Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pulpit Review: Luther Is Back!

Luther, Martin. Edited by Christopher Boyd Brown. Luther's Works, Volume 69 (Sermons on the Gospel of St. John Chapters 17-20). St. Louis, Concordia, 2009. 469 Pages. Cloth. $49.99. http://www.cph.org/ (P)

Luther, Martin. Translated and edited by Charles Daudert. Foreword by Paul L. Maier. Off the Record with Martin Luther: An Original Translation of the Table Talks. Kalamazoo, MI: Hansa-Hewlett, 2009. 495 Pages. Paper. $19.95. http://hansa-hewlett.com/MartinLutherTableTalks.htm (LHP)

When I started working at the seminary library, I was told that after Jesus Christ, more books were written about Martin Lutheran than any other human being. Yet, The American Edition of Luther's Works remined at 55 volumes (plus the Introductory Volume) for far too long. Much of the Weimar edition will likely never be seen in print in English (though online access would be a great idea to make the work of translating more cost-effective.

I have the privilege of introducing you to a fresh translation of the Table Talks at a bargain price and a new official addition to the American Edition of Luther's Works by Concordia Publishing House.

CPH says this...
"About the Series: The twenty planned new volumes are intended to reflect both modern and sixteenth-century interests and to expand the coverage of genres underrepresented in the existing volumes, such as Luther's sermons and disputations. The primary basis for the translation is the comprehensive Weimar edition.

"About this Volume: Volumes 22–24 of Luther's Works: American Edition did not give us all of Luther's preaching on the Gospel of John. Now, in the new volume 69, we have Luther's exposition of Jesus' high priestly prayer in John 17, as well as his preached meditations on the entire passion and resurrection of our Lord according to John. In LW 69, Luther is an expert guide through the mysteries of Lent and Easter. Dr. Christopher Boyd Brown's introductions and footnotes in many ways surpass the scholarly apparatus of the old series. Brown sets Luther's commentary in the context of patristic, medieval, and contemporary Reformation commentaries on John in order to show what was most important to Luther as he preached on Christ's passion.

"The last part of the new volume is truly unique. For the first time, we have collected and translated all of Luther's sermons on John 20:19–31, where Jesus breathes on His disciples, gives them the Holy Spirit, and bestows on them His authority to forgive and retain sins. This passage, which is quoted and explained in many editions of the Small Catechism, as well as in the twenty-eighth article of the Augsburg Confession, has been the center of not a little controversy over the years. The sermons here in LW 69 show in what ways Luther's explanation of this passage changed through his career, and in what ways it stayed the same. In every sermon Luther's concern to uphold the forgiveness of sins through the word of absolution is clear and heartening.

"Become a subscriber. Each volume is currently priced at $49.99 each, but as a subscriber you pay only $34.99 plus shipping, a 30% saving. Volumes will release once a year and will be shipped to you automatically. To become a subscriber, view prospectus, view table of contents, or read testimonials visit http://www.cph.org/luthersworks. This product also available through the Libronix Digital Library System" (publisher's website).

By now you may be looking at your set on your shelf and wonder why there was a need for this volume. Think of volume 69 as the volume that was missing between the original numbers 24 and 25. With this book you will have a completed Luther commentary on the Gospel according to St. John.

The format of the volume has the familiarity of the original volumes, yet with a freshness of font and subtle formatting improvements. One will immediately notice the references to the Weimar edition page numbers on each page of this translation. Page 350 explains other changes in format due to differing texts by different scribes or print editions. Page 377 explains the use of new angle brackets.

Luther on John 17, verse 3: "Behold, this is what this text means as well: If you want to have eternal life, there is no other way, method, or means than by knowing the Father, the only true God, through Christ, His Son, whom He has sent. Whoever proposes anything else to you will certainly lead you astray" (36).

Some from Luther's time to ours try to twist Luther's words to justify their own ideas. Nicolaus von Amsdorf would have none of that (145)! Luther has special insight into how Pilate could have shown the Jewish leaders they were breaking their own law (229). Page 323 gives context to the Invocavit sermons and the doctrine of Absolution. Page 407 is a reminder that Luther suffered from kidney stones.

My experience with this volume was as my Lenten devotional. I highly commend it for your use in that way in 2011. Volume 69 is a treasure, an essential purchase, and a vital future part of your theological library!

Let me allow Dr. Paul Maier to introduce Off the Record  in his own way:
"Anyone acquainted with the voluminous writings of Martin Luther will know that his comments while dining at table with his family, students, and friends show the most fascinating side of the great reformer. Here he was under no obligation to dispute theology, sermonize, or indulge in philosophical speculation. Rather, just as wine is supposed to loosen one’s tongue, so the conviviality of table conversation succeeds even better in revealing one’s inner thoughts and outer observations, which is especially the case in Luther’s Table Talk.

