The catholic Luther: two resources
January 12, 2015
I thought I might interrupt Ref21's ongoing series on John Wesley's view of Christ's descent into hell by mentioning a couple of resources related to another uncontroversial theologian: Martin Luther. These two books have very different foci--one concerns Luther's understanding of the Christian life, the other concerns Luther's understanding of divine impassibility. Moreover, these two books are written for very different audiences--one is aimed at pastors and thoughtful laypersons, the other is aimed at academic theologians and historians. I mention them in the same context because, in spite of their differences, both books achieve a similar result. By painting a more accurate historical portrait of the Wittenberg Reformer than that which commonly dominates the evangelical imagination, both books present a more "catholic" Luther who has much to teach contemporary evangelical pastors and theologians.
Carl Trueman's Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom is the most recent volume in Crossway's Theologians on the Christian Life series. The book is admirable at many levels. Trueman provides an interesting, often humorous, and always informed introduction not only to Luther's views about the Christian life but also to Luther's own Christian life and makes a compelling case along the way that we must appreciate the latter if we are to understand the former. Though Trueman is careful not to turn the sixteenth century Bible professor into a twenty first century evangelical, he is nevertheless particularly adept at demonstrating Luther's relevance for contemporary evangelicalism. I especially appreciated chapter seven's discussion of the ways Luther responded to deficiencies in the early reform movement by constructing a broad pastoral program of catechesis centered upon the mainstays of traditional catholic piety: the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer. On this point and many others, we still have a lot to learn from Martin Luther, and Trueman's book is an able introductory guide to the Reformer's life, theology, and writings.
David J. Luy's Dominus Mortis: Martin Luther on the Incorruptibility of God in Christ, published by Fortress Press, is a very different sort of book. It engages the widespread claim that Luther's Christology either directly or indirectly paved the way for rejecting the classical doctrine of divine impassibility. By carefully situating Luther's Christology within the context of late medieval thought, Luy dismantles this claim point by point and demonstrates that, far from undermining the catholic doctrine of God, Luther's theology exhibits the deep relevance of divine impassibility for our understanding of God's saving presence in Christ. Luy's fine volume is not intended for the general reader, but it is essential reading for anyone interested in a historically informed understanding of the divine attributes and of Luther's contribution to the Christian doctrines of God and Christ.