Friday, December 8, 2017

Book Review: Martin Luther

Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World

This book tells the story of a man who changed the course of history by simply standing for what he believed. Martin Luther was a dedicated scholar who earned a master’s degree in liberal arts and rather than begin work on a law degree as his father hoped, he became a theologian and preacher. But he was a man consumed by his sinfulness. He suffered from depression and spent hours bemoaning his sins, until parish priests tired of hearing him.

According to author Eric Metaxas, much we believe about Luther is myth. For instance, Metaxas says it’s unlikely Luther nailed his 95 theses (a listing of what he saw as abuses within the Catholic church) on the Wittenberg church door, for that would have been damaging property.

By creating his listing, Luther assumed he was simply helping the church understand where leaders were going wrong. He never would have imagined that a new way of worship would spring from his observations. He would have been discomforted to think he kicked off what became known as the Protestant Reformation.

Luther took issue with indulgences, payments taken by the church with the hope that relatives and friends would be released from purgatory. According to Luther, nothing in scripture offered a basis for such a practice. He also asserted that, according to scripture, common folk should be allowed to take bread and wine for communion; in that day only priests were allowed the wine. Although Luther repeatedly challenged church leaders to point out in scripture where he was wrong, they simply condemned him and insisted the church and the Pope had the final authority in all things. Period.

It’s a challenging read because the situation divided Christendom as then known. Some sided with Luther, but later some of his allies disagreed on points of doctrine and turned into enemies. It’s hard to keep the names straight. In time, when the church condemned Luther’s stance and threatened retribution on any who aided him, Luther’s supporters “kidnapped” him and he spent a year hidden away from church leaders, disguised as a knight. But he used time away from the public eye to write scripture in the vernacular of the common man, so that people could read for themselves the basis of what he preached.

Luther’s personal life is fascinating, for he married Katherine von Bora, a nun who had escaped from a nunnery, although Metaxas insists she did not escape in a herring barrel as many biographers claimed. Luther would not take any reimbursement for his prolific writing, so after his death his wife and children were left without resources.

According to Metaxas: “In the end, what Luther did was not merely to open a door in which people were free to rebel against their leaders but to open a door in which people were obliged by God to take responsibility for themselves and free to help those around them who could not help themselves.”

Copious notes, a bibliography, index and photograph credits complete the 480 page tome. A great book to give as a Christmas gift to a serious reader.

It’s a fascinating read because most if not all Protestant denominations were influenced by Luther’s stance. And the Catholic church in time addressed some of the issues he raised.

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