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"All pilgrimages should be done away with," Martin Luther wrote in 1520. "For there is no good in them, no commandment, but countless causes of sin and of contempt of God's commandments. These pilgrimages are the reason for there being so many beggars, who commit numberless villainies."

This quote—and the Reformer's many other warnings against pilgrimage—seem to be missing from the government and private materials promoting the Luther Trail, a 170-mile route from Wittenberg to Mansfeld, his childhood home. See Luther's ink stain on the wall at Wartburg Castle! Feel the cold wind that nearly killed him at Unterrissdorf! Buy "Here I stand" socks in Erfurt!

"Luther would probably have been horrified," says British theologian and Luther scholar Graham Tomlin. "He even hated the idea of people being called 'Lutherans.' Though maybe he might not have minded [the trail] if the purpose was to remind people of the rediscovery of the gospel by retracing his steps." After all, Tomlin notes, Luther himself often retold the story of how he rediscovered the gospel.

It would be easy to dismiss the Luther Trail—and similar Reformation pilgrimage routes in John Calvin's Switzerland, John Knox's Scotland, and elsewhere—as the savvy marketing of tourism boards. But even the most Reformed evangelicals are now talking openly about spiritual travel. True, Protestants have long embraced the language of pilgrimage, but almost exclusively as metaphor, as in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress or the old gospel hymn, "I Am a Pilgrim."

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler isn't using the word ...

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He Talked to Us on the Road
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April 2009

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