Remembering the Reformation
On October 31, 1517, 33-year-old monk and theology professor Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany. This became a key event in igniting the Reformation. As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year, here are some helpful resources for those who want to learn more about Luther and how the gospel was unleashed with fresh power.
Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther
Roland Bainton (Abingdon, 1950). 336 pp.
Bainton’s biography of the great reformer is a classic, and it’s still in print. Bainton combined solid scholarship with readable clarity, and the book has sold over a million copies. He pictures the confrontation at the Diet of Worms: “Here was Charles, heir of a long line of Catholic sovereigns…ruling over a vaster domain than any save Charlemagne….and here before him was a simple monk, a miner’s son, with nothing to sustain him save his own faith in the Word of God….What overpowered him was not so much that he stood in the presence of the emperor as this, that he and the emperor alike were called upon to answer before the Almighty God.” Bainton tells of Luther’s struggle in translating the Bible into German, which he calls “Luther’s noblest achievement.” He has a delightful chapter on Luther’s marriage at the age of 42 to Katherine von Bora, a former nun, and their home life. Luther portrayed marriage as a “school of character.” Family life is where one learns fortitude, patience, love, and humility. The book was translated into Japanese in 1954 (now sadly out of print) but is available from several publishers in English.
Reviewer rating is 5 out of 5 stars ★★★★★
Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom
Carl R. Trueman (Crossway, 2015). 214 pp.
One of the books in Crossway’s excellent series on Theologians of the Christian Life, Trueman gives a compelling introduction to Luther, the “great, flawed genius of the Wittenberg Reformation.” Trueman begins, “I have loved Luther almost since the moment I first grasped the gospel. Along with Augustine, Aquinas, Owen, Warfield, Lloyd-Jones, and Packer, he has been one of my private theological companions. And he has made me laugh far more frequently than any of those other auspicious names” (p. 15). “After Augustine, no single churchman–theologian has influenced the Western church more than Luther over the centuries” (p. 21). Trueman looks at some of the foundational theological concepts in Luther’s thinking. “For Luther the most radical thing one could do was to learn the basics of the faith with the simple trust of a little child” (p. 27). Trueman, professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary and pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania, has been teaching on Luther for over two decades to students on both sides of the Atlantic, and every reader will profit from this book. He quotes from Luther’s message about the power of the Word: “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing . . . the Word did everything” (pp. 94–95). One of the most striking things about Luther is his sense of humor. “Humor was a large part of what helped make him so human and accessible. . . . Luther knew that this fallen world was not as it was designed to be and was thus absurd and futile” (pp. 198–199). Luther’s theology and humor point us to God and help us as we live the Christian life.
Reviewer rating is 4.5 out of 5 stars ★★★★½
God’s Word Alone
The Authority of Scripture: What the
Reformers Taught and Why it Still Matters
Matthew Barrett (Zondervan, 2016). 402 pp.
Barrett is also the editor of The Five Sola Series, an outstanding series on the foundational doctrines of the Reformation—Scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, and God’s glory alone. Barrett says that “we live in a day when Scripture’s authority is questioned, the exclusivity of Christ as mediator as well as the necessity of saving faith are offensive to pluralistic ears, and the glory of God…is diminished by cultural accommodation as well as by individual and ecclesiastical narcissism” (p. 11). Barrett and the authors in this series look not only to the past but also to the present, “demonstrating that we must drink deeply from the wells of the five solas in order to recover our theological bearings and find spiritual refreshment.” In Part One, “God’s Word under Fire, Yesterday and Today,” Barrett focuses on biblical authority in the 16th century as well as the modern crisis over biblical authority. Part Two looks at God’s Word in redemptive history and Barrett traces the Word of God through Scripture’s story line. Part Three is a study of the character of God’s Word and contemporary challenges. Barrett shows how God speaks with authority (inspiration), God speaks truthfully (inerrancy), God speaks to be heard (clarity), and God’s speech is enough (sufficiency). Barrett shows why we should devote ourselves to studying, obeying, and spreading God’s Word.