Martin Luther. As the 500th anniversary of the reformation this name will be on the lips of many people. Yet, most people will know of him little more than the fact that he “started” the Reformation – or better yet he caused the split between Catholics and Protestants. Some won’t even know that! They will just know that he is the guy that started Lutheran churches….. *sigh*
Yet Luther is so much more than just those things! Luther helped to rediscover the doctrine of justification by faith, “the doctrine by which the church stands or falls!” He was also a firm defender of the 5 sola’s: sola Scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, sola Christus, sola Deo Gloria.
This new book, Martin Luther in His Own Words, edited by Jack Kilcrease and Erwin Lutzer attempts to give readers an introduction to the essential writers of this German Reformer. Organized around the 5 Sola’s, the editors have included excerpts from some of Luther’s most important works including:
Commentary on Galatians
Preface to St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans
The Bondage of the Will
Commentary on the Lord’s Prayer
If you don’t have time to sift through all of Luther’s works but want a good introduction you don’t need to look further than this book. If you are intimidated about picking up theological literature that was written 500 years ago, again look no further! The editors have included concise but extremely helpful introductions to each of the sections.
If you are a pastor who is looking for one place where you can get the best of Luther’s works – look here. If you are a Bible college student who has always been interested in Luther but doesn’t know where to start. Look here! Finally, if you would like to do some sort of small group discussion on the Reformation, this would be a great place to start. So look here!
If any of these categories apply to you, and you would like a free copy of this book, you are in luck! In a few days I will be giving away one copy of this book. So keep your eyes on my blog, I will be explaining the giveaway soon!
Pastor. Martyr. Prophet. Spy. Those are the four words that Eric Metaxas used to describe Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his magisterial biography of the famous German-Lutheran pastor/theologian. The Bonhoeffer that Charles Marsh offers in this new biography of Bonhoeffer could be aptly described by those four words as well, however he adds two new words to the description of Bonhoeffer – “Strange Glory.”
Marsh’s biography follows the same general contours of most Bonhoeffer biographies. Bonhoeffer is born into an academic-socially elite family. He lives a life of privilege even during a time of economic hardship through Germany. He goes to school where he studies theology among some of the most important theological minds of his century – Harnack, Holl, and Seeberg. He was exposed to the theology of Barth. He took up pastoral posts in Spain and London. He took a trip to America to study at Union, this trip would forever change his life. He came back to Germany as Hitler’s power began to rise. He helped lead the dissident churches and founded an underground seminary at Finkenwilde. He took part in the Abwehr’s plot to overthrow Hitler from power. Eventually he was arrested and killed for taking part in resisting the Nazi government. So what makes Marsh’s biography stand out above the other biographies that have already been written? It’s his notion of “strange glory.”
According to Marsh, Bonhoeffer’s life is fraught with contradictions. At once he is driven by earthly and worldly passions yet so much of him is dedicated to the transcendent Christ. This strangeness is especially evident in some of his letters – in many of his letters you catch a glimpse of two sides of Bonhoeffer, he writes about Christology, the resistance, and solidarity with the poor and oppressed. Moments latter, within the same letter, he might go off into a rant about a relative sending him the wrong pair of clothes. He will describe in detail his fashion “needs,” days spent lounging at cafés drinking coffee or wine, visiting the opera and fantasizing about vacations taken to exotic parts of Europe. Another part of this “strange glory” is his relationship with Bethge – which many other reviews have already commented on.
There are several key things that make this biography stand out above many others.
Marsh’s ability to engage in complex theological discussions – Whether it’s a discussion of Church dogmatics, Hegel’s Philosophy, or the intricacies of Liberal Protestant Theology Marsh “gets it.” He is able to concretely summarize and engage with Bonhoeffer’s contemporaries. Also, Marsh takes the time to engage with Bonhoeffer’s theology, presenting discussions of Ethics, Life Together, Christ the Center, Sanctorum Communio, and Act and Being in depth.
It gives a different take on Bonhoeffer’s first Trip to America – It has been well noted that Bonhoeffer was extremely disappointed by the state of Christianity in America (except for African-American churches). Most biographies allow Bonhoeffer’s feelings during his time in America to color their interpretation of how important this trip was. While in America, Bonhoeffer was highly critical of American theology, which was essentially politics and humanitarianism. However, latter on in Bonhoeffer’s life we see how deeply this trip affected Bonhoeffer. Much of how he resisted the Nazi government and his defense of Jews in Germany was shaped by his time in America.
It paints a vivid picture of Bonhoeffer’s emotional needs – More than any other book on Bonhoeffer that I have read, it paints a picture of Bonhoeffer as a man who not only craves, but needs Bonhoeffer seems to be an emotionally needy person. Whether its his relationship with his sister Sabine, his close community at Finkenwilde, or his friendship with Bethge, Bonhoeffer seems to be a person who cannot do life alone. He consistently seems to move from person to person, seeking to find some sort of fulfillment. He seems absolutely depended upon reciprocal love and attention from others.
