Monday, December 3, 2012

LHP Review: About Luther


Posset, Franz. The Real Luther: The Friar at Erfurt and Wittenberg. St. Louis: Concordia, 2011. 195 Pages. Paper. $39.99. (LHP)

 Steinmetz, David C. Luther in Context, Expanded Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002. 197 Pages. Paper. $22.00. (LHP)

Kolb, Robert and Charles P. Arand. The Genius of Luther's Theology: A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008. 240 Pages. Paper. $24.00. (LHP)

Sears, Barnas. Life of Luther. Green Forest, AR: Attic Books/New Leaf Publishing Group, 2010. (Originally published in 1850 by ASSU.) 496 Pages. Cloth. $17.99. (LHP)

Our regular focus on the life, work, and theology of Dr. Martin Luther continues with four more volumes about Luther.


Roman Catholic Scholar, Franz Posset, carefully explores the history of Luther's development in the crucial years of 1501-17 before Luther's views were disputed. Setting aside legends and accusations, Posset gets at the facts about Luther as a late medieval friar in an age of reform. The book includes:

  • Illustrations from Luther's career
  • A complete, new translation of Philip Melanchthon's memoirs of Luther's life, based on actual discussions with Luther
  • A fresh chronology of Luther's life from 1501-17, based on the latest research
  • Extensive references to both primary and secondary literature for Luther studies

Author Franz Posset, PhD, is an independent researcher and an associate editor of Luther Digest. He has authored five books, including The Front-Runner of the Catholic Reformation: The Life and Works of Johann von Staupitz (2003), and articles for historical encyclopedias. His scholarly research has also appeared in numerous journals. In 2003 he was awarded the Natalie Zemon Davis Prize for superb scholarship. 

(Publisher's website)

In preparation to read this volume by Posset, I read his Pater Berhnardus: Martin Luther and Bernhard of Clairvaux. The context Posset provides is as a Roman Catholic author presenting a basic apologetic for Luther, placing him squarely in numerous Western Christian schools of thought. If Roman Catholicism still refuses to lift the excommunication on Luther and is more than reluctant to recognize him as the/an angel of Revelation 14:6, at least Roman Christians may begin to see that Luther was indeed a loyal son of the Roman Church (The Real Luther, 69). Luther loved Bernhard's sermons but seemed to disagree very much with his more intentionally theological works.

What will Lutherans (and others) learn about The Real Luther?

  • A reexamination of Luther legends (36)
  • The author's survey of views of Luther and fads in Luther research (xii-ff, et al).
  • A picture of "Saint Luther" (see cover, 32ff) as inspired by the Holy Spirit
  • A possible redating of the trip to Rome (1511-12 instead of 1510, 4)
  • A pre-19th Century celebration of the Reformation on 25 June (Augsburg Confession) instead of 31 October (11)
  • The need for a recovery of what Luther read and why (40)
  • Luther was part of a "Bernhard Renaissance" (86, 113, 123, 138, passim).
  • He directed Melanchthon to Bernhard (97, 145, 157, passim), who quoted him in significant Lutheran writings.
  •  Luther was a Friar, not a monk (56)  

I have great appreciation for "Peer Reviewed" CPH books like The Real Luther. It is to be understood by readers that the author is not writing under the doctrinal and confessional standards of the LCMS and that the book in question has not been through the formal doctrinal review process. I welcome more from CPH from Franz Posset and others who appreciate Luther for who he was, rather than who people with agendas have claimed he was.

Next up, the second edition of David Steinmetz's Luther reader:


Luther in Context places Martin Luther within his theological world--a world in which he engaged in intellectual dialogue with key thinkers including Plato, Augustine, Calvin, William of Ockham, and Biel. These essays cast light on Luther's thought by positioning it within the context of his theological antecedents and contemporaries. A leading scholar of Luther studies, David Steinmetz both seeks out Luther's new ground and demonstrates where the Reformer remained Augustinian or Ockhamist.
Steinmetz explores many issues that were of considerable importance to Luther, including temptation, the hiddenness of God, and justification by faith alone. Although it is not intended to be a complete presentation of Luther's thought, this book does examine a wide range of themes and problems in Luther's theology. Thus, a reader who is encountering Luther for the first time will find a broad sampling of the ideas that were especially important to the Reformer.
This expanded edition contains three additional essays, one of which is appearing in English for the first time. "Luther and Calvin on the Banks of the Jabbok" contrasts Luther and Calvin as biblical commentators by comparing their handling of Genesis 32. "Luther and the Ascent of Jacob's Ladder" examines the late medieval exegetical tradition surrounding Jacob's dream and Luther's relationship to that tradition. Finally, "Luther and Formation in Faith" traces the reeducation of Latin Christendom in a Christian faith and practice shaped by the theology of Luther.
Students and scholars of the Reformation will find Luther in Context to be an insightful glimpse into the thought and theology of Martin Luther. 
(Publisher's Website)

