of the Evangelical Church of Germany was an interesting challenge for me. I hope that I will make experiences here that I can then convey to the people at home in Finland. In future, I want to be a liaison partner for church contacts between Germany and Finland.

What are your wishes for the Reformation anniversary?

Holma: I hope that the Luther Decade will be successful in emphasising the topics that have been especially important to the Reformers themselves. They might be good mottoes for the people who struggle with the challenges of today. For Luther, the Gospel was the decisive thing. The Gospel is timeless. This is why it is the best medicine for the wounds of people today, and the answer to their burning questions. If Luther himself had the opportunity to participate in the preparations for the Reformation anniversary, I imagine that he might highlight his thesis: "The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God" as being the most important one. The Gospel grants us the right perspective towards our present age, as well as the future.

Are Martin Luther and the Reformation issues that are talked about in Finland?

Holma: Finland is a Protestant, Lutheran country, with 80 percent of the population being members of the Lutheran church. The heritage of Luther and the Reformation is therefore a well-known issue for the Finns. The Lutheran mode of thought has been very influential on Finnish identity. It certainly will continue to play an important role as the foundation of the Finnish society and church.

In the autumn of 2010, the preparations for the Reformation anniversary will begin in Finland. During the festive decade, the Finnish bishops plan to emphasise theological aspects that are directly related to the heritage of the Reformation. Hopefully, Luther's teachings can be reflected in the parishes, so that the celebrations of the Reformation anniversary will focus on the work of the different parishes. It is a search for the "leitmotiv" of the Reformation. How might the Gospel find expression in the reality of everyday life? This is the question, and we try to find answers.

The motto of the Luther Decade for 2009 is "Reformation and Confession". What is your confession?

Holma: I am a Lutheran with an ecumenical orientation. This means that I have many sisters and brothers in faith in the other churches as well. In spite of my strong Lutheran identity I am in close contact, especially with Orthodox and Catholic Christians. One reason for us getting on so well with each other is perhaps the fact that, as a Lutheran, I want to emphasise the significance of the Bible. The Word of God is the same for all of us, and therefore it is easy to find a common "wavelength", in spite of our different traditions.

Most of all, my confession is the love for the Word of God. Equally, I love the Lord's Supper It is the prerequisite for me being able to meet the daily challenges of my life. Both elements were also especially important and dear to Luther.