He does a good job explaining the apparent contradiction between Bonhoeffer’s pacifism and his willingness to kill Hitler – this apparent contradiction is resolved by making use of Lutheran theology, essentially Bonhoeffer knew that whether he took the route of action or inaction he would be guilty of sin, so following the (apparently) Lutheran principle of “sin and sin boldly” Bonhoeffer was able to justify taking part in the plot to kill Hitler.
This is an excellent and highly entertaining biography. It is very well written; at times it felt as though I were reading a novel, not a historical biography. But more importantly than that it is comprehensive, it goes beyond merely reporting the standard story, but instead strives to get into Bonhoeffer’s mind. It does that very well. Marsh understands Bonhoeffer’s theology, and he seems to understand some of the things that really acted as driving forces in Bonhoeffer’s life. I recommended that you read this biography alongside of Eric Metaxas’ biography so that you will be able to form your own picture of who Bonhoeffer really was.
(Note: I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.)
The churches I have been a part of my whole life were not confessional by any stretch of the word; neither did they ever use a catechism. Most people in those churches probably didn’t even know what “catechism” meant. My first exposure to the word was in college. I picked up a Roman Catholic Catechism my first year of college. So I thought a catechism was a Roman Catholic thing. As I moved towards the reformed tradition in college I began to grow in appreciation of confessions and of catechisms. The Heidelberg Catechism is now one of my go to catechism for there is something beautiful to this catechism. There is a real sense of “heart” and relationship with God in it. (There I go revealing my pious roots!) When I saw this book on a catechism I really enjoy I thought it would be a worthwhile read. I was right.
During the 400th anniversary of this catechism, a lot of voices came out saying that the Heidelberg Catechism (HC) is a fantastic ecumenical statement of faith. However, the anniversary came and went, and so did the buzz about the document’s ecumenical nature. Yet recently there has been a revival of trying to interpret the HC as an ecumenical document. Much of this effort has taken place along several lines including the study of the historical context out of which the document arose and through a sort of text-criticism of the document. This book takes the second route. As Bierma progress through a study of the texts behind the text he shows that in the HC “we encounter traces of the grafting of Reformed branches onto a Lutheran vine.” (11) Much like the church in the Palatinate, this confession has a Lutheran (specifically a Melanchthonian) foundation with Reformed elements/themes/language built on top.
Bierma spends seven chapters studying the text and the texts behind the text in order to show how he comes to believe his thesis. He shows that the HC draws upon 1-Luther’s Small Catechism, 2-Melanchthon’s AC, 3-Melanchthon’s Examen Ordinadorum, 4-Calvin’s Genevan Catechism, 5-the north-German Lasco catechisms, and 6- two confessions by Beza. The authors of the HC establish common ground finding middle positions, toning down controversial points, state view positively rather than polemically, and sometimes combing elements of various traditions (12).
Chapters are dedicated to 1-The Theme and Structure of the HC, 2-The Law and Gospel, 3-Providence and Predestination, 4-Christ and the Holy Spirit, 5-The Sacraments, 6-Covenant, and 7-Good Works.
Bierma does a excellent job exploring the history of scholarship on the HC. I know about the theology of the HC, but I didn’t know much about the history of scholarship of the HC, so I found it truly enlightening.
Bierma makes a strong, yet short, case for the HC being a proto-confessional document based upon the historical context of the HC. The university at Heidelberg was a pretty ecumenical university with a pretty ecumenical faculty. The committee that wrote up the document was pretty ecumenical as well. It included Melanchthonians, Zwinglians, and Calvinists. Also, Ursinus, who was the primary mover and shaker in the bunch strattles the line between being a Calvinist and a Bullingerian. Not to mention he has Lutheran roots.
As an added bonus, Bierma includes a version of the HC in the appendix.
I have one qualm with this book. Its actually a pretty serious one too. I am not sure that Bierma is engaged in a very practical project. As I was reading the book I was reminded a lot of Old Testament source-criticism; scholars searching for the text behind the text (JDEP). That project has been largely abandoned in favor of OT study that focuses on the text itself or on response to the text. That is not to say that its impossible to find texts behind texts, but in my opinion the prospects are bleek. When it comes to finding the text behind the text in the HC I think the prospects are bleek as well. Bierma shows that there are textual similarities between the HC and other Lutheran/Reformed documents, but its hard to show causal dependence upon them. Were the authors of the HC influenced by these texts? Probably. They grew up around them. That is like asking if I have been influenced by MLK’s “I have a dream speech.” However just because I write the phrase “I have a dream” in a sermon of mine that doesn’t mean that I am causally dependent upon MLK’s speech, I am constantly being culturally shaped in ways that I am not aware of. To imagine that you can understand my psyche, is a pretty bold claim. Its even bolder to claim that we can understand the psyche of people who lived 450+ years ago. All this to say, if we are looking for textual similarities, then Bierma has done us a huge favor in this book. But if we are looking for actual causal dependence, I’m not so sure I buy Bierma’s work.