"Here we find his choicest opinions, wry comments, unguarded remarks, passionate involvements, and, above all, his best humor. Martin Luther had a sense of humor that was as huge as the man himself, and he loved to regale guests at the dinner table with the latest witticisms he had picked up hither and yon. Some of his jokes provoke laughter to the present day, despite the ravages of time and circumstance. Probably it was his capacity to see the funny side of things that helped support the man in the face of the enormous challenges in reforming an apparently unreformable church—one man against the world of his day.

"In the four-storey Black Cloister at the eastern end of Wittenberg where Luther lived with his family—a gift of Frederick the Wise—it was open house all year at the Luthers. University students roomed and boarded there, visitors used it as a hotel, while relatives and friends dropped in regularly, especially at mealtime. The world is forever grateful to the students who had the foresight to take up pen, as well as fork, to record the master’s words as he presided at the table.

"To be sure, several editions of Luther’s Table Talk are currently available, and one may wonder why another such is necessary. First, the popular translations available are reprints of a 17th Century translation that has been discredited. What is less known is the fact that only about twenty per cent of the authentic six volumes of the Tischreden in the Weimar edition of Luther’s writings have, in fact, been translated. Accordingly, many scholars of the Reformation are minded to do a full translation and commentary on all or most of Luther’s Table Talk. I, for one, had planned such a project—until, that is, Charles Daudert showed us all how it should be done! Any frustration or even jealousy that I might have had was quickly submerged in the joy of reading material from the great reformer that I had never before encountered, which only added to my appreciation for Luther’s fresh originality and his way with words and phrases.

"Fair warning to the reader: in the Table Talk, Luther is at his unwary best and not hindered by such niceties as prudence, propriety, etiquette, or convention. Some of the material is salty, saucy, and even “over the top.” At such passages, it would be well to remember that Luther himself did not write this material or sign-off on it. It is all recorded by his eager students, who somehow managed to eat meat and potatoes at Luther’s table, yet also take copious notes on whatever he said. His dear wife Katie, who alone could balance the books in the Luther household, thought students should pay advance royalties to her husband—knowing that the material would eventually be published. But Luther countermanded the idea: actor that he was, he needed an audience, not money. Besides, he said, 'I never worry about debts: when they are gone, there will always be more.'

"Modern tastes may also frown at the hyperbole and exaggerations in which Luther so freely indulged. There is no question but that if Luther had had access to a computer, he would have used italics, bold, and underline for much of his discourse. That was his way, but also the way of Old Testament prophets, New Testament evangelists, and especially that of Jesus Christ Himself.

"One need not be a Lutheran to relish this material, nor, on the other hand, will Lutherans concur with all the thousands of insights Luther unleashed before his table guests. Everyone, however, will agree that this is fascinating reading served up in a graceful—and faithful—translation by Charles Daudert, and I heartily recommend it to anyone, especially those intrigued by the Reformation era" (Paul L. Maier's Introduction as reprinted from the publisher's website).

Charles Daudert has been very busy. He has taken on an unique challenge. And his hard work has paid off.

Yes, I prefer the format of the Concordia/Fortress American Edition. That said, it's hard to argue with an accessible, larger-print $20 paperback.

I will take issue with the use of the term "consubstantiation" as an adequate explanation of the Lutheran position (337). Non-Lutherans use it to make-believe that we have a philosophical theory for the real presence instead of being willing to acknowledge that ours is actually the Biblical position on the Supper. Some other minor typos pepper the volume like "rouge" for "rogue" on 106. Apart from those brief items, I loved the rest!

The translator/editor has wisely chosen to put some of this "complete" translation into a separate downloadable document. This supplement provides "the deleted sections of Table Talks [which] contain language used by Martin Luther which many persons consider offensive or statements which may easily be misunderstood. Such comments can detract from the particular converstation and may adversely reflect upon Dr. Luther and the Reformation, especially when taken out of context, a popular practice of these times. The original, unedited, and uncensored versions of those sections are published in this supplement for use by pastors, Luther students and academics." A wise decision!

In the main book, the paperback, quotations are organized by topic first and then by date.

A choice quote: "Money is Satan's scripture, through which he works in the world, just as God does everything through the true Scripture" (97).

Another: "To speak slowly is best suited for a preacher, because he canin that fasion more thoughtfully and exactly put forth his sermon. Seneca also wrote about Cicero that he spoke slowly and from the heart" (226). My wife first gave me this advice. And Luther is also a good advocate for Classical Lutheran Education!

I say this to one and all, including myself: Christians need to read more Luther. Enjoy your time in the Word with one of its best students.

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.