Friday, May 19, 2017

Review of "Martin Luther in His Own Words"

Martin Luther in His Own Words is an edited volume of some of Luther’s writings, which were written between ca. 1520 and 1530. The book is divided into five sections (excluding the four page introduction) corresponding to the five solas (faith alone, grace alone, scripture alone, Christ alone, and glory to God alone). This is an interesting approach to Luther’s writings. I think the purporse of organizing the writings this way is helpful heuristically. Happily, the editors provide a very brief introduction to each work; these introductions usually span about 1½ to 2 pages– though some are shorter, and some longer. These introductions are also printed in a smaller font, so there is a little bit more than a first glance would suggest. The introductions are helpful, but they would be more effective had a brief overview of Luther’s life been provided in the introduction to the book. (Perhaps this is the point. At the end of the book, they have printed a very large advertisement for Lutzer’s other book on the Reformation, which covers Luther’s life more extensively, though still briefly.)

I think the selections from Luther’s writings are excellent. I was happy to see On Christian Liberty among the works. Along with that, selections from his commentary on Galatians and his translation of Romans have been included. These too are very good places to begin with Luther. I was surprised at the inclusion of Luther’s That Doctrines of Men Are To Be Rejected since it is seldom found in other Luther anthologies. This is both good and bad: good because the reader is introduced to a work that might otherwise have been missed; bad because this hardly should be included in a volume composed of “essential writings of the Reformation.” Alas, Luther’s Two Kinds of Righteousness and the Ninety-Five Theses have not been included in this short volume. Surely the Theses are “essential” reading for the student of the Reformation or of Luther. And Two Kinds of Righteousness is one of my favorite works by Luther. In addition to these, his Introduction to the Gospels, Babylonian Captivity, and selections from his Romans commentary (or its introduction) are some others that might have been included. But this is a review of what is there, not what isn’t. I think what is present in the volume is good. The translations are very easy to read, and for the most part, Luther’s works have been abridged in a way that doesn’t diminish the character of the work. That is, you get the “essentials” of what Luther has to say in them, though you certainly do not get it all. But this is not a book for scholars or even those who are studying the Reformation. This is a book for pastors and for laity. Insofar as this is the case, this is an excellent book. Admittedly, I was skeptical of this little volume when I signed up to review it. Having read and reviewed Lutzer’s Rescuing the Gospel a few months ago, the dearth of references to primary source material suggested to me that Lutzer might not be too familiar with the writings of Luther. However, I am pleasantly surprised with this book, and I happily recommend it to pastors and lay people who have neither the time nor desire to read Luther’s lengthier works but still would like a brief introduction to Luther’s work. For those who would wish to dig a little deeper, or for those who discover that they can’t get enough of Luther from this little volume, I would recommend John Dillenberger’s anthology, Martin Luther:Selections from His Writings, Edited and with an Introduction (Garden City: Doubleday, 1961). In either case, you can’t go wrong with reading Luther!

Disclosure: I received this book free from the publisher. I was under no compulsion to write a positive review. All thoughts or opinions expressed in this review are my own.

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