A Review of Luther for Armchair Theologians by Steven Paulson.
I had a seminary professor tell us how important it was to keep reading theology books once we graduated. His suggestion, which I think came from a John Piper book was to pick a few theologians and read all that we could find on that theologian. During Church History I read a work by Martin Luther and added him to the list of theologians I wanted to read.
When I bought this book I thought it was a biography of Luther’s life. Though it did not turn out to be such a work, in some ways this work was more useful. Paulson takes Luther’s theology and masterfully weaves it into the details of his life. An additional bonus is the comical illustrations that helped add humor and levity to the weightiest parts of the work.
As I read, the work transformed my opinion of Luther’s life and theology. I thought I had a handle on Luther as author of the 95 Theses and leader of the Protestant Reformation. Though I knew the gist of Luther’s theology as Faith Alone, by Grace Alone, through Christ Alone; I found that his theology depended on a view of the Bible that few share today. For instance, “For Luther, everything in this life and the next depends on how faith is made in the act of a preacher declaring, ‘Your sins are forgiven on account of Christ.’ Those are the simple clear words of Scripture finally ‘interpreting’ you, the sinner. Whether you are Abraham (who came before Christ) or Luther (who came after), when God gives you a promise, it alone makes you righteous. Your whole life is then in God’s hands, and you cling to that word like a drop of water clings to the outside of a pitcher. You don’t spend your life spinning out new myths and tropes of your own liking.” (pg. 66-67)
Though there are parts of Luther’s theology like infant baptism, the idea of penance and of course his view of Christ’s presence at communion (con-substantiation) which cannot be wholeheartedly agreed with, I can now see why he thought these things. Luther took every word in the Bible literally at face value. God’s Word was not up for interpretation but informs, instructs, and initiates spiritual realities into a man’s life. The job of a preacher was to speak God’s Word into the lives of people so that they could receive those promises as a new reality of life. Thus infant baptism was important because the promise of salvation from God’s Word was spoken into the babe’s life. Penance in Luther’s mind was important because forgiveness was spoken into the sinner’s life. Most certainly at Communion Christ was literally given as a promise to his people in the Bread and Cup.
Overall I can wholeheartedly recommend this work, with this warning. Read this to begin understanding Luther’s theology. This is neither a definitive work on Luther, nor a definitive work on orthodox theology. Even so to begin to understand who this man was and why he thought as he did lays the foundation for further understanding of his life and more importantly the Reformation of which Baptists are heirs.