Not for Crashing Bores or Fans of Lady Gaga

This week, I want to focus on a few good books that have recently been published or are about to hit the bookshelves.  I also want to address the tricky question of Luther and the Jews: both in virtually every Sunday School class I have ever taught on Luther, and in my own recent work on Holocaust Denial, the question of Luther's hatred of the Jews is a hardy perennial, the one thing everybody seems to know about him; and clarity on the matter is thus important.  I hope to post on that later this week.

In the meantime, if there is anyone out there who would like to know more about Luther, or is thinking of perhaps doing a Sunday School class or two on him, here are the books I would recommend as a way in to his hard life and fast times.

On his life:

Roland Bainton, Here I Stand.  A classic.  Bainton was himself a theological outsider and somewhat hard to pigeonhole; and so, while he may not have had great personal sympathy for Brother Martin's theology, he understood what it was like to be a rebel and wrote with great sympathy for his subject.

Martin Marty, Martin Luther: A Life.  Exactly what it says on the tin: a short life of the great man by one of the greatest Lutheran intellects of the last 100 years.  Also has fascinating insights into Luther's failed attempt to be a carpenter to help supplement his income during the Reformation.  As they say, just as well that he didn't give up the day job.

His Writings:

L's writings are voluminous but two good selections in translation are:

John Dillenberger, Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings.  The standard selection.  All of the key texts are represented.

Timothy Lull,  Martin Luther: Basic Theological Writings.  Again, a standard selection.  Comes with a cd-rom, which is helpful.

Table Talk.   Ref21 readers should have got the message that I am a huge fan of the TT.  That much should be, as I would say, `pikestaffingly obvious.'  Hilarious, human, off-the-cuff, outraged and outrageous, this is a collection without parallel in the history of the church. And beneath it all, there is a bedrock of sanctified common sense and biblical wisdom. I would suggest that, if you have never read Luther, this is the place to start. Cuts through much of the pompous hot-air, pious baloney, and snobbish windbaggery that surrounds great theologians. One of my own regular Sunday afternoon reads.

His Theology:

The sheer volume of Luther's own writings (over 100 volumes in the critical Weimar edition) is more than matched by the vastness of writings they have inspired.  Yet, as with other great theologians, the works about their thought are often much more difficult to understand than the original writings themselves.  If it were not so, how would many academics make ends meet?  By becoming carpenters?  Let's not go there.....   Yet there are a couple of books which give good accounts of his thought and which, for the those prepared to put in the effort, will repay careful study with interest:

Bernhard Lohse, The Theology of Martin Luther.  A good overall account of his theology, carefully integrated with the narrative of his life.    Lohse's work is probably the best one volume introduction.

Robert Kolb and Charles P. Arand,The Genius of Luther's Theology: A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church.   A quite brilliant appropriation of Luther's theology for the contemporary church by two leading Lutheran scholars and (most importantly) churchmen.  Not everything would be applicable in a Reformed, evangelical or baptist context; but there is enough here to show that Luther is still relevant and also to show how the past can be mined for help in the present.  If you think the church is dying because the working single mums in your congregation can't offer a Christian perspective on the films of Quentin Tarantino, or if you like to read books with titles like The Gospel According to Lady Gaga, this book won't be very helpful; if you think it's failing because your members don't know the basics of the Christian faith (creation, fall, incarnation, redemption etc) and if you like to read books with titles like The Holy Bible, this is the one for you. Very highly recommended.

To be tired of Luther is to be tired of life.  Only crashing bores, I suspect, can remain untouched by him as they read his works, though, sadly, the church has more than a few of those hanging around her doors and pulpits.  Still, I trust that the above will whet a few appetites for reading him, reading about him, and using him in the contemporary church.