I don’t mean to sound overly critical, but as I mentioned, I am wary of the possibility of discovering texts behind texts. Maybe that’s the result of my biblical studies professors. Maybe it’s a different case when it comes to dealing with theological texts. Maybe not though. Either way, I highly recommend this book for historical theologians. You aren’t going to find much about the theology of the HC itself, but you will find a lot about the historical-theological context of the HC. For this reason I recommend this book to historical theologians.
Note: I received this book courtesy of WJK and Netgalley. I was in no way obligated to give a positive/negative review.
“America is not God’s nation. Let me make this clear… America is not the new Israel, nor is it a Christian nation. What the Old Testament does do is critiques the massive wave of Christian support for America’s unbridled militarism. Such alligance is misplaced; such support is unbiblical…..Seing America’s military strength as the hope of the world is an affront to God’s rule over the world. Its idolatry.” – Preston Sprinkle in Fight
Nationalism and Patriotism are quite different things. Growing up I didn’t understand this whatsoever. I vividly remember 9/11. I was in 8th grade when it happened. I remember the types of conversation I had with my friends in the days ensuing the tragedy. “If I were 18 I would join the army and kill those idiots.” “We have to pay them back.” “How dare they do this to America, don’t they know who we are!” There was a surge in nationalism during those days. People blindly turned to war as the solution (or revenge) for what had happened. Pay back through violence is how we made ourselves feel better for what had happened to us. I was one of those people who blindly followed along.
It wasn’t until my senior year of college that I really figured out my view of a Christian’s relationship to the government. Somehow I had picked up a Lutheran(ish) 2 Kingdoms view of politics.
The Kingdom of the State was one thing, and the Kingdom of God was another. Certain things belonged to Caesar and certain things belonged to King Jesus. As Christian I was a citizen of the State but also a citizen of God’s kingdom. This lead me to say things such as “As an American I support the war in Iraq, but as Christian I don’t.” Or “As a citizen I support torture for the sake of America’s safety, but as a Christian I believe it is wrong.” That was typical of my views…. “As an American I_________, but as a Christian I ___________.” It was only when I began to dive into the Gospels and theology of the Kingdom, mainly through N.T. Wright that my views began to change. I began to see how ridiculous it was to hold a position as an American and hold the opposite position as a Christian. It was during this period, and my time at Fuller under Glen Stassen that I began to submit my political views to Jesus and the way of the Kingdom. My views became integrated. And then I realized that I could still love my country, but not support the things it does. I could be patriotic without being nationalistic.
Here is how Richard Mouw spells out the difference between the two in an essay titled “Patriotism”:
I had serious doubts about the war in Vietnam in my youth, and this was not a popular stance to take in the evangelical world in those days. Evangelical Christians were often super patriotic. “My country, right or wrong” was one their rallying cries.
I had real theological problems with that attitude. That kind of patriotism struck me as boarding on idolatry. The worship – or near-worship – of a nation is a serious problem from a biblical perspective…. Absolute loyalty is something that only God deserves from us.
There is nothing wrong with Patriotism… Indeed it can be a very healthy thing. The Bible often uses the word “honor” in describing what Christians should cultivate in their dealings with the nations in which they live. That’s the same word that is applied in the 10 commandments to our parental relations: “Honor your father and mother.” The link between parents and nation is a good one to think about. There is a natural connection. “Patriotism” comes from the word for “father.” We often speak of our “fatherland” or our “motherland.”
There is nothing wrong with feeling sentimental about our parents… When a mother gets a card from a son that says “You are the Greatest Mom in the World,” she has every right to simply enjoy the compliment… the hyperbole is OK. We all understand that is going on. And we all know that any woman who took the claim literally could be dangerous.
For similar reasons, there is nothing inappropriate as such in thinking of my own country as the Greatest Nation in the World. Sentimental hyperbole is one of the ways we express important affections. But there is a special danger when we say such things of our country. Nations have a tendency to believe that they really ARE the greatest. And nations, especially powerful nations like the United States, have lots of guns and bombs in their possession. Whey they start backing up their belief in their own greatness by using these bombs and guns against other nations, they can become a serious threat.” (Praying at Burger King pg. 116-119)
Mouw’s observation that “patriotism” comes from the same root as “father” is very insightful. We honor our mothers and fathers, but we do not obey when they ask us to do things that contradict what our Heavenly Father requires from us.
Nationalism is blind obedience and support of our nation rooted in the belief that our nation is the “greatest nation in the world.” Patriotism can say that we are “the greatest nation in the world,” however patriotism doesn’t really believe that we are the “greatest nation in the world.” Patriotism honors and cares for one’s nation in the same way one honors and cares for one’s mother and father.
Patriotism is what we are called to as Christians. It’s biblical. Nationalism, on the other hand is idolatry.
To say “As an American I_________, but as a Christian I ___________,” is nationalistic. It’s idolatrous. It’s believing that certain things belong to Caesar and other things belong to King Jesus. It fails to recognize that they only true king and ruler is Jesus. It fails to express the fact that our allegiance belongs to Jesus alone.