These essays are the scholarly, informative sort that so often make up reading lists for seminary or university classes. I won't say they are dry. I refuse to say they are boring. We live in an age where nearly everything is expected to have some aspect of entertainment to it. Dig in. Learn something.
I especially appreciated the essays on Luther an Calvin (VIII, XIII) as a parish pastor. Recently, I've had conversations with those who have not been lifelong Lutherans. Some are troubled by the differences between Calvin's theological approach and that of Luther very early in their affiliation with our congregation. For others, the questions come out later as we discuss the Elect, "once saved, always saved," or the priority of either Justification or the Sovereignty of God. It has been said that "theology is for proclamation." I certainly agree. Steinmetz's essays have been practically applied in my parish.

If you appreciate comparison and contrast (even Luther against Luther), you will appreciate the approach of David C. Steinmetz as he shows Luther in Context.    

I had the opportunity to study under Dr. Arand, co-author of The Genius of Luther's Theology, at the same seminary where Dr. Kolb teaches.


While other volumes are available that introduce readers to the theology of Martin Luther, this volume from two eminent Lutheran professors offers a unique approach. Rather than surveying traditional theological subject headings, they focus on two central ideas that informed the basic conceptual framework of Wittenberg theology.
The first presupposition concerns Luther's anthropology. His well-known emphasis on justification by faith, or "passive righteousness," described God's grace. But Luther also emphasized a related aspect, the "active righteousness" of love that ought to shape and guide social relationships. The second presupposition concerns Luther's focus on the way God works in the world through his Word--creative, incarnational, and sacramental. Taken together, Kolb and Arand find that these ideas formed a matrix that shaped the theological reflections of Luther and his disciples.
Twenty-first century Christians face significant challenges to their proclamation of the gospel and to their existence as a faith community. Living in a tumultuous age, Luther faced equally challenging crises. His theological emphases, which are described and considered in this perceptive study, have much to offer contemporary pastors and theologians who seek to construct their own formulations of God's message for the present age.
(Publisher's website)

Similar to The Real Luther as a book that shows a Martin Luther many do not properly understand, and similar to Luther in Context by showing Luther's theology developing as both a continuation and response to streams of thought in the Roman Church, The Genius of Luther's Theology goes beyond historical theology into applying Luther's theological emphases and method for today.

An overall vocational emphasis permeates the book as readers are (re)introduced to Luther's "Two Kinds of Righteousness" and God's Word spoken, preached, delivered in the "Means of Grace," and enfleshed in Jesus Christ. The Genius of Luther's Theology is a great way for Lutheran college students and new Lutherans to grow in theological knowledge and practice after they have read Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions and as they also read Law and Gospel and The Church and the Office of the Ministry.

This is the kind of book we love to see from Baker Academic!

Finally, we turn to the Sears biography of Luther published by the American Sunday School Union.


A historic and comprehensive biography of early Christianity's most influential leader of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther.
Controversial and visionary, Luther's life is revealed in this rare presentation of his work as an educator and church leader. From his birth and childhood, to his religious education, and the events leading up to the Protestant Reformation, you will discover the views and experiences that led to his excommunication by the Pope in 1520. Correspondence and accounts shed further light on Luther's defiant translation of the Bible from Latin to the language of the common man.
This unique biography is reproduced from an 1850 American Sunday School Union (now the American Missionary Fellowship) original, and in it you will be introduced to the pivotal life of this enigmatic man before, during, and after one of Christianity's defining events.
(Publisher's website)

Biographies of Martin Luther are not as rare as many Americans today think. Nor is Luther as much of a revolutionary as he is made out to be. Books like the first three reviewed here are more "revolutionary" for portaying Luther's theological genius in context, that He was heavily influenced by monasticism and Bernhard of Clairvaux, but most influenced by the Holy Spirit and the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What is truly scandalous about Luther in the "Christian" West is that for all of the influence he had, Luther is found so little on the bookshelves of modern Christians and in American Evangelical "Christian" bookstores. One will most likely see Lewis and Lucado, but only rarely "Luther" or Luther's Small Catechism.

I am thrilled that Attic books has republished this 1850 biography of Luther to a wider, modern audience so unfamiliar with the Great Reformer. And I personally appreciated most the care and attention taken by the publisher to give this reproduction the look and feel of the original edition.

Christian congregations care for their pastors for the sake of the Gospel. Let us tell others about the life, work, and theology of Dr. Martin Luther for the same reason!

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, Yellowstone Circuit Visitor (LCMS Wyoming District), a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.

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